Archive for category Science Fiction

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 the Chronological Man Adventure Series by Andrew Mayne

Bottom line: A fun, historical, science-y, steampunk-y, adventure-y series of short stories.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Review:

I really like this series. It consists (so far) of two short stories, telling the tale of Smith, time traveler extraordinaire, who shows up to save the day whenever he is needed. The books are short enough to be read in one sitting (Ok, so I read most books in one sitting, but I’m a bit obsessive that way. Normal people could read these books in one sitting), but long enough to feel balanced – you get good characters, good settings, AND a good story. I wouldn’t put the premise in the “terribly plausible” category, but the ride is such a good one that it doesn’t matter. My favorite aspect of the series is the characters. The assistant, April, is smart and capable and takes action when it’s called for. She’s no Watson-esque sidekick, perpetually stumbling around in the dark. Teddy Roosevelt, more big stick than speaking softly here, is a hilarious and brilliant addition to the crew in the second story. And of course there’s Smith, a strange genius who suffers from amnesia due to his time travelling.

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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 Timekeeper by Heather Albano (2012)

Bottom line: A very strong sequel to Timepiece, and a very fun read.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

An alternate history adventure featuring time travelers, freedom fighters, Frankenstein’s monster, the Battle of Waterloo, and Napoleon invading Britain by dirigible.

In Timepiece, young adventurer Elizabeth Barton and her suitor William Carrington used a mysterious pocket watch to travel from 1815 to 1885. Horrified by what they found—a steampunk dystopia patrolled by Gatling-gun-wielding robots—they joined fellow time traveler Mr. Maxwell in his quest to prevent that future from taking form…and accidentally set in motion a chain of events that allowed Napoleon to win the Battle of Waterloo.

Now they are trapped in a second 1885, one even worse than the first, where the tricolor flag flies from the Tower of London and Britain has long since accepted its fate as a conquered possession of the globe-spanning French Empire. In Timekeeper, Elizabeth, William, and Maxwell struggle to undo the damage they caused—and gradually come to realize the stakes may be even higher than they initially supposed, for they are not the only ones attempting to affect the timeline.

Review:

I really, really enjoyed this book. It was well worth waiting for. The plot ran smoother, the characters had more depth, and the writing was just as strong as the first book, Timepiece (review here). All of the minor quibbles I had with the first book were nonexistent here. I think you could read this book as a standalone, but I wouldn’t really recommend it – it definitely follows straight on from the first, and you’d miss a lot of the context. I think one of the great strengths of this book was how she took the same people and made them believably act differently due to their external circumstances, yet consistently with their characterization in the alternate timeline.

The story wraps up satisfactorily for two of the main characters, and there is enough closure for the third that you don’t feel left hanging, although his story is certainly not finished. I’ll certainly read that when/if she writes it, but I was very happy with the way things concluded.

Available:E-book currently $2.99 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and in all e-formats at Smashwords.

More Info: Check out the author’s website here.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

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Zombie Twofer

First, let me preface this by saying that I’m not really into zombies. Most zombie movies are reviewed enthusiastically for me by my husband, followed by a “and you should never watch it”. What can I say? I’m a wimp about violence.  However, I thoroughly enjoyed these two books, and they continue to make the cut when I do one of my frequent cullings of my paperback collection.  I’ve rated them both as a “recommended if” because even though I really liked them, I recognize that they are definitely not for everyone.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) by Jane Austin and Seth Grahame-Smith

This book is exactly what the title says: Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice retooled to include zombies. The idea is funny enough (to me and maybe 6 other people out there), but it’s also well executed. There are some parts nearer the latter third where it feels a bit like he ran out of steam and is just trying to wrap it up, but his take on many classic scenes are just priceless. Occasionally he dips into what I’m going to call “junior high boy humor”, but for the most part it’s just a funny, irreverent read.

Bottom Line: Funny concept and good follow through, with a few exceptions.

Rating: Recommended if: 1) you would voluntarily read Pride and Prejudice for fun and 2) you think the idea of sticking zombies in there is hilarious.

Zombie Survival Guide (2003) by Max Brooks

This book also is exactly as described by the title: it’s a manual on how to plan for and survive the zombie apocalypse. Given that it’s laid out as an instructional manual, some folks might find it a bit dry. However, I thought it was completely fascinating. I tend to be a “what if” thinker, and like to plan ahead for worst-case scenarios. Zombies are definitely your worst-case scenario. It was a fun mental exercise in “ok, if this, or something like this, happened, what would I do? Where would I go?” There are also explanations of how the zombie virus spreads and how it affects the human body, and a section that contains reports of past outbreaks. If you’re not sure if you’re interested in the book or not, I’d recommend finding it in a book store and flipping through this section. It’s the most novel-like part – essentially a collection of zombie short stories. Brooks (son of Mel) also wrote World War Z, which I’ve heard is very good (especially the audiobook), but it was rated too gruesome for me by my zombie screening committee.

Bottom Line: A book for the plan-ahead-for-every-possible-contingency sci fi lover in your life.

Rating: Recommended if:  you’ve ever wondered how to best prepare yourself for a post-apocalyptic scenario.

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Review of Divergent by Veronica Roth (2011) (Divergent Book 1)

Bottom line: Reading Divergent is like watching a good action movie: it’s not really about the plot, it’s about the heroes and their journey.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Debut author Veronica Roth bursts onto the literary scene with the first book in the Divergent series—dystopian thrillers filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayals, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance.

Review:

This book is a great read. Among its strengths are characters, action and general get-sucked-in-ness (it’s my blog, I can make up words if I want to). One of the things I liked the least about it was the implausibility of some of the plot points/storyline timing. There are a LOT of “just happened to be at the right place right time” to prevent a murder, or overhear a sinister plot, etc. kinds of things. However, I found that because I was sucked into the world and interested in the characters, I didn’t really notice the plot/timing issues until I read the book for the second time.

I was going to try to review the book without mentioning the Hunger Games, but I don’t think I can. There are some definite similarities between this book and the Hunger Games, and with the incredible popularity of the latter, it is a natural comparison point. In fact, if a friend asked me for a one sentence review of Divergent, I’d probably say “it’s kind of like The Hunger Games, but with more kissing.” It also reminded me of Lois Lowry’s The Giver (a dystopian children’s book –fantastic!), but I never felt like I was reading a rip off of either of those stories. Overall, it’s just a fun ride and definitely a page turner. I wouldn’t recommend starting this book late at night or you might be up for a long time.

Side note: This is the first of a trilogy. Book 2, Insurgent, is available. I read it the day after reading Divergent, and was much less impressed. I often find second books in series to be lacking, and that was the case here. There was a lot of tension between characters – distrust, secrets, lies, etc., which felt forced rather than just letting the story unfold. Plot-wise it actually felt tighter and more realistic (to me at least), but the unnecessary character drama just stressed me out.  However, I’m still excited about the release of Book 3 (currently set for “a year or so”) and hope it’s more in line with the first book.

Available: at Barnes & Noble and Amazon as e-books or paperbacks for $10, also as an iBook at iTunes.

More Info: Check out the author’s blog here.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

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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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