Speaker for the Dead – I read this a few years ago, but I re-read a few months after re-reading Ender’s Game. The book is really really good. My faint, probably wrong, memory of my first reading of the two books is that I like them equally, for very different reasons, with the slight edge toward Ender. The second time around, Ender is very cool and still has the best twist around, but is just cool. Fun, interesting, actioney, cool. Speaker is really special, though. The idea of a speaker is very powerful. The idea of understanding someone so deeply you can accept even their tragic flaws, even their evilness. Ender is a bit of a superhero, and his superpower is borderline-omniscient insight, it’s a bit much. But otherwise it’s really good. The different perspective of different people and species, none of which are wrong, but which may be incompatible, that’s all very interesting. The idea of understanding why a person acts a way is valuable to me. I’m not quite so magnanimous in real life, there are still plenty of people who need to be dead, and plenty who I just don’t want anywhere near me. But I do, as a rule, try to understand where people are coming from and forgive brief transgressions. Everyone can have a bad day, the dude who cut you off could have just endured a tragedy. Or maybe he’s just an asshole. But neither reality will change your day, so let it float on past. That’s moving past the philosophy of understanding why people are the way they are and into how to be happier yourself, but it all seems related to me. Anyway, it’s a really good book with some really good ideas. How can such a progressive set of thinking be written by such a flaming bigot? I don’t get it.
Bean Quartet – I listened to the 4 books written about Bean, in the Ender universe. I did not really like them. I’m very unsure why I got all the way to the end of them, except that I mostly listened to them while I played video games and so didn’t take up too much of my life. The first one is just an echo of Ender’s Game, but not a very good one. The whole thing with Bean is extraordinarily dumb. People have been making genetically engineered super people for ever in science fiction. No one has made a genius baby that hides in toilets. So dumb. Him being a genius all through battle school is so annoying. I’m not at all on his side because I can’t stand him. It’s kind of cool to have an outside perspective on Ender, but not cool enough. A character who is just so ahead of everything and everyone because he’s so damn smart is really annoying. Then the rest of the books are a mess. The second one was okay at first because there was a lot of global politics stuff. Imagining a different world and the wars and such is a fun exercise. But then half the book is boring bullshit stuff with Petra. And the whole denouement is all about saving a girl? What? I guess there’s this whole arc where Bean learns to value love and family over the concerns of the world, but that seems remarkably dumb. And to end a book saving a princess is so ick. And then the next book is so much teenage angst and drama. The fourth book at least bothers to wrap up the story, but I could have read the short story outline and been just as happy.
Wool – This book is kind of a rollercoaster for me. It’s a post-apocalyptic thing people are living in an underground silo because the world has gone to shit. It starts out fantastic. The first 5 chapters are an amazing reversal of your expectations in this kind of book, and it totally had me going. Then it gets boring for a while, then some cool stuff happens. Then I get real frustrated with the characters, then it’s cool again. Then it’s boring for a while, then it gets exciting again, and then it ends pretty lame. I can think of a 1 page chapter that would have been a much more compelling end without really changing anything. I guess I don’t really like neatly tied up ends. Anyway, it sounds like I’m complaining, but it’s really pretty good, it just has some slogs in it.
The Martian – Well, this is exactly as good as everyone says. Funny, captivating, interesting, scientifically legit (at least to the extent I can judge, which is pretty limited). People have been talking about it since it was a little indie website thing, I just never quite got around to it. But with the movie people are freaking out and I didn’t want the spoils, so I finally read it. It’s pretty great. I guess it falls into a pretty predictable pattern of: holy shit! gonna die. But what if I. Phew, that was close. Holy shit! But that’s okay, that’s kind of the shtick, and it’s a fun one from beginning to end.