Story Starters #5: Ender’s Game

“I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one. Or at least as close as we’re going to get.”

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Good morning, everyone, and Happy New Year! It’s the first Saturday of 2017, and, as usual, I am here analyzing the first paragraph of a book. I reviewed this particular book, Ender’s Game, last month (last year, really), and I really liked it, so when I was looking around for a story beginning to look at today, I naturally picked this book. Let’s have a look at it, sentence by sentence.

  • “I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.” This opening line has a lot of things going for it. Most clearly, the idea of experiencing someone else’s life, watching through his eyes and listening through his ears, is compelling and interesting and hints a little at the futuristic setting, where such things are possible. “I tell you he’s the one” is also an interesting statement; the “chosen one” trope is a major motif throughout this book, so mentioning it in the opening line is good foreshadowing. Finally, I want to mention the parallelism in this sentence. The “I’ve watched . . . I’ve listened . . . I tell” structure gives this line a certain oomph that makes the reader sit up and pay attention. The grammatical phrasing underlines the essential questions raised by this expertly crafted hook.
  • “Or at least as close as we’re going to get.” This sentence doesn’t have as many merits as the opening line, but it does convey some of the desperation of the International Fleet to find someone–anyone–who can defeat the bugger aliens. Mostly, however, I want to discuss here the technique of opening with dialogue. This is the first Story Starters post where I’ve analyzed opening dialogue; I think it can be a great method for getting right into the characters and the world (even though, here, secondary characters are the ones having the dialogue). In Ender’s Game, each chapter is opened with a bit of dialogue from Colonel Graff and someone else, usually Major Anderson; this is used to great effect to gradually reveal things, although it goes into overt telling in the later chapters. Basically, opening with dialogue is a good technique as long as it isn’t contrived and doesn’t tell too much (which should be general rules for dialogue anywhere in a book).

That’s it for me today!

What do you think? Have you ever read Ender’s Game? What do you think of its opening line as a hook? Have you ever read a book that used similar grammatical structure to emphasize a point? If you’re a writer, have you ever tried that technique? What other books have you read that open with dialogue? Tell me in the comments!

 

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What I’m Reading: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

I must confess that I saw the movie version of this story before I read the book. It was on TV one night, but we didn’t see all of it, so we got it out from the library and watched again a few days later. It was quite good, and that got me wanting to read the book. Hence this review.

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And let me tell you, the book was amazing. So let’s get to it!

Information for Readers

Genre: Science fiction/psychological

Age level: I’d say older teens and adults for the intensity.

Content? Because of the subject matter, there’s a lot of violence and death. Ender gets pretty traumatized eventually. There’s also a fair bit of swearing and occasional mentions of private parts. I’d rate the book PG-13.

The Story: Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, a brilliant six-year-old boy, is recruited for Battle School by the International Fleet. They need someone to defeat the “buggers,” insect-like aliens that have invaded Earth twice trying to colonize, and their best hope is in gifted children like Ender. Once at Battle School, Ender finds both friends and enemies, especially when he excels far past the norm for his age. His prowess in fighting, both mock and real, leaves him tortured, struggling not to be like his tyrannical brother Peter.

This was an excellent story. The premise was just fascinating, and Card did as much with it as he possibly could have. I also really liked the ending, how it wrapped everything up from earlier in the book. It was just a really well-done plot.

The Characters: They were excellent, beautifully written. I thought it was great how they all had goals: Colonel Graff, trying to save Earth and take care of Ender at the same time; Peter, trying to take over the world by influencing ideas on the nets; and Ender, trying to survive and, eventually, to make the IF stop manipulating him. These were just a few examples; all the characters were really well developed and interesting. Ender was my favorite, though I also liked the few scenes spent with Valentine, and the dialogue from Graff at the beginning of each chapter. I really appreciated Ender’s struggle to not become his brother and to cope with the things he’d done as he got older.

The Writing: So this book was published in 1977, almost forty years ago, and I’m not sure they had the same ideas about point-of-view and such then as we do now. It seemed like a book written in omniscient to me; usually, each scene was spent looking into one character’s mind (with a few exceptions), usually Ender, but occasionally the narrator would drop in warnings that something was going to happen and Ender didn’t know about it. There was also a lot of telling, which actually worked for the omniscient-ish POV, and it did go alongside showing things through Ender’s experiences.

