Review of The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (1969)

Bottom line: Meh.

Rating: Recommended if: you’re doing a tour of classic sci fi authors.

Blurb:

When the human ambassador Genly Ai is sent to Gethen, the planet known as Winter by those outsiders who have experienced its arctic climate, he thinks that his mission will be a standard one of making peace between warring factions. Instead the ambassador finds himself wildly unprepared. For Gethen is inhabited by a society with a rich, ancient culture full of strange beauty and deadly intrigue—a society of people who are both male and female in one, and neither. This lack of fixed gender, and the resulting lack of gender-based discrimination, is the very cornerstone of Gethen life. But Genly is all too human. Unless he can overcome his ingrained prejudices about the significance of “male” and “female,” he may destroy both his mission and himself.

Review:

I was really excited to read this book, as I’ve heard really great things of Le Guin, the book is generally really highly reviewed, and it won a Hugo AND a Nebula award. I ended up being really disappointed. I think overall, if I hadn’t had such high expectations, I might have enjoyed it more than I did, but not by much.

Basically, the entire book was a heav-handed exploration of the question “what would society be like if there were no gender?” The world she created was quite interesting, and the basic conflict set up was how cultural differences impact communication, which is something I’ve always found fascinating. Even the action/survival part of the story – once we finally got there – was enjoyable. However, everything came back to how sex works in this society, and its impact on the culture.

It’s a book that’s supposed to make you stop and think about gender and sexuality in our own society, but being a naturally stubborn person, the more you hit me over the head with something, the less likely I am to want to acquiesce. I think this book would have been much more impactful, to me at least, if the themes were more subtly woven through the story. I wanted the world and the two different cultures we met with to be more fleshed out. I wanted to get a better view of the relationships between the main characters. I wanted the action to be better paced (instead of people sitting around talking or walking through the snow for half of the book, then suddenly a bomb goes off and Stuff Starts To Happen).

There was so much going for this book that I wanted to like, but for me it just never managed to come together. I felt like it was trying too hard to be Intellectual. Obviously, millions of people (including the voters of the Hugo and Nebula panels) disagree with me. It was a book I felt to be worth the read, especially if you’re interested in exploring some of the early-contemporary sci fi authors, but it wasn’t a book that I could ever get totally immersed in, or couldn’t wait to pick up again when I put it down.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Review of C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy

Review:

C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strengthh) is the most disjointed trilogy I have ever read. That’s not to say it isn’t worth reading, or even good, but it feels more like a very loosely related collection of books than a trilogy. What makes it feel so disjointed is the tone, rather than any major plot or character devices. To me, Out of the Silent Planet feels like Lewis is exploring the idea of what life on another planet might look like. Perelandra takes that concept and builds upon a Christianity-compatible philosophic framework introduced at the end of Out of the Silent Planet. That Hideous Strength is, quite frankly, very weird. It seems to be the next step in Lewis’s thinking about philosophy, and planets, and angels and demons, but with more science AND more fantasy thrown in.

I’m still recommending these books, as they are such classic science fiction reads, and I found the first two enjoyable. I didn’t necessarily “enjoy” the last book, but I’m still glad I finished the trilogy. Lewis is, as always, a very skilled writer, and it’s incredibly interesting to get a glimpse into the way his mind worked as his characters interact with each other and explore other planets and our own.

Hard-core Tolkien fans will enjoy glimpses of his influence in this work, both in the languages and some of the names, and the character of Ransom, who was modeled after Tolkien. There are also a couple of references to Numenor.

Get it: Amazon (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength), Barnes & Noble (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength),

Blurbs:

Out of the Silent Planet

Out of the Silent Planet is the first novel in C. S. Lewis’s classic science fiction trilogy. It tells the adventure of Dr. Ransom, a Cambridge academic, who is abducted and taken on a spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra, which he knows as Mars. His captors are plotting to plunder the planet’s treasures and plan to offer Ransom as a sacrifice to the creatures who live there. Ransom discovers he has come from the “silent planet”—Earth—whose tragic story is known throughout the universe!

Perelandra

Perelandra, the second novel in Lewis’s science fiction trilogy, tells of Dr. Ransom’s voyage to the paradise planet of Perelandra, or Venus, which turns out to be a beautiful Eden-like world. He is horrified to find that his old enemy, Dr. Weston, has also arrived and is putting him in grave peril once more. As the mad Weston’s body is taken over by the forces of evil, Ransom engages in a desperate struggle to save the innocence of Perelandra!

