Posts Tagged ‘readalong’

Uglies Readalong: Specials (Book Three)

Oof. Sorry for missing last week, squiders. It was a mess, all the way around–too many things that I had to get ready for and/or get done. But that’s all behind us now.

Let’s move on to our discussion about Specials, the third book in Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy.

At this point we’re basically all spoilers, so I guess, uh, don’t read if you intend to read the trilogy.

So, once again, we find Tally in a new state of being, having been turned into a Special at the very end of the last book. She’s back with Shay and several former Crims, the Cutters, working as a specialized Specials team.

This books feels a little different than the others. In Uglies, Tally is desperate to become Pretty, and in Pretties, she’s desperate to escape back to the New Smoke and be cured. But in this book, Tally likes being a Special, and at no point does not becoming one appeal to her, even as other characters bring up a cure or use it themselves.

The only thing weighing down Tally’s newfound happiness as a Special is Zane, her boyfriend from Pretties. He’d been brought back to the city at the end of the last book, and Tally hasn’t seen him or heard from him since then. When Tally and Shay go to visit him, Tally finds he’s still suffering the repercussions of taking the Pretty cure from the last book–muscle shakes, memory lapses, etc. So Tally decides the best thing would be to have Zane become a Special, so that they’ll remake his body and brain and fix him.

But you have to have certain qualities to be a Special. Shay and Tally put together a plan to help Zane escape the city, which will make him seem like he has those qualities, but their plan goes too far, is too scary, and ends up having consequences outside their own city.

What I found interesting about this book especially, was that there was no clear “this is the right way to think and this is the wrong way to think” theme that you find in a lot of YA dystopia. While there is an antagonist, her ideologies aren’t necessarily portrayed as being bad. And Tally never completely aligns with the “rebel” side either, definitely not in this book but not all the way in the others either.

It’s a bit refreshing, honestly.

The book ends with the “wrong” system slowly disintegrating, but Tally putting herself in a position where, if the “rebel” system replacing it gets out of hand, she can act as a check and balance.

Overall, I thought the trilogy was worth the read. I don’t think we’ll go on to the fourth book, which takes place some time after the change in systems with a new viewpoint character, but you’re welcome to if you would like!

Thanks for reading along with me, squiders! I’ll see you again later in the week.

Uglies Readalong: Pretties (Book 2)

Hey hey, look, I got a book done when I said I was going to! It’s a miracle.

So, for those of you just joining us, we’re reading through the Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, which is YA dystopia and came out in the 2005 to 2007 time frame, so pretty early in the whole YA dystopia craze there.

This month we read Pretties, which is the second book.

In our dystopian world, everybody goes through an operation when they are 16 which makes them a Pretty–basically conforming people to an acceptable range of appearance to help avoid the bloodshed and wars that humanity has faced in the past. Before their operation, they’re an Ugly.

Spoilers from here on out. You’ve been warned.

In Uglies, our heroine, Tally Youngblood, is forced to go into the wild after her friend Shay, who has run away from the city to live outside. Special Circumstances, or Specials, are essentially the enforcers of the society, and they tell Tally that the only way she’ll get to be Pretty is if she helps bring Shay back to the city. But as Tally learns more about the Smoke and the people who live there, she starts to change her mind about being a Pretty herself, especially after she learns that part of the Pretty operation changes your brain, making you, well, compliant.

However, things go poorly at the end of the book–when Tally tries to destroy the tracker so she can stay in the Smoke forever, it goes off, bringing Special Circumstances down on everyone. Tally stages a rescue and manages to get most of the Smokies to safety outside the city, but her friend Shay is turned Pretty in the process. One of the Smokies is a retired doctor who has devised a cure to the brain changes made in the process, but Shay, now Pretty, refuses to take it, and without a subject, they can’t tell if the process works.

So Tally volunteers to be made Pretty to test the cure. End of Book 1.

