Movie Review: April and the Extraordinary World (2015)


Title: April and the Extraordinary World (Avril et le Monde truqué)
Release Date: November 4, 2015
Director: Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci
Production Company: Arte France (and numerous others)
Summary/Review:

This imaginative animated film created by a team of French, Belgian, and Canadian filmmakers presents an alternative history of the world with a steampunk vibe.  The prologue of the film shows scientist Gustave Franklin working on a serum to create invulnerable soldiers for Emperor Napoleon III in 1870.  Angered that Franklin has only been able to create talking monitor lizards, the Emperor has a fit that inadvertently causes an explosion killing them both. In this alternate history, the young Napoleon IV signs a peace treaty to avoid the Franco-Prussian War thus maintaining the French empire in Europe.

A montage zips the story forward to 1931, during the interim the world’s great scientists are kidnapped retarding technological development. Relying on steam technology, the French Empire uses up all the coal in the world and then denudes Europe of trees for the wood.  This alternate past depicts a gray world devoid of vegetation and full of polluted air, but filled with fantastical steam-powered vehicles and devices. In 1931, Franklin’s son Prosper “Pops” Franklin, grandson Paul, granddaughter-in-law Annette and great-granddaughter April continue to work in secret on the serum, achieving success, but interrupted by both the French Imperial police and then a mysterious black cloud shooting lightning bolts.  Pops is separated, and Paul and Annette appear dead, leaving April alone with their talking cat Darwin (by far, my favorite character) and the serum hidden in a snow globe.

Whew, that’s a lot of setup in basically the first 15 minutes of the movie, because now the film zips forward again to 1941 for the main story.  April, now a young adult, continues to work in secret on the serum.  Disgraced inspector  Gaspar Pizoni – a kind of bumbling version of Javert – continues to try to track down the Franklins, and blackmails young petty criminal Julius to work for him.  Julius saves and then befriends April and Darwin, ultimately having mixed feelings about helping Pizoni.  They are reunited with Pops kicking off an adventure that reveals the secret plans of the French Empire and the mysterious forces that have kidnapped the world’s scientists.

This is imaginative story which also works as an environmental fable.  It’s also interesting that this alternate history depicts 1941 as a time when Europe is dominated by a French totalitarian government where in reality France was under the thumb of Nazi Germany at the time.  It’s imaginatively animated and a clever story.  The one flaw is that the voice acting feels stilted. If I watch this again, I’d like to find the original French cast instead of the dubbed version, because I think that would work better.

Rating: ****

Comics Review: Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor


Here are reviews of all nine volumes in the Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor series to date.

Author:  Al Ewing & Rob Williams
Artists: Simon Fraser, Boo Cook
Colorist: Gary Caldwell, Hi-Fi
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Title: Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 1: After Life
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2015)
Summary/Review:

The first set of Eleventh Doctor comic adventures introduce a new companion (between the Ponds and Clara), Alice Obiefune.  I immediately love Alice, because she’s:

  1. a library assistance, and her job skills are shown as valuable on adventures with the Doctor.
  2. she’s a character who is depicted as grieving and depressed, and her storyline is handled accurately and sympathetically.
  3. she stands up to the Doctor’s condescending ways and challenges his assumptions.

There adventures include picking up another companion, John Jones, who is a thinly veiled David Bowie from the late 60s before he becomes famous.  Basically he’s there for running Bowie gags while the focus remains on Alice as companion.  They also visit with Robert Johnson in 1930s Louisiana, who happens to already be acquainted with the Doctor.  But the main conflict in various places in space and time is standing up to the evil SERVEYOUinc, and not always meeting their agents in chronological order.

The Eleventh Doctor comics are refreshing and fun, and I hope keep up the good work, because the Tenth Doctor comics kind of became as slog.

