book review: the giver

Lois Lowry’s The Giver was in our unit on dystopias, and yes, it fits there. I ended up being unimpressed with it as a book though, mainly because of the “unique snowflake” syndrome it exhibits.

Jonas lives in a society where you’re assigned a job to be trained for when you hit 12 years old. Not exactly 12, because you’re part of a year which all hits these milestones together. The society has a huge number of rules and surveillance to maintain itself. Jonas is understandably excited about his upcoming assignment. But he gets a weird job that sets him apart from the community as a keeper of memory, which is when you learn that no one can see colours or knows what hills or snow are, since the Sameness was instituted to eliminate pain and poor choices.

It’s a good book, as far as it goes. It’s very firm in its support of individual choice as opposed to terrible efficiency (something it shares with A Wrinkle in Time). The problem is how Jonas has to have memories transmitted into him psychically and then the ending is kind of abrupt (though it’s also kind of ambiguous, leaving a few interpretations open until being stomped on by the sequel). The thing that bugs me is how Jonas and the Giver are the only people in the world who aren’t drones that care only about the status quo.

There’s more good than bad to it, though Scott Westerfeld does a better job with similar material in Uglies. Uglies is a bit more YA and this is a bit more childrens’ I guess.

book review: singing the dogstar blues

Singing the Dogstar Blues by Alison Goodman was an interesting choice for our time-travel unit in my SFF course. Joss, the main character, is a first year cadet at a time-travel school who gets paired with the first alien to attend the school in a cultural exchange, but time-travel only features in the very last 20% of the book. Even then it’s the kind of time travel that’s just to sneakily grab some information before it was destroyed. Oh, um, spoiler alert?

Joss is a tough 17-year-old female protagonist (who’s been kicked out of a dozen schools), and her toughness comes through pretty well, but I kept on feeling she was written more as a precocious fourteen year old than someone actually in university. I probably just have a distorted view of it all.

The story’s pretty good, and isn’t as straight forward as it seemed at first glance (the time travel helped). It wasn’t amazing, but I’d be able to recommend it to certain types of readers. Readers of The Hunger Games would probably find this a bit fluffy.

book review: ender’s game

I remember reading Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game a long time ago. I remember liking it, but rereading it now made me realize just how good it is.

Ender Wiggins has been bred to be a genius and maybe go to learn to be a genius military commander. He is a gifted child who’s forced into difficult situation after difficult situation in training to become a gifted strategist. He is 6 years old when the book begins.

The Game is about battle simulation and learning to become a leader. There is no romance in this book. There isn’t even real camaraderie, just the isolation and pain of duty and becoming the best. I don’t agree with the military glorification that happens throughout most of the story but the ending redeems even that for me. While they try to make Ender into a tool, so incredibly tough and lethalm he also remains human.

This humanity despite the fact that he acts little like any child I ever knew. The main strategic thesis of the book is that you respond with overwhelming force so you never have to fight the same battle twice. This is something that makes sense tactically but as the novel shows, it doesn’t make for a very happy life.

I’d always thought it was written before I was born but it wasn’t. One thing I really appreciated was the description of the simulations in the Battle Room. They’re like zero-G laser tag games, but they feel much better than that. Supposedly they’re making a movie but man, that’s going to feel so dated with all the CGI. The simulation technology in a book is so much better in its infinite upgradeability, no remake required.

book review: the graveyard book

I almost didn’t reread The Graveyard Book for this SF librarianship class. I already knew I loved this Neil Gaiman book, so maybe I could spend my time better.

There is no better way to spend your time than reading about Nobody Owens, especially if you’re thinking about change and life and growing up and the future.

The story starts off with a toddling baby’s family having just been murdered. A man with a knife is climbing the stairs to kill the baby. Some people get squeamish about this being a kids’ book at this point. The baby toddles off up the street and heads into the graveyard where a family of ghosts takes him in and Silas undertakes to be the boy’s guardian. They hide him in the graveyard and the murderer’s mind is muddled and there you have it.

Now the book can begin.

It’s done in a series of short accounts of Nobody Owens’ life. There are ghouls and witches and a tutor who makes terrible soup, and Bod learns history from the people who were actually there (it’s very idiosyncratic). There’s a girl who thinks he’s her imaginary friend and there are bullies at school and police and a bunch of murderous men with something in common who’re looking for him and it’s all so good.

This is a book of atmosphere, of creepiness and funniness and all that good stuff Gaiman brings to everything he does. It’s written for kids and doesn’t need to talk down to them to do it. And I dare you to suggest a better coming of age and heading out into the world than in the end when Nobody leaves the graveyard.

It’s so fucking good. There’s a reason I give this one as gifts to all and sundry.

book review: a living nightmare

The first book in The Saga of Darren Shan is called A Living Nightmare. Again, this is one of those books that I knew about because kids always wanted to read it, but hadn’t read myself. It’s not very good.

I think what bothered me the most about it was all the exclamations of how scary things were. It was very “Golly gee! That boy was a snake and those people got trampled and the wolfman bit off that woman’s hand!” I also found the actual Cirque bits disappointing because they all seemed so easily faked. I realize that Darren Shan (who decides to become a vampire to save his friend’s life, but the friend is mad because he wanted to be a vampire so now he’ll become a vampire hunter and dedicate his life to killing Darren) is just a kid, but I don’t know. It all felt stupid.

The good thing about the shitty writing in this book meant I could read about Madame Octa (a really huge tarantula who could be controlled telepathically for some non-scary reason) without getting freaked out.

So yeah. Not a fan.

book review: the hunger games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a pretty big deal in the YA SF community. I remember one of my WPL co-workers (am I allowed to say where I used to work now, Rick?) who was a YA librarian who was so incredibly anticipatory of Mockingjay (the third in the series). They’re making a movie of it, for what that’s worth.

I’ve often heard of this book as the antithesis of Twilight. Katniss Everdeen is a girl from one of the conquered districts in this dystopian future America. She is awesome though because she goes out into the unregulated forest and hunts with a bow and brings home food to sell to her village. Because everyone is kept poor and hungry and working in coal mines in her district.

The titular games are a sacrifice each of the conquered districts makes to the capital for having dared to rebel generations ago. One boy and one girl from each district (there are 12 of them, the 13th having been destroyed) are pitted against each other in a televised (but more futuristic than television) fight to the death.

What makes Katniss awesome is how strong she is. She is making active choices throughout the novel, shaping her future which has consequences. There’s a romance subplot driven by the boy who goes from her district, but Katniss is into the strategy of it all, and there’s not a lot of room for pining for a vampire to be her true love.

Highly recommended. At some point I’ll probably read the sequels, because this book just set things up and you can tell the stakes are moving up from a mere bloody battle royale.

book review: the lightning thief

Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief was so very Harry Potter it was funny.

Percy Jackson is the son of a Greek god who left. I won’t say which one because it takes him what seems like forever to figure it out. This makes him dyslexic because he should be reading ancient Greek and ADHD because he should be in battles and stuff. I don’t know how I feel about that facile explanation of dyslexia and ADHD; they both seem like grasping at making the story relevant for contemporary youth.

Anyway. He goes to a camp for demi-gods (his mom is a human) and then gets forced out of it. And into adventure!

It’s a fast-paced little romp that actually does a pretty decent job of using the Greek myths and monsters. There’s a good battle on the St. Louis Arch and like in The Philosopher’s Stone the enemies aren’t the obvious ones, which I appreciate, especially in kids books.