Archive for category Classic Sci Fi/Fantasy

Review of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985) (The Ender Quintet)

Bottom line: A compelling character and suspenseful story combine to create an engrossing read.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.

Review:

I’ve been wanting to reread this book ever since I saw they were coming out with a movie version, due to be released November 2013. They have some pretty big names in the movie, so I just hope they don’t mess it up too badly (this is my prevailing attitude towards book-to-film adaptations).

This is one of those books that I was able to completely lose myself in. I felt so connected to the main character that as events unfolded, I responded to them from his point of view. After I had finished, I realized that some of these plot points didn’t make much sense, but while in the moment, I hadn’t noticed. This is such a well told story that whether or not it is plausible hardly seems to matter.

Ender’s Game seems to have a polarizing effect on readers. Many people love it, but there is a very strong minority that hate it just as passionately. Arguments against it I saw ranged from the political messages, to the justification of violence, to whether or not child geniuses would really act like that.  As much as I love to analyze things to death (and believe me, I do), this story was, to me, just a story. Maybe it’s that I read it when I was much younger, but I don’t feel the need to delve deeply into themes and messages and plausibility. It’s a story, I enjoyed it, and if you think the blurb looks interesting, you should give it a try, too. Sometimes, that’s all you need to say.

Side Notes: This is the first in the Ender Series, I haven’t read any of the others, though I plan to at some point. I debated making this a Family Fridays post, but it’s not really a “children’s” book. I would guess it’s aimed at preteens on up.

What did you think? Did you like the book? How old were you when you read it?

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Review of “Nineteen Eighty Four” or “1984” by George Orwell (1949)

Bottom line: Definitely worth a read, as it explores timeless topics such as power, inequality, and control.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

1984 has come and gone, but George Orwell’s prophetic, nightmarish vision in 1948 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. 1984 is still the great modern classic of “Negative Utopia” – a startlingly original and haunting novel that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words. No one can deny this novel’s power, its hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions – a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.

Review:

There are few things in life that make my little heart happier than a well-stocked and well organized bookcase. We moved months ago, but it was only last week that I unpacked the final book box. My husband had put most of the books on the shelf, but he’s not as neurotic organized as I am, and had just put books up there in no order at all. I went through and implemented my usual system as I unpacked the last books: books sorted by genre, then alphabetical by author. Ah, bliss! Anyways, as I was sorting, I came across 1984 and realized I was due for a reread.

I have fewer books than you might imagine, since I cull ruthlessly at least once a year. 1984 is one that I’ve had since high school, and it continues to survive my annual purges. I honestly don’t know what it is I like about the book so much. It’s not an easy read, nor a fun one, and it’s almost uniformly depressing. However, it is extremely interesting and compelling. The word used in the blurb on the back of my edition is “haunting” and I think that pretty much sums it up – it gets under my skin, and different scenes will randomly pop into my brain for days after I reread it.

1984 is about power: who gets it, how, and what they do when they get it. I did the math and was startled to realize that it was written 65 years ago – it is just as relevant today as it was then. The political and socioeconomic themes are explored through Winston and his struggle against Big Brother and the Party. It can be a bit dry in a few places, but Winston humanizes the more abstract themes and is a very relatable character. It is a very worthwhile read and rich with layered meanings. If you somehow managed to avoid this book during your years in school, do yourself a favor and read it today. If you read it in school and hated it, give it another try. In short – go read this book! If you don’t want to buy it, there is a very high likelihood that your neighborhood library will have it.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

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Review of The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey (or The Hobbit: Part 1/3)

Bottom line: A fun movie set in Tolkien’s world, though not a strict adaptation from the book.

Rating: Recommended

Review:

When The Hobbit came out, I never got around to seeing it in theaters, being 8 1/2 months pregnant at the time and then otherwise occupied. So I finally saw it when it became available for rent last week. I am a huge Lord of the Rings nerd and really liked Peter Jackson’s adaptation of them into the movies, so I had high hopes for The Hobbit trilogy. I knew they would have to change more of the Hobbit because it is definitely a children’s story, and doesn’t have a lot of actual action. Also, the hero, Bilbo, doesn’t have many heroic deeds.

