Sunday, 28 April 2013

Ender's Game - Review

Published: Atom Books 2002 (originally 1985)
Pages: 326
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Bought
Rating: 5 Stars

Synopsis: Ender Wiggin is battle school's latest recruit. His teachers reckon he could become a great leader. And they need one. A vast alien force is headed for Earth, its mission: the annihilation of all human life. Ender could be our only hope. But first he must survive the most brutal military training program in the galaxy...

Probably one of the best books I have ever read - an oldie, but a goldie.

I first read Ender's game years ago, when I was about eleven. So parts of it were essentially my childhood dreams on paper, á la Hogwarts. There were so many parts of this book that I loved, and it's probably one of the principal reasons I'm a fan of science fiction.

Ender is a profoundly gifted six-year-old child at the start of the novel, the third child in a society where only two children are allowed, but who has been commissioned by the government as a potential soldier because of the promise shown by his brother and sister, Peter and Valentine. I thought that Peter and Valentine were really interesting characters, and I loved the descriptions of their intelligence and disdain for what was taught to them at school because, wary as I usually am of saying it, it's so true for gifted children and nobody realises about asynchronous development.  I'll talk more about Valentine and Peter later.

A large part of this book centers around war games, but they involve flying. Flying in null gravity. If your inner nerd didn't get excited about flying games, I don't know who you are, I don't know what you want, but I will find you and force you to re-read it. The war games are intended to train the students of the Battle School for command or support of the military fleet to defeat an enemy alien race called 'buggers'. Young geniuses are chosen from Earth and brought into space to be trained until they're eighteen and ready to fight for the survival of the human race.

I LOVED the tactics Card devised for Ender to flawlessly implement. There is a certain pleasure in watching the hero's plans develop beautifully, never mind how unrealistic they are. The details of of group dynamics in the armies, manoeuvres, toon bonding and tactics are exquisite. And the writing technique was incredibly enjoyable. There are so many elements which combine to make for a brilliant reading experience, among them the relationships depicted between the characters, especially Ender and Alai and Ender and Bean. It's sometimes easy to forget that they're only children, albeit hugely gifted ones.

Ender's Game was written in 1985, before the internet came to power. So it was brilliant to read what he'd written about the 'nets', even though they were described as considerably different from what we know today. During Ender's stay at Battle and Command School, his older brother and sister Peter (12) and Valentine (10) set out to master the nets - and the world. I absolutely adored this part of the book, because it utterly fulfilled my childhood dream of taking over the world through writing. (Everyone has that dream - right?). It's probably no longer realistic to take over the world that fast through the internet because of the endless sea of bloggers (don't I know how hard it is to get one noticed), but it was perfect to read about.

The final war with the buggers was really well written also. Surprisingly enough, I didn't see the twist coming, although others did. If I'm completely honest, I didn't like the few days after the battle. But that's not because of a fault with the book, it's because I care so much about Ender and no Card what are you doing? Upon the second reading I actually grew to like the conclusion a lot more because I understood why it had to happen.

Oh Orson Scott Card, I really wanted to reader-worship you. But you're a homophobic bigot, and I just can't respect you for that. Nevertheless, this book is an exciting, well-written masterpiece and I highly recommend it.

Friday, 5 April 2013

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green - Thoughts

Source: Borrowed
Pages: 313 (I know! Way shorter than usual!)
Rating: 3.5 - 4 stars

In Short:  Slightly disappointed because of the excessive hype, but brilliantly emotional ending. A little let-down because the writing wasn't as incredible as it was advertised.

The Breakdown:

Come on. You hardly need a summary. This book's been everywhere.

By 'disappointed by the writing' I don't mean it was bad, not at all. There was just SO MUCH HYPE. SO MUCH FREAKING HYPE. And the writing wasn't inspired, wasn't a revelation, it was just a serviceable way to relate the plot and a very fast read. My younger sister (twelve) read this book directly before me, sitting on the end of the bed, and as is our custom, handed it over to me the minute she finished reading it. I really wasn't expecting what she said as she did so, though : 'I was a bit disappointed. It wasn't THAT amazing'. I'm ashamed to say that I flipped out and almost banished her from the room for 'pre-emptively ruining my enjoyment of the book'. Yes, that is how my sister and I talk to each other.

