I had really loved Ender’s Game when I read it a few months ago, and then was immediately put off a bit once I learned a bit about Card’s politics and ethics. I decided to try this book anyways, and tried to be really conscious of how my enjoyment of the book might be affected by my feelings for the author. I tried to enjoy it, I did, but just could not.
Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead is set some thousands of years after the events in Ender’s Game, and is set mainly on a planet called Lusitania, where a small colony of human live and observe the native species. The Pequeninos, commonly called the piggies, are a sentient species, the first humanity has found since expanding throughout the galaxy after the genocide of the Formics. It is a strange planet, with a very limited and mysterious ecosystem, and the people living there are basically prisoners and abide by a version of Star Trek’s Prime Directive (nerd). There is a virus on the planet that killed many of the humans, until the biologists living on the planet are able to save people from death. One cold and intense young girl experiences a series of tragedies, and calls out to the other worlds for a Speaker of the Dead, someone who relates the truth of a dead person to those left behind. Through the mysteries of space, the Speaker that is called just happens to be the original Speaker – Ender Wiggin.
It is a really, really long set up before any action starts in the book, and it is genuinely kind of boring. Even the surprise reveal near the end doesn’t feel particularly surprising or exciting. The new characters introduced on Lusitania are generally unlikeable and cliche, and Card even manages to rob Ender of the sense of danger and innocence that made hims so appealing in Ender’s Game. The whole novel seems kind of fraught with a heavy handed agenda and an eye on another sequel. Maybe this novel would be better if I could put it in the context of the larger world developed by Card, but I don’t think I am eager to look into the others at this point.
The full title of Jenna Miscavige Hill’s book is Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape. Hill is the niece of David Miscavige, the head of Scientology who is often mentioned along with Tom Cruise in articles about Cruise’s involvement in the cult. The full title is telling, as much of Hill’s book talks about the systemic secrecy and brainwashing that goes on within the non-public side of Scientology. It is a very strange and frightening organization, and this book is very revealing.
Hill grew up in Scientology, as her parents rejoined the Sea Org, an insider’s organization within the church that seems to basically run the entire church, which is in essence an enormous business. Sea Org members, including small children, sign contracts with the church giving their life over to the organization for a billion years. The brainwashing begins even as the children are tiny; Hill and her older brother are basically left to raise themselves with the help of Scientology staff and schools while their parents are sent off to different parts of the country to work for Scientology – Hill was two years old when her family rejoined Sea Org. She and her brother basically lived alone in an apartment until moving to a run down ranch a few years later, put to work remodelling the buildings and grounds while learning how to be good Scientologists. Hill was part of this strange world, and seemed to be subject to extra scrutiny and abuse by nature of her family history. After her brother and parents leave the organization, Hill eventually struggles free herself, accompanied by her husband.
Children who are brought up in the cult are enormously isolated, although it seems public Scientologists and of course the celebrity members have much different experiences. The children are basically made over into a slave labour force, with minimal education, forced separation from family and subject to mental and emotional abuse. It is appalling to read – these children are mistreated and I have to assume that their parents know and understand what is happening to them, particularly since the adult members of the cult seem to be treated in much the same way. Hill writes clearly and in a matter of fact manner, and I suspect she demonstrates some remarkable restraint in terms of providing telling details about people within the cult and some of the abuses perpetrated there. I am baffled about why public Scientologists, who are not as sheltered as inner member are, can continue on in this organization as some references to the abuses must be available to them. Groups like Anonymous and ex-members like Hill are certainly doing their best to bring these out into the light, and the information in the book makes it even harder for me to appreciate celebrities in the cult – it is willful blindness, shameful.
I am honestly unsure about why Scientology’s programs are legal in the Western world at all, and I found this book enormously disturbing. I admire Hill’s courage in telling her story and efforts to bring light on this really appalling situation, and hope her friends and family still within Scientology are able to free themselves one day as well.
I was not familiar with Ellen Forney’s work prior to picking up this graphic novel on a whim at the library, but Forney has a written and illustrated a few other books, and discusses some of her work in the novel as well. I was a bit uncertain about how much I would enjoy this book given its subtitle, as I have been struggling a bit with depression and anxiety myself lately. Escapist reading generally doesn’t include some in depth examination of your own problems, generally, but this was great.
In Marbles, Forney writes and illustrates her journey to balance after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She struggles throughout to reconcile her health issues with her creativity – she worries that medication will dull her creative impulse and alter her personality. Forney gives a lot of detail about her efforts to find the correct medication and treatment plans, how her illness affects her career and also her personal life to some extent.
The book itself has a lot of variety in its illustration – much of it is illustrated by Forney in a comic style, but there are also some photographs of pages of her journal and several lists. She provides some background information on the costs of treating mental illnesses, and also summarizes some research about famous artists and writers and how their struggles influenced their work. She writes with a lot of honesty and forthrightness, presenting her struggles in kind of a matter of fact manner without being overly clinical. Despite it being such an intensely personal story, there really isn’t any sense of a “woe is me” attitude about it – that might be partly a result of the perspective that comes from years of balance after finding the right treatment, but she just generally seems to be well adjusted about the whole thing. Marbles was wonderful – enjoyable and relatable, just a great read .
