Jim Butcher – Princep’s Fury

I finished the penultimate instalment of the Codex Alera a few days ago. The fact that I didn’t immediately write down my thoughts goes to show that I was quite underwhelmed this time around. Having come this far, I will obviously listen to the last book in the series, but just to put it into perspective: Had this been a standalone novel or the first in a series, I wouldn’t feel the need to read anything else by Butcher. SPOILERS for books 1-4 ahead…

princeps furyPRINCEP’S FURY
by Jim Butcher

Published by: Penguin Audio, 2008
ISBN: 9781101194720
Audiobook: 17 h 46 min
Paperback: 640 pages
Series: Codex Alera #5

My rating: 6/10

First sentence: Raucus had cut his teeth in battle at fourteen years of age.

Tavi of Calderon, now recognized as Princeps Gaius Octavian and heir to the crown, has achieved a fragile alliance with Alera’s oldest foes, the savage Canim. But when Tavi and his legions guide the Canim safely to their lands, his worst fears are realized.The dreaded Vord—the enemy of Aleran and Cane alike—have spent the last three years laying waste to the Canim homeland. And when the Alerans are cut off from their ships, they find themselves with no choice but to fight shoulder to shoulder if they are to survive.For a thousand years, Alera and her furies have withstood every enemy, and survived every foe.The thousand years are over…

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Jim Butcher returns to his well-established characters pretty much where he left them off in Captain’s Fury. Once again, the foe threatening the kingdom of Alera is the Vord, that alien species which seems to adapt to any circumstances and grow more terrifying the more they are defied. Pretty early on, I knew I wouldn’t love this book. Tavi’s storyline takes place entirely out of Alera – first we follow him on a sea voyage drawn out for no good reason and slowing down the plot any time the point of view switched to Tavi. Isana, Amara, Bernard, and Ehren may be up to interesting things of their own – Isana trying to make peace with the Icemen in the north, Amara and Bernard on a dangerous mission for the First Lord, and Ehren just genearlly having his hands in a bit of everything. But the pacing was so off in this volume that I could rarely work up interest in any plotline.

Tavi’s storyline was by far the weakest, although it did have its moments of edge-of-your-seat action (we know Jim Butcher is good at writing those). Amara’s story being the most nuanced in that it is about more than travelling and looking at the Vord destroy everything (althout a fair bit of that, too), still wasn’t up to par. Obviously, this book benefits from me already having enjoyed the volumes that came before, and the author’s laziness in character development was balanced out by my memories of who the characters are. I don’t mind authors who let their readers do part of the work in creating a vibrant world and characters that feel real. But this is not that kind of create-a-world-together, it’s the kind of I-already-told-you-who-Isana-is-now-I-don’t-feel-like-giving-her-depth-anymore. The ladies especially suffered from this laziness. Kitai rarely has anything better to say than that she worries about Tavi, Isana is the strawman peacemaker, willing to sacrifice everything for her country – remember her opinion in the former books? She didn’t seem to give much of a fuck about politics, it was her loved ones and her quiet live she cared about. If the author had show us what had brought about this change, I would have been fine with it. This way it is just inconsistent.

This is not only true of the female characters. Some of the most interesting male side characters also lose all their depth. And I can’t even tell you in favor of what! Because there isn’t enough quick-succession action or complex politics to justify that lack of love for your characters, Mr. Butcher. Altogether, the book seemed like an unnecessary instalment in the series, where the author relied too heavily on the work done in previous books, and offered very little that was new or pushed the actual plot forward.

princeps fury

Having let the book “settle” for almost a week and looking back at its entirety, it just feels like a big mess. Plotstrings, characters, and world-building all seem to me extremely confused. The Canim, for example, have been established as a people who rely on hierarchy and demonstration of power, almost like a pack of wolves (because obviously). Their actions have always seemed consistent within that set of rules so far, but now even they acted out of character, being too trusting or, at times, just plain stupid. The Icemen didn’t even merit being properly introduced as anything other than “those barbarians in the north”. They are humanized to some degree but, let’s face it, they are not really written as people, just another stand-in threat that needs to heroically be resolved.

