How Ender’s Game Broke My Brain

Although I’ve put this is the section for Book Reviews, and I will mention spoilers, this post is not a review of Ender’s Game.  Its alternative titles could be ‘Don’t Judge a Book By Its Author’, or ‘The Time I Was Tackled Bodily By Death of the Author‘.

Let me tell you a story, from the distant age of 2013 …

The film of Ender’s Game was just about to come out, and the Internet was divided.  Not in the way that some people expected it to be good and some for it to be bad – no one seemed to really care how good an adaptation was.  The debate came in the fact that no one knew if it was morally correct to go and see Ender’s Game.

For those of you who weren’t online back then, or just never saw the kerfuffle, the author of Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card, had talked about his political beliefs way back in the 90s.  Specifically, his political beliefs about homosexuality.  Very specifically, that he thought it was Bad and Wrong and Should Be Illegal.  Whatever your own stance on homosexuality, I’m sure you can understand that, when 2013 rolled around and Orson Scott Card stumbled back into the limelight, his beliefs were extremely controversial.

I’m not here to vindicate Orson Scott Card, or to discuss the extent of his sincerity in 2013 when he said he no longer felt homosexuality should be illegal.  But I was very much opposed to his beliefs.  Many of my friends at university were gay.  I was a supporter of same-sex marriage.  And I, like many other people, didn’t want to give my money to an author who might use it to fund anything that went against my beliefs.

This was a shame, because I’d wanted to read Ender’s Game for years.

Eventually, I bought it in a Sue Ryder Care shop thinking, Sod it, at least this way my money goes to a good cause.  But I didn’t read it and didn’t read it, and when my boyfriend asked I said, ‘I just can’t pick it up without thinking of Orson Scott Card and how I disagree with his politics, and how much I don’t want to read anything he has to say.’

So my boyfriend read it instead.  When he finished, he planted the book in my hands and said, ‘You have to read this.  Right now.  Seriously.’

I sighed and grumbled and read the damn thing.

I put the book down and stared around in total and utter confusion.

I opened my laptop and typed, ‘did orson scott card really write ender’s game???’ into Google.

‘Yep,’ Google, essentially, said.  ‘He did.’

confused cara

I boggled.  I couldn’t believe a man who campaigned against homosexuality had written Ender’s GameEnder’s Game says you should not war with anyone – even aliens – until you really understand them.  When you understand them, Ender says, you love them.  And you hate yourself for defeating them.  At the end of the book, when Ender has (apparently) killed every alien in the universe, he atones for his crimes by taking the last egg of their species and protecting it.

The message of Ender’s Game is one of peace, understanding, and tolerance.

The author of Ender’s Game has fought for what, in my and many other people’s opinion, is the very opposite of that.

After reading Ender’s Game, I couldn’t help feeling like I’d been backhanded by Death of the Author.  Orson Scott Card’s beliefs, his politics, anything he’d ever said outside of Ender’s Game … held no weight at all within the text of Ender’s Game.  It didn’t matter that Orson Scott Card had written it.  What mattered was that it was written.

There were plenty of other books I’ve avoided reading because I don’t like the author.  After Ender’s Game, though, I’m curious.  I want to go out and find those books – preferable also in charity shops, I’ll admit – so I can read them, and compare the book to the author.  So I can see if Death of the Author holds up.

So, are there any books that you guys avoid reading because of their author?  Is there any chance now that you’ll give those books a go?  Let me know!

His Dark Materials

I recently re-read the entirety of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

As usual, I’ll start on the covers.  The above image shows the covers I have.  They’re not the original designs (except possibly the first one) but I love them.  They’re simple, colourful, and show the object of importance from each story.  I’d say they’re a little old fashioned now, but not awfully so.

It’s been twenty years since Northern Lights was published, so there are far to many editions for me to list all the covers in order of preferance.  What I will say, though, is that if I had to buy them again, I would fight armoured bears for some of the new editions.

So pretty~~~!

