3.04.2020

Book Review: Godcountry


Title: Godcountry
Author: Colleen Drippe'
Publisher: Novelbooks
Godfrey's Rating: 4 stars our of 5
Summary in a Sentence: An original, highly engaging work of science fiction featuring the the adventures of former corporate slave Eduardo Sabat as he infiltrates the forbidden pagan "godcountry" on a remote planet on a rescue mission.

Colleen Drippe' is a fellow Catholic author -- one who's more actual author than "aspiring" like us here at Swords and Space so hats off to her. She and I (Godfrey) have exchanged several manuscripts and I've always valued her feedback. A while back she sent me a copy of Godcountry and it was very, very enjoyable. Certainly professional quality work and a lot better than most of what the library carries these days in the sci-fi genre. Consider supporting a Catholic author, and you'll get your money's worth with this book.

It is out of print, however Amazon still sells a Kindle version. Now, to the book itself, here's the summary given on Amazon and the back of the book:

Eduardo Sabat, corporate slave, is accidentally freed when his company's main computer is destroyed. He accepts a search and rescue job in planet Quele's Godcountry Preserve where he once served his company as a professional tomb robber. Before he departs, his estranged artist wife is murdered and he suspects Maureen, his first love and also a former slave. On Quele, he and Maureen stalk one another as she leads a rival expedition into the forbidden preserve. He asks himself -- does he hate, love, or pity her? And is she the murderer or not?

Quele is the planet that hosts "godcountry", which is an area revered by the pagans that live there who revere it as a sort of preserve where their gods dwell. For any unbeliever to enter is death. This was an interesting starting point, and the cultures represented in the work were rich and well-developed. As the summary suggests, the characters were also complex, unique, and interesting. Eduardo's shady background provided extra layers to what otherwise is a relatively straight-forward rescue mission plot.

I really enjoyed the speculative future that Colleen developed for this work. It is a future that recurs in a number of her works. To get around the question I struggle with of how to deal with sentient extra-terrestrial life, she posits a situation where tendrils of a wormhole-like thing called "the net" touch down periodically on planets. Thus, in earth's pre- and early history groups of humans were taken and deposited on far-away planets and have thus developed over millennia totally ignorant of earth. Thus providing some fascinating alien cultures and even people that often look rather alien. I thought this was a rather elegant solution and certainly original.

The story was also very well-paced, with lots of good twists-and-turns. She did not shy away from killing some characters, and presented an appropriately realistic human nature without going overboard à la A Game of Thrones. So good action, good conflict, but also a very good theme and moral to the work. Two thumbs up!

2.05.2020

Book Review: The Hunger Games

Review by Godfrey Blackwell


Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Godfrey's Rating: 2 stars
Summary in a Sentence: A mediocre "dystopian future"-themed young adult novel that features the disturbing spectacle of children killing each other in gladiatorial-style games, which has neverthless touched something in the young-adult crowd being a best-seller for some time now

Just to start off, a very quick recap of the basic plot of this novel, for those unfamiliar with it:

The Hunger Games takes place in a dystopic far-future North America, in a state named "Panem", composed of a capital and 12 districts. Years ago the districts rebelled, were crushed, and now as a punishment with send one randomly-selected boy and girl between 12 and 18 to the yearly Hunger Games. At those games the contestants battle to the death until there is just one survivor. Katniss Everdeen, a 17-year-old inhabitant of District 12 volunteers to be her district's female "tribute" when her 12 year old sister is chosen.

Much of what I wrote in my review of the film version of The Hunger Games applies to the novel, but I would add some commentary that pertains specifically to the novel. If asked which of the two I preferred, I think that the film was slightly less cynical and was a lot easier to "consume" owing to the fact that I really disliked the first-person present tense the novel was written in. It was like nails on a chalkboard for me, quite honestly.

But setting that stylistic concern aside, in terms of the cynicism, most of the characters were even more evil or unlikeable in the novel, whereas in the film they were made a bit more human with SOME redeeming qualities. Haymitch Abernathy (a previous survivor of the Hunger Games from District 12), for example, while still a drunk and a pig, was rather charmingly portrayed by Woody Harrelson in the film -- whereas in the novel he was completely disgusting, passing out in his own vomit and scarcely of any assistance to anyone. Katniss herself was, if possible, even less heroic and more out for herself.