Pretties starts up about a month after Tally has become Pretty. New Pretties live in New Pretty Town (we’ve talked about how spot-on the place names are before) where they essentially do nothing except party. But at a party, Tally notices someone dressed as a Special, which throws her off, and, when she pursues the person, she’s surprised to find it’s an Ugly, and an Ugly she recognizes from Outside. All her memories of her time in the Smoke and the time after it have been suppressed by the operation.

The person has to run before the real Specials catch him, but he tells Tally that he left her something, setting off a chain of puzzles that lead her to the promised cure and her own letter, written before she turned herself in, to explain what the cure is and why Pretty!Tally needs to take it. But the puzzles attract the attention of the Specials too, and Tally shares the cure with Zane, the leader of her Pretty clique, to get rid of the evidence.

That’s the set-up. Tally does take some time to get going AGAIN this book, but it was less bothersome this time because I was expecting it.

Most of the book follows Tally and Zane as they plot ways to escape from the city and head back Outside, made troublesome by tracking bracelets the Specials have put on them. They also experiment with ways to make the rest of their clique “bubbly,” a term that basically means clear-headed and aware. Tally and Shay fight–Shay blames Tally for what happened out in the Smoke, and she remembers too, when bubbly–but finally Tally, Zane, and their clique have everything in place and make their escape.

There are complications, of course. Tally’s best friend from her Ugly days chickens out last minute, making it so Tally’s escape is almost ruined; Zane has been getting progressively sicker since taking the cure; Tally is approached by the head of the Specials and offered a spot, and all that jazz.

And, in the end, everything gets worse. We’re definitely not pulling any punches here.

So far the series has been very readable, and Tally is better in this book–determined and focused, and willing to protect her friends.

And I will say that, knowing that the last book is Specials, we didn’t get there in the way I thought we would. Hooray! I like surprises, especially when they make sense.

Did you guys read along? What did you think, Squiders? I’m glossing over the love triangle aspects to this because it doesn’t really interest me (which is also how I felt about it in Hunger Games), but if you like that sort of thing, which guy are you rooting for?

Let’s have Specials done for, hm, May 20, and we can decide if we’re going to do the fourth book at that point or if we feel fulfilled.

See you Friday!

Uglies Readalong: Uglies (Book 1)

Hey, squiders! Guess who finally finished the book? And only two weeks late.

For those of you just joining us, we’ll be reading the Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, with the option of reading the fourth book depending on how the first three go.

The trilogy came out about fifteen years ago, and takes place in a dystopian future where, on their 16th birthday, everyone becomes a “pretty”–they go through an extensive surgery that reshapes their body so everyone is equally pretty, in theory equalizing everyone across the board.

Our main character is Tally Youngblood, who we meet a few months out from her 16th birthday. Her best friend has just become pretty, so she’s feeling lonely and desperately counting down the days until she becomes pretty too and can join her friend in New Pretty Town. Before you become pretty, you are an ugly, and they all live together in dorms in a place called Uglyville.

Yes, it’s on the nose, but it’s meant to be.

Tally sneaks out to New Pretty Town to see her friend and almost gets caught—Uglies aren’t allowed—but during her escape, she makes a new friend named Shay, who coincidentally has the same birthday as her. Shay and Tally find solace in each other, but Shay’s not quite as excited about turning as Tally is. She keeps taking Tally outside of the city, and talking about a place where you don’t have to turn pretty.

Is this a pretty form YA dystopia? I mean, yes. Yes it is. It came out in the same era as The Hunger Games and Divergent and all that jazz (actually a little before, so it’s an early contender in the genre). It’s got a lot of the same beats, but those beats aren’t necessarily bad. There’s a reason all these series were so successful.

As I’ve said in earlier blog posts, I had some difficulty relating to Tally, which made my progress slower than expected. It’s hard, as a fully-grown adult, to connect with someone whose sole purpose is to wait until she becomes pretty, and who puts so much emphasis on this procedure. It makes sense why she does, with the world-building and everything, but there’s not a lot of common ground there. Once we got about half way into the book and Tally’s motivations change, I found it much easier to keep going.

