For those of you who are not familiar with the Orson Scott Card-verse, Speaker for the Dead is in some ways a sequel to Ender's Game and in some ways...more For those of you who are not familiar with the Orson Scott Card-verse, Speaker for the Dead is in some ways a sequel to Ender's Game and in some ways Ender's Game is a prequel to Speaker for the Dead, and in some ways they're completely separate entities. The books came out only a year apart (1985 and 1986), but their internal chronology skips ahead more than three millennia. You might guess that many of your favorite characters from the first book are dead, and you would be right, with a few key exceptions so easily explained by relativistic space travel that I wonder why there were so few who took advantage of near-light-speeds. (And thus Einstein's theory. At least, I think it was Einstein's. I have long lost touch with the precedence of scientific theories these days.)
In many ways, I found Speaker for the Dead to be a better book than Ender's Game, and that's saying a lot for its quality. I love them for different reasons, though--Ender's Game for its simplicity and directness, its inventiveness and willingness to engage with child psychology and development and trauma, and Speaker for the Dead for its ability to tap into adult psychology and trauma and grief and pain. Better still, Speaker for the Dead is deeply wound with hope and compassion, tolerance (in all the right ways), and healing. So all of the issues that are raised and all of the questions that are asked in its sort-of prequel are answered in a very satisfactory way. What happens to the children who are so thoroughly damaged in the Battle School? What happens to children who are thoroughly damaged, period? What does grief and healing and catharsis look like for the victims of circumstance, of misunderstanding, of loss? What do all these things look like for the perpetrators, malicious and otherwise?
I would argue that I like these two of Card's books for the same reasons I enjoyed The Hunger Games, but that the development of Speaker for the Dead is more complicated, and more thoroughly and pleasurably unwound at the end. (If you'll remember, The Hunger Games' denouement takes only about one short chapter, and seems to make the comment that traumas can be redeemed, sort of, but only to a point, and not a very distant point.) Many of my favorite books use brutal and bittersweet endings to make statements about humanity that are really worth hearing. In Speaker for the Dead, it is the process of ending and not the ending itself that serves as the vehicle for truth-telling. I enjoyed the balance, and I happen to think Speaker for the Dead really undercuts many of the accusations people make about Card's bigotry--how could such a beautiful book be written by a bigot? I don't know. Obviously it's possible. And Ender's Game certainly has latent messages that I dislike, looking back. But it is those very latent messages that seem to be addressed and reversed by the maturation of the narrator in Speaker for the Dead.
Here are some key differences between the two books: Ender's Game is a book about war and the motivations for war, life under martial law, and child soldiers. Speaker for the Dead is a book about peace and the fragilities of peace, colonial and postcolonial politics, and growing up. There is a good deal less flash and glamor to Speaker for the Dead, and the technology featured shifts from spaceships and weapons and battle holograms to DNA microscopes and the other kinds of machines used in molecular biology.
Here is the key similarity between the two books: they're both worth reading, especially if you already like science fiction, and even if you're kind of on the fence. I have loaned my copy of Ender's Game to a handful of friends, and they have all liked it. I will be buying and farming out a copy of Speaker for the Dead as well.(less)
My first impression, on reading this book, is that it is a friend. Not that the pages and inked words give me comfort like a friend, but that the boo...more My first impression, on reading this book, is that it is a friend. Not that the pages and inked words give me comfort like a friend, but that the book is, in fact, the exact spirit and soul of a very particular person I know. This person is not, in any way or shape or form, Maggie Nelson. I don't think, for all her tough talk, that Nelson is blue. Can I take a moment to object to the title? It's either that, or I object to the book. If this had been a book about depression that had not been named Bluets, I probably would have loved it more than I do right now. I probably would have taken it home and cradled it in bed, underlining every line and saying it softly to myself whenever my housemate wakes me late at night with the garage door roaring up and down. If this had been a book about blue that had not also been about depression, let the title say whatever it may, I would probably have bitten my tongue and kept my head down and read it without complaint. Do I complain about books often? I think I probably do. I think I have a right to complain about books that take clichés when they're already down and out and kick the mickey out of them. Depression? Blue? Bluets? Really, do we