Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Cannonball read #14 and #15

Um. So. Yeah. I have kind of gone underground the last few weeks. Training is going well, I guess, though in smaller quantities than usual. Life is also going well: I am healthy, I am lucky enough to have people around me whom I love and who love me, I have a job and summer is around the corner with lots of fun plans to look forward to. I've been on holiday and recharged my batteries. I've run races and done well, much better than I thought I would. But you wouldn't know it by reading this blog. Mainly because, well, there's nothing happening in it nowadays. I mean, look at that banner. March 2013? Today is the first of May and I still haven't updated that banner. At least the year is still right.

There is no real explanation as to why I haven't felt motivated to update the blog. Just lack of inspiration, I suppose. I am not going to go so far as to say that I will shut it down, but if I do update it, it will be even less often than it has been so far. Unless, of course, my muse decides to pay me a visit and stay a while.

But there is one thing I still have to do. I am still doing the Cannonball Read, and I still have to write reviews for the books I read. So here come two of them:

Cannonball Read #14: And another Eoin Colfer

I read ”The hitch-hiker's guide to the galaxy” a zillion years ago. I don't remember much about it, except its nuttiness. Yes, yes. I remember the towel. And 42. And the characters' strange names, like Zaphod Beeblebrox. But the details escape me. So I wondered how it would be reading part 6 of the trilogy, a part that wasn't even written by the original author of the series, Douglas Adams (who is, unfortunately, dead). It was written by Eoin Colfer, the author of Artemis Fowl, an author whose work was new to me.

I needn't have worried. Judging by the response the book got it was just as well. Some readers thought that Colfer tried to copy Adams' style of writing but the book didn't live up to Adams' standard. Others complained that it was nothing like Adams had ever written. Either way, the readers compared the book to Adams'. So, lacking that point of reference, I was going to read the book for what it was, on its own merits, and not through comparisons to the original books.

And this is where you expect me to write a summary. The problem is that for the first half of the book or so I wasn't really sure what was happening – but that could have been my own fault for not concentrating hard enough. Earth is to be demolished by some alien bureaucrats, to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Does that sound familiar? That's because this is how the first book started. Arthur and his friends escape unscathed (again), but the aliens are determined to not let them slip this time. Cue the shenanigans.

Once I focused long enough to understand what was going on, I could relax and enjoy the humour. Because it is an entertaining book, even if it isn't roll on the floor laughing your arse off-funny. There are no likeable characters to speak of (one of them is outright slappable – I'm looking at you, Random Frequent Flyer Dent), nor character development; what you get instead is a story that is crammed with odd personalities that fight for your attention. Perhaps the book would have benefited from a little more focus on the main characters, but then we might have missed the craziness of the secondary characters. Come to think of it, I don't really know who the main characters were, and which characters were secondary.

It is not for lack of trying that ”And another thing...” doesn't top the list of my favourite books. All the ingredients for a good fun book are there; I would even go so far as to say that it was a book written with love for Douglas Adams, not an attempt to make money off the success of ”The hitch-hiker's guide”. But it is not a great book. Maybe it relies on the originals too much. Maybe it counts on nostalgic readers who try to quench their thirst, loyal Adams fans who were deprived of their favourite author way, way too soon.

Cannonball Read #15: Ender's game by Orson Scott Card

Ender is a 6 year old boy that gets chosen to join Battle School, an elite programme that is meant to produce extraordinary generals. These generals will later fight the war against aliens. Through intensive training, facing new dangers every day, Ender will have to stand his ground and prove his worth.

Ender's game was one of those books that confuse you. On one hand, action! Spaceships! Aliens! Drama! On the other hand, the cognitive dissonance of having a 6-year old behaving and thinking like an adult. Despite Orson Scott Card telling me that this is no ordinary 6 year old, I couldn't overlook the fact that this just doesn't happen. No suspended disbelief for me. What made it worse, perhaps, was that this 6-year old was as precocious at 6 as he later was at 12; there was no progression in his maturity, no painful lessons learned. He seemed to know everything right from the beginning.

A lot of the book had to do with battle strategy that flew over my head, possibly because I don't find it interesting enough to read about. What I found most interesting was Ender's relationship with his sadistic older brother, Peter. In the beginning of the book it is implied that their story will have a dramatic ending.


Yet nothing happens. Their relationship, which seemed to be a central element in the book, an important contributing factor to Ender's decisions and even his personality, just fizzles out. There is no resolution to their conflict. Peter, who is fleshed out as an important (and interesting!) character in the beginning of the book, just disappears during the second half. I realise that the most important decision Ender makes in this book is meant to show that he is a caring individual and not at all a murderer like his brother. Still, this juxtaposition comes at a time when we've lost interest in the brother, who has been shown to have redeeming qualities after all, and is not the bogeyman he was during Ender's early years.


This was an easy, entertaining read, but I failed to see why it has won prizes and a place among the classics of science fiction.

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