“Nazis on Venus”: The Man in the High Castle Review

“Nazis on Venus”: The Man in the High Castle Review

Have you ever considered what would have resulted had the Allied powers won World War II?

It’s okay, if not– few residents of the Rocky Mountain States or the Pacific States of America do. That is, until a certain Abendsen pens a sociopolitical novel about a parallel universe in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt is not assassinated and the story of man is drastically altered.

The validity of either account above, of course, depends on which universe you happen to preside in.

In what we consider the real one, Philip K. Dick spins an intricate, artful, in places head-shaking and chuckle-inducing tale. Covering holistically the story of the German- and Japanese-ruled America of the 1960s requires calling on multiple points of view. P.K.D.’s narrators are engaging and enjoyable– most of the time. The only apparent downside to so many of them is the occasional instance when they start to sound like each other. Outside of that, they are sympathetic yet flawed; through their eyes, the global alterations become emotionally jarring to those of us in the “other dimension,” as well.

P.K.D.’s imagery and description, sprinkled throughout in effective and appropriate places, is exquisite: “The views had infected a civilization by now, and, like evil spores, the blind blond Nazi queens were swishing out from Earth to the other planets, spreading the contamination.” The author’s pacing– intense moments spread about by relatively (one could say) monotonous ones– is well-executed.

Socio-politically, P.K.D.’s courage is admirable– he constructs a fascinatingly intricate political mechanism whose nations are– as ours– divided internally as well as outwardly. Specific historical figures (from our side) play key roles. The space race is expanded. Cultures are blended– or, attempts by peoples are made to do so. Identity is explored.

Outside of the political, themes encompass religion, relativism, nihilism (at least, the fruitless search for meaning that may eventually lead to it), and pride in one’s heritage. The author presents these so skillfully, along with defining the boundaries between universes, that by the end it takes effort to see the lines at all.

The Man In the High Castle was a delight to read, good food for thought, and entices the imagination. I’d recommend it to anyone, and I give it a definite 3.5/5 stars.

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Intergalactic Book Tag

Intergalactic Book Tag

What’s a fun way to post between book reviews? Tags, of course! I found this one on Katytastic’s YouTube channel (she’s awesome!)—it was created by her and a few friends. As soon as I saw the questions, I knew it was going to be right up my alley (the one with shiny metal, futuristic lighting and teleporters). So I’ll start off by also tagging anyone who wants to do this: sci-fi lovers, people who need post ideas, anyone who just likes tags… you get the idea!

All right, let’s get on with the books. 🙂

1: Space: Name a book that is out of this world—that takes place in a world different from our own.

When I went looking through my “Read” bookshelf, this was actually harder to find than I thought. I didn’t count post-war earth settings or anything like that. The story I chose actually begins on our world; however, more than 90% of its storyline takes place outside of it! For this one, I’m going with The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

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Douglas Adams’ imagination and world building are delightful. From ugly monsters who recite the worst poetry known in creation, to a 5-star restaurant where one can witness the end of the universe—every night—Adams’ story is filled with so many different planets and peoples you’ll have to make a chart to keep track. I think he’s safely my best selection for this prompt.

2. Black Hole: Name a book that completely sucked you in.

Unsurprisingly, engaging series tend to become popular, regardless of how well their quality is continued. One thing I love about YA (and dystopian in general) is the amount of creativity with which authors introduce readers to a new society. Veronica Roth’s Divergent sucked me in with its narration, the factions (societal categories seem to be a trend in YA books– Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, etc; perhaps this is in part because readers wonder where we’d fall), and the consistent action pacing.

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While I can’t say the same about the end of the series, its beginning was captivating and fun to immerse myself in.

3. Light speed: Name a book you are anticipating so much that you wish you could travel at light speed to get to it.

This one was fun. This book is the fifth in a series that similarly captured my attention early on for some of the same reasons as Divergent—intriguing world, established objectives, competition, and colorful detail. Kiera Cass’ Selection series, while a bit of a guilty pleasure, has an intriguing ending in store. It will end with the May 3rd release of The Crown. The cover is beautiful and I’m looking forward to seeing how the last Selection ends.

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4. Nebula: Name a book with a beautiful cover.

Speaking of beautiful covers. For this one, I’m going with one of the new hardbacks I got with Christmas money a few months ago. Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, a story about a team of outcasts collaborating to pull off the most impressive of heists, has a sharp, eye-catching cover.

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There’s texture to it. As if the front wasn’t enough, all my edition’s page edges are dyed black—that’s something I’ve never seen done around the entire page before. Simply put, it’s striking.

5. Multiverse: Name a companion set or spinoff series you love.

I didn’t expect to feature one series twice in a tag post; but I also didn’t expect to enjoy Four, the companion novel to the Divergent series, so much.

