Sunday, November 28, 2010

1988 World Fantasy Award - REPLAY by Keri Grimwood

I imagine this is a very common fantasy: you wake up in high school or at the beginning of college. You know everything you know now – you have your adult wisdom and confidence, plus you know details about the future that can help you avoid disaster and make some very wise investments – and you can apply it all to living a better, more successful life. I’m a pretty happy guy, but I think we all have things in our youth that we’d like to do over. Despite the universality of this feeling, I can’t think of any other works of fiction that tackle this idea. But, Grimwood does it quite brilliantly in Replay, so who needs ‘em?

In 1988, at the age of 43, Jeff Winston dies of a heart attack. He wakes up minutes later a freshman in college in 1963 with all the memories of the life he just lived and lost. Once he overcomes his initial confusion, he strikes it rich via sports gambling and builds a financial empire. Over the next twenty-five years, he amasses great wealth and starts a different family. Then, in 1988, he dies and wakes up in college yet again.

None of Jeff’s various lives are that surprising. He explores different avenues from getting rich, to finding love with a college girlfriend, to living a life of reading and quiet contemplation on a secluded ranch. Grimwood does throw in a few interesting twists that do add some suspense. I won’t give anything away, but every time the premise felt like it might be starting to feel worn, Grimwood added a new element to keep me intrigued. He also quite comprehensively covers the implications of the replays, including the financial, romantic, artistic, and philosophical.

I really enjoyed this novel. Grimwood starts with an intriguing idea, but he doesn’t lose sight of character. Jeff is compelling and sympathetic, and his adventures and musings on his odd situation are unlikely page-turners.

Grade: A

Monday, November 22, 2010

1988 Locus Fantasy - SEVENTH SON by Orson Scott Card

I haven’t been too impressed with Orson Scott Card’s work so far, but I was intrigued by the Alvin Maker series. I am a historian, and I actually specialize in frontiers during the Early Republic, an era that gets short shrift in a lot of fiction. The idea of a historical fantasy that eschews the typical medieval or Renaissance European settings is refreshing and full of potential. Card also does a nice job grounding much of the magic of his world in the actual folk beliefs of nineteenth century America. In this alternate history, the English Commonwealth survived the death of James Cromwell, and the American revolutionaries seem to have been mostly defeated by this Puritan Empire, though there are hints of Thomas Jefferson still active in the South and a United States has formed in the Middle Colonies and the west.

Unfortunately, none of this really figures into this novel, and the main difference from recorded history is that all the place names are spelled differently, often in annoyingly cutesy ways: the Mississippi is the Mizzipy, the Ohio is the Hio, the Wabash is the Wobbish, the Illinois is the Noisy, and so on. Instead of dealing with the big differences of this world, the novel follows the frontier childhood of Alvin Miller, the seventh son of a seventh son, imbued with great power and a greater destiny. We start with Alvin’s difficult birth in a storm, and see him almost killed several time by strange accidents. Then, a wandering mystic named Taleswapper shows up to tell Alvin of his power and help him survive one last disaster. And, that’s all there is to this entry in the series.

My biggest problem with the book is that it moves so slowly and only covers Alvin through his adolescence. Card clearly knew that he was writing for a series, which is fine, but this novel did not work as a standalone book for me. It’s slow moving and inconsequential; we mostly just hear about how great Alvin will be. I also was more than a little bothered to see we have yet another perfect young man as our hero. Card is apparently only interested in messiah-like superbeings as his characters. Alvin is Ender all over again.

It’s been interesting to see Card’s prose develop very rapidly over the three novels I’ve read. Ender’s Game was very plain and unaffected, but both Speaker and Seventh Son employ a folksier style that feels like diluted Twain. It’s at least unique, but it can become cloying. It also lacks authenticity in this setting; Card’s idea of writing Early Republic characters is to have them use double (and triple) negatives and the contraction “ain’t.” He employs little of the period’s distinctive vocabulary, shaped by the King James Bible and regional colloquialisms.

If I wanted to continue on with the series, I would have plenty of opportunities. There have been six books so far, and four of them won the Locus Fantasy award. And, the next novel appears to deal with the Shawnee brothers Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa, two of the most fascinating characters in American history, who are often neglected in historical fiction. I don’t think I will continue though. Card clearly has a lot of fascinating ideas, but I’m just not interested in the deliberate multi-book pacing, flat characters, moralizing, and thinly-veiled references to his own religion and ideology that increasingly seem to characterize his work.

