Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow, by Orson Scott Card

The public librarian recommended Ender’s Game to my eighth-grade class, lo these many years ago, and from there I read just about all of Orson Scott Card’s books except the ones I thought looked lame.  And including several I thought wouldn’t be lame but were, after all.

Just reread these two.  I also recently reread Xenocide and Speaker for the Dead and Children of the Mind, and I guess it’s because I most recently read Children of the Mind that I felt like I never wanted to read anything by Orson Scott Card ever again as long as I lived and even if I died and dead people brought me books in the graveyard and the only book I had at all was Speaker for the Dead still even then I would reject it totally and just lie all dead and read nothing whatsoever.

Yeah, that was weird.  But the feeling passed, and I reread Ender’s Shadow first and then Ender’s Game.  And I was really struck by how much more I liked Ender’s Game than a) I remembered and b) Ender’s Shadow.  Really.  It’s a pretty good book.

However, reading all this Orson Scott Card has made me realize how dreadfully smug and self-righteous everybody is.  They really are.  All the characters are, they all are, not a single one of them isn’t.  They just all think they’re totally right and they say many smug and self-righteous things in defense of their positions.  I thought that the reason I didn’t ever want to read OSC again was that I had just overdosed on his books, but I think now it was overdosing on smugness and self-righteousness.

Which is funny because those are two qualities I possess in spades.

This isn’t much of a review.  I’ll go again.

Basically, the humans are under attack by these aliens they call buggers (or formics sometimes), and the most brilliant children of all the children are being recruited to learn to be commanders so that they can fight the buggers off, and the most brilliant child of all the children is Ender.  (Except in Ender’s Shadow it turns out that the most brilliant child of all the children is actually its protagonist, Bean.)  And because Ender is so brilliant, they are grooming him to command the entire space army that will destroy the buggers, and his life’s really unhappy in learning-to-defeat-aliens school.

It’s good.  I don’t mean to put anyone off by saying that all the characters are smug.  They’re still fun to read about, because you know, a lot of times you have a good idea but when people say snide things about it, you can’t immediately think of the clever thing to say to prove what a good idea your idea is; but the characters in these books?  They can always think of the clever thing to say to prove what good ideas their ideas are.

Then We Came to the End, Joshua Ferris

You may have heard of this because everyone got really excited about it and wrote about it on their book blogs a while ago, but I didn’t read it until now because that’s when it got in at the library.  It’s about an ad agency at the end of that dot-com bubble thing that happened when I was young and foolish and paying no attention to anything except, you know, learning geometry proofs and swearing to one and all that I would never give myself to anyone but Carl Anderson (my first love).  Isn’t he sexy? (Even though the picture’s very tiny?)  …Don’t feel bad if you think he’s not, because hardly anyone but me and Indie Sister think that he is, but oh how we loved him.

Anyway, this book was cool and interesting and funny.  And it rings true, the way people think in an office.  Worrying about racism and sexism and being jerks, and the way some people just have these crazy-ass ideas that you have to step around if you can, and how everyone thinks they know stuff about everyone else.  I liked it that he went for more than the funny, because he was doing well with being funny and it would have been easy to stick with that black humor thing all the way through – which he did, in a way, but then also there were.  You know.  Levels.

However, it was still a little gimmicky.  I mean, as gimmicks go, this works well, this first-person plural thing.  I totally get what he was after, making a statement about offices, hive-mind, corporate America, na na na na na na, and it’s cool and I dig it.  And I know you can’t separate the narrative style from the book without gutting it completely, but I just sort of wondered how effective and interesting his writing would be without it.  Again, definitely a very cool idea, but he’s skirting the edge of being Don DeLillo Lite, and I just wonder whether he’s only avoided it by being Gimmick Guy.  I’ll be interested to see what he writes next.

