Cinder

Sep. 30th, 2012 02:47 pm
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CinderI picked this up thinking it looked like steampunk. It’s more cyberpunk than steampunk, but still fun a fun fairy tale/sci-fi mashup.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Read by Rebecca Soler.

Obviously, we know going into this story that it’s a Cinderella story. But the setting is changed to such a degree that how things are going to play out is much more in question than in a more straightforward fairy-tale novelization. Over a hundred years since the end of WW IV, Earth has consolidated down to a handful of large countries. Cinder, a teenage cyborg, lives in New Beijing, in the Eastern Commonwealth. The man who decided to take the bold step of adopting a despised cyborg died years ago, leaving Cinder in the very un-tender care of his wife. Cinder (trying hard to conceal that she’s a cyborg under her grease-stained cargo pants) supports her step-family by working as a mechanic from a tiny booth in the market square, accompanied by a cute and friendly little droid named Aiko. The very first day that we meet her, she’s visited by Prince Kai, heir to the Emperor’s Throne, who has a faulty tutor droid he wants repaired. Though Cinder’s never been the type to drool over handsome celebrities, she can’t help falling for Kai in person. Then, almost immediately, a vendor across the square screams as the blue spots of deadly letemosis appear on her. She’s airlifted from the spot; everyone visible is tested and evacuated. Back home, stepmother Audrey is busy getting her daughters, Pearl and Peony, ready for the annual ball (still a few weeks off) and insists that Cinder drop everything to fix the family hover so they can take it. Peony is the nice sister here, and she goes off to the dump with Cinder to help her look for the needed parts. Everything goes wrong when Peony shows signs of the plague and is taken away straight from the dump. Audrey is so enraged that Cinder isn’t ill as well that she volunteers her for the ongoing letemosis research program, always done on cyborgs since cyborgs aren’t considered real humans. This is where things get really interesting.

Meanwhile, we’re also hearing about Prince Kai’s point of view. His father, the Emperor, also has letemosis, and while it will still be fatal for him, at least he isn’t quarantined where his family can’t see him. For years, the Emperor has been trying to enter in peace agreements with the Lunar Queen, Lavanna. Lunars used to be humans, but in centuries on Luna developed mind control and the ability to make themselves look beautiful to others, which then increases their powers. Queen Lavanna used ruthless means to come to power, including setting her three-year-old niece’s bedroom on fire some 13 years ago, and doesn’t treat her subjects any better than you’d expect with that kind of attitude towards power. Prince Kai knows that a marriage alliance is Earth’s best hope, but is putting secret resources into seeing if he can find the princess, rumored to have escaped to earth from the burning bedroom. All through these events, Cinder and Kai bump into each other more than one would think normally possible, and have trouble not thinking about each other in between times. Rebecca Soler’s voice does well for Cinder and Dr. Erlund, the letemosis research doctor, but I found it hard to distinguish between Kai and Cinder.

There were some little things that bothered me with Cinder. Kai and Cinder are both impetuous teenagers, getting angry easily and mouthing off inappropriately. I get this in Cinder, who’s had a lifetime of neglect and built up a lot of resentment. I don’t quite buy it in a prince, though teenage readers might not have this same issue with him. The Big Reveal came too close to the end for me, especially since it seemed pretty obvious from much earlier in the story. The lunar powers never worked out quite to my satisfaction. It seems that the deal is you use them, unethically manipulating the people around you, or you don’t use them and go crazy from the suppressed powers. While there ought to be some ethical compromise, I never really felt that this worked out well. The cyborg issue was a little confusing – why would people having an artificial limb or two no longer be considered real people? But, Meyer did well with looking thoughtfully at the issues of prejudice surrounding both cyborgs and Lunars. Fair warning: this is one of those first-in-a-series books that has a perfunctory ending with lots of loose plot ends. Even with all that, I really liked Cinder and Kai and got absorbed with their problems. I can see why this has been a big hit, and will be keeping my eye out for the sequels.

Crossed

Apr. 9th, 2012 03:09 pm
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Warning – this is a sequel, and there is no way to read it without spoilers for the first novel.

