Pride and Prometheus (Becky's Review)

Kessel, John. 2008. Pride and Prometheus, from The Baum Plan for Financial Independence. (Winner, Nebula in Novellette category)

"Had both her mother and her sister Kitty not insisted upon it, Miss Mary Bennet, whose interest in Nature did not extend to the Nature of Society, would not have attended the ball in Grosvenor Square."

Pride and Prometheus focuses on Mary Bennet, the often under appreciated sister of Elizabeth and Jane. Kessel describes her as, "Awkward and nearsighted, she had never cut an attractive figure, and as she had aged she had come to see herself as others saw her."

Kitty and Mary are the only unmarried Bennet sisters, and it isn't all that surprising that Mrs. Bennet won't be truly happy until Kitty finds a husband. (I doubt Mrs. Bennet has high expectations for Mary.)

At one of the ton parties, the two Bennet sisters are introduced to two gentleman: a Mr. Victor Frankenstein and a Mr. Henry Clerval. Mary's first impressions of Victor: "He had the darkest eyes that Mary had ever encountered, and an air of being there only on obligation. Whether this was because he was as uncomfortable in these social situations as she, Mary could not tell, but his diffident air intrigued her. She fancied his reserve might bespeak sadness rather than pride."

What does Mary think of Victor? What does Victor think of Mary? Can he find a sympathetic listener?

If you've read Frankenstein, you might be wondering where this fits in. The action of this story takes place AFTER Victor Frankenstein has had a heart-to-heart with his creation and promised 'the monster' a wife. This makes him sullen and cross, for the most part, but before he begins his work in earnest, he goes on holiday with his best friend, Henry Clerval. As to how this fits in with Austen, the action would take place several years at least after the close of Pride and Prejudice. (We do visit Mr. and Mrs. Darcy at Pemberley, and they already have children.)

What did I think of this one? It's complicated. Which isn't a fair answer, I know, but a true one. Kessel's Mary is intelligent and thoughtful. I liked that. Kessel's Kitty, well, it made me think at the very least. I hesitate to say too much. After all, if you've not read it, I don't want to spoil it for you. But I'll never look at Kitty quite the same way again. Is that a good thing? a bad thing? I don't know. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on the matter if you've read this short story. I'm not sure what to think about Kessel's Frankenstein and his monster. I haven't decided if he captured their voices right or not. But I did *like* the conversation Mary has with the monster.

You can read this one online or download an audio file of the author reading this story.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Feed by M.T. Anderson (Review by Becky)

Anderson, M.T. 2002. Feed. Candlewick Press. 300 pages.

We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.

Feed is both simple and complex; original and unique. Perhaps Titus sums it up best,

"it's about this meg normal guy, who doesn't think about anything until one wacky day, when he meets a dissident with a heart of gold...set against the backdrop of America in its final days, it's the high-spirited story of their love together, it's laugh-out-loud funny, really heartwarming, and a visual feast" (297).
Titus is our narrator and Violet is his love-interest. It all starts during spring break. On the moon. At a club. Titus, Violet, and a handful of other partying teens (mostly Titus' friends and classmates) are 'touched' by an old man. Their feeds--internal feeds--are hacked by this rebel. They broadcast--against their will--a doomsday message:

We enter a time of calamity. Blood on the tarmac. Fingers in the juicer. Towers of air frozen in the lunar wastes. Models dead on the runways, with smiles that can't be undone. Chicken shall rot in the aisles. See the pillars fall. (39)

They are taken into custody. Hospitalized. Examined to make sure that their feeds are fixed before they are fully reactivated. And all seems to be first.

The feeds are responsible for so much. They deliver non-stop entertainment (music, movies, etc), non-stop advertisements and shopping opportunities, and instant connections with the world. Features such as chat and messaging, for example. Of course, with all this built into humanity--right inside the human brain--many things are being lost. Most importantly the ability to think critically, to make observations, to understand and perceive reality.

