Sunday, November 25, 2007

Becky's Review of Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus

While nothing can displace Ender's Game from being my favorite and best Orson Scott Card novel, I love, love, love Pastwatch. I'm not quite sure how I can convey that. But I'll do my best.

It's set in the future. I would guess several hundred years in the future. Humans on Earth have become technologically advanced, but they're still paying for the mistakes of the past--most notably the environmental mistakes of the past. One of the technologies available is the ability to watch past events fold out before your eyes on the big screen. In the early stages, this technology could only watch vast regions--note climate changes and social changes--the building of communities and sometimes their collapses. But as this technology is developed further, it becomes possible to watch history in greater detail, minute detail. Scientists, historians, researchers (whatever you want to call them) can do studies on communities, societies, or individuals.

What's the point of watching the past? To learn. To understand. To answer impossible questions.

Pastwatch has multiple narrators--each one with a special interest, a special research area, together they are trying to answer some BIG questions.

How is Christopher Columbus involved? Well, he's one of our narrators for one thing. But secondly, he becomes the subject of interest for most of our other narrators. It is HIS life that is being dissected and held up for study. What our researchers learn is that at some point in time, future scientists, interfered or manipulated the past that turned Christopher Columbus' interest to sailing west. Their quest to figure out how and why of this manipulation will lead them on a journey with massive consequences. For they're debating whether or not they should do something along the same lines...

Semi-Apocalyptic fiction. Alternate histories. Time Travel.

Pastwatch is exciting. While the characters are well developed, they aren't as memorable for me as those in the Ender books. But that could be because I've read Ender's Game about a dozen times and Pastwatch only twice. Overall, I say this is a must-read. Those with an interest in history will find it fascinating. As will those with a love for science fiction.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

New Eligible Book: Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence

Card's review:

I already reviewed -- and highly recommended -- the movie Becoming Jane Austen. But I couldn't help being suspicious that all the best bits in the movie were simply made up.

That's why I had to buy Jon Spence's biography Becoming Jane Austen, to see just where fact left off and fantasy began.

Spence's book is a remarkably well-written biography. Working with the same data that has led several previous writers to create completely dull biographies of this fascinating woman, Spence was able to spin a completely accurate story that clearly distinguished between known facts and plausible speculations that fit the available evidence.

The book is compulsively readable. It's a model for how popular biographies of long-dead people can and should be written. And yet it never leads you into falsely believing things that simply can't be proven, though they seem likely. Always we are given Spence's evidence so we can decide for ourselves what to believe.

As to the movie, the verdict is: The climactic nearly-running-away scene is completely unjustified but could have happened; everything else either certainly did happen or might well have happened or happened, but not at the time shown.

In other words, the movie is way above average in fidelity to real history. Much more accurate, for instance, than Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan or JFK or An Inconvenient Truth, all of which purported to tell the truth.

But good as the movie is, if you have to choose between seeing it and reading the book it was based on, read the book.


Gaiman, Neil. 2007. Interworld.

It would have been hard for me not to enjoy Interworld by Neil Gaiman. It's science fiction. It's alternate realities. It's other dimensions. It's Neil Gaiman. Take any one of those, and there's a good chance I'll enjoy...but all of them...and it would be impossible for me not to.

Joey Harker is our teen hero. He's directionally challenged in the real world, but he's about to go where few have gone before--walking between worlds, walking between realities. And at this--directionally challenged or not--he excels. This "gift" makes him a valuable asset to both the good guys and the bad guys. And this "gift" may just cost him his life in a war he never expected to fight.

First line: Once I got lost in my own house.

When Joey and his classmates are turned loose on the streets in an experiment for his Social Studies class and told to find their way to a certain place by a certain time, Joey's sense of direction will be tested like never before. The class is paired up--maybe in twos or threes I don't remember the exact number--but Joey's partner, not so lucky. When Joey gets lost, he sets off on his own--telling his partner that he'll be back in a minute or two. He doesn't return...not for thirty-six hours. And when he does return he has amnesia. He has no idea of what happened while he was missing. Though, of course, the reader does.

Interworld is an exciting, action-packed adventure.