#FridayReads: Revenge of the Fifth Edition

Later this month marks the 40th Anniversary of my favorite thing ever, Star Wars. Now, pretty much every day is Star Wars day for me, but as May 5th is known as Revenge of the Fifth in the fan community, here’s a special edition (don’t worry, not that kind) of #FridayReads. Enjoy!

There are several things I want out of Star Wars movie novelizations: insight into the characters via inner monologues/descriptions of feelings, a few extra tidbits/tangents that shed light on a background element in the movie (character, droid, place, etc.), and writing that is decent or better. The novelization for The Force Awakens was a bit disappointing on the characters’ inner lives bit, which I imagine is because they’re keeping a tight lock on things to avoid spoilers for the upcoming saga films.

the rogue one audiobook

Rogue One doesn’t have such compunctions for obvious reasons if you’ve seen the films, and so far the novelization has met or exceeded my expectations on all fronts. The audiobook is extremely well-produced to boot, with sound effects and background music at appropriate points. The story follows the movie perfectly, of course, but I appreciate the little glimpses we get into Cassian, Jyn, and their growing friendship/feelings for one another.

We get quite a bit from Chirrut and Baze’s points of view, which was something I didn’t expect and am enjoying quite a bit (and we should get even more with the Guardians of the Whills comic series!). Director Krennic also makes POV appearances, and I like that his scheming to maintain power and control over the Death Star is a main focus of his inner thoughts. Plus, it’s very interesting to see Darth Vader through his eyes—there’s a lot of disbelief and resentment until he experiences Vader’s power first-hand.

Jonathan Davis’s reading of the story is  fantastic. He makes his voice sound like exactly like Cassian, Chirrut, Galen, and even Tarkin. His Jyn is a little off, but it’s a truly exceptional male narrator who can pull off sounding like a woman without making her also sound like a child. They put his voice through a modulator to create K-2SO’s voice, which is a nice touch.

The only point the background SFX became an annoyance was while they are leaving Jeddha to head to Eadu. There’s a constant, high-pitched whining in the background through that whole scene meant to duplicate the way ships sound in hyperspace, but my god was that irritating. I almost fast-forwarded through that, but it’s an important scene so I broke it up over days and suffered through it.

This has been my first Star Wars audiobook (books are my big collection so I usually just buy the hardcovers and read them the old-fashioned way). I’d definitely recommend this as an entry point into the canon beyond the films. I’ll certainly be checking out more Star Wars audiobooks for my daily commute.

 

#FridayReads: How to Plant a Garden

I finished this book a while ago, but I’m referring to it often as I plan my garden. How to Plant a Garden refers mostly to ornamental plantings, and while I’m aiming for a mainly edible garden, I still found it enormously helpful.

Considering I live in a city, I do have a sizable yard–but we’re not talking acres, here, so I need my garden to pull double duty: provide me with vegetables, fruits, herbs, and other useful plants while also looking great.

photo of How to Plant a Garden with a houseplant

The author, Matt James, explains basic garden design principles and also gives summaries of basic garden styles like cottage and naturalistic. He even includes “productive” as a style. I can tell you when a garden looks good and when it doesn’t, but until reading this book I couldn’t tell you why. I’m still a garden design n00b, but I feel equipped to at least tackle my modest urban homestead.

One thing that helps greatly is the abundance of beautiful photos and sample planting schemes. A lot of these won’t necessarily work with my space, but they do provide excellent inspiration. This book could just as easily be left out on a coffee table as shelved with your garden reference books.

Even if you have a well-established garden or have been gardening for years, I bet you’ll find something worthwhile in these pages.

Metafiction and the anti-war message of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five

The use of metafiction in anti-war fiction is fairly common (Slaughterhouse-Five, The Things They Carried).  Does the inclusion of the author as a character in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (and the knowledge that the “author” fought in World War II) lend credibility to the anti-war message, or does it weaken the message by taking away from the story and characters by using an overbearing delivery?

