Having recently re-read the classic Ender's Game, I thought a venture into assorted essays examining the book and its impact on SF and society at large would be worthwhile. Sadly, this book did not live up to expectations. The essays, all well-written, did not evoke thoughts or perspectives that are not unusual for SF books in general, much less one as well-known as Ender's Game. I found many of the analyses to be overly generalized, describing experiences and perspectives that can be easily applied to just about every book out there. Some of the essays were more an opportunity for the writer to vent their own personal experiences with the book rather than focusing on a meaningful, through-provoking theme to be explored by the reader. The exception is an essay written by a Marine Captain who was assigned the task of writing the master instruction manual for the entire Marine Corps on how to make war using a methodology that mirrored the tactics and leadership practices that Ender used in Battle School and beyond. That is a VERY fascinating read into how Ender's Game can relate to real-life instances of leadership and warfare and is perhaps on its own worth the price of the book. The Q&A at the end of each chapter is the best part for fans of Ender's Game. Questions are asked directly to Orson Scott Card regarding his thoughts and plans behind various aspects of Ender's Game and the entire Enderverse, and Card reads the answers himself. Those same questions and answers, as well as the topics of the articles in the books, could probably be found online in other forums. If you're a hardcore Ender fan like me, I guess this book is worth the time ... barely.
I went into this lecture skeptical. I didn't know Jenna Blum's work, and I wasn't sure this would be helpful. I'm happy to tell you I was very, very wrong. Blum's lectures were written to help writers like me discover the foundations and essential building blocks of our craft. She explains the biggies like theme, plot, style and dialogue in a new way that is far better than most of the "how-to" books I've read on the subject. She approaches each topic with the scholastic approach of a professor while keeping in mind the more practical needs of the practicing writer. She describes each item using excepts from her own work while also pulling in quotes and excerpts from popular authors that anyone listening can identify with. Put simply, she makes studying to write fun. With built-in exercises and numerous examples, Blum walks you through each aspect of writing masterfully, getting you to think about your own work while exploring the nature of the concepts themselves. At times I felt like I was getting an course in a collegiate Master of Fine Arts program for the price of an audiobook. I would put Blum's lecture up at the top of my bookshelf of "How to Write." I encourage any aspiring or active writing looking to shore up and learn more about the core concepts of the craft to listen and enjoy her lectures.
This book is a great and thorough introduction to the development, history, story lines and the cast/crew behind the show. I thought I knew a lot about the show. By the end of the second chapter I knew I was going to learn much more. And I did! This book has tons of small stories and "sidebars" about various aspects of the show's plot lines, characters, and focused on the major figures of the show with shocking honesty. Quotes from the show's producers and actors provide the book with a wonderful, unquestionable authenticity. Does the book cover every story about the show? No, but what single novel could? What is perhaps most wonderful about this book is that it is 100% up-to-date at the time I read it (November 2013). I know that details that had come out just this year were included in the history of the whole show, showing deliberate links between the modern and classic versions. Kistler is an adequate narrator. As the writer he did a great job gathering all the information, interviews, quotes and details together into a very easy to listen narrative that added significantly to my knowledge and appreciation of one of my favorite TV shows of all time. A must read for any fan of the show who'd like to learn more about the show and the decisions that made it what it was and is.
Daniel Wilson starts with an interesting idea: how does the U.S. deal with citizens who have enhanced abilities thanks to brain implants ("amps"). Wilson takes us immediately to the worst possible outcome, sending the U.S. and our characters into a world where those with amps are heavily discriminated against, by citizens and law, to the point where they are on the run for their lives. Conveniently enough one of them, the son of one of the original designers of the amps, finds himself in a position to lead a revolution of One against the man and uncover the conspiracy behind it all. You can see how things can get pretty thin pretty fast. Wilson's first novel, Robopocalyse, had far more tension and a more satisfying view into the negative impact technology can have on society. This book is geared more towards satisfying the movie genre where one man makes all the difference. Meh, says the SF fan. If I'm going to play in this world, it can't just be the one guy with the best amp saving the world. It's got to be more, and Wilson comes up short in that regard. I'm willing to spend some time in this horrible world he's created, where amped people are treated with less civility than any race relation in our nation's history. But Wilson decides instead to follow the path of a single character with just enough access and abilities to save the world. Meh. Daymond's reading is spot on, and his accents are well developed and enhance the story. If you liked Wilson's first book, give this one a go but don't get your hopes too high.
Looking ahead to the upcoming movie that has the entire Ender series to use for source material, I thought it would be worth my time to read the immediate sequel to "Ender's Game" and see if I could fill in a few gaps of what I know happened to Ender between that book and "Speaker for the Dead." As a fan of the original books and Card I dove in with enthusiasm. Sadly, the book did not meet expectations. I learned little more of Ender's life than what I'd already gleaned from the original books and common sense. While the e-mail conversations at the beginning of each chapter are interesting, the rest of the book tires under the weight of Card talking at length about what people are thinking, why they are thinking it and what their intentions are as if I couldn't figure it out on my own. It drags the pace of the novel to a staggering crawl. The challenges Ender face in each chapter pale miserably in comparison to the other books, and I found myself bored by the third Act to the point I didn't care much any more. I already knew what would happen next. Stefan Rudnicki remains the king of science fiction audiobooks, and his fellow cast helped shape an uninteresting tale into an audio play that made my time worthwhile. If you're a fan of the Enderverse, by all means dive in. If you're looking for action, stick to the Shadow series. My best suggestion is to skip this one and just re-read the original series again and then enjoy the movie.