Rating: ****


Author:  Al Ewing & Rob Williams
Artists: Simon Fraser, Boo Cook, Warren Pleece
Colorist: Gary Caldwell, Hi-Fi
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
TitleDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 2: Serve You
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2015)
Summary/Review:

This volume starts off with a terrific story of the Doctor figuring out how to escape the destruction of the TARDIS while repeatedly hopping backwards in time.  ARC joins the TARDIS crew for a distinctively odd trip of companions: grieving human, parody of David Bowies, and blob of something that’s not quite defined yet.  Other stories put the TARDIS Team in the middle of an endless war that threatens to capture Earth in collateral damage and the gravest threat yet from SERVEYOUinc, which appears to take over the Doctor. It’s a bit of a step down from the first volume, but still a rollicking good adventure.

Rating: ***


Author:  Al Ewing & Rob Williams
Artists: Simon Fraser, Boo Cook, Warren Pleece
Colorist: Gary Caldwell, Hi-Fi
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
TitleDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 3: Conversion
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2015)
Summary/Review:

Another spectacular visual and storytelling device in the comics sees the four main characters split into different parts of the TARDIS, with distinctive art for each concurrent story.  The Doctor also goes through the humbling experience of having the TARDIS turn against him for his misbehavior.  There are also Cybermen in ancient Rome and a motorbike race on the Berlin Wall in 1976.

This volume ties up the threads in the SERVEYOUinc and Talent Scout stories, as well as the Jones and ARC, uh, arcs.  I look forward to reading more adventures of Alice and the Doctor.

 

Rating: ***


Author:  Si Spurrier & Rob Williams
Artists: Simon Fraser & Warren Pleece
Colorist: Gary Caldwell
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
TitleDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 4: The Then and the Now
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2016)
Summary/Review:

A new story arc has the Eleventh Doctor being tracked down for a genocidal crime he can’t remember quitting. New companions join in the form of Abslom Daak, a rageful man with a vendetta against Daleks, and The Squire, a soldier who previously fought alongside the War Doctor. The plot is a complex muddle of things brought up from the Time War that probably don’t need to be explained, but it does feel like it’s going somewhere.

Rating: ***


Author:  Si Spurrier & Rob Williams
Artists: Simon Fraser, Leanrdo Casco, Warren Pleece
Colorist: Gary Caldwell, Arianna Florean, Nicola Righi, Azzurra Florean, Rodrigo Fernandes
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
TitleDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 5 The One
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2016)
Summary/Review:

The pursuit of the Then and Now continues, with some revelations and a lot of confusion, and effort to be “epic” without really earning it.  River Song and The War Doctor and The Master all join the plot.  And that’s not all.  It’s okay, I guess.

Rating: **


Author:  Si Spurrier & Rob Williams
Artists: I.N.J. Culbard, Simon Fraser
Colorist: Marcio Menys, Gary Caldwell
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
TitleDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 6 The Malignant Truth
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2017)
Summary/Review:

The Doctor’s secret revealed!  Shocking surprises!  Really?  I just wanted this storyline to finally be over.  It does finish up better than a lot of what preceded it, for what it’s worth.  I did enjoy the War Doctor getting to act as the main protagonist, and Alice being awesome.  She’s a great companion and deserves better stories.

Rating: ***


Author: Rob Williams, Alex Paknadel
Artists: I.N.J. Culbard, Leandro Casco, Wellington Diaz, Simon Fraser
Colorist: Triona Farrell, Gary Caldwell
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
TitleDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 7: The Sapling: Growth
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2017)
Summary/Review:

A new storyline, with a new character – The Sapling – who is basically Groot with the ability to steal memories and cause genocide.  There’s a cool sequence where every year on Earth is happening at the same time and the Doctor and company have to take a double decker bus to 1968 where the people have erected a wall around their time. It’s much cooler in illustration!

Rating: ***


Author: James Peaty, George Mann
Artists: I.N.J. Culbard, Andrew Leung, Ivan Rodriguez, Wellington Diaz, Klebs Junior, Leandro Casco
Colorist: Triona Farrell, Stefani Renne, Thiago Riberio
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
TitleDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 8 The Sapling: Roots
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2017)
Summary/Review:

The Sapling is growing, the Doctor and Alice are still missing their memories, and Ood Sigma needs help. They also visit a Memory Ark and a medieval village where the Sapling becomes a renown historical figure.  Good fun.

