Archive for Ender’s Game

Alien Xmas

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2020 by xi'an

As I had never watched an Alien film in its entirety, while having glimpsed some portions from my neighbours’ screens on many a long distance flight, I decided to indulge into the series over the Xmas break, which was sort of relevant since both stories are about an alien species parasiting a human body to grow their children… (Aliens 3 actually offers a further religious thread as the population of the convict planet Fiorina 161 is made of Christian-like sociopaths.) The first and most famous film, Alien (1979), is certainly the most interesting in that it looks quite its age, from old fashion space vessels and equipment, to [vim type!] green light pre GUI computer interface reminding me of my first Apple II, to everyone smoking in the space ship. While the scenario is on the light side, although the underlying theme of a super-adaptive, super-aggressive and super-intelligent alien species is most compelling,…

…the greatest appeal of the film (as in the greatest horror masterpieces) is in keeping the grown alien as hidden as possible with only glimpses and sudden dashes in poor visibility. Besides Jones the cat, Sigourney Weaver is really giving the film its backbone, growing as it proceeds, as the other actors are somewhat transparent (or are unhappy with their early demise!). I read that her role was originally planned for a male actor, which would have emptied the film of all its appeal faster than opening a space shuttle door expels an unsuspecting alien… Weaver moves to a form of Rambo pastiche [duck-taping two weapons into one at some point!] in the second installment, Aliens (1986), while keeping the leading role against a platoon of space marines and keeping the high moral ground against the profit-obsessed Company amoral representative. Having a heavy weaponry component (as in so many blockbuster movies) makes the film more efficient but also less outstanding than Alien (and who would fire grenades and such in the vicinity of a nuclear reactor!). There is an interesting opposition in Weaver fighting tooth and nail (and flame-thrower) to save the surviving human child while destroying the children of the other species and ultimately the alien mother queen (who can manage an elevator on her own, mind you!). It could have brought out an Ender’s moment… This second episode is much less old-fashioned and again falls more within the standard of the genre, but with such efficiency that it keeps up with the original. And with this, I almost let the remaining films in the franchise rest in peaceful horror.

And I should have stopped there. But reading that William Gibson was involved into writing the scenario of Alien 3 made me indulge farther into the series. Which in its description of the penal colony planet had some dystopian feel that indeed relates to part of the political sci’-fi’ literature, with the paradox that the colony has no computer (and no weapon). One cult scene is when Weaver gets her hair shaved, for preventing lice infestation (in the scenario) [rather than for getting rid of a terrible hairstyle!] and to fit a return to pre-modern times, when melting furnaces were top of the industrial chain. While the very final scene of Weaver’s almost Christic sacrifice redeems a somewhat messy scenario (which in some versions properly erase the last alien emergence), closing the cycle. The end. No jesurrection!

banned books week

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2020 by xi'an

grey sister [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2018 by xi'an

Unsurprisingly, as soon I got my hands on the second [hardcover] volume after Red Sister, Grey Sister, I could not resist reading it. Nursing a serious cold, gotten while visiting Warwick wearing only summer gear (!), helped and I thus spent my Sunday reading feverishly through Mark Lawrence’s latest book. As I enjoyed very much the first volume, immersing into the same “boarding school” atmosphere was easy, reuniting with most characters, including some I though had been dead and missing others I had not realised they had been killed (no spoiler, just my imperfect memory!).