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Actually, I prefer this to both Insurgent and Allegiant. Four brought back that freshness to Roth’s dystopian world by introducing things from the title character’s perspective: areas of Dauntless we couldn’t have seen without him. The action was ramped up, characters dynamically matured, and the pacing was done well. Overall, great addition to the series.

6. Gravity: Name your favorite romantic pairing that seems to have a gravitational pull to each other.

Now, to avoid the basic, popular fictional couples (we’ve had enough KatnissXPeeta, TrisXFour, GusXHazel for quite a while), I’m going to pick one that stands out to me as a definite strong point of an entire series. If you got through that sentence, thanks for sticking with me! My couple for this tag is Malencia Vale and Tomas Endress from The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau.

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Malencia (Cia) and Tomas compete together in a deadly program designed to filter out suitable university students. Needless to say, we’d have a drastically lower college attendance if this was our world. But getting to the point, the two of them are caring people, and they have chemistry with one another. They’ve known each other since they were children and it’s obvious there’s interest that’s remained unexplored until interaction is necessary. Tomas is quickly protective of Cia, befriending and teaming up with her once they begin testing. Cia, likewise, cares for Tomas and doesn’t leave him behind in times that she could. I started rooting for them to get together real early.

7. The Big Bang: Name the book that got you started on reading.

Easy—Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins. Her lesser known first series hooked me in middle school and I was all over fantasy and fiction in general from then on. Those were my first experiences with the excitement of the next installment coming out, and the bittersweet feeling of finally finishing a series.

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Plus, let’s be honest: we all wanted a personally-matched, huge bat to ride around on and bond with, too.

8. Asteroid: Name a short story or novella that you love.

This prompt turned me to a literary journal I’ve been a fan of for the past year or so—The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. In their March/April 2015 edition, they published  a dystopian story called “Things Worth Knowing” by Jay O’Connell. Connell’s short piece features an everyman security guard/proctor for an outdated study facility named Stanley. Stanley befriends a young prodigy named Joel who has to decide which institution he wants to sign with. Violent action ensues.

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What I love about this story are the little details: imagery, setting, the workings of a futuristic lab, and how everything still has a familiar, outdated feeling to it. The setting details especially intrigued me: wire-caged clocks, stun sticks, and study areas grouped by grade. Definitely worth the read, if you’re able to find it.

9. Galaxy: Name a book with multiple POVs (Points of View)

This was another prompt where I fought not to choose something obvious like Allegiant. Then I remembered that in my YA Lit class last year, we read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: it’s an incredible story about two female friends trying to survive in World War II Europe.

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There’s secrecy, hidden messages, nighttime escapes, and the synopsis’ promise that only one of them has “a chance at survival,” which isn’t fulfilled in the expected way. This novel did a great job of using the perspective switches to conceal information and push the action forward to the intense ending.

10. Spaceship: Name a book title that would be a great name for a spaceship.

Yaay, this one! Last but not least. I looked through a bunch of tough, intimidating-sounding titles—things you’d expect an empire or fleet to name their flagship if they wanted to create a reputation. But none of those struck me as unique for that very reason. So, for this one, I’m going with Prodigy by Marie Lu.

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I’ve yet to read this book, but it’s the second in the Legend trilogy, and it’s got a pretty cover, which is also textured. I’d like to name my spaceship (if I had one, of course) this because it bespeaks promise while hinting at yet-unearthed potential. A prodigy’s not finished growing yet, just as we aren’t. Of course, that’s getting all psychologically projective with spaceship names…I could have chosen Champion. Or Legend. But they just didn’t appeal to me as much. 🙂

Aaaand that’s it! I hope you guys enjoyed this tag post. Once again, anyone who wants to do this is hereby tagged—and hey, comment below if you do so I can read yours, too! 🙂

“Down to Earth. Literally.” Invisible Man Review

“Down to Earth. Literally.” Invisible Man Review

How do I even start off about this work of literature?

I could tell you I enjoy long, detailed, love-infused narratives.

I could tell you that polished prose excites me, or that skillful devices thrill me because they show me exactly what a piece of writing can be—encourage me to do my best.

Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man contains all of these. From the first pages of the Introduction by the author, I was intrigued by him; and as his nameless narrator begins a complex, near-perfectly-paced story of his trip from the South to New York, my admiration redirected onto this transparent human being. So, without further ado, here is my adulation and advice on why you should pick up a copy of Invisible Man!

  1. Ellison’s skill in and care for writing will encourage you as a writer.

They say one of the most crucial activities for writers is picking up lots of reading material. We might as well choose works that challenge us, mechanically and inspirationally. Ellison had me highlighting passage after passage simply because they spoke to me. His world building is absolutely captivating. Imagery enhances his world, moods, and plot in a holistic way that appeals to the senses and entices the mind. One of my favorite instances of this is actually from a street fight, believe it or not. “He spat angrily into the dark street. It flew pink in the red glow.” Vivid, tangible colors and smells (he describes candied yams in another passage that makes you crave them!) that excite the imagination.

