Hunger Games

Last month, The Google Play Store had a great deal on the Hunger Games trilogy – all 3 books for $5. We liked the Hunger Games movie and I had heard the books were great, so Nick and I each picked it up (it would be nice to be able to share books with your spouse, Google!).

Nick started to read the trilogy right away, but I was in the middle of The Great Gatsby and then Snow Crash, so I just added it to the long list of books I want to read. By the time Nick got to the second book, Catching Fire, he was completely engrossed and dying to talk to me about it. So, I dropped Snow Crash and started to read the Hunger Games trilogy.

The Hunger Games (Book #1)

Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games is a young adult science-fiction adventure novel that takes place in the future post-apocalyptic nation of Panem (formerly, North America). The districts of Panem are controlled by the Capitol, which is a wealthy, technologically-advanced metropolis where citizens are preoccupied with fashion and entertainment — while the people in the districts live in squalor.

The districts once rebelled against the Capitol, but failed. As a result, the Capitol created the Hunger Games, in which each of the 12 districts must send one young boy and one young girl to fight to the death each year in a televised battle.

If you’ve seen the movie, it actually follows the book pretty closely. Some details were left out of the movie (like Madge Undersee, Katniss’s hearing loss, Peeta’s lost leg, etc.) and parts of it felt a bit rushed, but I thought they did a great job. One interesting aspect that was omitted, though, was the avox subplot. An avox is someone who rebels against the Capitol and gets their tongue cut off as punishment. The avoxes then serve the Hunger Games tributes and Capitol citizens as domestic servants.

Catching Fire (Book #2)

Catching FireSince The Hunger Games wrapped up after the Hunger Games ended, I wasn’t sure where the story for Catching Fire was going to lead. Like its predecessor, though, it focuses on the Hunger Games… but this year is special because it’s the 75th Hunger Games. Every 25 years, there is a “Quarter Quell” edition of the Hunger Games that involves a twist to the game rules.

In the 25th Hunger Games, districts had to vote to choose their tributes (rather than being chosen in a lottery). In the 50th Hunger Games, the number of tributes from each district was doubled. I’m not going to spoil what the twist is in the 75th Hunger Games, though. 😉

Catching Fire was every bit as good as The Hunger Games and I can’t wait to see it in theater this November. A teaser trailer for the movie was just released yesterday (see below).

Mockingjay (Book #3)

MockingjayMockingjay was a bit different than the other two books in the series, largely because it wasn’t about the Hunger Games. Instead, it centers around the districts’ rebellion against the oppressive Capitol. The mockingjay has become a symbol for the rebellion and is used as a propaganda tool to unite the districts. I’m not going to say much more about the plot because I don’t want to spoil it. 😉

Apparently, Mockingjay is going to be split into two movies, which I’m not thrilled about… especially since Part 1 and Part 2 are going to be released a year apart. Bummer.

In sum, I loved the Hunger Games trilogy and highly recommend it. Even though I had already seen the first movie, I found myself glued to the story and I finished the trilogy in a week and a half. 😛

Dune Messiah

Dune MessiahYesterday, I finished Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert, the second book in the Dune series. Dune Messiah takes place 12 years after the events in Dune, with Paul Atreides (“Muad’dib”) ruling as Emperor. It centers around conspiracies against Paul as well as Paul’s need to produce an heir.

Although I loved Dune, I found it hard to get excited about Dune Messiah. Most of the book was just okay, though the ending was interesting. I’ve heard that it’s worth reading through at least the fourth book, God Emperor of Dune, though, so I’m sure I’ll keep reading. 🙂

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The Book

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is another science-fiction classic. It was written by Philip K. Dick, published in 1968, and inspired the 1982 movie, Blade RunnerDADOES is only 250 pages long, so it’s a quick read, but it’s also full of great ideas.

The book is set in a post-apocalyptic near future (in 2021), following World War Terminus. The nuclear war nearly destroyed life on Earth, with radiation poisoning wiping out most animal species. Because of how rare animals are, owning them is seen as a symbol of status and wealth. Most of the human race left Earth to emigrate to off-world colonies, but some humans have stayed behind to brave the radioactive dust and try to make lives for themselves in the ruined and decaying cities.

The story begins at the home of Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who “retires” illegal androids in the San Francisco Bay Area. We’re immediately introduced to an interesting device Rick owns called a mood organ, which lets the user pick any one of hundreds of preset moods to replace the user’s current mood. Rick then goes to tend to his electric sheep, which he’s ashamed of because it isn’t a “real” animal, even though they’re almost identical.