And that is why it would be a little hypocritical of me to complain, like so many others have, about Augustus and Hazel's scripted speech. I really did like Augustus. I just suspended belief, and then he was an extremely enjoyable character, reader wish-fulfilment. Even if he needs to STOP ALREADY with the metaphors and grand gestures (a dutch-themed picnic? Putting a cigarette in your mouth for the purposes of not smoking it? Seriously?). NOBODY DOES THAT. STOP. I was talking to my boyfriend about the book and while b oth of us are pretty clever booklovers, we agreed that if I rang him at 3am and quoted some obscure poem he would have to get revenge, instead of using it as a bonding moment.

However, I really liked Isaac. His scenes actually made me come very close to crying, especially the trophy-smashing scene. It was so poignant and real, the part about Isaac's eyes was really a masterstroke. Oh, Isaac, how I love you. I have to admit, I cared more about Isaac's eyes than about Hazel's terminal illness. I just did, I'm sorry. I think Hazel's condition would have been more emotionally arresting if she'd been more visibly sick, like Kate in My Sister's Keeper (How I love that book).

Having said that the writing style wasn't particularly special, there is a good sense of humour in the book. I particularly loved 'the Literal Heart of Jesus' joke. I felt that the Peter van Houten subplot was unnecessary and dragged. I know it was meant to illustrate shattered dreams, idols, redemption and whatnot, but it just wasn't as enjoyable. When he came back in the end I was like 'NOPE. YOU'RE NOT WANTED HERE. GO AWAY'. Although that could be how John Green wanted us to feel.

The end... was why I couldn't decide between 3.5 stars and 4. Throughout the book I kept urging myself to actually get emotional because everyone else was and how could I review the book if I didn't feel it and something must be wrong with me and argh. But finally, ALLELUIA, nearing the end/about three-quarters of the way through, I actually cried. Only one or two tears actually went down my face, but I did cry. I had an inkling this was going to happen but I didn't want to believe that John Green would pull such a brutal Jodi Picoult, but he did. And the reveal is SO QUOTABLE.

Considering my reaction at least 50 pages earlier I really, really expected to cry at the end. But i didn't. I finished the book at 1am, sitting on the floor, slumped against the wall, feeling...beyond sad. Hollow.

I fear that there is not a single coherent thought in the above, but that is what I thought of The Fault in Our Stars.

Mixed review, but I remain a Nerdfighter and kudos to the vlogbrothers.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Mila 2.0 - Debra Driza Review

Publisher: HarperCollins UK, Children's
Pages: 480 pages
Source: Netgalley, from HarperCollins UK
Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, YA, Thriller
What it's about:

