Thursday, March 4, 2010

Crazy but Fairly Likely

What is going to happen if the predicted global warming occurs?

Paolo Bacigalupi is a sci-fi author writing out of Colorado. He is the author of the Nebula nominated Wind-Up Girl and a phenomenal book of short fiction entitled Pump Six and Other Stories. He also writes for an environmental rag, where he most have a lot of time to think about what will happen if the environment goes the wrong way.

If infrastructure goes the way of the dinosaur, Bacigalupi pretty much has it in the bag. It's likely that we will move quickly away from the fossil fuels that have caused so many problems. What happens though if we don't get an alternate system set up? Society has some major problems at this point. The basic pieces of American modern culture change quickly and drastically. Population crashes, we either all gather to urban areas, or disperse ourselves across the country in small bands. All support for the suburbs is eliminated. There will be massive movement of people.

Bacigalupi's stories are so cool because his explanation for the crash of society is solidly based on where we are now and what we won't have. His future allows for generipping and manipulation of entire species. The work is done on a computer powered by a treadle. Think about how much work it would take just to process a gene sequence.

Calories become extremely important. Anything that needs to be powered needs to be powered by wind, water, or as Bacigalupi posits the work of giant modified elephants that only purpose is to take the calories they burn and put them in giant "kink springs" that will effectively hold the joules.

Because the ability to burn calories in order to get power becomes essential to run any advanced technology, any one that can control food production puts themselves in a position of immense power. A company entitle AgriGene creates a weevil that will eat the grain that is powering society, at the same time creating a grain that is resistant to the same weevil that they engineered. I would guess that is a pretty decent way to create a monopoly. Paolo's writing is so slick.

Wind-up Girl is a most read. Pick it up! This is a novel of ideas that are probably a lot closer than we think. Maybe this will be the survival guide for the 22nd century.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Brief Interview with Emma Clayton; Author of the Roar

Emma Clayton, the fabulous author of The Roar was gracious enough to answer questions that I posed to her. Thanks so much for taking the time Emma. If you haven't already, please take the time to pick up your own copy of The Roar. It was certainly one of my favorites from this last year.

If you wouldn’t mind, tell us a little bit about yourself (a short bio)?

I was born in 1968. My father was an officer in the RAF, so we moved a lot when I was small. He died when I was seven, while we were living in Gibraltar and I returned to England with my mother and brothers and lived in and around Oxford until recently.

At school I was quite shy, but really into books, comics, music, art and film. I read and drew a lot and played in bands. English and Art were my favourite subjects.

I left school when I was 16, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. At the time I was told you could only make a living out of art and English through graphic design or teaching, and neither of these appealed to me. It was only after I’d made friends with people working in comics and film that I realized there were more exciting paths to follow.

In my late teens, I trained as a Field Archaeologist. I spent a brief time working as a freelance illustrator, then I returned to education in my mid-twenties, studying film and screen writing. I wrote my first novel after the birth of my daughter when I was 26, and wrote The Roar several years later, while I was studying for a HND in Visual Communication.

How did you come to be a professional writer? Was there any one event that pushed you into the field?

While I was writing The Roar, I entered the first three chapters of an early draft into a competition organized by the bookseller, Waterstone’s and the publisher, Faber and Faber. The competition was called, ‘The Wow Factor’ and the prize was a publishing deal. I entered because I wanted to test my manuscript before sending it to agents and luckily, it reached the shortlist. This gave me the confidence to approach my agent, Sophie Hicks, who secured my publishing deal with Chicken House and Scholastic.

I would recommend competitions to new writers. It’s a great way to get your work read by the right people.

Do you ever tire of people comparing your work to other books in similar genres?

No. When ‘The Roar’ was first compared to ‘Ender’s Game,’ I was surprised more than anything, because like many writers before me, I thought I’d come up with an original idea! After I’d read ‘Ender’s Game’ I felt humbled to dust, because it’s such a great book. However, when I thought about it, I realized Orson Scott Card and I were exploring a similar idea in very different times. Orson Scott Card wrote the first version of ‘Ender’s Game’ over thirty years ago, in 1977, when virtual environments and computer games didn’t exist. I am writing for young people in a world dominated by them. I was trying to create an environment that worked as an interface between games, films and books and would consequently encourage young people to read. Orson Scott Card was visionary. I am responding to a culture that exists. I find this very interesting.

The Roar is also compared to The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. I did wonder while I was writing my book if I was part of a movement - whether there were other writers out there exploring similar ideas. The Roar was published in the UK at the same time as The Hunger Games in the US, and we were both observing a media obsessed world. It feels exciting to be part of this new wave in youth literature and I enjoyed reading The Hunger Games.

In terms of logistics, when can expect the new book?

I’m still writing it, so I’m afraid I don’t know yet!

If you could deliver one important message to the world, what would that be?

People have already said much smarter things than I ever will. One of my favourite quotes opens The Whisper, the sequel to The Roar.

