A sci-fi thriller with almost everything: hackers, a Russian cartel, an online fantasy game, and complex chases across multiple countries, Neal Stephenson’s Reamde is a worthwhile read for the truly adventurous. Combine this with the fact that the action takes a rollercoaster ride through a full 1044 pages, and Reamde is like enjoying multiple books in one. I picked up Reamde the year it came out (2011) and was too intimidated by the novel’s length to take it home, but a little while ago, I came across it again, and loved reading it!
The plot centers on Richard Forthrast, the co-creator of T’Rain, a complex and hugely popular online fantasy role-playing game. Richard reflects on his past as he is forced to retrace steps he took decades earlier as a drug-runner, before turning to legitimate business. When Chinese teens unleash a ransomware virus and demand payment in T’Rain’s in-game currency, the fallout of the ensuing chaos hits Richard’s family, the Chinese hackers, unsuspecting strangers, and government officials around the world. The title of the novel is a mix-up of the computer file name “Read Me”, and is the name of the computer virus central to the plot.
Stephenson’s writing delighted me with his ability to describe the details of characters’ thoughts and actions in the midst of busy action scenes, in a way which captures how individual people can see a scene differently. The author uses third-person narration to draw the reader remarkably close to many of the characters, which allows them to be complex and multi-faceted. I really liked how this sort of character building allowed some characters to be neither good nor bad, but ambivalent, and merely fighting for their own interests.
For me, the winning features of Reamde are its quiet but clever humour, its well-crafted cast, and its timeliness in dealing with modern phenomena like the global consequences of ransomware. Perhaps its length could have merited being split into multiple novels, but as it stands, this novel has fantastic, intricate cohesion, and I would recommend it to anyone up for the challenge!
Ghost in the Shell is a remake of a 1995 anime film of the same name. It takes place in a future where a person's consciousness (or “ghost”) can be transferred into human-looking robots. Scarlett Johanssen stars as Major, the most advanced of these beings to date. She is part of a government team tasked with tracking down and eliminating a network of robots/people that are bent on stopping the program. During her investigation however, she begins to find that things are not quite the way she’s been led to believe.
There was some controversy when this film was released with Johanssen in the lead role. Hollywood was accused of “whitewashing” by not casting an Asian actress. I consider it a moot point as no casting choice could have saved this movie. While some of the visuals and fight sequences are pretty good, the movie disjointedly cuts between plodding “emotional” scenes and hyper-kinetic action. Johanssen is certainly up to the task, both acting and action-ing, but the movie around her is just a mish-mash of too many elements. Having never seen the original, I don’t know how true to the source material this film is, so perhaps the blame lies elsewhere. What it really feels like to me is that some fanboy studio executives got together over a few drinks and thought it would be a good idea to put a big name actress in a white spandex suit and build a movie around her. The result is a bit less than spectacular.
In a nutshell: Visually, Ghost in the Shell has a few good moments, but as a whole, it is the textbook definition of a hot mess.
The Kitchener-Waterloo Central Art Walk is back for its tenth year! Tour nearby studios and meet local artists on Saturday, October twenty-first from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and Sunday, October twenty-second from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm. The walk includes ten stops with many artists at each selling their unique creations.
Thirty local artists are participating this year, displaying their artistic creations in all mediums from pottery to photography and jewelry to paintings.
The event is free, but be sure to bring along some money so you can buy your favourite one-of-a-kind pieces along the way from the many talented artisans in our community.
For more information about the Kitchener-Waterloo Central Art Walk and a listing of the participating artists, visit their website here.
- Cassidy, Information Services
A Foreign Affair
directed by: Grímur Hákonarson
Rams, a Cannes Film Festival winner by writer/director Grímur Hákonarson, is a quiet and introspective film with an austere style of storytelling punctuated with brief moments of dark humour.
Picture a stark Icelandic mountain with a small sheep farm with two houses nestled together. In one house lives Gummi (Sigurdur Sigurjonsson) and in the other house, Kiddi (Theodor Julisson). They are brothers and they have not spoken in forty years.
These unkempt brothers raise their own flocks of sheep on the same land and communicate with notes carried by dog between them only when absolutely necessary. When Gummi first discovers scrapie, a disease similar to Mad Cow, in his brother’s prize winning ram, he goes out of his way to find someone else to start the conversation with Kiddi. One sick ram starts a landslide of controversy, as the brothers and their community of sheep farmers now face destroying an entire valley of sheep to prevent the spread of the disease.
You can watch Rams and these favourites from world film festivals in the Hoopla database by clicking on the images above and below. Hoopla is available 24 hours a day for when you feel the need to immerse yourself in other cultures’ cinematography.
- Amanda, Information Services
Me Before You
by: Jojo Moyes
JoJo Moyes is one of my no-guilt, guilty pleasures. I love that you can expect a tearjerker, but you know that ultimately, everything will work out in the end (in some, way, shape or form). Me Before You is the one novel that some readers might think challenges that broad stroke overview of Moyes writing because a key element of the storyline is not something everyone will agree with. But I think that’s part of what makes it such a compelling novel.
In the novel, Louisa ‘Lou’ (Emilia Clarke in the movie) takes a job as a caregiver for Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a thrill seeker who was paralyzed after being struck by a motorcycle. Will’s once lighthearted and up for anything personality has morphed into a reclusive, exhausted and disinterested by his new normal, life. We readers know that there are always changes made when books move to movie screens. Sometimes larger details including full storylines and characters, are omitted. In my opinion, where this book to movie adaptation falls short unnecessarily is in the representation of Lou’s character. Large pieces of her backstory aren’t included, which makes her, her story, and her eventual friendship and connection to Will that much less satisfying. The story in the novel is Lou’s. The story in the movie is Lou and Will and their ‘love-story’.
Despite the fact that I didn’t appreciate the large omissions of Lou’s character, the movie itself was entertaining, and emotional – it still had that tearjerker, plus positive outlook feel. I was surprised but pleased that the harder topic elements of the novel were included, and weren't glossed over. What I really enjoyed about the movie was the way Lou’s quirkiness was perfectly portrayed, and how Will came off as the charming, sensitive, bad boy Moyes crafted on the page.
The movie on its own is entertaining, but when compared to the book, it’s lacking depth.