Tag Archives: science-fiction

Book Review: The White Dragon and a Teen Boy Who Gets Away with Too Much

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Now, it’s been a while since my last Anne McCaffrey novel, having read Dragonquest near December or November of 2011. The next book in the series, The White Dragon, heavily references the events and world building of the first two books, Dragonquest and Dragonflight before it. I thought about quitting The White Dragon to begin the series again. I thought about finding Pern’s Wikia page to remind myself of the plots of the earlier books. I did neither. I assumed that I would catch up, and for the most part, I did, though my memories of those events and those people remained much fuzzier than the memories of the characters.

That didn’t help me to fully enjoy the tale.

Jaxom was also not the precocious kid that I remembered from and enjoyed in Dragonquest and in fact doesn’t seem to be friends anymore with F’lessan, puncturing holes into what I thought would be an adorable bromance about which I wanted to read books.

Jaxom’s not interested in bromance, unless it’s with his unusual white dragon, Ruth. Jaxom has become a very “proddy” teenager, and I, for one, was not pleased to have to read about his ill-advised adolescent flings.

First, there is Coranna, the daughter of a Holder subservient to Jaxom. Jaxom isn’t interested in her till another gets jealous of Coranna’s preference for Jaxom, which everyone involved admits might be based more on his title than on Jaxom’s own merit. Once her preference is noted, however, Jaxom admits that she is pretty, and then it is not long before he is working towards giving her a “half-breed” son. The worst of it comes in one scene where Jaxom, having witnessed the Rising of a green at Fort Hold, is awash with the dangerous swirl of hormones that comes with a dragon’s Rising, and though he does admittedly not tell Ruth to go elsewhere, Ruth takes him to Coranna. Coranna begins to complain, “I wish you wouldn’t—” The narration calls this a “half-teasing scold,” but she resists Jaxom when he kisses her, possibly even attacks him with her hoe before he disarms her. This attack is admittedly is ambiguous and might be accidental, but their lovemaking here seems as ambiguously consensual as Jamie and Cersei’s in the sept (637; Martin, A Storm of Swords, 851). At any rate, the forceful taking of Coranna doesn’t sit well with me nor with Jaxom, whose solution to his ill-sitting conscience is to never again see Coranna, to drop her like a hot sack of potatoes and run. This action is repulsive and not at all heroic, but he is not punished for dropping her. Instead he falls ill during another adventure, is trapped in a tropical paradise, and finds new love in the form of one his nurses. McCaffrey is often hailed as a feminist writer, but that’s a disgusting instance of excusing patriarchy and of the wanton use of women. Admittedly, it’s possible that McCaffrey meant for these things to sit poorly with her readers, to draw attention to the flaws of the male-dominated and sex-driven society of Pern (and by extension the societies of many of the countries on Earth). I will never be able now to ask her or to ask her how she felt about Jaxom’s behavior as an older woman looking back from the twenty-first century, but I think that this is an example of the male domination and masculine template of the fantasy genre, which we’re only just beginning to counter, and the effects that that model has on even the most feminist writers.

I’m a proponent of parents knowing what their children are reading. No one younger than a teen probably ought to be reading this series for the sex scenes alone, but I think that even parents of teens ought to be ready to address Jaxom’s behavior involving women in general and particular his final scene with Coranna. It is also fair to note that while there are several, none of the sex scenes are detailed.

In The White Dragon, more broadly, the exiled Oldtimers are worried about their continued existence, looking with wobbling chins at their forthcoming destruction by old age. Meanwhile, the Oldtimers’ indolence has bred an industrious spirit into those men who moved South. The Northerners are eying the South with ideas of conquest, dominion, and self-reliance besides. The backdrop is a forthcoming war over land, which the dragonriders of Benden Weyr hope to settle through deceit before it can come to war.

I think the plot is supposed to center around Jaxom’s sense of being between—not child, not adult; Holder and not; dragonrider and not—that theme giving the book a particularly teen feel.

