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Worlds Without End Blog

New John Carter Trailer! Posted at 8:39 PM by Dave Post

Dave Post

Now this looks epic! Much more information than in the first trailer and a ton of decent looking special effects including a good look at Woola. He’s a little too cute but not bad for Disney. The Tharks feature heavily in this trailer and they look alternatingly good and bad throughout. What I’d like to see is more of the white ape. He’s freakin’ huge!

Overall I like the new trailer though I’m a little concerned about the special effects. I’m sure this is not the final version and knowing they have until March to put on whatever finishing touches are left makes me feel a bit more optimistic.

What do you think of the new trailer? How about Woola?

YA Genre Fiction Month: End of Month Wrap-Up Posted at 6:07 AM by Jonathan McDonald

jynnantonnyx

YA Genre Fiction Month

“If you go back even 15 years there was definitely a tendency at that point to go from kids’ books to adult books. The idea that people would be writing books aimed primarily at a teen audience is really cool and really new, and the idea of YA books being genre books is, again, cool and new.” –Neil Gaiman (from the Spinoff Online blog)

The young adult literature movement is a newcomer in the history of literature, and only time will tell if it is one that will remain a permanent fixture into the future. While its popularity is certainly on the rise, as the shelf-space allotment in any bookstore will prove, is YA a movement with legs or is it just a fad? Even Wikipedia can’t solidly trace its history earlier than the twentieth century.

I expect that the popularity of art aimed at young adults depends a great deal on how much the adolescent generation identifies itself with older generations, how strongly it either looks forward to assimilation into the world of adulthood or else seeks to form its own separate identity. Our time seems to be clearly one where the young desires separation more than assimilation, today as much as the revolutionary sixties. They want their own music, their own television programs, and their own fiction.

As with any youth-driven movement, YA fiction is full of energy, expectation and anxiety: Ender’s Game exposes the often confusing and unfair relationship between children and adults, The Hobbit encourages even “little people” to be open to the call to adventure, and Harry Potter is a study of what happens to children of whom much is expected but who receive far too little support from their elders. Much of YA fiction is straight-up adventure fiction written at the appropriate age-level, often enough with adult protagonists. It’s becoming more popular, however, to populate YA books with young adult characters—an inevitable evolution, I suppose. The fictional dream becomes stronger the more the reader is able to identify with its characters. The books nominated in the Locus YA Award bear out this observation, and that list contrasts quite sharply with David Brin’s list of books with mostly-adult protagonists.

What does the future hold for the young adult literature movement? The almost absurd popularity of book series like Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games ensures, at the very least, a continued exploitation of this market until trends move in some other direction. The existence of a YA market, though, is not (I think) as stable or certain as the children’s and adult markets. I expect it to remain popular for decades to come, but only time will tell.

 

 

YA Genre Fiction Month: Goliath Posted at 1:31 AM by Allie McCarn

allie

YA Genre Fiction Month

Guest Blogger, Allie McCarn, reviews science fiction and fantasy books on her blog Tethyan Books which we featured in a previous post: Five SF/F Book Blogs Worth Reading. She has already contributed many great book reviews to WWEnd and has generously volunteered to write some periodic reviews for our blog. Be sure to check out her site and let her know you found her here.


GoliathGoliath by Scott Westerfeld
Published: Simon Pulse, 2011
Series: Leviathan Series: Book 3

**Spoiler Alert: I’ve been trying to keep clear of spoiling plot points, but, given that this novel has only been out for a couple of months, it might be a good idea to stop here if you don’t want to be spoiled.

The Book:

"Alek and Deryn may have helped resolve the situation with the Ottoman Empire, but World War I is still escalating. Alek is determined that it is his destiny to end the war, since it was his parents’ deaths started it. However, he’s stuck aboard the Leviathan, which is heading further and further from the heart of the conflict, for reasons no one seems inclined to explain to him.

Deryn’s secret—that she is a woman—is getting harder to keep, particularly now that she has fallen in love with her best friend Alek. She feels certain they could never be together, since he’s the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and she’s a cross-dressing soldier. What she doesn’t know is how Alek will react if he ever learns the truth.

