Book Review: Ender’s Game

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars – I highly recommend this book!

Overview: Ender’s Game is a science fiction novel written by Orson Scott Card in 1985. It’s the first book in a 5 part series.

Spoiler Free Plot: Ender Wiggin is a young boy genius and is recruited into an intense military tactical training school in preparation for the 3rd invasion against the buggers – an alien race.

Review: I grew to love Ender Wiggin. His character was very likable and instantly drew me in. I was always intrigued by his trials and tribulations throughout his tactical training school. Even more so, I was enthralled by his genius. Orson Scott Card brought his character to life.

The first 3 chapters used terms before the reader knew what they meant. I’m sure it was a tactic to draw the reader in, but I was a little put off by it. None the less, once I fully understood the meaning behind the terms, I was already drawn in by the story. Near the end of the conflict, I had caught on to the ending before it was revealed, though I don’t think that ruined the novel at all. The chapter after the end of the conflict that was supposed to bring closure to all the loose ends was a bit strange. It rubbed me the wrong way, just as the first 3 chapters did – but regardless, the book was wildly entertaining!

I am a dedicated fantasy fan. As long as there is a fantasy book I haven’t read, I would rather read that before I switch genres. But, with Ender’s Game being a sci-fi novel, I thought I should give it a shot because of the movie that has come out – and I was blown away. This made me want to check out other sci-fi books, and that’s saying something.

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Deus Ex Machina

This is something that all writers will encounter during their career. There is no escaping it; writers will run into this problem. As they continue to flush out their story, a writer will inevitably write themselves into a corner (whether in the planning/outline stage, or during the writing itself). Their story will inevitably get to the point where it needs help! The question is: Does the author force a rewrite? Or do they use a deus ex machina to save the day?

Excerpt from Wikipedia: The Latin phrase deus ex machina, from deus (“a god”) + ex (“from”) + machina (“a device, a scaffolding, an artifice”), is a calque from the Greek “god from the machine“.

It is a mechanism employed by writers to solve a problem in the story – usually using divine intervention, or some unknown spell or magic, or some secret passage that was unbeknownst to the reader – that comes in at the last second and saves the day. Especially in the fantasy genre, the deus ex machina mechanism is disliked by readers in general. The issue with this is it doesn’t allow the characters to overcome the problem on their own. Additionally, it’s not fair to the reader. It would be like reading a mystery novel, constantly trying to guess who the murderer is throughout the book, only to discover that the murderer is no one that was ever introduced anywhere in the novel before. It ruins the experience.

For those that may be struggling or wrestling with their story right now, trying to overcome a roadblock, I encourage you to either work through it and/or rewrite it. Don’t give in to the deus ex machina. It’s the easy solution, I know, but it will also degrade the quality of your story. A solution that worked for me was to engineer the solution by mind mapping my story arcs and character motivations. It is like the movie Apollo 13, where the astronauts were in trouble and the guys back at NASA had to come up with a solution using nothing but the tools that the astronauts had. In hopes that it gives you motivation, here is the scene:

[Several technicians dump boxes containing the same equipment and tools that the astronauts have with them onto a table]

Technician: We’ve got to find a way to make this

[square CSM LiOH canister]

Technician: fit into the hole for this

[round LEM canister]

Technician: … using nothing but that.

Book Review: Dragon Champion

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars. My favorite book of all time!

Overview: This is a fantasy novel by E. E. Knight written entirely from a dragon’s perspective. It is book 1 out of 6 in The Age of Fire series.

Spoiler Free Plot: The book begins with Auron hatching out of his egg. The reader is quickly engrossed in the life and culture of a dragon and his family, learning the stages of their development (breathing fire, sprouting wings, etc). In addition, Auron is a grey dragon, which means he doesn’t have scales like the other colors, but he became the champion of his clutch (hence the title of the novel). Once Auron is out on his own, he encounters a wide variety of unique allies throughout his adventures as he tries to find his place as a dragon in a world where they are becoming increasingly rare.

Review: This instantly became my favorite book ever! Viewing the world from a dragon’s eyes made everything seem foreign and new.  The amount of thought put behind the culture of dragons (how they communicate, the way their name changes as they reach a certain stage of their life, how they get new scales, the unique names for their front and back limbs, etc) was part of why this book captured me as a reader. There was a balance of humor, action, adventure, suspense, and wonder throughout this whole book. It was gripping.

I’d also like to give props to E. E. Knight for not using a single curse word throughout the novel. In addition, I felt that the relationships the Auron formed were real. The vast assortment of characters really come to life; this book was a pleasure to read and is easily my #1 recommended book from here on out. I can’t wait to finish reading the rest of the series.

Book Review: A Clash of Kings

RATING: 5/5 Stars

OVERVIEW: A Clash of Kings is book 2 of the fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. It’s a fantasy novel that is targeted toward an adult audience. Each chapter is in the perspective of a different character and follows multiple story lines.

PLOT: After the death of the king in book one, now everyone is claiming a right to the throne. There are five self proclaimed kings that fight for the throne of Westeros, all the while the Stark family is torn apart and separated, struggling to regroup if only just to see each other once more. During the chaos of war, Daenerys (the Mother of Dragons) continues to struggle to find ships and an army to carry her across the sea to retake the iron throne.

REVIEW: First, I must commend George R. R. Martin for his vast, extensive detailing of characters and their histories. To have written this novel would have required a mountain of preparation to do it as well as he does. Furthermore, the scale of character detail for an entire continent is immense and impressive.

Second, GRRM’s writing is top tier. He has done so much research into the medieval era that he has brought that historical knowledge to life in his writing.

As far as entertainment value is concerned, I was extremely pleased throughout reading this novel. There was more magic and fantasy elements in this book compared to the first. (It wasn’t abundant, but GRRM knows how to tastefully pepper it in). I found that the chapters for certain characters excited me more than others (such as Jon, Bran, and Arya). The Tyrion and Daenerys chapters were always interesting to me, but the others didn’t catch my fancy so much (ex. Sansa, Caitlin, Davos, and Theon). My only real gripe is that this book really lacked an ending. I had thought the same for book one (Game of Thrones), but this one was worse. There wasn’t a true ending to the story; the story was still alive and open with no closure to really bring it home. But considering this is just book 2 out of 7, it isn’t really an issue.

This is a novel that I would highly recommend to any reader, even those that are not fans of the fantasy genre. As this could technically be considered “low fantasy” (meaning there is not a lot of fantasy elements mixed in compared to traditional swords & sorcery books), any person looking for a good read would appreciate this series of books. Even if you get lost with the world or in the large cast of characters, GRRM provides a map and appendixes at the back of the book for reference. As far as what one would expect from a 5 star rated book, this book (and his series) sets the bar for excellence. You won’t be disappointed.