Monday, December 21, 2009

"Fire" Book Review

"Fire", by Kristin Cashore, is a fantasy-adventure-romance novel. It takes place in what appears to be medieval times, in a land known as "The Dells". In relation to the previous book of Cashore, "Graceling", "Fire" takes place about 30 or 40 years before Katsa debuts in "Graceling". They have no real connection to each other, though they share the same antagonist, in "Graceling" as a corrupting king and in "Fire" as an evil little child. Like its predecessor, "Fire" has a female protagonist dealing with a self conflicting attribute they were born with.

In "Fire", the Dells are teaming with mutant animals known as monsters. They are basically the same as normal animals, except that they are born with fur and scales and feathers of marvelous colors, such as indigo and scarlet and fuchsia. Humans are often hypnotized by the beauty of the strange animals. Carnivorous monsters are also born with a blood lust of other monsters. Here lives Fire, a human monster. No one can resist her stunning figure, with a head of hair blazing with shades of red, orange, yellow, and some pink. Like all monsters, Fire can control the minds of anyone she wants, simply by thinking. Everyone except Prince Brigan, the brother of the king of the Dells. What started out as a hatred for one another would turn into a friendship and eventually love between Brigan and Fire. However, the kingdom is caught in a three way civil war, and though she may not want to, Fire will end up saving the whole kingdom. Her abilities don't go unnoticed, though as a young Leck (evil king of Monsea on the other side of the mountains that separate the Dells and the Seven Kingdoms where Katsa lives) kidnaps and attempts to control Fire. Fire will have to make some intense choices to escape her captor, who has a Grace similar to hers: the ability to control minds.

I thought "Fire" was an excellent read. Cashore writes descriptively about the settings, emotions, thoughts and dialogue throughout both books I have read by her. The lingering thought of "what's gonna happen next" kept me sad and needy every time I set down the advance copy I was fortunate to read. Not quite as feminine as Sarah Dessen's works and not quite as complicated as Stephen King's works, "Fire" is a great stimulating balance of human error, human love, and inhuman abilities.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Adventures in Audio

For centuries, mankind (or just me…) has been torn between their materialistic possessions and the moments in their lives that define who they are. Personally, I try to make it by with as little expensive possessions as possible. However, I can sometimes be swayed to buy something I really want, like, or need. I believe this is human nature, to pursue endlessly until all the things that are wanted are eventually acquired. Some people, and even some religions, have noticed this habit and try to prevent it as much as possible to limit their earthly belongings and hold on to the memories that make them who they are.

Orange, red, and gold fill the canvas that is the treetops behind me. I am wearing an uncomfortable yet fancy uniform, and my alto saxophone is locked between my hands on a football field, several hours away from my home. Others surround me, in the same uniform, with assorted instruments, but with the same look of frozen intensity. I find myself at another marching band competition, about to begin our show “Rush n’ Roll”, featuring music by Rush. With literally seconds given for mental, physical, and emotional preparation, we are finally ready to perform and be judged. As we step into carefully planned formations and positions, Geddy Lee (vocalist) screams out of my saxophone and Neil Peart (drummer) beats seven separate drums behind me. Before any of us know it, 12 minutes have passed, and our final note is being held.
After our performance, there is a lot of waiting around to do. Sometimes we wait for awards for up to five hours. During this extensive musical duration, we eat, listen to the other bands, and, if it happens to be a particularly arctic evening, huddle together for warmth. Eventually, the award ceremony begins. Being in the smallest group division, our category (group 1A) is always called first. As the lowest placing schools go by, our anticipation and excitement grows. 15 minutes later, it is 11:30. We are riding home, with 1st place in our possession.

Orange, white, and black envelop my cranium as I nod a heavy rock beat. Holding back the lyrics I want to resonate, I increase the volume to its maximum, letting the Japanese metal composition flow through my mind. All the distracting noises of the world are canceled out, thanks to my Skullcandy “Hesh” wrap-around headphones.
I acquired my monstrous headphones at a Theory store at the Holyoke mall, on the day my pathetic ear buds finally gave out. I only intended to purchase an inexpensive pair of ear buds, perhaps in a vibrant green or purple, but when I laid eyes on the huge tiger-colored headphones, I had to have them. I asked the heavily pierced clerk how much they were, and the answer discouraged me a little. 50 dollars for the insane technology. He may have just been getting me to buy his pricy merchandise, but the clerk told me of his personal pair, and actually let me listen through them. Never before had I heard such clarity, and as the clerk’s lips moved up and down, I noted the ability of noise canceling. Eight minutes later, I walked out of Theory with a new pair of Skullcandy headphones.