Rating: ***


Author: Alex Paknadel, Rob Williams
Artists: I.N.J. Culbard, Ivan Rodriguez, JB Bastos, Luiz Campello
Colorist: Triona Farrell, Thiago Ribeiro, Stefani Rennee
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
TitleDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 9 The Sapling: Branches
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2018)
Summary/Review:

The finale of The Sapling saga.  Like all these comic storylines, my patience begins to wear thin with the plots as they go along.  But at least this one is only three volumes along.  There’s also a renegade member of The Silence known as The Scream behind it all, but it’s kind of a meh idea since I think the tv shows did all they could with The Silence.  Still some awesome Alice moments though.

Rating: **1/2

Classic Movie Review: Metropolis (1927)


Title:  Metropolis 
Release Date: January 10, 1927
Director: Fritz Lang
Production Company: UFA
Summary/Review:

One of the earliest science fiction feature films,  the list of movies influenced by Metropolis is quite lengthy.  Set in a futuristic city of high towers and massive machinery, the city of Metropolis is ruled by the wealthy industrialist Joh Fredersen.  His son Freder enjoys an idyllic life until a woman named Maria invites him to come below the surface to see how his “brothers” are suffering.

Freder witnesses the grueling life of the workers on their machinery, and how the dead are casually disposed of after one of the machines explodes.  Unable to convince his father to improve conditions for the workers, Freder rebels and joins Maria in trying to lead the working people to a more equitable Metropolis.  Meanwhile, Fredersen enlists the inventor Rotwang to use a robot to impersonate Maria and discredit her with the workers. Rotwang has his own plans and various conflicts and tragedies occur before the film’s conclusion.

The dystopian world of Metropolis is all the more chilling considering this is a German film made just years before Hitler’s dictatorial regime came to power. I found it hard not to wonder if the actors in this film, especially the children, ended up becoming Nazis.  From a filmmaking perspective, it’s hard not to see why it’s so influential as the cinematography, set design, and special effects are spectacular.  Story wise, the film comes across a bit stiff, more of a preachy Socialist parable than a human story one can engage with.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler


Author: Octavia E. Butler
Title: Kindred
Narrator: Kim Staunton
Publication Info: Recorded Books, Inc., 1998 [Originally published in 1979]
Summary/Review:

I’ve only recently become aware of the late science fiction author Octavia E. Butler, whose contributions to the genre have likely been overlooked due to her being an African American woman.  This novel, starting in the bicentennial year of 1976, tells the story of Dana, an African American writer repeatedly torn from her own time in California and sent to antebellum Maryland plantation.  There she has to save the life of a boy, and later a man, named Rufus, the heir of the plantation owner.  Early on, Dana discovers that Rufus is her own ancestor, so her existence depends on his survival.

This book does not shy away from the malignant evils of slavery – beatings, selling off family members, and rape.  But it get’s even more uncomfortable in how on Dana’s increasingly longer visits to the past, she grows to consider the plantation as home, and develop a fondness for Rufus.  Dana’s devotion to protecting Rufus is unsettling considering that Alice, a freed black woman who is reenslaved by Rufus over the course of the novel, is also her ancestor, and Dana never shows the same level of concern for protecting her. It’s something akin to the Stockholm Syndrome, or more accurate the way in which its possible for one to look past the most grievous faults of family members and friends.

Dana is married to a white man named Kevin, and one occasion she brings him back in time with him, stranding him there for several years when she bops back to the future.  Although Kevin is a progressive white man, he is still not capable of understanding the power dynamics that privilege him in the past over Dana.  Nevertheless, Dana’s knowledge of the future and seemingly magical power to appear and disappear over time gives her something of a an advantage over Rufus in their ongoing relationship.

This is a powerful and well-constructed novel that feels very contemporary despite being over forty years old.  Much like reading Ursula Leguin, I had to remind myself that Octavia E. Butler actually inspired and informed many of the conventions of later time-travel fiction.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Book Review: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis


Author: Connie Willis
Title: Doomsday Book
Narrator: Jenny Sterlin
Publication Info: Recorded Books, Inc., 2000 (Originally published in 1993)
Previously Read by the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

I first read Doomsday Book 16 years ago and it immediately became one of my favorite books and lead me to several other Willis’ novels. This novel begins in Oxford in 2054 where history students use time travel technology to observe the past.  Willis has written several loosely-connected novels and short stories using this same premise.