This played-out especially in the "romance" between her and Peeta Mellark (the other District 12 "tribute"). In the film, it was ambiguous as to whether it was all an act or if she had developed some feelings for him. In the novel, it is made repeatedly clear that she is only pretending affection for him to gain a benefit in the game. Which left a rather sour taste in this reader's mouth, as this came across as a form of prostitution. Yet I wonder if this isn't another area of resonance with young adults, especially young ladies? Sex is literally pushed on these young people from a very young age with "sex education" in schools and a constant bombardment of sensuality in the media they are absolutely marinated in (television, music videos, the internet). And I suspect that the young ladies are not quite as enthusiastic about it all as the young men are, and thus to a degree feel "pressured" into it for reasons not unlike Katniss. Especially when coupled with the sense of abandonment from parents and the resultant "looking for love in all the wrong places".

The sense of abandonment for adults and even hatred of them was more prevalent in the novel. At least once per chapter or every other chapter, Katniss reflects back on her father's death and mother's depression/mental abandonment that followed. With these internal monologues, it is made more clear how completely Katniss had to care for herself and her sister.

Chapter nine has a quote that I thought fairly summarizes how many young people feel today: "All I can think of is how unjust the whole thing is, the Hunger Games. Why am I hopping around trying to please people I hate?" For sure, not all of today's young adults feel that way, but it seems that a number of them do, if one is to judge by anecdotal evidence, high suicide rate, and media. I believe that sense is part of why (perhaps subconsciously) the youth have been so drawn to this work. Of course, it's highly a problematic theme because it helps entrench the "war between the generations".

The worldbuilding was seriously lacking, and this is another area where I get my "mediocre" descriptor from. For science fiction, there was scarcely any world building to speak of beyond a vague sense that this is a far-future "post apocalyptic" world. There was no history presented other than the rebellion that led to the Hunger Games, no sense of how Panem came to be, why there was a revolt in the first place, how the districts came to be so thoroughly crushed that they don't protest the barabric spectacle of the Games. But further, the attempt at a completely "post-Christian" world made no sense, from a perspective of human nature. Let us assume that in this post-apocalyptic America all vestages of Christianity were eradicated so long ago that the society is basically a pre-Christian one (because of no knowledge of Christ or Christianity at all) -- people would not behave like modern liberals in such circumstances. The whole glorified suicide at the end is a good example of this. No society has ever treated suicide this way.

So, on the whole, I wasn't much impressed with the work. I didn't find it particularly original or entertaining. It was disturbing in parts, which isn't of itself bad, but as I referenced in the movie review,  was perverted in this novel with its amorality (or attempt at it). Ignoring the grating present tense, the writing was good but nothing extraordinary. Worldbuilding seriously sub-par. Characters were decent, but were better in the film (perhaps evidence of Suzanne Collins' skills improving since she wrote the screenplay?).

1.08.2020

Book Review: Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman

Review by Godfrey Blackwell


Title: Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman  
Author: Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Publisher: Bantam
Godfrey's Rating: 2.5 stars our of 5
Summary in a Sentence: The 30-years-in-coming sequel to A Canticle for Leibowitz which shows flashes of the original's brilliance, but on the whole ends up being a disjointed and lacklustre, though interesting, parallel novel to the classic original.

This is one of those books that a really wanted to like, and which had many elements that I did like, but in the end must be called disappointing and perhaps mediocre. Although, to be fair, it did grip my attention sufficiently that I kept reading it every lunch break until it was done which cannot be said for other novels like Witch World which I've been "working on" for 6 months and just cannot get into it. I finished off Saint Leibowitz in less than a month despite continued illness.

The main character, Blacktooth Saint George, is one of the main problems with this work. He's basically a narcissistic, self-centred, whiner. At the beginning of the novel, this is forgivable, as he still has a certain likeability about him, a charming naivete, and he is still struggling manfully to overcome his demons. So one expects him to develop into a good protagonist, but rather than develop he tends to stagnate and even regress over the course of 450 pages. As far as I was concerned, he'd devolved into a thorough donkey cave by about page 300 and did not redeem himself by the end.

The good of the work is the worldbuilding. Taking place around the time of the second novella in the classic original, this work fleshes out the post-apocalptic North America A LOT more. This was very well (and thoroughly) done and enjoyable. Aside from Blacktooth Saint George, there were a number of interesting and likeable secondary characters, although some of them seemed to disappear around the halfway point of the work.

The plot tends to jump around a bit too, and the end seemed very rushed. In all, the novel really felt like something that a man had struggled with for 30 years and then had it finished by someone else who was unwilling to input too much of himself into the work, and therefore leaving blanks instead. It definitely had flashes of Miller's brilliance from the original and many memorable individual scenes. But as a whole, the work just does not hold up. It is also a much more depressing and "dark" work in the "Game of Thrones" vein where there are few real good guys and everyone does lots of very bad stuff (some of it seemingly for no reason) evincing a tortured soul who, if he hadn't lost his faith, was on the verge of it.
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