Robopocalypse was the book I chose this to read this year for Banned Books Week. This novel was assigned to a STEM-based class at the Hardin Academy i...moreRobopocalypse was the book I chose this to read this year for Banned Books Week. This novel was assigned to a STEM-based class at the Hardin Academy in Tennessee, and a parent requested it be removed from the curriculum for language. Now I don't use much profanity myself, and I can appreciate how the issue of language came up; the mother was reading the novel aloud with her son and asking him questions, which I think is an encouraging sign of parental involvement in a kid's education. I do think parents should take an active interest in what their kids are reading, for school or not. BUT . . .
. . . this book was set during a Robot takeover. Malfunctioning machines, people being killed in the streets . . . I don't there's anyone who'd be saying "Aww, shucks!" under those circumstances. Many of the characters were also likely to use profanity a great deal in daily life, because they were military or punk-kid hacker types, or just because they were under a great deal of stress. There was no sex in the novel, and the violence wasn't graphic (and alarmist types tend to worry less about that anyway), and many students encounter worse language that this every day. For the parent concerned about his child's language, it could have started an intelligent conversation about why.
I'm never going to side with anyone who's pro-censorship no matter what, but picking on the book made this challenging parent even more alarmist and petty than most.
Which has no bearing, however, on how good the book is, or how much I liked it. This is one of those cases in which I don't necessarily think those are the same thing. When I was reading the back cover of Robopocalypse, I kept looking at the author blurbs and going "Oh, Clive Cussler. I've never read him." "Robert Crais---doesn't he write thrillers?" (I don't avoid "thrillers" because I get to decide whether or not a book thrills me, not its genre). "Compared to early Crichton---never read him either." It may very well be inaccurate, but whenever I see a book that's called a thriller, whether it's a science fiction thriller, espionage, or suspense, I get the impression that I may be in for a very exciting ride, plot-wise, but the characters may get short shrift. And while I love an exciting plot, character is what I tend to read for, and if I have to choose one or the other, the latter is what I'll go for.
Which isn't to say that the characters in Robopocalypse weren't interesting; in fact, many of them were, which is why I wanted more about them. There were these tidbits dropped, and I wanted to know more about them. Wilson introduces a group of characters who live in a world very similar to our own, but with widespread artificial intelligence. And . . . things begin to go wrong. A baby doll making threats. A domestic robot attacking two fast food workers. A hacker receiving automated calls from other people's phones . . . The beginning section intrigued me a great deal, the initial hints of eerie wrongness just before everything goes to hell and the robots, led by an artificial intelligence named Archos, mount a coordinated attack against the humans. It was a scary reminder how much we depend on these days.
In order to make it clear that, when the robots go haywire, people are affected everywhere, from the technician Takeo Nomura in Japan to the Alaskan miner Dwight Bowie, to the serviceman Paul Blanton in Afghanistan, Wilson presents us with a large cast of characters, possibly too many for the length of the novel (about 350 pages). It's also necessary to bring home the message of the novel, that the humans succeed against the robots when they work together, even if they would otherwise be enemies. For instance, there's the American soldier and the Afghan insurgent who join forces against the machines. . . . which are starkly contrasted with the military base in Albany that begins shooting human civilians trying to enter. Most of the time, since the novel is set in wartime, the characters are pretty single-minded, focused on just surviving, which I think also makes it harder to bring them to life as distinct personalities. You get an impression of how they act during a crisis, and that is the most important thing during the present circumstances, but it doesn't encompass someone's entire personality. The example I will take is Takeo Nomura. He is a Japanese technician who has a robotic lovedoll, Mikiko. This wouldn't interest me much, except a. Mikiko appears to be the same age as Nomura, 60ish or so, and b. he says he loves her. When Mikiko is infected by a virus and attacks him, he is heartbroken as well as physically wounded; when the robots have attacked, Nomura's work with Mikiko and other robots allows him to play a pivotal role in turning the tide. But what I wanted to know was this; why does Mikiko exist? Why did Nomura make her or have her made to look as she did? The narrator certainly was impressed by him, but I wanted to know more.