The worldbuilding was excellent; it felt very futuristic with the artificial gravity of Battle School (according to my physics professor, that’s scientifically accurate, too) and the video games on portable “desks.” One thing I found interesting was that, in Card’s future society, the Warsaw Pact still exists as a powerful faction, although Earth is allied under a global Hegemony. This leads to some friction later on, driven by Ender’s siblings, which is an interesting subplot. It was great how Card never overexplained anything about the worldbuilding; instead, he just let the reader be immersed in the world. I really liked it.

One more thing bears mentioning in this section: the themes. I was on the hunt for themes as I read this book, and I found so many. Childhood, war, guilt, forgiveness, power, ends justifying means, friendship, and love, and there are probably more that I could find if I re-read the book. The complexity, the many layers and levels of this story make it ripe with themes, with thoughts on life and humanity. I really loved the literary depth of it.

Overall: Ender’s Game is a fantastic book. The premise is fascinating, the characters compelling, the writing complex and deep. It’s a really magnificent work of fiction. Highly recommended!

What do you think? Have you ever read Ender’s Game? Would you like to? Have you seen the movie? What did you think of it (either one)? Tell me in the comments!

What I’m Watching: Star Trek Beyond

This month, in lieu of a book review, I have a movie review, since a) I loved this movie and b) I haven’t read a book recently to review . . . oops. *ahem* And movies are stories, too, right? I figure it’s good to do something different once in a while.

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Information for Readers Viewers:

Genre: Science Fiction/Action-Adventure

Age Level Rating: PG-13

Extreme Content? Yes; there’s quite a bit of violence, including one torture-ish scene my family fast-forwarded through, and some swearing. Also, one character is gay, but it’s fairly subtle.

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The Story: After visiting the new Starbase, Yorktown, the starship Enterprise responds to a distress call that leads them into a nebula–and under attack by a fleet of small alien ships that tear the Enterprise to pieces. Destroyed, and with most of her crew captured, the Enterprise crash-lands on a nearby planet. Now Kirk (Chris Pine), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Doctor “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban), Spock (Zachary Quinto), and Scotty (Simon Pegg), split up, must find a way to free the rest of their crew and stop the nefarious Krall (Idris Elba), who is behind the Enterprise‘s destruction, from wreaking havoc on the Federation.

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The Characters: There are a lot of the same characters as in the first two alternate-universe Star Trek movies, like Kirk, Spock, Bones, Chekov, Sulu, Uhura, and of course, Scotty. There are also some new characters, mainly Krall and Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a marooned alien girl who befriends Scotty. All of them were well-developed and well-rounded, and most had major parts to play in the film. Initially, I thought Krall was a bit of a stereotypical pure-evil villain, but that changed near the end, which made a nice twist. I also really liked Jaylah (let’s face it, I’m a sucker for woman warrior characters), and the rest of the crew, but as always, Scotty was my favorite. He always has the best dialogue and the funniest reactions to things, and Simon Pegg does such a good job. I just love Scotty. 🙂

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Scotty and Jaylah

 

The Writing (and Filmmaking): I’m not much of a film critic, but I thought this film, like the first two in the series, was beautifully done. The computer-generated sequences are really nice, and the filmography (I think that’s the term) just sucks you in. It’s quite engrossing to watch.

The writing, too, was excellent. My little writer brain got all excited watching this movie, because I kept noticing foreshadowing and plot twists and payoffs on earlier foreshadowing and things like that. Plus, the dialogue was on point, and I didn’t feel there was too much infodumping in the form of contrived dialogue. It was just really satisfying to see the story unfold.

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And Spock and Bones get stuck together, which makes for interesting interpersonal conflict.

 

Overall: Star Trek: Beyond was  a really good movie. Definitely recommended! (And watch out for future movie reviews! I rather like this format. . . .)

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There’s also this fun scene where Captain Kirk gets to ride a motorcycle. There’s a lot going on in this movie.

 

Have you seen Star Trek: Beyond? What did you think of it? Who was your favorite character? If you haven’t seen it, do you think you will? Tell me in the comments!

What I’m Reading: Nemesis by Isaac Asimov

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This was one of the books I scooped up at a library sale a couple months ago, and got around to reading it last month. Here are my quick thoughts before I get back to studying!

The Story: In the future, Earth’s population has extended onto “Settlements,” little ships like mini-planets hanging in space in the solar system. Rotor, the first of the Settlements to develop hyper-assistance technology, leaves to orbit a Neighbor Star, Nemesis, discovered by Rotorian astronomer Eugenia Insigna. Why Nemesis? Well, according to calculations, in a few thousand years, Nemesis will pass close enough to the Sun to destroy all life on Earth.

