Book Review: Flowers for Algernon

Book cover of Flowers for Algernon

Book cover of Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon was written by Daniel Keyes in 1966 and (jointly) won the years Nebula Award for Best Novel. It is classified as science fiction, and rightly so, but it does not feel like that is the genre you’re reading. Let me explain.
The story is told through the eyes of Charlie Gordon a 32 year old man who is mentally disabled, suffering from Phenylketonuria. As a result, Charlie has an IQ of 68, which means the affliction severely impairs mental abilities. Charlie is desperate to learn and be smart, which is a result of the severe abuse he received as a child from his mother; She would not accept that Charlie wasn’t ‘normal.’ Researching psychologists at the local university have developed an operation that will drastically increase intelligence, and Charlie Gordon is the first human subject to receive the treatment.
The best part about the book, however, is that it is all told through the journal entries written by Charlie himself. In the first entry, it is clear that Charlie cannot write very well. His spelling, grammer, and sentence structure are drastically below the average. He speaks of very simple things like ‘getting smart’ and his job at the local bakery where he sweeps floors. After he receives the surgery, Charlie slowly but assuredly becomes smarter and his journal entries reflect this, both in ability and insight.
This style puts you directly in the shoes of a person with special needs. It gives words to those that have none (or not enough). People with needs in this world are often disregarded, cast aside, or worse, made fun of or ridiculed or abused. The book tackles these issues and attempts to break those stereotypes. The message (in my opinon) is they are people, and deserved to be treated that way.
It’s a heart breaking book, and definitely worth its pages. This is required reading for everyone.

Happy Reading!

Book Review: Shades of Grey

This is the book cover artwork that is used in North America. Britain/Europe received a different cover.

This is the book cover artwork that is used in North America. Britain/Europe received a different cover.

Jasper Fforde is one of my favourite authors. He has a whimsical-yet-intellectual type of writing style that keeps you interested even (akin to Douglas Adams). Fforde is, of course, most notable for his Thursday Next series. I wrote Book Reviews for most of the books in that series, beginning with The Eyre Affair. When I was done reading that series (though as I write this post I realize there is a new Thursday Next book out that I absolutely must read), I was itching for more Fforde and so expanded out into his other series, which led me to Shades of Grey 1: The Road to High Saffron.
I had no idea what to expect with this book, but was happy to find that I kept to Fforde’s usual style of witty, charming, and accessible writing mixed with a multitude of literary references (both noticed and unnoticed, I presume). I absolutely enjoyed the characters he created for the book and his ability to develop them in a 3 dimensional way.
The story’s protagonist, Eddie Russet, lives in Chromatica, a world where everything is controlled by the Colortocracy. The entire society is dominated by color, and Eddie’s place in society is dictated the same. Eddie is a ‘Red;’ this means he is only able to see the colour red. This puts him rather low in the Colortocracy; for instance, he cannot turn down an ‘order’ from a ‘Green.’ The plot surrounds Eddie’s encounter with a ‘Grey’ named Jane who’s job is to reveal the underlying corruption in Chromatica, and have him join her side in rebellion.
I enjoyed the book very much, and will definitely be looking to pick up the sequel, whenever it comes out.

Happy Reading!

Book Review: The Legend of OZ: The Wicked West

The cover of the graphic novel 'The Legend of OZ: The Wicked West'

The cover of the graphic novel ‘The Legend of OZ: The Wicked West’

Finally, I’m getting to this. I bought this book at the San Diego Comic Con back in mid July and never got around to reading it. It is a graphic novel called The Legend of OZ: The Wicked West, written by Tom Hutchinson, drawn by Alisson Borges, and coloured by Kate Finnegan. The story retells the very famous The Wizard of Oz (released in 1939), but recasts the universe into a western. Honestly, that was enough for me to buy it.
The writer clearly had fun putting this together in the clever, or even whimsical, recasting of the famous characters. There ARE a tin-man, a scarecrow, and a lion… just not necessarily as you remember them. Perhaps my favourite augmentation is the wicked witch of the west: instead of a broom, she carries a long rifle that is somewhat shaped like a broom. Brilliant.
The story is roughly the same, but it’s a fun take on the classic. I enjoyed the new style, the artwork, and plan to check out the next issues at some point.
Happy Reading!

Book Review: Night

The cover of Night by Elie Weizsel.

The cover of Night by Elie Wiesel.

In a word: wow.