I have read that Robopocalypse is being made into a film, and I think it might work well as one, particularly one of those summer blockbusters jammed full of characters and special effects, like Independence Day. I'd probably like it better as a film, though I'd still really like to see the characters more developed. It was an exciting story, and I'd read more from the author because I think he probably will develop and produce more sophisticated characterization in later work. It's just that for my personal tastes, there were too many characters who were interesting but not fully fleshed out.(less)
Perhaps I am biased, because I am a longtime lover of the original Peter Pan, and a big fan of dark retellings of classic ta...moreI simply adored this book.
Perhaps I am biased, because I am a longtime lover of the original Peter Pan, and a big fan of dark retellings of classic tales. And with Peter Pan, as cutesy and saccharine as it can be in certain versions, it doesn't take much to find the darker aspects hiding around the edges. The character Peter Pan was supposedly inspired by the brother of its author, who died in a skating accident at the age of 13 and was thus a boy who would never grow up. Tinkerbell, so cutesy in the Disney version, is a murderous ball of jealousy while Hook, frequently depicted as an unworthy rival or a joke, is an adult man unhealthily obsessed with murdering little boys. Peter himself is a flawed hero who embodies the self-centered qualities of many young children, stealing the Darling children from their parents and thinking more of his own need for their companionship than their own desire to return home.
Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson is a Peter Pan tale, mostly a prequel to Peter and Wendy that plays around with the melancholy aspects of the Peter Pan tale. It is a young adult novel, which means it ages Peter up a bit, and tells the tale of a love story between Tiger Lily and Peter Pan. If that raises red flags, it's perfectly understandable. As a child, when I first saw Disney's Peter Pan, I wanted him to end up with Tiger Lily, mostly because the Disney Wendy was such a prig (believe me, she is worse here). That doesn't mean that, as an adult, I wanted to read some stereotypical, angst-ridden YA romance between the two characters. Which, believe me, the love story in Tiger Lily isn't. As the narrator, Tinker Bell, points out, these lovers are grievously flawed, and what sins they commit are not overlooked or excused. And rather than teenage angst, the beautiful and fantastical world they live in is filled with violence, intolerance, and their tragic consequences; it's as far from Neverland as wish-fulfillment as could be imagined.
Aside from concerns about the young adult romance, the other main concern I had about reading Tiger Lily, which was also partly what motivated me to pick it up to begin with, was the fact that, in most Peter Pan tales, the depiction of the Indians is horrifically politically incorrect (Disney, I am looking at you). More recent versions have put in a good faith effort, I think (though I am an uninformed white girl who could be fooled), but it remains problematic to take an ethnic group that exists and situate it in a land that does not. This may or may not have been a concern for J. M. Barrie, writing at the start of the 20th century, but for me it was.
So how does Anderson tackle the problem of Tiger Lily, Indian Princess? 1. She never uses the word Indian at all. Instead, she refers to the Sky Eaters, Tiger Lily's adoptive tribe, and to other tribes such as the Bog Dwellers, or she refers to the villagers. She can't be accused of misrepresentation because she isn't representing Indians at all. Well, except that 2. The Europeans, here Englanders, behave with intolerance and cultural superiority towards the Sky Eaters reminiscent of the behavior of real world European settlers towards the Native Americans (there's no genocide, exactly, probably due to inferior numbers, but there is arguably forced conversion). Tiger Lily, whom we first encounter tending to one of these shipwrecked Englanders, even reminded me a little bit of (stereotypical versions of) Pocahantas, particularly when she was willing to return to England on his ship. Then there's also 3. Tiger Lily's adoptive father, Tik Tok, who is the shaman for the Sky Eaters and wears women's clothing and hairstyles. Tik Tok, who was probably my favorite character in the novel, reminds us of how many native peoples honor the "dual-sexed" as sacred; he even argues in favor of a circular, rather than binary, view of the world. Pretty heavy for a young adult novel, eh? Yet I think sophisticated readers, who don't mind a little iconoclasm or sympathetic characters occasionally doing awful things, will appreciate this book.