I enjoyed the outlandish, arrogant, and cynical Piemur and his runner-beast Stupid. Menolly is a ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak landscape of deceitful or easily lulled women, though even she is lured away by sexual pleasures and hints that she’s given her heart to a man too much her elder and supervisor. Master Robinton is as delightful as ever, his easy demeanor winning over characters and myself whenever he enters the stage. Next time I give McCaffrey a go, I think I had better choose a book about the Harpers because they really seem to be the best characters.

A quick survey of the backs of the McCaffrey books owned by my roommate leaves me wondering how far in advance McCaffrey was able to craft everyone’s backstory. The White Dragon may be third in the series, but it seems that nearly every other book on the shelf happens prior to this tale (and many happen to center around the Harpers besides).

Certainly, McCaffrey seems to write with the wider epic in mind. Certainly this book and Dragonquest hint towards the widening of the world and end with the first notes of the next book’s musical movement. I don’t know what the next book is in the series chronologically, but I can almost guarantee that it will have to do with the movement of the dragonriders to the South and Toric’s fight to extend his territory and/or maintain the territory that he’s taken, based solely upon the ending of The White Dragon.

**

McCaffrey, Anne. The Dragonriders of Pern.  New York: Del Rey-Ballantine-Random, 1988.

The White Dragon first published in 1978.

This review is not endorsed by Anne McCaffrey, Del Rey, Ballantine Books, or Random House, Inc. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Young Wizards at War Expands to an Epic Scope

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On this blog, I’ve only reviewed the first (and there I spoke more of the style and themes) of Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series, but I’ve read now through the eighth.  The first, So You Want to Be a Wizard?, introduces readers to the protagonists Nita Callahan and Kit Rodriguez, who work together as wizards to combat the Lone One and Its creations, entropy and death.  The wizards are heroes of Life and work with the Powers That Be, more commonly known throughout history as angels and gods of various religions.  The Powers That Be all serve the One, who is essentially God, and I would argue, the Christian idea of God.  Wizards exist across species and across the universe.  The seventh book in the series, Wizard’s Holiday, saw Kit and Nita away on an exchange program.  While they were off-world, a trio of alien wizards came to live at the Callahans’ and helped Nita’s sister, Dairine, to heal our sun and protect Earth.  [SPOILER] Kit’s and Nita’s away-mission came to an early end when the species that they were living with evolved beyond a physical form and left the planet. [END SPOILER]  They come home and join Dairine; the tree-like Filif; the insectile Sker’ret, a near relative of the Stationmaster of the Crossings, a hub like Grand Central or King’s Cross St. Pancras for transport to other planets; and the humanoid young king, Roshaun, whose specialty is suns and stars.

Wizards at War opens with a warning from Tom and Carl, the area seniors.  A strange increase of dark matter throughout the universe has been warping the universe and changing its description, making wizardry impossible as wizardry depends on accurately describing the universe.  Older wizards past their peak, like Tom and Carl, are losing their ability to work wizardries—and as the dark matter continues to increase, they lose even the memory of wizardry.  Nita and Kit are appointed as temporary seniors, and the fate of the world has fallen into the hands of children alone.

Wizards at War reunites us with many of friends from previous books—Darryl, S’ree, Ronan and the Power the resides inside of him—and introduces us too to a few more, including a set of twychilds, twins Nguyet and Tuyet who are able to amplify power by bouncing it back and forth between them.  The mission of our heroes brings us to a world so lost to the Lone One that it is listed as irredeemable by the Manual.  There they again must battle the Lone One by empowering one of the natives of the planet to do so.  [HERE BEGIN THE SPOILERS] She—yes, she, though her culture is male-dominated—is a new form of the Lone One, a form of the Lone One that chooses Life instead of Death.  The Lone One like all of the Powers and the One lives outside of Time.  Therefore it’s possible for two forms of It to exist at once, the One inside of Memeki and the One that controls Memeki’s planet.  The One that controls the planet seeks vengeance against the wizards who help Memeki to unlock her power.  The ensuing battle on Earth’s moon claims many friends.  I’m still uncertain how many are lost for good and how many may be resurrected in one form or another, even if they have lost their wizardry. [END SPOILERS]

Like many of the recent books, this one focuses on the Choice, the Choice between Life and Death, God or Darkness.

