Friday, December 26, 2014

Beautiful Lines in Literature

Every so often while reading, I come across a line that halts me in my literary tracks. Even if the writing style in a book as a whole isn't enough to really captivate me, sometimes a single line or phrase contains something special, something that makes me stop and savor it for a moment. Check out this list of some fantastic, poignant, pause-worthy lines from literature, and happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book Review: "Firefight" by Brandon Sanderson (The Reckoners Book Two)

I've been waiting a long time to get my hands on this book. Author Brandon Sanderson is a fairly well-known SpecFic author, having written the Mistborn books and finished Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series, among others. Right now his Stormlight Archive is experiencing immense popularity, with readers eagerly awaiting the third installment. But while we're waiting for that to appear, I entertained myself with the second book in his dystopian superhero series, Firefight.

When I read Steelheart last year, the first book in the Reckoners Series, I was drawn in by Sanderson's creative depiction of a world where humanity had been divided: most of the population remained the same but some were transformed into "Epics," people who were mysteriously gifted with superpowers by the sudden appearance of a brilliant red star called Calamity. But instead of becoming society's heroes, Epics became tyrants who ruled major cities and terrorized everyone living there. But with the rest of the country a wasteland, the risk posed by living under the thumb of an Epic was preferable to a life of scrounging. David Charleston, growing up in Newcago, watched Steelheart take over the city. For years he dreamed of taking down the Epic who killed his only family and destroyed his home. But he never had the chance to do anything about it until he found the Reckoners, a group of normal humans with the technology, determination, and sheer audacity to take on Epics and fight back for the rest of the population.

In Firefight, the second book in the series, some of the Reckoners' secrets have been revealed: Prof is an Epic, and Steelheart's minion Firefight has been lurking among them the whole time. But David isn't convinced that she's as evil as they thought. After all, if Prof can use his powers for good, why not other Epics? To find answers David and the Reckoners travel to Babylar, the mostly submerged city that used to be Manhattan. It's ruled by Regalia, an old associate of Prof's, and she may hold the answers to how Epics are created and influenced. But despite the many dangers of being in a new city, with a new Epic in charge and everyone looking for the Reckoners, David's main goal is to find Firefight and test his theory about Epic weaknesses. When his goals diverge from those of the rest of the team though, his friends become some of his most challenging adversaries.

The classic dystopian story of good versus evil gets spruced up by creative settings and unique characters in this continuation of the adventure started in Steelheart. Sanderson reimagines Manhattan as a tropical Venice, with dense jungles growing inside of half-drowned buildings and glowing fruit to feed the people who live there in tents and shacks on rooftops. There's a vibrant, carnival-type feel to it that throws David convincingly off his game when compared with the forbidding Newcago that he left behind. The place both intrigues and worries David as he sees people accepting their place under the power of an Epic and enjoying what life they can, knowing that they may be blown sky-high the next moment if Regalia's mood should change. This attitude contrasts nicely with the Reckoners' outlook, creating a shift in perspective for David that helps him to see the problem of Epics in a new light.

David continues to pursue Firefight, but the book isn't solely focused on that: bringing Regalia down and stopping her from destroying her own city occupy the Reckoners, and a new epic called Dawnslight brings up interesting questions for the team and the people of Babylar. Through the new twists, David retains his memorable problem with metaphors. It felt more forced this time than it did in the previous book though, with his comparisons coming more and more outlandish and the ridiculousness making them more annoying than amusing. Firefight's character remained wonderfully written though, Dawnslight is creative indeed, and the ways in which Prof changes set up the third book in the series to be potentially explosive.

I'm still confused by the naming system (or lack thereof) that Sanderson uses for Epics. Prof was a science teacher before Calamity, and Dawnslight represents hope as well as somehow producing glowing fruit; but Regaila's water-based powers have nothing to do with her name, and Firefight's powers have nothing to do with fire (although there are correlations). I think that some of the Epic names would sound a little less cheesy to me if they were more representative of the Epics themselves, instead of sounding like nicknames that they made up for themselves.

While the secret to Epics' weaknesses is less than imaginative, overall this follow-up to Steelheart delivered an excellent continuation of the story, blending new surroundings with the same story lines and characters that intrigued me in the first book. It's creative, and Sanderson has left us set up for a very intense third installment. Firefight by Brandon Sanderson will be released on January 6th, 2015, and is available for pre-order now through your favorite local, independent bookstore.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Book Review: "The Doubt Factory" by Paolo Bacigalupi

If the name Paolo Bacigalupi sounds familiar to you, it's probably because he's also written award winners The Windup Girl and Ship Breaker. His latest book, The Doubt Factory, continues his foray into the world of Young Adult writing with, in my opinion, mixed results.

Alix Banks leads a charmed life: she has a rich family, attends a prestigious prep school, achieves the perfect balance between school and partying, and the biggest worry she has is studying for the upcoming SATs. Girls in Alix's position, with corporate fathers and out-of-touch, stay-at-home mothers, don't worry about where they'll end up in life; their family connections keep them in the world of the wealthy where they marry other rich members of the 1% and start the cycle all over again with children of their own. Complacent, Alix questions none of this until one day when someone new arrives at her exclusive academy.

Moses is the leader of a group called 2.0. They might be terrorists, hackers, animal rights activists or just vengeful teens, depending on who you ask. But both the FBI and the corporations that Alix's father helps to defend and shield are determined to bring him down, and the only way he can see to expose Mr. Banks and his business dealings is through Alix. But can he turn her? Can he make her see that her life of luxury is because of faked medical trials, harmful products on grocery store shelves, and class action lawsuits that fail because of Mr. Banks and his damage control for corporations?

I had mixed feelings about this book from the start. The first red flag went up for me when the author seemed to romanticize stalking behavior. It's integral to the plot that Moses and 2.0 be able to infiltrate Alix's life and convince her to listen to their stories, and naturally, that means getting close to her to earn her trust. But when Alix sees her headmaster violently attacked, is warned by multiple authorities that she could be in danger, and still finds herself having fantasies about the tall, dark and handsome stranger who wants to kidnap her, I was admittedly upset. Stalking is potentially a very dangerous situation for everyone, not just teenage girls. Alix did eventually realize just how dangerous of a situation she put herself in, but an awfully roundabout route was taken to get her to that conclusion.

The story does point out valuable lessons about thinking critically about what goes on around you, looking closely at things not out of paranoia, but out of a desire to understand them. The social commentary against corporations and the control that they have over us as consumers was not subtle, but it was a great real-life opportunity to tell a story of suspense, espionage, and modern subterfuge. It brings to light the reality of corporate manipulation of consumers and the marketplace, and shows how being conscious of how these concerns are spun by different parties can open a person's eyes.

It's not the most artistically spun of tails, but The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi makes an important point about the world around us and how being more aware of it can improve some things. It'd be a great read for critically thinking teens, or those interested in activism and social justice. You can find a copy of it now at your favorite local, independently owned bookstore.