As the course of the Leviathan is diverted through Siberia, Japan, Mexico, and finally to New York City, Deryn and Alek will encounter new dangers, new people, and new hopes for an end to the war!” ~Allie

This is my final review for WWend’s YA Genre Fiction Month. Once again, Goliath picks up right where Behemoth left off, and the first two novels are necessary reading before picking this one up. In most series, I can pick out the stronger and weaker installments, but the novels in the Leviathan trilogy are of remarkably consistent quality. Westerfeld has crafted an even, continuously exciting trilogy that has now come to a very satisfying conclusion.

My Thoughts:

As in the case of the previous two volumes, Goliath is packed with many of Keith Thompson’s wonderful illustrations like the header image above. These are particularly good for showing off the many creative steam-powered machines and fabricated animals that Deryn and Alek encounter on their travels. This time around, the Leviathan airship journeys through many exotic locations, though none of them are nearly as fleshed out as Westerfeld’s Istanbul. While there’s still plenty of action, this is more of a character-oriented book than the previous two. It feels as though it is more focused on Alek and Deryn’s personal stories, though they are still caught up in dramatic historical events.

Aside from the continuing cast aboard the Leviathan, a handful of characters from earlier in the story also make appearances in Goliath. The ‘perspicacious lorises’ from Behemoth are still around, and I feel like I can comment on their role in the story now. While the lorises are quite adorable, in pictures and in actions, they seem to exist solely to point out important clues to the characters (and readers). Considering they were Dr. Barlow’s life work, I had hoped that there would be something more to them. The size of the novel’s cast also swells from the addition of many new characters, some of which are based on historical figures. Though it’s neat to see fictional representations of well-known people from history, I was a little concerned by the strong negative characterization of a certain famously eccentric scientist. I hope that younger readers will understand that while these characters are based on real people, a fair amount of artistic liberty is taken in their portrayal.

I think Goliath handles the budding romance between Deryn and Alek much more skillfully than the previous volume. The original ‘falling in love’ of Deryn seemed abrupt, but the development of their relationship seemed much more natural in Goliath. Deryn’s constant angsting about her and Alek’s relative social status got a little old, but I can’t claim that her obsessing isn’t realistic for someone caught in the grips of first love. I think the story involving Deryn’s secret gender stretched credulity a bit, but I was mostly willing to just go along with the ride. While their romance took a much larger role in this novel, there’s still quite a bit more to the story. Throughout their adventures, I enjoyed watching Alek and Deryn try to make sense of the chaotic world and their places in it.

I’m not aware of any way of connecting Thomas Hobbes to the title Goliath, so I’m going a little further back in time with this title. The obvious reference is to the biblical story of David and Goliath. However, I think Goliath has more to say than the usual statements about a small hero defeating a giant enemy through faith and intelligence. I think Goliath was intended to provoke discussions about morality of the David/Goliath situation. If it will end a war, is it moral to kill someone, as David did Goliath? If by violence, or threat of violence, you can protect the people you love and bring about peace, does that make your actions acceptable? Westerfeld does not provide a simple answer, but these are interesting questions to discuss against the events of Goliath.

My Rating: 4/5:

Goliath is consistent with the high level of quality I have come to expect from Scott Westerfeld’s young adult novels. Deryn and Alek continue their adventures on the Leviathan, traveling to new and exciting locations. Many characters, new and old, show up along the way, and some of them are based on actual people. Goliath deals both with the small-scale story of Deryn and Alek’s personal troubles and secrets, and the large-scale story of attempting to end World War I. I was pleased that Westerfeld did not choose, in the end, to give his readers an unrealistically happy ending. Overall, I think this was a highly satisfying conclusion to the Leviathan trilogy.

Philip K. Dickathon: The Game-Players of Titan Posted at 7:28 AM by Charles Dee Mitchell

charlesdee

Guest Blogger and WWEnd Member, Charles Dee Mitchell, has contributed a great many book reviews to WWEnd and we’ve invited him to contribute to our blog. This is the latest in Dee’s series of Philip K. Dick reviews that he started on his blog www.potatoweather.blogspot.com. We’ll be posting one every week until he runs out of reviews or gets tired of Philip K. Dick books.