The book ends on a cliffhanger, as expected, but I’m interested in the twist (in this case, why this seemingly utopian society is in fact a dystopia—really the cornerstone of the entire genre and so hit or miss) and I’m looking forward to seeing how the story develops in Pretties.

How did you guys feel about it? How do you feel about the society when compared to other, similar dystopias?

We’ll read Pretties for April 27. I’m hoping the second book goes faster now that I’m invested.

Announcing the Uglies Readalong

Hi squiders! It’s been forever since we’ve done a readalong.

I mean, that’s because we started Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy and got half way through the second book (Green Mars) and made it no farther. Well, I made it no farther. I can see Green Mars on the bookcase, staring at me accusingly.

And nothing against the Mars trilogy, certainly. I enjoyed Red Mars, and Green Mars has been similarly well-written. For some reason I can’t get through them very quickly.

Someday. Someday I will finish it and talk about it, and everyone will have forgotten what we were doing in the mean time.

Let’s not dwell on the past and our failures, however. Let’s move forward!

So I’m announcing a new readalong! We’ll be doing the Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. I inherited all three books from my mother when she was culling her collection a few years back, and I remember hearing good things about the books when they first came out. I haven’t read any of them, but I’m expecting them to be somewhat standard YA dystopias. We shall see.

(Wikipedia tells me there’s a fourth book. Well, we will cross that bridge when we get there. If we get there.)

I read Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy, which is a YA (I was going to say middle grade, but apparently not) steampunk alt history of World War I, and I enjoyed the series greatly, so I’m excited to read his first series.

Let’s be ready to discuss Uglies on March 23rd. That gives us a month, and it’s not that long of a book.

See you then!

Nonfiction Books and a Green Mars Update

Hi, squiders! How are you doing? My washing machine is leaking out the bottom and I’m trying to figure out if I need a new one, but it’s kind of a two-person job (one to tilt the washing machine, one to look under it) so I will have to wait until I have another adult to solve that one.

I know we’ve had a lot of media updates lately, but I wanted to let you know that I am working on the nonfiction books. I’ve re-ordered them for release based on the steps of the writing process, so they’re looking like this now:

  1. Finding Writing Ideas
  2. Common Writing Problems and Fixes
  3. Outlining
  4. Writing Consistently
  5. Writing Around Life
  6. Working on Multiple Projects at Once
  7. Submission and Publication

I wrote 6 first, as part of a training course I was taking at the time (kind of wondering if I should go back through the training course real quick), so I’m using that as the format for the other books. Plus, you know, the rest of the books are mostly a collection of blog posts at the moment.

So I’ve started working on the Writing Ideas book, adding in new material and streamlining the posts so they’re not repetitive, make sense, etc. I planned a workbook to go with that one (and also the multiple projects book) so I need to work on that as well.

Any thoughts on the publication order, squiders? I can’t decide whether Outlining should go before Common Writing Problems. Also, if you’d like to beta any of the books, let me know.

Also, I know we were supposed to discuss Green Mars as part of our Mars Trilogy readalong, like two weeks ago–or was it longer?–and I haven’t mentioned it recently, but I am working on it. It’s just slow going. The viewpoints are a little denser than the first book, which makes sense in context, but requires me to pay closer attention when reading.

Also I got eaten by Gemina. (If you’re not reading the Illuminae series and like science fiction + weird typography, you’re missing out.)

So, anyway! Green Mars is still coming, the nonfiction books are making good progress, and I’m feeling pretty good about how February is going in general, even with the sinus surgery.

I hope you guys are feeling pretty good too.

Mars Trilogy Readalong: Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Ugh, guys, I’m sorry this took me so long to get through. I don’t really have any good excuses, except I should have started more than a week before we were supposed to be talking about it, especially since it’s almost 600 pages.

To sum up, as I told my dog last night: this is not a hopeful book. This is a book about how humanity is stupid and self-destructive.

I mean, I hope we eventually get into a hopeful phase, but who knows!

