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Monday, September 10, 2012

Another Time, Another Place

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I've mentioned it before, but I'll say it again: I don't read a lot of science fiction.  It's not a genre I generally gravitate towards.  Because of that, it's a bit surprising to me (I still don't know how it happened exactly), but I did end up reading several middle grade and young adult sci-fi books over the summer.  I even enjoyed them, for the most part, and wanted to share them here with you:

Ender's Game,
written by Orson Scott Card, 1985
In the universe of this book, the world government has been breeding military geniuses in the hopes that they will one day be able to defeat the aliens (Buggers) who have attacked Earth twice and almost destroyed humankind.  Ender Wiggin is one of these geniuses.  As a young boy, he is sent to Battle School where he learns military strategy and much more.  Training takes the form of games, which Ender successfully completes.  Can he use what he's learned and save the planet?

Card has written a whole series of books based on this one, including Speaker for the Dead (1986), Xenocide (1991), Children of the Mind (1996), Ender's Shadow (1999), Shadow of the Hegemon (2000), Shadow Puppets (2002), Shadow of the Giant (2004), and First Meetings (2005).  I have not read any of these sequels yet.

If someone had handed me this book, explaining that the story was a combination of science fiction, military maneuvers, and video games, I would've said (politely, but firmly), "No, thanks."  All I knew about it ahead of time, however, was that it is a popular book and that it's on our library's list of recommendations for teen boys.  Though reading (or watching movies) about people fighting space aliens is not really my cup of tea, I did find this to be an engaging story.  I got caught up in it right from the beginning, and was reluctant to put the book down.  I couldn't wait to find out what happened next!


written by Rachel Ward, 2009
Whenever 15-year-old Jem, an orphan, looks into someone's eyes, she sees a number there -- the date of that person's death. A difficult "gift" to deal with, this contributes to Jem's reluctance to grow close to others.  She tries to avoid people and eye contact whenever possible.  Then she meets a classmate, Spider, and despite Jem's best efforts, a bond forms between them.  When the two take a trip into the city (London), Jem is horrified to discover that a huge number of the people they see are destined to die that very day....

I found this to be a gripping book with an interesting premise.  I was less than thrilled with the ending, but enjoyed the rest of the story quite a bit.

This sequel takes place several years after the ending of the first book, and is told with two voices.  Adam, an orphaned teen, lives with his grandmother.  Like Jem before him, he can see a person's death date by looking into his or her eyes. He also feels the circumstances of the death.  Sarah is a runaway who has very disturbing dreams of the future yet to come.  When the two meet up, they are both aware that a catastrophe is coming soon, on New Year's Day -- but can they stop it from happening?

I thought this was an even better book than the first.  I was satisfied with the whole story -- beginning, middle, and end. Ward's writing is exciting and compelling; I read this all in one sitting!

NUM8ERS: 1NF1N1TY, 2011
It's been two years since the Chaos, and Adam and Sarah are struggling to survive in the new world they find themselves in.  Adam grew up thinking that he understood the numbers he sees in others' eyes, but now he knows that those numbers can change.  It seems that some people -- including Sarah's young daughter, Mia -- have the ability to trade numbers with someone else.  It may just be possible to live forever. But at what cost?

This book was a great ending to the trilogy!  It was another fast-paced, intense read, filled with ethical questions for its readers.


The Maze Runner,
written by James Dashner, 2009
Thomas wakes up in a dark elevator, knowing nothing of his past except for his name.  When the elevator opens, he finds himself with 60 other boys in "the Glade", basically a large courtyard surrounded by a giant maze.  Many of the other boys have been there for two years, trying to find their way out of the maze.  (The maze changes regularly, and they can only try to solve it during the day because vicious creatures -- the Grievers -- enter the maze at nighttime.)  A new boy has arrived in the Glade every 30 days, so the others are expecting Thomas.  When a girl shows up the following day, however, they are all surprised -- especially after she delivers her message.

I have seen some people compare this book to The Hunger Games (which I wrote about here), but in my opinion, that story is much better.  Still, I found this to be an action-packed, entertaining book, filled with tense moments and a few surprises.

The Scorch Trials, 2010
The Gladers have finally escaped the maze, but now they've been thrown into a brand-new environment, even more dangerous than the last.  Zombie-like creatures, the Cranks, run amok in this world, creating havoc for Thomas and the others as they try to pass their latest test.