I have to admit I love William Steig – I think his illustrations are clever and his children’s books are charming and intelligent, particularly Shrek, Pete’s a Pizza, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. In truth, I have recently read Sylvester to my children and it brought me to tears – that is a much different story when you read it as an adult with children. I did not really know Steighad done much work for adults until I came across this beautifully bound and designed book. I think I was too young to have seen any of those when they were first published, and The New Yorker was never really in my cultural sphere anyways.
This book consists of loosely themed chapters of Steig’s unpublished drawings in various stages of completions, accompanied by interesting and person introductions to each set by Jeanne Steig, his last wife. These chapter introductions are really great – they don’t present Steig as a perfect person. He seems rather prickly and introverted, and it does not seem as though his marriage was an always easy. However, they do seem to show him as a person who is an observer, interesting and interested in life and with a great sense of humour. I think I am going to see if there is a more formal biography of this author and artist.
The art itself is quite varied – much of it seems to be earlier rough drafts of work that would be published (or at least submitted). While the style of drawing is recognizably his own, Jeanne Steig talks about how he experimented with colour and pattern as he moved throughout his career. Perhaps I am not a particularly observant person, but I hadn’t really noticed that progression when first browsing the book, so that was a helpful thing to have pointed out. Like many people, he seems to have more sympathy for pets than he does for their owners, although he carefully points out how many people and their pets come to resemble each other over time. This book seems to show his appreciation for the outlandish, and a certain slyness in poking fun at people and their general ridiculousness. It is just a lovely book, and I was so pleased to have run across it.
I am fairly certain that this is a book that I saw recommended on a Pajiba post some time ago – it had been on my to-read list for some time. I finally picked it up late last year, a pretty battered copy from my library. It took me a while to get through it – it is a lengthy and dense novel, with some really loooonnnnnggggg sentences that always lead me to go back and reread the line to make sure I didn’t miss a period.
The first few chapters were a bit of a slog, for me. The Algebraist offers some fairly dense backstory, with much explanation for the spread of humanity throughout the galaxy, a fanatical hatred of artificial intelligence, and an enormous amount of bureaucracy. This story also introduces one of the most outlandish villains I have ever read about, but once the story moves into the relationship between Fassin Taak and the Dwellers the story really takes off. It is epic in scope, with a sweeping political landscape, an intergalactic war, and scientific mysteries about the key to a vast wormhole network. There are also smaller mysteries, which are nicely spread out throughout the book.
I am not sure how I felt about this book. I can appreciate how well it was written, it had some humour scattered throughout, and I was never sure how anything was going to be resolved. I still found it kind of a slog to read sometimes, which is probably more of a reflection on my attention span these days than anything to do with the book itself. I haven’t picked up any of Banks’ other novels since, but I am happy to have read this book.
I have loved Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus mysteries for years. I think that they are likely my favorite series to read for two reasons: they are not particularly gory or graphic, so I don’t get any nightmares after reading them, and because John Rebus is such a different character from those in the other books I normally read. He doesn’t change very much, he is seemingly isolated by choice, and he seems to solve the mysteries through hard work with hard people. He was one of my dad’s favourite characters as well, so that might also be part of my affection for this series.
One of the best parts of Rankin’s novels is always his detailed description of Scotland’s geography, where it almost serves as a character itself. His descriptions of Edinburgh and other areas of Scotland don’t always make it seem inviting, but certainly rich in history and a defining characteristic of how his characters react and are defined. Minette Walters is another author who seems to make good use of differing landscapes and socioeconomic areas in her mysteries, although her novels always seem much more pointed than Rankin’s.
Rankin retired Rebus some years ago, but this new book brings Rebus back to life, tied tangentially to a newish Rankin character called Matthew Fox. I have not read any of the Matthew Fox books, but he seems to parallel Rebus in his obsessiveness and general unlikeablity. Rebus shares more of the novel with other characters in this new novel – Fox, Siobhan Clarke, and villains new and old. As the age of retirement has changed, Rebus has a chance to reapply to the police and stop working as a civilian on cold cases. The mystery itself is nothing revolutionary, but the story seems to serve as a tool to intertwine all the new characters for the inevitable next novel. I look forward to reading it.
I had been thinking about reading Ender’s Game for ages, but it was never in the library when I remembered to look for it. Recently desperate for something absorbing to read, I gave in and bought the most retro-covered paperback at the book store.
This book was so, so great – no surprise to anyone else who has read it over the last 20 years. I did not really love the introduction that Card wrote some years after first publishing the novel – it was kind of self-congratulatory and off putting. I am not sure I need my authors to refute their critics in later editions of their books, with supporting documentation from fans.
The story itself was great, however. It focuses on a young boy nicknamed Ender, selected by Earth’s military establishment for an elite training program, designed to find a leader to lead an attack against a species that had previously attacked Earth. The training program is for children as young as 6, and all of them are enormously intelligent and talented. The novel is really tightly plotted – there are virtually no description of any physical characteristics, the isolation of the children feels oppressive throughout the novel, and the framing device of each chapter beginning with conversations amongst the adults about how they are knowingly damaging Ender for a particular purpose adds a developing sense of foreboding throughout the novel.
About 3/4 of the way through the book, I went onto Wikipedia to read a bit about Orson Scott Card, and was a dismayed to read about his very work with conservative organizations, most notable those advocating against same-sex marriage and previously those working to keep homosexuality illegal. I know that Card is a conservative Mormon, and these views are in line with his religion, but I had to consciously keep my focus on the story and off his politics when finishing the story. It was a bit strange, and I have to think more about how to reconcile my personal feelings about Card’s politics with my enjoyment of his novels.