Of all of the recent books, this one is perhaps the most complex in scale, cast, and concept.  This is epic in a way that Duane’s series has not been before.  Like its title suggests, this is a wartime novel of the vein of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire or maybe more accurately J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  The large cast includes expendable characters and warriors whom the audience will hate to lose.  All the characters have accepted death as a possibility in the face of their foe and no one seems safe anymore.  Still the certainty that good will triumph over evil remains (mostly I think because of the series’ Christian mythological background) and still the lines are clearly drawn [SPOILER] (though with Memeki’s coming to power, I suppose that is not as true as it was). [END SPOILER]

I will be very interested to see how the series progresses from here.  There is one more published book for me to read and I think there will be others besides in time.

****

Duane, Diane.  Young Wizards, Book 8: Wizards at War.  Orlando: Magic Carpet-Harcourt, 2005.

This review is not endorsed by Diane Duane, Magic Carpet Books, Harcourt, Inc., or Delacorte Press.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Gifts and the Rack (696 words)

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“No!”  She screamed, and the wine glass on the table shattered.  The visitor’s lapels, lilac tie, and white shirtfront dripped red cabernet.  The glass had shattered so that the half of it farthest from the visitor and from Aileen Varton remained in tact, but on his plate were several chips of glass and crystalline shards like sleet among the mashed potatoes and peas.  Aileen slowly lowered her arms from over her head and glanced at the visitor, fearful of his reaction.  She hadn’t meant to scream.  She hadn’t meant to shatter the glass.  She hadn’t meant to get upset.  She hadn’t meant to upset—  With a shout, her mother fled from the kitchen.  Her father turned to Aileen in a purple-faced fury.

Her mother returned and dashed past Aileen to kneel by the visitor.  Mumbling hurried apologies, she dabbed his front herself.  He allowed her to, ignoring her, his gaze carefully fixed on Aileen.

“This,” her father spat, “is exactly why you must go with him, Aileen.”

“You can’t just ship me off, can you?  Don’t you care at all?  I’m trying.  I’m really trying.”

“If you cannot control this—this—”

“Psychokinesis, I think.”  The visitor mildly provided the label.  “When she’s learned to control it.  But it might be more, and it might be less.  That particular manifestation seemed to influence the very molecules of the air.  Rather peculiar but not unheard of.”

All three Vartons stared at him.  The visitor smiled.  Aileen’s mother stepped back away from him.  There were still spots on his clothes.  “Aileen,” he said gently, turning to her, “I see many with abilities like yours, power beyond that of ordinary men.  I can teach you to control it, harness it.”

“Can you make it stop?”

“It is a talent you will possess as long as you live.”

“Then you can’t help me,” Aileen grumbled.  She flattened a few peas with the prongs of her fork.  “I don’t want to be special.  I just want to be—”  Her words died as she looked up at her parents, and saw only wariness and trepidation there.  She sighed and looked away from them both.

“I don’t believe that your ability is anything to fear,” the visitor claimed, and Aileen narrowed her eyes, looking for the lie in his bearded face.

She couldn’t find it.  She bit her lip.

“Come with me, Aileen,” he said.

“I—I’ll still have it if I do.  I—I might still hurt people, new people, people who don’t know.”

“You may hurt your family if you stay.  And we can keep you safe.  We have learned from those who came to me before you.  We have made my home as safe for everyone as it can be.”

“Who else lives with you?”

“There are others with powers like yours.”

“I won’t be alone,” Aileen breathed, letting her eyes mist over with the daydream of herself laughing with a group of girls her own age.

“No.  You won’t be.”

“Are there other girls?  Girls my own age?”

The man, smiling, nodded.  “Violet,” he provided, “and Sylvia.”

Aileen looked at her parents.  Her mother nodded, her eyes still deep and dark with fear.  A smile strained at the corners of Aileen’s mouth.  She looked back at the visitor and nodded too.

He turned away to hide a smile.  Aileen felt a flutter in her stomach.  Her smile wavered.

He composed his face before turning back towards her.  “Pack your things, Aileen.  We will leave within an hour.”

“An hour?  Isn’t that—”

“We must catch the next train.  You will need very little.  All will be provided for you.”

