Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A War of Gifts by Orson Scott Card

I've been waiting patiently for two years for this book to come out and I must say that it far surpassed my expectations. Many Orson Scott Card fans were disappointed that we weren't getting our "Christmas at Battle School" story last year for Christmas, but it was well worth the wait and Uncle Orson has given all of his readers a wonderful gift indeed with this new addition to the Ender saga.

A War of Gifts is much more than just the story of Christmas at battle school. It is a story of human connections, the spirit of a child, and a story of facing that moment where the spirit of a child begins to awaken into an adult. The story takes place at battle school during the events of Card's novel Ender's Game. A new child by the name of Zeck has been drafted into the army. Zeck is the child of a minister who claims to be somewhat of a vessel through which God speaks to his congregation. Zeck has been raised in a home where he has been brainwashed against any form of popular culture and is often beaten by his father as a way to cleanse his soul. Zeck's father preaches that Santa Claus is the creation of Satan and is nothing but a false idol paraded to children. Zeck also has a very special gift of being able to memorize anything he hears and is highly intelligent. He's recruited by battle school and is taken against his will...for battle school does not allow the expression of religion for the sake of uniformity.

On Sinterklaas Eve, a young boy in battle school leaves his shoes out in the hope that Sinterklaas will leave him a present and another child soldier in battle school notices the gesture and tries to fulfill the boys wish. Zeck sees this and reports it to the commanders as expression of religion in the hopes that others will turn against him and he can be sent home where he can once again practice his religion. But what escalates is beyond what he had planned for.

This book was just perfect and fans of the Ender series will love it. If you've never read a single book in the Ender series, you'll love this book. You don't have to have read any of the other books to enjoy this one. It's a short one at just 126 pages and I'd recommend it to be on anyone's holiday list.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Becky Review's Quicker Than The Eye

Bradbury, Ray. Quicker Than The Eye

I've been reading a short story here and there since Thursday (and continuing through today) from Ray Bradbury's collection Quicker Than the Eye. I am not loving it like I did The Martian Chronicles.

The first story, "Unterderseaboat Doktor" was just weird. Weird without being good if you know what I mean. Pointlessly weird.

The second story, "Zaharoff/Richter Mark V" was better. It was oddly amusing. It is about an elite group of architects that routinely plot all the world's calamities just so they can rebuild cities.

"Remember Sascha" was okay for me. It is not gonna be one that I remember forever and ever. But it wasn't bad. Just okay. It's about a young couple madly in love and expecting a baby. It has its odd moments--they hear the baby talking to them--but again it was just okay.

"Another Fine Mess" was like a mediocre Twilight Zone. You know the sort. The kind that you might watch once, but you're not dying to see it in repeats. Slightly odd and nostalgic about old film stars and old Hollywood...but mostly just okay.

"The Electrocution" went way over my head. I admit. I read this one as clueless as can be. I just didn't get anything. It was like one of us (I don't know which) was from another planet. Either the language of the story really is that odd. OR what is most likely, my head wasn't quite functioning properly when I tried to absorb this one. Regardless, it is probably my least favorite of the bunch.

"Hopscotch" is one that I read and promptly forgot. Even reading the first paragraph or two doesn't jot my memory. I guess this means my impressions of this one are mediocre at best. At least I don't remember hating it or being confused.

"The Finnegan" is a weird story about a large creepy human-eating spider. It probably would have made a great radio broadcast with lots of effects and whatnot.

"That Woman on the Lawn" is a pleasantly strange story about a man who lives in a house with a haunted front yard. At some point, he realizes that it is the ghost of his mother--only the ghost is of a very young woman. A woman who hasn't loved and borne a child yet. It's a strange one, no doubt.

"The Very Gentle Murders" is a strange story of an old couple NOT in love with each other. The husband is trying to kill the wife; the wife is trying to kill the husband. They're trying to outwit each other, yet everyone around them seems clueless as to what is going on. It's a slightly irreverant, often humorous, very weird story. But one that unlike "Hopscotch" will apparently stick with me for a while.

"Quicker Than The Eye" is a short story about a magic act. It's okay. Nothing special.

"Dorian In Excelsus" is probably the strongest story in my opinion. It seems creepier and weirder than the rest. And the action seems tighter. If I had to pick a favorite, this one would be a contender. See how it begins: "Good evening. Welcome. I see you have my invitation in your hands. Decided to be brave, did you? Fine. Here we are. Grab onto this." The tall, handsome stranger with the heavenly eyes and the impossibly blond hair handed me a wineglass. "Clean your palate," he said. I took the glass and read the label on the bottle he held in his left hand... Doesn't that opening just hook you?

"No News, Or What Killed the Dog?" is a short story about a family whose dog has died, and they have decided to have a funeral and bury their pet in a pet cemetary. It's okay. Nothing special.

"The Witch Door" is another good story. One of the better ones in my humble opinion. I can almost see it as a radio drama or acted out on a Twilight Zone type tv show.

"The Ghost In the Machine" was one that frankly I could have done without. I just didn't like it. It wasn't awful or anything. I just didn't get anything out of it. I wasn't confused by it. I just didn't care.

"At The End of the Ninth Year" is one that I liked. I can almost see this one acted out as well. As a great little sketch drama students do in class and such. It's about a married couple who love each other yet aren't quite in love with each other anymore. Anyway, it's a story about familiarity and love and commitment and knowing and being yourself.

"Bug" was okay. It's a short story about high school friends who drift apart through the decades. A man known as "Bug" loved to dance. When the narrator runs into him several decades (at least) later, they barely recognize each other. He no longer dances, and he's just ordinary again. Anyway, it's a story about the past and present colliding. And a story about regaining past glory in a way. It was okay for me.