"Anyhow, Pete Garden, you were psychotic and drunk and on amphetamines and hallucinating, but basically you perceived the reality that confronts us…"

Philip K. Dick must have dreamed that any one of his five wives or several girlfriends would one day sit across the breakfast table and speak those words to him. I don’t know that he was ever psychotic, that term was tossed around differently in the 1960′s than it would be today. But drunk and on amphetamines? Yes. Hallucinating? During the time he was writing this novel PKD walked daily from his home to his "writing shack" about a mile down the road. In the blue, Northern California sky, he saw a gigantic malevolent face. "It was immense, it filled like a quarter of the sky. It had empty slots for eyes — it was metal and cruel and, worst of all, it was God." An Episcopal priest PKD consulted suggested it was a vision of Satan. Whatever the case, it didn’t go away for days. So, I think that is another "yes" for hallucinating.

In The Game-Players of Titan, earth has been dealt a double blow. As per usual with Dick, there has been an atomic war, this one started by the Red Chinese using a new weapon developed in East Germany. (Nice period details, there.) The radiation released by the new weapon sterilizes the populations it is directed against, but wind currents being what they are, the Red Chinese have inadvertently almost completely sterilized the human race. To add insult to injury, beings from Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, have invaded and conquered earth. They are the Vugs, oversized amoebas that sound a bit like Al Capp’s Shmoo. Humans find them irritating and keep Vug sticks on hand for pushing them out of rooms. But the Vugs are, in their way, benevolent landlords. Longevity drugs allow humans to live into their hundreds while never looking much over 30 or 40 years of age. With earth’s population in the low millions, lucky humans are Bindmen, property owners whose properties include towns, cities, and vast swathes of the depopulated planet. If you are a Bindman you must also play the Titans’ game.

The Titans’ game seems like nothing more than a rudimentary board game, a simplified form of Monopoly but with all your landholdings at stake. Peter Garden’s loss of Berkeley in the first chapter of the book sets in motion events that will involve murder, interplanetary travel, telekinesis, ESP, and large quantities of alcohol and amphetamines.

Along with Berkeley, Garden loses his current wife, but acquires a new one that same night. Another purpose of the game is to keep reshuffling human couples in hopes of finding those who can still "get lucky," the current term for becoming pregnant. Garden’s spectacular bender that takes up much of the book occurs when he discovers that with his new wife he has gotten lucky for the first time and on their first night. He ingests every pill in the house and starts hitting the bars. What he discovers are conspiracies within conspiracies, Vug infiltration of his closest friends, and a offer to play the ultimate game to decide the fate of the earth.

The Game-Players of Titan is PKD really hitting his stride. It is a masterpiece of paranoia, where no one can be trusted to be who they claim to be, where rules are made to be broken, and the protagonist must bluff his way through a game that he knows is a deadly sham. And how do you go about bluffing if half the people in the room can read your mind? The fact that PKD works out a method implies that he had spent far too much energy in his personal life dealing with just barely more earthbound versions of these same issues. And remember that every morning, on his walk to his typewriter, he must endure the glaring, empty eyes of a malevolent god.

YA Genre Fiction Month: Foundation Posted at 5:47 AM by Jonathan McDonald

jynnantonnyx

YA Genre Fiction Month

“There were nearly twenty-five million inhabited planets in the Galaxy then, and not one but owed allegiance to the Empire whose seat was on Trantor. It was the last half-century in which that could be said.”

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series is magnificently ambitious, inspired as it was by Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but painted on a galactic canvas. After twelve thousand years in the stars, the human Galactic Empire is on the decline, and the psychohistorian Hari Seldon may be the only person who can prevent tens of thousands of years of barbarism and social decay. What’s psychohistory, you ask? It’s a science that Asimov invented solely for use in this series, one that merges psychology, history and mathematics to predict human behavior on a large scale over long periods of time.

