Monday, September 30, 2013


I read a decent number of good books this summer, but I don't know if I'll get to review those for you. For now, I'm going to try to keep up with what I'm reading at the moment.

I just finished Blackout, a young adult novel by Robison Wells, which I picked up not only for its sci-fi premise but also because I enjoyed another book by the same author: Variant. These two books aren't in the same series, and though I'd like to, I haven't yet read Feedback, the sequel to Variant.

Blackout is not quite as suspenseful as Variant, but it's intriguing nonetheless. The book is about a virus that attacks only teenagers, giving them superpowers as well as some not-as-nice side-effects. It doesn't take long for the whole country to go on high alert as teenage terrorists attack power and landmarks across the entire continent. When the army steps in, Jack and Aubrey are caught in the middle, two teenagers who don't know what's going on even though they are being treated as criminals already. But the questions they must answer are, who are the terrorists, and who is the real enemy?

I enjoyed this book well enough but found that there were too many reveals along the way for the end to really have the impact I think the author wanted. I wasn't all that surprised by it. What I did find kind of interesting, though I'm not sure of its purpose, was that parts of the book were from the terrorists' viewpoints. I didn't mind getting in their heads, but I couldn't quite understand what I was supposed to do with the info. Was I supposed to feel a sort of sympathy for them? Was I supposed to identify with them? I didn't. I couldn't understand them at all, really. Getting in their heads also lessened the suspense for me, I think. All the big reveals were essentially given through their thoughts before the end.

I also didn't initially care a lot about or identify with the main characters, Jack and Aubrey, one of whom uses her abilities to shoplift and be in with the popular crowd, but the characters grew on me as the book progressed. Obviously, the author isn't a proponent of Aubrey's criminal activity or treatment of her not-as-popular friends but is just showing the more social side-effects of obtaining these powers.

Overall, it was a fun read with interesting powers and a nice caveat to being able to use them (the more virus-like symptoms that appeared with the use of the superpowers). Three stars.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Ender's Game

I'm back! It's been a crazy busy summer, and though I've been reading less than normal, I still have a handful of books and more than a handful of movies to potentially review. For now, I will start with the latest book I've read and possibly work backward from there, if life permits.

After enjoying Pathfinder, by Orson Scott Card, some friends encouraged me to also read Ender's Game, by the same author. But I confess, though I put it on my list, I didn't get seriously interested until I knew a movie adaptation was going to be made. Then, the only question was, should I read it beforehand or after? There are distinct advantages to each for a person who loves both movies and books. I opted for the book first this time, wanting to get into it and be surprised as I read, rather than getting the surprises out of the way in two hours and then going back and reading about how it all took place. I don't like spoilers. Having read it this close to when the movie comes out, I suppose I will probably be slightly disappointed with the movie. It's best to put some time between a book and a movie, I think. That way, you can enjoy both more fully and give the movie credit for being its own thing, rather than comparing two different story mediums that really aren't meant to be the same. On a side note, that's why I'm not going back and re-reading Catching Fire before the movie comes out in November. I don't remember much of the book, so the story will be fresh for me again. Then, I'll go back and enjoy a more leisurely pace through the details of the book afterward.

Ender's Game did not disappoint. It's an interesting genre, definitely science fiction but not necessarily young adult (and for sure not middle school), even though the story is about a young kid. Often, when you have a young protagonist, the book is automatically categorized as young adult, and perhaps that exactly what Ender's Game is to some, but it's a good example of a story that transcends both age limits and, almost miraculously for sci-fi, time periods. For instance, it was written in the 70's, but there's a very good grasp of the possibilities of computer technology and virtual reality. It's also just vague enough not to date itself, at least not too much.

Ender's Game is about a six-year-old boy, nicknamed Ender, who's a genius selected for training in Battle School to defeat a race of aliens called Buggers that almost wiped Earth out at one time. The theory is that a child with an adaptable mind is needed to confront the enemy, who anticipates actions and adapts quickly itself. So, little boys are monitored, and if they qualify, they are sent to space to train in battle games and learn how to work together or, in Ender's case, to lead. The odds are purposefully stacked against Ender to draw out his strengths as quickly as possible because the final war with the Buggers is nearly upon them, and it's kill all or all be killed.

What sets this book apart from young adult is that it's not written to a six-year-old audience. It's barely written to a young adult audience. In fact, Ender thinks and speaks like a middle school child at only 6, and there's precious little for same-age readers (even middle schoolers) to identify with in his character. Yet, we do identify with him. He's not just a machine. He's a boy who grows up too fast and lives with the weight of the planet on his shoulders but who doesn't want to end up like his evil older brother. He knows he's not a child. He knows it's not even really a possibility. But he does long for friends, and he hates the way he's forced to dominate his competition, isolating him from his peers. This book is powerful on both thematic and emotional levels, drawing tears to my eyes as I read. There isn't even romance, which is the typical tear-jerker stuff for me. It's about the bonds built between boys and peers and the bond of brother to brother and brother to sister and teacher to student and boy to duty. It's deep and heart-wrenching. It's intellectual. It's suspenseful. It's fascinating.

For its relatability to a different generation (which is extremely difficult to achieve in science fiction), for it's innovative ideas (before kids killed each other in the The Hunger Games, little children trained their childhood away in order to eventually command starships and fight aliens), for its emotional depth, and for its compelling tale, I give Ender's Game five stars and look forward to seeing how they pull it off in the movie this November, knowing it can't possibly be the same, by a long shot. However you choose to order your story mediums, be sure that if you watch the movie, you also read the book. In this case, I believe the experiences are going to be quite a bit different, and you want to get the full story, trust me.

ADDENDUM (9-25-13): If you have already read this blog once, you might notice that I changed a line in the last paragraph that could have potentially been a spoiler. I figure most people will avoid reading a review of something they are already intending to read or see, but for those of you on the line, I don't want to give away too much.