CrossedCrossed by Ally Condie
At the end of the last book, Matched, I vaguely recall, our heroine Cassia used her Sorting skills to inadvertently send her forbidden love, Ky, off to the border lands, which meant almost certain death. As we find in an opening chapter from Ky’s perspective, it’s not just labor, nor even being a soldier, but being sent with a bunch of other Abberation teens as targets, armed with pretend weapons, against the Enemy. Ky is one of the few to have made it more than a few days. Cassia, knowing only that she needs to find Ky, goes to a work camp to get closer to him. From there, she runs away to find him with a girl called Indie. Meanwhile, Ky escapes with another survivor, Vick, as well as a younger boy, Eli. They run into the messy series of canyons called the Carving, which Ky remembers from his youth, before his parents were killed. They are looking for an independent community of farmers that Ky remembers used to live there. Cassia manages to learn which way he went, but of course they are not leaving at the same time. Gradually, Cassia learns that the poem she’s memorized about the Pilot is a code poem for the Rising, a rebel group. Believing that Ky must have been part of this all along, she’s now hoping both to find Ky and to join the Rising. But Ky’s true feelings about both the Rising and the Society, which between them killed his parents, are more complicated than that. Shortly before running away from the work camp, Cassia also gets a visit from Xander, her official Match and her lifetime best friend. He’s clearly still interested in her romantically, and he also gives her an illegally obtained supply of the Society’s blue pills – only one of which is supposed to be in her official Society pill box at any time. She believes that they are meant to allow her to do without food for a day or so if she needs it, but hears from others on her journey that they are poison – either meant to put people into suspended animation until the Society can find them, or kill them outright. This felt like a weakness in the book to me, as they talk about the pills a lot, but it’s never clear what exactly they do or if Xander knew what they really do when he gave them to her.

Matched felt like dystopia lite to me. Sure, there’s the repressive Society, which limits all art to only 100 each of the best from the past, and determines people’s marriages for them. But all in all, Cassia’s pretty much in that safe bubble depicted on the cover, with most people seeming truly happy with where the Society puts them. In Crossed, the protective bubble is gone and the whole fictional world is much darker. Much darker sides of the Society are exposed, what with the deliberate massacres of aberrant children and all, but we also see the danger of living outside the Society’s very real protection. Cassia’s casual love triangle from the previous book gets more serious here, as even though she keeps choosing Ky, Xander seems to have more and more to recommend him. There is a lot to think about here, especially for teens, about things like the right balance point for safety versus freedom, and what love really means. Though there’s a fair amount of death, it’s not graphic, and the romance is very tame on the physical side. With plenty of excitement both in the simple survival aspects and in the various philosophical dilemmas (dilemmi?), it’s easy to see why this series is staying popular.

Matched

Mar. 19th, 2011 04:33 pm
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book coverMatched by Ally Condie In the Society, problems have been smoothed away by careful application of statistical science. Everyone is told what to eat and wear and where to work. But everyone is pretty much happy, and guaranteed to live a healthy 80 years. As the story opens, 17-year-old Cassia is about to attend her Match banquet. Wearing a beautiful, borrowed dress, she will get to see the face of the boy the Society has chosen to be her best Match. Shockingly, rather than a stranger in some other town, her best friend and neighbor down the street, Xander, is chosen instead. She can hardly believe her good fortune. But then, when she gets home and looks on the data card she’s been given, she sees not only Xander’s picture, but the picture of Ky, another boy she knows. Even though an Official tells her it was a mistake, she can’t stop thinking about Ky, who came to her town from the Outer Provinces when they were children. At the same time, her beloved Grandfather is very close to his 80th birthday, when citizens of the Society die. At their last meeting, he gives her contraband poetry from Before, hidden in a legal antique Artifact. And now she is possessed of beautiful words that are too dangerous to keep. For the first time in her life, Cassia begins to doubt the perfection of the Society, both for her individually and as a whole. But how much will resistance cost those she loves? And how much her own are her thoughts and feelings after all? The ending leaves things open enough for a sequel.

This felt very reminiscent of the classic The Giver, with more of a focus on the emotions. It is interesting to read with plenty to think and talk about. And yet – I think what bothers me about this is that I can see our government headed for much more control of our lives in some areas, but not the ones suggested in this book. That would be another fun topic for discussion – compare dystopian novels like this, Uglies, The Hunger Games, The Giver, or Feed to see which seems the most possible future.