…I’m sure he’ll write another book that will be just as cool and have no gimmick and prove me completely wrong.  That would be nice.  I may be being unfairly harsh to Mr. Ferris because I read an interview with him it turns out he likes all these authors I assiduously avoid but still end up reading bits of: Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Chekhov, Kafka.  Those dudes.  Nabokov is the only author that Mr. Ferris likes that I like too, and that means nothing because all kinds of people like Nabokov.  I bet he likes Philip Roth and Anthony Burgess and Kurt Vonnegut too.  Oo, and like Cormac McCarthy and Tim O’Brien and John Kennedy O’Toole.

Added later: Dude, this is freaky.  I went looking for interviews with Joshua Ferris, and seriously, the man likes ALL of those writers.  There were two he didn’t mention, Anthony Burgess and John Kennedy O’Toole, but I bet he just forgot about them.  I’m about to write him a letter and ask him if he likes Anthony Burgess and John Kennedy O’Toole.  I bet he does.  I bet he does like them.

Er

I just realized I haven’t posted here in like ten years. Oops. It’s not because I suddenly ceased to read; it’s because I had exams and graduation. But now I’m a college graduate with a degree! A useful degree! And a shiny gold medal (but it’s not real gold, and I know because I bit it)!

But I have been reading. I’m trying to remember what I’ve been reading, and here is what I came up with, and I’m posting in brief:

Fallen, David Maine – mainly research for a story I’m writing, and I found this book unremarkable. It starts with Cain at the end of his life and works backward, back and back and back, all the way to Adam and Eve and their Eden situation. Kind of blah, though I liked this line:

For long disorienting moments Cain hovered outside his body, calmly looking down from above at two young men tussling at the edge of a cliff. Then one of them became a murderer and the other one died.

Otherwise, I could have lived contentedly without it. Just not that interesting. Oh well.

The Diary of Adam and Eve, by Mark Twain – made me smile. Not really a book, just a collection of individually published pieces, most of which were quite delightful. Mark Twain. God bless him.

A graphic novel whose name I just can’t even remotely remember right now. Um, that’s very annoying. I quite liked it, even though it was on the predictable side and the writing as writing didn’t touch Neil Gaiman, to whom I compare all graphic novels everywhere (very unfair). It was all about a guy who lost his soul and this girl Laurel was his guide taking him on a walking quest to get his soul back, and if they didn’t get it by the end of the year, he would turn into an evil green dude. That’s so strange because I Just finished it last night and I am so chagrined to find that I can’t remember the name of the author or the book. Damn.

Midnight Nation.  That’s what it was.  Midnight Nation and the author was J. Michael Straczynski – and to be fair to me, that is a name that is very hard to remember.

Affinity, Sarah Waters – Couldn’t finish it! Of all things! I just got totally bored and returned it to the library. Very out of character. I don’t even know who I am anymore.

So that’s the four I can think of right now. I will update again when I remember what else I have been reading. I guess I’ve been doing some rereading activities, and then of course I’ve been very busy with exams and finishing watching Angel (of which I now own all seasons but the last, and I do own all the seasons of Buffy, and oh what a happy birthday girl I was when that happened).

Fingersmith, Sarah Waters

I have mixed feeling about this book.  I really do.  Because on one hand, I enjoyed it a lot and I liked all the twists and turns it took.  Except that um, when part one ended, it wasn’t quite what I expected, because I’m a big romantic, and although I (of course) had already read the end, it didn’t so much let me in on all the stuff that was going to happen in the middle.  And I was all going along, dee dee dee, and all of a sudden it was part one ending and WHAM KIDNEY PUNCH.  Seriously, that’s the way you people like to read books?

I don’t get it.  Why would you want that?  So that when they repeat the serpent’s tooth line later, you feel a joyous twinge of recognition about what happened earlier on?  I had that joyous twinge of recognition, and first I thought, oh, hey, this must be why people don’t look up what’s going to happen, but then I remembered that it was far outweighed by the unpleasant surprising thing that happened earlier.  And, y’know, if you knew what was coming, you’d have appreciated that line the first time around, and still appreciated it when it was reiterated.  Just saying.