That Hideous Strength

That Hideous Strength is the third novel in Lewis’s science fiction trilogy. Set on Earth, it tells of a terrifying conspiracy against humanity. The story surrounds Mark and Jane Studdock, a newly married couple. Mark is a sociologist who is enticed to join an organization called N.I.C.E., which aims to control all human life. Jane, meanwhile, has bizarre prophetic dreams about a decapitated scientist, Alcasan. As Mark is drawn inextricably into the sinister organization, he discovers the truth of his wife’s dreams when he meets the literal head of Alcasan, which is being kept alive by infusions of blood. Jane seeks help concerning her dreams at a community called St. Anne’s, where she meets their leader—Dr. Ransom. The story ends in a final spectacular scene at the N.I.C.E. headquarters where Merlin appears to confront the powers of Hell.

What did you think?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Review of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Bottom line: It’s a deeply beloved classic for a reason. Read it!

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Review:

There are many types of nerds/geeks (also, I prefer the term nerd to geek, but that’s a topic for another post) out there in society – Dr. Who nerds, Star Trek nerds, Star Wars nerds, and so on. While there are many different ways that I am nerdy, I am a Lord of the Rings nerd through and through. Yes, it’s a billion pages long. Yes, there aren’t any female main characters. Yes, there are some plot points that rely too heavily on eucatastrophe (a word he coined). But it is SO good! Tolkien created a masterpiece of storytelling and world-building, an epic tale of how one small (literally) person can save the world (um – spoiler alert?). He certainly gets points for thoroughness, creating a complex history and mythology of his world, and at least one complete language. The Lord of the Rings was conceived as a sequel to The Hobbit, though that is a children’s book and this is certainly not – at least in terms of length, prose, and themes.

My favorite characters are Eowyn and Faramir, the former being one of the few women in the saga – and a pretty awesome one at that. Faramir is an overlooked son of a noble, and is strong in actions and character. In my opinion, both of these characters are pretty underrated, so when you read it, keep an eye out for them.

I recognize that this may not be everyone’s cup of tea – it is certainly an epic high fantasy quest, which means that the good guys have to get from point A to point B to complete a task while using magic, sword fighting, their wits, and help from strange creatures along the way to defeat the unspeakably evil bad guys and save the world – but it is worth reading, at least once (I reread it maybe every three years or so. In fact, writing this post has made me realize I’m due for another reread.) Though the setting is fantasy, the themes are incredibly relatable – friendship, betrayal, loss, good vs. evil, family, love, pity, and many more. If you aren’t really “that type of person” and only read one epic fantasy in your life, read this one. You won’t regret it! Also, I urge you to read it as a paperback, the experience is just so much better.

Books in order:

The Fellowship of the Rings (1954)Amazon, Barnes & Noble

The Two Towers (1954)Amazon, Barnes & Noble

The Return of the King (1955)Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Side notes:

Though there are some hard things in it, there isn’t graphic violence, no sex, and the language is clean. You could share this with your kids as soon as they’re old enough to not be overwhelmed by the sheer length of it (there are some deaths of fairly major characters).

There were movie adaptations of the trilogy released in 2001, 2002, and 2003. On the whole I thought they were very well done. They (well, Peter Jackson) did manage to ruin Faramir almost completely, but other than that the quality was consistently high throughout the 10 hours or so of movies.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

What did you think? Did you like the series?

(P.S., if you have already read the LOTR and want to show your pride, you can always check out ThinkGeek. They have LOTR LEGOS, people! Also furry hobbit slippers. )

(P.P.S., After you’ve read the books and watched the movies, then you have my permission to watch How it Should Have Ended. Also, the Honest Trailers is pretty funny, but it’s very graphic (there is a montage of one of the characters dying in really gruesome ways in other movies), so it doesn’t get the Lector’s Books thumbs up.)

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.

Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox–the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.

Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? Why do we spend so much time between wearing digital watches? For all the answers stick your thumb to the stars. And don’t forget to bring a towel!

Review:

This originally started as a radio drama on BBC Radio, and has been adapted to novels, and a not bad movie. Please, please, PLEASE, do yourself a favor and listen to the radio drama. It is perfect for long road trips. Although comedy is a matter of taste, this is one of the funniest things out there. You need to appreciate science fiction, and dry sense of humor, but it is so funny. I re-listened to it a few weeks ago (I generally don’t review things unless I’ve read/watched/listened to them within the last month or maybe two), trying to find the best lines to quote. I gave up about five minutes in because there are so many good ones. If you are involved in nerd culture at all, this is the source of many of the seemingly random jokes out there: 42 (the answer to the ultimate question of the universe), Don’t Panic (in large, friendly letters), and Don’t Forget Your Towel (or Towel Day, see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Towel_Day).

My favorite part of the loose story arc is the beginning up through their meal at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. The story does occasionally get a bit tedious in places, but the comedy moments are a great pay off for the weaker moments. This is full of incredibly random non sequiturs, strange ideas that seemed to have popped into Adams’ head and lead you on to interesting rabbit tracks around the vast reaches of space. If I haven’t convinced you to try it, I’ll leave you with what, after much internal wrestling, I think might be my favorite part. Or at least one of my favorite parts.