Needless to say, this was not my favorite book in the series. But Butcher continues to write in a way that is gripping and intriguing, at least when it comes to action. He seriously let his characters drift and unlike the other novels in the series, this one does not offer a proper ending. Some of those random plot-threads are semi-resolved, everything else is still chaos, literally and figuratively. Alera is struggling against an overwhelming enemy and any structure goes down the drain, and I was struggling to keep interested in (fictional) peoples’ lives who didn’t read at all like the characters I had come to know and love.

THE GOOD: Good, thrilling action and fight scenes.
THE BAD: Confused on so many levels: plot threads, character development, politics, and world-building.
THE VERDICT: As a standalone, I would not recommend this. But having almost finished the series, I won’t stop here now. My hope is high that Butcher got back to old form in the last book and delivers a well-plottet story peopled with lovable characters again. Fingers crossed…

RATING: 6/10  – Okay

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The Codex Alera:codex alera series

  1. Furies of Calderon
  2. Academ’s Fury
  3. Cursor’s Fury
  4. Captain’s Fury
  5. Princep’s Fury
  6. First Lord’s Fury

Jim Butcher – Captain’s Fury

Oh, where would I be without my nightly dose of the Codex Alera? With every single book, I find myself more and more surprised at how much the series has grown on me. From mere okay book one to quite good book two to great book three and even greater book four, the trend is going up. So yes, by now this is an absolute recommendation.

captains furyCAPTAIN’S FURY
by Jim Butcher

Published by:
ISBN: 1841497479
Audiobook: 20,5 hours
Paperback: 598 pages
Series: Codex Alera #4

My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Amara soared down in a slow, gradual descent through cold, heavy rain as she neared the camp of the Crown Legion.

Tavi of Calderon, now captain of his own Legion, has been fighting a bitter war for two years. Then he discovers the invading Canim warriors are harbingers of a far greater threat. The Canim are being hunted in their turn by a savage race that forced them from their homeland – and which has pursued them to the Aleran borders. With options fast running out, Tavi proposes an alliance with the Canim. But the Senate’s new military commander wishes only to wipe out the Canim ‘scourge’, and would also kill Aleran slaves that have sought freedom with these aggressors. Tavi must reconcile Aleran and Canim, slavemaster and slave, Citizen and Proletarian, if an alliance is to be forced. And he must lead his Legion in defiance of the law, against both friend and enemy – before the greatest army of all launches its assault.

dividerAh, Jim Butcher, how cleverly you have stolen my heart. That a story that came from “combine Pokemon with a lost Roman legion” would turn out to be this awesome is still baffling to me. While I took breaks between the first few books in the series, after Cursor’s Fury I didn’t wait at all to dive into the next Codex Alera adventure. And the trend of these books getting better and better continues.

The author first brings us up to date about what has happened in the two years since we last saw the characters. He sets up where each of them is, with Tavi being Captain of the First Legion, Amara still doing Cursor work, Isana dealing with the secret that is no longer only hers, and the war between the Canim and Alera nowhere near the end. As I said in my review of the last book, I seem to love military fiction (I had no idea) which made this – again – the best book in the series so far. Because Tavi is now leading a Legion, we get a lot of military life. Ranging from big strategic decision-making to the everyday troubles of the soldiers, to Tavi’s trouble dealing with his new commander – everything is in here. And it is damn fun to read.

What I have come to love about these books is that our characters usually come up with very good plans, they get somewhat close to putting them into action, and then Everything Goes To Shit. These moments are heart-stopping and drove me almost crazy. How on earth are they going to get out of there? I decided to put my faith into the author and his wonderful characters, they will come up with something, right? Right. This time, though, the threats are more numerous and coming from all sides. The political situation in Alera is a bubblign cauldron of trouble, Amara and Bernard travel areas of the realm that are inhabited by terrifying creatures, and of course there’s this war going on, where humans and Canim engage in daily mutual slaughter. Jim Butcher does get better with every book. The action sequences – detrimental as they are to my sleep – were what I was looking forward to the most.

captains fury

That is not to say that the quieter moments are boring. By now, the world and its magic are so well established that the author gets to play with it. Some things that happened in the very first book tie in nicely into the larger plot of the entire series. It is amazing how Butcher keeps his characters and plot consistent but still offers us new interesting morsels with every story. His characters develop in a believable way and some of my least favorite characters from the first book are now closest to my heart. Others show different sides of their personality, giving them more depth and creating a sense of being real. Real humans sometimes change their mind on big things, their beliefs are shattered, their entire world goes upside down – in fiction, we usually find this kind of 180 degree turn to be not credible. But Jim Butcher pulls it off.