Humanoid androids are also practically indistinguishable from humans and a polygraph-like empathy test (the Voight-Kampff) is used to tell them apart. The androids can even be implanted with memories, so they don’t necessarily know they aren’t human. Rick is sent to Seattle to test the Voight-Kampff empathy test on the latest series of androids, the Nexus-6. After confirming that the test still works, Rick is given orders to retire a group of Nexus-6s that escaped from Mars… but he soon learns that retiring these “andys” is going to be harder than he thought.

DADOES poses some interesting questions like: What makes human beings human? How do you know you’re human? Could androids be capable of empathy or is that a unique human trait? What about humans who seem to be without empathy (like Phil Resch)? Is there value in all life, even artificial life? How do you distinguish between what is alive and what is not? Will we ever be able to consider androids as alive? As human?

In Rick’s world, humans take great care to protect and preserve the life of animals — they’re even willing to care for “fake” electric animals. No one thinks twice about killing humanoid androids, though. In the end, Rick learns to appreciate all life, even artificial.

The Movie

The 1982 movie, Blade Runner, was based on DADOES. Although the two shared the same basic skeleton, they were quite different. Spoilers below!

Blade RunnerFirst of all, the movie took place in Los Angeles rather than San Francisco and it was more futuristic than the book made it seem. There were also a lot more people than I was expecting. I pictured Earth as a much more deserted place, since most people had left for the off-world colonies.

Some of the characters were renamed (e.g. Rosen -> Tyrell), left out (e.g. Rick’s wife, Iran), or changed (e.g. the J. R. Isidore character, called J. F. Sebastian in the movie, was entirely different). Also, androids were called “replicants” or “skin jobs” in Blade Runner.

The movie dropped the animal empathy stuff that I thought was a pretty interesting aspect of DADOES. I doubt that the few references to electric animals in Blade Runner would really be understood by someone who hadn’t read the book and I don’t think World War Terminus was even mentioned in the movie. The religious themes (Mercerism vs. Buster Friendly) were also left out.

There was a ridiculous scene (below) in Blade Runner in which Rick Deckard spent almost 3 minutes “enhancing” an image like 8 times. According to a quick internet search, this was the original scene from which the countless “zoom! enhance!” photo manipulation scenes have gotten their inspiration. Uff da.

In both the movie and the book, androids had a short lifespan. In DADOES it wasn’t really an issue, but in the movie, it was an important motivating force for the replicants. They (violently) sought out ways to ways to extend their lives, culminating with Roy Baty killing his “maker,” Dr. Eldon Tyrell.

The ending was probably the biggest difference between Blade Runner and DADOES. Roy Baty was made to be a much bigger antagonist in the movie than he was in the book. There was a long scene with Roy hunting down Rick that ended with Roy saving Rick’s life instead of killing him. The replicants in Blade Runner were “more human than human” and taught Roy compassion and love.

In DADOES, Roy had a much more minor role and Rick killed him relatively easily in Isidore’s apartment. In the end, the android Rachael kicked Roy’s prized, real goat off the roof, killing it. Rachael (android) hurt Roy and his wife (human) comforted him. In spite of this, Roy learned to have empathy for androids and electric animals; he saw the value in all life, even “paltry” artificial life.

Blade Runner was worth watching, but don’t expect it to follow the book. It has its own, unique interpretation that made it an interesting movie to see.

Dune

The Book

Last week, I finished Dune by Frank Herbert, which was #2 on my book list. After hearing so many people proclaim it as one of their favorite books, I was really excited to read it. After my letdown with Neuromancer, though, I was a little skeptical. I’m very happy to say that Dune did not disappoint. I loved it. 🙂

DuneDune is set thousands of years in the future, during a time of interstellar travel and feuding houses. It tells the story of Paul Atreides, who is heir of House Atreides. Following the Emperor’s orders, Paul and his family are sent to control the desert planet Arrakis, which is the only source of the “spice” melange (a super valuable drug that improves mental abilities and prolongs life). Arrakis had been under the control of the Harkonnens (a long-time rival of the Atreides), however, so the transfer in power only increases the tension and hostility between the two houses.

Some people have said that Dune was a slow and difficult to get into. I felt immersed right away, though I would agree that the book really picks up toward toward the end. Others complained about the made-up words, but those words were usually given definitions and/or enough context to figure out what the words meant. Besides, there was a handy glossary in the back for looking things up. 

