Earthseed Series Review

60932I had never heard of Octavia Butler until I was assigned Dawn to read in a science fiction literature class I took in college. I read so much science fiction in that course, deeply enjoying most every one I read. I devoured Planet of the Apes, The Martian Chronicles (for a second time), and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Dawn is what affected me the most. That book got under my skin.

When I read Butler’s esteemed Kindred later on, I remember liking it but it was no Dawn. With Kindred, I could not revel in the same themes and penetrating ideas that Dawn had once offered me. Maybe I just liked Butler’s big science fiction worlds, not her more realistic stories. I was wrong.

The Earthseed series, consisting of The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents, seamlessly blends realism with the dread of the not so distant future. These novels play so well to a representation of our Earth that is popular in science fiction now: a desolate, barren world with the latest in technology. And it always feels too real. Just thinking about the wasteland of Mad Max: Fury Road becoming reality is terrifying, but with the way we continue to abuse our planet we know some version of this may be coming. That’s what Butler shows us in these books, but it’s more than just a destroyed land. The Parable of the Talents shot a dart right in the bullseye of present day America.

Butler’s world is only a few years ahead of ours, but it has so many allusions to the current political climate and eerie warnings of the future that it felt like reading Orwell’s 1984. No one is safe in America. Corporations are buying towns, people of all classes are struggling to get by, the literacy rate is pitiful, citizens must pay policemen for any kind of service, and a new president, preaching a good and Christian America is not doing anything to help. This president during his campaign uttered words that would send a shiver down my spine as I read them: “Help us to make America great again.”

While there aren’t overt threats of terrorism in these novels, President Jarret is interested in a Christianized America, one without the diversity of other separate religions, separate even from many sects of Christianity. This intolerance makes the life of the novels’ protagonist, Lauren Olamina, quite difficult. She has hopes to create this new religion called Earthseed. The reader thinks of Lauren as a sort of prophet because she speaks about Earthseed as certain truths she has been made aware of. She has compiled these together, creating Earthseed’s religious doctrine. The ultimate goal of Earthseed is to travel among the stars when you are still alive and make your new home somewhere out there in space. You don’t die, you just go to space to live your next life. It’s a pretty strange to religion and it’s exactly what President Jarret would consider a cult and call its followers witches.

The Parable of the Talents is the one that got under my skin most, like Dawn had. I really gravitate towards books that play with religion in interesting ways. But it’s the subtle warnings of what can easily become the state of our planet and our country.

The year has barely begun, but there are more than enough novel to real life similarities to cite.

Halts on funding concerning climate and the prominence of climate deniers.

The wall.

The travel ban.

Some of the intolerances of present-day U.S. seem to have reached their conclusion in The Parable of the Talents. People empowered under their own interpretation of President Jarret’s Christian America, seek change in horrifying ways. That’s something we saw after this January’s inauguration as well as after this past November’s election results were announced.

I don’t mean to bottle these novels into political propaganda at all. They are so much more than that. The best books reflect on those parts of ourselves that we don’t want to look at. Butler does that in novel ways that feel familiar. Butler implores us to be stronger than we believe ourselves to be, to choose kindness over hate. It’s amazing that anyone can be as strong as the characters in these novels, but we can certainly try.

“In order to rise
From its own ashes
A phoenix
First
Must
Burn.”

Across the Universe Review

8235178Across the Universe is one of those cleverly written YA novels that introduces science fiction to those teen girls who are somewhat averse to the over-complications of the sci-fi genre. It does this pretty well, but never well enough to be in the same league as series like The Hunger Games.

This much more the stuff of science fiction though: cryo chambers, a monoethnic race, spaceship life, hundreds of year in the future. And yet it never feels as heavy as so many novels with elements such as these tend to be, perhaps because it happens through the minds of a couple of teens.

Amy and her parents are put into cryo chambers to sleep for 300 years in anticipation for colonizing a new planet. These cryo chambers are occupied by military officials and other important individuals to help in this colonization. Except Amy, she’s non-essential. While they’re asleep a new race of people will run the ship as it makes its way to the new planet. When Amy is awakened about 100 years too early, she learns about the strange society that has taken root. One ruled by a man named Eldest and his strangely loyal subjects. Amy and the next in line to power, Elder, befriend each other and discover the great web of secrets about the ship.

The novel is told entirely in the first person, alternating between Amy and Elder each chapter. Now because I listened to this book via audiobook, I was able to hear the voice actors take on emotions and personality of each character. I don’t usually listen to audiobooks, and I think if I could have I would have preferred to read the novel. I felt a constant suspension of disbelief listening to the female actor for Amy, although I found my experience listening to the male actor voicing Elder to be far worse.

Amy sounded very teenish, which probably was true to the character, however I already knew I was reading a young adult novel. I would have preferred a less “in your face” portrayal of this. There are many times in which Amy mentions the short, clipped accents of the people aboard the ship. The voice actor for Elder didn’t have this accent so it removed me from the experience of this novel.

An Ode to Morning, Afternoon, Grocery Shopping, and Bar Hopping Commute

7916608184_0ecfb0087d_bMy recent move to New York City has caused a number of changes in my life. The sudden shock of living on your own and having to provide for yourself is arguably the greatest shift. In my day to day life, I am oh so aware of my reliance on public transit and its ability to transport me to a new world.