Ugh.  I don’t like not knowing what’s going to happen.  Unless it’s an emotional moment.  I don’t like finding out what emotional moments are going to happen – like, if I were reading the Harry Potter books for the first time, I wouldn’t at all mind being told that Lupin is going to (spoiler) die ultimately, but I would be very very furious with someone who told me, I don’t know, the story of how Lupin and Harry have that argument they have in the seventh book.  Likewise, I want to know that Wesley’s going to (spoiler) die at the end of Angel (HA!  SERVE YOU RIGHT!), but I don’t in any way want to know whatever touching moment Social Sister was going to tell me about but I stopped her because I don’t want to know these things.

Well, and that’s why I got cross with Fingersmith.  I felt like it cheated me.  I read the entire emotional end of the story, got cross because I was still angry with Sue for being such a lying bitch, and never saw anything coming that was coming.  Besides which, I couldn’t really get behind a romance that occurs between two such unpleasant characters.  I know I know, necessity and oppression and Victorian girls had no choices, but I don’t care!  They were just too unpleasant!  I was interested in what was going to happen but I was not in any way invested in their romance.

I sort of was.

But mostly not.  Because of how unpleasant they both were.

I liked Fingersmith a lot.  Like Sarah Waters’ other books – I wouldn’t buy them but I am happy to know the library has them, and if I reread them enough times I may well grow to love them deeply and purchase them all for my personal library.  Except Tipping the Velvet which has been my least favorite so far.  And I care enough to read Affinity (spiritualism! woooooooo!) and check Amazon to see if she has any new books coming out.  And enough to give her a favored authors tag.  Sarah Waters writes well and tells me lots of interesting things about the seamy underbelly of Victorian England; and I am all about the seamy underbelly of Victorian England.

Now I’m all interested in Victorian erotica.  How totally interesting.  If I were going into academia, I would be studying Victorian erotica.

…That might be hard to get a job in.  English 4069: Victorians <3 Porn.

Robin, Frances Hodgson Burnett

Robin starts – after the “previously on Robin” bit at the beginning – right where Coombe left off, with the joyous happiness of Robin and Donal’s reunion.  Good news: They still love each other.  I wasn’t surprised by that, but I have to confess I was a little unsettled by the scene directly following it, where Donal goes home to tell his mother about his evening.  I quote:

Throughout his life he had taken all his joys to his closest companion and nearest intimate – his mother.  Theirs had not been a common life together.  He had not even tried to explain to himself the harmony and gaiety of their nearness in which there seemed no separation of years.  She had drawn and held him to the wonder of her charm and had been the fine flavour of his existence.  It was actually true that he had so far had no boyish love affairs because he had all unconsciously been in love with the beautiful completeness of her.

Or, Are You There, Freud?  It’s Me, Donal.

Well, then Europe kicks of World War I, and on account of that Donal is brave enough to talk to Robin straight away, overcoming his customary boyish shyness, and they have a touching conversation about how they would have a much slower courtship if it weren’t for the distressing thing about Donal being all set to get shipped off to war.  This is Robin’s reaction to thinking that thought:

“No! No! No! No!” she cried four times.  “Belgium!  Belgium!  Oh!  Belgium!”

Maybe it’s best for Robin to just not think any thoughts, ever.  What I want to know is, does she cry No No No No four times, for a total of sixteen No!s, or is this just Ms. Burnett’s narrative version of those legal documents that say “four (4) shrill negations”?

Anyway, Robin and Donal decide to keep their love a secret.  Actually not a secret (Robin asks about this and Donal is boyishly glad to explain); actually it’s “a sort of sacred, heavenly unbelievable thing we own together.”  Uh-huh.  A sacred, heavenly unbelievable thing that we never tell anyone about and we pretend doesn’t exist.  Nothing like a secret at all.  Just not telling anyone, ever.  Not a secret in any way, no sir.  They love each other a lot, secretly sacredly, and then Donal gets called up and then they get word that he’s died, and Robin takes sick, and it turns out – Ms. Burnett is very coy about this – it turns out she’s preggers.

