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Uglies

by Scott Westerfeld

Synopsis (from Goodreads): Everybody gets to be supermodel gorgeous. What could be wrong with that? Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. Not for her license — for turning pretty. In Tally’s world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks Tally will be there.

But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to be pretty. She’d rather risk life on the outside. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. The choice Tally makes changes her world forever.

My Thoughts:

This review has been a stone around my neck for far too long.

First, I loved the book! No question it was well written, interesting, and I’m glad there are more in the series and that I don’t have to wait for them to come out. I’m likely going to read everything in every series written by Scott Westerfeld that I can get my hands on. That’s not what was keeping me up at night as my blog lingered, post-less, waiting for me to get past this review. (There were other disruptions as well but the initial stall was definitely the pressure to get this review right.)

It’s a dystopian to be sure but… I think at the end of this book (book one of a series mind you) I can’t bring myself to disagree with whoever is in charge of this dystopia.

The premise: when you reach 16 everyone gets surgery and becomes a “pretty”. Then they spend a bunch of years partying and generally getting along before settling down and becoming happy productive members of society in a job they choose and love. To be honest I don’t have strong opinions on plastic surgery so the idea of a culture defined by looks doesn’t appeal to me but it doesn’t exactly horrify me either. That is not what got my brain spinning to a standstill about this book. So this review will not address that.

*potential spoilers hereafter*

The government has certain methods of ensuring a harmonious population and in many ways it’s pretty horrifying. And yet…

They live with the shadow of human corruption around them, including decaying cities sprawling across devastated landscapes and genetically modified monoculture plants that eat entire ecosystems. They require jobs that do nothing but focus on undoing the damage of our current culture gone wrong. Sometimes that means just stemming the tide when the problems are too great to really ever be fixed. None of what Mr. Westerfeld imagines is particularly far-fetched and in many ways falls far short of the terrible things we’re doing to the planet and all the plants and creatures we share it with.

So now humans are confined to cities where all of their needs are met. Not imprisoned except by a common sense of responsibility to not repeat humanities past crimes against the rest of creation. People are happy, healthy and seem to honestly lead fulfilling lives.

Is the situation more complicated than that? Absolutely, this is not a simple book.

Do the people at the top make huge, life altering decisions on behalf of the rest of the population without their knowledge and consent? Yes. I just can’t bring myself to see them as villains because honestly, we had our chance and we messed up in every way possible.

This is the picture of a world where humanity has squandered its right to freedom as a species to continue as we are. I dislike that the way the culture is structured consent cannot be given and cooperation is ensured through repulsive if invisible measures. The room for corruption and abuse is potentially staggering because the story is told from a POV where balances and checks upon the powerful, if any, are unknown.

I’ve read dystopias that horrified me. Where the old are killed at an arbitrary age and jobs, spouses and futures are dictated without consultation. This is not one of those books. And yet it is fundamentally worse, providing you think humanity should be allowed to do whatever it wants at any cost. Individual human spirit and choice, Ra-Ra, and all that.

Plastic surgery aside the world in Uglies is one that seems to work. It meets humanities needs and mitigates our destructive tendencies. The implication is that humanity wouldn’t choose it if not for the meddling that makes people be good. If we’re really so destructive as a species than forget individual human free will, we lose the right.

Or rather, what’s worse, the loss of humanities right to be a dick or the loss of everything else?

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Today I was supposed to post my review of Uglies by scott Westerfeld but the thing is, I’m still working on it. I finished reading it two weeks ago but put off beginning the review until yesterday because there was a niggling idea in the back of my head and it was taking some time to come through.

I want to keep the reading challenge reviews short and sweet. A paragraph, maybe two if I’ve got more to say. But I’m currently sitting on over a thousand words about Uglies. I need a little more time to organize and compact my thoughts on the book because thematically it brought up some really interesting questions. So no review today.

I’ll try to post it tomorrow because I’ll be busy cooking Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday. Sunday will likely see the return of Author Recipes plus some thoughts on why I love dystopian YA.

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Published: 1925

Time it took to read: About a week as I paused between chapters to consider the material.

Synopsis (excepted from Goodreads): A portrait of the Jazz Age in all of its decadence and excess, Gatsby captured the spirit of the author’s generation and earned itself a permanent place in American mythology. Self-made, self-invented millionaire Jay Gatsby embodies some of Fitzgerald’s–and his country’s–most abiding obsessions: money, ambition, greed, and the promise of new beginnings. … Spare, elegantly plotted, and written in crystalline prose, The Great Gatsby is as perfectly satisfying as the best kind of poem.

Reaction: I love learning about the 20’s and Gatsby is a great source for getting a feel for the era. I enjoyed this book thoroughly. I found the story engaging and an easier read than I expected. Having read some of Fitzgerald’s earlier writings I attribute this to his easy style and massive talent.

I can see why this is an american classic and would recommend to everyone. I would also recommend spending a little time reading some analysis as well. This book is thick with symbolism and I felt as though I only caught a sliver of it.