Dune is often referred to as science-fiction’s answer to The Lord of the Rings. I haven’t read LotR yet (*gasp!*), but I can see why people probably say that. Dune is the first book in an epic saga that has amazing world-building and intriguing characters.

For people who like fantasy, I think Dune would be a great sci-fi book choice. I felt like the science and technology really took a backseat to the main story. Dune wasn’t overly technical or futuristic, which has helped keep it stay relevant in the nearly 50 years since it was published. There’s more to the book than just sci-fi, too; there are political, environmental, and religious themes.

The Movie

The movie version of Dune, on the other hand, was terrible. There were so many things wrong with it, but I’ll just mention some of the ones that really stood out to me.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Dune Guild Navigator
Dune Guild Navigator

First, what the heck was up with the Guild navigators? They weren’t ever encountered in the book and I don’t remember there being much of a physical description (although I’m sure there will be in the later books), but I certainly didn’t expect a bizarre giant slug-like creature.

While Baron Harkonnen is supposed to be obese, they made him absolutely ridiculous in the movie. He was grotesque and filthy, with disgusting pustules all over his face. His character was insane and unstable and not at all the clever, plotting antagonist I expected. They also added the concept of “heart plugs” to the movie, which allowed the Baron to kill his servants at will. And what on earth was with making Thufir Hawat milk a cat to get an antidote for the poison he’s not supposed to know about? Omfg.

Jamis was removed entirely from the movie, along with Paul’s son, and I think even Count Fenring. I can see them leaving out Paul’s son, but not including the fight with Jamis seemed like a misstep to me.

Shields in Dune
Shields in Dune. There’s a person under there somewhere.

I know that Dune (the movie) was made in the 80’s, but the shields were just plain awful. The inner monologues were done poorly, too.

The fighting in the movie was completely off. They made up some voice-activated “weirding modules” that Paul taught the Fremen how to use. The Fremen didn’t need any weapons like that in the book; they were fierce, bad-ass fighters all by themselves. They certainly weren’t the weak, impressionable people the movie made them out to be.

Perhaps my biggest complaint about the movie was the ending. Paul certainly didn’t have the power to alter the weather and make it rain in the book. And even if he did, he would never do it because that would kill the sandworms and screw up everything on Arrakis. Wtf.

Overall, the movie really lacked the depth that existed in the book and it seemed to make a mockery of it. It glossed over important parts of the book and didn’t offer any explanations for crucial parts of the story. I doubt I would’ve wanted to read the book after seeing the movie.

Neuromancer

Bah. I was sadly disappointed by Neuromancer by William Gibson. I wanted to like it. It’s such a well-loved book, popularized the term cyberspace, paved the way for the cyberpunk genre, and inspired The Matrix (it’s where The Matrix got its name).

NeuromancerI think part of the problem was that Neuromancer was published in 1984, before computers, the internet, artificial intelligence, etc. really took off. To put things into perspective, Gibson wrote Neuromancer on a typewriter. Concepts that I’m sure were incredibly forward-thinking at the time just don’t produce the same awe-inspired reaction in 2013. And rows of functioning payphones and the lack of mobile phones give the “futuristic” book a weird, dated feeling.

I might’ve been able to overlook that, though, if I was actually able to follow the story. Too often, I was left wondering wtf was going on. I resolved to just go with it, but I really didn’t like being so clueless all the time. Characters were added with very little introduction and I still felt like I didn’t have a good grasp of the characters when I finished reading.

Another issue was how jargon-heavy it is and how the terms were used with hardly any definition. It may have been the author’s intention to leave the technology vague, but it just added to my confusion when reading the book. I wanted to know what things were and, at least at some basic level, how they worked. Instead, viruses and firewalls were described metaphorically in terms of color and light and I’m still unclear about some of the made-up jargon.

That being said, I do appreciate that Neuromancer has undoubtedly been a great inspiration for many people, probably leading to some of the technology we have today. It’s possible that Neuromancer would make more sense with a second read through, but I’m not feeling very willing to give that a try.