No review Friday in respect for post-Turkey Day shopping/food comas. I'll be back on Monday with 1988's WFA winner.

Grade: C+

1988 Nebula - FALLING FREE by Lois McMaster Bujold

Lois McMaster Bujold is going to become a very familiar name on this blog. She’s tied with Robert Heinlein for the most “best novel” Hugo wins ever (if you don’t count his retro-Hugo). Most of these wins are for the space opera Vorkosigan saga, which takes place in the same universe as Falling Free, but a couple of centuries later.
In Falling Free, engineer Leo Graf takes a job at a GalacTech space facility near the planet Rodeo. He quickly learns that the station is populated by genetic experiments called quaddies who have been designed to operate efficiently and effectively in a zero gravity environment (they have a second pair of arms instead of legs). Leo adjusts quickly to the strange and na├»ve quaddies, but grows concerned when he learns of the heavy restrictions placed on their freedoms by the experiment’s corporate sponsors, who view the quaddies as disposable assets rather than human beings.

It’s a fast-paced, short novel. I like the efficiency of what Bujold does here – she sets up the quaddies, introduces a loving quaddie couple, and in the same chapter shows how horrible GalacTech’s control over them can be. There’s also some fairly interesting commentary on reproductive rights going on – as genetic experiments, breeding is prioritized over love for the quaddies. It may be a little too simple and efficient though. The morality isn’t particularly challenging, and the villainous station manager is a cartoonishly callous baffoon. It’s entertaining though, and sometimes it’s fun to watch the good guys pull off a caper that humiliates the bad guys. I’m looking forward to getting deeper into Bujold’s world.

I’m kind of surprised that it won a Nebula, an award which I’ve come to associate with dense prose and risk-taking over straightforward narrative. This novel is quite the opposite.

Grade: B+

Friday, November 19, 2010

1988 Hugo Dramatic Presentation, 1987 Saturn Fantasy – THE PRINCESS BRIDE

Like Empire, Raiders, and Back to the Future, The Princess Bride is one of those universally beloved ‘80s classics that I find hard to talk about. There’s not much left to say beyond “it’s great!” Everyone I know in my generation can recite any number of the movie’s eminently quotable lines.

The brilliant conceit of the novel, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, is that he’s taken a fictional political satire by S. Morgernstern and edited it into the comic fantasy his father used to read to him by cutting out the dry political sections. The Rob Reiner film manages to replicate this with a framing story wherein a grandfather (Peter Falk) reads the novel to his grandson (Fred Savage). The story itself follows a young couple, Buttercup (Robin Wright) and Westley (Cary Elwes), who are separated by the latter’s apparent death. Buttercup becomes engaged to the scheming Prince of Florin, but she’s kidnapped by three rogues (Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patankin, and Andre the Giant, who collectively steal the movie). The kidnappers are pursued in a brilliant sequence by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Westley. From there, lovers are reunited and separated again, alliance shift, and we get a couple of great swordfights and some of the most memorable dialogue in film history.

Yeah, it’s great. Maybe it's nostalgia, but I find it impossible to resist these '80s adventure films.

Grade: A

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

1988 "Other Forms" Hugo - Watchmen

I hesitated whether to review this one, not because it was a special one-off award (the fact that Hugo created such an award for this book says a lot), but because so much has already been said about Watchmen that I have little to add. It's the Star Wars/Raiders problem yet again (and it'll happen again on Friday too).

To summarize: Watchmen is a revolutionary 12-part comic with story by Alan Moore and art by Dave Gibbons that told a very dark superhero story in which good and evil, right and wrong, are all subjective and the issue of power is explored. Because these people are superior in certain ways, do they have the right to act as vigilantes? Are they above the law? What about their own flaws? It's the 1980s, Richard Nixon is still President (because he won Vietnam with the use of superheroes), superheroes are outlawed, and a violent vigilante named Rorshach is investigating a series of murders that involve superheroes. We also get a series of flashbacks to the '60s that show just how flawed the old "silver age" superheroes were in their private lives. It's all quite intricate and brilliant.