Seldon paints a bleak picture of the coming imperial collapse: “The Empire will vanish and all its good with it. Its accumulated knowledge will decay and the order it has imposed will vanish. Interstellar wars will be endless; interstellar trade will decay; population will decline; worlds will lose touch with the main body of the Galaxy. And so matters will remain…. The dark ages to come will endure not twelve, but thirty thousand years.” This collapse, Seldon says, cannot be prevented, but its effects can be minimized and its length shortened to a mere one thousand years.

His solution is to set up two Foundations, colonies where the collected knowledge and science of mankind is preserved and protected, one on each end of the galaxy. The Foundation established on the planet Terminus is the one followed by the narrative, and it has no contact with the other. Every few decades a “Seldon Crisis”—an event of massive social upheaval—occurs in a way predicted by Seldon, and Terminus acts how Seldon needed them to act in order to maintain his plan.

One of the most difficult subjects for me as a young adult was history, particularly because it was so hard to find meaningful patterns in the larger scope of world events. It’s not hard to poke holes in Gibbon’s theories of history, but he certainly provided a rousing narrative that made sense of many historical data. Asimov likewise provides a narrative spanning centuries (actually, twenty thousand years if you include the entire expanded series), and while his ideas of how historical movements occur are perhaps a bit on the naïve side, they are full of enough imagination to make even the most skeptical student believe that history might not be so boring after all.

YA Genre Fiction Month: Behemoth Posted at 10:52 PM by Allie McCarn

allie

YA Genre Fiction Month

Guest Blogger, Allie McCarn, reviews science fiction and fantasy books on her blog Tethyan Books which we featured in a previous post: Five SF/F Book Blogs Worth Reading. She has already contributed many great book reviews to WWEnd and has generously volunteered to write some periodic reviews for our blog. Be sure to check out her site and let her know you found her here.


BehemothBehemoth by Scott Westerfeld
Published: Simon Pulse, 2010
Series: Leviathan Series: Book 2
Award Nominations: Locus Young Adult Award 2011

The Book:

"It is near the beginning of World War I, and the situation in Europe is spiraling out of control. After the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, battle lines have been drawn between ‘Clanker’ powers—whose technology involves mostly heavy machinery—and the ‘Darwinists’—who rely on fabricated animals. A wild card in this scenario is the Ottoman Empire, which is currently maintaining fragile neutrality. After Churchill ‘borrows’ a warship bought by the Ottomans, diplomatic relations between the Ottomans and the Darwinists begin to worsen.

It is into this situation that the Darwinist Leviathan airship soars, carrying with it the adventurous midshipman ‘Dylan’ Sharp and the fugitive Clanker aristocrat Aleksandar. Dylan and Alek have forged a close friendship, though they both hold secrets. Alek may be the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and ‘Dylan’ is actually Deryn, a young woman who has joined the military in disguise. They’re going to have to work together to navigate the dangerous cultural and political tangle of the Ottoman capital of Istanbul!” ~Allie

This is the second of my reviews for WWEnd’s YA Genre Fiction Month. (See my review for Leviathan here.) Behemoth picks up right where Leviathan left off, so it’s absolutely necessary to read the series in order. Thus far, I have been happy with the way each novel concludes its individual arc, while still continuing the overarching story of the series.

On a side note, Westerfeld takes some slightly more subtle liberties with established history in Behemoth. I could see some readers being concerned that the trilogy’s alternate history may obscure actual history for younger readers. I don’t think this will be a problem, however, as Westerfeld helpfully includes an afterword in each novel that explicitly states which parts of his story are fact and which fiction.

My Thoughts:

Behemoth continues the adventure of Leviathan, and it is brought to life by many more of Keith Thompson’s amazing illustrations like the one in the header above. While the story felt as exciting and action-packed as in Leviathan, it moves in a slightly different direction. Rather than traipsing around Europe in an organic airship, this installment focuses primarily on the situation in Istanbul, where Deryn and Alek spend a lot of time undercover. I enjoyed reading about the multicultural city of Istanbul, and the mixture of Clanker and Darwinist influences in their society. While much of the Ottoman technology could be considered Clanker, their machines tend to emulate animals or mythological beings from many cultures. Westerfeld’s Istanbul expands his vision of this world, and the city has plenty of mystery and conflict to maintain the tension and excitement of the story.

