Month: April 2014
Author: Frank Herbert
Publication Date: 1965
Genre: Science Fiction
Overview: Duke Leto Atreides is moved to Arrakis to oversee the production of spice and the maintenance of the local desert people, the Fremen, much to the chagrin of the Baron Harkonnen. The Baron sets out to assassinate Leto and succeeds. Paul, the Duke’s heir, and Paul’s mother escape to the desert, a treacherous place filled with sinking sandpits and carnivorous worms the size of spaceships. Renamed Muad’Dib, Paul becomes a leader of the Fremen and seeks revenge on the Baron who assassinated his father and the Emperor who gave his tacit approval.
For Fans Of: Dune (the Movie), Herbert, Orson Scott Card
World-Building: Herbert relies heavily on desert imagery. He constructs the Fremen people around existing ideas about nomadic desert clans and Middle Eastern historical events (i.e. Byzantines). In this regard, his base is strong.
The ecological theory that riddles the novel is interesting. It creates the underlying motivation for the current Fremen state. Their utter belief in their ability to change Arrakis is not only necessary to help build a sense of religious fervor, but also lends credence to Arrakis as an empire’s colony (The netted dew-catchers is an old concept that has been drawn on both in Herbert’s science fiction and in today’s scientific developments.).
My only real problem with Dune’s world is Herbert’s quite obvious struggle with the concepts of genetic determinism and free will. Paul is consistently reminded that he is destined; Herbert often refers to this as Paul’s race consciousness (Note: this is not meant by Herbert in the more nuanced social scientific sense). Paul is genetically foretold and has powers that were granted to him. He has very little choice but to become the fabled Muad’Dib that the Fremen have waited so long for; every move he makes simply takes him closer to this fate. However, Paul is supposed to have choice, free will. We see this from the very beginning with Paul’s struggles with the oncoming potential for religious revolt. These two concepts are difficult to resolve and make parts of Paul’s journey frustrating because Herbert is unclear which he believes to be driving Paul. It’s a type of idealism that’s distracting in Herbert’s tale.
Character Development: Paul’s character becomes very flat the moment his full powers are unlocked. Though the Bene Gesserit parts of Paul should be allowing him insight into his own emotions and those of others, Paul seems to lock them out completely. He relies far more heavily on the Mentat (purely logical, analytical) ability to think and block out emotion. I think this is to the detriment of his development. For instance, it makes his romantic relationship and its intimacy seem very unbelievable.
Plot: The plot was interesting. The calculating nature of the world’s leaders is made very clear as well as the intricacies of their strategic decisions. This makes the plot easier to follow and gives it a sense of intrigue.
Book Depository Link: http://www.bookdepository.com/Dune-Frank-Herbert/9788497596824
I’ve really enjoyed this book, though it left somethings unfinished. I’m looking forward to reading more from Russell in the future. Check it out:
Swamplandia! follows the Bigtree family after the death of Hilola Bigtree, the family’s mother. They’re drowning in debt, business has died, and the three children–Kiwi, Ossie, and Ava–are all falling into a lonely individualism.
- The descriptions in this book are beautiful and detailed.
- Relationships between characters and the swamp are fleshed out and intimate.
- The timelines reflect a very poigniant aspect of our society: family structure in the face of death and debt.
Things left to be desired:
- There is not a clear connection between events and the plot
- Karen does not explore Ossie’s timeline. Ossie believes she is talking to ghosts and seems to be mentally ill. Though she says that her adventures into the swamp were dangerous and exciting, we don’t get to see that. We don’t get to see her develop either.
- I was a bit shocked that Ava is, essentially, led to believe that by talking about her assault in the swamp that she would harm the tenuous balance her family is reached. As far as we know, she takes it to her grave. For a girl who couldn’t seem to keep anything secret, this is a heavy one for Russell to have her keep.
You can also find interviews with Karen Russell about Swamplandia! on NPR.
Title: A Red Tale
Author: Nicola Mar
Publication Date: March 20, 2014
Genre: Fantasy/Urban Fantasy/YA
Overview: Stasia goes home to St. Michael after spending the last few years studying Watyrs, the water dragons that are rumored to be encroaching on Earth. St. Michael is not the way it was when Stasia is a child. Normally the Carribean island would be beautiful and warm, but now it’s cold and covered in snow. The whole world is becoming cold.
On the island, Stasia is reunited with Amelie, a childhood friend, and the two start getting into mischief. Amelie convinces Stasia to let her conduct hypnotherapy in order to bring back childhood memories. Stasia then discovers that not only are the Watyrs real, but she was one of them.
