Date read: 8.24.10
Book from: Borrowed from my cousin
In brief: ZOMBIE OUTBREAK etc. Global pandemonium ensues.
So I assumed at first that this was in novel form, and was mildly intrigued since I’d never read a novel-length zombie survival story. (ETA: Oh wait, I have: Warm Bodies.) Turns out it’s actually in the format of interviews with various survivors of “World War Z:” soldiers, community leaders, doctors, lone survivalists, a feral child, etc., brought to you by the author of The Zombie Survival Guide. Most of it is schlock, especially any part of it that aspires to any emotional or philosophical depth and the so-called “satire,” which amounts to making very obvious fun of Corrupt Politicians, Shallow American Suburban Housewives, and so on. (Also, I must salute Brooks for his incredibly creative choices in making two of the three or four total Asian characters, respectively, a blind samurai zombie-whacker and a former otaku turned “warrior monk” (barf).)
But what fun schlock it is! The interview format gives Brooks an excuse to play out as many obsessively detailed scenarios as his zombie-nerd brain can churn out, from panics fueled by the failure of a fraudulent zombie-virus vaccine, to reappropriated medieval castles under siege, to all the intricacies of anti-zombie warfare and weapon design. (Possibly my favorite section: a long interview regarding the training of military dogs to track, and sometimes lure, zombies. It tickles the part of me that insisted on using attack dogs when playing Red Alert against my brother.) There are also numerous satisfyingly suspenseful episodes and creepy moments: the narrative of an American soldier who is ejected from a damaged plane and lost, alone, in a zombie-infested forest; the realization of a submarine crew that that odd sound is the clawing of dozens of submerged zombies that have surrounded their vessel. (Brooks’ zombies survive drowning, and can re-reanimate if thawed after being frozen, which leads to the fabulously grisly image of a world with its polar regions abandoned to hordes of half-frozen zombies.)
All in all, World War Z made for some great summer reading. I suppose it’s a little late to be reporting that, but there’s always room for a little brainless (pun?) entertainment. If you’ve ever discussed zombie outbreak contingency plans with friends, you’ll likely enjoy this.
Max Brooks: bio and works reviewed
Date read: 10.28.09
Book from: Borrowed from Kakaner
Aaaand approximately 11 years after I first read Ender’s Game, I’ve finally finished the last book of the original two Ender series. (Nope, still haven’t read Ender in Exile, though Kakaner has already hit it up.) I feel as though I should get some kind of prize, especially since I almost never read series anymore. Somewhat fragmentary review follows; spoiler-free so long as you have a feel for the general trajectory of the series. Since the plot is so dependent on all the previous novels, I didn’t really bother contextualizing the summary.
Lots of wrapping-up of business here. The China/India/Muslim world/rest of the world duke-out winds to a finish as Peter slowly builds the prestige and influence of the Free People of the Earth, working both through subtle manipulations and Bean’s reputation and strategic abilities. Virlomi is seized with an ever-greater conviction that she is, in fact, backed by divine forces. Bean and Petra race to find their remaining children before the planned greater-than-lightspeed journey that will preserve Bean’s life as scientists back on earth work to find a cure for his condition.
Overall, I found this tighter and more compelling overall than Shadow of the Hegemon, possibly because it’s more clearly end-directed and hence has greater momentum.
Continue reading Shadow of the Giant, by Orson Scott Card (2005)
Date read: 1.4.06
Read from: Personal collection
Stevens is the quintessential English butler: dignified, humorless, and obsessively devoted to his work, he defines his life through his service to the late Lord Darlington. Convinced for decades that he has contributed to humanity by serving a great man, Stevens begins to reevaluate his experiences as he embarks on a country drive through postwar England. As he does, he finds that many of his memories – of his unthinking adulation of Lord Darlington, and of his difficult relationship with Miss Kenton, the former housekeeper – begin to take on a disturbing cast.
The Remains of the Day, like all Ishiguro novels, is intimately psychological and beautifully, beautifully written. Ishiguro always strikes a balance between wandering reminiscence and tight, artful construction. Reading one of his novels is like opening a tiny box to find an intricately meandering labyrinth inside. It takes patience to make your way through, but the delicate tension throughout presses you onward and lends a sense of direction and quiet urgency to the narrative. I haven’t read a novel of his in several years (this is an old review), but I have always had the sense that he paints with light and shadow: my memories of scene from his books are suffused with soft light and atmosphere, like dreams or out-of-focus photographs.
