George Orwell – 1984

This was one of the most impressive books I have ever read. It was also one of the most depressing (along with anything by Kafka). I read this in January of 2011 at the old age of 25 because in my school we never had to read anything. We were encouraged to but there was never any required reading and I felt way behind everybody else in not having read this classic for so long. Also, it being a popular book read in schools, I assumed it would be hard to plough through but it really wasn’t. Orwell’s specific horror made me race through this book in a matter of days. If you haven’t read it you should. Right now!

NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR
by George Orwell

Published: Signet Classics 1950 (1949)
ISBN:0451524934
Pages: 326
Copy: paperback

My rating: 10/10

First sentence: It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Written in 1948, 1984 was George Orwell’s chilling prophecy about the future. And while 1984 has come and gone, Orwell’s narrative is timelier than ever. 1984 presents a startling and haunting vision of the world, so powerful that it is completely convincing from start to finish. No one can deny the power of this novel, its hold on the imaginations of multiple generations of readers, or the resiliency of its admonitions a legacy that seems only to grow with the passage of time.

Winston Smith lives in a world without freedom. The four Ministries – the Ministry of Peace, Plenty, Love, and Truth – control everything. Big Brother is watching you! For younger readers, or people who don’t read in general, it may be interesting to know that this is where Big Brother comes from. Being watched any time of any day and judged if you take so much as one step in the wrong direction, is a quite chilling perspective. This father of all dystopias is as terrifying – if not more so – now as it must have been when it was first published. If we look at our world today and how willingly we publish the most private details about ourselves, about our habits and preferences (think Facebook), this book gives you an incentive to question your own behavior.

From the very first page, I plummeted into this novel. It has something of a traffic accident quality to it – terrible and scary but you kind of can’t look away. Discovering Winston Smith’s world and how the government is controling everybody in it, is at the same time a pleasure to read, simply because it is a well-written book, and eye-opening in a very uncomfortable way. Ideas such as doublethink or newspeak scared me more than Pennywise the Clown ever did. But the modification and simplification of language to keep citizens in check is only one of the things that took my reader’s breath away. The seemingly random rewriting of history to suit the government’s current needs was another. If the country is now at war with Oceania, it is made clear that it has actually always been at war with Oceania – even though that’s not true.

People simply disappeared, always during the night. Your name was removed from the registers, every record of everything you had ever done was wiped out, your one-time existence was denied and then forgotten. You were abolished, annihilated: vaporized was the usual word.

Chapter 1

I could go on and on about all the little details and the big ideas that make this such a monster of a book. But apart from all that, it is an incredibly well written story. The plot shows us how Smith wants to break out of this world and that he’s not the only one. Orwell gives us the slightest bit of hope which keeps us going and rooting for Smith to find something better than a world with though police.

It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children. And with good reason, for hardly a week passed in which The Times did not carry a paragraph describing how some eavesdropping little sneak —  ‘child hero’ was the phrase generally used — had overheard some compromising remark and denounced its parents to the Thought Police.

Chapter 2

I cannot recommend this book enough and I’m quite angry with myself for waiting so long to read it. After a year-and-a-half, the imagery is still as vivid in my mind as it was when I first read the book. I find myself jokingly using words like doubleplusgood, I find myself questioning my lifestyle – and that currently acceptable by our society. Even if you hate the plot, even if you don’t sympathise with Winston Smith, this novel does one thing above all else. It makes you think! I assume that’s why it’s so widely read in schools and I hope it will continue this way. Any friend I have, avid reader or not, I beseech to read this book. It won’t make you happy and it won’t make you feel good, so reviewing it in summer is maybe not such a great idea, when everybody wants light, fun reads. But I don’t care. Whether you’re 13 or 83, if you have a shred of curiosity in you, if you think the world is not perfect and if you want to share this vision of a man from the 1940ies: Read. This. Book.

THE GOOD: A great, an important novel, full of chilling ideas, plenty of food for thought and a great plot, well written.
THE BAD: It won’t exaclty leave you happy. There might be a post-book-mourning period afterwards.
THE VERDICT: Everybody should read this book. If my children aren’t told to read it in school, I will rave about it so long that they’ll want to read it, too. One of the most impacting books I have ever read.

RATING: 10/10 A truly magnificent book!