Still, the real genius of Watchmen is not the plot (which gets a bit too intricate - and weird - by the end), it's the use of the medium. For instance, check out this panel-by-panel analysis. There's also a great intercutting of a pirate/horror comic called the "Black Freighter" (In a world with superheroes, other genres dominate the comic racks), which comments on the main story. Most people seem to have missed this point, and the result has been a decades-long imitation of the wrong parts of Watchmen. The ill-advised film adapatation obviously didn't get the message, nor did the non-stop rush of "dark" superheroes that dominated the industry through the '90s and make almost all of the comics from that decade next to unreadable. Watchmen is actually a good example of how a great book can be a bad influence.

Finally, I don't think Watchmen is even close to being Alan Moore's best work. Many fans would cite his earlier run on Swamp Thing or his original work on V for Vendetta, both of which are great. My personal favorite Moore projects came in the late '90s early '00s in two ambitious projects: From Hell is a retelling of Jack the Ripper's murders that is wonderfully researched, features brilliant writing, and has the perfect artist in Eddie Campbell. On the other end, Moore's retro/neo-superhero comics from America's Best really capture his brilliance and what makes the medium of comics so great. Tom Strong was his take on pulp heroes like Doc Savage and the silver age Fantastic Four of Jack Kirby; Promethea is kind of a take on Wonder Woman with elements of Moore's own magical belief system and gorgeous art by J.H. Williams III; Top Ten is a hilarious comic about cops in a city of superheroes; Tomorrow Stories is Moore's take on the old anthology books and shows what a great chameleon he can be; and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a steampunk pastiche of Victorian fantasy and horror characters as a superhero team. It was an amazing line of books, all of which are worth a look.

Grade: A-

Monday, November 15, 2010

1988 Hugo and Locus - THE UPLIFT WAR by David Brin

A sequel of sorts to Startide Rising, The Uplift War continues the story of Earthlings under siege in a galaxy of ancient, hierarchical aliens.

In Startide Rising we learned about a dolphin-crewed ship under attack after a major discovery. Here, we see the Earth-leased colony of Garth under siege by a group of bird aliens called the Gubru who want to hold the planet hostage to exhange for the dolphins' information. The central story is more-or-less that simple, but there are several intertwining subplots that Brin juggles throughout. Garth is a planet with a large neo-chimpanzee population, and we learn about the intricacies of chimp uplift, including the controversial eugenics program enforced against them. We see the development of a guerilla resistance (or gorilla resistance - ha!). We watch the complex triumvirate marriage that leads the Gubru, and we finally get to meet the prankster Tymbini, humanity's closest allies. We also discover information about the mysterious Garthlings on the ecologically devastated world - and it's here that Brin presents his best twists, especially after I initially feared that he was repeating a subplot from the previous Uplift novel. Brin also works to add more romance this time around, and we get two love triangles: one chimp, and one human/alien.

It's a very fun novel that works on a lot of the same levels as Startide Rising (one of my favorite Hugo winners so far). It's well-written and thoughtful. There's some solid speculative science, nice details and highly likable characters. And, it's fast-paced and action-packed. It also shares a lot of the earlier novel's flaws - a reliance on contrivance and deus ex machina to resolve all plot issues being the worst - and those flaws felt magnified here for a few reasons. This is the third Uplift novel, and my willingness to ignore the issues diminishes each go around - not to mention that I found neo-chimp culture far less interesting than neo-doplhin culture. And, this novel is two hundred pages longer. It feels appropriately epic for it's 600+ page length, but it doesn't feel more epic than the shorter Startide Rising...

I'd still give the Uplift books a big thumbs up overall, but if you only want to read one (and I do think they would work okay independently), I'd recommend the second. When I finish this award-winning novel project, I think the second set of Uplift books (which struck out at the awards) will be high on my "to read" list.

Grade: A-

Friday, November 12, 2010

1987 Saturn – ROBOCOP

I could make a pretty long list of reasons why I should hate RoboCop. It has one of the stupidest names of any film in history. It’s ultra-violent. The effects leave something to be desired. It’s got a sort of cynical and shallow grittiness that I often find crass. The acting is less than stellar. It’s directed by Paul Verhoeven, known for making so-bad-they’re-good films like Showgirls and Starship Troopers. And yet, it’s somehow a likable film – not Citizen Kane, but really likable sf.

