The Darkest Minds…

The Darkest Minds…

The first book in a YA trilogy of the same name, The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken was a good read. While I wasn’t as pulled into the plot and the character dynamics as with The Hunger Games, by the end I did close the back cover with a desire to read the next book and a slight sigh of discontentment that my romantic heart was denied fulfillment in the last few pages.

The Darkest Minds follows the story of Ruby, a 16 year old girl who has been in a “rehabilitation camp” since the age of 10. She is one of the unlucky (or lucky depending how you want to look at it) kids who survived a disease that swept the United States killing off almost all the children almost as quickly as the first symptom presented itself. The children who did survive were forever changed and found themselves with unusual powers, and due to the fear that these powers wrought in the government, they were rounded up and sent to various camps. The public was told it was for rehabilitation and so a cure could be found, but the truth was the camps were for experimentation and containment only.

When Ruby is sent to Thurmond, the first camp, with many other children, all are screened for their “power level” and categorized into sub-groups: Greens are the weakest but have superhuman brains with photographic memory; Blues are telekinetic; Yellows can manipulate electricity and cause any electronic item to turn off, on or explode; Oranges have telepathy and can read minds, place or remove memories along with manipulating thoughts; Reds are thought to have powers of psychokinesis but this first novel only hints at that.

Ruby is an Orange (without knowing what that really means in the beginning) but as she is being sorted, she instinctively tries to protect herself and convinces her tester that she is a Green. She spends her 6 years at Thurmond hiding her true abilities and living behind a mental wall of fear. Inevitably, it’s discovered that she has powers far beyond any “Green” and a Doctor acting as an undercover agent for a group called the Children’s League smuggles her and another Orange out of the camp.Wary at what the future holds, Ruby hopes that she has finally found someone and somewhere to belong.

Sadly for Ruby, the Children’s Leagues main motivation in breaking her out was to exploit her abilities in their own political war. When Ruby realizes that the partner of the Doctor who got her out of Thurmond executed the children he was supposed to save from another camp, Ruby makes a run for it before he can do the same to her. As she is fleeing, she encounters another group of children who escaped their camp- Liam (the leader), “Chubs” (the brilliant mind) and Zu (little girl with crazy Yellow powers who wont talk), and joins up with them to escape the League agents.

Liam, Chubs and Zu are searching for a place called East River where rumors say there is a safe haven camp for kids with power and a leader named the Slip Kid who is able to connect with your relatives anywhere in the area or get you to a safe home elsewhere. As Ruby works to both hide her secret of being an Orange and yet stay with the group, Liam begins to fall in love with her… when they do finally discover the secret location of East River, not everything there turns out to be the perfect Utopian they were hoping for…

To reiterate the sentiment that I opened this post with, overall I enjoyed this novel and plan to eventually read the remaining books (oh, where will I find the time?!). However, I think what kept this book from being categorized as great for me is that there was too much repetition with the plot. OK, I get that Ruby and the others are traveling to some unknown, remote location but there seems to be redundant situations that didn’t necessarily advance the character’s development or interactions with each other. I mean, how many times do I have to read that they dodge almost being captured by various agents of the League, bounty hunters or other children gangs? Maybe the author was trying to hit a certain number of pages or perhaps she felt that each situation of danger really did help Ruby bond with the others in the little tribe but I would have been satisfied if the book had been shorter and the story-line condensed. (Side rant- Stephanie Meyers’ The Host has to be the worst offender ever in the category of endless pages of wandering that are both unnecessary and noncontributing to forward movement in the plot. Seriously….like at least 100+ pages that could have been cut from that book and you’d never miss them. Ok, end side rant.)

My other beef is the ending and I say that only because I didn’t get the hopeless romantic ending I wanted. Wasn’t really expecting it to happen with this being book one of a trilogy but if things don’t play out with love happiness for Ruby ¬†in the end, I may be scarred for life. Or just reluctant to read other works by this author. Reading is my happy place so don’t take away my perfect love endings darn it!

 


 

The trilogy continues with Never Fade and ends with In the Afterlight. Find more info on the author’s website here. There are rumors that The Darkest Minds is slated for movie production but per the author’s website, while there is a screen writer working on the novel adaptation, there are no actors or directors currently attached to this project. Stay tuned!

Photo is courtesy of Pixabay.

 

 

 

 

Phases of Gravity by Dan Simmons

Phases of Gravity by Dan Simmons

I had high hopes for this book and yet was oddly not compelled or captivated by the story line. I struggled to finish it and had I not added it as a selection for my 2016 challenge, I don’t know that I would have finished. Is something wrong with me?

Some of my favorite books are by Dan Simmons: Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion, Terror: A Novel, Drood. Each of these was a lyrical, gripping novel, either with a historical setting or pure fantasy/sci-fi, but all demonstrating Simmons ability to draw his reader in with beautiful words, unpredictable plots, fascinating characters and deftly capturing the vast reaches of human nature.

