Reading Heinlein's juveniles, his books written for boys, I can see why he is such a foundational, and highly influential writer in the sf field. If H...moreReading Heinlein's juveniles, his books written for boys, I can see why he is such a foundational, and highly influential writer in the sf field. If Heinlein got to you young (which he did for me reading him first in the 80s as a young teen) he got into your head and for good and ill shaped you. The good is that he's a pretty subversive and subtle writer. I especially like the end of the novel where main character Matt isn't the hero and the main lesson he learns is that he is going to have to earn respect and his place in the space patrol. Heinlein is so suited to this early form of YA because he is genuinely interested in the education and formation of his young male characters. This enthusiasm is contagious.
The bad is the usual complaint this is an all male world, perhaps to keep sex out of a story targeted at young boys, though when Heinlein does get into sex in his later adult books you might wish he'd stay sexless - we are into free love and the freak is on. Now it is interesting that the alien race the boys end up in is one where the male is hidden and all that is seen is the female of the species. Is this H's comment on the patriarchy of the 40s and 50s in the U.S? I'm not sure. People try and pin Heinlein down on his politics, both personal and political - in his works he seems to like to play with it all. It is what keeps his works fresh.
Oh the book also suffers from another dumb ass Heinlein villain. "That's the last we'll see of him," says one of the boys - I laughed at that. Heinlein is great at explaining and having his characters puzzle out a problem, but is incapable of giving his villains even one-tenth of the intellect of his hero. Evil is stupidity to Heinlein, which maybe true - if you think everyone who doesn't agree with you is dumb, but it is a measure of Heinlein's other strengths that this doesn't sink his books. (less)
From Jones' acceptance remarks for the Mythopoeic Award for Children’s Literature: "This book, Dark Lord of Derkholm, arose because I encountered larg...moreFrom Jones' acceptance remarks for the Mythopoeic Award for Children’s Literature: "This book, Dark Lord of Derkholm, arose because I encountered large numbers of folk who were NOT thinking for themselves. I was helping friends compile The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, going through alphabetically the various features of fantasy books, such as Dark Lord, Gladiator, Galley Slave, Mountain Pass, Nunnery and so forth. At “Nunnery” we all spoke in chorus: “Nunneries are for sacking.” At which I remarked that I could write the guidebook for this country all these books were about, they so much all the same. So I did. I wrote The Tough Guide to Fantasyland as if it were a guide for tourists. Then, naturally, I got to wondering how the people who lived in the country that was being toured might feel about all the wars and Final Encounters that kept devastating their world. After that, Dark Lord of Derkholm almost wrote itself. The griffins, and everybody else, just arrived, as if by magic, which it probably was."
It has the weaknesses of a middle book. Takes a good while to truly get going. After having read the first in the two Hunger Games series I wonder if...moreIt has the weaknesses of a middle book. Takes a good while to truly get going. After having read the first in the two Hunger Games series I wonder if Westerfeld (and I guess nearly everyone else) couldn't take pacing advice from Suzanne Collins. I do like the addition of the feminist revolutionary Lilit, Eddie Malone the newspaper reporter and Bovril (who seemed a little on the creepy side for me). There is a wonderful scene of recognition near the end of the book which Alek does not share in. Not earth-shaking, an adventure tale entertainment, but I'll read on.(less)
Argh! This book took forever to get started. I wish there was some way to skip over about a hundred pages, the loong time it takes for Asmira and Bart...moreArgh! This book took forever to get started. I wish there was some way to skip over about a hundred pages, the loong time it takes for Asmira and Bartimaeus to start working together, and foreground the nicely nasty maneuvering early on in the book instead of saving it up for a reveal later on. Only after the unveiling does Asmira start to become slightly interesting in her zealotry, but that only lasts for a few scenes.
The prequeal to Bartimaeus Trilogy, the story is set in ancient Jersualem where King Soloman (the one with the song) rules with the aid of a magic ring that contains a powerful demon. When the country of Sheba is threated a young palace guard, Asmira, is sent to kill Solomon and bring the ring back to her queen. Meanwhile Bartimaeus is just one among many of the spirits that has been bound by the circle of magicians that serve Soloman, and he delights in causing as much trouble as he can. The book is told in alternating chapters from Asmira and Bartimaeus' view points which might explain why it takes so long for the two characters to finally start doing something.
I really enjoyed the backbiting and self-serving human characters in the trilogy that came before this book, as well as the ever sarcastic and witty Bartimaeus. But this book takes Stroud's strong point as an author, his acid view of human nature and makes it into a secret. Which left me reading a pretty bland boring book all the way up until what, page 306? I mean, yeah, Bartimaeus is still great. You get the funny footnotes. But I already know his story, his magical predicament. Jersualem and Sheba aren't really evoked in a way that brought it to life as anything more than a genric Hollywood backlot.
