"The word is the making of the world." - Wallace Stevens

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cat Among the Pigeons - Agatha Christie

This was my last read for the Typically British challenge (ends on 12/31). I finished it on the 12th. Like every other Christie mystery I've read, you get thoroughly caught up in the characters and local community of the story. Most of the action takes place at a highly exclusive British girls' boarding school. A political coup, international intrigue, hidden jewels, multiple murders, mysterious characters, and Poirot stepping in towards the end, it's all here. Classic Christie. Very entertaining, enjoyable read.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Shadow of the Hegemon - Orson Scott Card

I swiped this copy from my brother when I was visiting in Ohio back in the middle of November. I enjoyed this read, but it wasn't without its flaws. The story stumbled a bit with keeping my attention; sometimes what kept me reading was the fact that I'd read the previous Ender books and was already caught up in some of the characters. I wouldn't recommend this being the first Ender book you read, it will be hard to understand or stick with. The story follows the events that take place after Ender's War, after the Battle School students return to earth and world war seems imminent. The character development is impressive, Bean and Petra especially. And the ending is satisfying. If you are a fan of Card and the Ender stories, you will enjoy this book.

The Stories of Eva Luna - Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende is another author I adore who is very good at putting together characters that catch your attention and hook you. I've read The House of the Spirits, but not Eva Luna yet. (This book was a present from my Aunt Judy and Uncle Gary.) I was excited to finally read this collection, started it last month on the plane to visit my family in Ohio and finished on the plane ride home. This is a collection of short stories that create and involve people from every kind of social background. There is an element of Fantasia to these "mystical realism" stories; the worlds and characters in them are full of magic and unusual possibilities. In the prologue, Eva is lying in bed with her lover Rolf Carle, a European refugee and journalist. He asks her to tell him a story "you have never told anyone before". Eva's answer is in the twenty-three stories that follow. They are romantic, rich, enchanting stories of different people and different places.

We are lead to believe that most of these stories are pure invention by Eva for Rolf. In fact, Allende slyly adds an excerpt about Scheherazade from A Thousand and One Nights before the prologue: "The King ordered the Grand Vizier to bring him a virgin every night, and when the night was over, he ordered her to be killed. And thus it happened for three years, and in all the city there was no damsel left to withstand the assaults of this rider. But the Vizier had a daughter of great beauty, named Scheherazade...and she was very eloquent, and pleased all who heard her."

But the last heartbreaking story of the book, "And of Clay Are We Created", is Eva writing about a natural disaster that strikes and that Rolf becomes directly involved in; an earthquake that looses an avalanche that buries a great deal of people, animals, and land. "Much later, after soldiers and volunteers had arrived to rescue the living and try to assess the magnitude of the cataclysm, it was calculated that beneath the mud lay more than twenty thousand human beings and an indefinite number of animals putrefying in a viscous soup. Forests and rivers had also been swept away, and there was nothing to be seen but an immense desert of mire", page 354.

During this last story, Rolf goes out in his television helicopter to follow the story, and befriends a young girl, Azucena (Lily), who is hopelessly trapped in a mire of mud with only her head above ground. Despite his struggles to help her, he fails and he is with her when she dies, watching her sink below the surface. What makes the story especially sad is that there was a very obvious way to help the girl; Rolf is trying to obtain a special kind of pump that will save her from being sucked into her tomb, but help came too late because all the officials and people making decisions had more important things to do. I cried while reading this story and cried again later, when the images and emotions were still in my mind. This is the last passage of that particular story, Eva is observing the changes in Rolf:

"You are back with me, but you are not the same man. I often accompany you to the station and we watch the videos of Azucena again; you study them intently, looking for something you could have done to save her, something you did not think of in time. Or maybe you study them to see yourself as if in a mirror, naked. Your cameras lie forgotten in a closet; you do not write or sing; you sit long hours before the window, staring at the mountains. Beside you, I wait for you to complete the voyage into yourself, for the old wounds to heal. I know that when you return from your nightmares, we shall again walk hand in hand, as before" page 367.

And the book comes to an end, with a small and final excerpt from A Thousand and One Nights:

"And at this moment in her story, Scheherazade saw the first light of dawn, and discreetly fell silent."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Children of the Mind - Orson Scott Card

This is the fourth and last book of the Ender series. Hurray, I've read them all! And although I enjoyed this story a lot, I would probably give it fourth place out of the four. Why?-It was as enjoyable as it was unsatisfying.

A quick premise of the plot: the Starways Congress has decided to destroy Lusitania and all the beings who live on it, human, pequinino, and bugger because the descolada virus could potentially get out and wreak havoc. Good old government. Only Jane, the evolved being who lives in the ansible Net, can save everyone but the Congress is also deliberately shutting down the Net and Jane is losing the ability to move ships outside the known universe and back. Soon she won't be able to help her friends in their mission to find the origins of the descolada virus OR save her life. And while being moved in this way by Jane, Ender's personality/soul/aiua is split into three different beings, himself and his "children of the mind".

Typical of Card's writing, there are multiple interconnected story lines going on, involving a diverse group of people from different species and cultures. While there was a lot of dialogue involving philosophical ideas that I found interesting, not all of it was necessary to get the point across which made it tedious. And there were other characters who interested me, but you don't really get a chance to get all that attached to them. I liked Wang-mu to start off with, but I thought her relationship with Peter was unrealistic and it ruined her for me. My least favorite character was probably Ender's wife, Novinha. Since she was introduced in the story, she's been in dire need of a sharp kick in the butt. Granted, her life was full of tragedies, but in Novinha's case, her personality makes a life long tragedy out of everything. She just seems like such a completely unlikable drama queen, the more so because she's so determined that what she decides is right, that's she's acting out of someone's best interest so the ends justify the means. I have zero patience for this thinking in real and fictional people! You have to wonder what someone like Ender sees in her. She does do the right thing at the end of the story, but she doesn't get there by herself. Valentine has to coach her not to be a selfish cow. Ugh, Novinha.

Card originally planned Xenocide and Children of the Mind to be one cohesive story. And I think he should have gone that route. But despite some lumps, this story is still enjoyable and brings up all kinds of thought provoking ideas, i.e. with the "birth" of the new Peter and Valentine added to the existence of Jane, Card asks the question, do we have to have a physical base to have a soul? And which came first?

Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, and Xenocide are well worth reading if you haven't already and I highly recommend them. And while I'm glad I read Children of the Mind, I can't say I wasn't disappointed overall. The ending was left open enough, you have to wonder if OSC is planning to do something else with these characters. After reading this novel though, I hope he just leaves them where he left them.