Today I Read…Revolution 19

Revolution 19Today I read Revolution 19 by Gregg Rosenblum.

Wars were growing more and more terrible, costing so many human lives, so an easier way was found–robots who could fight humanity’s wars for them. Then the robots reinterpreted their mandate to care for humans–they rebelled and took control, to protect humanity from itself. The humans who fought back or ran away were sub-optimal–they were not good citizens, and so they were eliminated.

Except for a few, like siblings Nick, Cass and Kevin, and the rest of Freepost. They live in the forest, living off the land and with the absolute minimum of technology for fear of being detected by the robots and having their home destroyed again. Until Kevin finds a mysterious piece of tech on the ground in the forest, and they come.

Now they have to cross countless miles to get to the City they were born in, to rescue their captured parents before they are lost to them forever.

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This was an uncorrected proof that I got at the OLA Super Conference. The back blurb claims that it comes from the minds of “award-winning writer-directors Howard Gordon and James Wong” and “debut novelist Gregg Rosenblum,” and you can definitely sense the influence of people who work in a visual medium. It reads like it should be a television mini-series, full of excitement and explosions and grown people playing teenagers. As a novel, it comes off as a little bland. It’s a good idea, especially since YA dystopia is so hot right now, but reading it I feel like I’ve seen it all before. There’s nothing new or original here, and it’s not so well written that I’ll forgive the tired ideas and characters. The ending isn’t very satisfactory, because it’s so clearly setting up for a second novel, or rather  second movie. This is Terminator-lite. It has a checklist of things include: orphan from the revolution, robot-caused injury that the robots heal, teenage romance, techie-kid, artist-kid, leader-kid, missing parents, a quest, a spunky ally with her own agenda, anti-social tech genius kid attracted to artist-girl, uncaring despotic robot overlords, casual human deaths, mind control, extreme contrast between the technological luxury of the City and the scavenging poverty of the Freeholds, illegal government and angry rebels…There are two more books in the series, and I bet I can predict exactly what happens in them without even reading the summaries. It’s not a bad book, but it’s not good either. It’s a script, not a novel.

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Today I Read…Ender’s Game

Ender's GameToday I read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, the first book in the Ender’s Game series. It won the Nebula award in 1985 and the Hugo in 1986.

Ender Wiggin was a Third, born in the hope he could be a balance between his violent brother Peter and his gentle sister Valentine. Ender is destined to be a soldier in the endless war against the alien Bugger menace, but not just any soldier– at six years old he is chosen for the Battle School, the school for future officers. His intelligence, his determination, and his ability to see through the games the instructors play with the children mark him out as something special. In Ender rests the hope of humanity–not an easy burden on a child, no matter how remarkable. Can someone who does not wish to hurt others win a war? And is the killer the weapon or the one who points and fires it?

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I intended for this review to be of the book Ender’s Game, not the controversy over the upcoming movie and Orson Scott Card’s public blatant homophobia, although the controversy is what inspired me to finally read the book. However I find that in this case it is quite difficult for me to begin the book review until I separate the creator from the created. Certainly Card’s views that homosexuality is the result of child sexual abuse and that it is a form of mental illness are both wrong and repulsive, as is his support for the hate group the National Organization for Marriage. I won’t dignify his views with any links, but it’s certainly easy enough to Google. On the other hand, Peter David makes a good point about punishing people for their views by trying to kill their livelihood. Just because Card is a bigot doesn’t mean he isn’t entitled to make a living. On the third hand, I kind of agree with the reasons for the boycott–I don’t want to give Card any money that he will then donate to a group which was expressly started and continues to try to force legalized bigotry on people. And on the fourth hand, Lionsgate, the studio behind the Ender’s Game movie, has released a statement that they do not support Card’s views and that they intend to host a benefit premiere of Ender’s Game in support of LGBTQ rights. And there’s a lot of people involved in making the movie who don’t deserve to be financially punished just because of one homophobic jerk. So, I guess it comes down to just how much you can separate the creator from the creation and what you individually think is right.

So, on to the actual book review. I will say that I read the post 1991 revision, including the introduction that would never end. It was very self-congratulatory, which I could forgive if it was shorter. 23 pages of introduction is completely unnecessary for your own novel, and I’ll barely read that much of one for school–it’s too long for the Norton versions of Edgar Allen Poe and Mark Twain, and it definitely slows everything down for Ender’s Game. It reminded me a lot of Starship Troopers— the attitudes between Johnnie Rico and Ender Wiggin are somewhat similar as they learn to be soldiers. However, Rico learns to be one among many, while Ender learns the loneliness of command.

