Fullmetal Alchemist

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood coverIt has been over a month since my last recommendation. This is partly due to my reading slump and other demands on my time, but today I am recommending a story that is one I consider top-tier. This is the manga series Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa. I first discovered this story via the anime adaptation which has two versions (which I will discuss shortly), but first let’s begin with a quick blurb to see if this is the type of story you are interested in.

“In an alchemical ritual gone wrong, Edward Elric lost his arm and leg, and his brother Alphonse became nothing but a soul in a suit of armor. Their journey to restore their bodies through the power of the Philosopher’s Stone begins here.”

That was taken from the back of volume one of the deluxe edition. There are 18 volumes included in the deluxe edition and 27 in the original version (the deluxe editions combine the 27 into 18 hardcover volumes).

I hope this caught your interest, because as I stated above, this story is incredible. The Elric brothers are alchemists. Alchemy, for a simple explanation, could be equated to magic. The entire system centers on the Law of Equivalent Exchange. For example, by using the right alchemical formula, an alchemist could change water into hydrogen by removing the oxygen. The correct materials are present. They can change the chemical and/or physical makeup of things with alchemy but only if the materials are present. Alchemy cannot therefore create something from nothing. Except perhaps with the Philosopher’s Stone.

Though I recently read the manga series for the first time, I did watch the 2003 adaptation Fullmetal Alchemist and the 2009 adaptation titled Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. The reason two versions exist isn’t simply that the latter is a remake. The first was adapted while the manga was still being written and the show went on past the published material and thus took creative liberties to conclude the series resulting is quite a few differences from the source material. The 2009 adaptation is more accurate as the series had been completed and it therefore stayed true to the source material. This is perhaps why I believe it to be the better version.

What I like about this series is the blend of comedy, drama, ethics, morality, and the questions of what it means to be human and what is the value of a human life. It covers topics such as genocide, so this series does delve into some heavy areas and there are some impactful moments, one of which stands out as a forever “too soon” reference within the fandom. If you’ve read or watched this series, then you likely know what I am referring to.

The series is rich with interesting characters both good and bad. I would even dare to call it timeless due to the nature of the worldbuilding and the fact it centers on those questions that humanity will always be considering despite the fact no concrete answer will ever be possible.

If you’ve never heard of this series, then I hope you look into it either by reading or watching. I of course recommend print format but also the 2009 adaptation if you want to watch it. Both versions are currently available on Netflix. In the spirit of Equivalent Exchange. I thank you for reading my post and I hope you got something from it that you find as valuable as the time spent reading it.

Happy Reading.

A Reading Slump

I hate to say that I’ve been in a reading slump lately. Nothing seems to be of much interest on the book front and I think there are three reasons for this. First, I think I’ve been avoiding a return to Blindness by Jose Saramago. My pause on this book was caused by some disturbing content which makes me reluctant to return to it. I’m not one to force myself to finish a book, but I am/was interesting in seeing this one out. However, I’m not sure I will return to it now. This may be the first book I’ve abandoned after reading more than halfway through. The book is interesting but delves into the worst parts of humanity which I don’t need to explore further, but as a writer I feel a need to finish the book to see not only what happens but how Saramago presents it (and if there is a silver lining or hopeful ending). It’s a bit of a dilemma but thinking of how the last few chapters disturbed me enough to put it down makes me think it is best to just leave it put and move on. I can always return to it later if I really feel a need. I just don’t feel any need to finish it now so I’m just going to let it go.

The second reason is a bit two-fold. I’ve been spending much more focus on other areas which has also made me more physically tired. I’ve been focusing of course on my daughter who will soon be nine months old. She is absolutely everything to me and she is constantly on the move. When not wrangling her, I’ve been focusing a lot on my physical health through food and exercise. This has added to my being physically tired more often, but I know it will pay off by giving me more energy as I adjust to the routine. This will help me keep up with the little one. I’ve also been spending little spurts of free time learning Spanish. This may seem like a lot, and it is, but I typically have my mind split across a million endeavors, so it’s not out of the ordinary.

Lastly, I have been spending a good deal of mental energy on my own novel. Unfortunately, I have not been making any progress on physically writing it, but I have been working through the story in my head. I do need to get to work putting it down on paper/on the computer though. I think this last one has been a large part of my reading slump because I’m focusing on my own story instead of focusing as much on reading others.

All that aside, I am still reading. I am slowly making my way through Pity the Reader: On Writing with Style by Kurt Vonnegut and Suzanne McConnell. It is good and can easily be read intermittently. I recently read The Getaway Car by Ann Patchett which was really good and more of an article than a book being only 30 or so pages. I’ve also been reading Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa. I loved the show and am enjoying the manga. So I have been reading, but just in small spurts compared to my usual pace. This actually may be a perfect time to be reading a short story collection now that I think about it.

I can’t change too much of the above if I’m going to accomplish some of the goals I’ve set for myself, but I think putting Blindness away and forgetting about it will be helpful. Hopefully, actually getting back to the nitty-gritty of writing my novel will also help me open up to new stories as well. The slump will pass sooner or later.