This is another science fiction film very much concerned with present-day concerns, especially the rising crime rate and Reagan-era privatization. RoboCop takes place in the near future Detroit, which is so overrun with crime that the mega-corporation Omni-Consumer Products (OCP) wants to tear it down and start over. OCP has also recently purchased the Detroit Police Department, and they want to mechanize it to increase its efficiency. Their police robot, ED-209, has a tendency to kill all offenders, so they decide to go with a cyborg instead. Meanwhile, a police officer named Murphy (Peter Weller) transfers into Detroit and gets horribly shot up by the Dad from That 70s Show (Kurtwood Smith, who steals every scene in a film with otherwise mediocre acting). He becomes the perfect subject for OCP and is built into RoboCop.

RoboCop manages to beat down a lot of criminals, but power games in OCP threaten his existence, and an executive hires the Dad from That 70s Show to kill RoboCop again. Meanwhile, Murphy is recognized by his old partner (played by a near future Maggie Gyllenhaal, who must have time travelled back to 1987 to star in this film), and she tries to help him regain his memories.

In many ways, RoboCop is one of the first successful superhero films, and it very much follows the superhero origin story template. You see RoboCop’s creation, you see him successfully fight crime, you see his fall and eventual triumph – it’s very by numbers, but it works. There’s some typical Verhoeven stuff here – there’s gratuitous nudity, most female characters are peripheral sex objects, and the violence is really over-the-top (there are lots of exploding gunshot wounds and one character takes an acid bath – I’m sort of horrified that I watched and loved this movie when I was eleven or twelve). But, it’s not his worst by far.

The best material is the satire, especially in the violent commercials and short news segments, during which chipper newscasters briefly discuss apocalyptic horrors from around the world. Much of it is dead on, and I wished there were more.

I’m not rushing out to buy the blu-ray, but I certainly didn’t mind rewatching it.

Grade: B

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

1987 BFS - IT by Stephen King

I wanted to discuss Stephen King at some point. I went through a Stephen King phase starting in Junior High, and I eventually read all of his novels (though I haven’t read any since 2000). It is one of his best, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity for a review, though the pronoun name is a pain.

It occurs in two time periods, as a group of seven people in the small town of Derry, Maine, must twice combat a shapeshifting supernatural creature. Every generation, the monster emerged to eat the town’s children. In the late 1950s, it appears as a clown to lure children in before devouring them. A group of adolescents who play in the Barrens outside of town begin to investigate the disappearances and form a strong bond, calling themselves the Losers Club. In the mid-80s, the creature returns and the Losers must reunite to fight it. Basically, the novel is Stand by Me (based on a Stephen King novella called “The Body”) but with the epilogue expanded to a story of its own (oh yeah, and also with an evil spider/clown monster).

It’s about 1200 pages, but it moves at a fast pace. It digresses a lot from the main plot (it’s more digression than plot really), but the point here is really to enrich the characters to create seven very believable children and follow them into their (somewhat damaged) adulthoods. The children, and King’s depiction of the mysteries and tragedies of adolescence as a whole, really are the greatest strength of it.

I haven’t read it for a decade, but it holds up very strongly in my memory. I didn’t have much trouble remembering it for this review, and I think that’s a testimony to the its simplicity and power.

Grade: A-

Monday, November 8, 2010

1987 Arthur C. Clarke – THE HANDMAID”S TALE by Margaret Atwood

The first Arthur C. Clarke award goes to a mainstream literary hit, Margaret Atwood’s feminist dystopia. It’s always interesting to see what happens when a respected literary figure writes a piece of speculative fiction – usually book reviewers twist themselves into pretzels explaining why “it’s not really science fiction” and the science fiction establishment more or less looks the other way. Atwood did garner Locus and Nebula nominations (next to her Man Booker Prize nomination), but Hugo stuck with Orson Scott Card and L. Ron Hubbard. Her next sf work, Oryx and Crake, which I liked even more, got no recognition from sf awards.

In the near future, religious fundamentalists have seized control of the US government and turned it into a sexist and racist totalitarian state. Pollution has caused high levels of infertility, so women that can have children are highly valued and kept as slaves called handmaids. The narrator is known as Offred (we never learn her real name), and she tells a series of parallel stories – her life with her husband before the takeover, the difficulties and hardships of the takeover itself and her subsequent training as a handmaid, and her present position as a handmaid in the household of a powerful “Commander.” Her freedoms are constrained, she’s surrounded by violence, her intellectual life is completely closed off (she’s not allowed to read), and she must perform a ritualistic sex ceremony with the Commander every month in the hopes of reproduction.