Deryn and Alek are still incredibly active and resourceful protagonists, and they continue to find themselves in very dangerous and interesting situations. However, I was a little less than thrilled with the way their inevitable romantic subplot is handled. There’s very little build-up, so it ended up feeling a little tacked on to the central story. Though Deryn’s hidden gender mixed things up a bit, it still leaned a little too heavily on common young adult romance plot devices for my taste. While it wasn’t a major focus in Behemoth, I feel fairly certain that the romance angle will continue into the third book, where I hope it will be more smoothly integrated and thoroughly developed.

In addition to Deryn and Alek, there are many notable minor characters. Two repeating characters—Alek’s fencing master, Count Volger, and the Darwinist scientist, Dr. Barlow—get a bit more development in this installment. They are the schemers on Alek’s and Deryn’s sides, respectively, and I enjoyed learning more about their plans. A new addition to the cast is the mysterious creature Dr. Barlow carried through Leviathan. The critter is certainly adorable, but I’m not altogether fond of its role in the narrative thus far. Another notable new addition is the American reporter, Eddie Malone. I was glad Westerfeld did not go the easy adventure-story route and portray him as a simple annoyance to Deryn and Alek. These and other characters are beginning to widen the world that Leviathan introduced.

GoliathThe title of the novel, Behemoth, once again has several meanings. Leviathan was a reference to gigantic whale-like airbeast, but I believe it was also a reference to Thomas Hobbes’ work of the same name. The Behemoth is the companion beast to the Darwinist warship Churchill held back from the Ottomans, and it is also the name of another work by Hobbes. In Leviathan, Hobbes described an ideal government, and in Behemoth, he described the causes and effects of revolution. Hobbes believed that no good could come from rebellion, but Alek and Deryn’s adventures don’t altogether support that final conclusion. I think the story of Behemoth provides an opportunity to discuss what circumstances, if any, justify carrying out a violent revolution.

My Rating: 4/5

Behemoth lives up to the standard set by Leviathan. Alek and Deryn’s adventures are more stationary, and more politically based, but no less exciting. Behemoth introduces several new and interesting characters, and shows the unique culture of fictional Istanbul. I did not think the typical YA romance was integrated particularly well into the story, though I hope the romantic subplot will be developed more deftly in the third novel. Like its predecessor, Behemoth brings up some interesting topics for discussion, and it contains more depth than just the surface adventure story. Behemoth answers many of the questions left from Leviathan, but, of course, the final conclusion of the story is yet to come, in the final volume, Goliath!

Anne McCaffrey Rides Away at 85 Posted at 11:38 AM by Rico Simpkins

icowrich

Anne McCaffreyAnne McCaffrey, one of the most prolific writers in science fiction and fantasy, has died at age 85. She was one of the most celebrated and influential authors of her generation and has left behind an expansive body of work that amply demonstrates her mastery of her craft. Ms. McCaffrey was truly a master, garnering many awards and nominations for her short fiction and her novels. Her books have appeared on the ISFDB and NPR 100 Best SF/F lists, and were also recognized as Masterpieces by the Easton Press collection. Her early success in a male-dominated field earned her a spot on Ian Sales’ SF Mistressworks list, and David Brin included two of her books in his list of recommended young adult books.

Here’s what other early eulogizers have said about her:

io9 highlights her personal favorite story:
"Besides the Pern books, McCaffrey wrote the classic space-faring novel The Ship Who Sang, in which a severely disabled girl becomes the core of a starship, or Brainship, with her mind controlling all its major functions. McCaffrey’s novel provided a startling new way to think about personhood and the nature of the mind/body connection, but also helped pave the way for a whole subgenre of posthuman space opera, in which heavily modified humans explore space."

From Wired:
"McCaffrey helped pave the way for women writers in fantasy and science fiction, and was both the first woman awarded a Hugo Award and the first awarded a Nebula Award. Even in her 80s she continued to write, and over her lifetime produced a prodigious number of books and short stories. She was still answering readers’ mail on her website as of a few weeks ago."