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Jane Austen – Emma (Marvel Classics)

When I first found out that Marvel was publishing comic adaptations of Jane Austen’s work, I got excited and sceptical. Pride and Prejudice turned out really nice, however, and Sense and Sensibility absolutely blew me away. Marvel picked the perfect woman for the job of writing the adaptation, Nancy Butler, who makes the stories come to life without long narratives or exlpanations. While she’s been doing all of the Austen graphic novels so far, the artist has been a different one for each novel. And with Emma, I’ve been disappointed for the first time.

Emma
by Jane Austen

Art: Janet Lee
Adaptation: Nancy Butler

120 pages
published: 2011
by: Marvel

My rating: 4.5/10

First sentence: Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, had achieved nearly twenty-one years with very little to distress of vex her.

Beautiful, clever, rich – and single – Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected. With its imperfect but charming heroine and its witty and subtle exploration of relationships, Emma is often seen as Jane Austen’s most flawless work.

I’m not going as far as to call myself an Austenite but I do enjoy Austen’s books and re-read them quite a lot. The transition into movies and graphic novels works surprisingly well and her characters feel as alive today as they must have in the 19th century. To call Emma “one of my favorite Austens” seems a little silly, seeing as Jane Austen only ever finished six novels, but this one is definitely up in my top 3. Naturally, I was excited to get my hands on the graphic novel, even though the cover already made me a little cautious.

This is surely a question of taste but I didn’t warm to the drawing style at all. In fact, I quite hated it. The characters just look ugly. The have round blobs on their necks and if it weren’t for different hair colors and styles I would have had a hard time knowing Emma from Harriet or Mrs Weston from Jane Fairfax. And I’ve read the novel many times! That’s a clear flaw in a comic book, if you ask me.

Plot-wise, many things and details have been left out but all the essentials are still there. My compliments to Nancy Butler who really has her Austen down and manages to deliver all the information needed to understand the story and watch the characters grow. Emma, in particular, didn’t lack any of the qualities I know from the well-beloved book. Mr Knightley may get a little less screen-time than I liked and Miss Bates’ silliness wasn’t quite as pronounced as in the novel or some movie adaptations. But it’s all there, more or less.

So why am I feeling so negatively about this comic book? It’s really just the drawings. While I devoured the other two Austen adaptations by Marvel in one go, I caught myself drifting from reading Emma, putting it down for a day or two and picking it up hopefully, only to sigh at the weird, shapeless lumps of characters and the pastel colors of Janet Lee. Sadly, this was my least favorite Austen experience (concerning the comics) so far but who knows? It might be your favorite…

THE GOOD: Fantastic adaptation. Even if you’ve never read Jane Austen, you should be able to follow the story and characters easily.
THE BAD: Drawing style and colors – I personally hated them.
THE VERDICT: Still a recommendable Austen adaptation but leaf through the first pages before you buy to see if you can bear the drawings.

MY RATING: 4,5/10

Orson Scott Card – Ender’s Game

Well, what do you know? Immer wieder mal liest man ein Buch – oft ganz am Anfang eines neuen Jahres – und weiß: Das wird mein Jahreshighlight. Vielleicht sogar ein Lebenshighlight. Auch wenn das Cover sich seit den 80ern kaum verändert hat und der Klappentext etwas verwirrt. Alles ignorieren und einfach lesen!

Deutscher Titel: Das große Spiel
Erschienen: 1985
Seiten: 324 (411)
Übersetzung: Karl-Ulrich Burgdorf
Erschienen bei: Tor Science Fiction, Bastei Lübbe

Meine Bewertung: 9,5/10

Erster Satz: „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.“

Ender, der eigentlich Andrew Wiggin heißt, ist ein „Dritter“, also das dritte Kind eines Elternpaares. Da von der Regierung streng geregelt wird, wie viele Kinder jede Familie bekommen darf, sind Drittgeborene sehr selten, die meisten Paare haben ein, höchstens zwei Kinder. Doch die Regierung arbeitet auch an einem Programm, das Menschen spezifisch nach ihrem genetischen Material auswählt und heranzüchtet. Für seine ersten sechs Lebensjahre trägt Ender – wie seine Geschwister Peter und Valentine vor ihm – einen Chip im Nacken, der es den schattenhaften Machthabern ermöglicht, jeden seiner Schritte genau zu überwachen.