The one problem I have with the novel is that it feels a bit over-the-top. Even the craziest of Christian Fundamentalists have never called for any society like this that I know of. You could argue that it’s a metaphor for the loss of basic choices for women that some political leaders advocate, but I think it’d be more interesting to see a more realistic portrayal of an anti-feminist society; show what’s really at stake. This story seems too easy to dismiss as paranoid fantasy. 1984 is a ridiculously intrusive and controlling society, but it’s still not too hard to imagine most of it coming true. It's not hard to imagine a repressive, reactionary society that destroys women's rights either; it's just wouldn't look much like this.

The real attraction, as is always the case with Atwood, is the writing. Atwood’s prose is smart, incisive and flows with ease and power. The non-linear narrative creates intriguing mysteries without ever losing the reader. All of the characters, even the Commander and his jealous and menacing wife, feel real and compelling, as does Offred’s sense of loss. Atwood is one of the greatest living authors, and it’s always wonderful when she works in science fiction, even if I did have a few suspension-of-disbelief problems with the world she created.

Grade: A-

Friday, November 5, 2010

1987 Hugo for Dramatic Presentation, 1986 Saturn – ALIENS

The return of James Cameron, as the future “king of the world” wins his first Hugo. I wish this happened more often with science fiction sequels: bring in a talented director with his own distinct vision who will take the franchise in a new direction while remaining faithful to the original material. We move from Ridley Scott’s claustrophobic horror film to a big action epic. This is also the best translation of military sf, and the mood or Starship Troopers, to the big screen.

Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) awakes from stasis following her horrific experiences in the first film into a world decades beyond her own time (Relativity!). Her employers, the greedy Company, debrief her but seem dubious of her claims. But, when they lose contact with a distant colony, they worry that the creature Ripley encountered may have struck again. A Company representative (a very slimy Paul Reiser) and Ripley join up with a tough group of space marines to check the situation out. The marines, both male and female, are tough and confidant, and Ripley warns them that they’re in over their heads. After a few encounters with a colony full of the aliens, they begin to get the point.

This is one of the great science fiction films: it’s well thought out, action packed, the effects are great and have aged well, and yet Cameron still takes time for character moments (and Weaver gives the performance of her career). It’s a completely different movie than its predecessor, but just as good. This is the last time I’ll be discussing the Alien franchise*: Alien 3 also garners a great director with David Fincher (Fight Club), but it’s early in Fincher’s career and he’s saddled with a weaker script that quickly jettisons the status quo established in this film – the results are much less satisfying. The fourth film is almost universally detested, though I don’t mind it as much as most – it’s a mediocre sf film that just looks really bad in comparison to the first two films.

*unless the prequel in development somehow actually manages to 1) get made, and 2) be good.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

1987 Nebula – THE FALLING WOMAN by Pat Murphy

Generally speaking, I don’t find the “is it really sf?” discussion particularly useful or interesting. I’m willing to admit a pretty broad spectrum of different imaginative fiction into the category. But, The Falling Woman really doesn’t feel like sf to me, despite clearly supernatural elements and the fact that the novel is subtitled “a fantasy.”

The Falling Woman is reall a story about a mother and daughter. The mother, Elizabeth Butler, is an archaeologist more in tune with the world of the Classic Maya than modern society (she fancies herself quite the iconoclast, which I found somewhat annoying, but, then again, I know lots of annoying academics who fancy themselves iconoclasts, so the character rang true). The daughter, Diane, reeling from the recent death of her father, heads off to rural Mexico to meet and learn about her estranged mother. Most of the novel concerns this rather mundane, character-based story. Diane learns about the Maya and her mother, and makes friends with some other dig participants and some of the locals. Elizabeth comes to terms with the loss of her daughter and her own anti-social behavior.

As a basic relationship drama between a mother and daughter, the novel is quite good. I’m very intrigued by the Classic Maya and archaeological digs in general (and I have some inkling of the kind of drama that occur therein), so I thought the setting was fascinating, and the writing was solid. The narration alternates between Elizabeth and Diane, and, while I think their voices could have been more different, it was one of the more pleasant reads I’ve encountered in a while. The melodrama runs high – any story that involves a character being committed to a mental institution against their will is pushing the boundaries – but the core relationship still seemed believable and progressed nicely. There’s also a feminist narrative implied by Elizabeth’s back story; she is controlled and damaged by her ex-husband, but Murphy doesn’t really develop this theme very explicitly – in fact, melodramatic as it was, I think this element would have benefitted from more focus.