have to do this to ourselves, again and again, in beautiful lyrical language or something less problematic, more fittingly bland? One more side note. I hate the cliché so much that I took my copy of this book, a fresh clean copy straight from Amazon, and crossed out the title in black Sharpie. Worse: I wrote eight new titles on the cover, also in Sharpie, all variations on blue-spectrum Crayola colors. Cerulets. Indigets. Turquoisets. And so on. And since the cover of the book itself was blue framing an ivory square, a square featuring the old and new titles, I took that Sharpie to town and blacked out every inch. I would have done the same for the back cover, but the Sharpie isn't even mine, and I'm afraid I almost used it up. I much prefer my desecrated copy to the original, but under the black I know there's still that darn blue, incorruptibly, unperishingly, intensely, defiantly done. And every page is blue, and blue, and more blue. I'm sitting in a tea shoppe in downtown Tucson, and now I can't help but notice that beneath the cracking yellow paint is, you guessed it, Maggie Nelson's favorite color. It bothers me. I'm overdosed. Ninety-five pages of blue. A hundred pages touching another consciousness--brilliant, yes--beautifully written, yes--clever in some ways and stupid in others, yes--just what I like in a book, if the formula holds true. And yet I can't stand it right now. Maybe a year from now, I'll come back to this book (I can't call it poetry, not really, and yet I can't call it prose either), to this itemized list of blue things and feelings and my friend, and I'll enjoy the heck out of it. Maybe. Or maybe I'll just get out the gorram watercolors and drench its pages in real pigment. That's it--that's precisely it. I want something real out of this book, something not at all connected with color, which is, after all, impossible to really convey. I want to know I didn't just waste an afternoon which I could have spent with a much more emotionally engaging book. Nelson's right. Goethe is right: "It may be said to disturb rather than enliven." Nelson quotes Goethe extensively, and while I like saying Goethe's name, I'm not such a fan of the self-indulgent sadness that made The Sorrows of Young Werther such an international phenomenon.(less)
I won Traveling Light and was a little terrified, mostly because I am also a conscientious Goodreads citizen, and I make a solid effort to read and r...more
I won Traveling Light and was a little terrified, mostly because I am also a conscientious Goodreads citizen, and I make a solid effort to read and review every ARC I win. A book's reputation--and a new author's, too--are somewhat dependent on reviews like mine (scary thought, I know).
I will not take this review in the direction that so many reviewers do ("This book was so much better than I thought it would be! A+! Five stars! You might think you'll hate this book, but you'll love it too!"). I will say that it was not a difficult read for me, and I did not close the book and feel saddened at the thought of having wasted my time. I enjoyed Traveling Light a good deal more than my terrified self had anticipated, but I remain illusion-free. This is a light summer read, and enjoyable, with some interesting characters and set-pieces (wolves and eagles and vultures, oh my!). In the absence of distractions--on a late-night flight from Tucson to Chicago, for example--this book will fill the breach beautifully. But no, this is no Great Expectations. It is neither as riveting as The Hunger Games nor as artistic as Cloud Atlas nor as pithy as In Cold Blood. And it doesn't need to be.
Andrea Thalasinos has a lot going for her here. She has insight into the culture of her primary character, the daughter of Greek immigrants, living and working in New York. The book is rich with references to this culture, and the occasional untranslated phrase was, in my mind, rather nice. At times, the language does not live up to the story's potential, with some clunky dialogue here and there and some even clunkier blocks of description interspersed throughout. This is not a shoot-em-up thriller, so I am comfortable with the slower pace and character development, but did note several passages where my attention wandered. As a student of writing, I mark those places as opportunities for editorial work--cutting down to the quick, the essential, the bare bones.
I will say this in Traveling Light's favor: each character was entirely believable. Whether that character was defined by his behavior (hoarding) or her culture of origin (the daughter of Greek immigrants) or his occupation (raptor rehabilitation), I understood them. I cared about their decisions by the book's conclusion, and stuck around to read about their various fates. There were no sappy romance scenes, and even the book's premise (dog enters life, life changes dramatically OR person takes road trip to cope with difficult life, road trip changes life dramatically OR dog plus road trip plus handsome new man equals lasting happiness) didn't bother me unduly, given the fact I got this book for free. (I will rarely complain at length about a free book.) Traveling Light turned out to be a lot more fun than I had expected, in a pleasant and unobtrusive way.(less)