“Come now, or you will be late.”

“Late? What for?”

“What is your name, human?”

“Dent. Arthur Dent.”

“Late, as in the late Dentarthurdent. It’s a sort of threat, you see. I’ve never been very good at them myself but I’m told they can be terribly effective.”

Get the radio drama! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Get the first book! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Get the movie! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Review of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985) (The Ender Quintet)

Bottom line: A compelling character and suspenseful story combine to create an engrossing read.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.

Review:

I’ve been wanting to reread this book ever since I saw they were coming out with a movie version, due to be released November 2013. They have some pretty big names in the movie, so I just hope they don’t mess it up too badly (this is my prevailing attitude towards book-to-film adaptations).

This is one of those books that I was able to completely lose myself in. I felt so connected to the main character that as events unfolded, I responded to them from his point of view. After I had finished, I realized that some of these plot points didn’t make much sense, but while in the moment, I hadn’t noticed. This is such a well told story that whether or not it is plausible hardly seems to matter.

Ender’s Game seems to have a polarizing effect on readers. Many people love it, but there is a very strong minority that hate it just as passionately. Arguments against it I saw ranged from the political messages, to the justification of violence, to whether or not child geniuses would really act like that.  As much as I love to analyze things to death (and believe me, I do), this story was, to me, just a story. Maybe it’s that I read it when I was much younger, but I don’t feel the need to delve deeply into themes and messages and plausibility. It’s a story, I enjoyed it, and if you think the blurb looks interesting, you should give it a try, too. Sometimes, that’s all you need to say.

Side Notes: This is the first in the Ender Series, I haven’t read any of the others, though I plan to at some point. I debated making this a Family Fridays post, but it’s not really a “children’s” book. I would guess it’s aimed at preteens on up.

Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

What did you think? Did you like the book? How old were you when you read it?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of “Nineteen Eighty Four” or “1984” by George Orwell (1949)

Bottom line: Definitely worth a read, as it explores timeless topics such as power, inequality, and control.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

1984 has come and gone, but George Orwell’s prophetic, nightmarish vision in 1948 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. 1984 is still the great modern classic of “Negative Utopia” – a startlingly original and haunting novel that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words. No one can deny this novel’s power, its hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions – a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.

Review:

There are few things in life that make my little heart happier than a well-stocked and well organized bookcase. We moved months ago, but it was only last week that I unpacked the final book box. My husband had put most of the books on the shelf, but he’s not as neurotic organized as I am, and had just put books up there in no order at all. I went through and implemented my usual system as I unpacked the last books: books sorted by genre, then alphabetical by author. Ah, bliss! Anyways, as I was sorting, I came across 1984 and realized I was due for a reread.

I have fewer books than you might imagine, since I cull ruthlessly at least once a year. 1984 is one that I’ve had since high school, and it continues to survive my annual purges. I honestly don’t know what it is I like about the book so much. It’s not an easy read, nor a fun one, and it’s almost uniformly depressing. However, it is extremely interesting and compelling. The word used in the blurb on the back of my edition is “haunting” and I think that pretty much sums it up – it gets under my skin, and different scenes will randomly pop into my brain for days after I reread it.

1984 is about power: who gets it, how, and what they do when they get it. I did the math and was startled to realize that it was written 65 years ago – it is just as relevant today as it was then. The political and socioeconomic themes are explored through Winston and his struggle against Big Brother and the Party. It can be a bit dry in a few places, but Winston humanizes the more abstract themes and is a very relatable character. It is a very worthwhile read and rich with layered meanings. If you somehow managed to avoid this book during your years in school, do yourself a favor and read it today. If you read it in school and hated it, give it another try. In short – go read this book! If you don’t want to buy it, there is a very high likelihood that your neighborhood library will have it.

Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey (or The Hobbit: Part 1/3)

Bottom line: A fun movie set in Tolkien’s world, though not a strict adaptation from the book.

Rating: Recommended

Review:

When The Hobbit came out, I never got around to seeing it in theaters, being 8 1/2 months pregnant at the time and then otherwise occupied. So I finally saw it when it became available for rent last week. I am a huge Lord of the Rings nerd and really liked Peter Jackson’s adaptation of them into the movies, so I had high hopes for The Hobbit trilogy. I knew they would have to change more of the Hobbit because it is definitely a children’s story, and doesn’t have a lot of actual action. Also, the hero, Bilbo, doesn’t have many heroic deeds.

