Series Spotlight: Xenogenesis

Xenogenesis Series (Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Image) by Octavia E. Butler

CONTAINS SPOILERS

(From Lilith’s Brood, which contains all three novels)

Lilith Iyapo is in the Andes, mourning the death of her family, when war destroys Earth. Centuries later, she is resurrected — by miraculously powerful unearthly beings, the Oankali. Driven by an irresistible need to heal others, the Oankali are rescuing our dying planet by merging genetically with mankind. But Lilith and all humanity must now share the world with uncanny, unimaginably alien creatures: their own children. This is their story…

I took a class on sci-fi literature last fall and we read Adulthood Rites. I always meant to go back and read the other two stories in the collection, which I finally did this holiday.

Each of the stories are interesting and complex in themselves. But what is even more remarkable is how the three stories TOGETHER add up to something much bigger.

To put it simply: Humans destroy the Earth in a war. An alien race, the Oankali saves some of the humans. Their price for saving them is a “trade”. The Oankali survive by merging genetically with new species, always seeking to improve and perfect. The traditional Oankali family structure consists of a male, female, and an ooloi (a gender-neutral being). Oankali are not capable of reproducing except through the aid on an ooloi. The new family structure includes the same three Oankali, plus a male and female human.

This series is many things. It is the story of the human survivor, Lilith Iyapo, and her journey in this strange, new world. It is the story of the Oankali, in a microcosm. It is the story of a species, of us all. When read together the three books essentially represent birth, growth, and adulthood. At the beginning of the series there are no human-Oankali children. By the end of the series, not only are there human-Oankali children, but the “construct” ooloi have essentially ended the feud between the two races: the Oankali and the humans who fear their own destruction through racial dilution.

The series is very complex and worth dissecting in its entirety, if you can manage it. There are so many endless questions, so many conflicts, that it seems impossible to truly grasp the extent of the series. I have never read anything by Butler before, but she is truly a master.

The Twelve

Read my review of The Passage

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

In the present day, as the man-made apocalypse unfolds, three strangers navigate the chaos. Lila, a doctor and an expectant mother, is so shattered by the spread of violence and infection that she continues to plan for her child’s arrival even as society dissolves around her. Kittridge, known to the world as “Last Stand in Denver,” has been forced to flee his stronghold and is now on the road, dodging the infected, armed but alone and well aware that a tank of gas will get him only so far. April is a teenager fighting to guide her little brother safely through a landscape of death and ruin. These three will learn that they have not been fully abandoned—and that in connection lies hope, even on the darkest of nights.
 
One hundred years in the future, Amy and the others fight on for humankind’s salvation . . . unaware that the rules have changed. The enemy has evolved, and a dark new order has arisen with a vision of the future infinitely more horrifying than man’s extinction. If the Twelve are to fall, one of those united to vanquish them will have to pay the ultimate price.

I loved The Passage so much I was kind of afraid to read this one. What if it somehow tainted that perfect, perfect bit of storytelling? Even though I was excited to read this one, I let it linger on my shelf for a little bit, afraid it would fall short of my expectations.

It didn’t.

I’ll admit, though, the narrative structure is kind of odd in this one. You start in the “present” (year 97) then jump back to year zero, then jump further ahead into narrative time while remaining in the past (year 77) and then back to the present. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised though. In The Passage, Cronin spends roughly 1/3 of the book in year zero and then the rest in year 92. It all makes sense in the end, but the structure is just plain weird.

Regardless, though, I was just an enraptured with this novel as with the others. It still made me nervous, but at this point, I’m pretty used to the Virals, or as used to them as you could get. Fair warning though, this novel manages to somehow be even more violent and even more bloody than the others.

My favorite favorite part of this book was how he recapped what happened in the first book, in the form of biblical verses that are reminiscent to the opening verses of the Book of Revelations. Clever, Cronin, clever. If I hadn’t already had an inkling you could read this story as a biblical parable, that kind of cemented that.

As always, I find it difficult to talk about this novel without giving away much from the others, but as always, Amy was my favorite character, followed by Peter. I wish I could have gotten more of them, especially Amy. I could read about Amy forever.

Another difficult thing about this book, since I’d been waiting two years for this, I forgot what love triangles/relationships were brewing and thus found myself sort of lost in this one, which picks up four or five years after the end of The Passage. So maybe considering re-reading the first book, before you dive into this one. I’m sure it will help.

This series is supposed to be a trilogy. I see that it’s going that way. But I don’t want it to end. I want it go on and on and on forever.