Red Mars came out in 1992 and won the Nebula in 1993. It covers somewhere between 35 and 40 years of time, starting with the colonist selection process on Earth and following them through the trip to Mars and approximately 30 years on Mars itself. It’s told in eight sections, with a different viewpoint character for each section (though Nadia and Frank each get two), and each viewpoint character is a member of the First Hundred, as the first colonists are called over time.

Most sections cover a decent amount of time, sometimes years, and there is also usually a time jump between sections (though section 8 follows directly from section 7). The book sets up characters on various sides of different issues, such as terraforming (the greens “let’s do this as fast as possible” vs. the reds “leave Mars alone–what right have we to meddle?”), colonization, emigration, corporations, government, etc. Genetic engineering is also present, but aside from its relation to terraforming (they create specialized algae that can survive on Mars’ surface), at least in this book, it’s treated as a uniformly good thing (i.e., no characters are presented as against it). I will be interested to see if that changes as the books go on.

There may be SPOILERS moving forward, so be aware.

The plot of the book is fairly chronological rather than action based. While we do open somewhere in the middle, subsequent chapters and sections start from the beginning and run straight through. The First Hundred are selected, leave for Mars on the Ares, an immense spaceship with some artificial gravity, gardens, farms, etc. (even birds) to try and help with mental states on the long voyage. On the voyage, we see the first signs that people have different plans for the planet and different ideologies, and that some people lied throughout the selection process.

They arrive at Mars and get started building up the infrastructure necessary to produce air and water, build habitats, and start exploring. Things are good. But eventually those ideological differences pop back up, especially in relation to terraforming and whether or not they need to get Earth’s permission before they do things. And a large section of the First Hundred disappear, becoming the Lost Colony, without any warning.

As time goes on, more people arrive from Earth, different factions with different goals, and without cohesive goals or leadership, tensions start to rise. Big corporations start sending a ton of workers and “security,” sabotages start happening, people disappear–and Earth is no help, because Earth is also falling apart, due to global warming and increasing numbers of wars.

Eventually the “revolution” happens–a number of rebel factions, not coordinating with each other, attack, destroying towns (reliant on thin domes for their atmospheres) and killing people. The “security” forces retaliate, shooting down from orbit. There is mass chaos, with all these factions working for themselves and the Earth forces (mostly these corporate security forces as well as some UN-approved ones) trying to lock everything down. The space elevator is destroyed, crashing down to the planet. Phobos is destroyed. The First Hundred become targets–Earth is trying to peg them as scapegoats and ring leaders–and they manage to escape to the Lost Colony at the end.

SPOILERS over.

This was actually a fairly quick read, all things considered–depending on whose point of view the section is in. I found Nadia the easiest to read and Frank the hardest; I’m sure other people would feel differently. Even when the characters spend forever building habitats or exploring the vastness of Mars, the book never feels slow (though I admit I occasionally skimmed sections with a lot of place names, which just didn’t mean anything to me). It does a great job of showing what life might be like on Mars, and a great job presenting a number of characters who are obviously different from each other. I would recommend it if you like hard science fiction, especially near future stuff, or space exploration.

Also, apparently the first person walks on Mars by 2020, and colonizing by 2026, so we’d better get on it.

Did you read this with me, squiders? What did you think?

Green Mars is next. Let’s do the end of January for it, so we can get through the holidays without going crazy.

Announcing the Red Mars Readalong

All right, squiders. We’re going to do the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson for our next readalong.

I’m excited to do this one, because I have been carting this trilogy around for probably close to 20 years without reading it, and if you’re at all familiar with it, you know these are fat books. My copy of Red Mars (which is the only one handy–Green Mars and Blue Mars are currently relegated to the basement bookcase) is about 600 pages of tiny font. So not Wheel of Time fat, but pretty dang fat.

I think I picked the series up around the time I read Dune and Ringworld and books of those ilk. I think I thought the series was older than it was, since it seemed to be on all the same lists. It is a Nebula award winner, so that’s cool.

(My copy was also apparently once owned by my local library. I hope I bought it at a book sale and didn’t steal it off the shelves. It doesn’t seem to have the general library book accouterments such as stickers with shelving location and whatnot, so I’m going to assume it’s all good.)