This one book felt far longer than the other three books combined. On the strength of this book, I wonder if Stroud has anything more to say about this world. I love Bartimaeus but does he do anything different here than he did in the trilogy? Then there is the problem with prequeals. This story happens before The Amulet of Samarkand and I have the feeling that Stroud ran into the problem that nothing much new CAN happen.
Well, I guess I'm not being fair. Bartimeaus isn't really supposed to change. The burden of movement falls on the shoulders of his co-star Asmira. But I found her stiff and boring. She doesn't start to get interesting until far, far into the story which was too late for me.(less)
A tentative initial impression put this book slightly lower than 'The Hunger Games' just because going back into the arena feels like a bit of a retre...moreA tentative initial impression put this book slightly lower than 'The Hunger Games' just because going back into the arena feels like a bit of a retread. Collins keeps the killer tension from the first book and executes the action with finger-nail bitting verve.
Katniss has NOT come away from her experiences in the first book unmarked, waking screaming from dreams of the horrors she witnessed and perpetrated from her first time in the Hunger Games. Collins makes a point to show that all past victors are deeply damaged people and that the Panem's power comes at a terrible cost. In a world of books with Mary-Sue goody-two-shoes, Katniss is a nuanced conflicted girl, at times quite selfish, perfectly ready to kill to survive, but nearly always ruthless in how she examines her motivations. Her spirit perfectly embodies what this series is about.
Unlike the first book which could stand on its own, by the end of 'Catching Fire' the reader realizes they are going to HAVE to read on - which is a good thing.(less)
A fun start to a steampunk-fantasy series, though if you aren't caught up in the daring doings you might notice how full of holes the world-building s...moreA fun start to a steampunk-fantasy series, though if you aren't caught up in the daring doings you might notice how full of holes the world-building seems to be.
Levithan is the first part of a rousing adventure tale using the tropes of a dispossessed prince on the run and a girl who disguises herself as a boy to be allowed into the exciting world of beastie aeronautics. The book is beautiful illustrated, especially the opening map of a very alternate Europe of 1914. Westerfeld is good at combining a lot of familiar steampunk and biopunk elements together to make a entertaining, if not very deep story.
Well, it really isn't a complete story in itself. By the end of the book the characters are somewhere different, but as I reached the final chapters, it was with the sinking feeling of having read a third of a complete book and not something that was a whole story in itself. Perhaps that has something to do with the serial nature of adventure stories, though a classical adventure story probably would have left off on a cliff-hanger while this one just sort of floats off. That said, I've requested the next book from the library cause I did enjoy the adventure.
Westerfeld's alternate Europe on the brink of war between the Darwinists and the Clankers is one of those fantasy worlds where logic is defeated by "that would be cool". Riding around in war ships that have easily punctured skins filled with highly explosive gas is particularly eye rolling. That Charles Darwin discovering DNA would lead to enormous created creatures within ten or twenty years using 19th century technology is right up there with Micky Mouse having all the broomsticks dance for him. But it is a fun adventure book, just not particularly grounded that way. Hopefully the rest of the story will be as fun as its first third.(less)
**spoiler alert** The Hunger Games works great as a tournament style "The Most Dangerous Game". Children are given in tribute to The Capital by its cl...more**spoiler alert** The Hunger Games works great as a tournament style "The Most Dangerous Game". Children are given in tribute to The Capital by its client districts and forced to battle each other to the death. This being sf, the games are broadcasted ala the TV show Survivor and genetically modified animals add to the danger. Most of the book is very heavy on the thriller aspect of Katniss' survival in the game.
The state uses the games as a way of dividing and controlling the twelve districts under its sway. The reader sees the effects of this state control through Katniss. For example, when a contestant falls in love with another contestant on a reality show - the phenomenon is called a 'showmance'. The romance often lasts only as long as the show is filming. Though it is often interpreted cynically, that the couple is doing it for more air time, a more disturbing idea is that much of human behaviour is extremely malleable. This seems to be the case with Katniss' relationship with her fellow contestant Peeta. How Katniss has to compromise herself to survive is only one of the delights of the book.
The first two-thirds of the book follows this very driving narrative of survival, but because all the adversaries in this section are simply pawns of The Capital the last section of the book veers away from this into a more complicated game of cat and mouse. I'm looking forward to reading the next two books to see how Collins continues her story. Will there be a change in viewpoint character or will there be an opening up of the world to see how this dystopian - which of course means very contemporary feeling world - operates and perhaps falls?(less)
I thought a lot about Harry Potter as I read this book. Potter is fantasy and Ender is science fiction but both books belong to another genre as well,...moreI thought a lot about Harry Potter as I read this book. Potter is fantasy and Ender is science fiction but both books belong to another genre as well, that of the boarding school novel. Ender's Game is so compact and entertaining in part because it compresses what usually takes the protagonists of this type of story many (in Potter's case seven) volumes to complete into one book. (I haven't read the rest of the 'Ender Saga' but assume that the boarding school structure is set aside, at least for Ender himself.)