Endymion

Endymion by Dan Simmons

(Endymion is the third book in a series by Dan Simmons)

It is 274 years after the Fall and the universe is in chaos. Raul Endymion, one time shepherd and convicted murderer, is chosen as a pawn in a cosmic game whose outcome will determine the fate of humanity. Selected as a bodyguard to the next messiah, Endymion will cross time, space, and the very fabric of reality as her protector, lover, and finally disciple. At the same time, the enigmatic Shrike – part monster, part killing machine, part avenging angel – has also followed the girl into the 32nd century. Yet it is Endymion who has been chosen to rescue Aenea, against all odds. How will her message change the universe – if she is willing to speak it…and if humankind is prepared to hear it?

While I still find Hyperion to be outstanding and the best novel in the series, I equally liked The Fall of Hyperion and Endymion.

One of the really awesome things that Endymion does is basically takes the reader on a modified tour of the worlds that made up the WorldWeb. In the first two books, we get glimpses of planets like Hyperion, God’s Grove, Maui Covenant, Barnard’s World, Old Earth, Lusus, Tau Ceti Center, and Renaissance Vector. Endymion takes us further. World-building is absolutely one of Dan Simmons’s strengths. And if he really puts that card down hard. And I loved it. I loved that he chose to go further with the WorldWeb, taking us to visit planets 274 years after the fall.

I find that all of Simmons novels don’t really grip you until 30-50 pages in. Endymion was no different. But once I was hooked, I was hooked.

I can’t say too much about the novel since it’s the third in the series, but one of the things it does is give us a new perspective on the Shrike phenomenon. For once, we see the monster as something that is, in fact, vulnerable and can be harmed, if not beaten. After the build-up of the terror of the creature for the past two books, it was interesting to see it in a new light. I can’t say if I liked it or not, though that probably has to do with my hatred of its challenger. What, you disliked something more than the Shrike? Unfortunately, yes. Simmons came up with yet another “monster”.

 

Matched

Matched by Allie Condie

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham’s face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. The Society tells her it’s a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she’s destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can’t stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society’s infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

I finally got around to reading this book.

Why the hell did I wait so long?!

This was on my spring break TBR list.

It’s now October.

*sigh*

Anyway.

Matched was fantastic. It’s been awhile since I’ve been so taken with a YA book. Some people hate that the Hunger Games have made dystopia novels an “in” thing. But I love it. I love dystopias. I’m glad there are now so many for me to read. I remember when all I really had was 1984 and Brave New World. Somehow, I’ve still never gotten around to reading Utopia by Thomas More. But now, I have so many books to read!

Condie’s novel is the true successor to 1984 and Brave New World. This is a straight dystopia, born of a society that dictates every instance of its citizens lives. As in Orwell’s novel, the trappings of culture (art, music, poetry) are virtually outlawed, except for One Hundred of each that were selected to be saved. In an effort to promote equality, the citizens routinely find that the rules shift and new things become outlawed. The heroine, Cassia, seems to find these things arbitrary. In the least spoiler detail, the Society one day decides to cut down all the Cottonwood trees.

One theme of the novel that comes up in different ways, explicitly and not so explicitly is this: “You don’t mess with other people’s lives”. Which is exactly what the Society does. To everyone, but especially to Ky and Cassia. This theme, while very evident in this society, is as pertinent in their world as in ours. People aren’t just things for you to play with. You can’t just mess with their lives because you feel like it.

Matched is the first in a series. While I’m interested in seeing where it goes, I hope that Condie remains true to an idea that really shaped Matched for me. That the love between people can be strong enough to bring down a society. Or at least, I think that’s where she’s going. I loved that the relationship between Ky and Cassia, while a small thing in the grand scheme of their world, is everything. This isn’t Katniss, the leader of a rebellion. These are just two kid who were never supposed to fall in love.

It’s beautiful.

In Which I Attempt Not to Kill, Maim, Injure, or Otherwise Inflict Bodily Harm on the Horse

When I tell people I love horses and that I ride and that I have one, they often ask me I’ve read ___________ ( insert title of classic work of horse literature here). I usually say no. When people go on to tell me why they love/loved it, I usually respond with something like:

“Well, I couldn’t get past the horse dying. Or being injured. Or crippled. Or beaten. Or abused.”

This seems to be a persistent problem in horse literature. I’ve been told other animals fare similarly well. But I’m pretty sure your iconic work of dog literature is not Black Beauty. And the contemporary movie icon The Horse Whisperer.