Tiger Lily is lushly written, moving, and weeptastic in parts. Of course, with any retelling , you're going to come across depictions of beloved characters who aren't quite as you visualized them. Tiger Lily herself wasn't such a problem, as her role in the original novel is small. Peter was more mature, a believable leader for the Lost Boys but also a dilettante, and rather bloodthirsty. Hook, who came to Neverland seeking the ability to stop aging, was rather more pitiable than I'm used to seeing him; I prefer dark, frightening Hook, but could appreciate the complexities Anderson brought to his character. And Smee? Roly poly, cute little Smee from the Disney version, and most of the versions I've seen since then? Here he was absolutely terrifying. The only character interpretation I didn't really like was Wendy. And it wasn't just that she was, if not the villain, definitely the foil. It's more that the characterization seemed lazy, like Anderson plucked the stuck-up blond cheerleader type from a Stephenie Meyer novel or somesuch and plopped her down in Neverland. It just wasn't as nuanced a portrayal as I would have liked. It would also have been nice if Anderson got further away from the theme of female jealousy running through the original novel; she did a little with Tinker Bell, which gave her a great deal more depth.
In sum, I was pleasantly surprised by Tiger Lily. The world building (or re-building) was solid, the characters complex, the language elegant and rich in details. If you're in the mood for a bittersweet reinterpretation of a familiar tale, I highly recommend it--but keep your tissues on hand.(less)
1. I hate it when someone gives a book a bad rating because it is in a genre they do not enjoy. I bring...moreA few notes before I begin reviewing this book:
1. I hate it when someone gives a book a bad rating because it is in a genre they do not enjoy. I bring this up because I suspect there are aspects of this book that bothered me which would not bother someone who reads and enjoys romance (particularly category romance) a great deal. I usually don't read romance unless it has historical or fantastical elements, or if it makes me laugh; however, there have been some science fiction romances I read and enjoyed a great deal, such as Eve Kenin's Driven and Hidden, and I even liked Mancusi's own Moongazer, which was also part of the Shomi imprint. So I don't think that's what happening here.
2. This is a zombie apocalypse book. I'm not as into zombies as a lot of people, though I have read zombie apocalypse stories I enjoyed and thought were better than this one, such as The Forest of Hands and Teeth series and Xombies. I had many of the same problems with this novel as with Ann Aguirre's Enclave, although the setting of the latter was more vividly realized and the characters had greater depth. Razor Girl did not feel very original to me, but I also had the book for awhile before reading it, and I don't think zombies were quite as ubiquitous in 2008. So I am trying not to let the fact that zombies feel terribly trite to me now affect how I review the book.
With that out of the way, I really wasn't crazy about this book.
Molly Anderson is a cybernetically enhanced 21-year-old who has just emerged from the bunker in which she and her mother lived for 6 years, advised to do so by her scientist father. When Molly entered the bunker, the world was just starting to crumble around her: people taking ill from a disease that gave them the graving for human flesh. Molly's father gave enhancements to protect her---ocular implants with GPS and life sensors and razors under her fingernails, like a character from the novel Neuromancer--, trained her as a fighter, and instructed her, when the bunker opened, to find her way to Disney World where her father and his scientist colleagues would be waiting to revive civilization. Molly plans to do so, but first she encounters a friend from her past, Chase Griffin, who has been holed up in a Walmart with his friends, brother, and a group of small children. Chase and the children join Molly on her journey, but will they be a help or a hindrance? And when she reaches her destination, what will be waiting for her?
I wanted to like this novel, I really did. I like a kickass heroine, and Molly was, albeit a reluctant one. Which can work; part of what I thought was so appealing about Buffy, for instance, was how her role as Slayer robbed her of having a normal life, and how much she suffered because of it. And Buffy at least looked like a normal person; Molly's ocular implants can't be removed (the cover shows them over her eyes like sunglasses, making me wonder if "implant" is even the right word), so she is going to look like a misfit whether or not she chooses to follow her destiny to Disney World. This would be enough to cause her great distress, to be sure. However, more often than not, we are told about this distress, rather than seeing it where it originates or how it affects her. Molly outright says to her father "I just want to be normal!" and shows some concern over Chase's reaction to her appearance at one point, but it seemed like there were a great many lost opportunities to show how "freaky" Molly thinks she is. If we had more evidence of people reacting badly to how she looks, or if we got to see that the cybernetic enhancements were just the last straw in an already troubled relationship, I think Molly would have been a much more interesting character.