Uglies

Dec. 7th, 2007 04:01 pm
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Uglies by Scott Westerfield. Narrated by Carine Montbertrand. If you pay any attention to teen books, you’ll have heard of this one – it’s been on the bestseller lists and on prominent display in the bookstores for the past couple of years. A few hundred years in our future, cities are small and self-sufficient, powered by renewable energy. In one such city, fifteen-year-old Tally Youngblood is waiting impatiently to turn sixteen. Then she will undergo cosmetic surgery to become a Pretty and move to New Pretty Town, where the parties last all night long. With just a few days to go, her new-this-summer best friend, Shay, tells Tally that she wants to keep her own face. She wants Tally to run away with her to the Smoke, a tiny settlement of people who have rejected the city. Tally says no – until Special Circumstances tells her she’ll stay Ugly until she brings Shay back. Can a girl who’s relied on a computerized city to tell her where to go her whole life survive traveling through the wilderness alone? And, if she can find the settlement, will she believe what’s she’s been told her whole life about the Operation, or will she listen to the tales of the dark secrets of the city that the founders of the Smoke tell her?

There might not be enough detail of the future world to satisfy a hard-core science fiction geek, but focusing on the people makes for a sci-fi read that’s easy for just about anybody to get into, while the fast-paced action won’t let you go. There’s even a fair amount of depth to the story, which ponders the importance (or not) of physical beauty and the price of peace. Carine Montbertrand did an excellent job with the narration, creating believable teen protagonists as well as a host of other characters, all with good, distinct voices. This kind of book seems to me to work best either on paper or for longer trips – with my short commute to work, it was just frustrating to have to wait so long to find out what happened next. And the story ends quite abruptly, to be taken up in the next two books.
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So the teen librarian was supposed to be out, and a seventh/eighth grade class needed someone to talk to them about science fiction and fantasy books. Naturally they asked me to help. Talk about a dozen books, have at least 30 pulled for them to look at and check out, on a day’s notice. This is just the new books I read for the project, not (as you'll notice) the full dozen.

Sword of the Rightful Kingby Jane Yolen
Arthur has been King of Britain for four years, but not everyone accepts him as their king. His biggest threat to his throne is the North Witch, his half-sister Morgause, who believes that her son was in line to become King of Britain. Arthur’s mage, Merlinnus, devises a way for King Arthur to prove himself the rightful king of England--pulling a sword from a stone but the North Witch is spinning her spells and threatens to get the sword out first. The first couple of chapters with a petulant Gawaine turned me off initially, but it did warm up to true Yolen goodness.

Eager by Helen Fox
EGR3, called Eager, is a prototype robot – designed to learn and feel like a person. But most people – including the family he lives with – don't think that robots are real people. Soon his quest to find out what it means to be alive has to take second place to finding out what those BOC4 robots are up to. Despite the deep thoughts on the part of the robot, it's light and sweet.

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Luke is also a third child – but in this future, third children are killed and their parents fined five million dollars. He's never met anyone outside of his immediate family, and now that a new housing development is going up, he's not even allowed out of the house. Then one day he sees a face looking out of a house that should be empty – another third child. It's short and very intense.

Feed by M.T. Anderson I read this one for the teens, and ended up not talking about it – though it’s a great book, the language was just too dirty for innocent little Lutheran seventh-graders. I feel kind of bad about self-censoring, but there it is. I did put it on the cart for them to check out, though. Anyway – it’s a distant future, where everyone, or nearly everyone, has a chip implanted in their heads at birth. This lets them stay connected to the feed at all times – like the Internet, but tuned into your thoughts and desires. Titus is a pretty typical teen, listening to the music the feed plays for him, buying what the feed tells him is hot. Then he meets a girl in trouble and has to think about something serious for the first time in his life. The book is written like a teen email in Titus’s voice, a fluffy covering for the serious material. I guess the ideas aren’t really all that new – we already know of schools that aren’t allowed to sell milk because Coke or Pepsi have exclusive pouring rights – but the story is sticking with me.

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