Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ender's Game (Children reach a whole new level of ankle-biting dangerous)

This is one of those books I can't believe I never read when I was younger. Fascinating from the start, but with a life changing story and morals, Orson Scott Card outdid himself with Ender's Game. It's fascinating how he manages to blend youth and age seamlessly. While Ender starts at only six and when he becomes the commander, he's only eleven, the person you follow is wise beyond his years and the juxtaposition between following an adult mentality versus the occasional childlike things he does or says is jarring. The futuristic world is so cleverly created and integrated into the story line and Ender's story, as he's manipulated, used on whim and eventually rises above it, is a timeless tale.


Genius or Killer #1: The first time we meet Ender he's getting the monitor removed, which means that no one's watching him to keep the bullies at bay. From the outset, we see how Ender reacts, how he calculates the best possible way to be left alone and then deals with Stilson in the schoolyard. This mode of thinking, them against me, follows him throughout battle school and is the reason he's recruited in the first place. From an early point, they can see that while he cares about people and doesn't want to hurt anyone, when backed into a corner he'll make the harsh decisions. Heavy foreshadowing of what's to come. Bravo, Orson Scott Card.

Genius or Killer #2: Ender after being isolated at Battle School continues excelling despite all the hurdles thrown his way, despite all the antagonism from his peers. The teachers are completely unfair to him, throwing him into battle simulations early, throwing him on a team where the commander, Bonzo, hates him. Yet when Ender ends up as a commander, he wipes the board, every single time. His team becomes unbeatable to the envy and hatred of many in the school. Others decide to learn from him, to get better, but Bonzo, his original team leader hates him for it and wants to kill him. The confrontation reaches a peak when Bonzo gangs up on him, just like Stilson in the beginning and Ender reacts the same way when backed into a corner, making the hard choices and using wits over brawn. However, the teachers don't reveal that Bonzo was sent home in a bodybag, nor that Stilson was his first kill.

Genius or Killer #3: This is the big one, the gamechanger of the story where everything got turned over onto its head. These officers and teachers have been priming Ender for command, making his life a living hell. Finally in command school, Mazer Rackham, his teacher, runs him through countless simulations against the buggers while Ender commands all of his old friends from Battle school. Game after game after game until Ender's burnt out and wasted. Finally, the graduation test is sprung on him with no chance to prepare. And the odds are impossible. So Ender decides to stop playing their games and takes out the whole planet with the bombs rather than worrying about the onslaught of fleets, destroying the imaginary bugger homeworld in the process. Except Ender finds out it wasn't a game and that all of the simulations in Command School were real battles against the buggers. And he just annihilated another race.

This was the crescendo of the book, the breaking point for Ender. But he finds and communicates with a remaining bugger after a time and spreads a message of peace, reversing the damage he'd unintentionally done. Orson Scott Card's brilliant book leaves you with the duality of humankind that lives in all of us, the constant struggle of empathy and anger, but to which one wins out depends on each individual.

Rating: 4

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Book of Three (The Hero's guide to falling flat on your face)

The Book of Three holds fond memories for me of nights up reading the Chronicles of Prydain. Based on Welsh mythology, Lloyd Alexander managed to create some very bright and memorable characters. Funny enough, even though they're older books, the series holds up quite well. Nobody's a cookie cutter character and everyone ends up surprising you. Throw in the mystical swords and hero's quests and you have the recipe for a fantasy classic. From the very beginning I love how no one takes Taran seriously. And for good reason too, the boy's trumped up on daydreams, has a huge ego, whines a lot and is pretty full of himself. Any other story where the hero is lauded as spectacular with this behavior I'd be annoyed, but since everyone around him constantly makes note of his failings, he ends up learning humility by the end of the book. In fact, my favorite instance happens in the first chapter. Taran wants to be fancy and heroic and wants a title...so Coll gives him title of Assistant Pig-Keeper, which becomes the butt of many jokes for the rest of the story.


