Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

2013 Reread #2
At first read (quite a while ago,) this book blew me away. I hadn't read very much Vonnegut at the time and had only grazed the surface of Sci-Fi Humor (which this book definitely is.)

It's amazing how perspective adds so much to how a book makes you feel. This time around, knowing the big reveal, I kept expecting the entire book to be just as exciting as the last few chapters, but truthfully, it was a little slow. I can't remember what I thought about Malachi Constant, our "hero," initially, but this time around I really didn't feel anything for him at all. Having read so much Vonnegut now, ti was easier to see how rough his style was here in his first book. And, while I still absolutely love the story, it didn't blow me away like it did before.

I feel like I took something totally different away from Sirens at this read than I did initially. At first read, this book was about the meaning of life and how disappointing and humorous humanity's "actual" purpose was. I loved the f-you to the scientific community about life on earth and evolution. This time around, the book was about emotion - how living without it makes you do stupid things, like invade Earth, and living with too much can make you a crazy zealot. Emotion is even powerful enough to force a robot to dismantle himself. In this way, the big reveal for me wasn't about the meaning of life, but rather the revelation of where to reside on the scale of emotional involvement. Malachi sums it up perfectly in the book, "a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved."

Vonnegut's humor was still delightful with this reread. I love how he plays with reality. I'm still definitely a Vonnegut fan and I still believe that Sirens of Titan is a wonderfully entertaining book, but I'm not sure it's my favorite anymore. I might have to reread Galapagos to see if that's worthy of the #1 spot.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Reached by Ally Condie

Overall, this was a really unique conclusion for a dystopian YA series. Rather than have her heroine overcome some huge obstacle to discover the worldly corruption being hidden from society, Condie lets Cassia learn a simple, universal, life lesson. Of course, it's brought to her as society crumbles under a deadly plague that the Rising is trying to cure. Basically, there's no loss of action or urgency even with a more ambiguous ending.

This third book finally presents a scenario where Cassia, Ky, and Xander can be with each other. They've intertwined as a functioning love triangle where their friendships with each other overshadow the awkwardness of mismatched love. They come together to literally save the world. A plague everyone thought was under control has mutated and a cure must be found. Cassia, the sorter, can calculate outcomes with data. She can see how long before the mutated plague does significant damage. She can guess at potential cures through a subset of the community that is immune. Xander, the medic, can build and administer a cure once its compounds are known. Ky, unfortunately, serves as the test subject in this struggle. He eventually falls ill to the plague. Each of the characters though are integral to the process, not only for the job they take on but for the emotional motivation they provide for each other. Solving this puzzle is personal.

These books read really fast. Condie doles out new bits to the plot at just the right face to fully engage the reader, and her unique angle to dystopia keeps it interesting. I really appreciated that through all the action, the three main characters still remain anonymous to the larger community. They don't become emblems of salvation for either side in this battle, they just work at what they do best to save the world so everyone can then work to bring the community back together in the right way (the way that works best for everyone.) The big win here is that each individual gets back the right to choose - a worth cause to fight for in any instance.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Persuasion by Jane Austen

2013 Reread #1

This book is still, without a doubt, my favorite Jane Austen book and one of my Top 5 of All Time. There's not a single character I don't like, which is saying a lot for Austen who's sometimes overly-girlish, naive female leads drive me crazy (see Mansfield Park or Emma.)

Anne Elliot, our lead in Persuasion, is a mature, intelligent woman who has grown up to realize they importance of following your heart regardless of the opinions of those around you. She learns this lesson just in time to have her happy ending. It also gives her the ability to look outside societal title and rank to appreciate the happy endings for those around her. She's an amazing character, full of so much emotion for other despite the lack of regard shown to her by her father and oldest sister. Living a relatively comfortable life, it is the lack of regard for her needs that's her unique obstacle. Austen typically focuses on rank and obstacles society places in the way of happiness more centrally than she does here.

Persuasion also boasts a male lead who's not stiff and inaccessible (see Pride and Prejudice.) Captain Wentworth doesn't hide his emotional side, going so far as to drop hints to Anne of how he feels about her during public conversations. He even writes her a very personal letter while in a room full of people passion so overcomes him. While not an "open book," Wentworth is still more multi-dimensional than Austen typically allowed her male characters to be.

This was the last book Austen wrote before her death and it's very apparent how much she matured as a writer throughout her career when pitting it against any of her other works. There's nothing frivolous in Persuasion; every character, every event contributes to the story in such a perfect way that you can't help but love every page. It has been a little over a decade since I last read Persuasion and it's great to know it's still as wonderful as I've always remembered it. I know it's hard to purposefully pick up 19th Century literature, but if you ever feel the urge, make this your first choice.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

This second book is Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series is no less exciting than the first. It's a little more mystical than Lightning Thief but the basic plot is the same - there's trouble among the gods and kids from Camp Half-Blood must go on a quest to save the day.

More characters come into play this time around and we start to get to know more campers. The gods are more prevalent as well even without playing directly into the action. They're really still only big behind the scenes. The same evil is being fought as Luke assists Kronos who's literally trying to pull himself together to destroy Olympus, but nothing is as obvious as it seems. Motive is always a little sneaky when working with the gods and what might feel like a win to Percy and his friends initially might not actually turn out for the best. 

The primary impetus for this book's quest is the attack of Camp Half-Blood. Protective spells keeping the camp safe have been weakened enough that monsters are getting in to wreak havoc. Thalia's tree has been poisoned and is slowly dying along with the spirit of Zeus' daughter. The only thing that can save both the tree and the camp is the Golden Fleece. By chance (and I feel like that should really be in air quotes) this long-lost item is discovered by Grover, the satyr, who comes upon the fleece on a cyclope's island during his own quest to find Pan. All these pieces come together and the quest to bring back the fleece and save Grover begins.

With a lot of missteps and near-death run-ins on the way, our adventurers, Percy and Annabeth, strike out with new allies: Tyson, a young cyclopes who's also a son of Poseidon and eventually Clarisse, a slightly dense demigod of Ares' making. It's another exciting adventure written in a way that makes you truly believe the unbelievable. It's really hard to put the book down.

Two books into the series (of 5 I believe) and I'm really enjoying Percy Jackson's adventure. With a prophecy now revealed, we know this all leading up to some big climax to take place when Percy turns 16 and I"m really looking forward to the big reveal.