I was hoping to use your comments in my discussion this week, but no one wanted to argue!  But that’s okay, I’m fine with just telling you what to think. ;p  I’m going to be stubborn and once again attempt to open up a discussion, so I’m going to argue both points—and I do think both views are valid and very arguable.  But, first, a basic summary.

Kurt Vonnegut the character opens the book by visiting an old military buddy, where he talks about a book he’s always wanted to write about the fire bombing of Dresden, Germany, during World War II.  The book he’s writing is about Billy Pilgrim, a chaplain’s assistant who is a POW in a slaughterhouse during the destruction of Dresden, and later becomes “unstuck in time” after he is captured by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore.

The aliens can see in four dimensions (time being the fourth) and can focus on any one time in their life.  They do not believe people can choose their destiny, and Billy comes to agree with them after spending time in a Tralfamadore zoo as an exhibit.  The book has a nonlinear narrative structure and flits between different time periods in Billy’s life, with Vonnegut as character occasionally interjecting.

The inclusion of the author as a character in Slaughterhouse-Five lends credibility to the narrative and the book’s anti-war message.

Slaughterhouse-Five is metafiction at its most pure.  The author appears as a character, who is writing a book.  The author tells us about his military service in World War II and how he witnessed the firebombing of Dresden.

Since we know the author (as a character in the book) was there, we feel more inclined to believe Billy’s account of the tragedy within the book-within-a-book.  He was there, and only one a few who survived to tell about it, so he immediately becomes a more reliable narrator.

Which makes us wonder if Billy is crazy when he starts talking about aliens from Tralfamadore, or if the aliens really exist.  Wondering about those pesky Tralfamadorans leads us to a slew of other questions: Is our destiny, as Billy comes to believe, really fixed?  Are we doomed to keep fighting wars or do we have the power to stop them?  How can we stop them?

Although Billy turns to fatalism and pessimism on the topic of free-will and our ultimate destiny, we are able to recognize that he feels this way because he’s witnessed and lived through horrors that we can’t understand, having not been through them ourselves.  I felt sorry for Vonnegut the character, trying to write his book and always putting it off.  Even if he could get the words down, who would want to listen to such an awful story?

But we, the readers, because of Vonnegut the character and Billy’s viewpoints, know that we must listen to this story, so that we can do our part to prevent other stories like Billy’s from happening ever again, thus making the author appearing as a character an integral part of the book’s anti-war message.

The inclusion of the author as a character in Slaughterhouse-Five is overbearing and takes away from both the message and the story.

 

Slaughterhouse-Five is not a hopeful book, and it doesn’t really have a happy ending.  The general feeling it leaves me with is “oh well, that’s how it is,” which the book’s characters echo with the oft-repeated phrase “So it goes.”

Being a book that decries the horrors of war, this isn’t surprising.  What surprises me is Vonnegut the character’s similar depression.  He doesn’t seem to want to change the world or give a call to action to end war.  The book that Vonnegut the author writes shows a character, Bill Pilgrim, that hates war but makes little effort to campaign against it, even though he claims to know exactly when and how he’ll die.

The fatalism of both Billy and Vonnegut the character does, in my opinion, work against the anti-war message.  It is depressing rather than inspiring, and can only make the reader feel guilty for being a part of a humanity that still fights wars.

If you remove Vonnegut the character from the equation, we’re left with Billy Pilgrim, who is probably crazy.  Knowing that he’s suffering from the effects of witnessing the horrors of war, we can take his pessimism and fatalism and turn it around:  This is what happens to people who fight wars, let’s work to avoid this.

With the author-as-character in the book, that’s harder to do.  The author-as-character is, by his presence, giving us his opinion through Billy’s story.  Since that author-as-character is Vonnegut, it feels (whether or not it is is another discussion) that he’s telling us there is nothing we can do about war.  Since Vonnegut the character is giving us his opinion, it’s harder to view the book in any other light.

A version of this post originally appeared on my now-defunct blog about metafiction, The Narrative in the Blog on October 4, 2010.