So why did Phases of Gravity feel flat to me? I grabbed this off the library shelf based on my love of the author’s other titles and because of the (misleading?) inside jacket summary: “Phases of Gravity is a novel about the power of dreams and the possibility of second chances, about journeys remembered and newly undertaken.” OK, I get all of that and could write a literary paper pulling out segments that fit each of those pieces but overall…I’m disappointed. Unmoved. Puzzled.

Comprised of constant, sometimes disjointed, flashbacks, this novel centers around Richard Baedecker, former NASA astronaut who walked on the moon. 16 years after his moon walk, Richard (or Dick as he is commonly referred to in the book) is struggling to understand his place in the universe. His marriage has ended, and he has no real relationship with his son, Scott. In an attempt to reconnect, he travels to India where Scott has joined up with guru on his farm for meditation, cleansing and answer searching. While in India, he meets Maggie Brown, also in the area to see Scott. Richard and Maggie end up spending time together touring the area and Richard is intrigued by this young, self-possessed woman talking about “places of power” and the effect they can have on a person. Eventually, later in the book, they start a relationship that is short-lived and predictable from page one of her entry.

Along the chapters, Richard encounters the other members of the space mission team: one found God and started a successful church; another, Dave, became a politician, writer, soon-to-be father himself and is battling cancer When Dave dies in a plane crash where he was pilot and only crew member, his widow ask Richard to investigate how this happened and why Dave was heading for his apparent destination at the time of the crash with the unspoken question being did he commit suicide. What ensues next is soul searching by Richard of when does one full experience a moment of happiness in this mortal life?

The book ends with Richard finding his way and peace with himself. He repairs his relationship with his son after a daring (and random) visit by helicopter to the new farm in Oregon his master from India relocated to, decides to honor Dave’s pre-death request to help him finish the book he had started and seeks out Maggie, whom he loves, to try and rekindle their relationship. The books ends with Richard having a transcendental moment up on a mountain in a “place of power” with Maggie calling his name.

Perhaps what really caused the disconnect with me for this book is that it felt cliche; a recycled male mid-life crisis plot so-to-speak. Older man searching for himself by journey to a foreign country and then across the US, quits his job, hooks up with a hot, young but precocious and deep woman, suffers the loss of a close friend triggering subsequent questions of one’s own mortality, etc, etc. I can understand how having once walked on the moon, the pull of Earth’s gravity would pale in comparison to the experience but overall I felt this novel was both trying to hard to instill deeper messaging into it’s pages and yet was overall unimaginative in the effort.

While reviews of this books span the board, it is with a disappointed frowny face and hope for the next Dan Simmons book I read, that I return Phases of Gravity to the library.

 

 

 

Ready Player One- Willy Wonka for the internet age

I’m not sure where the summer has gone. I was happily meeting my goal to post at least once per week and then summer time social craziness happened and here we are in the middle of August. At least the time has been spent creating memories and having a few some adventures.

My boyfriend is once again to be thanked for introducing me to another addicting book although this time he did so with an innocent smile and a glib “want to be hooked on another book?” as he connected his phone to my car stereo and hit play on the audiobook for our camping trip drive up the mountain. 4 hours audio plot twist left me bereft and in withdrawal until I broke down and bought the kindle version. No patience to be 105 out of 105 holds at the public library this go around!

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a bundle of nostalgia and geekiness for me. 80’s culture, a Willy Wonka- esque story line (many memories of my mom reading that story to me and my brother when we were younger) and a glimpse of the internet future with all its cultural pros and cons. And did I mention geekiness galore!? You should already want to read this book.

But if you need additional convincing/facts/ clues to the location of the holy grail, then read on, my friend! Ready Player One is the story of an eccentric, reclusive brilliant gaming nerd (Halliday) who dies with no heirs, 240 billion dollars and controlling stock in the company he help found. He creates an egg hunt (in reference and homage to the “Easter eggs” hidden in several Atari games) which invites every member of the Oasis (more on that shortly) to search for 3 keys and 3 gates hidden within the Oasis which will lead to the egg, the fortune and control of the company.

Halliday helped create what is known as the Oasis- a massive, multiplayer online simulation game where members sign up for 25 cents, buy a set of haptic gloves and a visor that allows interaction with the environment and away they go. Members create an avatar -aka- who every they wish they were but aren’t in real life (male, female, tall, short, beautiful, ugly, human, non-human) and interaction with the Oasis worlds (Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who, Firefly, Tolkien, Harry Potter, the plants of our solar systems; you get the idea. Why can’t the Oasis exists??) through their avatars including pvp combat, treasure hunting, social platforms, shopping and other nefarious or adult behaviors to name a few.

The Oasis was launched during a time in world history where real life is grim- a 2-year wait list for a job in fast food kind of grim, and many people live their entire lives on the Oasis including finding employment in various positions associated with and within the Oasis. A generation of children are raised by the Oasis similar to what we have experienced with the TV and internet ages of the past and present. **Side note, the book raises an interesting social conversation topic- given what has already been seen with the gaming world and people willing to live most of their lives in virtual fantasy worlds online, is the advance of technology towards an Oasis to be met with excitement or concern?**end side note.

