First Lines: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

One afternoon, nine year-old Bruno came home to find the maid packing up all his belongings. Bruno’s Father got a promotion from his boss, The Fury, and now he and his family have to move to the country, to a place called Out-With. Bruno soon finds out he doesn’t like it there. The new house is nowhere near as good as the old one in Berlin, and that strange camp behind it, with all those people living in those huts and that fence that seems to go on forever? No, he’d rather go back. Then, weeks later, he kinda sorta settles in, and goes exploring. But there’s nothing worth seeing. He is about to turn back, when he sees a dot in the distance, which … become[s] a speck, and then began to show every sign of turning into a blob. And shortly after that the blob became a figure. And then, as Bruno got even closer, he saw that the thing was neither a dot nor a speck nor a blob nor a figure, but a person. In fact it was a boy. This boy, Shmuel, wearing filthy striped pyjamas, soon becomes Bruno best friend in the world. But they never get to play together, as the fence is between them, and it would probably be better if Bruno stayed on his side, as the other side wasn’t be greatest place in the world. So they just meet up most afternoons, and sit on both sides of the fence, talking to each other.

Now, then, finally, Mother has had it with this place, and she gets to return to Berlin with Bruno and his sister. While preparing his friend for this goodbye, they come up with a plan to play together, just once. In fact, they’ll go exploring, trying to find Shmuel’s father, who has disappeared. In a pair of striped pyjamas, Bruno slips under the fence, and off they go …

As a fable — Of course all this happened a long time ago. And nothing like that could happen again, not in this day and age. — John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas has a lot going for it. The writing is delightful, Bruno is a excellent oblivious nine-year old (He pushed his two feet together and shot his right arm in the air before clicking his two heels together and saying in a deep and clear voice as possible the words he said every time he left a soldiers presence. Heil Hitler, he said, which, he presumed, was another way of saying, Well, goodbye for now, have a pleasant afternoon.), and even while I knew the plot twist, it just hit me in the gut. Hard. Its depiction of life in concentration camps is of course historically inaccurate, but that is completely besides the point. As a story, it works, and it works really well.

Book read
John Boyne — The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
First line
One afternoon, when Bruno came home from school, he was surprised to find Maria, the family’s maid — who always kept her head bowed and never looked up from the carpet — standing in his bedroom, pulling all his belongings out of the wardrobe and packing them in four large wooden crates, even the things he’d hidden at the back that belonged to him and were nobody else’s business.

First Lines: Unidentified Funny Objects 4

At the time, I passed on the UFO4 Kickstarter, as I hadn’t read the previous three installments yet. By the time the UFO5 Kickstarter came around, I jumped at the chance to grab a couple of books, as I liked the concept.

Unlike the previous editions, volume four had an overall theme: dark humor. What dark humor is supposed to be is left vague, but it explains why Neil Gaiman’s “We Can Get Them for You Wholesale” got selected. This tale of a man who can’t say no to a bargain, even if it is wholesale prices for assassinations. I’ve read it earlier this year as well, and it remains a fun little story.

Other highlights include “Please Approve the Dissertation Research of Angtor” by Caroline M. Yoachim, which is a series of emails between a student named Angtor and the Dissertation Review Board, in which Angtor tries to convince them that they should approve his plans to research his theory that “Humans will destroy inhabited planets if Angtor screams death threats at them until they comply.”
Piers Anthony’s “Hello Hotel” takes an atheist makes a deal with the devil, despite not believing in him.
In “The Unfortunate Problem with Grandma’s Head” by Karen Haber we meet a woman who wins the annual lottery. The prize is getting to host great-great-great-…-grandmother’s head for the coming year. Unfortunately, Grandma might be dead, but her head keeps talking.
Imagine being able able to date an alternate universe copy of yourself. “Conversation Topics to Avoid on a First Date with Yourself” by Jonathan Ems explores that idea, and is quite good at it.
And finally, a story with a low body count by George R. R. Martin: “The Monkey Treatment”. A fat man gets to try out the (in)famous Monkey Treatment, a sure way to loose weight.