There’s a lot of violence in the book that Ender doesn’t always experience the full consequences of. He doesn’t like to hurt people, but sometimes it becomes necessary for the greater good or to complete his mission. However his superiors repeatedly keep the consequences from him, as when he accidentally kills Stilson and Bonzo and is told that they were merely injured, or when (spoilers!) he is not told that his simulations are real and that he really is leading people to their deaths and committing mass genocide of an intelligent species. Consequences of actions are only lightly touched upon, since we see the world primarily through Ender, who as intelligent as he may be is still a child, and one who has many things kept from him. Perhaps these things are explored in the later books in the series–for now I’ve only read the first.

So for my overall impression, it’s not a bad book, but it’s not my genre and I wasn’t blown away. And it’s highly unfortunate that someone who once wrote this book also wrote the propaganda-trash that is Hamlet’s Father.

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“I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and tell you he’s the one. Or at least as close as we’re going to get.”

“That’s what you said about the brother.”

“The brother tested out impossible. For other reasons. Nothing to do with his ability.”

“Same with the sister. And there are doubts about him. He’s too malleable. Too willing to submerge himself in someone else’s will.”

“Not if the other person is his enemy.”

“So what do we do? Surround him with enemies all the time?”

“If we have to.”

“I thought you said you liked this kid.”

“If the buggers get him, they’ll make me look like his favorite uncle.”

“All right. We’re saving the world, after all. Take him.”

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Mother was twisting her wedding band on her finger. “Andrew,” she said. “I never thought you were the kind to get in a fight.”

“The Stilson boy is in the hospital,” Father said. “You really did a number on him. With your shoe, Ender, that wasn’t exactly fair.”

Ender shook his head. He had expected someone from the school to come about Stilson, not an officer of the fleet. This was more serious than he had thought. And yet he couldn’t think what else he could have done.

“Do you have any explanation for your behavior, young man?” asked the officer.

Ender shook his head again. He didn’t know what to say, and he was afraid to reveal himself to be any more monstrous than his actions had made him out to be. I’ll take it, whatever the punishment is, he thought. Let’s get it over with.

“We’re willing to consider extenuating circumstances,” the officer said. “But I must tell you it doesn’t look good. Kicking him in the groin, kicking him repeatedly in the face and body when he was down– sounds like you really enjoyed it.”

“I didn’t,” Ender whispered.

“Then why did you do it?”

“He had his gang there,” Ender said.

“So? This excuses anything?”

“No.”

“Tell me why you kept on kicking him. You had already won.”

“Knocking him down won the first fight. I wanted to win all the next ones, too, right then, so they’d leave me alone.” Ender couldn’t help it, he was too afraid, too ashamed of his own acts: though he tried not to, he cried again. Ender did not like to cry and rarely did; now, in less than a day, he had done it three times. And each time was worse. To cry in front of his mother and father and this military man, that was shameful. “You took away the monitor,” Ender said. “I had to take care of myself, didn’t I?”

“Ender, you should have asked a grown-up for help,” Father began.

But the officer stood up and stepped across the room to Ender. He held out his hand. “My name is Graff. Ender. Colonel Hyrum Graff. I’m director of primary training at Battle School in the Belt. I’ve come to invite you to enter the school.”

After all. “But the monitor–”

“The final step in your testing was to see what would happen if the monitor comes off. We don’t always do it that way, but in your case–”

“And I passed?”

Mother was incredulous. “Putting the Stilson boy in the hospital? What would you have done if Andrew had killed him, given him a medal?”

“It isn’t what he did, Mrs. Wiggin. It’s why.” Colonel Graff handed her a folder full of papers. “Here are the requisitions. Your son has been cleared by the I.F. Selective Service. Of course we already have your consent, granted in writing at the time conception was confirmed, or he could not have been born. He has been ours from then, if he qualified.”

Father’s voice was trembling as he spoke. “It’s not very kind of you, to let us think you didn’t want him, and then to take him after all.”

“And this charade about the Stilson boy,” Mother said.

“It wasn’t a charade, Mrs. Wiggin. Until we knew what Ender’s motivation was, we couldn’t be sure he wasn’t another– we had to know what the action meant. Or at least what Ender believed that it meant.”

Today I Read…Rite of Passage

Today I read Supernatural: Rite of Passage by John Passarella.

You know how Murphy’s Law says that everything that can go wrong, will? Well in Laurel Hill, New Jersey, Murphy is named Tora. And he’s an oni demon, who creates chaos and deadly accidents all around himself. He’s just in town to pick up a few things–the children that he left behind 18 years ago, half-human and half-demon and just coming into their powers. Dean and Sam Winchester, along with their honourary uncle Bobby Singer and his old retired hunting buddy Ray, come to town to try to change Laurel Hill’s luck for the better, and to gank the demon. With a little luck…

This book is set during season 7 of the television show Supernatural.  I usually like media tie-in novels–it’s a good way to tell stories about the characters or in the universe that can’t be done on the show, either because it would  be too expensive to film or it isn’t suited to a television medium or just to expand the universe and find out what the characters do in between episodes. And I love Supernatural— the brothers’ relationship, the snark, the simultaneous wallowing in horror clichés while being completely aware that they are wallowing in clichés, the witty banter that makes me long for the days Joss Whedon had television shows on the air, the wonderful supporting characters (I still miss you Bobby!), and of course the glorious and unbridled snark…I love snark, ok? It’s a thing, I’m not working on it.