From Publisher’s Weekly:
"She introduced a generation of readers to both fantasy and science fiction, and was known for being gracious to her legions of fans. She will be greatly missed."

To my knowledge, there may be two books in her famous Pern series that have yet to be released. We are not yet done with Anne McCaffrey’s rich universe.

Automata 101: Cyborgs and Androids Posted at 8:49 AM by Rhonda Knight

Rhondak101

Rhonda Knight is an Associate Professor of English at Coker College in Hartsville, SC. She teaches Medieval and Renaissance literature as well as composition courses. This blog will outline her experiences teaching an Honors English Composition course about created entities, beginning with the golem of Jewish legend and continuing through cyborgs, robots, androids, and artificial intelligence.


He, She and ItSo… it’s been a while. My jet-set life as an English professor has kept me from writing. In October, I attended the Popular Culture/American Culture in the South conference in New Orleans and the Blackfriars Conference at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA. The Popular Culture conference offered papers on many science fiction and horror television shows, such as Doctor Who, Lost, Torchwood and everything in the Whedonverse, and fantasy and science fiction authors, such as Susanna Clarke, Kurt Vonnegut, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Nalo Hopkinson, Michael Chabon, and George R. R. Martin. One of the best papers I heard was on how Fox used trailers to react to the fandom of their Fringe Fridays.

While I was away hearing such papers and giving one on mystery novelist Martha Grimes, my students were reading and writing and thinking about Marge Piercy’s He, She and It. This novel was a good hinge point for the semester because it effectively combines our golem exploration with our robot exploration.

For those of you who don’t know, the book is set in a near post-apocalyptic future in which the world is run by corporate cities, called multis or enclaves, that exist inside protective radiation barriers. The bulk of the novel’s action takes place in one of the few independent towns, Tikva. It is a Jewish enclave of computer programmers who create security programs for the multis. Their skill allows them to leverage freedom. Shira, a disfavored employee of a multi, returns to her hometown of Tikva to help Avram, a cyberneticist, train his illegally-created cyborg, Yod, to appear more human. Yod’s purpose is to protect both the real and virtual borders of the town.

Golem of PragueThis future narrative is interpolated with a “bedtime story” that Malkah, Shira’s grandmother, tells the cyborg, Yod. This story is about Rabbi Judah Loew and the sixteenth-century golem of Prague and draws parallels between Yod’s role and that of Joseph, the golem in Malkah’s story. I used these parallels as a starting point to discuss the role of Jews in Western history. I explained to the students the ways that medieval Christians created ghettos and forced Jews into the occupations of moneylenders and bankers. We then compared Tikva to a neo-ghetto in which the Jews are allowed to live free in order to provide the dominant culture with specific services. In addition, we compared the super-human traits of Joseph the golem, strength and healing ability, with those of the cyborg. One of the most interesting parallels that Piercy presents is the similar attitudes that the creators, Avram and the Rabbi, hold towards their creations. To them, the golem and the cyborg are tools that can be sacrificed, while the other characters view them as humans.

Our ability to question the human status of the golem and the cyborg gave us the opportunity to explore the “humanity” of many of the other characters. Now, when I say humanity here, I’m not thinking about the characteristics of being a good person, such as kindness, empathy, etc. Instead, I am thinking about humanity as informed by post-human studies. I recently read a book Cyberculture, Cyborgs and Science Fiction: Consciousness and the Posthuman (2006) by William S. Haney II. This book cited another author Katherine Hayles, who wrote How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics (1999). Haney uses two passages from Hayles’ book to define the posthuman. Brains!I pulled those two passages to guide our discussion. The first is “the posthuman view thinks of the body as the original prosthesis we all learn to manipulate, so that extending or replacing the body with other prostheses becomes a continuation of a process that began before we were born” (Haney 2). The second is “[i]n the posthuman, there are no essential differences or absolute demarcations between bodily existence and computer simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot teleology and human goals” (Haney 2).