Taran makes an ass of himself #1: Upon meeting Prince Gwydion for the first time, Taran manages to spectacularly put the wrong foot out in every instance. First he exclaims that this man before him can't be Gwydion since he's not dressed all prince-like. When he realizes it actually is the Prince, he tries to impress him, but only manages to nearly drown, dive into a thornbush and make a multitude of other ridiculous mistakes. The entire time Gwydion gently chides him and teaches him valuable lessons that stick with him for the rest of the book.

Taran makes an ass of himself #2: Gwydion and him get thrown into the Spiral Castle where he soon meets Princess Eilonwy, a ragged girl who lives in the castle. From the very start, Taran's penchant for dramatics clashes with Eilonwy's practical nature which results in some very hilarious exchanges. And a lot of comments questioning the intelligence of certain Assistant Pig-Keepers. Eilonwy helps him escape and rescues the other man in the cells which Taran assumes is Gwydion. It's not. It's Fflewddur Flam, wandering bard/king. Taran flips at Eilonwy who points out that his need for secrecy caused the whole misunderstanding in the first place.

Taran makes an ass of himself #3: So, they depart to Caer Dathyl and finally get Hen Wen back along the way. Their band, now consisting of Fflewddur, Eilonwy, Gurgi, Doli and Taran as the leader tries to head off the Horned King's men and warn the Sons of Don before it's too late. Unfortunately, they did get there too late and bands of warriors begin overtaking them for the fight. The Horned King himself chases after them and Taran draws the sword Eilonwy protected, the one he had no business pulling, and gets himself burned and knocked out for the rest of the fight. Thankfully, Gwydion came to the rescue and saved them all with the sword, defeating the Horned King.

Taran's many foibles turn what could be a very prideful egotistical character and humble him greatly. By the end of the story he's turned into a respectable guy, who realizes all the trumped up dreams and fantasies he had in his head aren't quite as important in a real quest. What makes him truly a great character is that not only does he screw up a lot of times, but when he screws up he learns. While he's always stubborn, he does take advice from Gwydion to heart, remembering it at different times throughout the book and acting on it. And after burning himself on the Book of Three and the sword Dyrnwyn, he's stopped touching the untouchables too.

Rating: 4

Friday, July 13, 2012

July's Fantasy Food Feature: McAnally's Lemonade

Book featured in: Proven Guilty

Everyone remembers the reticent, quiet Mac, always tending the pub. Harry raves about his food throughout the series and he isn't the only one. And in "Proven Guilty" when Harry meets up with Lily and Fix to grill them, that lemonade with the lemonade ice cubes sounded amazing.

So I figured I'd try to make some myself.


1 1/2 cup white sugar
8 cups water
1 1/2 cups lemon juice

Start by tossing the sugar and one cup of water into a saucepan. Bring it to boil and then let it cool. Next, combine it in with the lemon juice. Finally, add in the remaining seven cups of water.

Next step, pull out an ice cube tray, pour the lemonade into it and freeze. Meanwhile, put the pitcher into the fridge to cool down.

Once it's all done, pull out the tray of ice cubes, which should look like this:

Drop them into the cup along with the mug of lemonade and enjoy the frosty goodness with no watering down! 

 Check in next month for the next recipe!

The Last Unicorn (the childhood lesson that life's not fair)

Now, I'll admit, I saw the movie first as a kid before ever reading the book. But since the movie was written by Peter Beagle as well, it didn't stray too far. Plus, the book is quite a delight to read with some of the most gorgeous writing I've read in a time. The descriptions throughout are so clever and genius that they haunt you long after you've finished reading. And the story is one of the few in fantasy that leaves you with a bittersweet taste. Sweet for the goal has been accomplished, but sad because the guy doesn't get the girl. I mean hell, the unicorn at the end says that she'll never be like the other unicorns again, for she's learned regret. Heavy hitting lessons, but no less real.


Unicorn Quest Pit Stop #1: After she takes off from her special forest of magical-ness, the unicorn travels along the roads, shocked that no one seems to recognize her for what she is. After being mistaken for a mare several times, she's finally kidnapped by someone who does know: Mommy Fortuna. But instead of helping her, the old hag locks her up as part of her carnival show. However, this is where she meets Schmendrick, the magician who also can tell her true nature. His loyalties don't hold for too long with Fortuna, not when she's holding a dangerous harpy and a unicorn captive. So he sets the unicorn free and they escape, although not without freeing the harpy who goes on to kill Mommy Fortuna and start a kickin' sideshow in Vegas. Kidding. Just the first part.