I couldn’t pick my favorite parts of Captain’s Fury. I loved Tavi’s cleverness, be it when he devised a plan to do very illegal things for a very good reason, or his talks with the Canim about politics and warfare. The Canim deserve a bonus point because, being an alien species, their culture was even more intriguing to read than that of the Marat – although Kitai is still one of my favorite characters and doesn’t cease to amuse me whenever she jibes at Tavi. Showing us the Canim the way he does, the author allows us to see that in a war, there are no bad guys. It is full of people who just want to survive, who have their own hopes and dreams.

The end of this volume leads me to believe that some large changes are about to hit Alera, politically. But it also sets up the beginning for the next book nicely which already got its hooks in me, without even having started reading. That’s how well Jim Butcher writes. I only started reading this series because it’s on NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books list – and I’m incredibly happy I did. Because tonight, at bedtime, I will jump 2 years into Alera’s future and see what my old friends have been up to.

THE GOOD: Great characters, some of the best action scenes I have ever read, great political and military aspects, set in a world that grows more interesting with every book.
THE BAD: The one big secret that is revealed in this volume was partly predictable, but tied nicely into the larger story.
THE VERDICT: A series that comes more highly recommended with every volume I read. There is something for everyone. Personally, I am really taken with the military and politics but there is almost always some romance, great action, and of course magic.

RATING: 8,5/10  More than excellent

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The Codex Alera:codex alera series

  1. Furies of Calderon
  2. Academ’s Fury
  3. Cursor’s Fury
  4. Captain’s Fury
  5. Princep’s Fury
  6. First Lord’s Fury

Review: Jim Butcher – Cursor’s Fury

These books are really growing on my. So far, every one has been better than the last and if this trend continues, Jim Butcher has a new fan in me. I particularly liked the military aspect of this third volume. Alera feels like a second home by now and I can’t imagine going to sleep without these audiobooks.

Jim Butcher - Cursor's FuryCURSOR’S FURY
by Jim Butcher

Published by: Penguin Audio, 2009 (2006)
Narrated by: Kate Reading
ISBN: 1841497460
Audiobook: 20,5 hours (614 pages)
Series: Codex Alera #3

My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Tavi made a steeple of his fingers and stared down at the ludus board.

The power-hungry High Lord of Kalare has launched a rebellion against the aging First Lord, Gaius Sextus, who with the loyal forces of Alera must fight beside the unlikeliest of allies – the equally contentious High Lord of Aquitaine.
Meanwhile, young Tavi of Calderon joins a newly formed legion under an assumed name even as the ruthless Kalare unites with the Canim, bestial enemies of the realm whose vast numbers spell certain doom for Alera. When treachery from within destroys the army’s command structure, Tavi finds himself leading an inexperienced, poorly equipped legion-the only force standing between the Canim horde and the war-torn realm.

dividerIn Alera, all people except Tavi, use furycraft. They control the elements with magic, use them for everyday life, warfare, healing and building. Two years after the events of Academ’s Fury, Tavi still hasn’t come into his furies and as the only Aleran faces the world without any magic whatsoever. Now the first Lord sends him to the legions, to discover a new aspect of Alera and its workings. I was particularly pleased that this meant a reunion with Max, one of my favorite characters from the last book,  as well as a certain Marat girl who has been kicking copious amounts of ass.

cursor's furyI can’t put my finger on it, but for some reason I really go for military fiction. Any fiction where the protagonist is thrown into a hierarchical structure and can work his or her way up the career ladder fascinates me. Be it a boarding school with tests and classes, a military science fiction novel, or a fantasy legion as seen here – I am in love. The dynamics of the leading men of the first legion are wonderfully portrayed while still leaving enough time for strategy and clever tricks to play on the enemy. I became so intrigued with Tavi’s storyline that I didn’t want to return to the other characters to see what they were up to.