I found myself wanting to pay closer attention to details around me, just in case I get a burst of inspiration to describe the universe like he does.

  1. Ellison is real and relatable.

In the introduction, the author is quick to tell us this work has been seven years in the making. As a writer and a human being, that is remarkably reassuring to me: someone who’s honest about their growth is someone I can see sitting down with for coffee. Additionally, he provides motivation to make a difference with whatever kind of work you do: his experiences in writing “suggested to [him] that a novel could be fashioned as a raft of hope, perception and entertainment that might help keep us afloat as we tried to negotiate the snags and whirlpools that mark our nation’s vacillating course toward and away from the democratic ideal.” It’s difficult to find contemporary writers with both honesty and a certain amount of optimism. It seems the literary world is constantly growing fuller of woeful tales, and Ellison is refreshing. His nameless narrator, simultaneously likeable and realistically flawed (he lives in a secret space that’s pretty much underground with a plethora of light bulbs), is also rendered sympathetic.

  1. The novel spans a multitude of walks of life.

Not only is there racial tension, which takes a central thematic position in the work, but there’s so many more realms of life examined within it: religious battles, clashes of interests in academia, the sufferings of minimum wage workers, homesickness, familial strife, desire, loneliness, and just flat out questioning of what it means to exist, to be human, and to be known– all enmeshed in a masterfully told narrative about a man who moves from the South to New York. No matter who you are, some part is bound to strike a chord with you like it did with me.

During the epilogue, I sat back for a minute and thought about the narrator’s thoughts—haha, I suppose that’s when books really begin to influence our world. A lot of times, we strive for life’s next stage. But if it’s at the expense of not enjoying the present… We only have so many “snapshots” and blessings to savor. The Invisible Man taught me not to put pressure on myself about tomorrow, but to slow down, be content where I am, and take in everything around, good and not so good.

Lastly, Ellison reminded me in an extremely artful and somehow gentle way that we are not defined by other people—your value is infinitely more than a piece of paper could ever communicate.

So read it! 😀 Or leave a comment telling me what you ARE reading, currently. 🙂

“Why You Wanna Do Me Like That?”: Maria Review

“Why You Wanna Do Me Like That?”: Maria Review

Hey, guys! It’s been a little while. This is another read I had for school, from my Women and Literature class, which thus far has been enjoyable. We first read Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and then segued into her last work, Maria, or The Wrongs of Woman. Wollstonecraft worked on this novel for 12 months, though it was never finished because she died giving birth to Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. Her husband, William Godwin, took the unfinished manuscript for Maria and added some editor’s notes, including in the published work the notes he found that Wollstonecraft had left indicating the ending to the story. All in all, an interesting format and an intriguing read. Let’s get into some of the good and not-so-good things about this one.

The main characters tell lengthy backstories that pulled me in because they have the same level of detail as Dickens or Austen. Additionally, the minor characters are fascinating at times: I really liked hearing about Peggy’s belief in Providence. There’s also talented, appealing prose: “gloomy receptacle of disjointed souls” describes one of the settings early on in the novel. By a certain point, I made a note of being emotionally invested in the characters; so this is also something I consider a strong point of hers. Lastly, the ending based on the notes that we have is poignant. I actually was surprised, I won’t say in what way, by the suggested conclusion of events.

On the not so good side, there is a lot of telling at times, both in terms of action and characters’ emotions. I’m not sure if this stems solely from a stylistic difference of that time from today, or if it’s also partially Wollstonecraft’s inexperience with the novel form of writing…or some other things. Obviously, it’s an incomplete work, so that’s a downside to anyone needing closure or further clarity; but I didn’t feel this intruded on the enjoyment of what we are given in any remarkable way. Wollstonecraft’s critics say that because her works were generally rushed (she penned Vindication of the Rights of Woman) in 6 weeks, and just the fraction I’ve read was a marathon of a read) it resulted in a more sloppy, less polished product than most other novelists. I think the part we do have was well-written; if nothing more, I could discern that she infused loving details into each part of the narrative and each character’s backstory.

As I’ve seen my own life’s story come out in things I write, I admire this same transparency, whether intentional or not, with Wollstonecraft. It’s clearly evident that traces of her inspiration for Vindication came through in Maria, as well. Her voice is especially apparent in the title character, our protagonist. We also discussed in class how other characters who aren’t ideal reflect Wollstonecraft’s later disenchantment with the world, romantically and politically. To an extent, I think everyone, male or female, can find something—a minor character, circumstances, or principle—in Maria that arouses common experience or sympathy. I thought it was fairly well done for only having been under construction for a year (and most of that time she having been pregnant. I mean, come on. 🙂 )

Finally, another obvious: it’s admirable because it was the last building block in her written contribution to a new kind of literature: Wollstonecraft was key in ushering in new ways of thinking about female education, manners, upbringing. Her fearlessness and frank candor are especially admirable because they emerged from a society that seems to have encouraged the exact opposite from women.