Night is the memoir of Elie Wiezel, a Jewish-Hungarian who in the spring of 1944, at the age of 15, was put in a concentration camp with his mother, sisters, and father. Wiesel retells his experience starting in 1943 (when his small town starts hearing stories of what was happening to the Jewish people) to the day the American tanks rolled up to the gates of Buchenwald. This was the most heart breaking book I’ve ever read.
It’s hard to find the words that describe why this book is so impactful. The preface to the book (written by Robert McAfee Brown for the 25th Anniversary Edition) probably says it best:

Lean, taut, and spare in style, employing no tricks, but providing no avenues of escape for the readers…” -Brown

At 109 pages, the book is short but inescapable. Wiesel writes with candour, so much so that it is hard to believe he was actually able to put these words down on paper. His frankness is unapologetic. He does not dress it up, or create euphemisms. He retells the events.
I do not think I have fully digested this book yet; there is more to it than I can put my finger on. At the moment, the one thing that struck me bitterly was the utter, crushing, and total defeat of the people who were forced through this human tragedy. They were defeated. In every possible way. Yet some how found the strength to continue. I don’t know how they did.

Book Review: The Dune Series

The original Dune series is 6 books long. There are many more books in the Dune chronicles, but all written by the author's Son and others.

The original Dune series is 6 books long. There are many more books in the Dune chronicles, but all written by the author’s Son and others.

Well… I did it! I finished reading the Dune series, which consists of six novels. Written by Frank Herbert, Dune is heralded by many as the greatest science fiction novel of all time. It won the inaugural Nebula award for Best Novel, as well as the Hugo Award. After this, Herbert wrote 5 sequels to his series, exploring the universe he created even further. And while the series has its ups and downs, every book is worth reading.
Dune takes place in a futuristic Universe where humanity has spread out into the Galaxy. Planets are ruled by houses, which are basically power families, all of which are underneath a great Emperor. The story centres on one planet called Arrakis, though known to its own inhabitants as Dune. A sand planet. It is the home of the Fremen people who live in the harsh land of desert. As a result of their environment, the Fremen people have developed a culture centred on water conservation almost down to a religion. On this planet of Dune, there lives massive sandworms [almost like the movie Tremors. Oh. Haven’t seen it? well, you should]. These sandworms (400 meters long, 40 meters in diameter at their largest) are a vital part of the life cycle that creates melange, also known as ‘the spice.’ This spice is basically a drug with a number of positive side affects: longer life, greater vitality, heightened senses, etc. Most importantly, the spice is able to give prescient capabilities to certain people in the book, most notably the Navigators that pilot between stars systems, and the Bene Gesserit Matriarchal society (more on them later). A final piece of this Universe’s extraordinary puzzle is the Butlerian Jihad. This something constantly referred to in the books, but happened much earlier than the timelines in the stories. This Jihad ended up prohibiting any technology that could act as a human brain: ‘thinking machines’ or artificial intelligence of any kind. As a result, humans have trained their brains to possess apparently super human type computational abilities. The Bene Gesserit excercise it, but the group of people who are fully trained in these abilities are known as Mentats.
The Bene Gesserit; so much to say. They are an organization of women, a sisterhood, whose full members are called ‘Reverend Mothers;’ they train themselves to be masters of physical and mental abilities to the point they appear to be ‘witches’ to outsiders. Also, to be a Reverend Mother, you must survive what’s known as the ‘spice agony.’ This is a procedure that pushes the women to near death, which forces the women to awaken an inner self and the inner lives of all her female ancestors. The Bene Gesserit influence is felt as the primary driver of the plots of all 6 books.
Specifically, in the first book, Dune, we pick up on with the Bene Gesserit as they are looking for a male who is capable of the same abilities of a Reverend Mother: awakening their inner self and contacting the memories of all their male ancestors. The Bene Gesserit have only the ability to tap into their female ancestors memories, and have been looking for a long time for male capable of the same (what they call a Kwisatz Haderach). We begin the book by the Bene Gesserit testing the son of Leto Atreides and the Lady Jessica (a Reverend Mother). Paul ends up being the Kwisatz Haderach, and this begins the epic saga that is the Dune series.
The themes behind the Dune series are many. It’s an analysis of politics, ruling. It’s a psychological thriller. If I had to describe the series in one word, it would be intense. In reading the books I constantly felt that every decision, every plot turn, every conversation was intensely important, and if the wrong decision was made it could destroy everything. That feeling of standing on a precipice is prevalent throughout the books, and one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much.
Further, Herbert’s writing is very different than others I’ve read. Much of the writing takes place inside the minds of the characters. We get to follow along their thought processes, their inner conversations (with themselves and Other Memory), and thus get to intimately follow how the story plays out. That was my favourite part of the series.

Frank Herbert wrote these original 6 books, which spawned an avalanche of follow ups: a movie, a mini series, a 2nd mini series, and a multitude of books written by Herbert’s son, Brian Herbert, and Kevin Anderson. What I just found out, also, is the original 6 books had a planned 7th book, however Frank Herbert died before he could write it. Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson took the notes for the 7th book and wrote two more books… .. … which I now have to read!

There is entirely too much to say about one of the greatest series of all time. All I can really say is that I enjoyed it, and I recommend reading it.

Happy Reading!