Archive for June, 2013

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

June 24th, 2013

If you read my Steelheart review, you’ll remember that one thing I loved about it was that the dystopian government took on such a different look that it was refreshing.

Under the Never Sky does not do that. It’s still a crazy government that does not want its secrets to get out to the public and the super technological control (I mean, the domes of Logan’s Run are back) is justified to keep the order. Okay, I get it. I loved it when The Giver did that (or, more accurately, Fahrenheit 451.) The villain is the same, just with a different name.

That being said, I like the world that Rossi has created. People out in the wild have developed enhanced powers revolving around one sense. Some people can see like falcons, others can smell like wolves (you know, they have a sensitive nose – they don’t actually give off canine odors). Trying to figure out which character had which enhanced sense was part of the fun.

The narrative alternates between two protagonists that have distinct voices, so Rossi did well with that. The male protagonist was a bit too angsty for me, a tortured anti-hero rebel with a hidden heart of gold (translate: dangerous yet safe, like the “bad boy” from a boy band) but I’m guessing that I’m not the target demographic.

When it comes down to it, though, it was an enjoyable read, albeit formulaic, and I’m interested in reading the sequel.

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

June 20th, 2013

A few years back I asked students to interview their families about their experiences when the family members were teenagers. One student from Cambodia started the interview with his dad only to have it interrupted quickly with a somber, “You don’t want to know.”

I found out that my student’s father had survived the Killing Fields of Pol Pot, a violent dictator that led Cambodia in the 1970’s. The Khmer Rouge came to power and murdered anyone who didn’t agree with them or fit with their racial plan for the world. This was the 1970’s, a generation after World War II and the Nazis, and yet genocide was still happening (as it is in other parts of the world even today).

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick tells the story of Arn, a young boy caught in the violence of a country in upheaval. McCormick does a phenomenal job with taking very, very serious topics – topics that have such a huge scope – and making them accessible to audiences that otherwise may not have known (let alone related to) the issues in her books. Protagonist Arn is someone you can connect with as he experiences the sorrow of being separated from his family, the terror as he tries to survive in the Cambodian jungle, and the remorse as he is drafted into the Khmer Rouge army.

The serious tone is not overwhelming to the point of depressing, though, because there are glimmers of hope throughout the narrative. Even in the worst circumstances, people are reaching beyond themselves to take risks for what they know is right and to help fellow strangers. Arn expresses the full range of emotions, reminding the reader of humanity in the midst of tragedy. It’s so expertly done by McCormick that it just seems natural.

One thing that really caught my attention was McCormick’s diligence with Arn’s grammar. As he’s telling the story in English and not Khmer, his word choice reflects a grammar sometimes found in non-native speakers. McCormick’s linguistic rendering is impressive in its accuracy and yet readability.

Never Fall Down, a title that has so many connotations throughout the story, is a perfect gift to the real-life Arn Chorn-Pond. The man has gone on to found the Cambodian Living Arts foundation to preserve the amazing culture that could have been lost when 2 million people died (25% of the people in a population of 8 million) during the Khmer Rouge rule. Yes, the book deals with harsh stuff, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is one that will stick with me. Just like Cambodian Living Arts preserves a nation’s culture, Never Fall Down will preserve Arn’s story. It’s one that I’m backing for the Grand Canyon Reader Award.

The Art of Sound Waves

June 11th, 2013

Summer is all about catching waves, right? Check out these two videos about some crazy art that can be made with sound waves.

The first works because the video camera recording the water is recording at 24 frames per second. When the sound frequency slows down, it looks like the water is going backwards from the camera’s perspective.

The second video is a woman singing and how salt on a plate moves based on the frequency of the note/how the sound waves hit the salt. Keep watching until :40.

Yeah, cymatics!

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

June 4th, 2013


No, seriously. Wow.

To call Steelheart epic would be a horrible pun and I will resist the temptation to call it that, but it’s an accurate description.

I am an avid fan of sci-fi action stories and yet I have hesitated in picking up the latest spec fic greatness because I’ve been burned out by the genre – more specifically, the overpopulating of the market with Hunger Games/Divergent/Uglies clones. The farther you go down the line of clones, the more the DNA of a good story starts to degrade.

That may not be the most powerful metaphor, but confusing metaphors is one of my new favorite character flaws thanks to David, the protagonist of Steelheart. He’s a standout hero by not being a standout hero. Part of the mystery is David’s background, so I won’t go into much detail. (I realized this as I was typing. There’s a big paragraph that I just erased; now you’ll have to read the book and I can geek out at/with you about how David wasn’t a predictable protagonist.)

We have a dystopia, but instead of a crazy government run by Donald Sutherland, it’s a tyranny of what would happen if Superman was a jerk. The guy can fly, punch through a wall, and shoot lasers out of his eyes. His eyes, people! Why do we trust him? He could turn and enslave us without thinking twice. That’s what the Epic Steelheart has done.

Steelheart is similar to Superman, although he shoots energy out of his hands. Very different. There are a ton of references to comic history throughout the beginning of the book; I appreciated streets named after comic creators and buildings named after people who have portrayed supers on the big screen. The fact that Steelheart can turn things to steel – making him a Man of Steel (wokka wokka) – is no coincidence. The fact that fashion has looped all the way back to a 1940s/50s style adds to the homage.

Don’t be fooled by the references to the comic Golden Age, though. The tone is dark, the opening scene being especially haunting. The characters have depth. At first I tried to stereotype them. (“Oh, this guy’s like Roadblock from G.I.Joe or Gambit from X-Men.”) The characters, while reminiscent of other memorable characters, have their own wants, conflicts, and quirks.

The action is extremely well-paced. The backstory of Newcago and its inhabitants is revealed right alongside the human effort to survive in a superhuman dictatorship. There are high speed chases of helicopters versus motorcycles (what I liked about Yancey’s Alfred Kropp) and yet the action is human enough that I felt emotion at the end of the scene, hoping that the characters would be okay.

This one’s going to be huge when it comes out in September. I’m so glad that I read it despite having passed over it a few times in my queue. Brandon Sanderson has talent and it makes sense since he’s the author that was chosen to finish Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time…epic.