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“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card: a book review

Gavin Hood, the director of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, began filming an adaptation of the sci-fi classic “Ender’s Game” in February 2012. The film is slated to release November 1st, 2013, when I turn 28. It’s sure to be a better movie than book. This is my review:


The first issue is the nature of science fiction: it has everything to do with other-worldly visuals and spectacles and deals with humanity and controversial ideas. All good science fiction films have these two elements. One of them – the ideas – comes across the best in the books. The other, by the very nature of our biological anatomy – the visual world of the story – will almost always be better realized in the film adaptations, no matter the descriptive powers of the book’s author. (Yes, being in a character’s head is always more achievable in books, not movies.) Even the weakest of set designers and directors of photography can plan out a visually comparable and interesting world with a mediocre director at the helm.

Furthermore, the reason why “Ender’s Game” will specifically translate better as a story on the big screen is because the book is slightly meandering in the middle and some of the vocabulary used in dialogue simply hasn’t aged well. Both of these elements will be improved by a modern, 21st Century, high-glossed special effects, Hollywood treatment. Why it’s taken decades to be made into a movie, I’ll never know, but I’m sure there’s some political or legal yarn worthy of its own 10-minute documentary when “Ender’s Game” surely comes to BluRay in 2014.


So, the actual book. Why did it not blow me away? Maybe because I am 26. If I was 16, I’d probably orgasm over this, but the truth is, it does read a bit like a Z-flick, quarter-dollar comic from the fifties, or a barely polished radio serial. I think perhaps in telling such a simple story, it was overwritten, and ended up having long stretches of very cardboard dialogue. I know the point of these six-year old kids talking the way they did was to show how smart they were, but I still never bought they were six and seven and ten years old talking this way. Something struck unauthentic with me. Maybe too much time has passed since the late seventies when this came out. “Last One there bottles their own farts” to paraphrase. Yeah, that was in there.

Poo poo on you fart-mouth Magoo. I made that one up.

This book felt like this: soldier training, practice simulations, metaphors, naked little boys sleeping or showering.

And then: more Training, game simulations, blunt ideas, naked little boys again.

Then it got good after 300 pages. Then a simulation wasn’t a simulation, but was really Ender Battle Commanding, and poof, he killed the bad guys.

The middle of this book carried very little conflict and was exhausting, and I really disagreed with the choice to weigh the chapters how they were: less than 100 pages for the first seven chapters, and the following seven chapters were 200 pages. Could you have broken it up, Orson? Cut back on some dialogue? Made the training and jargon and repetition of the saggy middle more lively?

I do understand and appreciate the themes and societal/governmental statements proposed by “Ender’s Game” and Mr. Card, the author. I get it. Military is bad. War is terrible. Government shouldn’t control kids and monitor us from the womb. Liberty and blah blah. Kids play combat games like today’s “Call of Duty” franchise, don’t understand how serious war really is, and then you can put them at the controls, and they’ll probably do pretty good since their desensitized or indoctrinated. We make children fight our wars, in so many words. It speaks of innocence, the desire to be loved, compassion, friendship, honor , and asks if the ends justify the means to keep the human race alive.

Okay. But, just because the last five pages of chapter 14 were excellent in the conversation between Graff and Ender where all the shit is finally expose and Ender realized what really happened, doesn’t make the book a exceptionally well written. Graff’s speech is good though. Ideas = good. Flow = bad.

It does everything you’d expect in a basic sci-fi to do, and maybe “Ender’s Game” was once great for pioneering these ideas or doing it for a young adult audience first or perhaps it was really the best in its time, but over the past thirty years, it’s time to move over.

This is a book to respect but not love. One to read but not own. One that the obsessed fans of the genre will always praise however outdone it become by superior work.

This has never been a 5/5 novel.

Anything you tell me I missed, trust me, I didn’t. I liked the book, and I suppose it’s a classic, but so what? Graff’s ultimate deception and manipulation of Ender. Got it. The relationship between Ender and his siblings. Got it. What Ender ultimately wants to be and what he cannot be because of what other’s have made him into. Got it.

