31 January 2008

5. The Pool of Fire by John Christopher

The stunning conclusion to the Tripods trilogy, and a satisfying end at that.

Everyone is back, Will, Beanpole, and Henry. And again, I hesitate to mention any element of the plot because it will spoil this book and the second.

This final installment tells the tale of the continuing free-human resistance to the Tripods. And it also begins to outline possible conflicts of a post-occupation world. Ah, the possibilities of a blank slate. Ah, the perils of the lack of tradition and the excesses bound to be a result of a long oppression.

But, really, The Pool of Fire is about the fight between a society with high technology and a scattered, moderately organized society of low technology. And the first 46 pages or so details how this moderate organization works. It's almost Qaeda-like in its simplicity.

There were more than a few pleasant surprises along the way. I recommend all three books.

Sending them out to Mt Benson tomorrow!

29 January 2008

2007: a reflection

Well, I increased my output, and had a good range of books.

4. Love that Dog by Sharon Creech

An outstanding little book.

It's told in a series of responses that young Jack writes to his English teacher, Miss Stretchberry, about the poems they are reading in class. Creech includes the poems discussed in the back of the book, but if you took an intro to lit class in college, you'll be in good shape.

The responses chart the growth of Jack as he goes from "that poem was stupid" to writing poetry and reflecting on poems, writing poems, and the experiences that can be mined (exploited) for poetic purpose.

This is another YA Lit book, and one you can read in a few minutes standing in the kids section of your local bookshop, but I think it's worth buying, especially if you think you'll find yourself teaching poetry to the uninitiated.

3. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The classic tale of greasers vs preppies.

I don't think I ever read the book. I definitely saw the movie, but so long ago all I can remember is Johnny hurt in the hospital and that the movie had Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, and Ralph Macchio.

It's a pretty good little book. I had to read it for my YA Lit class and I'm glad I did.

Ponyboy lives with his two brothers, Darry and Sodapop. Their parents died in a car accident and now Darry is the parents. They run with a bunch of hoods and have a running battles with the Socs, the preppies in town.

After one of the Socs is killed in a fight, things go from bad to worse. But in that journey Ponyboy learns a lot about life, and his family.

It's definitely worth reading, and gets credit for launching the YA Lit movement.

26 January 2008

2. The City of Gold and Lead by John Christopher

The City of Gold and Lead, the sequel to White Mountains starts with the heroic threesome from the first book training for the Games, an annual Olympic-like competition that pits athletes from nearby villages against one another for the privilege of winning a one-way ticket to the Tripods main city. There the champions will serve the Tripods. Because nobody ever comes back, what exactly this services entails is anyone's guess.

There really isn't much I can say about the plot that isn't a spoiler, so let me talk about the style - this is a much faster paced book than the first. While the first book had some "philosophical" talk weaved into the action, while Will tried to figure out what to do with himself, this one has Will focused on his mission with little side discussion about personal goals or impact on the Self.

It's probably not a surprise that Will wins the Games and heads to the City of Gold and Lead, but what he finds there is surprising. I thought I already had the Tripods figured out, and I am happy to admit I was wrong.

While Will is in the city he learns about the Plan and what will happen to mankind. This makes the book more than a simple science fiction tale and makes it a metaphor for colonization and the fight against imperialism. Or maybe that's my English teacher brain forcing an interpretation onto a text (in itself a form of imperialism?).

And Christopher knows how to tell a story: lots of action, drama, cliffhangers, twists and turns, and foreshadowing. I'm eager to start the third and final book!

23 January 2008

1. The White Mountains by John Christopher

A great recommendation by Mt Benson Report.

His is as good a review as I could write and I don't have much more to add. But I will say this, it took me a little bit longer than I expected to get through the book (though it is a fast read) because I just didn't really care until the last 50 pages or so.

I do feel for Will's struggle though, facing the same question we must all face at one time or another: do I strike out for what I think is right, or do I conform and sacrifice my Self?

I think the differences in our world are less stark, or, rather, the two moral positions aren't as far, or as fatal as I pretend they are, but for Will it's a question of life or death.

I recommend this book, too, and I look forward to reading the remainder of the trilogy. I have book three, but will have to look around a bit more for book two. And then I send them to Vancouver...

01 January 2008

27. The Wreck of the Dumaru by Lowell Thomas (as told by Fritz Harmon)

Thanks to Olman for the recommendation and the present of the actual text! His review is here.

Simply told this is a tale about 32 guys in a 20-man lifeboat adrift in the Western Pacific for 24 days. Fourteen of them survive.

The Dumaru is a wooden supply ship transporting gasoline and munitions from Guam at the close of WW1. After the ship is hit by lightning in a storm it catches fire and explodes. The ship sinks, but not before three life rafts are set adrift. We ride with the First assistant engineer Fred (Fritz) Harmon in an overcrowded life raft. After thirteen days they are out of water and sea biscuits. It doesn't rain, so they rig an evaporator (designed to boil sea water so they can collect the fresh water from the steam that results). As the men begin to die from dehydration, starvation, injuries, and exposure, the survivors make the grim decision to eat the recently deceased by making a broth/stew. Some of the scenes of the cannibalism are quite grizzly - before they decide to actually eat the meat of their shipmate (the former first engineer) they drink his blood mixed with a bit of seawater. To get the blood out of the body the hatchet off the dude's head! One time they do it and leave the head lolling around in the bottom of the boat!

Eventually they land on the island of Samar and are rescued.

I thought this was a great book. It's right up my alley - shipwreck, survival at sea, and the battle between man and the environment and between man and his own endurance. I feel like reading these stories is like research for an eventual test - although I sail in water not much deeper than a good-sized backyard swimming pool and never out of sight of developed civilization.

I'm going to pass this one on to Uncle Jack who is always up for a good sea story.