Aileen bit her lip and nodded.  There was no one but her parents to bid goodbye, but there was much she wanted to bring, things that she could share with new friends, with Violet and Sylvia.

“Only what you can I can carry, Aileen.  Go on.  Time is short.”

Aileen nodded.

As she fled the room she heard her father say, “Thank you, Rack.”

Aileen frowned, and she ran up the stairs to pack a bag or maybe two.  Mr. Rack had offered to help her with the luggage.

Today’s first line comes to you from Bek of BuildingADoor.  I stole it.  Check out “A Moment of Anger,” the piece that she wrote using the line.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Accusation (1010 words)

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Welcome to Legal Theft Round 11 (or 2 with the larger group of which I am a part).  Today’s first line has come from The Gate In The Wood.  Her original short fiction can be found here.

As he exited the inner planet transport Edan noticed The Academy Director, and his right shoulder jerked awkwardly as he caught himself halfway through the automatic salute.  As Judicial Mugwump of the System, he did not need to salute anymore.  He acknowledged the Director’s salute to him with a stiff nod.  Hard to do.  He was not used yet to acknowledging deference, especially from men who had once been his superiors.

“Welcome back to Earth,” the Director said, adding with a grin, “sir.”

Edan frowned at him.  “Not the time, Director.”

“I know,” the Director said, sobering, “but it’s still odd to see you in that uniform.”  The Director gestured to the long, black robe and white wig that Edan was made to wear as Judicial Mugwump, bygones of an ancient Earth tradition, returned to favor when the planet had begun to long for its traditional ways, when the galaxy’s problems had come knocking and had overwhelmed the more narrow-minded and planetist of the earthlings.  Edan couldn’t tell if the Director meant to compliment the uniform or scoff at it.

He decided it didn’t matter.  He himself was still afforded the respect due his rank by the Director.  If the Director believed that the outfit was ridiculous, he shared Edan’s opinion.

“Where are they?” Edan asked.

“This way.”  The Director turned, and together their heels clicked over the checkered floor.  Edan snuck glances at the familiar corridors, the locked doors with their plaques proclaiming “Lab 13,” “Dr. Holofernes Richards,” or “Broom Closet.”  Little had changed.  The academy was still sterile and white.  Cadets still paced the halls in their crisp uniforms.  One or two young men and women passed, joking, wearing jeans and t-shirts.  The band names on the fronts of those off-duty had changed, and so had their manners towards him.  Now he was saluted instead of being greeted with jovial cries, shouts for his ruling in petty arguments, or fist bumps.

Edan accepted these salutes reluctantly, missing the camaraderie he had once shared with those at the academy.  Judicial Mugwump was a lonely position by definition.

The Director led him down into the bowels of the academy, where they passed fewer and fewer until they were alone.

Edan thought about making small chat with the Director, but what would he say?

Then ahead he saw the two armed guards standing as still and straight as ancient jamb statues outside of a doorway.

“They’re in there,” the Director said needlessly.  “Take the guards with you.”

“One,” Edan agreed reluctantly.  He didn’t know what he’d find on the other side, and caution was not uncalled for, but he’d also found that trust begat trust and brute force, anger.

“Be careful,” the Director said, touching Edan’s shoulder briefly.

Edan nodded and walked forward alone.  The guards had heard their exchange.  One detached herself from the wall.  She unlocked the door and handed her companion the keys.  She held the door for Edan, who marched in ahead of her.

The room beyond was dark.  What light there was came from around the door, which was shut behind them, leaving only the small square of barred light from its minute window.

Then the guardswoman hit a button that drowned the room in florescent light.  The prisoners hissed and recoiled.

Edan looked into the cell.

“But they’re just children!” he cried.

“Rebels,” the guardswoman corrected him crisply.  “They came in here with jerry-built explosives.  The elder has already admitted that their intention was to destroy the academy, though with the amount of powder they’d collected, they’d have destroyed no more than a few rooms, even including what would have been done through the post-explosion fire.”

Edan knelt by the bars behind which the children crouched.  They wore ragged clothes, heavily patched, black.  The elder, a girl with lank hair, was about thirteen.  The boy was younger, maybe ten, more likely nine.  He nestled against the girl.  The cuffs in which they had been placed had rubbed raw the skin around their wrists.  Shackles around their ankles kept them crouched.  “Is this true?” he asked them.