I have also never read anything by Kim Stanley Robinson (though I believe these were some of his first books), though my husband recently finished 2312, so assuming he’s consistent in his narrative form, I have a vague idea of what to expect.

Let’s give ourselves plenty of time to get through this one. November 1 sound good?

(I will also note that I will probably read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which was also on the poll, sometime in October, both because I want to, and because one of my writing groups is having a paranormal/horror reading challenge in October, and that’s the first one that comes to mind. So I may or may not talk about that one as well.)

Time for a New Readalong!

It’s been almost half a year since we read The Sparrow, so let’s pick out a new book and/or series to look at! I’ve tried to provide a wide variety of genres and standalone/series options.

Also, if you’d very much like to do a different book or series, please let me know in the comments.

Also let me know if you prefer if I just pick a book on my own. The polls are still a new thing.

The Sparrow Readalong

Woo, squiders! This is quite a book. Bit rough to read in places. And apparently there is a sequel, Children of God, which starts up almost immediately after the first book ends.

I’m always a bit amused with science fiction books that were written a while ago (this was published in 1996) and were set in a time that has caught up to us. The Sparrow follows two timelines: one, after the mission, and the other going over the events that lead up to it (and the mission itself, later on), which starts in 2016.

Anyway! The Sparrow tells that story of a Jesuit mission to the planet of Rakhat, in orbit around Alpha Centauri. It’s got a lot of deep themes–about God and religion (though I do want to make it clear that it is not a religious book–there’s no dogmas being forced on the reader, and the characters themselves are of varying faiths and levels of belief/agnostics), about interacting with new cultures, about human interactions and how one views one’s self, etc. I can definitely see why it won a bunch of awards.

And it’s a debut novel. Major props to Ms. Russell.

The novel pulls no punches. And it takes the interesting tack of putting the ending first. Father Emilio Sandoz is the sole survivor of the mission to Rakhat, and his name has been drug through the mud before he even makes it home, thanks to a transmission that was sent as he was leaving the planet to return home. He’s a broken man, both physically and mentally. So as the novel starts, you know this mission went bad. You know everyone died.

And then the novel goes about introducing everyone and stepping through the events leading up to the mission, and making you care about people, which is really very evil. I cried at one point when one of the characters died.

I feel like the approach to the species on Rakhat is an interesting choice as well. These are not alien aliens, that are incomprehensible to their human visitors, but more your Star Trek or Star Wars type of alien, where are the body parts are more or less in the same parts and they have conventions along the lines of humans. There can be a connection. There can be an exchange of language and ideas.

Anyway! I hope you read this one with me, squiders. I really enjoyed it. Dunno if I’ll pick up the sequel with any sort of timeliness, so I’m not going to include it as part of the readalong.

Thoughts on The Sparrow, squiders?

Announcing the Sparrow Readalong

Right, squiders, the results are in from last week’s poll! So for this month’s/quarter’s/however often we get to it’s readalong, we’re going to the doing The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

My spouse will be pleased, as he greatly enjoyed the book and has been after me to read it for years.

This is an older book, originally published in 1997 (so it’s still newer than 85% of the rest of the stuff we’ve read in the readalongs over the years). Goodreads tells me it’s set in 2019, so I look forward to being amused by predictions gone awry.

(I’m reading a late ’70s scifi book right now which has overshot it all on technology and undershot everything social, which is pretty par for the course.)

From what I understand, it’s the story of a Jesuit priest who is part of a scientific expedition to contact a alien race on a planet we’ve picked up radio waves or some such from.

It’s supposed to be really good–the book has a 4.2 out of 5 on Goodreads, and won a ton of awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke award, James Tiptree award, and the British Science Fiction Association award.

Apparently there’s a sequel? Well, we’re see how we’re feeling after we read this one.

Anyway! I hope you’ll read this one with me! (Especially after I dug it out of the bottom of a stack of books.) It’s ~430 pages, so let’s give ourselves a little over a month–let’s discuss on June 5th.