Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bird BoxBird Box by Josh Malerman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

our minds have ceilings, Malorie...
these things...
they are beyond it…
higher than it…
out of reach…
out of--


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Whatever you do DON’T OPEN YOUR EYES!!

Malorie has just confirmed she is pregnant the very day that people begin killing themselves. News travels so fast now. Something can happen in Cairo. Someone can film it, load it to the internet, and within minutes of the event occurring someone in Des Moines is watching what happened. News, mostly tragic news, from around the world now impacts us instantaneously. The world, consequently, feels like a much more dangerous place than it did 50 years ago. So when this new phenomenon starts happening everyone knows about it very quickly. Terror escalates exponentially, and has reached a highly sustained level long before this catastrophe has contaminated the whole world.

”What kind of a man cowers when the end of the world comes? When his brothers are killing themselves, when the streets of suburban America are infested with murder...what kind of man hides behind blankets and blindfolds? The answer is MOST men. They were told they would go mad. So they go mad.”

It turns out everyone was right to be afraid.

There is something out there. If you see it... you go insane.

It goes through the world population like a pestilent storm. We have windows in our dwellings, in our work buildings,and in our schools because we WATCH the world. It only takes a moment, a need that can’t be ignored, one parting of a curtain, for us to see one of these creatures, and become deranged.

We do violent things to ourselves.The lizard inside us meant to fight when flight is not an option turns inward.

To live, we must reside in darkness, shrouded by blindfolds, tucked in dwellings behind blanketed windows. It is maddening to have our world reduced to so little.

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So what are these creatures and do they know what they do to us?

After Malorie’s sister Shannon kills herself with a pair of scissors, Malorie is all alone. Some kook has been offering sanctuary at his house in newspaper ads when this manifestation first started to appear. Suddenly, with her changed circumstances, the kook becomes her best option.

The kook is dead, but the people he sheltered are still alive.

Tom and Jules are the alpha males who take chances, range the farthest away, blindfolded and with sticks to guide them, to find necessary supplies. Don is the weakest, the one that has found it hardest to adjust. He is also the most cynical.

”They’ll eventually get us, Don said. There’s no reason to think otherwise. It’s end times, people. And if it’s a matter of a creature our brains are incapable of comprehending, then we deserve it. I always assumed the end would come because of our own stupidity.”

For a few blissful months Malorie can feel reasonably safe nestled in the routine of this small group of survivors. Meanwhile her tummy is getting rounder.

Then Gary arrives. He whispers things to Don. Like any good charlatan he can pick the most vulnerable out of a crowd. He can sense their doubts before he ever hears them express them..

Gary thinks he is immune.

Which begs the question, if the bindings that keep our minds anchored in sanity have long been shorn away can the creatures do anymore damage?

There are two time lines at play in this book. One is during the few months when Malorie is with the sanctuary group. The other is four years later when she is raising two children that have never seen...well...anything beyond the cramped world of one house.

”The same colors. The same colors. The same colors for years. YEARS. Are you prepared? And what scares you more? The creatures or yourself, as the memories of a million sights and colors come flooding toward you? What scares you more?

Josh Malerman does a fantastic job building the suspense, allowing the tension to stretch nerves to the breaking point. Information is opaque. He doesn’t cheat and give the reader information before the characters figure something out. I kept thinking of the movie Monsters from 2010. There are monsters; and yet, we are not allowed to see them. We hear them. We see the reactions of the characters, and somehow the terror is more acute when our brain does not have a shape, an entity to project our fear onto. Our mounting terror is allowed to gallop unrestrained, and each of us conjures our own version of a terrifying specter.

”You add the details, she thinks. It’s your idea of what they look like, and details are added to a body and a shape that you have no concept of. To a face that might have no face at all.”

Malerman has created a dystopia that will play on all your fears and will stir up all your insecurities. You will question whether you can live in a world where one glimpse of a sun dappled street might cost you your life. Highly recommended for those that like books that will cost them some sleep.

As a companion volume read Blindness by Jose Saramago

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The Way of the Assassin, the Way of the Warrior

Lone Wolf & Cub, vol. 3: The Flute of the Fallen Tiger

Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima

Dark Horse Comics

Reviewed by: Terry 

4 out of 5 stars

Volume three of “Lone Wolf and Cub” expands on Ogami Itto’s backstory quite a bit and finally shows us what led an upstanding samurai to abandon the world and embark on the path of the assassin. It also shows us that those who fear Lone Wolf and Cub do so not only because of the skill with which he wields his sword, but due to the knowledge of the ways and secrets of the Shogunate that he possesses. Criticism of the hypocritical nature of the way of the samurai continues to be voiced and it seems at times as though Ogami Itto is a corrective to the offenses of those that abuse their powers grown from their very ranks and using their own methods against them.

“The Flute of the Fallen Tiger”: Ogami must face three deadly fighters whose job it is to safely transport key witnesses in disputes between Hans to the court of the Shogun. Interestingly we start to see the mysterious assassin Lone Wolf and Cub starting to be identified as one and the same as Ogami Itto, one time executioner for the Shogun. Agents of the powers-that-be know that this deadly assassin is more than just a warrior to be reckoned with, he is one of their own whose inside knowledge might shake the place of the Shogunate itself.

“Half Mat, One Mat, A Fistful of Rice”: Merely stopping to watch an itinerant street performer leads Lone Wolf and Cub into a battle of life and death. This is another case where Ogami is recognized and must fight against a warrior of exceptional talent in order to continue on his quest. This time, though, his enemy takes up the sword not out of a wish to safeguard the powers-that-be from an enemy who knows their secrets, but rather through the fear of a compassionate man that the unchecked violence of Lone Wolf and Cub will lead to far too much suffering and death. So far in the series this tale is probably the most explicit in its criticisms of the bushido way and the imbalance and violence that it spawns in society.

“The White Path Between the Rivers”: At last we get to witness all of the events that led Ogami Itto, the Kogi Kaishakunin (the Shogun’s own executioner), to adopt the way of the assassin and take to the road of meifumado with his baby son. A tale of murder, political intrigue, and vengeance that doesn’t leave one too surprised at the ruthless determination that Ogami adopts, and we get our first glance at his true enemy, the wily and resourceful  Yagyu Retsudo, secret leader of the powerful Yagyu clan.

“The Virgin and the Whore”: A young woman sold into prostitution kills her procurer after he attempts to rape her and ends up running for protection to Lone Wolf and Cub. Uncharacteristically, Ogami decides to intervene in the affairs of the ‘real world’ and protects her in the face of the threat of death and torture at the hands of her Yakuza masters. What could possibly cause Ogami to abandon the heartless path of meifumado merely to protect a young girl in trouble? Does his compassion perhaps have some other motive more true to the ruthless assassin we have come to know?

“Close Quarters”: Once again we see that Ogami has to beware of not only his targets, but also his employers. Yet again putting his son in danger’s path and using him as a tool to fool his victims, Ogami infiltrates the hideout of a group of rebellious samurai in a bid to halt their attempt at coercing their Han Governor into giving up on a newly instituted lumber scheme. As is often the case Ogami’s clients aren’t always happy to let the assassin leave once he fulfills his contract.

Also posted at Goodreads