“Yes,” the girl answered gruffly.

“Why?”

She looked straight at him with bright green eyes.  Red had gathered at their rims, whether from lack of sleep or tears, but she looked no less fierce for it.  “To take down the system.  Because you all sit here in your castle, and you let refuse like us die in the streets without batting an eyelash.”

“Do you know who I am?” Edan asked.

“Another one of the Great One’s dogs.”

“I’m Judicial Mugwump of the System.  Do you know what that means?”

“You’re a fancy dog.”

“I’m charged with impartial judgment, and not just for this planet, for all the planets in Solar System G2V 1090.”

“Then tell me that you think the Great One’s a good man.”

“I believe he is,” Edan confessed, looking down.

“Then you’re not impartial.  Or you’re dense.  Or both.  How can you say that while he carts away the best and brings them here then leaves the rest of us to rot?”

“He does take some of us off the streets, though.”

“And the rest of us just have to accept our fate?”

“Convince me,” Edan challenged.  “Your fate now rests in my hands.  I have to decide whether to charge you, with what, and what your sentence will be.”

The girl scoffed, “Any sentence you deliver will be better than the one I’d be living in otherwise.  Starvation is not a way to die.  Have you heard toddlers crying, their stomachs hollow, and seen what mothers will do to try and feed them?  I’ve watched mothers slit the throats of newborns to give them a quick death.  I’ve watched them nervously cook up a man’s corpse in a stew to disguise the taste of decay.”

“I’ve seen these things,” Edan confessed quietly.

“And forgotten them, then,” the girl accused, “forgotten us, like all you Elite.  You’ve joined them,” she said.  “I fight them.  Do your worst, dog.  I will still be better than you.”

Thus ends my homage to every YA dystopian sci-fi ever.

Audiobook Review: Can A Swiftly Tilting Planet’s Lofty Language Support the Story?

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When I bought the cheapest car that I could find, it did not come with a CD player.  All I have is a tape player and very few tapes that I have any desire to listen to.  So when my mother found a set of cassettes of Madeleine L’Engle reading A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the third book in her Time series and my favorite of the three when I was a child, I happily accepted the gift.

Hearing an author read her works is always fascinating, particularly after, I think, having read it yourself (or having had someone else read it to you).  There were certain lines the inflection of which surprised me, but rather than just agreeing to disagree as would be the case with most books on tape, I am corrected by the author and being given insights into the character that must not have come across in print.  You know when you hear an author read her own work, you’re hearing it as it is intended to be read, and that is always a magical thing.

L’Engle is a wordsmith.  Some of her scenes are painted with the brilliance and delicacy of a fine watercolor, and she has the power to meld magic and science in a way that never fails to impress me when done well.  Diane Duane (author of The Young Wizards series) shares this power, though L’Engle gives her science more prominence in a plot, really tipping the Time series more towards science-fiction than fantasy, despite the unicorns, angels, and demons.

Several times I found myself tearing, my breath quickening, catching, my heart pounding with the action in the story—dangerous reactions in some ways when you’re driving home in traffic but a high compliment to the story.  With that in mind, I can only rate A Swiftly Tilting Planet so poorly, even if this latest read did drop it in my rankings of its series-fellows.  I clearly enjoyed it.  I got caught up in it.

It took me months to get through the whole novel because I’ve found that when driving I much prefer music to any kind of talk, and because when I was near the end of the novel, I started carpooling with my roommate who has not read the novel, and so I couldn’t continue from where I’d left off with her in the car—or I couldn’t do so kindly, anyway, so I didn’t.

This latest reading of the book, then, was very broken, and I’m sure that that has effected my enjoyment of the novel.  Now, I don’t think I could say that A Swiftly Tilting Planet is my favorite of the Time trilogy, despite its Welsh folklore (often a way to cinch my approval of a book).  I’ve actually recently (in April 2009 or more recently) reread all three of the books, and I think I enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time best, though I prefer A Swiftly Tilting Planet to A Wind in the Door (A Wind in the Door might also have been hurt by being attached to a particularly difficult paper).