I did not care for this book very much.  I thought that the plot and the writing were not up to the same level as the first book, and I just wasn't very interested in it.

The Death Cure, 2011
The trials, supposedly, are over now.  WICKED (the organization of the people in charge) wants to restore the Gladers' memories so that they can help create the cure to the Flare (the disease that turns humans into Cranks). However, Thomas doesn't trust WICKED.   He isn't sure he even wants all of his memories back.  As it says in the book description on Amazon, "The time for lies is over.  But the truth is more dangerous than Thomas could ever imagine."

I debated whether or not to read this book after disliking the second, but finally decided to give it a try. While I still prefer The Maze Runner, I did enjoy this third book more than The Scorch Trials.

Dashner also wrote one more book in this series, Prequel: The Kill Order.  It was just published last month (August 2012), and our library doesn't have a copy of it yet so I have not read it.  I do plan to read it when it comes in, and see if it answers any of the questions left hanging by the other three books.


written by Stephen Wallenfels, 2010
Told in alternating first-person chapters, this alien invasion story describes how the PODs (Pearls of Death) arrive out of the blue one day -- giant black spheres that hang in the sky. Any human who ventures outside is immediately vaporized by the PODs.  Fifteen-year-old Josh is trapped in his house in Washington with his father and their dog.  Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, 12-year-old Megs -- who said goodbye to her mother earlier in the day and is now alone -- has taken shelter in their car, inside a parking garage.  What do the PODs want and how will the humans survive?

I found this to be a riveting story, a real page-turner.  I think that Wallenfels did a good job bringing his characters to life and keeping his readers in suspense.  The ending begs for a sequel, and I read on the author's website that he is currently working on one.  I will be anxious to read it when it comes out!


Black Hole Sun,
written by David MacInnis Gill, 2010
This "space western" takes place on Mars.  Sixteen-year-old Durango and his crew of Regulators has been hired to protect a group of miners from the cannibalistic Dreau and their evil queen.  The Regulators are hugely outnumbered and this could very well be their last mission.  Durango needs to come up with a plan -- fast.

Reading this plot synopsis would not lead me to pick up this book, but I'm glad that the cover caught my eye one day and I gave it a chance.  While there is more fighting and other violence than I would usually choose to read about, the story itself was intriguing and I loved Durango's sarcastic wit. This book had me laughing out loud in several spots!

Gill has also written a sequel called Invisible Sun (2012).  I have not read it yet, but plan to as soon as our library acquires a copy.


 Fourth World,
written by Kate Thompson, 2000
Fifteen-year-old Danny has always been different.  He's slower than other people and flies into a rage at the drop of a hat.  When he decides to reunite with his scientist mother, Danny convinces his younger step-brother Christie to join him, and the two set out on a strange journey across the United Kingdom.  Soon they are joined by Tina, a homeless girl, as well as a dog and starling -- both of whom can talk!  When they finally reach Fourth World (Danny's mother's home and laboratory), they discover that she has been performing secret genetic experiments that explain the animals' ability to talk, as well as Danny's behavior.

This first book in the Missing Link Trilogy is a fun, thought-provoking story, filled with interesting, appealing characters.  Thompson does a good job of drawing her readers into the story and keeping them engaged.  I enjoyed it more than I expected to, and once I'd finished, I was eager to read more.

 Only Human, 2001
The search for the missing link continues as Christie, Danny, and other Fourth World characters head off to the Himalayas in an effort to find the elusive Yeti.

Although I preferred the first book, I still thought this one was good -- a decent sequel.  For me, this story required even more suspension of disbelief than its predecessor, but in the end, Thompson does a satisfactory job of explaining how this world she's created is possible.

There is one more book in this trilogy: 
Origins, 2003  
It has been checked out of our library for the last couple of months, but I finally had my chance to check it out last night.  I'm only about 50 pages into it right now (you can see my makeshift bookmark in the picture above!), but so far I am enjoying it as much as the other two books.  The story is told by "two intertwined parallel narratives" -- one part unfolds through Christie's diary and the other is seen through the young Cat Nessa's eyes.


Have you read any of the books mentioned above?  If so, what did you think of them?  What are your favorite sci-fi novels?  I'm always looking for new reading material! :)

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