The Ethics of Children of the Mind

I recently finished reading the last book in the epic Ender’s Game sci-fi series. The plot involves an A.I. program (named Jane), which transports three alien races to colonize outside the galaxy. This is due to the fact that they are non-central ‘edge’ groups, according to the author Orson Scott Card, which seek to challenge human primacy. Meanwhile, the human race is ruling and xenophobic, solely determined to maintain control over everything. Jane loses her life force as she strives to save the alien races. Ender himself has died at this point in the series, but his descendants decide to use their equivalent of the Atom Bomb to attempt to decimate their challengers. A race ensues by the opposition to steal and disable that weapon. The characters engage in a great amount of philosophy throughout the story, as Japanese culture is again brought to the forefront.

It must be said that the story is very hard to follow. There are way too many characters, each of which sharing all their most inner thoughts, which also becomes a bit hard to follow. The plot , regarding moving entire colonies of aliens between galaxies, is awesome, yet hard to believe at the same time. Somehow I give the plot a pass, due to its creativity.

The author is mostly concerned with questions concerning military ethics, as well as with the concept of balance of power. Power politics and game theory seem to figure into his thinking. The idea of whether or not to use WMD pre-emptively, killing many now, for a quick and decisive victory, in order to prevent even more from being killed later (in an inevitable and prolonged war of attrition) is a constant theme in the series. The conflict between great powers, and second tier rising powers , is also constantly on display. Card posits that hegemons like the US were meant to rule. Second tier nations , wanna-be world powers , such as Japan should leave the colonizing to the US since the US is exceptional, in that we rule through spreading freedom and democracy, rather than through deifying military hierarchy, as the Shinto Japanese military did in WWII.

Shock Value Intereresting but Flawed

Recently one of my best friends gave me a book called “Shock
Value” for Christmas. Written by Jason Zinoman, it chronicles the
birth of modern horror, beginning with “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Night of
the Living Dead” and continuing with the great horror films of the
1970’s including “Last House on the Left” and “The Texas Chain Saw
Massacre.” Directors such as George A. Romero, John Carpenter, Roman
Polanski, Brian De Palma, Wes Craven, Steven Spielberg, and William
Friedkin are chronicled.

While it is entertaining to read about the birth of modern horror and
these amazing, strong personalities, the book ends
up trying to cover too much ground. Only Hooper and Brian
De Palma come across as fully formed individuals; everyone else
(particularly Carpenter and Romero) seems too thin a character for the
pages allotted. Dan O’Bannon (writer of “Alien”) goes the other way;
we learn a lot about him personally but little about his filmmaking
techniques. Why, for example, does he think “Assault on Precinct 13,
one of the best films of the 1970’s, is a terrible movie? The book is
entertaining enough but I have a nagging feeling it should have been
better. Definitely check it out of your local library then, but only
purchase at a big discount. “Shock Value” needs more shocking
insights!

Presumed Innocent Sequel Prevails

In the late 1980’s Scott Turow’s first novel “Presumed Innocent” set the publishing world aflame with its sexual explicitness and its dense, riveting mystery. It was a number one best-seller and was turned into a classic thriller film with Harrison Ford. Twenty years later, Turow came out with a sequel called “Innocent” which is not sexually explicit but does have just as riveting a mystery. Why does it work so well?

At the end of “Presumed Innocent,” the protagonist Rusty Sabich is acquitted of murder charges. At the beginning of “Innocent,” he gets implicated in a woman’s death again-this time, his wife’s. He ends up on trial again and even his loving son Nat wonders if he is guilty or not. Further complicating matters is Anna, Nat’s girlfriend, who used to be lovers with Rusty and may have some involvement with the wife’s death. As the trial goes on, the twists and turns continue.

“Innocent” is a spellbinding thriller because it keeps you guessing till the end. The guessing is not so much who killed whom as it is what twist and turn in the trial is coming up next. The novel is told from the point of view of several different characters, which actually helps build suspense about what’s going to happen. Several characters, such as Rusty and the prosecutor Tommy Molto, have complicated character arcs and many good and bad character traits. That sort of complexity is a breath of fresh air in an age of writing for dummies. I was spellbound through 400+ pages of this book, and by the end I felt I had been put through the literary ringer. In short, if you’re looking for a great thriller, try “Innocent”!

Book Review: Saint Odd is Bloody Good

whiskey 012“Saint Odd,” Dean Koontz’s final installment in his best-selling Odd Thomas series, is the perfect book for those of us who hate bloodthirsty Satanists. Odd Thomas, a fry cook with supernatural powers, is a refreshingly homespun protagonist who maintains an aw-shucks demeanor even as he blows away bad guys. Koontz used to be a Stephen King imitator, but in this series he has found a fresh voice and gives us a likeable albeit very bloody tale. I have not been keeping up with his recent books, but clearly I underestimated him and he is a better writer than I thought. I recommend¬†this book¬†to all horror fans. Also it was weird that the actor who played him in the film version of this recently died that bizarre accident where his own car pinned him to the wall. That’s weird since he is psychic in this series and has a somewhat bad fate in the book as well. -CoolAC