Sunday, January 20, 2013

Books 2012: Audiobooks and podcasts

If I have learnt a lesson recently it is that I need to write reviews as I finish the book, movie, meal, whatever.  Having left everything to the end of the year I find I need to split things up into manageable chunks.

Audio Books and Podcasts

In 2012 I listened to as many stories as I read, maybe more.  This was due to a continued enjoyment of my favourite podcasts, an attempt to increase the number of times I ride to work and a better set of earphones.
My podcasts of choice for 2012 were Pod Castle, Escape Pod, Star Ship Sofa, Selected Shorts - PRI and The History of Rome.

My audio faves of 2012 were;

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1)Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I seem to have come to Science Fiction a little later in life than you might expect. My journey to it has passed through fantasy to speculative fiction and back to some of those books I probably should have read in my teens.

Ender's Game is one of those I am grateful to have discovered.
I actually listened to Ender's Game rather than reading it. I was painting the spare room in 40 degree C heat at the time and multi-tasked by having this playing on my i-phone through Audible.

Experiencing this book nearly 30 years after it was published makes me all the more appreciative of some of its concepts, and the way that science fiction becomes science fact.

The way in which social media, portrayed in Ender's Game on "the nets" where Peter and Valentine mould public opinion to suit their own aims, is simply remarkable. It reminds me that Science Fiction is far less about science than it is about the human condition and psychology laid bare by stripping away what we think we know about ourselves.

In the 80's Orson Scott Card would have been seeing Usenet groups and Bulletin Boards. In Ender's Game he talks about the nets as being regional, and I suppose to some extent we see some of that today despite the global nature of communications.

The theme of the uniting common enemy is one which flows through so much Science Fiction and its is not missing here. The Nuremburg defence comes through in this novel as strongly as it does in Stephen Donaldson's Gap series. For the protagonist, Ender, it goes further. He isn't just following orders, he has been deliberately manipulated into ignorance of the consequences of his own actions.

Is this book violent and disturbing? Yes, of course it is. Does that pose a problem for YA readers? No, I don't believe it does. I don't believe this story does anything to glorify those elements. As in Lord of the Flies it demonstrates that without boundaries children behave as poorly to each other as many adults do. Survival, greed for power and most importantly fear are strong motivators.

Anyone who thinks that children cannot be cruel and unkind and viscous with each other under certain circumstances, or simply when it suits their own ends, has forgotten those moments in the playground when it happened to them. True, most of these instances will not include physical violence, thankfully, but words can often do much more than blows. I don't think many would advocate Ender's approach to dealing with bullying however.

I'm surprised this book is not included in the Australian School curriculum. While Lord of the Flies was probably a great book for those coming out of the post war era in the last century surely this novel was one more appropriate for the Gen Y's, where perhaps the Hunger Games will be for Generation Next.

Certainly there is a lot of the cold war elements here which are dated in light of the modern day conflicts that we see, many of which are civil wars albeit supported by outside states in various ways, but there are themes of religious freedoms which could be unearthed from this novel which may be very relevant.

The character of Alai is intriguing and I understand he features in future books in the series which I look forward to exploring.

Ender’s Game would make a great text from which to start exploring the topic of ethics. You don't have to agree with any of the decisions made in this book to find something worth discussing about it. I think that is the most important role of fiction, to make us challenge what we believe, either to help us change it, or to enable us to explain why we hold the values we do.

I also wonder if there is something of The Outliers in this story. Ender may have been specially selected for his genetic heritage (though it is unclear how as neither of his parents appeared to show any of his characteristics), but it could be argued that the time at which he was born, and the sheer number of hours he trained, (surely at least the required 10,000 hours to become expert at something) might have made nearly any child into the military 'genius' the society needed him to be.

This was one of the richest stories I've encountered in a while and I feel really lucky that I don't have to wait for the next book in the series to come out. There is a lot to be said for being a late adopter in this case.


The Fry ChroniclesThe Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

No one could read Stephen Fry other than Stephen Fry. There is just something quintessential - the use of so many exact, erudite, and sometimes obscure words would seem inappropriate coming from someone else’s lips, but from Stephen, exquisite.
Listening to this volume of his autobiography makes me fall in love with the English language all over again. For all its twists and turns, designed seemingly to irritate the uninitiated, it is like poetry when it spills out in Fry's ever so english accent.

We listened to this volume while driving to my Mother's for Christmas in late 2011, so it a bit of cheat to include this review in my 2012 list but there you have it. It was odd also to be listening to tales of Footlights while driving through the karri forests of south west Western Australia.

It took nothing away from my enjoyment of this story. Nor did the fact that I have next to nothing in common with Stephen Fry. His desire to join in could not be further from my own introverted notion of choosing not to be noticed most of the time. And yet here is something there, something in the vulnerability that he shares so freely that is intoxicating.

Stephen Fry would have to be one of those people you'd have at a dream dinner party, if only you thought for a moment you wouldn't bore him silly the whole time he was there.

There is a theme in my reading for 2012 (ok 2011 and 2012) in how the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours rule applied. I have no doubt at all that despite his near genius IQ, Stephen Fry's true success comes from the sheer number of hours he has spent doing what he does best, entertaining others, with what appears to be a desperate desire to please others. And he succeeds tremendously.

That he is a flawed protagonist in his own stories is without doubt. But therein lies the magic of any good story.

I loved this book.


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