11/22/63 by Stephen King

Today’s review is about Stephen King’s recent book, 11/22/63. The book tells the story of Jake Epping, a schoolteacher who discovers a portal that takes him to the year 1958. He chooses to stay in that time period so he can try to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, believing that the world would be better if J.F.K. survived. While the premise is not entirely unique (many other books and films have used the same idea), I found that the real heart of the book is not in the Kennedy story, but in a romantic subplot that begins near the middle of the book. Jake dates a woman from the past named Sadie, who creates further obstacles in Jake’s plan. As the book progressed, I found myself caring more about their budding relationship than the assassination plot, which is a testament to the strength of the two characters.

King describes 1950s and 60s America with great detail throughout the book. In certain scenes, he compares the time period to the present day, highlighting the changes that have occurred in the decades between. Jake thinks about the inexpensive products in the 50s, and admires the solitude of a country without cell phones. I’m not old enough to have experienced the culture King describes, so I can’t comment on the story’s accuracy, but I feel like the book made me nostalgic for a time long gone.

The concept of time travel is used a lot in science fiction, but it remains one of my favourite narrative devices. My favourite movie of all time is Back to the Future, and I was always fond of that film’s use of time travel as a way to better understand the world. In the movie, Marty travels back thirty years and sees the differences in the culture, but ultimately discovers that people are the same regardless of the year. Jake Epping comes to a similar realization in 11/22/63, because King describes both the positive and negative aspects of 1950s culture. King does not glorify the time period, which makes the portrayal seem more realistic.

In terms of style, I have noticed that King is usually very clever but occasionally goes overboard, making a text awkward or campy. Luckily, 11/22/63 includes very few instances where I was taken out of the story, compared to his other books. He says in the afterword that he did a lot of research for the novel, which is rare for him, so maybe the facts of the assassination helped to restrain him in that regard. King is in top form here, and the book is an improvement over his other recent work, Under the Dome. Squeamish readers should know that King usually includes several scenes in each of his books where he describes violence or gore, often in great detail or with colourful metaphors.

When I first heard about 11/22/63, I knew I had to read it. I have been a fan of Stephen King for years and I wanted to see how he would handle time travel. By the novel’s end, it had become my new favourite book by King, but not for the time travel alone; the characters and story were deep and engaging, while King’s writing was the best it’s ever been.

5 out of 5

The Hobbit at High Speed

The book's speed remains the same.

One of my most anticipated films of 2012 is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  I only read The Hobbit two years ago, but it quickly made me a dedicated fan of J.R.R. Tolkien.  While I appreciate his more dense narratives in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, the tale of Bilbo and the dwarves will always be my favourite work from him, for its humour and whimsy.  So, naturally, a cinematic adaptation of The Hobbit from the same director who brought Middle-earth to life in the The Lord of the Rings film trilogy would excite me like no other movie could.  However, in the past few days, some negativity online has dimmed my anticipation.

Last year, Peter Jackson announced that he would be filming both parts of The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey and There and Back Again, at 48 frames per second.  For those who don’t know, most movies play at only 24 frames per second.  The slower speed looks less like real life, but plays a big role in making a movie feel cinematic.  Compare any big Hollywood film to a soap opera: the soap opera is shot at a higher frame rate, which gives it a look that people associate with cheaper quality.

Needless to say, Jackson’s decision was a gamble.  The higher frame rate could create a better sense of immersion into the world of the story, but only if the viewers were willing to give the new look a chance.  However, Jackson premiered ten minutes of Hobbit footage earlier this week at CinemaCon 2012, and if the response is any indication, audiences are not going to be kind to the new technique.

The complaints vary: some say that the frame rate makes the sets look fake, while others draw comparisons between the film and low-budget productions, such as soap operas, student films, and behind-the-scenes videos.  All of it seems to boil down to one problem:  association.  Audiences associate the higher frame rate with certain lower kinds of entertainment, so The Hobbit seems worse for it.  Perhaps the reason the sets look fake is because the frame rate invokes the memory of behind-the-scenes footage, which openly reveals the artifice of film sets.

Of course, I cannot completely disregard what the audience saw, because I wasn’t there myself, but humans do have a habit of resisting change.  At this point, I think Peter Jackson has earned our trust, especially when it comes to films set in Middle-earth.  Although, some theatres are sure to be showing a 24-frames-per-second version, so if it turns out I’m wrong, at least we can still see Bilbo’s journey to the Lonely Mountain in a watchable format.

What do you think?  Would you see the version with the higher frame rate, or do you believe the traditional film look should be maintained?

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

My girlfriend holding my signed copy of The Fault In Our Stars.