They’ve been some of my favourite books since I first read Northen Lights when I was twelve, and I intended to read and review each book separately.  But my life’s been a bit of a disorganised mess for the last fortnight, so my blog is going to reflect that as I word-vomit about all three books at once.

My favourite is Northern Lights.  Lyra is a captivating character, a rude, mean, savage little girl.  I remember hating her when I was a child – she was everything I’d been taught not to be.  She drank, she smoked, she climbed on the rooftops and wreaked havoc on Pullman’s fantastical Oxford.  Now, I think she’s one of the funniest and most interesting characters I’ve ever read.  Although I liked Will when he showed up in The Subtle Knife, he never made the same impact on me.

Of course, the main allure of His Dark Materials is Pullman’s wonderful idea of dæmons: the human soul and conscience represented as an animal companion that follows you for life.  They’re able to change form during childhood, but once you hit puberty, they take one shape and stay in it forever.

When I was a child, various online quizzes told me my dæmon would some form of stoat, ferret or weasel.  This delighted me, considering how much time Lyra’s dæmon, Pantalaimon, spends as an ermine.  Stoats are my faviourite animal now.

A lot of His Dark Materials, in fact, is focused around puberty.  The cruel scientific experiments on children in Northern Lights are intended to preserve ‘childhood innocence’; Will is forced to grow up quickly and is frequently described as having no childhood in The Subtle Knife; and both children hit puberty in The Amber Spyglass and recreate Adam and Eve’s original sin by … eating berries?  Kissing?

… I never really ‘got’ that part.

In fact, although I loved the creativity of The Amber Spyglass (war with god!  A world of strange, wheeled creatures called Mulefa!  Christian mythology meets quantum physics!), I always found the end of it difficult to read.  This is one of my few criticisms of the books – in almost all other ways, I adore them – but the romance between Will and Lyra felt much too wild and passionate for twelve-year-olds.  It was uncomfortable when I was twelve and just leaving the boys-have-germs stage, and it’s uncomfortable now, as an adult in a long-term relationship of my own.

I could rant for pages and pages about these books.  Some day, if I’m brave, I might look into the dissection of religion in the trilogy (spoiler: Lyra literally kills god in the third book), and some other time I’ll go through each book separately.  But for now, I’ll stop.

I’m sorry this post was late, and that even now it’s pretty disorganised.  Soon, I’ll have a bit more free time and be able to put some better posts together.  In the meantime … tell me what your dæmon would be!  (If you can’t decide, there are millions of online quizzes – just check Google!)

Why I’m Glad I Read 1984 (Even Though I Hated It)

I only have a brief post today.  Between a summer job and my dissertation, things are getting hectic for me, but I didn’t want to drop my blog completely.  I want to revisit 1984.

My last review of it wasn’t that long ago (here), where I said I couldn’t stand it, and didn’t understand why it was considered great literature.  A couple of weeks later, though, I do understand.  I’ve heard people ask why we don’t just torture terrorists to get the truth out of them, and I thought about Winston in 1984, who is tortured and lies all the way through it, telling his captors anything they might like to hear just so they will stop hurting him.  I’ve heard people react to news stories with quotes directly from 1984 (‘Oceana is at peace with Eurasia.  Oceana is at war with Eastasia.’) and thought, I get that!  I know what you mean!

By no means do I now like 1984.  It was an awful slog to read, with terrible storytelling, in my opinion.  Orwell was more interested in getting his political message across than in telling a good story.  But it’s a poignant political message – one I don’t pretend to have an authority on, but which I think is worth trying to understand, at least.

When I finish a bad book, or a book I just don’t like, I usually comfort myself that I can use it as a tool to learn how not to write my own books.  I’m glad 1984 gave me a little more than this.

Hopefully I’ll have time for some bigger, better posts soon!

Mortal Engines

I’ve been diving into steampunk for my dissertation, so I got a copy of Mortal Engines.