The novels are particularly apt for this show since season 4 introduced the Carver Edlund Supernatural books, featuring the brothers Sam and Dean who travel around the country killing monsters. While the books in the show were novelizations of the first few seasons and have never actually been published, actual Supernatural novels do add to the meta-awareness of the show, in the same way that the Richard Castle novels do for Castle.

Rite of Passage itself is a solid adventure, well-written and solidly in character with the show, and it contains the excellent research on monsters that Supernatural prides itself on. Why make up monsters for a tv show when there are hundreds throughout history and from different cultures?

Today I Read…Starship Troopers

Today I read Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein.

Heinlein’s classic novel of military science fiction tells the story of Juan “Johnnie” Rico, a young man who joins the Federal Service after high school, mostly to impress a girl. He gets assigned to the Mobile Infantry–the armoured grunts, the lowest ranking part of the military, the one that requires no special skills, since Johnnie has none. He works his way up through the ranks during the interstellar war with the alien Bugs, eventually going to Officer Candidate School.

Usually I get a bit bored when a writer keeps interrupting the action to talk at length about the background politics (I’m looking at you, Wicked, you were a lot more fun when you were singing and dancing), but Heinlein keeps his discussions of politics and the need for the military interesting throughout. Rico starts off as a fairly thoughtless young man who doesn’t really believe in anything when he first joins the military. While he was required to take History and Moral Philosophy in school, which was taught by a combat veteran, he mostly enjoyed it because he got to argue with the teacher, not because he believed in the state. He changes during his service, and learns to find a family in his fellow soldiers, and to take responsibility for them as he is promoted up through the ranks. He learns that he may not fight for some grand ideal, or for the state, but he will fight for his fellows. He will do his duty, and he will behave with honour, and he will discover what kind of a man he really is. This is not really a comfortable book, especially with the recent wars of the 20th and 21st centuries, but it is a powerful book.

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I always get the shakes before a drop. I’ve had the injections, of course, and hypnotic preparation, and it stands to reason that I can’t really be afraid. The ship’s psychiatrist has checked my brain waves and asked me silly questions while I was asleep and he tells me that it isn’t fear, it isn’t anything important — it’s just like the trembling of an eager race horse in the starting gate.

I couldn’t say about that; I’ve never been a race horse. But the fact is: I’m scared silly, every time.

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History and Moral Philosophy was different from other courses in that everybody had to take it but nobody had to pass it — and Mr. Dubois never seemed to care whether he got through to us or not. He would just point at you with the stump of his left arm (he never bothered with names) and snap a question. Then the argument would start.

But on the last day he seemed to be trying to find out what we had learned. One girl told him bluntly: “My mother says that violence never settles anything.”

“So?” Mr. Dubois looked at her bleakly. “I’m sure the city fathers of Carthage would be glad to know that. Why doesn’t your mother tell them so? Or why don’t you?”

They had tangled before — since you couldn’t flunk the course, it wasn’t necessary to keep Mr. Dubois buttered up. She said shrilly, “You’re making fun of me! Everybody knows that Carthage was destroyed!”

“You seemed to be unaware of it,” he said grimly. “Since you do know it, wouldn’t you say that violence had settled their destinies rather thoroughly? However, I was not making fun of you personally; I was heaping scorn on an inexcusably silly idea — a practice I shall always follow. Anyone who clings to the historically untrue — and thoroughly immoral— doctrine that ‘violence never settles anything’ I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and of the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler could referee, and the jury might well be the Dodo, the Great Auk, and the Passenger Pigeon. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedoms.”

He sighed. “Another year, another class — and, for me, another failure. One can lead a child to knowledge but one cannot make him think.” Suddenly he pointed his stump at me. “You. What is the moral difference, if any, between the soldier and the civilian?”

“The difference,” I answered carefully, “lies in the field of civic virtue. A soldier accepts personal responsibility for the safety of the body politic of which he is a member, defending it, if need be, with his life. The civilian does not.”

“The exact words of the book,” he said scornfully. “But do you understand it? Do you believe it?”

“Uh, I don’t know, sir.”

“Of course you don’t! I doubt if any of you here would recognize ‘civic virtue’ if it came up and barked in your face!” He glanced at his watch. “And that is all, a final all. Perhaps we shall meet again under happier circumstances. Dismissed.”