In the last few weeks, I have been busy, finishing homework and studying for exams.  At the same time, I have started to read two rather large books, A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.  For these reasons, I decided that I would start my reviews with books I may not be reading right now, but have finished in recent months.  This would allow me to cover books that deserve attention, despite the fact that I read them before the site existed.

One of the best novels I have read so far this year is The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.  Green is known not only as an author of young-adult books, but also as an Internet personality.  On the popular YouTube channel VlogBrothers, he and his brother Hank use humour and intellect to address a variety of topics each week.  Green has a similar approach in his writing, using a style that is both insightful and entertaining, even when describing the darkest of circumstances.

The Fault In Our Stars is a coming-of-age novel about Hazel Grace Lancaster, a teenage girl damaged by cancer.  In the opening chapters, Hazel attends a meeting with her support group and meets Augustus Waters, a boy whose cancer is in remission.  I recommend reading the book without learning very much about the overall plot, so I’m going to stop there.  However, I will mention that while the relationship between Hazel and Augustus drives the narrative, the story is not as simple as a straightforward romance.  Those who dislike sappy love scenes will not have a problem with the novel.

In fact, because of John Green’s light writing style, he is able to write about serious topics like cancer without going overboard with emotion.  Whether a scene is humourous or serious (or both, in some cases), Green never pressures the audience to feel a certain way.  The end result is a clear and direct novel, complex in subject matter but simple in execution.  I have heard people say that they rarely read books, but started to read more once they came across John Green’s books.  It is easy to see why: his writing is so funny and accessible that it is difficult to put The Fault In Our Stars down before it is completed.

Cancer is an enemy that casts a shadow over the entire story, but Green never dwells too much on the mortality of the characters, to his benefit.  He does include moments where Hazel ponders about death, but what is remarkable is how normal the characters seem otherwise.  They spend almost as much time talking about video games or movies as they do thinking about disease.  They are all looking for happiness and trying to figure out the world, in the same way other teenagers do.

Ultimately, that is the impression The Fault In Our Stars left on me:  the young men and women with cancer are not wise beyond their years, but are simply searching for truth like the rest of us.  At the centre of that search is Green’s idea of heroism, which does not involve grand gestures before death, but the ongoing, everyday struggle to find meaning in the face of death.

4.5 out of 5

Katniss: The Girl Who Was On Sale

As a blogger with a site about books, I would be remiss if I ignored the growing phenomenon behind The Hunger Games series. With the film adaptation of the first book receiving critical and financial success, the books have experienced a new boost in sales, pushing The Hunger Games towards a Harry Potter level of popularity. As a result, I should warn you that I’m not reviewing the books, but addressing the effects of their recent fame.

The Hunger Games, of course, is the story of a Barbie doll who must fight to the death against other toys. Oh wait, that’s not it. The books are about a pillowcase trying to survive and overcome a dystopian government. Hmm, that’s not it either.

Before I start questioning the over-saturation of Hunger Games merchandise coinciding with the movie, let me say that I did enjoy the film and I don’t think all of the attention is necessarily bad. For many viewers, the film was inspiration enough to find the original books and read through them all. There’s a reason why every store I’ve been in the past two weeks has plenty of copies in stock (when last summer I had a hard time finding a single copy). People want to read the source material.

My main concern is that with the host of merchandise coming out – from the aforementioned Barbie doll and pillowcases to socks and cookbooks – the original intention of the series might become distorted. Katniss is such an accessible protagonist in the first novel of the series because she doesn’t care about the materialism and superficiality of the Capitol, but she is thrust into the situation against her will. The series contains a lot of commentary on the destructive nature of celebrity, so fans buying anything with Katniss or a Mockingjay on it seems like a contradiction. Will the original message of the books be lost underneath the weight of commercialism? Only time will tell.

Despite my apprehension over the abundance of Hunger Games merchandise, one positive has come from the attention to the series: the popularity of Katniss. In both the books and the film, she is a very positive role model for young women. She is a strong character, but still has human flaws. She is physically strong without being hypersexualized for a male audience. The fact that a female character can fit into a traditional hero role so naturally and receive wide acceptance from both men and women is an important step forward.

What do you think? Is the commercialization of The Hunger Games overwhelming the original story? Should we simply be happy that an entertaining series is receiving the attention it deserves?

So It Begins

Welcome to Danuscript.

My name is Dan, and I am the sole contributor to this blog.  I have many different interests that will be explored on the site, but the primary focus of Danuscript is to discuss fiction in its various forms, from novels and short stories to film and television.  I myself write creatively, as well.  I’m currently working on a fantasy novel and short stories, which I hope will be published one day.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you, but until then, you can find more information about me in the “About” section, and follow me on Twitter by using the link on the right.

Have a good day, and keep reading!