27 April 2016

Book Review: Insignia by S. J. Kincaid

Insignia is a Young Adult novel. I’m not sure I’m qualified to chunk it into a genre but it is set in futuristic America (more or less) where various world governments have formed political alliances based on economic monopolies supporting them. The different alliances are at war with each other but in a new way. Battling starships in space remotely. Seems pretty cool. Control of the ships is based on a neural implant that allows the combatants to sort of mind-meld with the computers.
Due to biological reasons, teenagers are the best candidates for these neural processors. Only the best and brightest are chosen. They are scooped up by the military, sent off to training, and download their homework directly into their brains. Yea, I wish. 

The main character, Tom, is the homeless son of a gambling deadbeat dad. Tom illegally makes enough money to put himself and his father in a hotel room by making bets on various virtual reality games. He’s very good at the games and catches the military’s attention. They recruit him and he starts training. 

In his tactics class, Tom he notices that the enemy has a particular combatant that just can’t be beat. Her call sign is Medusa and Tom becomes obsessed. He watches footage of all her battles over and over again. When Tom starts meeting Medusa in virtual reality games, he hardly thinks about it being treason. After all, he’s just trying to beat her; he’s not sharing confidential secrets. But when an information leak occurs, Tom must prove to himself and his superiors that his meetings with Medusa were not to blame.

Here’s my opinion: for a good portion of this novel, I had an entirely Ender’s Game feel for the book. It could be because I read that recently and it just blew me away. Ender’s Game was one of those books that when I closed it after the last page, I knew. I knew it would be hanging over my head, affecting my opinion of every book I ever read after it. Very few books have done that to me. (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Hunger Games, The Book Thief, Ender’s Game)

While Insignia was not one of them, I did really like it. And it did share some things with Ender’s Game. They both have a kids-fight-space-wars premise. Both characters are abnormally good at what they do and have been deemed “vicious.” 

By around the middle of the book, I found this comparison less weighty. I really enjoyed the book and will probably buy the next in the series. The author knows how to pull you in; the dialogue seems both realistic and appropriate for the ages of the characters. 

As far as moral appropriateness, there is some minor toilet humor. I don’t recall any foul language. A few innuendos that are probably acceptable for most teens and preteens. The one example of this I can think of: when Tom first gets put into a simulation as a female character, his friend Wyatt (female) has to tell him not to explore his new boobs in front of her. Otherwise, a pretty clean read.

09 April 2016

Book Review: The Eye of Midnight by Andrew Brumbach

Hi all,

I recently received an ARC of The Eye of Midnight by Andrew Brumbach as a contest winner for the incredibly useful blog Literary Rambles (http://www.literaryrambles.com/). Of course, I'm always willing to read more books so here's my opinion on this one.

Recently, I read somewhere that the young main character going off to a grandparent's / other elderly relative's home for summer vacation is a tired trope. That premise inspires no disdain or otherwise negative feelings for me; so I'm fine with the premise of this book.

Which is: young cousins William and Maxine are sent to their grandfather's manor for the summer. Maxine arrives at the manor first, and upon exploration finds no one present. She holes up in the library for awhile until William arrives. The cousins get the chance to explore more thoroughly before Colonel Battersea (their grandpa) finally shows up. After receiving a weird telegram though, he rounds the children up and starts traveling for NYC. He tells the kids that he'll put them to bed in a hotel and then head off to collect a package from a courier.

When the group gets off the train though, Colonel Battersea disappears. The kids try to get help from law enforcement but eventually decide their best bet is to meet the courier. This decision starts a grand adventure to rescue the courier's package from gangsters, their grandpa from secretive assassins, and themselves from all the danger in between.

In my opinion, this was a fun story. The characters are engaging, the plot appropriately paced. The language was a bit flowery, almost in a poetic way. I'm not sure if that's a product of the author's voice or the historical setting. Regardless, it was done well and not overdone so I like it. Also, I'm glad to say that this book is totally kid appropriate (good thing since it's aimed for a younger audience). And Colonel Battersea's adventurous ways are built up with some good wisdom and hopefulness that shows up near the end.

Accolades to the author; I would be intrigued enough to buy into this if he intends to make it into a series. (It seems like that's where this is headed since the kids' summer isn't over and now they're on to a new adventure.) Particularly, I want to know about Nura's (the courier) journey to bring the package to Colonel Battersea.

07 April 2016

TV Series Review: Fringe

Ok, so my husband and I have a tendency to watch an episode or two of whatever show we're involved in before bed time. I believe it was on recommendation from my Mom but we started watching Fringe. I liked it pretty much from the beginning. Now that we've finished the series, I'm trying to work out how I feel about the show as a whole. Be warned this show has a convoluted plot so the post is going to be pretty long.

**SPOILER ALERT** I would like to talk about this show as a whole so if you don't want to hear about major plot twists or the ending, stop reading. Go watch it then come back.

The premise for the show is pretty cool: FBI agent (Olivia) starts investigating cases that are on the strange side and needs help from the scientist that invented much of the technology that makes these cases strange (Walter). He's in a mental institution and can only be signed out by his son (Peter). Olivia tracks Peter down somewhere in the Middle East where he seems to be conning people and running from life in general. Peter has a very strained relationship with his father but agrees to help Olivia and, to his dismay, winds up becoming Walter's caretaker and mad-scientist-translator.