The first passage is particularly relevant to He, She and It because most of the humans are technologically enhanced for cosmetic or occupational reasons. Shira tells Yod: “We’re all unnatural now. I have retinal implants. I have a plug set into my skull to interface with a computer. I read time by corneal implant. Malkah has a subcutaneous unit that monitors and corrects blood pressure and half her teeth are regrown” (Piercy 150). The most interesting character is Nili, who is human but her body is so heavily modified with implants, sensors and lasers that upon meeting her the characters think that she is a cyborg. Her actions and lack of emotion continue to make her seem more robotic than Yod. Serving as a foil for the cyborg, Nili fueled our conversation about what makes one human, biology or actions. The students saw the enhancements that Shira discussed above as very sci-fi. However, I quizzed them about how nose jobs, breast implants, lasik eye surgery, pacemakers, and artificial limbs might relate to the first passage. We referred back to Asimov’s The Bicentennial Man and wondered if humans might one day begin a process that is the reverse of Andrew Martin’s so that we become less and less organic. This, of course, led us to mention the woman who’s had so many plastic surgeries.

Golem of PragueThe second passage allowed us to touch on many subjects that are contemporary. In He, She and It the characters work and play through a virtual interface where they appear as avatars and are able to manipulate their environment. The septuagenarian, Malkah, maintains several virtual relationships in which she represents herself as both males and females with various ages and sexual preferences. This led us to all sorts of conversations about online dating, Facebook (especially the social games), Second Life, and other cyberworlds we can enter. We thought about the possibilities of becoming someone else in a cyberworld. These changes of identity are always seen as the moves that a pedophile or stalker uses. We tried to think about more benign reasons for adopting cyber-identities, because society is getting to the point in which one could live a complete cyber-existence by telecommuting and by using online banking, shopping and social networks. Someone brought up Lt. Barclay’s holodeck obsession on Star Trek: The Next Generation as an example of a type of mental illness that could be developing because of our cyber-existences.

Like all good literature, Piercy’s book poses several big questions throughout the plot, but those questions relate to her readers and our world as well as the world she created. The students, for the most part, found this book interesting and relatable.

YA Genre Fiction Month: Ender’s Game Posted at 12:36 AM by Jonathan McDonald

jynnantonnyx

“Sometimes lies were more dependable than the truth.”

Orson Scott Card’s first story about Andrew “Ender” Wiggin has remained one of the most popular science fiction stories for young audiences ever since its publication as a novel in 1985. Considered to be one of the best Young Adult science fiction novels, Ender’s Game is far better even than Card’s own sequels to the novel. The story is simply told—a bragging point for Card in his introduction to the 1991 revised edition, against those who “play the game of literary criticism”—and its protagonist begins the story at the age of six, making the novel doubly appealing to young readers. It also presents a detailed and believable space-dwelling society, describing simply but thoroughly how life outside our planet might look.

The story, for those who don’t know it, revolves around the ongoing war with the only known sentient alien species, termed the “buggers” because of their insectoid appearance. After the buggers’ second invasion almost wiped out Earth’s military forces, with the humans just barely pulling a victory, the government begins genetically manipulating children in the hopes of creating a military leader strong and intelligent enough to defeat the buggers once and for all. Ender is the third child of his family to be grown this way, leaving him with siblings who are exceptional, but flawed for the military’s purposes. Only Ender has the mixture of strength, genius, and compassion needed to make their plans work, so he is chosen as a mere child to begin training at the extra-terrestrial Battle School. It is there that his teachers make him into a weapon to save the Earth.

Of particular interest are Card’s predictions of future technologies that are surprisingly similar to what we see around us today. The most obvious is the anonymous method of written communication over “the nets.” Two characters in particular make careers for themselves through pseudonymous writing on the public and electronic discussion groups. The only part of this prediction that seems unrealistic today is the belief that online discussions would ever be taken seriously by politicians. The other prediction is in the immersive electronic Game played by the Battle School children in their free time. Using an avatar to travel around a three-dimensional and fantastic world, solving puzzles and fighting battles in the meanwhile, their Game might as well be a version of World of Warcraft.

