Orson Scott Card
An award winning book (both Hugo and Nebula awards) Ender’s Game recounts the story of the early life of Ender in a science fictionalized world where we (the humans) are continually preparing for a repeat of two previous wars fought against “the buggers”. Not your typical sci-fi prep for battle saga, Ender’s Game has a big twist-- Ender has been inducted into the military training process at the appropriate age for the book’s society- when he was six years old.
All the students at the battle academy are children. Society has changed. Population is limited to two children. Families that find themselves expecting a third have an option; terminate or sign a contract that in essence gives the military first right of refusal. These children are referred to derisively as “thirds”, and Ender is a third.
But it isn’t just the thirds that get shuttled off to the battle academy, both Ender’s older brother and sister were “tested” (via implants) but found lacking. Put down as a third, even within his own family (his sister being his only true confidant), Ender has both little to lose, and yet everything to a six year old, by saying yes to the offer when it arrives.
Ender arrives and shines. You don’t feel sorry for this little guy, I found myself grinning and cheering his creativity and pluck without being an over the top psycho. But Ender (and this strange world where children are inducted and prepped for war) isn’t the whole story. The characters surrounding him are also written in a rich and engaging fashion. Even after literally leaving Earth, Ender’s sister and brother remain in the book, building a parallel storyline almost worthy of its own book.
This is a great story that is both fast paced and yet with depth, a tough balance to find. Ender survives and thrives on his wits alone with lessons applicable even to those of us who don’t live in a science fictional universe.
It’s been awhile since I finished this, so I checked the Wikipedia page to make sure I didn’t forget anything important. The first line of the entry was a good tweet-sized book description; “Boneshaker is a science fiction novel by Cherie Priest which combines the steampunk genre with zombies in an alternate history version of Seattle, Washington. It was nominated for the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Novel.”
This book was in my queue for a long time. It had been built up, lots of praise, and I wanted to give it my full attention. It was excellent, and I have only one nit. That being the title refers to a machine, The Boneshaker, that I was expecting would carry a bigger role.
The book is pure steampunk. Probably reference-able as definitive steampunk. It doesn’t throw steampunk into your face, steampunk tech is just the way things are in the book. The book also has engaging characters with backstories revealed at a comfortable pace, a setting that is described in a way the reader can easily visualize, and steampunk tech that the reader can accept without stretching.
Boneshaker also includes a complete roster of humans in roles of adventurer, survivors, victims, and villains. Some blurbs describe the victims of the blight gas as zombies, and that might put some people off with “zombie-fatigue” (they seem to be everywhere). But in this case, in a steampunk novel these non-mechanical features are really neo-zombies (not the modern trendy version, but a sadder variety). There’s also an interesting subtext; what happens when an entire section of a major city has been walled off due to a disaster.
The book starts by establishing the environment and some recounting of past events that led up to Seattle being broken so badly. Then the plot transitions into a bit of an explorer’s story, which goes wrong and leads to a rescue mission. Finally the book wraps with a daring escape attempt that has consequences (left out of this review to avoid spoilers).
Still catching up on reviews, next up is a serialized book I read in the newspaper.
(Audible version: 32 hours, 30 minutes)
This is a big book. It could’ve been done as a trilogy. And it was good.
The book opens with intellectuals living in consents (monasteries, but with women- does the definition of the word allow for that?). They aren’t pursuing faith, but rather “intellectual endeavors”. Prohibited from communicating with the outside world, they toil without technology aside from magic spheres that are pretty impressive. The spheres serve as light source, pillow, tool, something not thoroughly explained in the book but a constant prop and surprisingly useful. The prohibition on outside contact is lifted for 10 days, and the frequency of this period (referred to as apert) varies depending on the class of “avout” you are in (it could be yearly, once a decade, once a century, etc- these folks obviously can live for a while).
Alas, as with all novels, things cannot proceed without something going wrong. In addition to apert, the outside world can call for help from the inside to deal with a pressing issue (referred to as an evocation, or as with many terms in the book simply a shortened form of the word- “Evoke”). Of course, such a pressing issue arises, and a favorite professor of our lead character is evoked. As with typical (of late) Stephenson, all this is wrapped in a deep and thorough backstory, adding to the book’s length.
Long story short (cause I can’t say much more without giving away critical points) our heros are also evoked from the consent, and instead of following instructions take a side trip to pursue their favorite professor. There they find out what’s really going on, reconvene at their appointed destination and take off on a (literally) out of this world adventure.
Again, and I can’t emphasize this enough, this is a big and well done book. It’s intimidating but worth it, and very much like reading three books from a series all in one package. The audible version was perfect for me in that it worked out to be like listening to an entire season of a well written television show.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
This was Powell’s Indiespensable #39 (yes, it is spelled that way-the focus is on independent, or ‘indie’). In this longer than typical book review I’ve captured four things about the book; the word craft, the topic, the structure, and the take-away.
Book #5 in the Camel Club series revolves around a bomb detonation in Lafayette Park in Washington D.C. Oliver Stone (aka John Carr), the Camel Club series main character, is in the thick of it, and the rest of the book is spent figuring out who did it and why.
Having the attack happen on a night the British Prime Minister is visiting the White House provides a plausible (sort of) reason for Oliver to team up with an MI-6 agent while investigating. The bits of the book that cover the investigation were well written, taking something that in an episode of CSI would be carried out with no dialog, just a music soundtrack followed by an explanation of what was found in a brief exchange back at the lab. Translating that kind of visual discovery of physical evidence into the written form required multiple trips back to the crime scene, something that challenged the plausibility of the story (really? how long are these cops going to hang out at this park?), but the author made good use of new discovery and carrying out the concept of a person with a lingering doubt, that one thing in the back of their mind that doesn’t seem right but they just can’t put their finger on it.
I actually finished this book awhile ago and this is a make-up review. Still working through my backlog, the next review will be of Anthony Marra’s “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena”, something completely different.