"Once More, Legato" was an okay story for me. I didn't love it or hate it. It is about a "musician" who steals his melodies from the birds outside his house--his window. When the birds migrate, he panics and begins counting the days until their return.

"Exchange" was a clever little story about librarians and their patrons all these years later. About how books are friends. And librarians are great. What's not to love?

"Free Dirt" was okay, but ultimately forgettable.

"Last Rites" is another one I just can't remember. I know I read it, but my mind must have been miles away somewhere.

"The Other Highway" was a good story. I'm glad the book ended with a strong story. I can almost see this one dramatized as well. It's a family story. A man, his wife, and his kids are on a trip and they go off the highway and discover an old road, an old town, an old lifestyle. They contemplate trading their hectic, crazy lives for a more relaxed lifestyle. But ultimately, they head back to the crazy modern world.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Becky Reviews The Martian Chronicles

Okay, I'm officially in love with a new author: Ray Bradbury. As if Something Wicked This Way Comes wasn't enough, I topped it off with reading The Martian Chronicles. It is such a great, great book. Okay, maybe the language--sentence structure and phrases--isn't as stylistic and magical as Something Wicked...but the ideas, messages, and premises in this book make for a great read. If you love Twilight-y Zone fiction, then you'll absolutely love The Martian Chronicles. It is this psychological examination of man--of humans--of our faults, strengths, weaknesses--that makes for a compelling read. The setting of The Martian Chronicles is Earth and Mars. (With most of the action occurring on Mars.) The time period for the novel is January 1999 to October 2026. The book is definitely a product of its time--a book written post world war II and in the midst of the cold war...where the threat of atomic war is so high it's almost overwhelming. The Martian Chronicles is a collection of short stories almost. Many were published separately. Most if not all can stand alone.

Some of my favorites include: "The Third Expedition" (dramatized as "Mars is Heaven"), "And the Moon Be Still As Bright" (also dramatized), "Usher II", and "The Million Year Picnic."

But one of the stories that made me think was "Way in the Middle of the Air." Imagine the racism and prejudice of the forties and fifties alive and well in 2003. Imagine that all the progress made between now and then is washed away. That most of the Civil Rights movement and integration never happened, or happened differently. This is a harsh little story--beware of the 'n' word. It made me so thankful to live in the here and now.

Be sure to visit my Reading With Becky post about X minus 1.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Something Wicked This Way Comes (A Becky Review)

Bradbury, Ray. Something Wicked This Way Comes.

After reading Chris' review of Something Wicked This Way Comes, I really couldn't resist picking it up on my next library visit. (I ended up taking several Bradbury's home with me though this was the only one I got read this past week.) There is something so delicious about Bradbury's style. I still don't know if I'm actually in love with the style or the content. I guess a bit of both. But for me it's all about the style. It is how the story is told. The words, the phrases, the images. I think if this story had been written by another writer, it wouldn't have "grabbed" me as much as it did. This is a book that gets you at hello. Read the first few paragraphs and see what I mean:

First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys. Not that all months aren't rare. But there be bad and good, as the pirates say. Take September, a bad month: school begins. Consider August, a good month: school hasn't begun yet. July, well, July's really fine: there's no chance in the world for school. June, no doubting it, June's best of all, for the school doors spring wide and September's a billion years away.

But you take October, now. School's been on a month and you're riding easier in the reins, jogging along. You got time to think of the garbage you'll dump on old man Prickett's porch, or the hairy-ape costume you'll wear to the YMCA the last nightof the month. And if it's around October twentieth and everything smoky-smelling and the sky orange and ash gray at twilight, it seems Halloween will never come in a fall of broomsticks and a soft flap of bedsheets around corners.
But one strange wild dark long year, Halloween came early.

One year Halloween came on October 24, three hours after midnight.

At that time James Nightshade of 97 Oak Street was thirteen years, eleven months, twenty-three days old. Next door, William Halloway was thirteen years, eleven months and twenty-four days old. Both touched toward fourteen; it almost trembled in their hands.

And that was the October week when they grew up overnight, and were never so young any more...

I really can't say much more about it. Two friends. One big adventure. A Carnival with the wrong sorts of people. It is one thrilling ride of a book.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A challenge that might be compatible...

Speculative Fiction Challenge is hosted by The Book Ninja. The challenge runs from October through April 1, 2008. You may not sign up for the challenge after December 1, 2007. (So, dear readers, we've got a month and a week or so to decide if we want to commit.) This was taken directly from HER site.

Speculative Fiction the action of the story can take place in a culture that never existed, a world we know nothing of, or an earth that might have been or might be, to name a few. … This distinctiveness is best illustrated in the primary question asked by the writers of Speculative Fiction, “What if?” … this genre has a special capacity to deal with the human equation. (source)
In organizing, I decided to focus on four genres within the speculative fiction umbrella.

Challenge Requirements
For this challenge, you read six books. It’s up to you which areas of speculative fiction you read in; these categories exist only because I wanted to use these ridiculous titles that are only hilarious to me:

Skinning Schrödinger’s Cat With Occam’s Razor: read six science fiction books.
Herding Unicorns and Dragons With An Untested Magical Staff: read six fantasy books.
Points of Divergence, or Oh Shit We’re All Speaking French!: read six alternate history books.
Decoder Rings Never Looked So Good: read six magic realism books.
A Theoretical Handbook For the Unseasoned Speculator: otherwise known as the speculative fiction buffet. Here’s how it might look:
Science fiction (3), Fantasy (1), Magic Realism (2)
Science fiction (1), Fantasy (1), Alternate History (1), Magic Realism (3)
Fantasy (4), Alternate History (2)