Mit sechs Jahren jedoch wird Ender für die Armee rekrutiert. Das ist in dieser Welt nichts Außergewöhnliches, bedeutet sogar Prestige für die Familie. Doch Ender wird von einem Tag auf den anderen aus seiner Familie gerissen. Seine Ankunft in der Battle School, einem Raumschiff, das hochbegabte Kinder zu Kriegsgenerälen erzieht, lässt ihm aber kaum genug Zeit, seine Schwester zu vermissen. Denn obwohl in der Galaxis ein Krieg gegen die Bugger-Aliens wütet, dreht sich hier das ganze Leben um eines: Das große Spiel.

In diesem Spiel werden zwei „Armeen“, also Gruppen von Kindern, in einem zero gravity Raum einander gegenüber gestellt. Mit speziellen Anzügen und Waffen ausgestattet gilt es nun, die jeweils gegnerische Mannschaft unschädlich zu machen und deren Pforte am anderen Ende des Raumes zu erreichen. Dass dieses Training weniger einem Paintball Match gleicht als einem Schachspiel, erschließt sich Ender schon sehr bald und er nimmt die Hürden, die ihm in den Weg gestellt werden, bravourös. Doch seine Lehrer haben Größeres mit ihm vor…
Ein Kind im Alter von sechs Jahren als Protagonist lässt vielleicht viele Menschen denken, es handle sich hier um ein Kinder- oder zumindest Jugendbuch. Nope! (Chuck Testa) Diese Kinder sind nicht nur hochbegabt und verhalten sich sehr reif für ihr Alter – ohne dabei unecht zu wirken – sondern durchlaufen den Prozess des Erwachsenwerdens eben schneller und auf völlig andere Art und Weise als wir es tun. In kurzen Zwischenkapiteln erfährt man immer wieder, was die – anfangs unbekannten – Überwacher Enders als nächstes im Sinn haben und im Laufe des Romans wird auch immer klarer, warum.

Orson Scott Card gelingt es, diesen Reifeprozess nicht nur durch Enders Handlungen zu zeigen, sondern auch durch seinen Schreibstil, der sich auf faszinierende Art weiterentwickelt. Liest sich der Anfang des Buches wirklich noch ein wenig kindlich und wirkt Enders Welt noch sehr klein, wird die Geschichte langsam immer komplexer, der Stil immer anspruchsvoller. Davon sollten sich weder Kinder noch Erwachsene abschrecken lassen. Man kann sowohl den Regeln des großen Spieles als auch den Technologien und politischen Zusammenhängen stets gut folgen.

Vor allem aber ist es die psychologische Seite des Romans, die den Hugo-Award-Gewinner zu einem herausragenden Werk macht. Ender ist etwas Besonderes, von Anfang an. Doch seine Entwicklung mitzuverfolgen ist ein Lesespaß (auch, wenn es meist nichts zu lachen gibt), der mir davor und seitdem selten begegnet ist. Hier haben wir es mit einem Buch zu tun, das ausnahmslos jeder während der Schulzeit (oder später) lesen sollte, ob nun Science Fiction drauf steht oder nicht.

PRO: Großartige Idee, sprachlich gut umgesetzt. Charaktere, mit denen man mitfiebert und ein ständig komplexer werdender Plot. Die Science Fiction Elemente sind leicht verständlich, auch für Neulinge des Genres. Perfekte Einstiegsdroge.
CON:  Macht anfangs den Eindruck, für ein jüngeres Publikum geschrieben zu sein. Nicht täuschen lassen.
FAZIT: Ohne Einschränkung empfehlenswert. Kinder, Erwachsene, Mädchen und Jungs – jeder sollte dieses Buch gelesen haben.

Folgebände: Der Roman ist in sich abgeschlossen und kann als Einzelband gelesen werden. Das Ender-Universum bietet aber noch einige Folgebände: Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind
Die Geschichte von Ender’s Game aus der Sicht eines Nebencharakters (Bean) hat ebenfalls ihre eigene Reihe.
Ender’s Game gibt es auch als Comic-Reihe und 2013 dürfen wir (endlich!) mit der Verfilmung rechnen.

Bewertung: 9,5/10

Die Serie:

  1. Ender’s Game
  2. Speaker for the Dead
  3. Xenocide
  4. Children of the Mind

Da die Ender Serie inzwischen ziemlich komplex geworden und über die ersten vier Bände hinausgewachsen ist, finde ich diese Grafik sehr nützlich, in der dargestellt wird, wie die Bücher chronologisch zueinander passen. Die Shadow-Reihe passiert parallel zu den Geschehnissen in Ender’s Game und der Fortsetzung, einige Kurzgeschichten und spätere Romane passen zwischen die Original-Serie. Von den Comics gar nicht zu sprechen…