Month: November 2015

Retellings, a hundred years later

One of my all-time favourite books is Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery. Yes, it’s sappy and girly. SorryNotSorry.

“It doesn’t seem possible that the term is nearly over,” said Anne. “Why, last fall it seemed so long to look forward to–a whole winter of studies and classes. And here we are, with the exams looming up next week. Girls, sometimes I feel as if those exams meant everything, but when I look at the big buds swelling on those chestnut trees and the misty blue air at the end of the streets they don’t seem half so important.”

Quotes like that ought to make me cringe, but for some reason they seem genuine coming from an early 20th century teenaged girl.

Plot summary: Anne Shirley is a red-headed eleven year old bouncing around the foster system in Canada. Through a clerical error, she is adopted by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, middle aged siblings who wanted a young boy to help with the farm. They decide to keep her anyway, and Anne is introduced to life in small town Avonlea (all this happens in Prince Edward Island, Canada- no, I don’t know where that is either). The rest of the novel describes her numerous mess-ups and college life.

This review isn’t about a 100-year-old book. It’s about a new social media adaptation of this classic. How I stumbled upon it is a story in itself. In the 1930s, a missionary from Canada gifted a copy of this book to a translator friend in Japan, who translated it to Japanese sometime during WW2. Thus, Anne has a special place in Japanese culture. Which means there’s an anime based on this story (no surprises there). I found out about this recently, and in the process of looking it up on YouTube, found Green Gables Fables, the aforementioned social media adaptation.

It’s pretty good, so far. Each character has his/her own Twitter/Tumblr profile, and Anne is an avid vlogger. Each incident gets a video or two, so the story is progressing quickly. As of the time of writing this post, the series is in its second season. The adaptation is very clever; for instance, Anne’s argument with an outspoken “aunty” prompts a rant on social media that’s seen by the aunty. An extremely apologetic YouTube video follows.

A lot of this stuff won’t seem as funny if you haven’t read the books- but if you have, definitely check this series out. 4.5/5 from me.

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Mad Scientists Are Mad

This is my review of Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.

I’d previously read The Handmaid’s Tale by the same author and didn’t like it much. It is like what happens if you lock an emo-goth feminist into a room for a few months- a dystopian novel about the subjugation of women. But I kept seeing the MaddAddam trilogy mentioned on the Internet, and decided to give it a shot. I’m glad I did!

The protagonist of the story is Jimmy, alias Snowman, who appears to be the last human alive after a bioengineered virus epidemic. The evil mastermind behind the epidemic is revealed to be Crake, Jimmy’s childhood friend. We learn about their formative years while present-day Snowman fights to stay alive in a land overrun by vicious animal hybrids.

The novel is set in an unspecified future time, when scientists are the elite of society, living in separate gated communities. Jimmy’s father is a genetic engineer, working on developing modified animals, mainly for human consumption. He attends the high school in his community, where he meets Glenn, a borderline Aspergers biology prodigy. They become fast friends, indulging in the usual (?) teenage vices. Jimmy’s mother, formerly a lab technician in a biological lab, begins to have serious doubts about the ethics of genetic engineering, and soon escapes from the high security community- she is a fugitive until her death later on in the book.

Jimmy and Glenn separate to go to different colleges- Jimmy to a rundown liberal arts school and Glenn to the prestigious Francis Crick Academy. They are in and out of touch for the next several years. After Jimmy learns of his mother’s death, he falls into a depression, questioning his mediocre job in advertising, his numerous casual relationships, and even his premature hair loss. Glenn, now referring to himself as Crake, visits him to offer a job marketing his latest drug. Further trouble ensues when they fall in love with the same woman, Oryx. It becomes obvious to Jimmy that something is being planned, but the full extent still shocks him.

Like many other sci-fi novels, this book will blow you away with its attention to detail. Jimmy, self-described as ‘not a math person’, doesn’t fit in with his father’s (and Crake’s) scientific background. He studies a watered-down version of the now neglected humanities in college, and though his degree is looked down upon, it allows him to critically evaluate the world-building plans of the scientists. His skills at rhetoric also stand him in good stead as the plot progresses. The genetically modified creatures have some neat features, like insect repellent scents.

And the drawbacks. This is book one of the MaddAddam trilogy, and feels very much like a prequel. The ending is more a cliffhanger than an ambiguous climax and that annoyed me a little bit. Jimmy’s mother is a two dimensional character, despite having an interesting point of view that could have been elaborated. In fact, most of the female characters in sci-fi are strange to say the least- the wives in Fahrenheit 451 and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep are also pointlessly neurotic. Just saying, it seems like a weird literary trope.

3.5/5, and I’m definitely going to check out the rest of the series. If you liked Oryx and Crake, try reading some Robin Cook for more medical mayhem.