It has been a while since I reviewed an Orson Scott Card book, mainly because I have read them all and now have to anxiously wait for a new one to come out. I am on the author alert at the library and they sent me an email saying a new novel from him had been released: Earthborn (Homecoming).  Now I thought that I had read the whole Homecoming series, but since I couldn’t remember for sure, I got it again.  Sure enough I had read it (the library had bought a new addition), but I didn’t remember it fully so I sat down and read it again.

This series is wonderful, but I would recommend reading it from the beginning. The Memory of Earth is the first in this five-part series and by far the most interesting to read.  In this future world, humans have left Earth to settle in Harmony and Earth is such a distant memory it is a myth. A powerful computer manipulates the settlers towards its goal: to return to the lost home planet. While as a Christian, I grapple a little bit with his idea of a computer as a semi-god; manipulating lives. However, I love the feminist society that he creates in the first book (unfortunately, this society decays in the next few books, but women remain complex and important characters) .  The characters with their special powers are complex and interesting to imagine.

In Earthborn (Homecoming), the original characters are so far in the distant past they have become almost gods.  The new cast has some of the same special abilities as the originals yet they deal with the abilities in different ways.  However, their issues are not returning to a distant home planet, rather how to get along with the new creatures who have populated Earth, creatures far different from humans.  The resulting conflicts resonate with the racism that we still deal with in our world, and with what it really means to be human. 


Diving into the wreck

Diving into the Wreck is divided into three parts.  The first two are the most interesting from a technology science fiction angle, the last more suspenseful and dramatic.  This should give  you a clue which ones I like the best.  The future Kristine Kathryn Rusch has created in this book is so distant, that while technically advanced from today, they have lost some of their best technology.  As a wreck diver, the lead character searches the universe for old spaceships, from which she sells items.  The she discovers in this book  with its unusual technology may be her biggest haul.

The lead character in this book, “Boss” is a tough nut to crack.  Rusch likes this hard-nosed character but in spite of the character’s seriousness, she does have a deep moral code and a very caring heart.  The main villain besides the nameless, faceless Empire is her father.  She battles her own mixed feelings when she comes in contact with him, besides his diabolical nature.

As always, Kristine Kathryn Rusch creates a seamless future world.  The ideas are completely reasonable and coherent.  She has a way of writing that evokes comic books, quick, to the point and full of action.

The retrieval artist

The Retrieval Artist: A Short Novel (Retrieval Artist series) includes a short novel and a few short stories set in a complex future of alien legality.  With the interaction of humans and aliens comes the certainty that an individual may unknowingly break a law within the alien cultural structure.  Intergalactic law demands satisfaction on the aliens’ terms especially in circumstances that create destruction to an ecosystem or murder.  These people who often unwittingly break the law, disappear, much like the Nazi war criminal in South America.  This creates a whole series of complications, which plays out in many interesting ways. Kristine Kathryn Rusch has written several novels in this future, but this is a prequel and a companion.

In this future, cultural sensitivity is raised to a new level. Yet she never creates alien characters. Aliens are the mise en scene, the landscape. She never deals with aliens as plot vehicles, thereby creating a metaphor of alien as the environment with an eye toward xenocide.

In this series, she writes in the voice of the old private eye, but with a moon base for a home, instead of the big gritty city.  (Ironically, the city’s dome is slightly malfunctioning so there is literal grit.)  The companion stories included in this book are told from the perspective of a anthropological psychologist.  This character has a different voice, but is also fun to read.  He has made mistakes in the past, and is hoping for redemption. Both characters grapple with serious demons.  Her characters often have hard shell, but are cracked easily.

I enjoy how Ms. Rusch has a great knack for creating a believable future. She is also one of the few authors who have created a very hopeful future (in the current culture of apocalypse and zombies).

All wound up

Yes, after I read Yarn Harlot,  I went to the library and put all of Yarn Harlot’s books on hold.  This is why I have trouble with the 30 hold and check out limits.  Anyway,  All Wound Up: The Yarn Harlot Writes for a Spin, is just as funny as Yarn Harlot.  Again Stephanie Pearl-McPhee talks about the frustration of patterns, and the irritating questions non-knitters ask knitters.  I empathize with her stories about her knitting stories as they run very close to my quilting stories.

Ms. Pearl-McPhee also has a remarkable ability to laugh at daily life. She includes a story about her husband getting trapped in his pick up truck that is hilarious.  She also is able to capture with clarity those little voices we all  have, the petty ones that wonder why are people so unwittingly rude, as she makes up things to say to people’s odd questions when she knits in public.  She also reminds of the things our moms ingrained in us: that we should have a clean house, we should get dressed in the morning and so on. 

Hunger Games – the movie

I am a huge fan of this series of books, so for my birthday I was excited to see the movie version.  As always after seeing the film, our family erupted into a long discussion of whether it was a good movie or not.  It was half and half (not as usual, boys against the girl), divided by those who had read the book and those who had not.  The readers felt the plot was true to the book with some minor issues, the non-readers found it vapid and predictable.

