Archive for Jon Krakauer

out of the wild

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , on June 25, 2020 by xi'an

Thin Air [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2020 by xi'an

When visiting Vancouver last December [at a time when traveling was still possible], I had the opportunity to revisit White Dwarf Books [thirty years after my first visit] and among other books bought a Richard Morgan‘s novel, Thin Air, that I did not know existed and which was recommended by the [friendly] book seller. As superior to Morgan’s foray into dark fantasy (that I did not dislike so much). As I had really enjoyed the Altered Carbon series, I jumped on this new novel, which is a form of sequel to Th1rt3en, and very very similar in its futuristic pastiche of tough detectives à la Marlowe, dry humour included. A form of space noir, as The Guardian puts it. I sort of got quickly lost in the plot and (unusually) could not keep track of some characters, which made reading the book a chore towards the end. Thanks to the COVID-19 quarantine, I still managed to finish it, while home cycling!, the very end being more exciting than the beginning drudgery and the predictable sex scenes bound to occur in every of his novels. The Martian world in the novel is only alluded to, which makes it more appealing, despite the invasive jargon, however it sounds too much like a copy of our 20th century with car chase and gun/knife fights. Enhanced by an embedded AI when one can afford it. Certainly not the best read in the series but enough to tempt me into looking at the first episodes of Altered Carbon on Netflix. [Note: the book is not to be confused with the bestselling Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, which relates the 1996 Everest disaster, soon turned into a rather poor movie. I had not realised till today that the same Krakauer wrote Into the Wild…!]

Everest [film review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures with tags , , , , , , , on December 29, 2015 by xi'an

A few weeks ago, I saw Everest with my daughter and was less than impressed. In fact, I had read the Karkauer book, Into Thin Air, quite a while ago (actually it had been recommended to me by George Casella, who thought this notion of climbing Everest on a commercial expedition was sheer madness!) and enjoyed it to the point I bought the French translation for my father. The book exposed the contradictions in the commercial approach to climbing Everest (and other mountains). From installing fixed ropes all the way to the top to guiding inexperienced or unfit clients to the top with a fair chance of not bringing them back. (It is not that I opposed guided mountaineering, hiring guides in most cases I am out of my comfort zone, i.e., above scrambling. But hiring a guide means that he or she is making decisions about where and when we can go and that I cannot argue when we have to turn back, as it happens about half the time. Obviously, I often feel we could try at least the next level of difficulty, however I consider I gave up that choice when hiring the guide. Which is most likely wise!) The book also covered how the accompanying guides dealt [or not] with the clients stranded above the highest camps. And the murky issue of the empty oxygen bottles that helped into the final disaster.

The movie did not enter into such details. Nothing revolutionary there, as feelings and hypotheses do not turn up well into a scenario, even though the script writer seemed too careful in depicting everyone in a rather positive light! In my opinion, the film did not do enough to connect the deadly outcome of this Everest climb with the commercial pressure of the success rate advertised by this company. Hence with the competition between companies and guides. It all sounded too much like the old superficial drivel that mountains are dangerous places, the possibility of death is part of the climbing ethos and glory, and so on. Missing the fact that the clients were not taking part in many aspects of climbing, from carrying gear, to reconnoitring, to setting camps, etc. That they were not equal to the task of climbing Everest. Thus ending up as an unconvincing melodrama, with everyone crying, a miraculous resuscitation, and an heroic helicopter rescue. And with surprisingly very little on the climbing itself, which sounded boring in the movie. And, last but not least, with no major role for the Sherpas. Who did partake to the rescue attempts in the real story. And of course laid all the ropes, set the tents and brought oxygen bottles almost to the top. Now that helicopters can theoretically reach all the way to the top and that there are talks of installing a permanent ladder on Hillary’s step, there is little doubt the pressure will grow and similar disasters happen again. Unsurprisingly, Krakauer did not like the movie very much, as he called it ‘a total bull’.

Into the wild

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , on February 6, 2010 by xi'an

Over the past week, I have been watching Into the Wild with my daughter, one chapter at a time. This is a movie I was eager to see, primarily because most of it takes place in the Denali National Park. The views of the Alaskan wilderness are indeed spectacular and may justify watching the movie per se… The story itself is one of a planned suicide, with a kind of beauty in its relation to wilderness, but a suicide nonetheless. The main character (Alex/Christopher) moves into the Denali wilderness to cut all links with society and parents, and, inevitably, this ultimate rejection of society must meet with death once Alex runs out of bullets, matches or rice. The partial incoherence of his behaviour is well-exposed in the movie, when he burns his dollar bills in front of his useless car before working on a farm and cashing his salary, or when he buries his Thoreau and Walden books before digging them out a few weeks later. The scene where Alex kills a moose for food is a sad signal of how inadapted he is to the wilderness, ending up wasting the whole moose for lack of planning. The last chapter where he tries to get back into society somehow redeems the movie by giving depth to the character and by infusing a longing for alternative choices. His lonely death then does not seem so meaningless as it did in the midst of the movie.

The story is clearly compelling and I wish I had read the Into the Wild book before, as Jon Krakauer is also the writer of Into Thin Air that kept me mesmerised till the end of the book! But I cannot say I find the movie particularly well-done. The filming is unimaginative,  fakely amateurish with cuts of faded family videos and cheap multiple frames, while the acting is not always convincing. (Kristen Stewart is just as terrible as in Twilight!) As written above, the character of Alex only gets convincing when we realise he is doomed. Before that, he seems more like a spoiled child wasting opportunities and blind to the worth of the great people he meets.