So, the book is nice enough. But, an award winner? A better sf novel than The Uplift War? Or The Handmaid's Tale? I don’t know. An sf award winner? I’m even less sure about that. The supernatural elements are there, but are they particularly well developed? Are they integral to the story? Not really. If mother-daughter drama at a Mayan archaeological dig sounds interesting to you, I’d certainly recommend this novel. I did enjoy it on that level. Is it a fantasy classic? I really don’t think so.

Grade: B

Monday, November 1, 2010

1987 Hugo and Locus, 1986 Nebula – SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD by Orson Scott Card

A year after sweeping the big three US awards with Ender’s Game, Card did it again with a sequel, a very different book than its predecessor – the simplicity seems to be gone (or is it?), as is the repetitiveness. The result is a rather byzantine mystery story that managed to fascinate and infuriate me at the same time.

I usually avoid spoilers as much as possible, but it’s impossible to talk about this novel without mentioning a few facets of the conclusion of Ender’s Game, so readers beware.

Speaker for the Dead picks up 3000 years after Ender’s Game. Ender is regarded as a genocidal monstrosity, the worst human to ever live, but Andrew Wiggin is the sainted founder of the influential philosophy of Speaking for the Dead (which is pretty much what it sounds like). He and his sister Valentine are only in their thirties, thanks to relativity, and both generally conceal the fact that they are influential historical figures as they flit from colony planet to colony planet. Ender is called to speak for the dead at the Brazillian-Catholic colony of Lusitania, which also happens to be home to the first sentient lifeforms humanity has encountered since the buggers, called "piggies." Once on the colony, Ender must unravel several nested mysteries about the piggies and a family of xenologists who have studied them for generations. These mysteries have implications for Ender’s own past and for the future of all of humanity.

There was a lot of fascinating material in this book, and in many ways it held my attention better than the parade of school battles that was Ender’s Game. Card doesn’t shy away from using religion in his novels, and the piggies have some interesting biological and cultural characteristics. However, the novel also managed to get on my nerves, a lot, usually at the same time it was fascinating. For instance, Card sets up a family drama worthy of Tennessee Williams: two young xenologists are deeply in love, yet they cannot marry because of a dark secret. Instead, the woman marries another man, a steelworker, who she knows to be sterile, and bears six children with her xenologist lover. The children believe the steelworker to be their father, but he knows the truth, and beats his wife mercilessly, which she feels is fitting punishment for her infidelity with the man she truly loves. In the hands of a subtler, more skilled author this could make for a meaty, layered, family chronicle; however, here it’s just annoying. The dark secret is portrayed as a matter of life and death, but it turns out to be quite pointless. The reason for the lovers not marrying turns on a highly contrived, illogical, and unlikely set of future privacy laws. The characters, whose passions and traumas should be the center of this drama, all fall flat, and are simple stereotypes. Worst of all, Ender glosses over the crimes and heals the wounds of this sad situation in almost no time at all.

This last issue is symptomatic of the most infuriating thing about the book: Ender’s complete and total perfection, including his moral infallibility, which I complained about in my review for Ender’s Game. It’s much worse in Speaker for the Dead. Ender is clearly an analogue for Jesus – wise beyond human limits and carrying the weight of all human sin (through his guilt about the buggers). Again I say, “barf.”

The central complication of the novel is what Star Trek fans would recognize as a “prime directive” problem: how much should humans interfere with piggy culture? Should the piggies be allowed to evolve in their own direction, or should humans give them advanced technology? What if they’re starving? What if they earnestly want the technology? These are interesting questions with no simple answers…. Except that Ender has the simple answers, and he is always right, even though he’s completely inconsistent. Along the way, the xenologists come off as idiots, so that Ender can correct them on all sorts of factual and ethical issues. In other words, no character is allowed to breathe, think, or love except to forward perfect Ender (Don’t even get me started on the Ender-loving sentient computer, Jane). As a result, all of the characters, especially Ender himself, are completely dull and pointless.

Grade: C+