‘War does not determine who is right, only who is left.’

Bertrand Russell

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Catching Fire Author Suzanne Collins Interview

Just read this great interview with Suzanne Collins. I thought I would pass it along for all those Hunger Games and Catching Fire fans.

Click Me!


Friday, October 23, 2009

The Last Olympian: Greek Mythology Has Never Been This Fun

The Percy Jackson series up to the finale has been fairly good. Enter The Last Olympian. The author, Rick Riordian, has ratcheted up the action to a level that is simply astonishing. The hero of the book is one Percy Jackson, who is the son of the god Poseidon. He has amazing powers and has teenage problems like who he should date. From Amazon, here is a brief description of the plot.

All year the half-bloods have been preparing for battle against the Titans, knowing the odds of victory are grim. Kronos's army is stronger than ever, and with every god and half-blood he recruits, the evil Titan's power only grows. While the Olympians struggle to contain the rampaging monster Typhon, Kronos begins his advance on New York City, where Mount Olympus stands virtually unguarded. Now it's up to Percy Jackson and an army of young demigods to stop the Lord of Time.

In this momentous final book in the New York Times best-selling Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the long-awaited prophecy surrounding Percy's sixteenth birthday unfolds. And as the battle for Western civilization rages on the streets of Manhattan, Percy faces a terrifying suspicion that he may be fighting against his own fate.

What made this book so fun to read was the incredible pace Riordian uses. He does not let up. Each time I read the book my mind would race with what would happen next. Riordian writes the characters into the corner several times, and each time the character breaks through the wall into the next room and is off and running.

What this one is about is action, action, action. That's what makes it good and that's what makes it better then all the others in the series. I can not tell you how many times I thought, this needs to be in a movie. Five minutes later, man, this needs to be in a movie. Percy is at times more powerful than superman. If you can, picture a smaller sixteen year old boy on the brooklyn bridge with a three foot long greek sword. In front of him are a hundred blood thirsty monsters, bad people, skeletons, and a twelve foot minotaur. Riordian has Percy rip into his enemies like a knife through butter. He doesn't just win the battle, but he literally decimates his enemies into wispy smoke. I haven't seen action like this since I last played the video game God of War.

Not only is the book fun, but it is also well written. It has great things to say about love, war, and peace. I promise that any one who will invest their time in reading this will absolutely love it. Whether you be ten or a hundred. Please, Please, Please pick Percy up. You will not be disappointed (unless you don't like fighting and a wuss)

Freaking 5 out of 5.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Speaking of Oppression

Thought this was appropriate for what I have been reading the last little while!

The Roar: Add Another Classic to Dystopian Literature

The Roar by Emma Clayton is a highly enjoyable read. It is in the same vein as the popular YA novels the Hunger Games and Catching Fire. The Roar is set in a dystopic future similar to some of the genre’s great, classic predecessors. The Roar shares similarities to two of the greatest books in the genre: Brave New World and 1984. The main antagonist in the book has extended his life to an unnatural length taking pills conjuring Brave New World. Clayton’s writing also strongly relates to 1984. Both books contain the themes of being separated by class; those who are ruled are on a frantic journey towards self identification. However Clayton’s strongest influence is Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. The books share many similar themes that drive each respective novel towards a breathtaking conclusion.

Before the story begins, Ellie, one of our heroes has been kidnapped and imprisoned. The Roar roars off with Ellie and a Capuchin monkey in tow, barreling towards earth in a Pod Fighter. They cross the wall that extends across the entire northern hemisphere and race towards the United Kingdom at ridiculous speeds. They have escaped the evil Mal Gordon’s satellite space station with the goal of seeing Ellie’s family. Ellie was kidnapped by Gorman because of his suspicion of her “special” powers. Ellie is chased by goons, but the deadly twelve year old pilot outmaneuvers her tails and flies underneath London into The Shadows. Ellie makes a small mistake and ends up crashing in the Thames which is now a giant, stinking floodplain. She sinks to the bottom with the thought that she is going to be buried alive in the black muck that was once the famous river. To her consternation and relief, Ellie is “rescued” by Gorman and brought back to her prison in space. Clayton’s action is brisk, intense, and does not let up through out.

The story switches focuses onto Ellie’s twin brother, Mika, who lives in a fold down house (fold down because you fold up your bathroom in order to fold down your kitchen, all in 50 square feet) in a suburb of London. Mika is an extraordinary young boy. Everyone believes that Ellie is dead because that is what her family has been told by the local police. However, Mika has strong feelings (and convincing dreams) that his sister is alive and is willing to do anything in order to get her back.

Mika attends his local school where all of the learning takes place by video. One day in class a new program is started where all of the students are forced to drink health supplements. He feels that the government, who has initiated the “Fit Mix” program, is trying to poison the children. The program also includes physical exercise, as well as a new “game” that teaches the children how to fly a Fighter Pod (think spaceship) that the children are coerced to learn through the excitement of this new “game”. This same arm of the government, run by the Evil Mal Gorman, has certain sinister goals that they want to accomplish by running this “Fit Mix” campaign. Gorman initiates all of the children into competing against each other in a massive government supported competition. Mika is sucked into winning the game because he feels that this may be a way to find Ellie.