(I am less coy.)

She’s too busy mourning to worry much about this pregnancy business, so all the grown-ups around her worry about it for her.  They’re very worried and can’t decide what to do, because they don’t want everyone to laugh at her and call her Big Slut Robin when everyone who loves her knows that she is actually Sweet Angel Robin; so after a while Lord Coombe brings it up with her, and she says, with a Barbara-Cartland-worthy delivery, “Did you – think we were – not married?”

Yeah!  Get your mind out of the gutter, Lord Coombe!  Donal would never have sacred boyish romps in the garden with Robin without marrying her first!  (Did I mention they only ever meet in this garden?  They can’t go to his place or her place so they always meet in this garden.  Gold star to Ms. Burnett for the unsubtle Eden reference there.)

Unfortunately it was all about the marrying in secret and not getting the documents, so to shield her from getting called Big Slut Robin, Lord Coombe marries her in secret.  After some long-term high-quality moping on Robin’s part, a period during which everyone who hangs out with her tells each other what a Sweet Angel Robin she is, the book suddenly turns into a massive spiritualist tract.  Donal, who we later learn is a prisoner of war, starts talking to Robin in her sleep – he very luckily met an American in his POW camp, who taught him this trick – and Robin perks up right away because of the Comfort ™ that she is getting from her Spiritual Encounters with Donal.

And then he comes back alive.  And they’re reunited.  Oh, and Lord Coombe swings it so it’s like his marriage to Robin never happened.  I don’t know how that works because the whole point was that everyone was going to think he was an icky old pervert, marrying his ex-mistress’s daughter, and that was why it was so noble of him to marry Robin; but apparently nobody had noticed yet.  Anyway the marriage with Lord Coombe is then off the table, and Donal confirms that he married Robin.  Still no documents but I guess the word of a Lord’s Heir is good enough.  Donal takes his sweet time going to visit Robin, and then cheats us of the good reunion scene we are entitled to suspect by telling Robin in her dreams the day before he comes back to her.  It’s lame.

I mean, I liked the book a lot – especially when everyone was being coy about Robin and her pregnant state – but hey, man, I wanted my reunion scene.  Stupid spiritualism ruins everything, and don’t let American POWs tell you any different.

The Head of the House of Coombe, Frances Hodgson Burnett

Seriously, how can it be that I have never before known about this book?  This is exactly my kind of book, and I am in total love with its amazing greatness, and I am way, way psyched about reading the thrilling continuation of the story in its sequel, Robin.

Basically there is little angelic Robin and her standoffish airhead twit of a mother, Feather, and Robin is sweet and innocent and only ever makes one friend, the manly gallant eight-year-old Donal, who is promptly whisked away from her because of how sinful and naughty Feather is, being supported financially by the presumably-sleeping-with-her Lord Coombe.  And Robin grows up and gets kidnapped by German spies and then rescued – no, it’s true.  She does.  German spies.  You can’t make that shit up.  It ruins her sweet innocence and rosy outlook on life, which I don’t know why she had one in the first place considering how vile her life was.

There are just so many good things about this book.  Like when Robin, who has been living in a crappy attic room with a wicked pinching nurse while her mother parties downstairs, asks Donal, “What is – a mother?” and also, my personal favorite, “What is – loves you?”  God, it’s amazing.  Oh yeah, and when you find out that Lord Coombe is the way he is because of this lovely frail woman he used to be in love with that looks just like Feather and got beaten to death by her brutal brute of a husband?  That was SO AWESOME.

This is not your mother’s Frances Hodgson Burnett.  I mean, it is my mother’s Frances Hodgson Burnett, because my mum knew about this all along, but it is way not the same as The Secret Garden and The Little Princess.  This is a for-real two-volume novel with young lovers and trials and tribulations.  Loves it.  In some small measure it helps to ease my Ligeia-paper pain, and I will be a-reading Robin (the sequel! in which Robin scandalously gets herself PREGNANT and Donal unsurprisingly gets himself DEAD) this evening before I go to sleep.

Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters

I liked Night Watch enough that I got all of Sarah Waters’s other books out of the library in the hopes that I would be getting a grand new favorite author.  Tipping the Velvet was evidently her first, and I didn’t like it as much as Night Watch, sadly, but I still totally enjoyed it.  So much I stayed up until three last night finishing it even though I have a paper to write today.  I’m doing that straightaway after I write this.

Lots of interesting Victorian underworld in this book.  I spent a lot of this book trying to work out what all that mad Victorian slang was about, which was jolly.  Though I did get fed up with Nancy when she was window-shopping at the tobacconist and the dude came up and talked to her and she was dressed as a boy and she like totally talked back.  I was in my room going “Well that’s just GREAT, Nan, you WINDOW-SHOPPING HUSSY.  Hope you’re enjoying offering that UNEQUIVOCAL SEX INVITE with all that crazed WINDOW-SHOPPING TALKING you are doing.  He is OBVIOUSLY trying to pick you up and that might be okay if you weren’t a GIRL, you humongous MORON.”  Not really fair to get so cross about it.  She didn’t know.

I got seriously worked up about Nancy’s behavior and what I wanted to happen.  Like Florence?  I was against Florence from the beginning.  Why’s everyone always ending up with snotty righteous uninteresting people?  It was like that time Dorothea married Casaubon, only more ugh and no dashing young Will for her to hook up with later.  What if Jane Eyre had married St. John?  Ugh.  About forty pages into the book I went and read the end, and there was this random-ass Florence character I’d never met, so I took against from the beginning, and when she finally showed up I was like PFFT, Florence, I hate that bitch.  So it was good really that she was such an aggravatingly virtuous character and I didn’t have to reconsider my early unfriendly assessment of her.

Well, that’s neither here nor there.  Sarah Waters is a good writer.  Tipping the Velvet was good.  We’ll see, won’t we, whether my fondness for her survives reading her other two books.  I’m saving Affinity for last because it’s about spiritualism.  I like spiritualism.  Hester Whatsherface received a whole play all from Oscar Wilde.

Night Watch, Sarah Waters

Recommended by: A Life in Books, sort of, in that she said she loved anything by Sarah Waters and I randomly grabbed Night Watch when I went to the library.

I don’t know if it’s just because I love Britain in World War II or what, but I really, really loved Night Watch.  It was swell.  I so much didn’t want it to end that I put it down and left it alone for ages before returning to it today and finishing it all up in one gobble.

Basically it’s about four (Kay, Viv, Helen, Duncan – yes, four) people in London during and after World War II.  I am really shocking rubbish at plot synopses, but there’s not a lot more to say on this one.  It’s all about them, and it goes in three sections: one in 1947, one in 1944, and one in 1941, in that order.  So you’re reading to find out how things came about, rather than to see where things are going.  In a way I really like this – I love those films or episodes of TV shows where you see people carrying on doing things, where you see things that are clearly significant but you don’t know why, and then they flash back to a previous thing and you find out why it was so significant.

Which is why I loved this book to pieces all through the 1947 section and the 1944 section.  It was just the 1941 section that I thought fell off a little bit.  In a way, it felt really unnecessary – we find out how Kay and Helen met, how Viv and Reggie met, and what happened with Duncan and Alex.  And it was a bad finish to the book, I thought.  Not that I wasn’t interested to know all these things, but that it was a bad way to leave it, because we weren’t finding out anything that washed backward over the rest of the book and imbued it with new meaning, which I guess is what I was hoping for.  The 1944 section did this gorgeously to the 1947 section, but the 1941 stuff?  Neg.  I was sad and let down and depressed.