Molly was simply boring; the bulk of my vitriol has to be reserved for the "hero" of this novel, Chase (originally Chris). I suppose it's a good thing that I didn't always dislike him for the same reasons, but all the same, he annoyed me throughout much of the novel. The story alternates between scenes taking place 6 years earlier, when Chris and Molly were teens, and when she emerges from her bunker in the current day. When they were teens, Chris had an unrequited crush on Molly, his "goddess", while she just saw him as an annoying geek. Which, to me, he was; and I like geeks. Chris seemed to constantly thinking: "Why doesn't the hot girl see the real me?" That's an okay place to start the relationship, especially considering they are both 15 at the time, but I never felt that Chris the adolescent or Chris the adult ever saw past Molly's appearance to her personality (though, to be fair, she hardly had one). Chris makes some idiotic choices throughout the novel, some of which seemed like the author was trying to introduce believable flaws, but without giving him any strengths to make up for it. I appreciated the role reversal between the two characters, in that Molly had to rescue him more than the other way around, but not the incompetence that led to his need to be rescued. What bothered me most, however, was the fact that he was either trying to protect Molly or feeling bad that he wasn't able to, and given that she was a superhuman warrior, I lost my patience. I have no great love for macho posturing, and when it's a character without the wherewithal to live up to it, I like it even less.
This novel had potential, I thought. As much as I hate Walmart, I liked the idea of the kids living there, looting for medicine and clothes, and growing food in the gardening section. I like the idea that the conspiracy nut was right, and would have enjoyed seeing more of Molly interacting with her father, rather than just dealing with his reputation at school. And having the destination be Disney World was inspired, if it had been put to better use. This was a novel that kept me interested enough to read up to 30 pages from the end . . . and then go "well, I am not going to stop reading with only 30 pages left" and finish it despite my annoyance. And, with its wasted potential, trite storyline, and shallow characters, there was plenty of annoyance to be had.(less)
I am an avid reader of young adult novels, and not ashamed to admit it. Once you are past the age where reading level is the main factor in what you c...moreI am an avid reader of young adult novels, and not ashamed to admit it. Once you are past the age where reading level is the main factor in what you choose to read, it doesn't make sense to me to worry about whether you are reading books aimed at a much younger audience. For the most part, I hold young adult novels to the same standard as the adult ones, rarely thinking, "I would probably have enjoyed this more if I read it as a teenager." That thought seems patronizing to me; I had discriminating tastes as a teen, and I believe teenagers nowadays do as well (at least as much as adults).
HOWEVER: Innocent Darkness by Suzanne Lazear may be the exception.
I believe that a good book is a good book regardless who it is aimed at, and Innocent Darkness has many factors of a good book. The characters are appealing, particularly the plucky heroine and the anti-heroic elf; the steampunk setting, though terribly trendy at the moment, was vividly realized, and I liked the connection of aether to seismic activity (I'm a California kid). I gravitate towards any novel that deals with sinister fairies and the traditional human sacrifice or "teind to hell"; I loved that the heroine was mechanically inclined for a change (even though I myself am not), and that this was what drew the fairies to her; I loved that she was sent to a girls' reform school and subjected to treatment reminiscent of "The Yellow Wallpaper."
I really just didn't need all of those things at once.
Did you ever hear the old fashion saw "Spin around to look at yourself in the mirror, and whatever accessory leaps out at you, take that one off?" The point being that, no matter how much you like all your scarves and jewelry and whatnot, if you wear all of them at once, something is going to get lost. That was how Innocent Darkness felt to me; overaccessorized. I read about the elves, and the reform school, and the steampunk setting with its aether and air pirates, and it was all so dazzling, but I wanted Lazear to "put something back." Everything "cool" doesn't have to be squeezed into a single novel, or even a single series, and I feel that if Lazear narrowed her focus, she could have fleshed out the elements she retained better, and more naturally. Spent more time showing us that Noli's classmates at Findley House were shallow and insipid, rather than simply telling us. Not just told us that V* is bookish yet the only one who understands Noli, but demonstrated it through their interaction. Used the idea of airship pirates for something other than establishing this is a steampunk world (though that could come in book 2).
