Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Hobbit


Tolkien, J.R.R. 1937, 1966. The Hobbit.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. (3)

Hobbits do like to be comfortable. That is a fact. But in The Hobbit, we read of one hobbit in particular, a Mr. Bilbo Baggins, who leaves his life of comfort behind him to go on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure with thirteen dwarves and one wizard. It is the story of how he went from being a respectable hobbit to a very unrespectable, "odd" little hobbit. Bilbo never meant to have an adventure. He was quite clear on that. But never say never. It all starts with a visit from a wizard, Gandalf. That visit leads to another visit--a visit by thirteen dwarves--who call upon him unawares and give him the surprise of his life. They want him--they expect him--to be a part of their expedition, their adventure, their journey to go off and kill a dragon, Smaug by name, and steal his treasure. It's laughable almost, at least at first, but slowly and surely Bilbo gets carried away with it all. And the adventures that follow--oh my!

The Hobbit is a charming and delightful though-not-a-thin adventure book that everyone should read. (Or at least attempt to read! By that I mean, while I loved it--while I think many many people love it--I suppose no one book can please everyone. But this one should at least be attempted, tested to see if you like this sort of thing.)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Host by Stephenie Meyer


Meyer, Stephenie. 2008. The Host.

The Healer's name was Fords Deep Waters. Because he was a soul, by nature he was all things good: compassionate, patient, honest, virtuous, and full of love. Anxiety was an unusual emotion for Fords Deep Waters. Irritation was even rarer. However, because Fords Deep Waters lived inside a human body, irritation was sometimes inescapable.

Thus begins the highly anticipated first adult novel by Stephenie Meyer. The opening scene shows a man, occupation Healer, getting ready to implant a Soul into a human being. These souls are parasitic aliens that have spread across the galaxy. They are able to take hosts--different hosts--on each planet. Our narrator is a Soul named Wanderer. She's unusual, in a way, because she has been to many planets--I can't remember if it's seven or eight or nine--and lived that many lifetimes. The souls know no death, they just move onto a new host when their host's body dies. This is Wanderer's first time on Earth, her first time in a human host. Our secondary narrator is a woman named Melanie. And you've probably guessed by now that she is the host body to Wanderer.

These aliens didn't take over the world overnight. They didn't announce their arrival at all. Their goal--if they had a goal--was to assimilate quietly and peacefully with humans. It wasn't until the humans noticed that something was off that there was any resistance, any battles, any blood shed. What was off? Humans were being too nice, too perfect, too Mayberry. From the Souls' perspective, they were doing humanity a huge favor. They were turning these rowdy and unpredictable and altogether too violent and volatile humans into peace-loving, happy-go-lucky people. Souls love everybody, accept everybody, trust everybody. Except for that one teeny tiny little detail that they won't take no for an answer. All humans must be implanted. As long as their are humans without Souls then there is the potential for blood shed and loss. To "protect" themselves--or so they claim--they must either assimilate or destroy those resisting pesky humans. Those Souls that are seeking to destroy and/or assimilate humans are called Seekers.

Melanie's luck has run out. Or so she thinks. On the verge of being captured, she throws herself down an elevator shaft. She thinks that she'll avoid her fate by destroying her body. But Healers are really good at repairing the human body--another so called "benefit" to this alien domination.

Wanderer and Melanie are soon to be linked together for life. Not that that is the plan. Souls are supposed to erase, eradicate, the consciousness, the personality of their hosts. But Wanderer finds that Melanie will not go down without a fight. She guards her life, her secrets, closely. She will not accept the finality of the situation.

Life is about to turn very interesting for this two-in-one package as they journey together into the Arizona desert to find the meaning of it all. It's a story about humanity, about sentient life forms, about right and wrong, about justice, about love, about forgiveness, and grace, and redemption. It's a novel with a lot of heart and soul and gumption.

This concept isn't completely original. They're not as overtly (openly) evil as the goa'uld (go-ah-OOLD) by any means. But the concept of a parasite invading through the neck and wrapping themselves around the spine and brain and 'controlling' the human and 'erasing' the host personality has been done before. So has the concept of a human host living side-by-side compatibly with a parasite--that's a Tok'ra for you. Tok'ras are the 'good guys' in the parasite world (supposedly though Jack still calls them snakeheads) who only enter voluntary hosts. Even the concept of love can be seen to be similar to that found in Stargate--the parasite and host body falling in love with their mate's parasite and host body. Four personalities, two bodies, love all around. To see the ultra-unpleasant (evil) "implantation" of goa'uld watch The Children of the Gods. But be warned there are moments of nudity.

It was hard not to think about goa'ulds and tok'ras while reading The Host. That could be because I tend to relate all things back to Stargate eventually if at all possible. It doesn't have to be oh-so-obvious. In this case, I think if you've seen Stargate at all, you can see the connection in some ways, but not in all ways.

This story has plenty to make it special all on its own. I don't want to get into the particulars but the environment was very unusual but it worked. In some very teeny tiny way it reminded me of Dune. I don't know why. I've only seen the movie once. But there were scenes from that movie that came to mind when reading the book. Maybe it's the desert environment. (There are no giant worms however.) I don't know. At this point, it's irrelevant. (Maybe also slightly Journey to the Center of the Earth). She created a world that is so strange, so different from present day life, from reality. It's a world that it's easy to get swept up into in a way. The setting, the characters. It just worked. It was very rich in detail. I thought the depths of the back-story was just really well done. (The little details that Wanderer discloses in her storytelling and her question and answer sessions.)

I can't say that I fell quite in love with it as much as I did Twilight upon first reading it. But it's good. The romance, the chemistry, isn't quite as intense, quite as magical as it is for Bella/Edward/Jacob. But it isn't a romance without some merit. I personally was more into Ian than Jared, but that's just me.

First sentence of chapter one: I knew it would begin with the end, and the end would look like death to these eyes. I had been warned. Not these eyes. My eyes. Mine. This was me now. (9)

So I definitely recommend it. Do you have to love science fiction? It might help. But if you're not a fan, don't let the genre turn you off. This is a story about what it means to be human. (In some ways it mirrors the themes of the novel Frankenstein--what it means to be human, to live, what it means to be a monster.) It's a human-interest story therefore. It explores the depths--the good, the bad, the ugly--of humanity in general. The fact that some humans have been possessed by aliens while others haven't is just a distinction that separates it from other novels you might have read through the years. But science fiction fans, I hope, will be pleased with it as well as newbies.

I would have read it anyway--it's got Stephenie Meyer's name attached to it--but it comes with a blurb from Orson Scott Card himself. So you know it has to be good.

And for those that are curious, I tend to like Wanda/Melanie much much more than Bella as far as personality goes. In Twilight, Bella didn't annoy me so much. But in some of the sequels, I found myself growing more and more irked at her. Definitely to a point where I understood where all the hate was coming from saying that she was too whiny and mindless (in a way). Not that I'll ever reach a point where I'll stop reading the series. Who could stop now? (I'm on Team Jacob by the way.)

You can read the prologue and the first four chapters here.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Assassin's Quest - Robin Hobb

Assassin’s Quest is actually book three in the Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb. (OSC recommneds *all* of her books.) I read the first two in the series in 2006 and it’s taken me two years to get back to it, a fact which I really do regret.



The main character in these books is Fitz. A nameless boy with no memories of the time before his mother gave him up, Fitz is brought up in the stables of Buckkeep, a coastal fortress, by stablemaster, Burrich, until he’s old enough to realize that he’s a royal bastard. He’s then taken into the main castle to learn court behaviour and, later, the role of a court assassin under the mysterious Chade. Fitz, it turns out, is the illegitimate son of the king-in-waiting, Chivalry, who has abdicated his position because of this bastard son and disappeared. His successor is Verity, a prince very powerful in the ‘Skill’ - a kind of magic that he has to use to try to prevent the Red Ship raiders from decimating the country’s coastline and ‘forging’ (rendering souless) the inhabitants. There is another brother, Regal, with a lust for power and a willingness to do anything to gain it and it is Fitz’s battle to stop this happening, and to help Verity with the war, which take up the majority of the first two books, Assassin’s Apprentice and Royal Assassin.

Assassin’s Quest picks up the story at the point where Verity has been gone for about a year. He set off to find a mysterious race called The Elderlings, to gain their assistance with the Red Ships, and has not returned. Regal has proclaimed himself king and is allowing the Red Ships to wreak havoc along the coast having moved himself and his court well inland to safety. Fitz first has to rehabilitate himself after a traumatic incident and then sets off to find Verity and The Elderlings. It’s a very long journey and most of the book revolves around his travels, incidents along the way, new characters he meets - and old ones as the enigmatic ‘Fool’ re-enters the fray. And more than that I’m not going to say as it would involve serious spoilers.

To tell the truth, I don’t believe I personally can do justice to these books. I’m going to stick my neck right out though and say that this series is one the best fantasy series out there and that Robin Hobb is a writer of the first calibre. The plotlines that run through the books are complex. There are twists and turns galore, political and court intrigue, and I would add that this is not a ‘fun’ or ‘light’ read and is definitely for adults, not children. Many dreadful things happen to all of the characters and there are readers who might find it all a bit much. I myself like humour and ‘some’ lightness in my reading but there isn’t a lot to be had in this series. Truthfully, if I knew why none of this mattered one iota to me, I’d say so. I think, to be honest, that it all boils down to the quality of the story-telling.

There are two more series in this universe. After the ‘Farseer’ trilogy come the three ‘Liveship Traders’ books and then the ‘Tawny Man’ trilogy. The ‘Liveship Traders’ series is set in the same world and country but with none of the same characters. The ‘Tawny Man’ books carry on with the story of Fitz and The Fool, so you could skip the middle series but most people suggest that you really shouldn’t. And I don’t plan to. And nor do I intend to wait another two years before I get back to reading Robin Hobb.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Want to read Worthing Saga with me????


Becky's Online Reading Group will be reading The Worthing Saga by Orson Scott Card for the month of June. Orson Scott Card--as many of you know--is one of my favorite, favorite, favorite authors. And this book isn't as widely known (and as widely read) as his Ender series. (Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind, Ender's Shadow, etc.) I'm choosing this one because I love it, obviously, but also because I hope to encourage others to read it as well. You can read the first chapter online here. Discussions will be on Mondays and Fridays, except for the weekend of the 48 Hour Readathon. It will be one day early that week.

The Worthing Saga
by Orson Scott Card

Monday, June 2, 2008 Day One: Author's Introduction - chapter 2 (roughly 1-37)
Thursday June 5, 2008 Day Two: Chapter 3 - chapter 4 (roughly 38- 92)
Monday, June 9, 2008 Day Three: Chapter 5 (93 - 119)
Friday, June 13, 2008 Day Four: Chapter 6 - Chapter 7 (120-153)
Monday, June 16, 2008 Day Five: Chapter 8 (154-205)
Friday, June 20, 2008 Day Six: Chapter 9 - 12 (206-271)
Monday, June 23, 2008 Day Seven: Chapter 13 - 15 (277-329)
Friday, June 27, 2008 Day Eight: Chapter 16 - 18 (330-401)
Monday, June 30, 2008 Day Nine: Chapter 19 - 21 (407-458)

"This book brings together all the Worthing stories for the first time in one volume. In a way, the Worthing tales are at the root of my work in science fiction..."

...Orson Scott Card


It was a miracle of science that permitted human beings to live, if not forever, then for a long, long time. Some people, anyway. The rich, the powerful - they lived their lives at the rate of one year every ten. Somec created two societies: that of people who lived out their normal span and died, and those who slept away the decades, skipping over the intervening years and events, It allowed great plans to be put in motion. It allowed interstellar Empires to be built. It came near to destroying humanity.

After a long, long time of decadence and stagnation, a few seed ships were sent out to save our species. They carried human embryos and supplies, and teaching robots, and one man. The Worthing Saga is the story of one of these men, Jason Worthing, and the world he found for the seed he carried.

Copyright © 1990 Orson Scott Card

New to Becky's Online Reading Group. See the 'about' page to answer your questions about participation.