War Horse came out this past winter. I didn’t see it. All I really needed to know was that it involved a horse and WWII and knew there was no way in hell I was seeing that. Though I’ve been told it has a happy ending or whatever, someone also told me there’s a scene where the horse gets tangled in barbed wire. Barbed Freaking Wire.

While not every book is so bad, there are more than enough of them to make me gun shy.

The horse canon counts among it works such as Equus, Black Beauty, The Horse Whisperer, The Red Pony, The Black Stallion, The Misty of Chincoteague books and others. The film horse canon includes Seabiscuit, National Velvet, War Horse, and Dreamer.

People often ask me why I don’t write more horse stories.

It’s hard guys.

One of the big problems is the amount of jargon that goes into the equestrian vocabulary. When we write, we often try for some sort of authentic voice. It’s really hard to define all the horse stuff and write authentically. Like, stupidly hard.

I discovered this the hard way when I wrote a piece for my non-fiction class about my horse. Mainly I realized this: people knew even less than I thought they did.

So, for years I’ve hung back on really doing anything with my pool of knowledge. I wrote a story called Winter’s Cry which was published by The Copperfield Review. Now, you guys are going to read that story and go, Shannon, you’re a hypocrite. To which I reply, the events of the end were heavily inspired by a true story that was told to me. Heavily.

But I’m changing that. I’m writing a series for middle-grade readers about horses. In the same vein as The Saddle Club and Thoroughbred series, but with much less dying and maiming. Also, I’m not planning to write near that many books. Sheesh.

 

TTT: Books for People Who Liked The Historian

TTT is hosted, as always, by The Broke and The Bookish. Today’s topic is: Top Ten Books for People Who Like X Book. I chose The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. It’s doubtful you’ll see a review of this book on Isleofbooks. It’s been some years since I read it and as my current goal is to finish reading all the books I have and haven’t read, rereads are a long way off. That said, I really love this book.

Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters. The letters are all addressed to “My dear and unfortunate successor,” and they plunge her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an inconceivable evil hidden in the depths of history.

The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known – and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out. It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula. Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself – to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive.

What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with the modern world? Is it possible that the Dracula of myth truly existed – and that he has lived on, century after century, pursuing his own unknowable ends? The answer to these questions cross time and borders, as first the father and then the daughter search for clues, from dusty Ivy League libraries to Istanbul, Budapest, and the depths of Eastern Europe. In city after city, in monasteries and archives, in letters and in secret conversations, the horrible truth emerges about Vlad the Impaler’s dark reign – and about a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive down through the ages.

Parsing obsure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions – and evading the unknown adversaries who will go to any lengths to conceal and protect Vald’s ancient powers – one woman comes every closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil.

Without further ado, here is my list!

1. Dracula by Bram Stoker.

-I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend this book. Not the first fiction book about vampires, but definitely the first to cement the Dracula legend.

2. The Passage 

-Another of my absolute favorites. This is a chunky book like The Historian, but it moves fast. Love the modern take on vampires.

3. The Strain Trilogy by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

-Watch for a review of the entire series later this week! Somewhat like the passage, this series posits vampirism as a virus. Titles include The Strain, The Fall, and The Night Eternal.

4. The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice

-What good list of vampire books doesn’t include this series? Anne Rice was writing about vampires before Twilight made it cool.

5. Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz

-Speaking of Twilight, here’s another YA vampire series. I admit, other than the Twilight series, I haven’t read much at all of the market saturation of YA vampire novels. I happen to like these, but no idea how they stack up to the numerous others.

6. I am Legend by Richard Matheson

-This is a vampire book, but I tend to think it of it more as a zombie book. Anyways, it’s worth a read.

7. Vampire Knight by Matsuri Hino

-Okay, technically I haven’t read this. But I watched the show! And the show was awesome! So since manga > its anime counterpart, these must be extra awesome. Makes sense, right?

8. Mina by Elaine Bergstrom

-Typically, I don’t like books the purport to be sequels of other books that weren’t written by the same person. But I did actually like this one.

9. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

-I never resist a chance to promote this book. Not about vampires, but the writing has a similar tonal quality to The Historian.

10. Interred with their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell

-I really love historical fiction thrillers. E.G. The Historian. E.G. Interred with their Bones. This one’s about Shakespeare.

And no, I don’t watch True Blood or read the Sookie Stackhouse books.