Slaughterhouse-Five

This week, I read Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, which was #15 on my book list. I knew it was a war novel, but I wasn’t expecting science fiction. Because of this, my interpretation of the book might from others.
Slaughterhouse-Five

Plot Summary

The story of Billy Pilgrim (the book’s protagonist) doesn’t actually start until Chapter 2. Vonnegut used the first chapter as more of a preface, written in his own voice to introduce the the story that follows. Billy Pilgrim is an optometrist who finds himself thrust into World War II in Germany. Billy is a flawed and pathetic character who gets captured by the Germans and taken to a slaughterhouse in Dresden, along with other prisoners. Shortly after arriving in Dresden, there is a bombing and ensuing firestorm that destroys the city. Billy and the other prisoners survive, but 135,000 of Dresden’s residents were killed (the actual number is estimated to be around 25,000). So it goes.

What makes Billy unique is that he can (or believes he can) travel through time. He is abducted by aliens from the planet of Tralfamadore, where he is put in a zoo to entertain the Tralfamadorians. The Tralfamadorians don’t see time as linear, like humans do; instead, they see all moments in time simultaneously. They are fatalists, cognizant of what we perceive as the past, present, and future, but powerless to change it. Billy adopts their philosophy and, eventually, the Tralfamadorians return him to earth.

Although I’ve written the plot summary linearly, in the book, it’s told entirely out of sequence because of Billy’s frequent jumps through time. He experiences pre-war, war, and post-war events out of order, without having control over the jumps.

My Thoughts

Who knows if Billy Pilgrim really experienced time travel or if it was all in his head. It seems likely to me that it was a coping mechanism. Billy experienced some very traumatic events in his life, most notably during the war (especially the bombing of Dresden), but also outside of the war, in events like the plane crash. I think Billy was driven mad by the trauma and unconsciously used the Tralfamadorians and time travel as a way to comfort himself, especially because aspects of his delusions (if that’s what they were) seemed to echo things he saw or experienced in real life.

Billy’s new way of looking at life was to see it as something timeless, with moments from the past just as alive as moments in the present and future. He learns to accept the things he can’t change, even when they’re senseless tragedies like the Dresden bombing.

My favorite part of Slaughterhouse-Five was when Billy was watching a movie backwards about American bombers in World War II:

American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody again.

Ender’s Game

Ender's GameI’m always looking for books to read. I usually find books based on recommendations from friends and family or online sources like /r/books. Over the last few weeks, I’ve put together a spreadsheet (have I mentioned I love spreadsheets?) that’s a compilation of half a dozen “Top 100” book lists I found. My favorite genres are science fiction and fantasy, so a few of the lists are heavily sci-fi/fantasy based. I then came up with an equation that rates books based on their rankings in the list, with the most liked books at the top. My long list of books will definitely keep me busy for a while. 🙂

Ender’s Game was #3 in my list (behind The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the Dune series, which I’ll read soon) and it’s one that always seems to show up in discussions of favorite books. I decided to read it, knowing nothing about it other than the fact that it’s a well-loved sci-fi book.

Ender's Game (Movie)
Still from the Ender’s Game movie

Ender’s Game is set in a futuristic Earth and is about a young boy named Ender, born a third child in spite of Earth’s two-child policy. Earth had been attacked twice by an insect-like alien race dubbed the “buggers.” Fearing a third invasion, the International Fleet (IF) seeks a strong commander and strategist. In hopes that Ender might be the leader they were looking for, they send Ender to Battle School for training. In spite of his age and size, Ender does well in school and exceeds expectations, overcoming all obstacles thrown at him… but is Ender capable of protecting Earth from the buggers?

While I enjoyed Ender’s Game and thought it was worth reading, I wasn’t blown away by it quite like I was expecting. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to reading Speaker of the Dead, sequel to Ender’s Game.

Also worth noting, the Ender’s Game movie is due to be released November 1, 2013. It’s always interesting to see Hollywood’s take on the books I’ve read.

TiMER

If you could know (with 100% certainty) when you were going to meet your soul mate, would you want to know?

It’s an interesting idea that was explored in a movie I watched last night called TiMER. In the movie, timers are placed on the wrists of those who want them (most people do). If your soul mate also has a timer, your timer will count down to the day you meet your soul mate. If your soul mate does not have a timer, your timer remains blank.

The movie considers the implications of such a device, too. Dating is now more or less considered a thing of the past, although people still have one-night stands. When meeting someone you may be interested in, you quickly look at each other’s timers. If the timers don’t match up, is it worth your time to get to know them and have a relationship with them? Is it wrong or cheating to be with someone you know is not your soul mate? What happens when two adolescent kids find out that they are soul mates? Is it better to have a blank timer or to have years before your timer goes off?

Should you, as the movie trailer asks, live in the moment or wait for true love?