The novel follows the path of one avatar- Wade Owen Watts- aka Parzival as he quest to find solve “the Hunt” as it becomes known. He is 17, poor and has a low level avatar = seemingly no resources to undertake/solve a quest that has baffled people for 5 years after Halliday’s death and the launch of the challenge. Whole clans and corporations have formed to find the first key to no avail but where there is a will, there is a way…

OK cheesey line but this is one story where I actually don’t want to give away any spoilers. If you are into gaming, 80’s culture, geekiness, like the thought of playing in a simulation world, loved Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or just plain want something epic, adventurous and entertaining to read, then add Ready Player One to your list. Or if audio books are your thing, the book is narrated by the dreamy, uber-nerd Wil Wheaton… you’re welcome.

Warner Bros has bought the rights to movie version with Spielberg slated to direct. Please don’t let them screw this up! I can’t live with another Starship Troopers situation- a beautifully tragic morality tale of sacrifice, war, responsibility and politics that Hollywood bastardized into a gimmicky POS with sequels!! My soul still hurts a little. ūüė¶ And if I have made this reference before in another post, then you understand how deep the hurt goes.

Oh, and if you think I am over-exaggerating the 80’s culture reference, check out this wikia page for a list….

http://readyplayerone.wikia.com/wiki/Ready_Player_One

Coming Soon- Carsick or the fiction/non-fiction crazy combo novel by John Waters which may have scarred me for life.

The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir

I have my (amazing) boyfriend to thank for the introduction to The Martian¬†by Andy Weir. The manner in which he sucked me into the book was somewhat cruel, however, as he played the first minute of the audio book format he had downloaded but then left me hanging. Who does that? He knew that there was no way I could not be sucked into a book where¬†“I’m pretty much f**cked” is the opening sentence.

Candid profanity and boyfriend cruelty aside, this story was immensely enjoyable start to finish. The author, Andy Weir, introduces scientific jargon¬†and methodology that was believable* and understandable to laymen (pirate-ninja may be my new unit of measurement for anything outlandish and immeasurable!) while also portraying the main character¬†Mark Watney as behaving¬†and speaking in manner that I would expect from someone in this day and age. The dialogues between Mark and NASA personnel later on in the book are a perfect example of this. The excerpt below occurs when NASA¬†comments on Mark’s planned cut he has to make to the top of one of the rover vehicles by drilling many, many small holes:

[11:49] JPL (aka NASA): What we can see of your planned cut looks good. We’re assuming the other side is identical. You’re cleared to start drilling.

¬† ¬† [12:07] Watney: That’s what she said.

[12:25] JPL: Seriously, Mark? Seriously?

There is also a “giggle out loud” moment where Mark laments the effects avoiding a windstorm has caused to his¬†attempt to travel to a potential rescue site 3,200 km away. To outrun the storm and keep his solar panels recharging as efficiently as possible, ¬†he ends up having to travel due south (vs the desired direct south-west route) and since ¬†“Pythagoras is a dick” ¬† makes 90km progress in one sol (Martian day) but only 37 km closer to his final destination. Thanks, mathematics.

This novel is wonderful example of human ingenuity in life and death situations but also highlights the sacrifices one human being would make for another. The crew that had been part of the mission with Mark in the beginning, and who safely get off the planet, decide to sacrifice years of their lives by changing course en route for Earth to return to Mars on a rescue mission (no warp speed travel in this book!) that could possibly cost them everything.

I would have liked for the ending (spoiler alert!) to be Mark and the rest of the crew’s triumphant return to Earth amid much fanfare, balloons, and confetti. The man survived on Mars for goodness sake! Doesn’t that deserve an epilogue at the least?

My only other disappointment was that the “green-skinned yet beautiful Queen of Mars” was not a significant plot twist but a glib joke mention in only one place. I say disappointment because same said- amazing boyfriend that introduced me to the book, led me to think this was going to be a character of interest. I was let-down a bit to think this novel might head down the ¬†all to stereotypical Mars sci-fi path when it held such promise but then I was disappointment in myself for being gullible after¬†I read the one mention of the Queen in the book. Probably a good thing my boyfriend and I don’t keep a gullibility score card…

All I can say at this point is if you are sci-fi geek, science geek or just everyday nerdy, read this book. Get the pure, untainted plot before the movie is released in October of this year and we see if once again Hollywood take a perfectly good story and “makes it better” to the point of being barely recognizable and full of unnecessary crap…pointing to you Peter Jackson and your Hobbit movie trilogy!

Happy Reading!

* Post Note- I say this book has scientific jargon and methodology that is believable, not that it is scientifically proven or accounts for every other know nuance of information we have on Mars, the sciences and engineering. The author wrote an enjoyable story with a nod to the sciences, not a scientific manual. Fair warning if you want all the facts validated and published in some scientific article before you can enjoy the story.