I didn’t get that awe-inspired impact from it, though the ending made up for the middle, and I like that Ender takes on the responsibility of attempting to right his wrongs and escape his demons by trying to find a suitable homeworld for the final Queen. If you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, read the freaking book.

But I’ll tell ya what I’m not doing: reading the other 8-plus books in this series. There are too many better books out there right now. No one should commit to this series in this modern time we live in, a time of literary abundance.

I tip my hat to Orson Scott Card, but in the end I say: “Have a good day, sir. My farts need bottling.”



go here for info on the film: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1731141/

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“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien: a book review

What really hit me about this book is it’s readability. They’re short stories, kind of, it’s literature, definitely, but you don’t have to go to college or be a snob to love this book.

While meticulously crafted, O’Brien’s storytelling prowess and very personal style never comes off as pretentious or glory seeking or overly “warish” like other war books can be, and the vignette style of presentation, blending truth with fiction, is presented in a very specfic order of set-ups and pay-offs. This is a book of absolute truth and honestly while not everything in the book was actually non-fiction. As Tim O’Brien will tell you directly in the book: this is because the “what happened” and “what it felt like” are two differnt things, and he wanted to covey the real emotions and hauntings and regrets and joys he had experienced while in Vietnam.

Some of these stories, half in fact, take place before he ever went to Vietnam or after he came back, adding to the dimensionality of it all. By not focusing hundreds of pages on a few months in another world, he shows the reader years and years of his life and how everything affected each other. His elementary school girlfriend, the day he was drafted, then later, his conversations with his daughter twenty years later.

Much more powerful than a few months of stories in paddies like other authors, not to detract from their service, just their writing.

I found it to be a total success — something staggaringly original in style and design and craft, while somehow being easily digestible literature of the highest regard. This is a book any one can and should read, because it’s not just about a single war; but about choices, ghosts, and simply humanity. I was awestuck by this book, and while the first three-quarters of the book hit me harder than the last quarter, I will not give “The Things They Carried” a 4.5.

It is a 5/5, and if you want to be moved and know what your mind does in a foreign country during war, and not just when the guns are going off, prepare to be deeply affected and entrenched in cleverly written stories that move and flow and blossom.



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“The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls: a book review

It’s probably a five star for direct and straight-forward writing, honesty and general flow, but the tale is heavy with dark twists and barely enough “light at the end of the tunnel” for me.

Yes, there’s redemption, but this isn’t a book you fly through in a few days. You should take it slow. There’s no reason to read this memoir, this terribly sad life spanning decades for Jeanette Walls, in a weekend. Why pump these wacky and awful memories in your own mind in a few days when she herself at least had the luxury of experiencing them slowly over time?

I enjoyed it at a 3 star level, but I know the writing is a 5.

It gets a four (4) because I don’t know how important this story is or how brave she really was for most of the tale. Some of you are going to hate me for saying this, but hear me out:

She happened to have the good fortune at a young age of being genetically capable of dusting herself off again and again where she could have easily been kidnapped or died of hunger or ran away and starved. I don’t know how much of her younger years were really any kind of learned bravery, but rather, something innate. Other kids in her shoes may have never been able to cope, somehow Jeanette just… could. I don’t know… as far as the critics of the book are concerned who say it’s the bestest, bravest thing ever — well, it’s like being proud of yourself for being 6 feet tall or being Latino or having hairy knuckles. Don’t have pride in what you have no control over. Pride should be for something you accomplish, not something you just happen to be born with. You can like it, and appreciate it, but for the critics or the author to have “pride” in something that just “is” strikes me as spiritually and philosophically questionable. On the surface, I’m a dick and this is a great triumphant and sad story. But I just want to play devil’s advocate. Some people’s lives are worth sharing. But can you not see how a reader could find the possible exploitation of a troubled life for the sake of book sales questionable? Someone with a nice life with not much conflict could write a book and it would never sell. People like the vicarious experience of other people’s lives that sucked worse than their own, and that carries a whole other conversation about the interests and entertainment values placed upon by your average American. It’s like that other book “A Stolen Life.” Is it really ethical we salivate for these titles of ruined, non-ficitional lives by consumers? Debatable.