There are plenty of good books to discover. I hope you are in the middle of a great one now.

Happy reading.

A Note on Recent Adaptations

I previously posted about a few film and television adaptations I was excited to see that were all based on books I had read. I wanted to follow up about those adaptations and have a little discussion about adaptations in general from a the viewpoint of a fan of the original work.

DuneFirst, I absolutely enjoyed the film adaptation of Dune. I thought the film followed the book pretty well even though it has been a few years since I had read it. I am excited for the second movie that should wrap up the content of the first book. I hear rumors that there may even be a chance for a third movie that I assume would delve into a few of the sequels. I am okay with that of course. The story, and the adaptation, is great and having to wait an additional year to see it was worth it in my opinion.

Next, The Wheel of Time as adapted into a television series by Amazon. I read this series a few years ago. It is a huge series at 15 books (including the prequel) with an average book length of approximately 800 pages. It is one of the longest series I have read and I enjoyed it immensely.

Wheel of Time' Recap Season 1 Episode 3 — Questing Party Splits Up | TVLineThe fans are split on this one and reasonably so. The television series finished the first season in December and it consisted of 8 episodes. Those 8 episodes covered a lot of ground but changed nearly all aspects of the story aside from the characters themselves and the core story meaning the general events are in the show but the details are altered or omitted entirely which I think is what many hardcore fans dislike. I understand the issues they take with the adaptation, but I stand more in agreement with the same hardcore fans who are simply thrilled to see their favorite series on screen. Am I bothered by the many changes and implicit disregard for detail? Of course, but not to the extent that I would review-bomb the show or hope that they cancel it altogether. I think that is ridiculous. You don’t have to continue watching a show if you don’t like it, but why would you go out of your way to complain or bash a show that others do enjoy. Especially at the very beginning of the series.

I’ll admit, the changes and progression of the story did seem lacking to me, but I still want to watch it. I may be less excited to watch it, but the production is top-notch and seeing some of the cities and monsters and magic that are within this story is simply awesome.

Netflix's live-action Cowboy Bebop is canceled - The VergeFans getting upset and throwing tantrums like spoiled children is always a bad look. Which brings me to the next adaptation I want to discuss: Cowboy BebopThis series, produced by Netflix, is a live-action adaptation of an anime that first released in the 1990s. I am a fan of the original series and must admit that I loved the adaptation. Yes, the adaptation is almost entirely different from the original series, but I think it works for a variety of reasons. The first being that the original series is almost more of an anthology than a story-driven series, meaning each episode was it’s own mini-story that involved our main characters. I think the live-action kept (almost) all the characters true to their original personas. It includes a lot of similar mini-plots while alluding to others from the original series. We get more backstory on a few major characters which I liked too. The graphics were top-notch and some of the fight scenes were incredible.

However, so many so-called fans were upset and disliked the show enough that season two was cancelled. There is a petition by fans to have the second season made, and I hope it does get made. I would like to see more. One last note on this one: nearly all live-action adaptations of anime shows have been treated harshly (many for good reason), and this show may be the best live-action adaptation out there.

There are a few more adaptations that I am looking forward to or need to catch up on. For example, I need to watch season two of The Witcher and I am looking forward to watching Amazon’s new show The Rings of Power which is a Lord of the Rings show that will take place presumably well before the original story. Some “fans” have already bashed the show simply because of the title. They know nothing else about it but are already mad simply because of the title. I mean….really?

I guess my main point of this post is that there are too many people complaining about an adaptation not following the source material verbatim or that it is taking too many liberties or isn’t what they wanted and therefore are complaining like they were entitled to get their version of it. Even if it is a quality show on its own. Fandoms can be toxic and can bleed into any medium. All I’m saying is let things be, especially if other fans do enjoy the adaptations. Re-read the book or simply watch the original show again.

Every reader envisions the story, or a character, a bit differently. They make it their own. That is what is great about books. They are a personal experience. If an adaptation doesn’t live up to your specific vision or experience, then let it go and move on. Let the people who do like it enjoy it.

Kokoro

Kokoro book coverKokoro by Natsume Soseki was first written in 1914 but it reads as a timeless story albeit tied to a defining era. Published two years before Soseki’s death, this book is threaded with seemingly autobiographical content if you were to explore Soseki’s own life. However, despite the connections that can be easily made, I often think it best to keep the author separate and let the text stand on its own.

That being said, I believe Kokoro is a good book for multiple reasons. The first and foremost being that the story is relatively short but overall is contemplative of life itself. The title roughly translates to, or is meant to mean, “the heart of things” and the story arguably centers around interpersonal interaction, the meaning of life in relation to those around us and those of different generations, the meaning of friendship, of love, and many other aspects of humanity as both singular and as a whole. Thus the title seems very fitting. How can all this be present in one novel, you may ask? Well, a book is simply an independent link between a writer and a reader. The reader brings their own experiences and history to a book. Once the book is out in the world, it no longer changes and the writer’s initial intentions may or may not remain as the text survives them. In other words, the writer is both of the utmost importance to the book but is also immaterial once it takes on a life of its own.