In this novel, undergraduate Kivrin Engle desires to study the Middle Ages, even though the time travel net has never been used to travel that far back in the past.  The leader of the Medieval Studies department is eager to make a splash by permitting Kivrin to go the the 14th century, and even bypasses some of the standard safety protocols. Kivrin’s advisor and mentor, Mr. Dunworthy, is frustrated by Medieval’s carelessness and deeply worried about what dangers Kivrin may face in the time of cuthroats and Black Death.

The stage is set for Something to Go Wrong, with the twist being that an outbreak of deadly influenza strikes Oxford, with the city placed under quarantine.  The engineer who ran the time travel net for Kivrin’s drop into the past is one of the first to fall ill, thus making it impossible to retrieve Kivrin.  Mr. Dunworthy ends up helping his friend Dr. Mary Ahrens care for the sick, and also watching Mary’s visiting nephew Colin, with whom he forms a paternal relationship.

Meanwhile, in the 14th century, Kivrin has also been stricken with influenza. In a state of delirium, she is brought to the home of a village near Oxford to the home of a minor noble family, and nursed back to health. Some of the best scenes illustrating “the past is a different country” involve Kivrin initially having trouble communicating with her hosts, despite her studies and a translator implanted in her head.  Kivrin also has a recorder imbedded in her hand, cleverly allowing her to look like she’s praying when recording her thoughts, and many passages of the novel are in the form of her journal entries.

Once Kivrin recovers from her illness, she forms a bond with the children of the household, the playful 5-year-old Agnes, and the more serious Rosemund, who at the age of 12 is already promised in marriage to a much older man.  Kivrin essentially becames a caretaker for the children, aiding the overtaxed Lady Eliwys, while being an object of scorn and suscpicion for Eliwys’ mother-in-law Lady Imeyne. It is rare to have a female protagonist in time travel stories, often for the practical reason that for most of history the life of women was severely restricted and dangerous.  But through Kivrin’s point of view, the reader gets an (admitedly fictional) look into the overlooked women’s domestic sphere of the Middle Ages.

Another key character in the medieval storyline is Father Roche.  The poor and uneducated priest is mocked by Lady Imeyne, but nevertheless is devout to God and the community.  Kivrin forms a strong relationship with Father Roche as well, and despite her own lack of faith, recognizes Roche as a good person. Father Roche by turn, sees Kivrin as an angel, and while literally not true, it’s easy to see why her sudden appearance and seemingly magical skills would be interpreted as such from his worldview.

There are a couple of other twists in the plot, that I won’t spoil here, although I will not that the source of the 21st century influenza outbreak is a genius plot device.  By and large, things don’t turn out well for most of the characters in both storylines.  And since Willis is excellent at developing the characters and their relationships, Doomsday Book is a heartbreaking novel.  Nevertheless, it is also uplifting, because it emphasizes love in the relationships (Kivrin and Father Roche, Mr. Dunworthy and Colin, and others) among people who are neither related nor romantically involved, which is surprisingly uncommon in fiction.

Doomsday Book is not a flawless novel and others have pointed out its anachronisms and the many coincidences in the plot that are just too neat and tidy.  I think what’s good about the book outweighs these problems for the most part. One distracting problem with this book is that Willis envisioned a future with the technology for time travel and implanting translators and recorders in the body, but she did not anticipate mobile telephones (even though they already existed at the time this novel was published).  Instead, people in the future Oxford story use video phones, a device that is found in a lot of futuristic fiction of the 20th century (see 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and Until the End of the World for prominent examples).  This would just be a small quirk, but so much of the novel relies on characters needing to find a phone and not being able to reach others by phone that it becomes laughable at times.