Unicorn Quest Pit Stop #2: Captain Cully's Camp is where Schmendrick gets spirited away after a magic trick gone wrong. Seriously, the man's a joke of a wizard and yet he manages to conjure up Robin Hood to distract Cully's men long enough for an attempted escape---only to get captured again and tied to a tree. Luckily the unicorn is intelligent and wise, not blustering like this dude and frees him so they can go on their merry way. However, they don't get too far before Molly Grue, Cully's cook, finds them and more importantly finds the unicorn. She demands to join them and similarly to before, the unicorn tolerates her human companions.

Unicorn Quest Pit Stop #3: The Final Countdown to Haggard's Castle. This is where everything combusts. The Red Bull starts corralling the unicorn to the sea like the rest of her brethren, but Schmendrick pulls some real magic at last, turning her into a human. Molly and the unicorn berate him, although through the years, I never understood their reaction. They beg him to save her and he does and then they're angry. Regardless, they head to Haggard's Castle, with the unicorn as Lady Amalthea. Since she's breathtakingly gorgeous, Haggard's son, Prince Lir falls in love with her and becomes a hero to impress her. The longer they stay, the more human she becomes and eventually, she falls for him too. The quest surfaces again though and when they try to find the Red Bull's lair, everything comes to a head and they're stuck inside with the only way out through his tunnels. Prince Lir stands to defend his lady, but Schmendrick must turn her back into a unicorn. The Red Bull begins to herd her into the sea like the rest of them, but when he tosses Prince Lir aside like a limp noodle, the unicorn despairs and for the first time, fights back. All of the other unicorns come rumbling out of the sea as the last one herds the Red Bull to his death. Everything else seems to be prancing unicorns and joyous rainbows, but wait. Oh yeah, Prince Lir's heartbroken and the unicorn must shoulder the burden of immortality having known love, having known fear and having known regret.

Rating: 4

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Arrow's Flight (Herald internship leads to lots of lays)

Now, where the first book seemingly threw in some side conflict where there originally was none, this book did have a conflict fairly early on until the end. But the conflict was the hero not having control over her powers. And just like in the first book, she kept silent about her problems and it caused more trouble. Not only do you think she would've learned, but it throws her under the TSTL category. On the plus side, at least this book had more organization, which helped greatly and the introduction of the possible lifebond with Dirk made for some interesting character development.


Talia's the Villain #1: She's not actually the villain, but all of their problems stem from her. So it all begins when her partner, Kris, who she's on the internship with makes a comment about the circulating rumors that she's abusing her gift of empathy. Now, to most normal folks, well, that sucks. Might get a little bummed, somewhat annoyed, but to Talia, the special one, she takes a simple rumor and her "empathy" gift torpedoes it into a large scale problem. All because she didn't talk about it to anyone. Since empathy is supposed to be how you relate to others and not about your own feelings of inadequacy, I'm not quite sure how this makes sense.

Talia's the Villain #2: So, the entire middle half of the book takes place in a Waystation, as they're snowed in. Their problems are the blizzard outside, but mostly Talia, inside. Because she might EMOTION them all to death. Man, I wish I was joking. But that's the gigantic threat. That she'll project her empathy on Kris and since that's so super dangerous, they've gotta get it under control. So they spend the majority of the time banging as friends (although they've stated they feel brotherly and sisterly towards one another which creeps me out, because a casual fuck does not normally happen between brothers and sisters) and working on fixing her out of control gift.

Talia's the Villain #3: So, after Talia's under control, they continue on their path, solving problems as Heralds are apt to do. They encounter a rapist in a village and Talia uses her mind juju on him to trap him in a loop of torture. Magically, everything's better and even though she never really established the moral implications of her gift, she pretty much decides she doesn't give a damn by the end, making the entire struggle through the book a pointless obsolete.

Rating: 2