Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (CBR III book #6)

How can a book about ant-aliens and ten year old space commanders make its way onto my bookshelf? I had been on a young adult kick for awhile but most of the books I had read were about young women, with angsty love stories worked in their plots.

Ender's Game was recommended by a friend who bought it for me for Christmas. Unlike my previous YA books, this one is more geared toward the young boy demographic. And now that I think about it, there's probably only one big female character of note in the book. No sir, there are no girls allowed here! This book is full of war games, soldier school, aliens, fights, and definitely no heart to heart talks. Very boy-like indeed.

Basically, Ender is a young boy living in a futuristic society. Life on other planets has been discovered, inter-stellar travel is somewhat normal, and boys (and some girls) can go to school in space to train to be soldiers. This final point is necessitated by the fact that Earth faces the threat of annihilation by an alien ant-like species lovingly termed "buggers." Okay, stay with me on this one, it gets better, really.

Ender has been chosen to attend this school and is being groomed to command an army. Most of the book covers Ender's time at the battle school, particularly the war games the boys play as a part of their training. Even though this is a book for boys, there is no lack of drama at the war school. But instead of he said/he said gossip and bitch slapping, there is more snubbing at lunch tables and trash talking and even a naked shower fight. Hmmm, maybe boys and girls aren't that different after all?

Anywho, I was about two thirds of the way through the book and over the battle school when things really picked up. I'm not just talking about the action getting better, or the setting changing sort of thing. I'm talking about the author throws you for a loop and the book takes on a whole new meaning and I'm suddenly engrossed in a really philosophical, thought-provoking story. In fact, I went from "I'm just trying to finish this damn book" to "holy moly I can't put it down!"

Unfortunately I can't really elaborate without spoiling anything so you'll just have to take my word for it. Overall, it's a mixed review. I think there's a real treat in this book for whoever picks it up. But if you're not into sci-fi/wargames type of stuff, you might have to tolerate two hundred pages before getting there.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago (CBR III book #5)

After reading Anne Marie's great review, I put this book on my short list. Her review warned about Saramago's writing style (no punctuation, run-on sentences, etc) so I was fully prepared to channel my high school days of reading Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, which wasn't a fun time. Maybe it was because I was expecting the worst, but Saramago's book wasn't as bad as I expected. Like Anne Marie said, you have to get past his writing style and I think after about a hundred pages, I didn't notice it anymore. My brain adjusted, I guess. And I'm glad it did.

Death With Interruptions is a study of "what if." What if death decided to stop killing people? What if death gave everyone a week notice? What if someone defied death's order? Saramago writes the book in two main parts. The first part explores death's decision to stop killing people. He discusses the implications of this from the government's perspective and how society as a whole deals with this. Undertakers begin to panic; who will they bury now? Hospitals begin filling up, because people still get sick and injured, but now, those who would normally die are stuck at the brink of death. And the fact that death is still in full operation in the neighboring country gives an underground criminal organization an interesting market to exploit.

The second half of the book deals with death's decision to send letters to everyone a week before their death date. But one letter keeps coming back unread, so death decides to investigate. Who is this person that can defy her? At this point in the story, Saramago really focuses his story from one that deals with society on a large level to one that is now really about death and one individual. We get to see the more supernatural side of death and her operation, where she...lives?, how she keeps track of everyone, and how she travels. Saramago is strangely able to keep the mood of his book pretty light but there are still some really creepy moments as he describes how death can envelope an entire room, or how she watches someone while he sleeps. And the story that evolves definitely kept me turning the pages culminating in an amazing ending.

If you're a bit of an adventurous reader, give this one a go. I definitely recommend it but it falls in the "not for everyone" category because of the writing style. But the story is so good, you just might have to read it anyway, despite the writing style.

On a side note: If you find Saramago's style to your liking, his other books might be interesting too. According to a quick look on wikipedia, Saramago likes to deal with big "what ifs" based on his other books - What if the Iberian peninsula breaks off and floats around the world (The Stone Raft)? What if an entire country is stricken with the mysterious plague of white blindness (Blindness)? And this is just the tip of the iceberg for Saramago, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. All in all, a lot of good reasons to pick up his books.