I was somewhat annoyed that Charles Wallace reads younger than 15 when he has always been described as old for his age, and yes, the repeated family names were a little annoying too.

***1/2

L’Engle, Madeleine.  The Time Quintet, Book Three: A Swiftly Tilting Planet.  Listening Library, 1996.  Cassette tapes.  First published 1978.

This review is not endorsed by Listening Library, any of A Swiftly Tilting Planet’s print publishers, or Madeleine L’Engle.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader—or listener.

Book Review: Don’t Fear This Boggart

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I have been a fan of Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence for a long time.  The Boggart is the first of her other books that I’ve had the opportunity to read.  The Boggart, like The Dark Is Rising Sequence, blends ancient legends—frequently lesser-known legends—with a modern world.

The world of The Boggart is a smaller world of smaller problems and lesser fates than that of The Dark of Rising, however.  The modern world of The Boggart is also more modern than that of The Dark Is Rising, in fact having been written 15 years after The Silver on the Tree.  Technology and specifically computers evolved rapidly between the late 70s and the early 90s, and this evolution is reflected in the worlds and plots created by Cooper.

The emphasis on technology in The Boggart does date the book, as I have read other reviews complain, but I do not think that this is a fault of the book, however much I giggled at the Gang of Five’s excitement over the new font Garamond that they had pirated, and told them, perhaps aloud, “Just wait till you see Papyrus;” a dated book is not an irrelevant book.  As we grow more and more dependent on rapidly changing technology our books are going to be more and more rapidly dated, but we can still cheer Odysseus’ triumph over the suitors as much as we can Salander’s revenge on Bjurman (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson, 2005).

The Boggart was a little slow to start.  I really wasn’t grabbed by the book till the Boggart started wrecking havoc in Toronto; then the Old began to mix with new technology and modern explanations and philosophy, and I was hooked.  A psychology student and fantasy-lover, I was especially interested by Dr. Stigmore’s misinterpretation of the Boggart as a “poltergeist manifestation,” a troubled child who develops telekinesis, an explosion of pent-up energy.  I’ve never heard this theory before but was glad to hear someone mention poltergeists as Cooper’s depiction of a boggart really read more to me like a poltergeist from all I know—but all I’ve known of boggarts previously is from Harry Potter, and that may not be the most reliable source (a quick bit of research makes me think that neither Cooper’s nor Rowling’s depictions are entirely true to legend, though Cooper’s, as I would expect, seems closer).

I was a little upset by the inclusion—however minor—of a romantic subplot.  It seemed unnecessary, there simply because a boy and girl can’t meet and be friends in fiction without feeling or wishing for something more.  However my own work might conform to this same idea, I wish it was a stereotype that we could overcome, and I think Cooper had a great opportunity to do so here.  However, romance and romantic feelings are a fact of life and young people are curious.  I will let the romantic subplot slide.  While Emily and Tommy might be interested in one another, at least no one accuses them of sexual practice, which is a whole other depth to this same stereotype.

As ever, Cooper’s command of language is wonderful with stunning imagery and well-chosen details that add to the story’s depth.

****

Cooper, Susan.  The Boggart.  New York: Scholastic, 1993.

This review is not endorsed by Susan Cooper, Scholastic, or Margaret K McElderry Books, or Macmillan Publishing Company (the latter two of these own the original copyrights).  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Film Review: The Hunger Games: “Thank you for your consideration”

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Minor series spoilers.

I’ve just returned from seeing the much-touted cinematic adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, which was highly influenced by Suzanne Collins herself in her roles as co-screenwriter and co-producer (I applaud her victory on that count).  You might remember that I wasn’t a huge fan of the book itself.  I suppose it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, then, that I wasn’t head-over-heels for the film either.

The film cleared up Katniss’ gender easily (reading the book, her first person voice was masculine enough to greatly confuse me, really, till I turned to the back and saw that she was given the feminine pronoun), and I enjoyed its insight into life outside the arena, in the Game room, President Snow’s garden, Districts 12 and 11….  These insights deepen the plot by showing the causes and effects of Katniss’ actions in the arena, about which Katniss might speculate in the book but of which she knows nothing for certain.  As someone who I think ships the (I believe, but remember I haven’t read the second or third books yet) star-crossed pairing of Katniss/Gale, the scenes of Gale’s reactions to Katniss and Peeta’s budding though potentially pretended relationship were particularly heart-rending.