As far as enormous headphones and band competitions go, I have the best of each. My competitions give me practice and experience I will need for future performances, while my headphones give me enhanced audio enjoyment. Without my headphones, I would have to resort to a lesser music projector and be without the clarity of two speakers hugging each ear. Without the competitions, I wouldn’t have something to look forward to in the late autumn, and that would be excruciatingly boring. I will stick to my theory, in saying that humans are more connected with their memories and experiences, though the occasional expensive treat is always accepted and (I believe) required to keep the sense of humanity.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Different War

Ender's Game, Ender
How I Live Now, Daisy
A shuttle station

It was not like before.
Smoldering structures and a tormented landscape lay before the eyes of Ender Wiggin on his third return home. Something had gone terribly wrong in the months he was gone, and it was obviously not the buggers as it had been before. This time, it was old-fashioned war: humans versus humans.
The shuttle that brought Ender didn’t stay long, of course, so he was left in a devastated shuttle station with little more than his belongings, several armed soldiers, a couple broken vending machines, and a girl about 17 years old.
At first, Ender thought (and hoped) that it was his sister, Valentine. Alas, it soon became true that this was not so as the figure walked up to Ender and introduced herself.
“Hello,” she said simply. “My name is Daisy. I’m here to explain the condition of the Earth you’ve been protecting for all these years.” Ender already knew the answers, but he let Daisy continue. Talking would reduce his lack of comfort from the natural gravity and flat ground.
“As you’ve noticed,” Daisy continued, “war has broken out while the majority of America’s fighters were away in space. Naturally, we were defenseless and useless against the assault. This is the state most of the country has been in for about a year now. Nowhere is safe, but they told me you’ll manage fine on your own.”
“They were right,” Ender said as he surveyed the area. “There’s no need to put more lives in danger. He noticed that the girl had not asked his name. So they know about my planetary murder even in homeland warfare, Ender thought coldly.
If Daisy was disappointed at Ender’s words, she didn’t show it. “Okay then. There’s a bus waiting outside the station. I have another shuttle to greet”. Sure enough, another shuttle was landing over Ender’s shoulder.
It was just then that Ender noticed the soldier on the glass roof above. He couldn’t tell what side he was on, but he made a fair assumption a rocket flew from the man’s launcher and collided with the incoming shuttle. One fireball and shockwave later set off a storm of bullets from the surrounding soldiers into the ceiling, shattering the glass causing the assailant to fall to the concrete below. The rocket wielder was a distraction. Through the double entrance doors came about 30 other armed forces, and the fighting began.
Ender felt a push on his back. Daisy grasped his shirt and pulled him into a nearby bathroom, away from the bullets. Ender wasn’t used to having someone else make the decisions, but he made an exception since it wasn’t his war this time. The gunfire echoed around the restroom, but at least the two could hear each other.
“Like I said,” Daisy panted, “nowhere is safe”.
“Our first priority is to escape the station.” Ender had never fought on Earth before, but he knew how to survival tactfully. “I noticed one wall that was torn down when I arrived. It’s behind the fighting with sufficient cover. We can run from there”.
“They told me you were the best,” she said with a sad smile, “but I was skeptical.”
“Everyone always is,” agreed Ender as he led the way into the firefight. About half of the forces on each side were already dead, but, just as Ender planned, there was no one near the hole in the wall. So they ran.
In the long run, luck was with them. There was a lot of cover, and the only soldier who noticed their escape was one of the militia that greeted Ender. The gunfire was still audible after Ender and Daisy had made it through the hole, but the station bus waited in the back for the return to the city.
For a rare moment in his life, Ender didn’t know what to do next. “What do I do to help repair this broken place?”
Daisy smiled. “Do what I do. Even the smallest things I’ve done so far have improved the city’s welfare”.
“In that case, I will return with you to end this war.” The second war in two months, Ender noted to himself as he and Daisy stepped onto the bus, towards his next mission.