Ishiguro’s characters often seem to exist in voids of their own creation, set adrift in their memories until they are finally driven to seek out real contact and attempt resolution. For the first half of The Remains of the Day, you meet almost no other characters except through the lens of Stevens’ recollections, so that you half-believe his immaculate persona – until Miss Kenton appears on the scene as a disruptive force and exposes his pettiness and hypocrisy, both to the reader and himself. This is a novel about self-delusion, history and personal history, and the ways in which we can be reconciled with them – again, themes central to most of Ishiguro’s works.
The only disappointment to me in reading The Remains of the Day was actually the last two pages. I found the ending was a little too abrupt and pat, too suddenly transformative, almost out of character. Perhaps it will sit better with me with a re-read and a reintroduction to Stevens’ character, especially since a lot has changed in my understanding of people since my first read.
Date Read: 12.28.08
Book From: BNN Piracy now Personal Collection
After Emera posted her Shadow Puppets review, I was inspired to dig this up, so here it is.
After the Bugger Wars, Ender is caught in social crossfire and a political tug-of-war on Earth; as a result, he ultimately decides to embark on a deep space colonization journey with his sister Valentine. Through the eyes of other colonials, Ender’s Battle School acquaintances and mentors, and Ender himself, we learn of Ender’s journey to becoming Speaker for the Dead. Along the way he encounters many of his old Battle School jeesh and finds himself once again involved in and responsible for their actions.
This will be a rather spotty review– at the time I read Ender in Exile, I simply wrote down different aspects or parts that really jumped out at me or about which I had something to say. And since that is what I have to work with, that is what you’ll get.
I picked this up (like I suspect most others did) after having been away from the Ender universe for years. So many things were disconcerting yet familiar… such as the ever-present discrepancy between the age and maturity of characters. For example, whenever Card reminded us that Ender was 12, I would do a huge double-take. Same with Valentine. And Virlomi. And basically all other world/nation leaders. When I read Ender’s Game as a child, I thought the concept was brilliant, and really admired Ender and his jeesh for being so ahead of their time and age. However, the more I read into the Ender universe the more I wonder if it’s possibly Card‘s inability, disregard, or lack of willingness to embrace the YA characters and genre.
Continue reading Ender in Exile, by Orson Scott Card (2008) K
Date read: 8.22.09 (re-read; originally read in about 2004 or 2005)
Read from: Borrowed from Kakaner
N.B. This review is probably not very accessible to anyone who hasn’t read any of the Shadow Saga sequels to Ender’s Game, as this comes nearly at the tail end of the series. If you haven’t read any of the series, you may also wish to not read this review for fear of spoilers.
Some poor decision-making on the part of Peter Wiggin, adolescent Hegemon extraordinaire, leaves the fledgling Hegemony and its resources in the hands of Achilles. Though nominally disgraced in the eyes of the world after the revelation of his international-scale treachery, Achilles is as dangerous as ever. His new power puts him in position to re-enter the game of political manipulation, and sends Bean and Petra – his most hated enemies – into hiding. Meanwhile, the other members of Ender’s Jeesh continue to jockey for the precedence of their respective countries, while themselves often ignored or manipulated by their own governments. In short, the world is paying the price for having nursed a generation of young Napoleons, and Bean and Petra find themselves at the center of events, just when they have come to realize that what they value most is simply each other’s happiness.
My main impression of this was: bridge novel. It’s so obviously written as the sort of mid-series book that has to begin at one place, and get to another, such that while I was fairly engaged when reading, I kept on losing interest in following it as a whole. Overall I’ve become slightly disenchanted with Orson Scott Card, both on the basis that I find many of his political and personal opinions repugnant and on the basis that… frankly, I don’t think he’s a genius as much as I used to anymore. I’ve been re-reading the Shadow series because the final book hadn’t yet been published when I first ran through the series, so I’ve had to catch up again. A lot has changed in how I read in these past few years, so while Ender’s Game is still next to sacred in my canon and thus I don’t let myself nitpick it, it’s easier now to see the flaws in the rest of his books.
Continue reading Shadow Puppets, by Orson Scott Card (2002) E