I knew that moving here meant giving up my car, and I couldn’t have been more excited. Don’t get me wrong I loved my years with my Prius, but mostly because it was my most sustainable option living in Miami. I dreamed about a day where I wouldn’t have to drive miles to that store or restaurant that I like. I couldn’t wait to skip the morning and afternoon rush hour to and from the office.

I hadn’t even thought about how this would impact my reading life.

Last year I was in a bit of a reading slump, as I have been during many periods in my life and I know many of my friends have been as well. My senior year of college involved studying hard, figuring out what the next step in my life would be, and getting my last fill of all of the wonderful people I got to know at university. So my reading fell by the wayside to make room for what I considered priorities at the time.

Even moving to New York and getting work in my career field of choice (yay!) didn’t catapult me into picking up various novels I had begun over the past year. My new life as a self-reliant adult had me pretty brain busy and I relied mostly on watching television for entertainment rather than reading. Especially after Netflix introduced their offline viewing and I realized I could fit a bite-size sitcom episode into my subway commute.

I finished watching all of Cheers and decided to pick up a book for my subway commute. It began with Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey. It fit easily into my purse and because of its size and length I got through it pretty quickly. I started downloading longer form novels onto my Kindle and that really set a course for change. When I started joining a coworker for a quick 30 minute workout during lunch, I realized I could set the font size up and get some more reading in then too. And my trip to the grocery or meeting a friend in the city for drinks? Well my Kindle is already in my purse so might as well read then too. I just couldn’t put down the stories.

That’s one of the things I find about great stories. Even if you haven’t read for months or years, they can really set you back on a good groove of daily reading. Reading so often during those in-between times of my day influenced me to continue those stories at home and revive this blog and my love for book discussion. And just cause I’m reading more doesn’t mean I’m not watching Netflix. I still watch Netflix a ton, but I love indulging in all forms of media so Netflix will never really find its way out of my life. I’ve just found the ways to balance TV, film, books, art, and all the ways I bring outside knowledge to my life.

Goth Girl Review

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One love that David and I share (David may take ownership over it a bit more than I) is Neil Gaiman’s books. His stories have heart and magic in the best possible ways and I’m always excited to read (or watch) his next story. Gaiman’s partnered with Chris Riddell a few times on his children’s stories, where Riddell provides a number of illustrations to accompany the writing. I had no idea Riddell wrote too, until I came across a recommendation of his children’s series Goth Girl by a British booktuber.

Upon hearing the name I knew I had to read it, fancying myself a bit of a goth at times. Not really, but I have an affinity for wearing black, a bit like Neil Gaiman. Hmm, coincidence? I didn’t get around to reading even just the first book in the series for a couple years as I found it incredibly difficult to get a hold of in the states. But when I got my hands on a copy I was surprised to find that Ada, our child protagonist, is not a goth at all. Goth is simply her surname, though a number of gothic things do seem to occur at her father’s estate.

It is refreshing that Riddell treats his (child) readers respectfully, not condescending but rather rewarding the intelligence and preciousness found in young readers. The book is filled to the brim with silly asides, hilarious puns, and more literary references than you could shake an umbrella at. In addition, his prose builds, with deliciously unnecessary adjectives, a dark playground of a world. Riddell’s playful, absurd illustrations compliment these playful, absurd descriptions of Ada Goth’s life, from the tiny illustrations at the beginning of the chapter to the unexpectedly intricate two page spreads. His spidery lines string together adorable ghostly mice and ghastly indoor gamekeepers into something quite, well, gothic.

Underneath all the references and gothic elements, the reader is left with a message that is wholly modern and dare I say slightly political. When exotic creatures start showing up in captivity for a lordly hunt to take place on the estate, you know one girl and some of her friends will find that its up to them to save them from certain death. For a children’s book that hits all the marks for adults just as well as kids, feast your eyes on this literary and artistic story (if you can find it).

P.S. Check out the tiny book in the back after you finish. The mouse-sized poetry is the cherry on atop this adorable cake.

A Monster Calls Review

Stories are wild creatures,” the monster said. “When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?

Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

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This book, as so many do, tugs at the heartstrings. But what makes A Monster Calls unique is in the way and capacity in which this is done. I wouldn’t call this book eloquent in the way that Ness strings words together to make them beautiful, but in its dealing with rough and tough topics so expertly. The mastery here is in the simplicity. He writes as if speaking to a child and it’s what makes the story all the more haunting and brilliant.

Conor, our protagonist, has been suffering from dreadful nightmares. It’s something so horrible he can’t bare to speak about it. As the book progresses, it becomes quite evident to the reader just what this monster he’s having nightmares about might be. Another monster comes to visit him because he’s having such a rough time of it. Conor’s mother is battling cancer, his loathsome grandmother comes to help out, the bullies at school love to pick on him, and his estranged father makes everything all the more complicated.

What makes the appearance of these monsters so scary is their realness. The yew tree monster continuously proves himself to be real. And you don’t find out just how real the monster Conor is terrified of is until the end. The yew tree monster shows its significance throughout this short novel in many ways. Ultimately, he’s there to bring justice, though his form of justice is quite unorthodox.

This book feels a lot like Wonder, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. And it’s probably just as great, so I don’t know why it’s not as widely known. Even so, A Monster Calls is being turned into a film that looks perfectly deep, dark, and mysterious. I’m excited to watch the yew tree monster scenes and see the magnitude of the character brought to life on screen.