The Hobbit is a good movie. I wouldn’t say it’s a great adaptation – I was able to enjoy it more once I started thinking of it as an homage to the characters, world and general idea of The Hobbit. They added a lot of material and gave Bilbo some more courageous feats, which you kind of have to do. One thing that I really liked about the movie was that they incorporated several of the songs that are in the book, and were able to do so without making it seem Disney-ish. The beginning dinner party scene with the dwarves was hilarious and very well done. It’s been several days since I’ve seen it, and I’m still not sure whether or not I liked Martin Freeman as Bilbo. On the one hand, I thought he was very well suited to the character, but on the other, there are several distinct mannerisms he has that made me feel like I was looking at Tim from the British The Office, or Arthur from Hitchiker’s, or even Watson from Sherlock, dressed up as a hobbit and dropped in to Middle Earth. I found that to be distracting and kept taking me outside the movie.

All in all, I enjoyed it. I’m going to have to rewatch it now that I know what to expect. I’ll definitely try to get to the other movies in theaters and am looking forward to those coming out.

Did you see it? What did you think? Did you like it more or less than the Lord of the Rings movies?

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My Favorite Ray Bradbury Books

I found out today that Ray Bradbury died yesterday (June 5, 2012) at age 91 – not bad! He wrote one of my favorite books (Fahrenheit 451), so I wanted to give a brief tribute here. What better way to remember him than by reading some of his works? Here are some of my favorites:

Fahrenheit 451

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.

Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television “family.” But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear, and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.

Available: About $10 as an e-book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes

Dandelion Wine

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

Ray Bradbury’s moving recollection of a vanished golden era remains one of his most enchanting novels. Dandelion Wine stands out in the Bradbury literary canon as the author’s most deeply personal work, a semi-autobiographical recollection of a magical small-town summer in 1928.

Twelve-year-old Douglas Spaulding knows Green Town, Illinois, is as vast and deep as the whole wide world that lies beyond the city limits. It is a pair of brand-new tennis shoes, the first harvest of dandelions for Grandfather’s renowned intoxicant, the distant clang of the trolley’s bell on a hazy afternoon. It is yesteryear and tomorrow blended into an unforgettable always. But as young Douglas is about to discover, summer can be more than the repetition of established rituals whose mystical power holds time at bay. It can be a best friend moving away, a human time machine who can transport you back to the Civil War, or a sideshow automaton able to glimpse the bittersweet future.

Available: As a paper book only, about $8 new.

The next two are still very good, but much darker in tone.

The Illustrated Man

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

You could hear the voices murmuring, small and muted, from the crowds that inhabited his body.

A peerless American storyteller, Ray Bradbury brings wonders alive. The Illustrated Man is classic Bradbury— eighteen startling visions of humankind’s destiny, unfolding across a canvas of decorated skin. In this phantasmagoric sideshow, living cities take their vengeance, technology awakens the most primal natural instincts, Martian invasions are foiled by the good life and the glad hand, and dreams are carried aloft in junkyard rockets. Provocative and powerful, Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man is a kaleidoscopic blending of magic, imagination, and truth—as exhilarating as interplanetary travel, as maddening as a walk in a million-year rain, and as comforting as simple, familiar rituals on the last night of the world.

Available: As a paper book only, about $10 new

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

The carnival rolls in sometime after midnight, ushering in Halloween a week early. The shrill siren song of a calliope beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two boys will discover the secret of its smoke, mazes, and mirrors; two friends who will soon know all to well the heavy cost of wishes… and the stuff of nightmare.

Available: As a paper book only, about $8

What are your favorite Ray Bradbury reads?

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Five Free Classic Sci Fi/Fantasy E-Books for Kindle and Free Kindle Reader Apps

Here are five free classic sci fi / fantasy e-books to get you through the weekend. The links are to the Amazon Kindle site (these weren’t all free on Barnes & Noble). If you don’t have a Kindle, I strongly recommend downloading the free Kindle reader app. I’ve used it on a PC and found it surprisingly non-annoying and easy to install (trust me – if I could figure it out, YOU can certainly figure it out). With so many great books for free in the Kindle format, there’s no downside to getting the free reader.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869) – Jules Verne

  •  I’m not typically a huge Verne fan, but this was an interesting read. The ending leaves a lot of questions unanswered, but it’s a fun ride. I want a giant, almost self-sustaining submarine!

Dracula (1897) – Bram Stoker

  •  In the beginning, I thought this story was really boring, and was thinking about not finishing it. Then it started to get deliciously creepy and I was hooked.

The War of the Worlds (1898)– H.G. Wells

  • What would you do if the Martians invaded and waged war on your home? This is probably my favorite book of the era.

I’m a little ashamed to say I’ve never read Frankenstein or Jekyll and Hyde. They’re both on my “Must Read Soon” list. Just below my stack of library books (yes, people still go to libraries). And the first three Game of Thrones books I was lent. Ok, so it might be a while. Let me know what I’m missing!

Frankenstein (1818) – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) – Robert Louis Stevenson

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