Saturday, November 29, 2014

Ender's World

Ender's World is made up of a number of essays about Ender's Game. Most are by literary types describing how the novel impacted their lives and writing career. Interspersed with the essays are some short Q&As and other short bits from Card providing details on the book and his writing process.

What I found most interesting was some of the commentary about the end of Ender's Game. One started out describing how he initially wanted to change the ending to keep a strong "action" story. After reading again, he later realized the ending was useful after all and decided to keep it. I had almost the exact opposite experience. I did not care much for Ender's Game. It just seemed to be a lame action story. However, the ending really turned me on. It showed that there was some promise, and lead me to read the excellent sequel, Speaker for the Dead. (In one of the essays, Card mentions that the novel form with its ending was written to set up Speaker for the Dead.)

When Ender's Game was released, I was reading a lot of Science Fiction. However, I have no recollection of the story. Either it had no impact on me, or I never read it. (I'm guessing I never read it, since I did enjoy some of Card's other Mormon humor and Commodore 64 computer writings.)

Did Ender's Game really have a big role on literature and society? One essay talked about the true independent world-changing child protagonist. Previously, children would have things happen to them, but now it seems every story is lead by a child or a teenager. Was Ender's Game really that influential in bringing out the strong-willed child? Or did it just go along for the ride? The Narnia children did a pretty good job of saving the world on their own. Roald Dahl's children lead the narrative. Charlie Bucket may have been dominated by Willy Wonka's machinations, but Mathilda sure enacted plenty of change on her own. Today we have Percy Jackson, Hunger Games, Twilight and Harry Potter. All are stories where a child or teen needs to make decisions to help save the world. Have we swung too far in the direction of strong-willed child? Are adults just not interesting anymore? Do books need to be centered on functional adolescents to be successful?

Another interesting essay was from a military leader who used Ender's Game to train other military officers. I was amazed to hear that Card did not have any military experience. He seems to dive deeply into the experience of a true leader - the person that controls rather than the person that wears the stripes. I can see how the story would be useful in modelling leadership. The "crusty" military are concerned more with their own position and rank, and are more able to sit in an office than fight a war. The "leaders" need to be able to think on their own and value the goal above personal gain. (It is interesting to hear that both Card and the military leader were giddy about their meeting.)

Friday, November 28, 2014

InterGalactic Medicine Show: Big Book of SF Novelettes (InterGalactic Medicine Show Big Books)

The nice thing about story collections is that you can quickly get past the bad stories. The downfall, is that once you find a story that has characters you really like, it is over too soon. The novelettes in this collection are a little longer than typical stories, but still in the "short" category. Few of the stories were really memorable.

Content list available at producer's site

Introduction by Edmund R. Schubert, read by Stefan Rudnicki - A nice introduction of the advantages of development that can take place in novelettes (and the disadvantages of longer stories costing more on a per-word basis.)

“Sojourn for Ephah” by Marina J. Lostetter, read by Arthur Morey - something with some church and colony.

“Brutal Interlude” by Wayne Wightman, read by Paul Boehmer - A pet-shop owner is attracted to a woman who runs a tea shop across the street. He finally gets the courage to talk to her, and she returns to his shop to ask him a favor. But then she gets chosen for a reality show that monitors every last minute of their life. Contestants are paid well and get what they want, but they can't leave the show as long as they produce good ratings. She is miserable at first, but then she transforms herself into a new personality. She uses this notoriety to manipulate her fans to carry out their base desires and eventually destroy all of those that set up the show. It all makes a strong statement on the gradual debasement of society.

“Under the Shield” by Stephen Kotowych, read by Stefan Rudnicki - Something about revisionist history, Russians and a death ray.

“Hologram Bride” by Jackie Gamber, read by Roxanne Hernandez - Some girls go as part of a marriange exchange program to another planet. They discover the marriage isn't what they thought it was. (Something about being shared, and hormonal craziness of men and outward appearance of women.) They also end up foiling a plan of a older woman there. It's a little farfetched. Somehow these aliens have very similar deep-set values, but very different physical values.

“The Curse of Sally Tincakes” by Brad R. Torgersen, read by Emily Rankin - Some type of race where all the women seem to die, and this woman just ends up in the hospital at the end.

“The Absence of Stars” by Greg Siewert, read by Arthur Morey - Something about a roving black hole that wiped away Pluto.

“Essay: Making Ender Smart” by Orson Scott Card, read by Orson Scott Card - It all seemed very logical.

“Mazer in Prison” by Orson Scott Card, read by Stefan Rudnicki - I think I read this in another of IGMS collection before.

“When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer” by Jamie Todd Rubin, read by Paul Boehmer - A simple love story that happens to lead to a discovered alien ship. Not a "great" story, but the simple innocence made it one of my favorites in this collection.