The Hobbit is a good movie. I wouldn’t say it’s a great adaptation – I was able to enjoy it more once I started thinking of it as an homage to the characters, world and general idea of The Hobbit. They added a lot of material and gave Bilbo some more courageous feats, which you kind of have to do. One thing that I really liked about the movie was that they incorporated several of the songs that are in the book, and were able to do so without making it seem Disney-ish. The beginning dinner party scene with the dwarves was hilarious and very well done. It’s been several days since I’ve seen it, and I’m still not sure whether or not I liked Martin Freeman as Bilbo. On the one hand, I thought he was very well suited to the character, but on the other, there are several distinct mannerisms he has that made me feel like I was looking at Tim from the British The Office, or Arthur from Hitchiker’s, or even Watson from Sherlock, dressed up as a hobbit and dropped in to Middle Earth. I found that to be distracting and kept taking me outside the movie.

All in all, I enjoyed it. I’m going to have to rewatch it now that I know what to expect. I’ll definitely try to get to the other movies in theaters and am looking forward to those coming out.

Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Did you see it? What did you think? Did you like it more or less than the Lord of the Rings movies?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

My Favorite Ray Bradbury Books

I found out today that Ray Bradbury died yesterday (June 5, 2012) at age 91 – not bad! He wrote one of my favorite books (Fahrenheit 451), so I wanted to give a brief tribute here. What better way to remember him than by reading some of his works? Here are some of my favorites:

Fahrenheit 451 (1953) Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.

Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television “family.” But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear, and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.

Dandelion Wine (1957) Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

Ray Bradbury’s moving recollection of a vanished golden era remains one of his most enchanting novels. Dandelion Wine stands out in the Bradbury literary canon as the author’s most deeply personal work, a semi-autobiographical recollection of a magical small-town summer in 1928.

Twelve-year-old Douglas Spaulding knows Green Town, Illinois, is as vast and deep as the whole wide world that lies beyond the city limits. It is a pair of brand-new tennis shoes, the first harvest of dandelions for Grandfather’s renowned intoxicant, the distant clang of the trolley’s bell on a hazy afternoon. It is yesteryear and tomorrow blended into an unforgettable always. But as young Douglas is about to discover, summer can be more than the repetition of established rituals whose mystical power holds time at bay. It can be a best friend moving away, a human time machine who can transport you back to the Civil War, or a sideshow automaton able to glimpse the bittersweet future.

The next two are still very good, but much darker in tone.

The Illustrated Man (1951)  – Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

You could hear the voices murmuring, small and muted, from the crowds that inhabited his body.

A peerless American storyteller, Ray Bradbury brings wonders alive. The Illustrated Man is classic Bradbury— eighteen startling visions of humankind’s destiny, unfolding across a canvas of decorated skin. In this phantasmagoric sideshow, living cities take their vengeance, technology awakens the most primal natural instincts, Martian invasions are foiled by the good life and the glad hand, and dreams are carried aloft in junkyard rockets. Provocative and powerful, Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man is a kaleidoscopic blending of magic, imagination, and truth—as exhilarating as interplanetary travel, as maddening as a walk in a million-year rain, and as comforting as simple, familiar rituals on the last night of the world.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962)Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

The carnival rolls in sometime after midnight, ushering in Halloween a week early. The shrill siren song of a calliope beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two boys will discover the secret of its smoke, mazes, and mirrors; two friends who will soon know all to well the heavy cost of wishes… and the stuff of nightmare.

What are your favorite Ray Bradbury reads?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Five Free Classic Sci Fi/Fantasy E-Books for Kindle and Free Kindle Reader Apps

Here are five free classic sci fi / fantasy e-books to get you through the weekend. The links are to the Amazon Kindle site (these weren’t all free on Barnes & Noble). If you don’t have a Kindle, I strongly recommend downloading the free Kindle reader app. I’ve used it on a PC and found it surprisingly non-annoying and easy to install (trust me – if I could figure it out, YOU can certainly figure it out). With so many great books for free in the Kindle format, there’s no downside to getting the free reader.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869) – Jules Verne

  •  I’m not typically a huge Verne fan, but this was an interesting read. The ending leaves a lot of questions unanswered, but it’s a fun ride. I want a giant, almost self-sustaining submarine!

Dracula (1897) – Bram Stoker

  •  In the beginning, I thought this story was really boring, and was thinking about not finishing it. Then it started to get deliciously creepy and I was hooked.

The War of the Worlds (1898)– H.G. Wells

  • What would you do if the Martians invaded and waged war on your home? This is probably my favorite book of the era.

I’m a little ashamed to say I’ve never read Frankenstein or Jekyll and Hyde. They’re both on my “Must Read Soon” list. Just below my stack of library books (yes, people still go to libraries). And the first three Game of Thrones books I was lent. Ok, so it might be a while. Let me know what I’m missing!

Frankenstein (1818) – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) – Robert Louis Stevenson

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.