Almost all around, this is a well-acted film.  The characters were easy to feel for (or hate as appropriate), and little interaction was required to express their feelings for one another.  Especially skilled were Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, Liam Hemsworth as Gale, and Amandla Stenberg as Rue.

What this movie failed to express—or failed to express as clearly as the book does was Katniss’ and Peeta’s reactions to being pawns in the Hunger Games.  The focus seemed to be on the excitement and peril of the Games and less on the problem with the government that the Games exposes.  This, I think, is mostly the fault of the medium.  Katniss’ voice is a close one in the novel.  Her inner monologue is absent from the movie.  Peeta’s anti-government feelings, though, might have been played up more on film.

Much, really, overall might have been better explained, such as mockingjays’ and tracker jackers’ historical importance and the symbolism of three upheld fingers.

I’d be interested to hear opinions from those who haven’t read the books.  Was the story clear?  What did you or didn’t you understand?

I can see though where fans of the books would come away quite satisfied.  The movie’s plot adheres quite closely to the book’s (so far as I recall), so fans of the series will grumble about errors more quietly than, say, Tolkienites or Potter-heads tended to after seeing their films.

I almost think though, for all this and all my previous grumbles, that I prefer the book to the movie because it more strongly comes across as a political struggle, and I enjoy a strong focus on politics in my plots.

It maybe should be mentioned that, while I haven’t read Catching Fire or Mockingjay, I’ve read a few spoilers.  I’m not actually sure that I felt that The Hunger Games book did emphasize political struggle as strongly as I’d have liked; I think I’ve imposed a stronger emphasis on those stirrings of political dissent post-spoiler than I originally read in Katniss’ grumbles.

My film rating?

***

The Hunger Games.  Dir. Gary Ross.  Lionsgate.  2012.

This review is not endorsed by Lionsgate, Gary Ross, anyone in the cast, or anyone involved in making this film, nor Suzanne Collins or Scholastic. It is an independent, honest review by a viewer.

Book Review: Black is Colorful but Too Forceful

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There are many spoilers in this article, and they are unmarked but very revealing.  Ye be warned.

Black, the first book in the Circle Trilogy by Ted Dekker tells two stories that I have yet to connect as thoroughly as the hero, Thomas Hunter, comes to believe them to be.  Thomas lives in two worlds: the present-day Earth, where he somehow becomes the center of a plot to release and a plot to stop a powerful biochemical weapon, and the utopia that Earth will become if that weapon is released, where God is very present, and evil is contained in the lower hemisphere.

Honestly, I kept hoping that Black would get better.  Like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and other apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic literature, the plot of Black is gripping.  With the world dependent on the governments’ belief in one man’s outlandish dreams, the threat of a biochemical weapon that will eradicate the human population in three weeks, and (in Thomas’ dreams) the threat of demonic, oversized bats, it’s difficult not to race towards a conclusion, to be dragged along by the intricate plots and schemes of madmen, assassins, unlikely rescues, death threats, and deaths.

I have a difficulty liking novels that rely so heavily on such fear and danger because I feel like I’m being tricked into hurrying through the novel; I feel like the author has me by a nose ring and is dragging me along with them forcefully.  I don’t read because I want to; I read because I have to, and I don’t like feeling forced and rewarded with nothing more than more danger, threat, and fear.  (I realized as I wrote this paragraph that a) I may need to reevaluate my own style of making journeys more interesting, and b) Rick Riordan frequently uses the apocalypse coming plot, but he rewards me with humor, mythology lessons, and generally victory and so his books seem to rely less heavily on threat, and I consequentially love their breakneck pace.)

Further force is employed by the ending, which is perhaps the most precarious cliffhanger I’ve ever read (if, at least, I consider The Lord of the Rings a single book).  If I want to discover which world is real, if the virus is stopped, who lives and who dies, I will have to complete the trilogy because the book ends with no conclusion and Thomas at gunpoint.