Even though I know it is the current style, I felt the first part was very jarring with the whip around, hand-held, type of  iPhone camera work. I find this style disorienting, even slightly nauseating.  I was left wondering why a major motion picture would have camera work as amateur as a You Tube video.  I think the director was trying to differentiate between the capital and the home town by this camera work, to signify that Katniss was caught up in a situation beyond her control, and show the world from her perspective.  This technique failed on all accounts with me.  I wear glasses and any kind of blurriness makes me think it’s me, then I take off my glasses and clean them.  After I figure out it is NOT me but the movie, the director has knocked me out of the imaginary film space.  Fortunately, after Katniss reaches the capital, this camera work ends and the film is more stable.  Much to my relief.

I loved the costumes of the film.  The people in Katniss’s district were dressed in a 1940’s style: somewhat ill-fitting washed out color which look homemade. This resonated with Walton’s mountain – playing into the idea that her district is set in a future Virginia. The style of their clothes also evokes the newsreels of Jewish transports to a concentration camp.  There were visual triggers to fascism throughout the film. Some examples of the fascist elements were  the expressions of the crowds and the personal cult of the players and media. Other strong visual elements lead us back to Roman decadence were the opulent food, overtly styled roman chariots ushering the contestants into the stadium and the weird sort of gladiator weapons of battle axes and swords. Katniss was already an expert archer which resonates more with the Grecian warrior. She is cast as future Artemis, and like the myth: she misses the deer in the forest, she is virginal – they try to get her to kiss without reluctance, and she finds protection and safety high in the trees. Katniss is a child of the earth, a very fair-of-face goddess, which the high society ravish when they dress her up in holographic fire.

The details that I missed in the film were not important to me as an informed viewer, but the two people who hadn’t read the book missed the short references, and were left with a flatter experience.  For example, on the train Katniss and Peeta were shown a dizzying array of fancy food, and food is mentioned several times.  In the book, we know that the Hunger Games are sustained by a false scarcity of food.  When the film doesn’t focus on this, the games are not as urgent.

The book is written from Katniss’ point of view. But the film’s point of view is multiple and it bounces around from various perspectives from Katniss at the beginning, to the audience within the film space who can view the action from the cameras hidden in the trees and bushes, to our overall view-point.  While Katniss can guess why things are happening the way the are in the arena and react to them, we as viewers see the actual manipulation. Unfortunately, these other view points create a disconnect with the viewer.  The literary Katniss did not know the machine behind the events in the stadium while she was there and the literary viewer only knew what she knew. For example, how do they turn holographic dogs into real dogs? If we just saw the dogs come out of no where as in the book, we would just accept them as part of the landscape. Instead we see them created in holographic form by a technician, then become actual running after Katniss and company.

All my criticism aside, I enjoyed the movie.  I love seeing a strong heroine and much of it played out as it did in my imagination.  I would recommend reading the book before seeing the movie to get the full experience.  My co-viewers would argue that the movie should stand on its own as a piece of art, but those of us who love reading can enjoy the partial visual fulfillment of our imagination. I look forward to the next one.

Some assembly Required: A journal of My Son’s First Son

I had the remarkable experience of seeing Anne Lamott at the Barnes and Noble in Edina.  She read a little bit, then answered questions.  It is striking how her physical way of speaking is exactly as her books are written; her actual casual way of talking is her actual writing voice.  It was a great experience because I see her as my scout in parenting (along with my lovely sister-in-law), plowing just a few years ahead of me in her books.  The first book I read of hers, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, came out the year my older son, was born.  So, her book came out just as I was experiencing my son’s first year of life.
Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son is a book about becoming a grandparent.  As far as I know, I am not on that road yet, and hopefully not for a while, but the book had some great advice about giving up control as a child becomes an adult.  This has not been easy for me, although I am cognizant of the need, and do my best, which in Ms. Lamott’s world is all anyone can do.

There is nothing ground breaking in this book, just an extension of her self-effacing humor, however, she has lost a little bit of the desperate slightly breathless edge her writing used to have.  She has aged, mellowed and matured.  While she is still able to laugh at herself, her life is more stable, and with that stability comes a calmer, more grace-filled person.  I still enjoy her books but they don’t touch me in quite the same way.

the Memory Palace

The Memory Palace is a difficult and strange book to read.  The book is a memoir of Mira Bartok’s relationship with her mentally ill mother.  It begins at the end of her mother’s life and then goes through the author’s life with her mother in a semi-chronological way.  She uses short passages from her mother’s diary to illustrate her mother’s madness and also, how she cared about her children in her own cloudy way.  It is not an easy book to read especially for anyone who is or has a mother.  In order to have any sort of normal life, both the author and her sister have to hide from their mother because her mother physically threatens them.  Even though the author is in engulfed in sadness about her mother, the book conveys she still feels her mother’s love.  She still responds to that, in some ways, in spite of herself.  There is a poignant death scene at the end, a feeling that the author and her sister were able to have some kind of closure with the situation.