No, Mortal Engines.  By Philip Reeve.  The one about cities tearing around on wheels eating each other.

That’s the one.

As I often do, I’ll start this review by talking about the cover.  And it’s lovely, isn’t it?  I’d even say iconic.  You see it in every library, with its fantastic eye-catching colour, the strange, rusty hot air balloon, and the mysterious machine in the background, trailing black smoke behind it.

Too bad this is the cover I have:

Uuuuueeeerrghhh.

It’s hard to see because the image is so pixelated, but trust me, it looks terrible.  The figure in the front is like bad CGI, or the graphics from a ten-year-old video game.  Incidentally, he – Shrike – is not a main character.  He is one of several villains, and is only really present for a third of the book (the second act).

I’m glad they put a nice number ‘1’ on the front because nothing is worse than picking up the third book in a series and not realising until you’re ten pages in, but why is it bright red?  The illustration of Shrike is in shades of green and brown; red just clashes.  And then, on top of that, they’ve added a weird blue border, with pretty little clouds in the corner, you know, to match the screaming monster man with knives for fingers.

I actually think this is the ugliest book cover I’ve ever seen.  At the very least, it’s the ugliest cover I’ve seen produced by a traditional publisher.  Who designed this?

As a teenager, I contemplated reading Mortal Engines several times based on its old cover.  I know for a fact I’d never have picked up this new one, except as a dare when my friends and I used to search for the worst book in the library.

Just.  UGH.

All right, all right, I’ll leave it alone.

I finished reading Mortal Engines at one o’clock in the morning, reached immediately for a notebook and very eloquently scrawled:

>DAT PLOT

>DEM CHARACTERS

>WORLDBUILDING AAAAAHHHHHHH

(It’s a good thing I don’t blog that late at night, huh?)

But really, Mortal Engines is excellently crafted.  The plot followed a clear three-act structure, which I always love, without getting stale or having the characters meander around doing nothing.  The characters were deeply likeable, even the mean and bad-tempered Hester.  In fact, most of the villains were likeable in their own way – Shrike in particular was strangely appealing, as a man turned-death-machine, hunting tirelessly for poor Hester.

The only trouble is that the kill count was near the level of Game of Thrones.

I repeatedly fell in love with characters (especially female characters, of which there were many and varied) only for them to die in some awful, violent way.  My favourite died in the last few pages, causing me to turn and scream furiously into my pillow.

sobbingtulio

But the plot and characters are not the best thing about Mortal Engines.  What’s the best thing?

The world building.

Philip Reeve put incredibly detailed thought into his world.  It’s our planet, sometime in the far future.  Following the cliche, civilisation destroyed itself in an awful war, and was forced to start again.  That’s pretty much where the cliches end, though.  Towns and cities are put on wheels like tanks, and chase each other across continents in the hopes of ‘eating’ one another – catching a smaller city and tearing it to pieces for parts.  There are only a few small places left on Earth with unmoving settlements, calling themselves the Anti-Tractionists.

(Mortal Engines: London by eleth89 on DeviantART)

World building is always impressive to me, because I find it the most difficult part of writing myself.  I struggle to create interesting landscapes and unusual cities.  If I try to make a map, it comes out either minimal or excessively cliched (there has to be a Good City, an Evil City, a Forest, a Desert and the Sea – done!).  I can see Reeve did his research, and put an enormous amount of love and hard work into his world building.  It shows.

The only real flaw with Mortal Engines is the craft of the writing itself.  It’s not appalling, not at all, but it’s also not brilliant, especially since the last book I read was To Kill a Mockingbird.  Of course, it is a children’s book – not even teen or YA – so I expected a certain amount of simplicity.  But there are some things, regardless, that need tidying up: the tense switches from past to present and back, there are repeated words here and there, and some sentences need a second read to make sense.

Regardless, I recommend this one.  It’s an excellent adventure story with a unique world, great sense of humour, and brilliant characters.  Just keep that death toll in mind … you’ve been warned.