Local San Diego: Judy Reeves & Jim Ruland

Judy Reeves & Jim Ruland presented by the reading series at the San Diego Museum of the Living Artist in Balboa Park 6/21/12

Some of you have seen my Open Mic Etiquette post on The Dark Globe. The event that inspired that post happened at this reading. The reading series put on by MOLA features an Open Mic after the featured reading. Below are my thoughts on the actual reading, which unfortunately got overridden by the very rude behavior of a reader during the Open Mic.

This was the second time I’d been to MOLA for a reading. Jim Ruland read first. He is the author of a short story collection, The Big Lonesome, and curates another Los Angeles/San Diego reading series, Vermin on the Mount, which I intend to check out in the coming months. He is also on the board for San Diego Writers, Ink. At MOLA, Jim read a lengthy short story about short stories and short story writers. That should already tell you something of his personality. The story was very engaging, about a short story writer on a deadline who receives a package containing a book of his work translated into Czech, except he didn’t write the work. Short stories are hard to pull off at readings. I know. I usually read poetry, but occasionally will throw some flash fiction at the audience. It’s very hard to keep an audience’s attention during a piece of fiction, so that they won’t get lost or confused. Ruland accomplished this in an exemplary manner. His writing is littered with such powerful witticisms as “the purloined story”, “a prose technician”, “a coffin in miniature”, “succulent groupies”, and “the details needed massaging”. Looking back, I think one reason why this particular story worked so well for a live reading, is the way it was structured. It was a neat, compact story, but it didn’t get too overblown and lose the reader. It wandered off into anecdotes and tangents as writing is want to do, but always he’d include a little grounding tidbit, something to the effect of “but now here he was, staring at the package on the table”. Little flags like that are helpful in a live audience. If you zone out a little, once you hear a grounding flag like that, you can jump back into the story with ease.

The second reader was Judy Reeves, the author of A Writer’s Book of Days. She is a teacher and author, as well as the co-founder of San Diego Writers, Ink. She runs a number of workshops and groups at San Diego Writer’s Ink. At MOLA, she read a series of flash fiction pieces. Her work (or at least the pieces she read) are very focused around women and women’s issue, such as sexuality (straight or gay) that is often tabooed in American culture. One of the stories she read was based around the Chinese Legend of the Moon Mother, who had twenty-eight houses in which she kept a different consort. Reeves took the legend and translated it into the American West, telling the story of a cowgirl on a farm full of cowboys and ranch hands, a cowgirl dancing by light of the moon. One of my favorite descriptions from this piece was “the tips of her boots a bright constellation”. She read a couple pieces. from which I collected the lines “one-light towns”, “silos like fat, silver fingers of God”, and “men with sunburned necks and flinty eyes”. I have Reeves book, A Writer’s Book of Days, which I got her to sign for me when the evening was done. I read a short piece of fiction during the Open Mic, which she liked.

My signed copy!

Series Spotlight: The Hunger Games Trilogy

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

At the risk of sounding redundant, I’m going to discuss The Hunger Games. Everyone on Earth is discussing these books. When they’re not discussing Twilight. Not that I’m categorizing, just that the same crowd seems pretty down with both series. But then they like Harry Potter too, so maybe they have more good judgment than bad. (I sense that one day I may have to do a post about Twilight. It’s kind of de rigeuer for a blog about books. Even though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them.)

But we’re talking about Katniss and Gale and Peeta. Let’s just start with the perfection of names- odd enough in their own right, unique amongst literary characters, inappropriate for dogs, and still pronounceable in English. Suzanne Collins, 1.

This is a pretty violent series for young adults. But I’m glad. If there’s anything children need, it’s toughening. Especially the group these books are aimed for. Not all parents may approve (the blood! the gore! the murder! the implied sex!), but then their children are always more grown-up than they want to admit. These books land solidly in the category of dystopian futures. That means the Hunger Games is sharing shelf space with 1984 and Brave New World. Not bad for a contemporary series of young adult novels. Suzanne Collins, 2.

As main characters go, Katniss Everdeen is pretty likeable. I’m not a huge fan of central characters myself. I always find myself drawn to the side characters who steal the show (*cough* Haymitch *cough*). But Katniss is very much aware of her own shortcomings as a human beings. At times, a little too aware. But not like she has much else to contemplate. Her life fairly sucks all around. I particularly enjoyed Katniss in the third book. Her demons, frailties, and guilt all contribute to making her tough as Tungsten. Suzanne Collins, 3.

I have high hopes for the upcoming films. It has to be better than the Twilight films. It has to. If it’s not, I’m going to stand back and let my writing major and film studies minor work it out in a cage fight.