For Fans Of: Fairytales, Melissa Meyer
World-Building: I was disappointed in this book’s world construction. There were so many elements to the world that (1) were simply accepted for being there and got no explanations; and (2) were wholly unbelievable. It’s a world with dragons and magic portals, fine, but then on top of it there’s a bunch of humans accidentally killing the diamonds that make the portals work and global cooling (which is treated like something we haven’t considered possible–for reference, we thought that was a concern in the 1970s) AND shaky concepts of therapeutic hypnosis AND an approach to it that pretends there aren’t serious methodological problems. On top of all of that, Mar uses reincarnation. But I guess at this point, why not? A set of two or three of these things may be believable, but all of them together are a bit grating.
There isn’t really a clear and thorough description of Surritz, the world that the Watyrs live in, despite many opportunities for it. Mar describes it as an inverted island without a clear explanation of what that means. The water is supposed to be all around –above and to the sides of people walking around, but there’s no real explanation, then, of how a human would breathe. It’s also supposed to only be accessible to specific humans, but that doesn’t really seem to hold weight–Stasia’s friends pretty much all can get access.
This all being said, there are some well written descriptions of St. Michael’s.
Character Development: I don’t have any real problems with the characters. Stasia was fine. Amelie at least had some overarching motivation throughout.
There wasn’t really any need for Stasia to fight to gain back her memories, or any knowledge of the Watyrs.
Plot: The plot lacked a lot of foreshadowing and moved too quickly from one even to the next, often without tying them together or really dwelling on events’ implications.
Book Depository Link: NA
Note: This book was recieved as an eARC via NetGalley
Coffin Hill* follows a young woman, Eve Coffin, who has returned to her home town after she leaving the Boston Police Department. She’s caught serial killers and had a successful career. Though she’s not excited to be going home, a town where children sing-song at her and call her the “Witch of Coffin Hill,” she has bigger things to focus on.
Eve’s walked into the horrors of her past: teenagers have started going missing in the Forrest of Coffin Hill. Eve’s worst fears, that the teenagers are being consumed by an evil she’s unleashed, are about to be realized and she’s in for a battle.
- Coffin Hill features a main character who is more concerned with her own sense of self and coming to terms with her past self than she is with her romantic interest.
- Eve is headstrong and rushes into things, at times without thinking. This often stems from a personality where helping is more urgent than needing a guardian to keep her safe. She’s unafraid of conflict and doesn’t need someone else (namely her old friend and police chief) to help her.
- The artistry is fantastic. The novel utilizes overlays and multiple perspectives in creative ways. Miranda often shows multiple views of the same moment in the same panel. This may seem confusing, but the result is a multidimensional moment with a sense of movement that is often lacking.
I expect that there will be lots of moments for growth as this series continues. It could use some more pauses and more explanation of how the past and present are interwoven.
Overall, a 4 out of 5 and a seriously optimistic eye towards the future.
Coffin Hill Vol 1 will be available May 20th. You can preorder it here.
*Review material for Coffin Hill Vol 1 was received via NetGalley
Title: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Publication Date: April 2005
Overview: Nine year old Oskar Schell’s father is dead. When Oskar finally gathers the strength to go look at his father’s belongings he finds a mysterious key hidden in an envelope in the bottom of a dusty, blue vase. Oskar wants desperately to know what the key opens, what mysteries his father may be hiding. His only clue is the word “Black” scribbled in red pen. Oskar then goes about an adventure that takes him throughout New York City.
For Fans Of: Mark Haddon, John Green, Safran Foer
World-Building: There’s an interesting type of good will that Foer presents in his novel. While there are strangers who are confused by Oskar and bullies who are fairly unrelenting, many people are content to accept that a strange young boy who asks too many questions is asking them. Even before Oskar’s mother interferes, we can see this happening. People simply accept that he is there and that he is asking personal questions. They answer and remain relatively non-plussed. I didn’t find this to be a drawback. It was actually rather nice, but strange nonetheless.
Character Development: I liked watching Oskar grow throughout his adventure. It was nice to see him start to recognize his mother as a person. As children we often take our parents for granted. It was good to see that acknowledged. It was also good to see him start to be aware of others’ feelings and needs.
I thought Oskar’s voice throughout was very well done. He really rang true, asked the questions that he would ask, mourned in a fitting way, and loved in a way that seemed very true.
I also really liked the direction that Oskar’s grandparent’s relationship took. I enjoyed seeing some reconciliation there.
Plot: The plot was nice. It was a bit secondary to Oskar’s grief, but that was appropriate. I, admittedly, was worried about his safety. The last 70 or so pages were pretty great.
Book Depository Link: http://www.bookdepository.com/Extremely-Loud-Incredibly-Close-Main-Theme-/9780739088678
So, with the upcoming holiday, I’m heading to my parent’s home. It’s four and a half hours away on a good day and I’m not really expecting to be able to film, but here’s an update nonetheless.