Again, I’m not trying to disparage Walls’ tenacity, but cast some light on perhaps a more cynical view of how we all grow and deal with our shit. It is how it is. Walls’ kicks ass, but she surviving more than being brave in my opinion, and no, those thing s are not always mutually exclusive, though sometimes they are hand-in-hand.

Jeanette Walls DOES have a “triumph” story that she can tell, but it wasn’t because she was instilled with any great life lessons from an adult about “holding on” and working hard. It was almost fate. She just did it, and maybe that’s a cynical view and one that is surely in the minority, but she just happened to be who she happened to be and came out tough as nails. I know I sound like an asshole, but I want to point out that her success, and her “bravery” didn’t show up until her maturity came to fruition in the “Welsh” section of the book where she was 17, a junior in high school, and decided to leave for NYC. The end of this tale was a brave one, but most of the book is about a little kid getting the shit end of the stick.

I hate Jeanette’s asshole parents, and I feel terrible for Jeanette. But the real question is: should authors on a moral or philosophical level make profit from sharing a scarring life’s tale of themselves? Is an artful recollection of dark, personal events in one’s life ethical to sell books of, however cathartic or remedial?

I recommend this book to people who like fucked up lives or biographies/coming-of-ages where a milieu of awful, shameful, crooked, bastardly things happen to one family and one girl in particular. The family, Jeanette, and her siblings move from place to place in America, being dirt poor or homeless, unschooled, and Jeanette basically takes care of the whole family and herself from the age of 9. Jesus. By the time she’s in her 20s, she makes it to NYC, he siblings are for the most part okay, and her parents are still homeless drifters worth nothing with a fucked up view of the world. I would say it has to be read to be believed, but even then, you will not believe some of this really happened, and whatever “bad upbringing” you had will pale in comparison.



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“Looking For Alaska” by John Green: a book review

We’ve all felt like we don’t belong. We all wonder about religion and the meaning of life and friendships and love. This novel will remind you of everything you questioned as a teen, and might remind you to hold on to hope.

This novel rightly won the Printz medal for Outstanding Young Adult Ficiton and its cover art could not have been more smartly chosen.

John Green’s premiere book from 2006 will make you laugh out loud, cry, and marvel at how honest and heavy a novel can be. It’s almost a crime to ONLY call it a “YA” book. This is for anyone 15-30, if only because the people in this age group will more easily follow the lingo and pop culture references and likely know what a PlayStation 2 is. Having said that, I think even adults and teachers could easily find the value in this book. This ranks up there with the ultimate coming-of-age stories involving life, death, love, guilt, and “firsts.”
It is similar to Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood” (which focused on the 60s Japanese youth expereience) and Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” (the 50s American youth experience). “Looking For Alaska” brings it’s own modern/21st Century thing to table, with certain references and speech cadences that make it very readable, relateable, and digestable. There’s no question that this book is for 1990’s and 2000’s kids, yet the themes here are for any generation.
This is a solid 4.5/5 for style and message alone. There are maybe 10-15 pages that drag in the last 1/3 of the book keeping it from a 5/5, and maybe I’m being too harsh, but this is still an exceptionally necessary book to experience. It will take you to places of sorrow and joy and you will likely read another John Green book. Proof, once again, that small books can pack a punch and you don’t need over 400 pages to write important ficiton.

Every high schooler who has ever lost a love or had a friend die young, from accident or suicide, should read this book. You will connect with it, be lifted, and you will recommend the book like I am now.

Before or after you read this, John Green’s newest book, 2012’s “The Fault in Our Stars“, is just as good or better.



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