What Dekker does do really well in Black is bring reality to fantastical dreamscapes and less-fantastical fictional realities.  It’s easy to question with Thomas which reality—the Earth as we know it, or the Earth of a hypothetical post-apocalyptic future—is “real.”  With his description of setting and feeling—perceptions, emotions—Dekker creates the realities of these worlds.

As Christian literature—which it very plainly is, the future world’s plot being a retelling of Eden and the Fall—Dekker escapes some of my usual critique of being too “preachy” by placing God in a dreamscape where he manifests himself most as a small boy too wise for his years called Elyon.  Dekker has some very interesting ways of describing God’s love for the world and for Man, but I don’t think that for me, personally, his descriptions were very illuminating.  Perhaps that was his point: that it is impossible to fully explain or comprehend God, but that we can feel his love without fully understanding.

**1/2

Dekker, Ted.  The Circle, Book One: Black: The Birth of Evil.  Nashville: WestBow-Thomas Nelson, 2004.

This review is not endorsed by Ted Dekker, WestBow Press, or Thomas Nelson, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Book Review: Dragonquest: A Feminine Heroine’s Story

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Those who have been reading this blog since June will remember that I read Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight for class and that it left some interesting Threadscores on my brain, entering my dreams long after I’d thought that I’d finished with the book.  Dragonflight I fell asleep holding constantly and didn’t particularly enjoy.  With Anne McCaffrey’s untimely death, I decided to give the highly praised authoress a second try.  Foresighted enough to have bought a copy of Dragonflight that also included the second and third books of The Dragonriders of Pern, I went on to book two: Dragonquest.

Dragonquest held my attention far more raptly than did Dragonflight.  I’ve concocted two theories why:

  1. The assignment of Dragonflight happened to fall on a week when my body and my brain had just had it with work and felt that rest was far more important than any epic and brave quests to try and save the world of Pern from their newly returned enemy.
  2. Dragonflight’s heroine, Lessa, newly proclaimed Weyrwoman of Brenden Weyr is not the type of heroine to whom I readily relate.  She is too much of a warrior.

This second theory came to me upon reading Tamora Pierce’s reflections upon McCaffrey’s death.  Pierce, whose woman warriors I similarly have trouble relating to, lists Dragonflight but not Dragonquest among the most influential to her life of McCaffrey’s books.

Dragonquest deals less with Lessa and more with the Southern Weyrwoman Brekke.  Brekke is known for her gentle, restorative care and her management of the weyr, more, if I dare use the term, stereotypically assigned feminine qualities than Lessa’s fearless recklessness and stubbornness.  I relate personally more with Brekke, I think, than I do Lessa, better known, I think, and preferring to be known for the care I have for others than for some heroic and reckless deed, perhaps even unwillingly to risk my life as Lessa does in such an endeavor.  I might germinate the idea of such a quest, I might direct it from the ground, but I don’t feel that in her position I would likely have gone myself.  I am not a woman warrior; I avoid conflict as a rule and am far more likely to be found in the Lower Caverns, cooking, weaving, and tending the injured than dragon-back in a Thread Fall.  I appreciate the appearance of women warriors in literature and recognize their importance, but I’m glad too for the women less interested in fighting, more interested in stereotypically feminine pursuits, and I think we should be careful not to lose either from our libraries, for while those who do relate to the woman warrior might be more vocal, those of us who avoid fights are still here, still actively reading.

I prefer F’nor too, who is the hero of this second book and is more easy-going, less military in personality, to F’lar, especially in Dragonflight where his buoyancy and ability to joke with Lessa lightened the heaviness of approaching threat.

Minor characters like Felessan and Jaxom, whom I want to have their own short stories detailing their adventures (if such things exist, someone needs to tell me.  Note: this is Felessan and Jaxom without the contraction), and increased importance and complexity of Pernese politics further kept me interested in the plot of Dragonquest.

****

McCaffrey, Anne.  The Dragonriders of Pern.  New York: Del Rey-Ballantine-Random, 1988.

Dragonflight first published in 1968.

Dragonquest first published in 1971.

This review is not endorsed by Anne McCaffrey, Del Rey, Ballantine Books, or Random House, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.