As far as the plot goes, there is yet another conspiracy and a new threat to the kingdom of Alera. If this sounds repetitive, don’t let me deceive you. At its heart, it may be a simple enough plot, but it is the execution that makes Cursor’s Fury an excellent book. It is, so far, my favorite of the series, not only because of the military aspects I’ve mentioned above, but also because I felt the world-building went to another level. I learned more about furycrafting and its rules, Alera’s politics and the factions opposing each other, I finally learned something about Isana’s past that I sort of expected but didn’t expect to be involved with Isana. If that makes sense.

There are brilliant action scenes. By now, I’ve come to expect them from Jim Butcher. While the fights, flights, and spying scenes have always been great in these books, I see a clear learning curve. The author gets better with each book – and what more can you ask for, really? The fact that he still has me invested in Tavi’s life after three books and him being pretty much grown up speaks for itself. I don’t even care what the next big invasion will be, or whether the stars will threaten to fall on Alera. As long as Tavi, Amara, Kitai, and Bernhard are involved, I’ll be happy to follow them around. Plus, a whole range of side characters I’ve come to care for and some of whom have turned out to be a lot more than they seemed at first glance. There is so much to discover in these books. About the country, the politics, and each living person’s life. I can’t wait for the next volume.

THE GOOD: A fast-paced, thrilling plot, great action scenes, well-loved characters, brilliant military fantasy.
THE BAD: Amara and Isana’s storyline paled somewhat in comparison to Tavi’s.
THE VERDICT: Highly recommended series that gets better with every book. I wasn’t sure about the Codex Alera at first but Jim Butcher has found another fan.

RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

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The Codex Alera:codex alera series

  1. Furies of Calderon
  2. Academ’s Fury
  3. Cursor’s Fury
  4. Captain’s Fury
  5. Princep’s Fury
  6. First Lord’s Fury

Review: Elizabeth Wein – Code Name Verity

I feel quite useless writing a review about this book. It has garnered nothing but praise and features on so many best-of-the-year lists I can’t remember seeing one without it. And honestly, all I can do here is agree with the rest of the world. This is a superb book!

code name verity otherCODE NAME VERITY
by Elizabeth Wein

Published by: Egmont Press, 2012
ISBN: 1405258217
Paperback: 452 pages
Standalone

My rating: 8/10

First sentence: I am a coward.

I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.
That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine — and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.
He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France — an Allied Invasion of Two.
We are a sensational team.

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This is another one of those books that have been very much hyped – not so much through marketing efforts by the publisher, blog tours, givaways, and such things. But through glowing reviews all over the place. Naturally, I was suspicious at first. But some of the blogs that I read and count among my most trusted Recommenders of Great Books have agreed with the overall praise. It was settled, I was reading this thing.

Being a story set during World War II, there is bound to be some tragedy. Lives are destroyed, people are killed, lovers ripped apart and children taken away. But we focus on a smaller world. In the first part of two, “Verity” confesses how she came to be where she is – being interrogated by the Gestapo and coughing up any facts she can remember about the war. The story she tells is more personal, though. She doesn’t just list places, give away radio code, and sing out names of spies. She tells us how she met her best friend in the world – Maddie.

code name verityIt is hard not to get drawn into the story right away. “Verity” manages to tell her story in a gripping way and despite her terrifying situation, infuse it with a sense of humor that made me love her very quickly. The girls’ first meeting was simply brilliant but I do have one small point of critique. I didn’t quite feel their bond after that initial meeting. They simply don’t spend enough time together or at least we don’t get to see it. And that really put a damper on the entire story for me. Because if that friendship doesn’t feel as strong to me as it obviously does to these two women, then whatever happens won’t touch me as much.

Despite this little misgiving (and it is just a wee little one) I enjoyed this book immensely. When I read a novel about WWII, there are certain things I expect, certain events we all knew happened – but if you can show me something new, and be it a tiny little detail, then I’m already intrigued again. I remember my classmates in school always whining when we talked about WWII because it felt like we always talked about it in a never-ending regurgitation of the past. I believe that there are stories that should be told over and over, and that within the big picture, there is a nearly infinite number of smaller stories that deserve to be told as well. Now this may be fiction – and the author says so in her Debriefing – but there were women pilots and there were a few women spies. I had no idea! This was definitely a story worth being told.