In short, I think this is a novel that tries to dazzle its readers with lots of cool elements and, on those to whom steampunk, Victorian ideas of women's mental health, or fairy sacrifice are new, it might actually work. For those of us who are more jaded, who may appreciate the dazzle but appreciate it best when well integrated and richly developed, the novel shows promise but does not captivate.
*Okay, I couldn't figure out how to integrate this into the rest of my review, but V's nickname--his real name is Steven--was like nails on a chalkboard to me, as were the spelling of Kevighn's name, and the fact that fairy women wore corsets on the outside. The other problem with writing a novel and sticking in "everything I think is cool" is that your readers may not feel the same.(less)
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the First Reads Giveaway program!
I don't really know how to review this novel--and I mean that in...moreDisclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the First Reads Giveaway program!
I don't really know how to review this novel--and I mean that in the best way possible. It is pure escapism, transporting the reader to a vividly realized fantasy world that feels like our own, but twisted sideways. It is fantastical, with elements of mystery and romance that will appeal not just to fantasy readers, but to anyone who has ever felt a sense of wonder. It is richly descriptive, appealing not only to the senses of sight and sound, but also to scent and taste and touch, and still manages to be a compulsively readable and quick read. At times the writing reminded me of Neil Gaiman, Catherynne Valente, and Susanna Clarke, but if you don't like any of those authors, I would still recommend it. Plus it made just about as hungry as a book has since Francesca Lia Block; I wanted caramel corn and hot chocolate NOW!
The Night Circus is a novel blending together several narratives and different perspectives into a magical whole.* The entire novel is written in the present tense, and a great deal of it in the second person, so that you feel the Circus is being described for you personally, and that it is going on at this very moment. Second person and present tense can both be great authorial risks, in that the immediacy they create seems due to a gimmick rather than the author's own skill. But Morgenstern does such a great job creating this magical world for you that you do, in fact, crave the scent of smoke and caramel, and long to taste the delicious "cinnamon things" the circus children are raving about. In fact, when I first started reading The Night Circus, I was worried that Morgenstern had expended so much effort on the world-building that she might have forgotten about the characters and plot.
She didn't. At the heart of the story, although there are many different perspectives throughout the book, is the tale of Celia and Marco. Celia is the illegitimate daughter of Prospero the Enchanter, mundanely known as Hector Bowen, and Marco is the orphaned protege of the mysterious A. H. A magical duel has been arranged for the two young people by their respective teachers, which makes it that much more difficult when the two fall in love . . . I will admit, if you are the sort of reader who can't stand secrets, either when the characters keep them from each other or when they keep them from you, you may not be The Night Circus' ideal audience. For me it worked because I was made to feel like an audience member, and the heroes were both illusionists; it felt right to be kept a bit in the dark. By putting her reader into the circus audience, and later even the circus aficionados, Morgenstern also helped us relate to one of the major subplots, the story of Bailey, a farmer's son trying to choose between staying on the farm and heading for Harvard. Bailey was for me the easiest character to relate to as well, both because his obsession with the circus was relatable, and because his motivations were clear in a way that other characters' were not.
I will admit that The Night Circus swept me up completely while I was reading it, but left me with some questions after I finished. Given that the outcome of the magical duel was always stated to be death for the loser, why couldn't the participants just quit, I wondered. In part, I think the reason might have to do with the genre of the novel. While set in the Victorian times, and with a darker, almost steampunk feel (because of the clockwork), The Night Circus is a fantasy, and seems to find its precedents in ancient myth. The story of Merlin and Nimue is even retold, reminding us of legends of sorcerer's duels akin to Celia and Marco's. In such legends, the rules are not questioned, but are strictly adhered to, and I think Morgenstern has created a similar world. In sum, I found the novel both intoxicating and enchanting; not without its flaws, but definitely a worthwhile escape. (less)