The plot continues with Mika becoming more and more involved in different stages of these games and through the competition, Mika gets closer and closer to his sister. I won’t give more of the plot away as that would be a disservice to anyone wanting to read this one.

One reason the book is so compelling is the descriptions of where these characters live and what their environments are like. The world north of the barrier is very dichotic. The Shadows, which is the remaining cities and towns built before the Fold Down Houses and the Golden Turrets were erected. The Shadows are the bottom of a three tiered city scape. The Shadows is a world that doesn’t ever see sunlight, where deadly mold covers all surfaces, and where the refuse from the world above is basically dumped on top of this motley living space. Living in the Shadow’s would be the equivalent of living in a dump or a sewer, unpleasant and unsanitary. Above the Shadows is where Mika lives, the Fold Down Houses. This area is where the majority of the lower middleclass lives. It is older and run down, but not necessarily physically dangerous. The houses are ridiculously cramped. This leaves the Golden Turrets, where the rich live. These are spacious apartments that jut out of the sky line. The people living in the Golden Turrets are not wanting. Picture a golden skyscraper with all the amenities included.

Clayton’s writing about the different classes from these three separate environments, was one of my favorite pieces of the book. At one point in the story the main characters are in the Golden Turrets and experience an immeasurably eerie occurrence. Here is a quote from the book.

--Boom. Boom.

“What’s that?” he asked as his feet hit the pavement. It sounded like the heartbeat of an enormous beast, as if a dragon were sleeping beneath its treasure, instead of on top of it.

Boom. Boom.

“The Shadows,” the chauffeur replied. “haven’t you heard?”

“No,” Mika said. “what’s happening?”

“The mold is getting worse,” the chauffeur replied grimly. “And hundreds are dying every day. And they say the government won’t help them because it’s cheaper to let them die.”

“But the people in The Shadows won’t be ignored,” the chauffeur said. “So they’re banging on the pillars holding up the Golden Turrets with huge steel balls on chains. All day and all night they swing them – one time for every person who’s died. It was driving people crazy up here when it started on Friday night, but apparently you get used to it.”

Boom. Boom.

“I don’t think I’ll get used to it,” Mika said. He gazed at the pavement and tried to imagine what was below, all that darkness and water and millions of people trying to stay alive and balls on chains swinging against the pillars.

“Creepy, innit?” the chauffeur said.

Sure is. Thanks for such an awesome description Ms. Clayton.

Like Ender’s Game, The Roar features a government agency training children through games. Ender was forced in a certain direction through games and, in the end of the book, was made to command an army in order to defeat his enemies, the buggers. Mika on the other hand is coerced into learning to fly by the governments offer of instantly improving his families lives. Ender is, in essence, tricked, where Mika has consciously made the choice to participate because he believes he may be able to rescue his sister.

Another strong comparison between the two works is the dream sequences. Ender keeps dreaming about the game that he is playing, in particular about the decomposing giant. These dream sequences are driving pieces in the book. Mika is also troubled by nightmares. He dreams about these incredibly ancient, living skeletons with old fashioned televisions for heads. Disturbingly, Mika dreams about Mal Gorman as one of these “Tele-heads” before he has even met him. In Mika’s dream, all of the Tele-heads surround him in order to eat him. Mal starts with a pair of giant scissors at his big toe as the first course.

There are several other themes that Ender’s Game and The Roar share. These themes include older enemies that both treat the protagonist horribly, but the hero gets even with these awful enemies in both books. Both characters are also manipulated by their respective governments. In this regard Mika takes control of the manipulation, where Ender only has a limited control over his destiny throughout the book.

Clayon’s writing is vivid and her themes are compelling. She takes up warring social classes, the environment, and psychic powers with deft skill. The book is never preachy and never assumes that her target audience isn’t smart enough for the morally challenging aspects of the narrative. Clayton is awesome at taking these serious, modern ideas and making them accessible for the kids (and adults) that take The Roar on.

Everything about The Roar is top notch. The plot, characters, themes, and environment of the book are right up there with the Suzanne Collins Hunger Games series and the classic dystopic novels that we all love. This one comes highly recommended. I hope that more people get their hands on this absolute gem.

5 out of 5 – Absolutely one of my favorites that I have read so far this year!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Quick Quote From the Buddha

Of what use are words of wisdom to the man who is unwise? Of what use is a lamp to a man who is blind?

Hear the essence of thousands of sacred books: to help others is virtue: to hurt others is sin.

A man rises or does down by his own actions; like the builder of a wall, or as the digger of a well.

The narrow-minded man thinks and says: 'This man is one of us; this one is not, he is a stranger. To the man of noble soul the whole of mankind is but one family'.

--The Buddah from the Dhammaphada