Eventually, Peter and Walter become permanent consultants for the FBI and with Olivia are made into a "Fringe" team. Think Scully and Mulder except with a crazy uncle hanging around saying weird things and self-medicating. That's one thing I thought annoying about the show: quite a bit of drug usage. 

The events and technology that the team investigates are interesting, though often seem far-fetched. Whatever, it's sci-fi; I kind of expect that. Along the way, we find out that Peter is actually from an alternate universe where almost everything is almost the same. Everybody in "our" universe has a duplicate character in the "alternate" universe. Turns out Walter's son Peter died as a child and so he kidnapped alternate Peter and raised him as his son. His crossing of the universes winds up tearing holes in the veil between the universes causing all kinds of mayhem and almost destroying both universes. Walternate (alternate Walter) is ticked both at the loss of his son and at the damage to his universe where people are dying and being set in amber (like fossils).

He sets out to bring his son home and then destroy the universe that Walter is in. Of course, the Fringe team wants to stop him. Peter winds up in Walternate's universe but is told that everyone on the side he was raised on will die. He has to make the choice of staying with his real (somewhat evil) father or go back and fight for the universe he was raised in. At this point, Peter's relationship with Walter has grown enough to where you can see him not wanting Walter dead (though he does feel betrayed about the whole kidnapping thing). In a heartbreaking scene between Olivia and Peter, she finally tells him that there's a bunch of reasons for him to come home, but the only one she really cares about is that he belongs with her.

About time. Shortly after, Faux-livia (alternate Olivia) infiltrates the team by switching places with Olivia while Olivia is held prisoner by Walternate. Relationship drama ensues when Olivia comes home only to find out that Peter never realized Faux-livia wasn't her. Oh and when Faux-livia goes back to her universe, she finds out she's pregnant. Yikes.

Despite the relationship drama, the team learns they have to save the world by putting Peter into this creepy machine that the Walters designed and built. It's supposed to destroy one of the universes but instead he builds a bridge between the two universes, forcing the team to work with the alternate team to try to save both universes. This erases Peter from the timeline.

Here's where things get tricky. The show starts doing weird things with time travel. Much of the plot above results from actions of the "Observers," genetically engineered men from the future that come to observe the humans from our era. One Observer is told to erase what's left of Peter (sort of a ghostly echo) but he disobeys and Peter manages to squeeze himself back into time and the universe proper. Only to find out that everyone has forgotten him. He thinks he came back into the wrong timeline and tries to get Walter (who believes both Peters died as children) and Olivia (who never met Peter in the first place) to help him get back to his timeline. The group works together for awhile and sort of regrows their friendships. A pretty miserable circumstance for Peter.

Eventually, Olivia remembers the first timeline (reference is made to relationships touching hearts in ways such that the soul cannot forget). And winds back up with Peter, having a daughter Etta (Henrietta). But the Observers get a little handsy and take over the universe. Etta is kidnapped at 3 years old; Peter and Olivia fall apart as a couple. He searches for Etta while Olivia works with the Resistance to fight the Observers. They all get ambered and Etta revives them after 21 years. Walter has a plan to save the universe but they have to scavenge all the parts in the places he's hid them. Observers kill Etta, nearly destroying Peter and Olivia's refound relationship.

Peter sticks an Observer's brain chip into his own head and nearly becomes an Observer himself but removes it when he realizes he will lose Olivia (Observers have no emotion and therefore don't love). They eventually get everything they need, including a child Observer (sort of) that needs to be taken to the future to stop the scientists from creating the Observers in the first place. Walter plans to take him (and is inoculated for the trip) but the boy's father inoculates himself to take Walter's place. Unfortunately, in the final gun battle, the boy's father is killed and Walter must take the boy to the future. He has to stay there because otherwise there will be a time paradox or something.

In another heartbreaking scene, Peter calls Walter dad and tells him he loves him before Walter leaves for the distant future with the boy. This erases the Observers and the final scene shows Peter and Olivia playing with young Etta on the day when the Observers would have invaded. They seem to have no memory of the events or of Walter.

My interpretation of this is that there was a lot that they tried to wrap up kind of quickly. Maybe they realized they were not going to be funded for more seasons and decided to close up the best they could. Not bad, if that's the case. The part that bothers me though, is that last part...I felt like the entire purpose of the show, the main message, the whole point, was this broken relationship between father and son (ok so kidnapped son). As the show progresses, Peter goes from darn near hating Walter, to tolerating him, to caring about him, to loving him. If everything happens and he just forgets that Walter ever existed, well then that kind of kills the point. Plus, without Walter the two had no reason really to ever meet and fall in love and have Etta.

That's not even including the fact that if the Observers never existed, then Walternate wouldn't have missed the formula for saving Peter from the disease that killed Walter's Peter and Walter never would have kidnapped him. So Peter wouldn't even be in the same universe as Olivia...not ideal for falling in love and again having Etta. And then finally there's the growth of Peter and Olivia. Similar to the growing relationship between Walter and Peter, the relationship between Olivia and Peter similarly grows and hits major speed bumps and grows.

At the end, you really feel like a lot of who they are as a couple, their strength and love for each other, is what it is because of what they've been through. So how can they be the same people and not remember what made them who they are? I don't know. The not remembering is too tragic. So, in my head, they remember.

Anyway, these are just my thoughts. Feel free to chime in if you have opinions.