Little six year old Ender, Andrew Wiggans, is sent off to Battle School, basically orphaning him from his parents (who are glad to rid themselves of the socially frowned upon third child) and his older brother and sister, Peter and Valentine. Both of the older children have been passed over for what boils down to "the chosen one", the future leader of human forces against the evil Buggers who threaten human existence. Peter was rejected for being an unfeeling sociopath, while Valentine is seen as too empathetic (soft). The hope, just like those beds in the three bears house, is that Ender will be 'just right', the perfect mix of empath and killing machine.
Card tells a pretty tight story when tell the story from Ender's POV and he is good at portraying both his thought and feelings. There is a lot of three dimension strategy in the book and there wasn't a moment where I was confused by how Card laid things out, which is a compliment since I'm a pretty 2-D/1-D kind of guy. The first scene is not from Ender's point of view but instead is recordings of his 'teachers' conversation -- all court accessible I'm guessing. This is a nice break from the usual boarding school novel where the teachers motives and strategies are hinted at but not usually revealed until the end of the novel. In this case the circumstances are a little more complicated (imminent alien doom) and the goal a little different (we need a effective killing machine!)
I found the sections which break away to Ender's sister's, Valentine, point of view a bit deflating in comparison. It felt like it broke the unity of place that comes in a school novel. I can see why Card wanted to get this information and dynamic in the story but I just felt it subtracted from the overall thrust. (I believe in the original short story (which I haven't read) Valentine and Peter and this whole subplot wasn't there. While it wides the novel's scope and sets things up for the next book I just don't feel it structurally fits.) But Card does keep the Valentine intrusions to a minimum and when I got to the end of the novel I can see why it was necessary, at least.
So Ender is getting trained up to fight the evil aliens, while Harry Potter is sent to wizard school to get ready to fight Voldemort. But due to the design of the school and the aims of the teachers, Ender is purposely isolated, prevented from making friends. He is taught that the teachers will never intervene to save him. He is in a Darwinian battle where only the strong survive and they survive by any means necessary. Contrast that with Hogwarts where Potter almost immediately gains three good friends and almost all the teachers are taken on as parental figures. Thank goodness for Snape or there wouldn't be any drama! Right from the very first scene in the school yard Card shows a much harder, grim, less forgiving world where force has to be answered by force, and preferably overwhelming or else the other guy will just come back and do you in later.
There is a fairly questionable Social Darwinian thread through Ender's Game. Ender is bred to be the next Alexander the Great or Napoleon. There is a comment early on that there aren't many girls in Combat School, because millions of years of evolution have selected boys as the best commanders. (One of the annoying things about Valentine is that Card writes her wimpy. As if someone as smart and resourceful as her, who has survived (and to a degree managed) her sociopathic brother wasn't actually pretty fucking tough.) Perhaps some of this is questioned later on in the series. A lot of this leads back to common complaint I have with some science fiction which is that many books like to imagine extreme situations where all human behavior is reduced to a social Darwinian zero sum game which seems to fit with a lot of right-wing thinking. Perhaps I'm just a pinko-red communist Canadian who loves his health-care, but these type of scenarios don't seem to capture the whole picture.
I found the ending of the book was okay. (Mild vague spoilers here on.) Just looking at where I was in the book, how much space was left, gave me enough hints to guess what was going to happen. It felt rather anti-climactic. (To be honest the twist felt like a moral cheat. Were the adults who manipulated and abused Ender all the way through the novel afraid to commit the ultimate crime of genocide? Does it excuse them or Ender from having committed the act? Having a child pull the trigger at the end really paints a picture of a very, very sick culture. And perhaps that is the point.) The long post-script was as much about the book to come as it was about this novel. Though I did enjoy the part about the Buggers, which transformed them from 'evil aliens' to something more complicated. While I don't imagine I agree with Card about much, he is able to raise, and thankfully not answer, quite a few intriguing questions here, about power, morality and how we bridge the gap between the individual and society.(less)
A pretty slight, but slightly charming little story. (I'd actually recommend watching Mirror Mask which has a similarly slender story line (with a sim...moreA pretty slight, but slightly charming little story. (I'd actually recommend watching Mirror Mask which has a similarly slender story line (with a similar premise) but in that case the story fits the fantastical visuals that the artist/director Dave McKean conjures from them.) I quite like the 'wasp' story of Coraline and her Dad, that really touched me, but since the book seems to be more about othermother and Coraline's real mother, or perhaps it hopes to be, there just wasn't an emotional connection made between the dark otherworld and the real world.
Also, it bugged me when Gaiman had the othermother say, "We hate the sin, not the sinner." I'm pretty much an atheist, so I don't have any religious sympathies to trample, but this seemed like a cheap shot. The othermother is a monstrous manifestation of the ultimate selfish parent, one who is only interested in her child for what 'it' can give her. For some reason religious bigotry seemed a jarring thing coming of its mouth.
(So more of a 2.5, but not a 3 - 'I liked it.' Most of it was okay, with a couple of spots that were better than okay.)(less)