What I’ve read last week:
I’m about half way through Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and it’s pretty great so far. I’ll probably be done reading it by the end of the weekend and will update with a full review at that point, but WOW!
I’m about fifty pages into Dune by Frank Herbert. I’m really looking forward to dedicating some time to this bad boy. It’s not as long as some other books I’ve read this past month and a half, but it’s dense.
After these two are finished, I’m hoping to read the most recent of Elspeth Cooper’s Wild Hunt quartet. I recieved these three from Worlds Without End in a giveaway and I’d like to finish it while the other two are fresh in my head.
What about you? Reading anything good?
Title: Dark Eden
Author: Chris Beckett
Publication Date: April 2014
Genre: Science Fiction
Overview: John’s family lives in Eden, a dark, wild planet once visited by people from Earth. They’ve spent the last 150 years in the Circle Valley waiting for Earth to rescue them, living as hunter and gatherers in the same spot that their forefathers were abandoned in generations ago. But the valley is dying. There isn’t enough food and no one has left to find more. In a fit of frustration, John destroys the center of their home and departs for the Dark Place beyond the valley bringing with him a group of ragtag youths.
For Fans Of: William Golding, Orson Scott Card (circa 1985?)
World-Building: Eden is pretty interesting as far as settings. It’s a land where there is no external light source and where the animals are mostly six legged and have mandibles (feelers on a mammal would be called _______?) It’s human inhabitants are almost cult-like and it’s surprising that they have absolutely no modern knowledge–presumably their forefathers were stranded astronauts– and live primitively. I found the more interesting parts to be in the time spent outside of the Valley. The developments that John Redlantern and his friends come up with are relatively simplistic, but enable them to encounter some fun and scary creatures.
The culture I found a little unsettling at times if only for the sexual practices. Beckett is not graphic in any of this, but some of it gave me the creeps (i.e. John and the group leader)
Character Development: John is consistently self-centered. That wasn’t so bad except that he’s indulged through to the very end without any real consequences despite a number of instances that seemed to be foreshadowing otherwise. I liked Tina; she was probably the best character. I liked that she had to become responsible and didn’t shirk from it and I liked that she was realistic about the people around her. Beckett sets her up initially as someone who’s a bit vapid, but she doesn’t stay that way.
Plot: There’s no real plot or end to it. John’s screwed it all up royally and it kind of just ends with him running from his screw ups like he did the whole book long. That’s not to say it’s bad. It felt like the way to end it for him, but there wasn’t some overarching plot or purpose to his adventures. Don’t expect a real conclusion to them.
Notes: I received this copy from netgalley.com as an eARC. Dark Eden is an Arthur C. Clark award winner.
Book Depository Link: http://www.bookdepository.com/Dark-Eden-Chris-Beckett/9781848874640
**Please note that this review may contain spoilers. If you’ve not yet read the first book, you can find my review of it here**
Title: Trinity Rising (The Wild Hunt #2)
Author: Elspeth Cooper
Publication Date: 2012
Overview: Teia is a clans girl in the plains. When the clan leader starts to plan an attack against the Empire like Glwyth of old, Teia finds herself filled with horrible visions–the Hunt will destroy the Empire, the Veil, and the world. Teia flees, despite being six months pregnant and the new chief’s concubine, in order to warn the Empire after her clan fails to heed her warnings. Meanwhile, Gair is sent to the desert in an attempt to find a way to weaken Savir.
For Fans Of: Elspeth Cooper, George RR Martin
Title: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Author: Mark Haddon
Publication Date: May 2004
Overview: Christopher can’t sleep. When he can’t sleep, he goes outside; he likes the night-time for walking because it’s quiet. But then he stumbles across his neighbor’s dog who is not only dead, but murdered. He then goes about the neighborhood detecting. Christopher is about to find out who killed his neighbor’s dog.
For Fans Of: Jonathan Safran Foer
This is yet another book I feel requires a less formal review. I loved Christopher and could see my brother and friends in him. His worries and straight-forward thoughts and communication were so true to my experiences. Also, I loved his one joke.
More importantly, I think Christopher’s family hits home for families with autism. The truth is most families struggle to cope with autism in all its forms. Abuse, affairs, divorce are all common after an autism diagnosis. Christopher’s family struggles with some very real problems. But Haddon also does a great job of showing the love and dedication that come with autism. The willingness to fight to see the world do right by your family and those you love was so well represented.
Overall, I thought Haddon did a great job showing both the very serious and humorous sides of autism without using the typical savant trope or making Christopher ever less-than-human.