The mix of languages was totally up my alley. Seeing as the three languages used are all ones I speak to some degree, I was thrilled that the narrator sometimes switched back and forth between them. Don’t worry, most of the time, she translates them to English. But this sentence here could have come from my own language-befuddled brain (plus, the French subjunctive is used correctly which made the Grammar Freak in giddy with glee):

quotes greyI shook this treacherous woman’s hand and said coolly, en français pour que l’Hauptsturmführer who doesn’t speak English puisse nous comprendre, “I’m afraid I can’t tell you my name.”

Apart from the great story and the character of “Verity” (she was easily my favorite), this book offered a few things that felt like little gems, put in especially to make me happy. Being somewhat of a Peter Pan nut, I loved the parallels and use of lines and names from the original story. Mrs. Darling, who leaves the windows open, in case her children fly home unexpectedly – what a wonderful image for the mother of a pilot.  There are plenty more but I won’t spoil.

I am expecting this book to win all sorts of awards and they are most deserved. In the end, it wasn’t as much of a hit as I had expected after the rave reviews. The friendship didn’t really feel that close to me until the end. There was admiration between these girls, certainly, but the love of a best friend did not come across through the pages. Still, a very highly recommended read that shows a different perspective on a story we all think we know already.

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THE GOOD: Great writing, wonderful characters, very suspenseful until you know what is going on.
THE BAD: I didn’t feel the friendship as much as I think I should have. The first half of the book was much better than the second.
BONUS: Mixed languages.
THE VERDICT: A highly recommended book that can be read by people of all ages.

RATING: 8/10  Excellent

Review: Jim Butcher – Academ’s Fury

Seeing how much I have enjoyed listening to the Codex Alera audiobooks so far, I think I will continue what is by now almost a tradition. I listen to it a bit evey night before going to sleep. Let me tell you, when an action scene comes up, it’s very detrimental to my sleep…

academs fury

ACADEM’S FURY
by Jim Butcher

Published by: Orbit, 2009 (2005)
ISBN: 0143143778
Audiobook: 20 hrs
Paperback: 628 pages
Series: Codex Alera #2

My rating: 7/10

First sentence:  If the beginning of wisdom is in realizing that one knows nothing, then the beginning of understanding is in realizing that all things exist in accord with a single truth: Large things are made of smaller things.

For one thousand years, the people of Alera have united against the aggressive and threatening races that inhabit the world, using their unique bond with the Furies–elementals of Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Metal. But now, the unity of the Alerans hangs in precarious balance. The First Lord of Alera has fallen in his efforts to protect his people from the vicious attacks of their enemies. Now, the fate of the Alerans lies in the hands of Tavi, a young man who must use all of his courage and resourcefulness to save his people–and himself.

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It’s been two years since the events of Furies of Calderon. Tavi is now training to be a Cursor at the Academy in Alera Imperia, Isana is the first female steadholder, Bernard has been promoted to Count, and for Amara it’s mostly business as usual – with a little extra time spent with Bernard. Tavi’s day-to-day life is mostly stressful, what with studying and doing work for the First Lord – and let’s not forget bullies. Still without any fury crafiting whatsoever, Tavi is an easy target. But he has new friends to stand by him and help him once chaos ensues.

The first thing I noticed about this second instalment in the Codex Alera was that I enjoyed reading about Tavi more than any of the other characters. He has grown as a person and now he’s right at the center of the political intrigue. Amara and Bernhard spend a lot of time fighting the invading vord – an alien species whose attacking strategy chilled me to the bones. While I still found their storyline interesting, the military battles never quite caught my interest as much as the more personal battles Tavi and his friends have to face. But let’s be honest – Jim Butcher is great with action scenes. I found myself holding my breath on more than one occasion, hoping our heroes would be alright.

academs furyMy hopes from book one came true as well. We do learn more about the Marat and their culture, and I’m happy to report that we experience a reunion with Doroga and Kitai – what a badass! I loved how Jim Butcher managed to tell a new, and essentially standalone, story while keeping some connections to the prior book. Politics still exist and with the First Lord starting to show his age they are more important than ever. However, this time I didn’t really find myself caring all too much about who succeeds Gaius Sextus as First Lord. There was too little explanation of the Dianic League (some feminist movement, from what I gathered) and the relationships between the powerful houses of the realm.