Unidentified Funny Objects 4 is available from UFO Publishing, and at most places books can be ordered.

Book read
Unidentified Funny Objects 4 (edited by Alex Shvartsman)
First line
Peter Pinter had never heard of Aristippus of the Cyrenaics, a lesser-known follower of Socrates who maintained that the avoidance of trouble was the highest attainable good; however, he had lived his uneventful life according to this precept. In all respects except one (an inability to pass up a bargain, and which of us is entirely free from that?), he was a very moderate man. (from “We Can Get Them for You Wholesale” by Neil Gaiman)

We’ll Never Be as Young as We Are Right Now (XIII)

It’s that time to start a fire
And I know we’ll make it good
We’re overflowing with desire
You got the spark, I’ve got wood

We got to let our voices soar
More than any song we’ve ever sung
It’s time we started speaking in tongues
Speaking in tongues …

There are things we learn by knowledge
There are things we learn by heart
There are things we learn at the end of life
There are things we learn at the start
There are things we learn by science
There are things we learn by art
There are things we learn from the fires of love
An erection of the heart …

Speaking in Tongues

Happy birthday, Jim.

First Lines: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

After seven books and eight movies, for me, the Harry Potter saga was over and done with. The additional books — Quidditch through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Tales of Beedle the Bard — aren’t essential in the grand scheme of things, and all those little updates J.K. Rowling released on Pottermore? I’d rather she didn’t. I don’t know what she’s trying to do with those after-the-fact updates, but it feels completely off to me. I mean, if Dumbledore being gay was such a big deal, why wasn’t that explicitly mentioned in the books?

Just leave it alone already.

Which brings us to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a new play by Jack Thorne based on an new original story by Rowling, Thorne and John Tiffany. The script used during the rehearsals of the play has been published as a “Special Rehearsal Edition”.

Going in, I was under the impression that the play would mostly be about Harry’s son going to Hogwarts, and having to deal with having a famous father. What I got was Harry, Ron and Hermione saving the day after Harry Jr. and Draco Jr. get their hands on a timeturner and use it to Make Things Right. And, of course, there are BIG FEELS and all ends well.

What I would have loved, was the story of young Albus Potter, of how he deals with his famous father’s legacy hanging over his head, and of his friendship with Scorpius Malfoy. That his father drops him off at the train, and that that would be the last we see of Old Harry, until he picks him up at the station when the play is done. But it was not to be. Of course not. You cannot call a thing Harry Potter and the Adjective of Something or Other and not stick Harry Potter in it. The fans would riot, even though it probably would have been better. But what do I know?

So, basically, the parts about young Potter and young Malfoy bromancing it up (get a room already!) were pretty good, the parts with the old gang less so (as they seemed out of character most of the time), and timeturners as a plot device still suck. Perhaps they will have fixed some issues in rehearsals, but we’ll have to wait until 2017, when the “Definitive Collectors Edition” of the script will be published, to find out.

All in all, to me Harry Potter and the Cursed Child felt like a mere aside in the Harry Potter cycle when I’m feeling generous, and like a money grab in the Harry Potter franchise when I’m not.

On a final note: now, if done right, I could totally get behind the upcoming five-part Harry Potter-prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie-franchise, as it (supposedly) expands the Harry Potter-universe, while leaving The Boy Who Lived the hell alone. As Rowling has said that this is it for Harry, I’m feeling hopeful. The trailer looks mighty nice.

Book read
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Special Rehearsal Edition). Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany. A new Play by Jack Thorne.
First line
A busy and crowded station. Full of people trying to go somewhere. Amongst the hustle and bustle, two large cages rattle on top of two laden trolleys. They’re being pushed by two boys, JAMES POTTER and ALBUS POTTER, their mother, GINNY, follows after. A thirty-seven-year-old man, HARRY, has his daughter, LILY, on his shoulders.

ALBUS: Dad. He keeps saying it.