Mila 2.0
In Short: I really need to stop judging books by their first few pages.
The Breakdown:
It’s not even so much that I judged the quality of the writing. I completely misjudged the genre. I ignored most of the blurb before starting the book, because I REALLY wasn’t bothered to read through ‘as she unravels the mystery surrounding her identity’ AGAIN. Which meant that I missed this: (either the basic premise of the story or the biggest spoiler you have ever seen, I don’t know – it is in the blurb) Mila is an android. Mobile Intel Lifelike Android. MILA.
So for me, not knowing the android bit, even though it’s stated plainly in the blurb, the foreshadowing and hinting at her nature was really good, and not too in-your-face either. We get clues about heightened hearing, missing memories and heightened strength, as well as the wariness of her mother, until one day she’s with two friends and something happens which removes all doubt for the reader and means Mila is forced to learn about what she’s really like – from information coldly dispensed, pre-recorded, from an iPod – in the form of a brochure, about her. And she reacts satisfyingly for once! She also experiences that peculiar sensation wherein once you discover something, everything reminds you of it and so many things are made clearer. And throughout the book, although she stubbornly refused it for a while, she begins to accept her design and eventually uses it as the advantage it is. And I loved it.
There is such a huge contrast between the first few chapters of the book and the rest, which serve nicely to illustrate how much Mila’s life has been shaken up. The first part has clichéd, but enjoyable/romantic/fluffy beginnings between she and Harper, but the rest has thrilling action scenes and drama. I’m ashamed to say that I immediately assumed it was going to be some kind of high-school romance (READ THE DAMN BLURB ROSE!), but even so, it was a good one!
Even Mila’s introspective bits, which were necessary because, did I mention, she’s just found out that she’s a freaking android, were concise and managed to fit in well with the plot of the book. Her natural, unbeknownst to her, fighting skills were VERY entertaining to read about, because who doesn’t love a well-written fight with a teenage heroine? Also, we find out that her memory loss, which she had presumed was because of trauma following the ‘death’ of her nonexistent biological father (dum de dum android), are because she really only has been alive for a few months, and she was ‘born’ sixteen.
The meeting with Mila 3.0 was one of my favourite parts. Mila 3.0  is just an updated version of Mila 2.0, the protagonist, but without – many – feelings. Mila 1.0 was destroyed because she had too many, and too many pain receptors, which caused her to fail the torture test (they’re government-created spies), thus providing a potential risk for US security. I loved this because it was a real psychological blow to Mila (2.0), teaching her that she really was just a manufactured machine. However, through the book she does change slightly, which her mother tells her is a point of hope, because if she can change and grow emotionally she is a person.
The last challenge provided to Mila by Holland (oh how I’d like to punch him) was brilliant reading. Never mind how psychologically cruel and difficult it was to Mila. She was pitted against the updated, more skilled version of herself and forced to try to win for the person who matters most in the world to her. What more could a reader ask for? I also loved this part because it reminded me of the arena in the Hunger Games, in that it was really well described and I could visualise it clearly.
There were a few parts that lowered my rating a star. The first was that her ‘mother’, who went everywhere with her and really provided little help, was SUCH  a liability! I was probably supposed to like her as a person but I was just frustrated at her because she’s just going to be an impediment to Mila’s awesome android skills sooner or later. Seriously, she is nearly destroyed/made torture/ bad things just because she insists on running back to some who she isn’t even related to. I shouldn’t be so cold-hearted maybe, but in this book I was. Having said that, there was a decently sad Prim/Dobby moment, if you know what I’m talking about, at the end. Can I just say, Prim’s death – WHY? The whole reason the story exists is because Katniss tried to save her sister! She can’t just – GAH!
Also, the way the set-up for the sequel was done wasn’t exactly inspiring.  And the ending – they just had to throw Hunter in at the end, when he’d had absolutely no involvement for half the story, didn’t they? But again, it was quite cute and the set-up did serve its purpose. I would be very gratified if there’s a Mila 2.1 also, although I doubt it. The description promises a breathtaking cliffhanger – read Catching Fire if you want to know what a cliffhanger ACTUALLY IS.
The cover very nearly put me off the book altogether because it promised clichés and shoddy writing. Please ignore that and the publisher’s description (not the blurb) altogether, they really don’t live up to it.
Overall, it was a very, very good book (debut author! Wow!), and the ‘faults’ are mainly  just my cold, picky heart talking. You can also blame the amazing book I read before this, which may have meant Mila should’ve gotten half a star higher. Anyway, I really enjoyed Mila 2.0 and highly recommend it.
There is also Origins, book #O.5, and two more to come.
I’m moving away from the science fiction with my next review, as I am currently reading a Terry Pratchett Discworld novel which I want to share my thoughts on.
And may I show off a little here? Because I really want to share this.
I’m 14, living in Ireland and I want to go to a kind of early college classes camp thing this summer which you may have heard off – CTY(I), which only accepts those who are in the top 5% in intelligence for their age group. So I did the PSAT, which is very similar to the SAT. And I got my results back the other day, and guess what!
In Writing, I scored higher than 98% of SEVENTEEN YEAR OLDS (high school juniors are generally seventeen, I think?)
In Critical Reading, I scored higher than 96% of SEVENTEEN YEAR OLDS.
In Maths I scored higher than 77% of SEVENTEEN YEAR OLDS
I think that’s pretty good for a fourteen year old! So that definitely qualifies as higher than 95% of 14-year olds in everything. And I did it without study.I’m sorry, I just had to share that news.