Sunday, October 27, 2013


by Michael Grant

Grade: 3 stars
Story summary: Endgame. The kids have gone through hell and survived pretty much the worst life could throw at them. And now the monster from the cave has taken human form and its greatest foe is slowly fading away. Also, for the first time, the outside world can see everything (hint: this is not a good thing).
Sequel to Gone, Hunger, Lies, Plague, and Fear.

Thoughts: Generally a great finish to a dark, intense, and really good series--although not quite as amazing as I had been hoping.
I'll give a couple not-too-spoilery thoughts about the characters here.

--Diana and Caine! Diana and Caine! I looooved their story and final outcome. My favourite thing about this whole book.
--The Breeze! I think this was my favourite book for her. Can't talk about it too much, cause spoilers. But she definitely grew on me. I found her kind of annoying in the first few books.
--Little disappointed that Lana and Sanjit didn't get a bit more screen time. They got a fair bit (well, Lana did), but they're both among my favourite characters, so what they did get wasn't enough.

And now some a couple SPOILERY notes about the final plot.

--I'm pretty sure there were several significant questions that weren't answered, which is one of the main reasons why I thought it was less of a spectacular finish than it could have been. The one that bothers me most is what happened to the kids after they died or vanished. Wasn't there this whole thing about it seeming like a bright comforting light, but then it was actually a monster? I can't remember anymore, but I remember it being a big thing when Mary committed suicide. And then there was this other part in another book where the barrier vanished for a moment, and they saw all the kids that had vanished? I can't remember anymore...but I'm sure there were unanswered questions in that area (among others).

--I was thankful that the end wasn't all fluffy happiness. Something like this is going to have seriously bad repercussions in the lives of the survivors.

--The last page made me happy. Can't argue with that.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories

by C. S. Lewis

Grade: 4 1/2 stars

Thoughts: It's C. S. Lewis. It's obviously going to be fabulous. The first section of this book is a collection of essays about writing, with an emphasis on speculative fiction. In the second section, there are four short stories, again with a SciFi/Fantasy bent.

The first part was especially good. These essays, among many other important things, defended views I've held for a long time, but never been able to defend very well. Such as: children's books can be as good and well worth reading as adult books, it is not lame to re-read books many times, speculative fiction is not worthless escapism, and SciFi is awesome. I could fill this review with quotes discussion, but that would deprive you of the pleasure of finding things out for yourself. (Plus it would be way too much work.) So here goes a much smaller selection (but still very long, compared to the rest of my reviews).

"No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often more) worth reading at the age of fifty--except, of course, books of information."
"On Stories", pg. 15
Hah! Take that, people who think people who read children's books as adults are weird and immature!
There's also some interesting discussion in this essay about film vs. "popular" fiction (in other words, the pretty badly written stuff). There's a section early on that is talking about excitement, and how the film of King Solomon's Mines lost what made the original book special by (among other things) exchanging the particular  and atmospheric fear of being shut in the dark cave, with general "excitement" and violent danger. I thought it very applicable to most modern action movies (although I do actually enjoy many modern action movies).
"If you find that the reader of popular romance--however uneducated a reader, however bad the romances--goes back to his old favourite again and again, then you have pretty good evidence that they are to him a sort of poetry."
"On Stories", pg. 15

"I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story."
"On Three Ways of Writing for Children", pg. 24
In this essay, he also has a whole defence of fairy tales being read to children, even though they can be terribly frightening. (Have you read the original fairy tales? They are dark.) "Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage." (pg. 31) It also reminded me of Doctor Who (the awesomest), and how people remember hiding behind the sofa whilst watching it, but loving it all the same.
Another fascinating discussion was concerning the idea that kids who read fantasy will lose themselves in escapism. I strongly disagree with this, and thankfully, so does C. S. Lewis. In fact, he basically argues the reverse, that love of fantasy makes people less inclined to escapism, especially compared to real-world stories.  "[A child] does not despise the real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted." ("On Three Ways of Writing for Children", pg. 29-30) He talks more about escapism, but from an adult perspective, in the essay "On Science Fiction".

I could quote so much more, sigh... But this is getting too long already, so I'll leave the essays and go on to the stories.

Somewhat unexpectedly for me, I didn't enjoy these as much as the essays. My favourite was actually the unfinished story, "After Ten Years". It had enormous potential to be the kind of story I would treasure for my whole life. And strangely enough, it was the least scifi of the lot, being about the aftermath of the Trojan war. The more actual scifi stories almost seemed a little dated, especially "Ministering Angels" and "Forms of Things Unknown". I liked "The Shoddy Lands" a bit more, but seemed to fit more with The Great Divorce (splendid book), and more interesting when you came at it from that point of view than expecting cool scifi stuff.

The Vor Game

by Lois McMaster Bujold

Grade: 4 1/2 stars
Story summary: Starts with a short, seemingly unrelated story about Miles being stuck in a position on a remote, frozen island. But of course, even on a remote, frozen island he can't help making enough trouble that he's sent far, far away on a secret mission. Here he just so happens to come across the emperor of his planet, who has run away in a fit of depression. So now he has to rescue the emperor and fulfill his mission, as well as defeat all the other complications that constantly spring up around him, and generally save everything.
See also Shards of Honor, Barrayar, and The Warrior's Apprentice.

Thoughts: Miles Vorkosigan is my new favourite character, and since I already waxed poetical about him on my review of The Warrior's Apprentice, I'm not going to do it again here. I'll simply make do with stating that he's brilliant and clever and I love him.

As in The Warrior's Apprentice, this features Miles flying by the seat of his pants, trying to accomplish six impossible things before breakfast, and generally being awesome. There was also, of course, much more of Emperor Gregor Vorbarra; I loved his character development here. And...I don't really know what else to say. I'm rather blown away by these books, and unable to express myself very well. Plus there are so many better analyses, reviews, and thoughts out there. If you are at all a fan of adult scifi; space opera; or brilliant, short, manipulative lordlings that run around being clever, you really ought to give these books a try.

To sum up the awesomeness, here is a spoilery quote from the best website ever, (helpfully encoded using so you don't ruin your reading experience):
"Va Gur Ibe Tnzr, Zvyrf naq Rzcrebe Tertbe chyy bss gur eneryl-nggrzcgrq Flapuebavmrq Gnaqrz Vaql Cybl, naq fbzrubj znantr gb pbzcyrgryl bhg-znarhire n Zntavsvprag Onfgneq bs n Purffznfgre juvyr hanoyr gb pbbeqvangr jvgu rnpu bgure ba bccbfvgr fvqrf bs n fgne flfgrz." (Taken from the Literature folder of the TV Tropes page on the Indy Ploy.)