These little negative points do not keep Academ’s Fury from being a fast-paced and thrilling read, and while I don’t really bite my fingernails hoping for this character to achieve one thing and that character to rot in hell, I enjoy finding out what happens to them. One thing that did hook me was the ending. We get a glimpse of what’s to come for Tavi – even though I find myself wondering what new threat is going to show up in Alera and whether we’ll follow the same structure as we did in the first two books. Either way, I’m in.

THE GOOD: Thrilling fight scenes, more Marat culture and some new and very interesting species (the vord, the Canim).
THE BAD: The worldbuilding still seems a bit half-hearted to me.
THE VERDICT: A fun read following Tavi and the rest of them, along with some new great characters. One little boy can indeed save the realm… twice.

RATING: 7/10 Very good

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The Codex Alera Series:codex alera 2

  1. Furies of Calderon
  2. Academ’s Fury
  3. Cursor’s Fury
  4. Captain’s Fury
  5. Princep’s Fury
  6. First Lord’s Fury

John Scalzi – Old Man’s War

John Scalzi can do no wrong. Or so it seems when one listens to the prevalent opinion on his books on the internet. Having read only one of his novels so far, I see the appeal. But I don’t think Old Man’s War merits the hype it has received. Its obvious flaws seem less important to most people than they were to me. I liked this book a lot. I just don’t think it’s that much better than many others.

OLD MAN’S WAR
by John Scalzi:

published: Tor Books, 2005
ISBN: 0765348276
pages: 314
copy: paperback
series: Old Man’s War #1

my rating: 7/10

first sentence: I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce–and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.  Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.  John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine–and what he will become is far stranger.

John Scalzi leads his readers, and his protagonist alike, into this world slowly, taking one step at a time. Having everything explained to you – how the army works, why you join when you’re 75 years old, and especially how a bunch of old people is going to be fighting a war – was never boring or lecturing. It was a lot of fun. John Perry is as clueless as we are and has to learn things and take them in bit by bit. His reactions and the fact that he was just so likable made this really interesting. We learn about some awesome technology and why the Colonial Defense Force keeps everything secret from Earth’s inhabitants.

I said I liked John Perry. And I did. I also liked most of the other characters, Perry’s friends who call jokingly themselves  the “Old Farts”. But it was with these quippy, fun friends that I had my biggest problems. They are all stand-ins for certain pieces of information Scalzi needs to bring across. One of them just happens to be a physicist who can explain one thing or another that needs explaning. One of the ladies seems to be there simply to give Perry a girl to sleep with, once all their bodies have been rejuvinated. That said, this was probably one of the best scenes in the book. Hey, what would you do if you get turned from 75 to 25 years old in a matter of minutes and suddenly all the elderly ladies around you are hot babes?
Sadly, once the actual fighting starts for Perry and his friends, they seem to be there simply to show how gruesome war is and in how many different ways a person can die in this particular interstellar conflict. Since they were kept so vague and flat, I didn’t really feel much when some of them did die – and that can’t be the point of a war story, can it?

Now that the negative is out of the way: This book is just pure fun. It has almost everything you can wish for in a good novel. Aliens, brawling, space ships, physics and mathematics that remind you dreadfully of your school days and a suspenseful story with a nicely built story arc. Military sci-fi gets a bed reputation for “glorifying war/the military” but I didn’t feel that here at all. The reason for this Old Man’s War and the power of the military are discussed in the novel and I found the reasons understandable. Scalzi didn’t just show us how positive the new recruits take their situation but also lets us see other points of view.

I understand why this book made it to a lot of best of lists. It is a fun military science fiction novel with some great ideas (I loved the personal computers and the original names some characters gave them). The story is well-rounded and could be read as a standalone as well as part of the series. You can tell that Scalzi’s world has a lot more to offer and personally, I look forward to The Ghost Brigades.

Was this a good book? Definitely. Was it overwhelmingly awe-inspiring? No. But I’ll be back for the next one and hope to see some of that Scalzi-magic that everybody seems to go on about.