Heist Society by Ally Carter

Published: 2010

Time it took to read: about 5 hours

Synopsis: Katarina Bishop is trying to escape the lifestyle her family has enjoyed for generations, they’re thieves. But soon, Kat’s friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring Kat back into the world she tried so hard to escape. It seems Kat’s father has been accused by a dangerous criminal of a theft he actually didn’t commit. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat’s dad needs her help.

For Kat, there is only one solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it’s a spectacularly impossible job? She’s got two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in her family’s history–and, with any luck, steal her life back along the way.

Reaction: This was a quick, tightly written and incredibly fun read! The author manages to bring alive locations all over the world without weighing her narrative down with clunky descriptions and expositions.

One of my favorite aspects is the main character Kat’s family. They have been a family of cons and thieves going back generations and they have their own history and legends that give an added dimension to an already full book. I recommend it for fans of contemporary young adult books looking for some sexy globe-hopping adventure.

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Faster Than the Speed of Light Cover

Faster Than the Speed of Light by Joao Maguiejo

Faster Than the Speed of Light: The Story of a Scientific Speculation (Hardcover)
by Joao Magueijo

Goodreads Synopsis:

In this book, a university lecturer contradicts Albert Einstein. Cambridge University–trained theoretical physicist Joao Magueijo contends that one of the central tenets of theory of special relativity is wrong in that, contrary to Einstein’s famous hypothesis, light does not travel at one speed and one speed only. Dr. Magueijo believes that light traveled faster in the early universe than it does today, and he argues that this scientific speculation can help explain nagging anomalies in cosmology and the history of the universe.

Review:

This book was a great read. Despite being a book centered around some heavy physics I found it super accessible. I do have a barely remembered year as a university mathematics major but anyone with a few brains and an interest in the subject should have no trouble wading through when the book gets technical.

Review over. Now I want to relate a little story. A few months ago my mother started reading this book.  She’s a smart lady so I figured this should eventually lead  to a little intellectual discourse. A few months passed and I asked her how it was going.

Mum: I keep trying to read it before bed but then I fall asleep.

Me: Yeah it can be a bit dense. It took me a little while to get through because there were parts I would go back and reread.

Mum: It’s certainly not light reading.

Me: *laughs at the pun I think she just made*

Mum: (oblivious) Well it is, but it’s not.

Me: *gives her the pun-grin* (this exists in my world, it looks like  a rimshot if it were a facial expression)

Mum: What?

Me: I would definitely call it *light* reading.

Mum: … Smartass.

To be fair this conversation took place really early after we had already trudged through some mind numbing chores and neither of us was at our best and honestly, the ability to pun without intent is pretty awesome.

In my world puns are still the highest form of humour.

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Cover art by Melanie Herring

Cover art by Melanie Herring

Author: Heidi C. Vlach (author website/blog)

Genre: High Fantasy medical drama

Word-count: 96,300

Cover Art: Melanie Herring

Synopsis:

(excerpt from back cover of print copy)

In a far distant land, where magic flows, three peoplekinds face their troubles together.

Peregrine wishes he could set Tillian free. But he is an aging dragon deafened by his mining career – he still needs his keen-eared adoptive daughter to relay the world to him. Their two lives are knotted together by love, custom and Peregrine’s self-induced weakness.

When a dreaded plague menaces the land, Peregrine has no more time to delay his choice. He must fly for supplies on his weakened wings, while Tillian nurses critically ill strangers. Separated for the first time in Tillian’s life, they will work for the same cause: saving the young mage Rose and her dying village. In light of this mission of mercy, Peregrine decides to leave his selfish ways behind – which means leaving Tillian, whether she wants to live for herself or not.

Review:

Remedy is a book that ambitiously explores what it means to be family. Not just the families that share our blood but to the people we choose to bring into our lives, the communities we make our homes in and our world at large.  The result is a refreshingly positive vision that rejects the current trend towards dystopian themes. If the story is lacking in the backstabbing machinations so prevalent in fantasy today it more then makes up for it in the strength and courage of it’s unique characters.

The writing is lush and descriptions are often ripe with scent and flavour metaphors. The descriptions of the non-human characters make it is easy to visualize how they move and interact. Throughout, the characters swap myths and stories about their world and because of the magical nature of their realm these can seem to be either allegorical teaching stories, true tales of fantastical magic and heroism or a blending of these. The mythology and world building is cohesive and gives the story a rich and interesting foundation on which to be told. Personally I was delighted to find that there is  supplemental material on the races, myths and origins of Aligare available on the Author’s website.

Ultimately what made me love Remedy so much was its optimism. Because of its reliance on outside conflict rather than character conflict this is the kind of book that only exists in the new world of self publishing. It is a prime example of how our reading lives will be enriched by access to books that don’t fit the established publishing paradigm especially now that the industry seems to be taking less and less risks. Ms. Vlach has created a world where the people strive to do their best and make a better world for everyone. I don’t just want to read  stories set in this world, I want to live in it.

Availability:

eBook: Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Diesel eBooks, Scrollmotion and Apple iBooks

Print: CreateSpace and Amazon

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