But as Titus interacts with Violet, he begins to think. And this scares him in a way. Overwhelms him. I'll be honest, Titus isn't always a lovable guy. He can be a real jerk. And Titus and his friends don't keep it clean. (So if 'bad' language offends you, then this is not the book for you.)

I'm not quite sure what to think of Feed. On the one hand, I think it's a smart novel. It challenges readers to think. To perhaps take more of an interest in the world around them. To think about cause and effect. To consider the big picture. Furthermore, it's well-written. Never for a minute do you doubt that this is Titus speaking. That this is Titus's world. The language. The dialogue. The style. Everything helps to establish this world Anderson is creating. But on the other hand, it's a bit of a downer. It's a bit sad, a bit cynical. Did I expect a happy ending? No. Would a happy ending work on this one? Never. I wouldn't think of changing it. This book tells the only story that it can tell.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Old Man's War (Review By Becky)

Scalzi, John. 2005. Old Man's War. TOR. 311 pages.

I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army. Visiting Kathy's grave was the less dramatic of the two.

John Perry, our narrator, is a great guy to get to know. He's seventy-five, but his life is just beginning. Or should I say, just beginning to begin again. John and Kathy--like so many other senior citizens--decided upon reaching the big 6-5 to volunteer for the army. (They have ten years to change their minds. They're called into service when they're 75.) What does this mean? It means that as soldiers they'll be leaving Earth behind forever. They're not allowed to return...ever. But it also means--in a way--longevity. Though no one knows quite how, they know that *something* will be done to their bodies to make them young and strong and vibrant again. Sure, to get this vitality, this new youth, this health they have to pledge themselves to serve in the army, to fight to protect human colonies on other planets. Two to ten years. That's what it will cost. If they survive, they'll have a second life, a second chance. (Just remember that a younger body doesn't make for a younger soul.)

John doesn't know exactly all that he's in for. But he knows it's bound to be better than just growing old and dying. He figures that he can adapt to just about anything.

War. It's inescapable when it's in the title. John Perry will have to fight to survive, to stay alive. He'll have to learn to follow orders. (Not all of his fellow soldiers do, you know. Some pay for this with their lives.) And John has the makings of an excellent soldier. He's good at surviving. Suspiciously good at surviving if you ask some folks. Unlike most soldiers, John is going to have some close encounters with the Special Forces. Actually serving alongside them for a while. And what he learns is a bit him at least.

Old Man's War is an engaging read. It has just the right blend of humor and action to make it worthwhile.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

To Be A Slave by Julius Lester (Review by Becky)

Lester, Julius. 1968. To Be A Slave.

This book is a 1969 Newbery Honor Winner. And it's easy to see why. What should you expect from this one? Why should you read it? Well, Lester has woven together compelling primary sources into a book that is powerful and moving. The thing that impresses me most about the book is its richness. It presents first-hand accounts, primary sources. Accounts from both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Stories from slaves and ex-slaves. Stories from men and women. These stories don't need a lot of dressing up. They don't need to be sensationalized. In their very simplicity, they speak volumes.

To be a slave. To be owned by another person, as a car, house, or table is owned. To live as a piece of property that could be sold--a child sold from its mother, a wife from her husband. To be considered not human, but a "thing" that plowed the fields, cut the wood, cooked the food, nursed another's child; a "thing" whose sole function was determined by the one who owned you.
To be a slave. To know, despite the suffering and deprivation, that you were human, more human than he who said you were not human. To know joy, laughter, sorrow, and tears and yet to be considered only the equal of a table.
To be a slave was to be a human being under conditions in which humanity was denied. They were not slaves. They were people. Their condition was slavery.
They who were held as slaves looked upon themselves and the servitude in which they found themselves with the eyes and minds of human beings, conscious of everything that happened to them, conscious of all that went on around them. Yet slaves are often pictured as little more than dumb, brute animals, whose sole attributes were found in working, singing, and dancing. They were like children and slavery was actually a benefit to them--this was the view of those who were not slaves. Those who were slaves tell a different story.
Highly recommended.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews