Monday, June 30, 2008

Ender's Game



Andrew 'Ender' Wiggin is a 'third' - meaning he was the third born child to his family in a world where there is over-population and only two children are permitted. His parents were given permission to have a third child though, this being due to the fact that his older brother and sister were extremely bright and were *almost* right for the task required of them, but not quite. It is hoped that Ender will be less vicious than his brother but not as placid as his sister.

The problem is that fifty years ago the human race was almost annihilated by an insect race of beings from another planet. Known as the 'buggers' (I think because they were 'bugs') they were defeated by a brilliant military commander. The fear is that the aliens are about to repeat their invasion attempt and the hunt is on for another such commander, but he will have to be trained from childhood. Ender fits the bill. He is six when whisked off to Battle school to join hundreds of other boys, to train, in a bid to save the world by way of brutal mock 'games'. But Ender is not popular. He is the brightest of the bright and resented by the other boys and, for some reason, the officers running the school are purposely making his life difficult. In other words he's being tested to see how much he can take. Is Ender up to the challenge?

It's not often that I'm this ambivilent about a story. On the one hand I found it to be a pageturner - Card's writing is extremely readable and the story is pacey and really quite exciting. I finished it in two days and that's pretty quick reading for me, so clearly I couldn't put it down. On the other hand I had issues with a couple of things. Mainly it was to do with the kind of dialogue and thoughts Card embued small children with. It was all too adult and, although I realise that these are supposed to be bright kids, I didn't find that aspect of it realistic. Not that Card is the only author to do this by any means - it's very common.

The other thing that struck me was that Card was writing a novel set sometime in the future. It wasn't clear how many years (a hundred?) but, whatever, I found it bizarre that a science fiction author, who would supposedly be forward thinking, did not forsee the role women would come to play in the armed forces. Even just thirty years after he wrote the book women are fighting and dying in combat zones around the world. He put one girl in his school, *one*.

Nevertheless, despite my issues with the book, I did, as I said, enjoy it a great deal. Much of the book is 'edge of the seat' stuff and it has a fantastic twist near the end which I didn't see coming at all. I must also add that it was the last few pages which intrigued me the most and because of that I plan to get a copy of the sequel, Speaker for the Dead, as soon as possible as I suspect that one might be a bit more to my taste. My husband grabbed Ender's Game off me as soon as I finished so it'll be interesting to see what he thinks.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

First Meetings in the Enderverse


First Meetings in the Enderverse by Orson Scott Card
Illustrated by Craig Phillips
A book in the Ender series

Pages: 208
First Published: 2003
Genre: science fiction, short stories
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

John Paul hated school.


Comments: This is a collection 4 novellas that either feature Ender Wiggin or his family. They have all been previously published except one "Teacher's Pest" is original to this volume."The Polish Boy" tells the story of Ender's father and how he was noticed by the government as a possible battle school student."Teacher's Pest" tells how Ender's parents met."Ender's Game" is the original story written in 1977 which inspired the novel of the same name."The Investment Counselor" is the story of how Ender first meets Jane.Due to the information found in these stories this book is best read anytime after "Xenocide", the third Ender book. I enjoyed all the stories and while I wouldn't call them brilliant, they were all enjoyable. A must for fans of the series.
-Nicola

Friday, June 20, 2008

Enchantment by Orson Scott Card


After the big disappointment of Tanith Lee's White as Snow, the question is: Can Orson Scott Card do better in the "retelling of a fairy tale" department? Couldn't do worse, right? Of course, all you Card fans out there (and you KNOW who you are), already have the answer to that question! Enchantment by Orson Scott Card (400 pgs, Del Ray) is a modern day Sleeping Beauty (sort of....I'll get to that!)

"I'm ten years old, my whole life you've called me Vanya. My name is on the school records, on government papers as Ivan Petrovich Smetski. Now you tell me I'm really Itzak Shlomo. What am I, a Jewish secret agent?"

Growing up in Russia isn't easy if you were Jewish. Ivan's parents wanted to get him to America, so he could grow up in a land of freedom. And the way they were going to do it was by declaring themselves Jewish, and applying for a Visa to Israel. From there, they were going to go to America. Ivan could grow up free, and Piotr Smetski could teach at a University. But declaring yourself Jewish in 1975 had it's drawbacks in Russia. After Professor Smetski lost his job, the family lost their apartment, and still no Visa was to be had. So the Smetski's moved to the country near Kiev to live with Cousin Marek and his wife.

One day when Ivan was out running, he came across a clearing in the woods. The canopy of leaves overhead was "so dense that it was perpetually dusk at ground level". The ground was covered with leaves. When a slight breeze stirred the leaves, young Ivan could see something at the center. It was a woman: a beautiful, sleeping woman on a pedestal. And when the leaves moved, it wasn't just ground that it covered, but a wide chasm. Then something moved, and Ivan realized that he wasn't alone with the sleeping woman. There was some sort of creature hidden in the leaves. For a ten-year-old boy, this was too much. He ran off as fast as he could. But he never got a chance to tell anyone about what he saw (if he REALLY saw anything at all). Because when he returned to the country house, the family's Visa had come through and everyone was hurrying to get ready.

The plan worked, and the Smetski's immigrated to New York, to a small town close to Syracuse. And this is where Ivan grew into a man. He became a track star and a scholar. Fourteen years later, Ivan was working on his dissertation for his graduate degree. He was studying Russian Folklore and Ancient Languages, and figured the best way to finish his work would be to go back to Russia. At least that's what he told himself. Because in the back of his mind, he knew that he wanted to see if the woman, the clearing and the beast under the leaves was real.

The story of the Sleeping Beauty in most fairy tales ends once the Prince or Knight awakens the Princess and they live "Happily Ever After". But our story is only beginning. The best part of this tale is what happens after the beauty is awakened. Katerina is a 9th Century Princess who was hidden in time by the evil witch Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga's powers were so great because she had bound the Russian God, the Great Bear to her and was feeding off his power. What did she want? She wanted to rule to land of Tania, Katerina's land. So she hid Katerina away.....not knowing that Ivan would find her and lead her back to the 9th Century.

I have to admit, I wasn't thrilled with Katerina for a very long time in this book. She was so headstrong (which I usually like in a female character) that she wouldn't listen to reason. She had no sympathy for Ivan coming to a new place and time....and having no idea what the customs were or how he was supposed to act. But when fate sends the couple back to the modern time, she realized just how hard life was for someone who didn't have a clue.

Ivan, however, was a pure soul and I just fell in love with him right from the start. Far sooner than Katerina, that's for sure. Card did an incredible job of intertwining the lives of 2 people from different eras and making a fairy tale come to life. He truly is the gifted writer that so many of you keep trying to tell me!! On top of the fairy tale, he mixes in Russian folklore and creates a cast of characters that will stay with me for a long time. This was really a remarkable book, and one that far surpassed the Tanith Lee story of Snow White. I just wish I had read this one first. If you are a fan of Card, or just a fan of fairy tales, this is one book that you must be sure to read!! 4.5/5