If you are at all a fan of the classic superhero vs. supervillain motif from the good ol' days of comic books and superhero cartoons, this is a great book to pickup and listen to. Told from two opposing perspectives of a superhero and a supervillain, it's a great revisit to the classic motif of the supervillain who wants to take over the world versus the superheroes who ALWAYS manage to defeat him. The chapters that follow the villain, Doctor Impossible, are by far the best parts of the book allowing you to really get inside the head of the bad guy, where he came from, what his motives are, how he feels when he gets punched by the hero, etc. It's a rarity to get such a well-written and well-rounded view into the mind of the archcriminal with enough humor and all-out fun to keep it light and interesting. Boehmer's voice was perfectly chosen for Doctor Impossible and his performance is superb, reminding me time and again of Will Farrell in "Mastermind," a close parallel to this story. Grossman has created a world of heroes with flaws (as they all should have) that is as much fun to explore as listening to the villain explore why he does what he does, what he thinks of all these crazy people in tights, and just how he'll win this time as opposed to the 100 other times he lost. To me, it's amazing these flawed heroes manage to win as often as they do in Grossman's world, just as much as it surprises me that someone as brilliant as Doctor Impossible has lost in some of the battles he did. Even still, the world, the story and the insights you get into the heroic and villain minds is a fun and enjoyable ride that makes the book a great read.
I'll admit, I went in curious to read about what the upcoming movie will be like. I'm happy to report the movie and the book have little in common, so just go in and enjoy the book for itself. Once you do that, you'll be able to get caught up in the amazing performances the narrators bring to the tale. Brooks does a fun job of creating a wide array of characters and situations, and his mastery of the vernacular makes each chapter enjoyable even with its heavy and morbid subject matter. You feel like you're sitting in a room interviewing each person along with Brooks, and you can't help but feel transported to the events as they're described to you. As a work of fiction, it's a bit thin. As a "zombie novel" it's far more honest than the others I've read. There's no deep exploration of the cause or magical cure devised from the discovery of patient zero. This time it's total war (as described in one of the best chapters), so don't expect the typical endings to any story. Above all else, get this book to enjoy the storytellers at the top of their craft. Mark Hamill in particular will knock your socks off. Enjoy!
As a fan of Dan Brown I was looking forward to reading his next Robert Langdon novel and I was not disappointed by it. Filled ad naseum with references to medieval history, art history, genetic engineering and secret organizations, this book was an easy and enjoyable read for me. Any fan of Florence, Italy will enjoy returning to the familiar streets and sites as well. As with his other books, there are plenty of mysteries and riddles to solve, and Brown guides the reader along with the characters in a logical, natural process of discovery ... just in time to throw in a few twists and turn everything in on itself. Don't think you know the full picture of what's happening at any point in the book. As far as a book to keep the analytical mind active, this is a definite win. Michael's narration is solid and yet somehow less interesting in its even consistency. If you liked Brown's other books, you won't be disappointed.
As I continue to read through the classics of Science Fiction, this book easily makes the Top 50 list of most of the people who know. Billed as one of the finest examples of a post-apocalyptic world I was looking forward to seeing what that world would look like from the eyes of a writer from the 1960's. Miller's most important assumption is one I agree with completely: if the world blows itself up, the Church and it's teachings (including a full Latin vocabulary) will survive. Miller was specific about the members of the Church he uses as his characters in each section, focusing less on the world after the burn and more on how the Order deals with the events of the world in each time and how it impacts their overall mission. On the whole, it's a good read and definitely worthwhile for any lover of SF. As a book on its own it's horribly dry. Whatever sense of conflict you may feel is so drawn and thinned out over the course of the chapters by the time the resolution comes you simply shrug your shoulders and move on. The lack of intensity in the prose is worsened by Weiner's monotone and bland recording. He uses the exact same inflection for the most impactful of sentences as he does the most mundane. I had to pause the recording several times and ask, "Whoa, what just happened?" because the sentence had been passed so quickly by the narrator. Weiner's Latin pronunciation is excellent, and as a former Latin student it was fun to flex my Latin muscles and see how much I remembered. For anyone but the hardcore SF fan, I doubt I'd recommend this book, and I'd certainly recommend any other recording of it. But Miller's lessons of a nuclear world shine through clearly, as are how the Church will thrive and ensure mankind's legacy is preserved in spite of our collective propensity to destroy ourselves.
My second Scalzi novel, I was looking forward to seeing what he could do with what is a very intriguing idea ... how would an alien race introduce themselves to 21st Century humanity? The logic of Scalzi's approach is sadly unquestionable. It turns this bland and unexciting novel into a worthwhile read. Scalzi navigates the world of Hollywood stars and agents well, implying to some extent first-hand experience with the industry. His choice of alien species is different and certainly eliminates all stereotypical first contact scenarios right off the bat. Make no mistake, this book is not "Rendezvous with Rama." It's not even in the same solar system as that one. This is a fun little novel about the sad world of Hollywood and just how much the mere appearances of the people there impact our daily perceptions of humanity as a whole. The hidden messages regarding the Holocaust are an interesting twist. However, I think if you really want an alien race to understand humanity and why we're even worth making contact with you don't show them humanity at its worst and then expect them to come down as friends, no matter how popular they get. Scalzi's writing remains an abused victim of overusing "he said," "she said," and an unending supply of adverbs, but at least it didn't kill the overall experience. Need a break from typical first contact novels, give this one a go ... just don't go in with too high of expectations.
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