Which brings me to the second thing I enjoyed about this book. Since it was written over one hundred years ago, the book acts as a time-capsule into the past. Not the same as a history book. This story is fiction. Though I said earlier that it reads mostly as a modern novel, partly in thanks to the translation by Edwin McClellan, it is set in Japan in or around 1914 and therefore reflects the era in which it was written. Reading a story that had no concept of our modern day technology can help put our own era into perspective. For example, there are no telephones present in this story because they were not commonly available at that time. Letters were the main form of communication and therefore meant news would take days to reach someone. Something we can readily forget when we are connected or available at a moment’s notice every second of the day. Reading a story where there is no immediate connection or ability to access information at the touch of a screen can be relaxing. If I’m honest, it is a good reminder that we don’t have to be connected at all times and that we should take time away from the screen. Either to contemplate why they exist or to forget them entirely. Another reason to enjoy physical books.

Seeing the world through another lens is often a good thing. It lends perspective and can help a reader learn more about the world we live in or more about themselves and their place in the world. This book I think does both. Which is why I am recommending it. It definitely is a book that you can take a lot away from, but at the same time only if you open yourself to the story. Each person may experience the story quite differently and take away different perspectives. You may read the book and find it boring or insightful. You may not finish it or it may be the best book you read this year. My only hope is that you are at least intrigued enough to consider reading it, especially if you had never heard of the book or this author before now.

Happy Reading.

Start of the Year Reading List

Well, it’s a new year and we are already a few weeks into it. Unfortunately, I spent the first week or so sick and recovering which gave me plenty of time to think about what I want to get accomplished this year. I am maintaining my 50 books per year reading challenge and have already finished three books so far which is a pretty good start. I am technically halfway through two books as well but I will talk about those in a bit.

I plan on getting some writing done this year (finally) as I was unofficially on a writing hiatus as I worked on my MBA. Now that the degree is finished, no more excuses. I’m really excited to attend a convention later this year which I have already registered for. It will be my first time attending WorldCon and I hope that the world is in a much better place and events like this stop being cancelled, postponed, and we are free and clear to actually spend time in groups. I would hate to cancel yet another outing, but safety first especially now that I have a little one that is always on my mind.

But this post is about a reading list for the beginning of the year. So far, I have read We Watch You by N.S. Ford which was a great mystery/thriller. I just finished Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood where she talks about the craft of writing and more. I am halfway through Blindness by Jose Saramago. I have to admit that this is the first time I’ve deliberately put a book down and taken time away from reading it. There was a scene that was really disturbing. I’ve not finished books before due to lack of interest or put it away to try again another time. This book I do plan on finishing but had to take time away because the disturbing scene in question just put me in a bad state and I needed to give myself time to recover before going back to it. The book is interesting and I think is good overall, and I may end up writing a recommendation for it if that turns out to be true.

The other book I’m technically halfway through is the Sandman comic series which I purchased last year in the Omnibus editions. There are three volumes, approximately 1000 pages each, that contain all the Sandman comics and extras. I am halfway through the second omnibus volume and will get back around to finishing the series. I think I paused this one because I came to the end of a story arc and life got busy and all that jazz. I compare it as the equivalent of pausing a show at the end of a season with the full intention of finishing the series. It was a good stopping point, but I plan to restart soon.

Pity The Reader CoverWith all that out of the way, I will now get to the few books I aim to read in the next few months. I just started Pity the Reader by Suzanne McConnell & Kurt Vonnegut. This book is primarily Kurt Vonnegut’s discussion of the craft of writing and more, but it was compiled and written by Suzanne McConnell who was a student, peer, and lifelong friend of Vonnegut’s. I look forward to digging into this one.

Kokoro book coverNext, I plan to read Kokoro by Natsume Soseki. I came across this book randomly and it caught my attention. It was first published in 1914, two years before Soseki passed away. Kokoro translates roughly to mean “the heart of things” and this book, at about 180 pages and told in three parts, is supposedly his most popular work. I had never heard of Soseki before stumbling across this book but I may explore more of his work if I enjoy this one.

Rendezvous with Rama book cover folio society editionI also want to read Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke. The only book of Clarke’s that I’ve read so far is 2001: A Space Odyssey and this one came on my radar when it was announced it would be adapted into a film by director Denis Villeneuve who directed the recent adaptation of Dune which I enjoyed. I’ve been meaning to read more of Clarke’s work and now this will prepare me for the film as well whenever it comes out.

So these three are what I aim to read in the next several weeks (I’ll probably finish Blindness as well). Of course life continues to be busy and trying to navigate our crazy world can distract from enjoying our hobbies. I hope you find some time for reading or whatever you enjoy doing. If you can’t find time, then make some time. You’ll likely thank yourself later for doing so.

Happy Reading.