This book is a doozy of a read, but also one of the most fun, thought provoking books I read this year. In a plot that almost defies exposition, a business man named Palmer Eldritch visits another planet, and is possessed by a godlike being. He creates a drug that transports people into a hallucinatory pocket dimension where they become him, or aspects of him. One man tries to stop him from imprinting his image on the inhabitants of the solar system, and insanity there follows. Philip K. Dick tosses out nutty ideas that are at points both wacky, profound, disturbing, or a combination of all three, and creates eerie atmosphere like Ray Bradbury with a screw loose.
The way he subverts the old “Mars is a land of romance and adventure” cliche, is both genius and intensely saddening. The way he develops every character, with their own neuroses and heroic elements is great, and even the Palmer Eldritch/immature godlike being character is revealed to have several dimensions to him, and is not painted as some ancient evil, but instead as a well intentioned idiot who happens to have cosmic powers. This book is filled with psychedelic tripping, and its gleeful hops through time, space, and relative dimensions almost make this a kind of Wrinkle in Time for 1960′s LSD enthusiasts. My main issues with this book include that the plot doesn’t really pick up until the protagonist arrives on Mars, and the hallucination sequences are definitely on the incoherent side. They make sense, but not enough to remove the sense that you yourself may be on psychotropic drugs.
But if you’re ready to take an unhinged thrill ride into the imagination of Philip K. Dick, and want to try some sci fi that’s a little different from your run of the mill space opera, jump down the rabbit hole with Palmer Eldritch. You might just enjoy it.
The thing that defines this from other high fantasy works like The Lord of the Rings is how well developed the character of Ged is. Whereas Frodo (and even Harry Potter sometimes) got through their adventures simply by “being there”, Ged has to constantly be taking responsibility for his actions because the otherworldly menace that haunts him exists partly because of his own shortcomings, making this also one of the first “existential” high fantasy books. Ged’s own angsty brooding over his own failings did, and will continue to resonate with modern day teenagers. On top of all that, the cast of characters has a surprising amount of ethnic diversity, for a fantasy novel. Whereas A Song of Ice and Fire or something along those lines usually has a nearly all white dramatis personae, Earthsea has a myriad of different cultures and ethnic groups represented. Although it may sound like I’m bashing fantasy, I’m not. I love it, which is why I so enjoyed A Wizard of Earthsea. It revels in and codifies some of the cliches of its own genre. Not only a good fantasy tale, but also a cracking good YA novel.
Libba Bray returns to the form she does best, the “teen historical occult thriller with romantic elements”. This latest book is basically an extended Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode set in the 1920′s, ,involving a rising demon, evil cultists, and a cyborg. But make no mistake: this isn’t a moon-eyed Mortal Instruments-esque fantasy. This is a well researched, well plotted thriller, that doubles as a luxuriant historical novel. While it simply shuffles and deals old occult fiction tropes (for how many mystical cliches are in here, I’m surprised Cthulhu and Aleister Crowley didn’t turn up),the excellent characterization and impeccable period detail shine past that little dispute.
There are also some great spooky moments that actually frightened me, and portentous foreshadowing that, unfortunately, partly set up a sequel. There isn’t any of the hyper-self aware smugness that accompanies some YA books (coughHolly Blackcough) which is a definite plus. Although some weird, pulled-it-out-of-thin-air-at-3:00 AM plot twists turn up (the aforementioned cyborg), this is overall, a very good book.
On a whim, I decided to state my views on that perennial children’s literary staple, A Wrinkle in Time, and in thinking over, I realized how weird it is. The main characters meet winged centaurs; travel in time, space, and other dimensions; visit alien dictatorships run by godlike beings, and have metaphor after metaphor thrown their way. This book was as frightening, and emotionally taxing as all get out when I was 6 or so, especially near the end, but I remember really enjoying all the cosmic concepts set up during it, and strongly disliking the sort of Christ-like child prodigy MacGuffin character Charles Wallace.
Now looking back on it, I didn’t realize how insanely creative it was, and how well developed all the characters, even Charles Wallace are. The sequels, A Wind in the Door, Many Waters, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet are okay, I suppose, and introduce interesting ideas, including the Echthroi, the strange alien worlds hidden inside Charles Wallace’s mitochondria, and a heavy dose of magic, but they don’t measure up to the sheer inventiveness and energy of the original. A modern classic.
Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) by Sarah J. Maas
Published August 7th 2012 by Bloomsbury USA Children’s
After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.
Her opponents are men—thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the kings council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.
Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her… but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.
Then one of the other contestants turns up dead… quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined. – Goodreads
My Opinion: I really enjoyed this. It was fast paced. Sarah J. Maas really knows how to work the reader so that they continue to read. As the story progressed I made a prediction or guess about a third of the way in the book and I think I am right based on what I read in the end and one specific quote from Elena at the end, I think supports it very well. I liked the love triangle between Calaena, the Crown Prince and the Captain of the Guard. I love how author allowed for Calaena to develop feelings for both but just happened that she feels more for the “forbidden” person. If my prediction is correct… that relationship is even more forbidden and threatening(?) to the royal family.
Now for the plot… I love how it starts that all I have to stay. I love the way that we meet her a death/labor camp and then we see how she transforms herself as she trains and become more like herself or how she used to be before the camp. I love how the story ended. I love that they had to go that far, because of how afraid they were of her abilities. I think that Nehemia and others, must have thought that it was pretty funny that for one little girl there are so many guards following her around. What I was the most impressed with was that she was able to keep her spirit as well as her escape attempt. I think it is amazing that she was able to make it so far as the wall basically while others could only make it three feet. It says a lot about her skills and the fact that she did that after six months in there, says that even more.
My favorite character had to be Calaena without a doubt. I love strong female characters. And Calaena, she is the epitome of that. Some of the things that she does are awesome. She isn’t just fighting skills, she is also extremely clever and smart and knows that to defeat an enemy, she needs to study her opponent and “hit” them where it most hurts. I think that is going to be her plan for the King. Another character that I really liked was Nehemia. She is a beloved princess by her people and that fact that the King was not able to strip her of her title after he conquered the land says something about how much power she truly has. I love that she is mysterious and that she knows how to fight, without others noticing but feeling the pain none the less. Overall, the book was amazing and I can not wait for the next one to come out. I think this is one of the MUST READS of the year.
Overall: 5+ out of 5
Before about three years ago, I had no idea M.T. Anderson had a career outside of writing the maniacally brilliant Thrilling Tales series, which deftly subverted and thoroughly deconstructed the tropes and conventions of 20th century children’s literature, and the eerie fantasy novel The Game of Sunken Places which also gives a spin on old cliches. As I found out, he had also written several edgy books for young adults as well, including the entertaining 18th century literature pastiche Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, the bleak vampire novel Thirsty, and this book. Jeez louise, was I not prepared for this book! It’s about a kid who lives in a society where vampiric, oppressive corporations have taken over the world, and are slowly destroying it, through environmental destruction, total impingement of all perceivable civil liberties, and a chip implanted in people’s head called “the feed” that is basically a parasitic computer disguised as a part of the brain. He and his girlfriend try to resist the feed, but, in short, it doesn’t work.
I thought I was accustomed to dystopian fiction. Of dystopian fiction, I’ve read 1984, Brave New World, The Hunger Games, the Uglies series, The Giver, and Snow Crash. Make no mistake, whatever their resolution was, these books were depressing. But nothing I’ve read, dystopian or otherwise was as soul-crushingly dour as this book. It was funny, and well written, but it was also gut-wrenchingly painful.
At the end of Brave New World, 1984, and all the other books I named, there was a spark of hope, or an outright happy ending. At the end of Feed there is none of that. Just suffocating paranoia and despair. Only the skin-crawlingly awful endings of the Series of Unfortunate Events books compare. Even despite its 2002 publishing date, and its Bush-era malaise, it’s scarily prescient of the smartphone age, which disturbs me to the core. Although, this book is witty, and well observed, and it captures perfectly a society where the attributes of today’s teens were taken to their logical extreme.
There are a lot of blackly hilarious moments, such as the “Hipster Nostalgia Feedback Syndrome”, and the “Nike Speech Tattoo”, that lighten up the darker moments, but an overwhelming sense of dread really pervades this book. The main character isn’t very likable, but he’s a product of his environment. Like with a lot of Anderson’s books, the other characters aren’t very well developed, but they are rounder than other of his books. There were a lot of great, acrid bits in this, but I would have liked this book better if it wasn’t just so darn heartbreaking.