“The greatest threat to any faith is not other faiths or beliefs but the corruption and division of its own message”
With this bias inherited from the earlier volume, read four weeks ago, I cannot say I did not enjoy the book. Actually, the first half of Grey Sister is more enjoyable than the first volume because the training of the young novices in the Sweet Mercy monastery gets more focused, with more complex challenges, and less boarding school bickering nonsense. Except for one main thread that weights too much on the plot in my opinion (no spoiler, again, as it is almost obvious from the start that the rivalry between Nona, the main character, and a high born novice is there for a purpose). There is an Ender’s Game moment that I particularly enjoyed, with an Alexander’s resolution of a Gordian knot, which comes to signal the end of the almost peaceful part. I liked very much less the second half, taking place on the run away from the Sweet Mercy monastery, where there are too many coincidences and too many intersections of paths that one wishes the author had gone for this Alexander’s resolution of a Gordian knot himself! I think the plot almost peters out at this stage and only survives by sheer inertia, too many boulders loose at once to all stop at the same time!
“The sky above was a deep maroon, shading towards black, strewn with dark ribbons of cloud that looked like lacerations where jagged peaks tore the heavens.”
The style is sometimes repetitive and sometimes on the heavy side, as the quote above I wish someone has re-read. Despite  the grand (and somewhat nefarious) schemes of Abbess Glass, the story is too homely, which may be why the part “at home” feels more convincing that the part outside. The main villain’s plans for taking power over the whole country and the artificial moon are incredible, unconvincing and definitely sketchy, even when explained in the middle of a royal brawl. However, the continued description of the ice-encased universe, saved from complete freeze by an artificial moon and four nuclear reactors, plus an increasing role of magic, make the background compelling and leave me eager for the final (?) volume in the series.

the long way to a small angry planet [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2017 by xi'an

When leaving London last week, I went through the (very nice) bookstore in St Pancras International and saw this book by Becky Chambers. And bought it as I had read nice criticisms and liked both the title and the cover. I have been reading it at every free minute since then and eventually finished it last night. It is a very enjoyable novel, very homey despite it taking place mostly in interstellar space, as it goes through the personal stories of the members of a tunneller crew (tunnels meaning shortcuts between distant points in space, the astrophysics being a bit vague on how those are possible!). It is far from a masterpiece but the succession of scenes and characters is enjoyable enough to be enjoyable, with a final twist of a larger magnitude. Nothing profoundly innovative like Ancillary Justice [except for the openness about interspecies sex, this could have been written in the 50’s] or era-defining like Ender’s Game, or The Road, but a pleasant read by all means!

speaker for the dead [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2016 by xi'an

Here is another book I bought for next to nothing at Beers Book Center in Sacramento. I have read several times Ender’s Game, which I consider as a major science-fiction book, for the fantastic plot, the psychological analysis of the main character, and the deeper reflections about the nature of war and the extermination of other forms of life, even when those are extremely alien. For one reason or another, I never had the opportunity to read the sequel trilogy, which starts with Speaker for the Dead. The 37 hour trip back home from Melbourne was a perfect opportunity to catch up and I read this 1986 instalment in the plane, once I was too tired to read statistics papers on my computer screen. It is a very good (if not major) book, with a lot of threads to philosophy, ethics, ethnology, and (almost) no hard science-fi’ line in that most of the story takes place in a very limited universe, a town on a monotone planet (monotone as in mono-tone, for it enjoys no diversity in both flaura and fauna), with a prohibited access to the rest of the planet, and sentient if alien autochtones. The main plot is thus centred on uncovering the culture and specifics of those autochtones, under strict regulations (from the central planet) preventing cultural contaminations. Or aimed at preventing, as contamination does occur nonetheless. The new culture is quite fascinating in the intricate symbiosis between flaura and fauna, a theme repeated (differently) in Avatar. This progressive uncovering of what first appears as primitive, then cruel, is great. The influence of the Catholic Church is well-rendered, if hard to believe that many centuries in the future, as is the pan- and extra-humanist vision of Ender himself. The concept of Speaker for the Dead is by itself just brilliant! What I like less in the story is the very homely feeling of being in a small provincial town with gossips from everyone about everyone and a lack of broader views. Not that I particularly lean towards space operas, but this secluded atmosphere is at odds with the concept of hundreds of colonised planets by colons from Earth. In particular, assuming that each planet is colonised by people from the same place and culture (Portugal in the current case) does not sound realistic. Anyway, this is a good book and I would have read the sequel Xenocide, had I had it with me during this looong trip.