Fast-forward 15 years, and Insigna’s daughter, Marlene (three syllables, not two), is drawn to the “planet” Erythro (actually a sort of moon) in the Nemesian system, which Rotor now orbits. Marlene is not pretty, but has the gift of interpreting everyone’s body language and expressions to essentially read their thoughts. To get down to the surface safely (and figure out exactly why the planet draws her), she has to get past her mother’s objections and Commissioner of Rotor Janus Pitt’s plotting. What she finds when she finally gets there is nothing short of incredible.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Marlene’s father, Crile Fisher, recruits a Settlement scientist, Tessa Wendel, to develop true superluminal flight for his bosses at the Terrestrial Board of Inquiry, who are after Rotor. Crile, however, is after Marlene. What will they find when they blast off?

Clearly, there was no simple way for me to summarize this story. It was not a simple story at all. I have a pretty good memory and was able to keep track of it all, but I can see how it would get confusing.

The Characters: As I got further into this book, I found, to my disappointment, that it is not very character-centric. All the characters (Marlene, Insigna, Pitt, Fisher, Wendel, Genarr) are less people and more vehicles for ideas. I felt that Marlene, the most interesting character, due to her pseudo-mind reading abilities, was under-featured; there was one chapter in her point of view at the beginning and a few more nearer the end. Beyond that, I heard about her mostly from her mother and other characters, which, while an interesting technique, got annoying because I wanted to hear from her directly. Few, if any, of the characters had real arcs within the book; it was mostly about the science and the hypothetical future, which, while I found it interesting, detracted from the story as, well, a story. I can see how Asimov tried to make them relatable and interesting, but I think he either tried too hard or not hard enough and they aren’t quite there.

The Writing: Like I said earlier, the book is less a story and more a hypothesis of how Earth’s future could go and what we might find out there. The most blatant mistake I found was the dialogue. The characters are constantly calling each other by their names and saying contrived things so the reader will get the point. There are also several infodumps about astrophysics so the reader will understand the science. (I was actually somewhat interested by these, but I doubt many non-scientist readers would be.) On the plus side, Asimov definitely doesn’t infodump worldbuilding; he drops you in and gives details later, selectively.

Overall: This was an interesting book, despite somewhat flat characters and bad dialogue. I wouldn’t say it was totally enthralling, but I was interested by the scientific premise at the end. Not the best I’ve ever read, but not the worst either.

What do you think? Have you ever read Asimov? If so, do you agree or disagree with me? Do you think you will try this book now? Tell me in the comments!

What I’m Reading: Winter’s Corruption by Brennan D.K. Corrigan

When Ben Taylor witnesses a murder during his vacation on another planet, he is thrust into a vicious game of hide-and-seek among rebels and criminals. Now, Ben must decide whether to involve himself in another world’s troubles and change his life forever.

Hello there! I have been very busy, but as my friend Brennan D.K. Corrigan is guest posting on linguistics in fiction next week (hooray for fifth Saturdays!), I thought I might review his debut novel this week. Winter’s Corruption is an independently published YA sci-fi/fantasy tale which you can read more about here: http://brennandkcorrigan.tumblr.com/. Okay. On to the review!

(Full disclaimer: I served as a beta reader for this novel before it was published. I shall try to review as objectively as possible.)

The Story: Sixteen-year-old Ben Taylor, from the only American family that knows about the interplanetary Daalronnan Alliance, witnesses a murder, picks up a blue device, and bam! runs off through the wilderness and straight into the freedom-fighting organization Sildial on the planet Andaros. Sildial is trying to stave off the flood of organized crime from other planets that has overwhelmed their country. When Ben’s friend Seren decides to stay with Sildial rather than return to her unwelcoming home planet, Ben decides to stay and help Andaros, too.

I really enjoyed this story. Ben’s adventures, first in the wilderness and then with Sildial, kept me engaged beginning to end. The plotting was somewhat lacking in the later part of the book (I felt that the real climax came too early, so that the events at the climax mark lacked oomph), but overall, it was a really good story.

The Characters: I really enjoyed many of the characters. Ben, Seren, Celer, Vuri, Javrel . . . okay, pretty much all the characters. 😉 They’re well-rounded, interesting, and fun to read about. My favorite was probably Vuri; I loved her depth and the way her backstory played into her character arc. Plus she’s kick-butt, which is cool.

I would also like to point out here how compelling one of the antagonists was. Kalar, leader of Sildial, has realistic motivations that cause real trouble for Ben and friends later on. I enjoyed reading about him.

The Writing: There are some spots of beautiful prose in this book. More numerous, unfortunately, are point-of-view issues, telling words, and some errors in spelling and punctuation. It is unfortunate that these are so numerous, as the story is so enjoyable.

The worldbuilding, however, is fantastic. Brennan put Andaros together with minute attention to detail: culture, history, and especially language. The frequently inserted bits of spoken Voleric really bring the reader into the fact that this is an alien world. I also enjoyed the unorthodox use of magic in a science-fiction world, with the political strife it causes as well. I particularly liked the concept of Messengers, intelligent magical beings created from cloth who can fly among the stars at great speeds. I thought the world was really original and well-crafted. I can’t wait to see where the second book goes!

Overall: Winter’s Corruption had an enjoyable story, great characters, and a beautifully crafted storyworld, with the regrettable detractions of some writing and plotting errors. Overall, it’s definitely worth a read!

Tell me what you think! Have you read Winter’s Corruption? Do you think you’ll give it a try? Are you excited for next week’s guest post? Share in the comments!

What I’m Reading: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

In a society where books are forbidden, book-burning fireman Guy Montag must make a decision: whether or not resuscitating books’ secrets is worth losing the life he now lives.

Well, the votes are in! Two weeks ago, I asked you which book of the three I’d recently read you’d like me to review on the blog. The winner was Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, which I must admit I’m happy about, since I liked it so much.

Fahrenheit 451 is a classic for good reasons. Let’s examine them!

The Story: Guy Montag is a fireman, but in a future when all houses are fireproofed, that means he burns down houses filled with contraband (books). Then, he meets Clarisse, a young neighbor who thinks far more than the average person, and starts to venture down the same path. I shan’t say any more for fear of giving spoilers. . . .

This story was excellently written. Many events are unpredictable, yet foreshadowed enough that they are not unbelievable. The subplots–Montag’s marriage, his friendships with Clarisse and Faber, and his work life–all wove together really well. And the way it was written made it really memorable. More on that below.

The Characters: There are just enough characters in this book, not too many: Montag, our main fireman; Clarisse, his young friend; Faber, a professor before universities ceased to exist; Beatty, the fire chief; Millie, Montag’s wife; Granger, whom he meets near the end. They were all distinct and well-developed, and I got to know more about them as I read along and Bradbury revealed the backstory (again, just enough, not too much). They were all fascinating. I cared about all of them in different ways. Some made me sad; some made me happy. For me, that’s the mark of a good writer, that the characters are compelling.

I liked all the characters, but Montag was my favorite. I really enjoyed watching him grow and develop over the course of the book, watching him gradually discover the truth and cope with his misdeeds (some of which are pretty serious, reminding me of this post on Helping Writers Become Authors). He was just so compelling. I loved cheering him on. 🙂

The Writing: Ray Bradbury was a good writer. Sure, he used telling words here and there, and there were a few narrative passages explaining things, but overall, I was really inside Montag’s head. In several places, the book was slightly disorienting, the way it was written, but that served to emphasize Montag’s confusion. It was very immersive.

Another thing I noticed was the worldbuilding. Bradbury doesn’t do a lot of explaining up front about the storyworld; he just drops the reader right into it. He explains things as they come up, like the Mechanical Hound; or he has the characters explain them, like Beatty’s explanation of how firemen came to burn houses instead of fighting fires. And the world was fascinating. I think part of the reason Fahrenheit 451 is so classic is that the society is so relevant, so realistic. It could really happen, and that’s stuck with people since the book was first published in 1953. It will certainly stick with me; it was one of my favorite parts of the book.

Overall: Fahrenheit 451 was an excellent book, a timeless classic. I definitely recommend it!

What do you think? Have you ever read Fahrenheit 451? Anything else by Bradbury? If so, what did you like about it? If not, do you think you’d like to read it? Share in the comments!

Book Quote 4: Fahrenheit 451

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

“It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

Hello, all! It’s the first Saturday of a new month, and that must mean I am analyzing a book quote. Today’s quote comes from the fantastic book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, which I recently read and am considering reviewing for you. (I have several options, and am leaving it up to you to decide. See below for more details!)

For now, let’s talk about the above quote, particularly the part I put in bold. I picked this one because I think it’s really striking (you can find many more on Goodreads if you’re interested–be warned, there is some language in some of them). Let’s analyze: why is it so striking, and what can we writers learn from it?

1. It speaks to truth. A big theme of Fahrenheit 451 is that books speak to truth (or, at least, they should). Ironically, or perhaps purposefully, Bradbury is doing exactly that here. This quote comes near the end of the book, and he wants to leave us with something that speaks to what the storyworld is not, at the moment, but might become, something that it used to be. This quote embodies the theme of the story: life should be worth something. We should all have quotes somewhere in our books that bring out the themes of our stories.

2. Literary devices are used well. In the second sentence, Bradbury uses parallelism to make his point; each phrase has a similar structure. This reinforces the ideas presented in the reader’s mind and makes the writer’s point better. (Of course, this would only work coming from particularly well-spoken characters, such as the well-read man who is speaking about his grandfather here.) Bradbury also uses the metaphor of the soul going into an object when it dies to make his writing that much more powerful.

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Before I finish, I need you to help me decide which book to review this month. I read three candidates, described below:

The Tombs of Atuan: I reviewed the first book in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle, A Wizard of Earthsea, back in April. The Tombs of Atuan is the second book, and I thought it was just as good as the first.

Fahrenheit 451: I had wanted to read this classic about book-burning for years, and finally got it out from the library this past month. I flew through it, and it was every bit as good as I’ve been told.

The Andromeda Strain: I had previously read Jurassic Park, another of Michael Crichton’s sci-fi novels. As part of my recent sci-fi kick, I read The Andromeda Strain, about an extraterrestrial organism that comes down to Earth on a satellite and promptly causes disease and mayhem. It thrilled my inner scientist, but not so much my inner writer.

Just answer in the typeform below to give your opinion! The review will go up on the 18th.

What do you think of today’s quote? Have you read Fahrenheit 451? Did you like it? Which book did you vote for? Share in the comments!

What I’m Reading: Edge of Oblivion by Joshua A. Johnston

When a great evil attacks his interplanetary Confederacy, Naval Commander Jared Carter is sent not to the front lines, but to chase down ancient religious artifacts that may hold the key to destroying the new enemy.

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My copy, which I won in a giveaway.

After reading the back cover copy for Edge of Oblivion, I was really excited to read it. It sounded so interesting. While that proved to be true, it unfortunately did disappoint me a little. More below.

The Story: Many years in the future, Earth’s history has been lost during a mysterious dark age. Malum, a planet-sized ship in service of “the Master,” appears on the edge of Confederal space and works its way in, vaporizing people and ships as it goes. Nothing in the Confederal Navy can make a dent in Malum, let alone defeat it. So the Navy’s higher-ups send interceptor commander Jared Carter off chasing the only lead they have: a fragment of an ancient religious text which contains the same compound as Malum’s hull. Jared Carter and his crew chase that lead across several different planets and ultimately up to Malum itself.

I thought the premise was the best part of this book. The storyworld (or worlds; this is a space opera, like Star Trek and Star Wars) was beautifully developed, particularly the history of the Confederacy. I’ll discuss that more later on. The story of the interceptor crew chasing down an old, forbidden religion in a time when religion is looked down on was also interesting. The pacing was perfect, keeping me hooked through action and reaction scenes. And the theme (hope) was woven in subtly at the beginning through all the despair and became more obvious at the end, which I liked.

The Characters: The principal characters were Jared Carter, his interceptor’s crew, and the religious men who have the all-important text fragments. One of those men, Nho, stays with the crew after being rescued by them and becomes a mentor of sorts. He was my favorite character, probably because he was the best-developed, although I also liked Vetta and Darel, a couple of the alien crew members. All the characters seemed a bit underdeveloped at first, but they were revealed more later on. Jared, the protagonist, felt particularly bland to me; although he got slightly more interesting later on, he still wasn’t as compelling as Nho or Vetta. I’m hopeful that he’ll get more interesting in subsequent books (this is the first of a series).

The Writing: This is where I had my biggest problems with this book. The story was well plotted, but there were various errors in the way it was told. Mainly, there was a lot of telling rather than showing, in a couple ways. A lot of telling words were used (“Jared saw,” “Jared wanted,” “Jared thought,” etc.), rather than showing the reader what was going on inside Jared’s head. There was also a lot of infodumping, sometimes for no apparent reason, as when a chapter started with several paragraphs on the ways pirates might track a ship in space. (This did not turn out to foreshadow any event later on.) Characters’ backstory was also infodumped in several places, and there was a lot of contrived dialogue used to convey information. None of that got in the way of the action scenes, though.

Overall: Edge of Oblivion is an interesting book with an original premise, but the message of hope in Christ would have been much stronger had the writing been stronger and the characters more interesting. This was a debut novel, so I’m hopeful that things will improve in the rest of the series. It is worth the read for the story’s sake alone.

What do you think? Have you ever read a space opera? Have you read Edge of Oblivion? Did you enjoy it? Tell me in the comments!