THE GOOD: Fast-paced, great science fictional ideas. Not a moment of boredom. At times quite hilarious.
THE BAD: Except for the protagonist, very flat characters. Their fates left me emotionally blank.
THE VERDICT: Highly recommended for people new to science fiction. It’s quite the adventure and eases you into a world of spaceships and interstellar warfare.

RATING: 7/10 Very good book

The Old Man’s War series:

  1. Old Man’s War
  2. The Ghost Brigades
  3. The Last Colony
  4. Zoe’s Tale

Other reviewers:

Orson Scott Card – Speaker for the Dead

After an amazing book like Ender’s Game, it must be hard for an author to come up with something even remotely as awesome. But Orson Scott Card has earned all my respect and admiration with this second volume in the Ender series. Because while it is very different from Ender’s Game, it is as good, if not better!

SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD
by Orson Scott Card

published: Tor, 1986
ISBN: 0812550757
pages: 382
copy: paperback
series: Ender  #2

my rating: 9,5/10

first sentence: In the year 1830, after the formation of the Starways Congress, a robot scout ship sent a report by ansible: The planet it was investigating was well within the parameters for human life.

In the aftermath of his terrible war, Ender Wiggin disappeared, and a powerful voice arose: The Speaker for the Dead, who told the true story of the Bugger War. Now, 3000 years later, a second alien race has been discovered, but again the aliens’ ways are strange and frightening. Again, humans die. And it is only the Speaker for the Dead, who is also Ender Wiggin the Xenocide, who has the courage to confront the mystery…and the truth.

From the beginning, it is obvious that this is a very different story from the one told in Ender’s Game. Three thousand years have passed, the setting is a planet called Lusitania and the protagonsits are scientists – xenologers, xenobiologists. Ender Wiggin, the original Xenocide, is only 35 years old. Constant space travel at nearly the speed of light has made it possible for him to see his own name spoken with hatred by everyone. And at the same time be praised as the Speaker for the Dead who wrote The Hive Queen and the Hegemon. Before Ender is called to Speak the death of several people on Lusitania, we get to know a whole new cast of characters.

The xenologers and xenobiologists may have been sent to discover and study the piggies’ culture but, by law, they are not allowed to intervene or, in fact, give away any information about human life, in order to preserve the natural behavior of the alien species. I found the idea intriguing to try and learn about a strange culture without being allowed to ask direct questions, lest one give too much away of one’s own culture. From a science point of view, that is absolutely devestationg. And incredibly fun to read!

I was stunned by Orson Scott Card’s story-telling. Going from a beloved book like Ender’s Game into something (almost) entirely new felt a bit like leaving an old friend behind for someone fresher – I was reluctant, to say the least. But then I fell in love with this novel immediately. There isn’t a single boring or unnecessary page in The Speaker for the Dead, the language is on point and the pacing is fantastic. In the piggies, Card created a very original and strange alien race which is used to explore themes of cultural understanding, philosophy and scientific work.

How the author managed to fit character development in this story – for every single person, I might add – is unbelievable. But it’s true. There is a range of characters, human, piggy, and even an incredibly likeable artificial mind, and each of them feels utterly real and grows throughout this story. I still can’t decide what aspect I found more interesting – learning about the piggies’ culture, watching the protagonists’ family tragidy, or seeing how Ender will act.

There is not a single bad thing to be said about this book. It feels well-rounded, has a satisfying end (that leaves room for the sequel of course) and could even be read as a stand-alone novel. There are lots of hints and mentions of the things that happened in Ender’s Game, but they’re not vital to get an amazing story out of this book. Both the Hugo and Nebula were awarded to this (and Ender’s Game) and they are as deserved as they can be. Orson Scott Card has managed the almost impossible. To write a follow-up to a pretty much universally beloved story and make it – while entirely different – just as good.

THE GOOD: Engaging characters, interesting alien race, quick pace (took me two days to read) and great themes.
THE BAD: Uhm… I don’t know, you tell me.
THE VERDICT: There is no reason why this book shouldn’t be read by everyone. Pick it up, sit down and don’t expect to get up before you’re done.

RATING: 9,5/10

The series:

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

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…