“Body Language” by Mary Robinette Kowal, read by Gabrielle de Cuir - A motion capture pupeteer uses her skills to help rescue a kidnapping victim, and in turn unravel a number of different cover-ups. It almost tries to be a thriller.

“Tabloid Reporter to the Stars” by Eric James Stone, read by Stefan Rudnicki - I remember reading this one earlier as a flash-fiction short story. This version expands on the characters, but still relies on the main hook. I think I liked the shorter version better.

“On Horizon’s Shores” by Aliette de Bodard, read by Emily Rankin - An alien race on an important commercial planet is proving difficult to interact with. Some people receive a treatment that allows them to become more like them. They need to carry out there mission and return before they loose their humanity for good. One person is in it for relative and ends up staying. Or something like that. There was an interesting premise, but I seemed to have lost the story.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Earth Awakens (The First Formic War)

Two gung-ho youth bankrolled by a billionaire's son infiltrate an alien ship and make a plan to defeat it. Through the help of a crack military team (MOPS), they are able to go back and use the ship's weapons and some A-team type ingenuity to defeat the alien formics.

Like the other books in this "first formic war" series, this is all action with just enough plot and character to cause conflict and keep things moving along. (This just leads itself to a Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay summer action flick.) And in the action vein, it ends with a character discovering that this alien ship was only a scout ship that split off from a huge armada.

The "good" characters in the book always seem to know what to say and how to lead the other characters. The only real growth in character we see comes from the billionaire's son. He wants to be appreciated and wants to help, but he has trouble distinguishing between friend and enemy (and acting appropriately.) It is almost painful to watch him because we always know who will be good or bad (because the other characters are so black and white.)

The story is a fun quick read, but not something worth investing a lot of time.

Lovelock: Mayflower Trilogy Part I

The narrator of this book plans an incestuous relationship with his own daughter, but murders her when he discovers she will not bear his children. He also throws excrement when he gets mad. He is also nosy, and peaks in on other people's secrets. (From this he is able to discover an incestuous relationship between a teenage daughter and her father.) He works as a servant to an esteemed biologist. The biologist has plenty of problems with her family. Her mother in law is an overbearing, melodramatic rich snob. Her father in law is subservient, but eventually leaves the family for single life (and dies after engaging in hard work.) Her husband has an affair with her friend, but that seems to be more of an excuse to leave the relationship and hide the true affair with another man. It all makes for a great uplifting story, right?

The setting is on a ship set to go on a long interstellar colinizing voyage. The narrator is a super-genius monkey that is trained to be a "witness" to record all the details of his master. He realizes that he has been denied the ability to reproduce and longs for it, thus trying to hatch his own spouse from some stored embryos. His daughter does not do well without a full time mother, and he later discovers there are separate "enhanced" monkeys like himself that are out there.

The ship is divided into groups, such as "Mayflower" and "Ganges" that are extreme caricatures of real life. The biologist and her family are also overly stereotyped. The only moderately believable characters are the children, and they only play a minor role in the story.

The story feels like a first pass at an interesting concept. Perhaps it would have been fleshed out better if the next two books in the planned trilogy were ever written.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Why Economies Rise and Fall

The rising tide lifts all boats. As such, wouldn't everybody want their economy to rise? If so, why do economies sometimes fall? This teaching company course presents a historical overview of what has caused the rise and fall of various economies and lessons that can be applied today. The approach is much more historical than quantitative.

Countries seek to raise the standard of living of everyone. Through trading, specialization and industrialization, they can seek those results. Many different ideologies and policies have been used to help grow economies. These lectures, however, intentionally dismiss the ideology arguments and focus on what has worked. Some policies from opposite ends of the political spectrum have in their respective times produced impressive economic growth. At other times, each has fallen on their face. There have been numerous "miracles" of outsized economic growth. However, these miracle growths are often followed by a sharp fall. The US has become one of the largest economies by growing only a percentage point more than other economies - but compounding that over many years. Will China be able to sustain its growth rate?

These lectures though short on hard science were fairly interesting in "magazine article" sense. Only in the ending did he drift off into conjecture of the future. (Is the US ceding its place? Will other countries really stop lending so much money to the US, and how will that impact the country? We don't know.)

I and Thou

There were some interesting parts of this work. However, wading through the text to get to them was a challenge. The audiobook started with plenty of commentary before getting to the actual work. Then there is the matter of it being a philosophical work originally written in German. This was not intended to be easy for the average English speaker to read. The commentary even admits that some may be lost in translation. The work has some religious undertones, but is more philosophy than religious. He posits that relationships, especially to God are very important, yet he doesn't care what type of relationship. There also seemed to be a good deal about the meaningless material "you" vs. the more important eternal "thou". I imagine this may have been clearer with the grammatical constructs of Germany. Alas, in English, it is very muddled.