Overall, this is a terrific book in the time travel genre and one with a lot of humanity and heart. And a future without mobile phones really doesn’t sound all that bad.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)


Title: Solo: A Star Wars Story
Release Date: May 25, 2018
Director: Ron Howard
Production Company:Walt Disney Studios
Motion Pictures
Summary/Review:

Han Solo is one of the most beloved characters in movie history and in 4 movies (and a holiday special), he was portrayed by Harrison Ford, arguably the most popular actor of the past five decades.  A Han Solo movie without Harrison Ford is missing an essential element.  Not that Alden Ehrenreich can be blamed as he does an excellent job performing as a young Han, it’s just not possible for him to be the same character.

As one might expect from an origin story, a lot of familiar aspects of the Han Solo character are introduced here.  We see Han get his last name, meet Chewbacca(Joonas Suotamo) for the first time, get his blaster, meet Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), and acquire the Millenium Falcon.  The notorious Kessel Run is even part of the plot.  Many of the movies set pieces are generic  or derivative action-adventure tropes.  Early on, landspeeders are used in a classic car chase, then there’s a railroad heist, and finally scenes of the Falcon dodging asteroids and a space creature reminiscent of Empire Strikes Back.

Where Solo works best is around the edges, where we see the people and events that shape Han Solo into becoming both cynical and self-interested and having a big heart with a weakness for the underdog.  The former is demonstrated by Han’s mentor/antagonist Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who repeatedly instructs Han to not trust anyone.  Another important figure is Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), Han’s childhood sweetheart.  At the start of the film, we see them both trying to escape their home planet of Corellia, but Qi’ra is captured at a checkpoint.  Han serves in the Imperial Navy for three years with plans to go back to rescue her, but when they meet again, she has found her own way out, and it’s strongly implied that she’s done some unsavory things in the process.

Han’s heart is shown again and again.  He’s placed in a pit to fight Chewbacca to the death, but realizes that they are both prisoners and finds a way for both of them to escape.  A big twist in the film involves another antagonist Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman), and Han’s response to new knowledge is very telling.  Even Han’s final confrontation with Tobias is one that’s filled with tears, rather than celebration.

Solo has a lot in common with the other Star Wars Story, Rogue One, in that it shows the People’s perspective of the galaxy rather than one of royals, knights, and generals.  Imperial officers are typically unquestionably evil, but the one who recruits Han has a tender moment where he calls Han “son.”  Of course he also promises Han that he’ll be flying starships, so it’s very telling when the movie jumps ahead three years to show Han in a battle, on foot.  Deconstructing the myth of Imperial efficiency, the battle is depicted as a mess with no clear objectives and the officers having nothing more to offer than catchphrases.  Also like Rogue One, one of the best characters is a droid.  In this case Lando’s companion Elthree (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) who speaks the truth that has been evident through all the Star Wars movies: droids are treated as slaves and need to be liberated.

The movie never seems to decide whether it wants to be a romp or to delve into the more serious undertones of poverty in the Empire and what that drives people to do.  As a result the movie is a bit uneven and not as good as it could be.  Nevertheless, the acting is strong, the humor is sharp, and Solo is generally an entertaining movie.  It’s a worthy addition to the Star Wars saga (and certainly better than any of the prequels).

Rating: ***

Book Review: Christmas on a Rational Planet by Lawrence Miles


Author: Lawrence Miles
Title: Christmas on a Rational Planet
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1996.
Summary/Review:

This is the first Doctor Who novel by Lawrence Miles, who would later go on to be one of the leading writers of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, introduce the Faction Paradox, and co-wrote the history of Doctor Who series About Time.  But in this first novel, Roz is trapped in a town in New York in 1799, Chris is trapped in the TARDIS with someone trying to kill him, and secret socities are worshipping Satan and the like.  The book is interesting at parts, but also just weird in ways that makes it hard to follow.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Dark Talent by Brandon Sanderson


Author: Brandon Sanderson
TitleAlcatraz Versus the Dark Talent
Narrator: Ramon de Ocampo
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2016)

Previously Read By the Same Author:  Alcatraz Versus the Evil LibrariansAlcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones, Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia and Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens
Summary/Review:

The fifth and possibly final Alcatraz book picks up where the previous one ended with Alcatraz having destroyed all of his family’s talents.  Now he must ally with his mother – an evil librarian – to stop his father, a Free Kingdomer whose desire to give every one on Earth a Smedry Talent which could have disastrous consequences.  Smedry and his team go to the Evil Librarian’s Highbrary – a.k.a The Library of Congress in an alternate universe version of Washington, DC.  Unfortunately, Smedry’s friend and defender, Bastille remains in stasis for the better part of the book.  Smedry and Bastille’s love/hate chemistry when they are together is one of the best part of the series and this book suffers from its absence (although when Bastille finally makes her entrance, it’s spectacular).  The book has the usual clever wordplay – including a chapter of delicious puns – but it feels like Sanderson’s heart is not really in it anymore, and it is the weakest book in the series.  Or it could be Alcatraz, who obstinately states this is the last part of his biography after an uncharacteristically dark ending to the book.  But Alcatraz is an unreliable narrator who has lied to us before, and there are clues that this is all just a big cliffhanger leading to yet another book.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Just War by Lance Parkin


Author: Lance Parkin
TitleJust War
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, c1996.
Summary/Review:

The Seventh Doctor makes frequent visits to World War II: The Curse of Fenric on tv, Colditz on audio, Timewyrm: Exodus and this book in the Virgin New Adventures. We begin this book with one of this Doctor’s great manipulative plans.  Roz and Chris are working with British intelligence in London, Benny is undercover with the Resistance in Guernsey, and the Doctor is seeking a particularly genius Nazi scientist.  Things go horribly wrong, of course, and as happens all to often in the New Adventures, it leads to a companion getting tortured. The book features a strong narrative though, one of the most easily readable New Adventures, with great character moments for Benny, Roz, and Chris.  It’s also close to being a pure historical, with The Butterfly Effect and the Doctor’s hubris being the main antagonists outside of the Nazis.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Early Riser by Jasper Fforde


AuthorJasper Fforde
Title: Early Riser
Publication Info: [New York] : Viking, [2018]
Other Books Read by Same AuthorThe Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost PlotsShades of GrayThe Last DragonslayerThe Song of the QuarkbeastOne of Our Thursdays is Missing, and The Eye of Zoltar.
Summary/Review:

I’ve been a fan of Jasper Fforde ever since my now defunct book club selected The Eyre Affair way back in 2002.  He generally pumps out his humorous, clever, metafictional, and totally original novels about once a year, but this time Fforde Ffans had to wait FIVE WHOLE YEARS for his new book.

Early Riser is unrelated to any of Fforde’s previous series of novels, although it shares some elements of the classic Fforde style. Every Fforde novel, while comical, is set in a dystopia and Fforde’s dystopia of choice is the Bureaucratic Hell.  In this novel, the alternate universe Earth is beset by long, brutal winters, so humanity survives through hibernation.  The Winter Consuls, a police force of sorts, stay awake to protect the rest.  Charlie Worthing, a Novice Winter Consul, narrates his first winter in this dangerous job.

One challenge is that Morphenox, the drug that helps people hibernate, has the side effect of putting people in a state of narcosis.  Sometimes they can still perform menial tasks, but if they get hungry, they may also try to eat people.  (And if long winters and zombie-like creatures make you think of A Song of Ice and Fire, there are some tangential similarities).  Charlie also has to contend with a woman who, dolphin-like, sleeps with only half of her brain at time, and has completely different and conflicting personalities.  Then there are dreams that are going viral among the sleepers and even becoming dangerous. And there’s a mythical creature called The Gronk, who loves Rogers & Hammerstein musicals and folding laundry, but will also eat peoples’ fingers (I doubt Fforde is aware of the New England Patriots football player, but its funny all the same).

Fforde novels tend to be high-concept, and Early Riser was the most difficult one for me to comprehend in the early going what exactly are the parameters of this world and getting past the jargon that’s sprinkled liberally in the text.  I eventually cottoned on.  The book is funny, but it feels more grimdark than other Fforde novels.  There’s an obvious parody of climate change in the novel, but there’s also the darkness of people’s’ souls in their willingness to exploit others for a little gain.  Early Riser is a challenging read, but ultimately a worthwhile one, and a worthy addition to the Fforde oeuvre.

Recommended books: Passage by Connie Willis.
Rating: ****