Ender’s Game is not beyond criticism. The novel’s plot feeds the natural but immature narcissism of young people by presenting a world that revolves around a brilliant young person rather than insisting on the need for young adults to assimilate themselves to the society which is much older and stronger than they are. (To be fair, this is a common problem in Young Adult novels, possibly the most common.) Even worse, it encourages a deep distrust of adults as cynical overlords who use children—the bright and perfect children—for horrible purposes. As Ender thinks to himself at one point, “The most important message was this: the adults are the enemy, not the other armies. They do not tell us the truth.” The real world provides enough tension between generations without novelists stirring up further hatred and distrust. Somewhat less annoying is Card’s blatant distaste for literary criticism and “encoded fiction,” which unfortunately serves to make the novel unmemorable aside from its plot and emotional content, as there is no reason ever to go back and enjoy any beautifully-written passages. There’s a fine line between wanting to write a straightforward story and being lazy and unimaginative.

But despite my reservations, Ender’s Game is still one of the most memorable science fiction novels of the last few decades, and its flaws have not prevented its success. It is certainly the best of Card’s novels that I’ve read, and it was clever enough that I didn’t even suspect the twist ending until it hit me. A quick read that will never leave you bored, and might even make you think, Ender’s Game will undoubtedly remain a Young Adult genre classic for years to come.

Philip K. Dickathon: Dr. Bloodmoney Posted at 5:31 AM by Charles Dee Mitchell

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Guest Blogger and WWEnd Member, Charles Dee Mitchell, has contributed a great many book reviews to WWEnd and we’ve invited him to contribute to our blog. This is the latest in Dee’s series of Philip K. Dick reviews that he started on his blog www.potatoweather.blogspot.com. We’ll be posting one every week until he runs out of reviews or gets tired of Philip K. Dick books.


Thank God for editors. PKD proposed two titles for this post-nuclear apocalypse novel: In Earth’s Diurnal Course and A Terran Odyssey. Donald Wolheim at Ace came up with Dr. Bloodmoney: or How We Got Along After the Bomb. Wolheim’s title might have been a flagrant effort to cash in on Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, but at least it did not include the word "diurnal," and it did give some hint to what the book is about.

This is one of the dozen or so novels PKD wrote in 1963/64, but due to the build up of back inventory, it was not published until 1965. It is surprisingly idyllic given the subject matter and the amount of amphetamines the author was ingesting at the time. There had been two post-nuclear bestsellers in the late 1950′s, Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon — still, I understand, a favorite for middle school book reports — and Neville Shute’s On the Beach, which as both a novel and film seemed determined to prove just how tedious it would be to wait for death from radiation poisoning. PKD gets in a sly dig at the latter in his own novel. Walt Dangerfield, a would-be Martian colonist stuck in eternal earth orbit, broadcasts music and readings for survivors on Earth. One of their most requested songs is Waltzing Matilda, the traditional Australian ballad that served as theme music to On the Beach.

As is his habit, PKD has little interest in what might be the actual effects of an atomic war. His characters go about their lives in Marin County pretty much as they would pre-holocaust. They hold town meetings, they have affairs, they gather mushrooms. They have a resident psychiatrist. They mostly walk or ride bicycles rather than use wood-burning or horse-drawn automobiles. As a community they are insular and suspicious of outsiders, but they should be since jealous outsiders might want to "nap" some vestiges of the good life they maintain. They are also blessed with the best handyman around, Hoppy Harrington, a "phoce," a diminutive for phocomel, those with a congenital deformity that produces flipper-like arms and legs. But Hoppy more than makes up for his shortcomings with his mobile machine and some very special powers. In an early scene, he fixes a turntable by healing it. He gets more dangerous later on.

I just finished this book yesterday, and I am trying to remember if it has a plot. I don’t think it does. It really is a sort of pastoral — with mutants. Rats have learned to play the nose-flute. Cats have developed their own secret language, and dogs make a pitiful attempt at speaking English. By the novel’s end, mail routes are opening again, and some of the characters feel the lure of the big city. They plan to go into the cigarette manufacturing business.