Oh, but I really liked the book anyway.  Okay, it didn’t end with a bang, but it was mighty interesting all the same.  And I love the Brits during World War II.  Finest hour, man.  Sarah Waters draws these interactions with such nuance.  I was in love with it.  Actually it reminded me a lot of The Charioteer, and I swear it’s not just because they’re both gay-themed WWII books; it’s the delicacy of the relationships and conversations.

Yay for Sarah Waters.  I checked out her other three books from the library, so I will let you know about those.  I was sad to find there were only three.  I know she’s only 42 and there’s no reason she should have dozens of books all written and if she did it might not suggest something flattering about the quality of her writing, but still, I liked Night Watch a lot and I wished there were lots more like it.  I’d like to give her a Favored Authors tag but it seems premature.

Jenna Starborn, Sharon Shinn

So I read this for my Victorians class, basically because I want to write a paper on it for my final project – that research proposal is due in on Thursday and I’ve given it shockingly little thought in comparison to my usual intensive research schedules with these term paper things – anyway, I’m reading it for my final project, and I didn’t expect it to be any good.  I judge books by their cover, and this cover was rubbish.

I also judge them on really cheap jokes.  The fact that she talks into her little voice recorder, the brand of which is Reeder, makes me throw up a little in my mouth.  Reeder, I married him.  Oop.  There went the acid reflux.  The thing is, Ms. Shinn didn’t maintain this conceit straight through the book, you know?  The book wasn’t a transcript of everything that was recorded by the Reeder.  Most of it was in past tense, and it often talked about her little Reeder voice recorder, so it didn’t work out well, and caused me some dismay.  And also, hi, I’m Jenny, and I don’t like little cutesy jokes about Jane Eyre.

Here’s another thing that caused me some dismay.  Do you know what was wrong with Berthe Rochester (Beatrice Ravenbeck in this version), do you know?  Because I’ll tell you!  She was a malfunctioning cyborg!  She was!  I swear!  I didn’t make that up!  I couldn’t even have made that up if I wanted to which God knows I don’t, because I didn’t know that a cyborg was a part-human-part-robot creature.  Which is what Berthe is here.  A malfunctioning cyborg.  She’s just human enough that poor put-upon Mr. Rochester (Ravenbeck) can’t get rid of her.

I found this whole book trying.  It’s like Ms. Shinn made a big long list of every single scene in Jane Eyre, and then wrote down little notes next to each scene about how she could make them more science-fictiony.  The end result is less than inspiring.  Everyone seems like a cardboard imitation of their original characters in Jane Eyre, and the stuff that’s added in is vastly uninteresting.  I wasn’t, of course, expecting any adaptation to be able to improve on Jane Eyre, which is a book that gives joy to my life; but if Jane Eyre were Oxford, Jenna Starborn would be, like, the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good.

And I’m not just saying that because reading Jenna Starborn caused me to miss out on playing with my nice cousins that I haven’t seen since they were seven and four.  It’s my true opinion.  I would still feel that way if I had been reading Jenna Starborn as an alternative to parking ten eighteen-wheelers on Carlotta Street, or, I don’t know, giving enemas to everyone at the campus health center.  I would.

The Lucifer Effect, Philip Zimbardo

Ick.

Edit to add: Edit to add: Yes, ick.  That’s all I have to say about this book.  It creeped me out and I was loath to finish it but I finished it anyway because I was stuck in the airport and I had nothing else to read except for The Ape Who Guards the Balance, which I had already finished, Jenna Starborn, ditto, and my Norton Anthology of American Literature.

It was all about how people with power over other people become power-mad and psychologically abusive.  It was creepy.  The Stanford Prison Experiment was creepy, creepy, creepy, in addition to being, may I just say, bad science; and I know that the author said he was sorry, but I don’t think he was striking the right tone of total all-encompassing abject remorse.  So I say ick to this book.  It was interesting in a way but mainly I felt icky after I had read it and had to wash it down with Doctor Who, Juno, and part of The Two Towers, all of which were my in-flight entertainment.