Books throw the reader into a new world. A fantastical world, a world strikingly similar to our own, or reminiscent of our childhood. A world depicting the future or the past. A world that may affect our own. Here we explore the alternate worlds of stories- a parallel universe.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The end doesn't always justify the means...

Many works of science fiction depict a world where science has become a curse because humans’ reliance on technology has caused them to stop thinking for themselves. A few individuals in power come to control everything because nobody cares enough to stop them.  In The Passage, a governmentally funded, top-secret experiment goes horribly wrong.  Yet despite the fact that other authors have shown us a bleak future if we forget our past in search of a more advanced future none do so quite as powerfully, as vividly, as Justin Cronin. 

A scientist loses his wife to cancer.  Retracing the tracks of several terminal cancer patients who were mysteriously cured after a trip through the jungle, this scientist embarks on a dangerous mission in the wilderness of Mexico.  The goal: tracking down a virus that, by targeting the thymus gland, restores the immune system, and youth.  Not only can this beat cancer, it can drastically extend a lifetime.  There’s a problem though.  A side affect you might say.  A very dangerous, this is why the whole project is top secret, kind of side effect. 

So what happens when the secret gets out?  What happens when the virus spreads across the country, the continent, carrying its “side affect” with it? 

The world as we know it changes.  Drastically.

This is more than a science experiment gone wrong.  It is a government screw-up of epic proportions, and a deadly one at that.  Ironic?  That a virus that can save lives results in other lives being destroyed?  I’d say so.  And Justin Cronin captures the results with incredible imagery. 

100 years after the outbreak, Cronin takes readers into the minds of the future, a future where only a few even know that starry skies exist in more than stories.  We, as readers, feel those individuals’ fears in every fiber of our beings.  And we journey with a brave few who decide to attack those fears in an effort to save humanity. 

This novel is powerful.  It’s a little creepy, certainly thought provoking, and like all good books, thoroughly addicting.  But it is also a caution:  Make sure you know the costs before you try to reap the benefits.  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Secret of the Standing Stones

Jamie Fraser is a stubborn, red-maned Scotsman from the Highlands of the 18th century.  Claire Randall just completed duty as an army nurse during World War II.  Their worlds collide when Claire is hurtled back through time by an ancient circle of standing stones.  So the story begins.

A marvelous blend of historical fiction and fantasy, Diana Gabaldon’s tale transports the reader 200 years back in time.  Lost and confused, returning to the stones quickly becomes impossible for Claire, as a rapid series of events sweeps her into the heart of the highlands and captures her in the midst of a simmering conflict between the highland clans and England.  Once Claire pieces together when she is, she realizes that tensions won’t be simmering much longer- according to the history books the Scottish clans are on the brink of destruction by the English. 

Can the past be changed?  Is saving the Scottish clans the reason the stones sent her into the past?
Everything Jamie knows and loves is in danger, only he doesn’t know it yet.  What he does know is that Claire seems to have a knack for trouble, and he has a knack for rescuing her.  They discover a passionate love, a love that turns Claire’s world even further inside out.  Where does she belong?  With Jamie and approaching battle?  Or should she keep trying to get back to the 1900’s? 

Claire and Jamie’s story spans time and space.  An infinite love must surmount unimaginable danger as the reader is provided a history of the Scottish highlands in the wrenching Outlander series.  While the reader’s mind becomes familiar with Scottish accents and laughs at Scottish humor, the heart fills with a fear of what is to come.  On the edge of your seat through the entire adventure, it is nearly impossible to completely tear your mind away from the action to continue with everyday life.  Always in the corner of your mind is that anxiety for the characters’ futures, admiration for the strength of the love they share and fight to keep, sorrow for the world they stand to lose. 

Can you imagine knowing what the future holds, and not knowing if anything you do will be enough to change it?  Can you imagine a love so strong that you would give up 20th century life to live in a world full of uncertainty and fear? 

These books are incredible- prepare for an emotional ride.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"The Wheel of Time turns" ~Robert Jordan

I started A Crown of Swords this morning, the seventh installment in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series.

 An error in judgment? 

Probably.  Because after reading only the prologue I’m once again thoroughly trapped in a world approaching Tarmon Gai’don, the last battle between dark and light, the battle that decides all battles.  The winners in this one are the winners for eternity.
Not exactly an ideal setting for a story about finding oneself and growing up, especially when finding yourself may mean finding a not so pleasant destiny…

The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills and master storyteller Jordan turns the Wheel of Time to spin together the threads of three na├»ve teenage boys from a town in the middle of nowhere; boys, who long for adventure, but quickly realize the stories leave out the fear and danger, the confusion and betrayal.  What begins as an action-packed coming-of-age story in the first book morphs in the sequels into an epic tale of battle and love, conniving and subterfuge, rash decisions and powerful magic- any fantasy lover’s dream.

Yet despite the many worlds already existing in the fantasy galaxy, the plot is not one that has been beaten into the dust by every book to come before it.  New, imaginative, and containing components across genres, the Wheel of Time creates a world that no one has ever encountered before.  Aside from the typical light versus dark, the story line drastically deviates from the ordinary, at times even leaving the reader questioning where the line between light and dark, magic and reality really lies.  Writing from multiple perspectives, the web Jordan weaves often appears a tangled mess, with events happening on one side of the world that in some way affect what is happening on the other, if only you could puzzle out how.  And then gradually the separate threads of separate people come together and a completely unpredicted pattern is formed.  The reader becomes trapped, trying to puzzle out the tangle, connect the dots.  Then awe sets in, at the unbelievable design the weave creates.   And every time there is some knot left somewhere for the next novel in the series to pick up.

Additionally, unlike some epic writers, Jordan truly takes the time to paint deep pictures of his characters instead of superficial sketches a reader soon forgets.  Starting with unique names- Perrin, Rand, Egwene, Nanaeve, Lan, Thom- and spiraling inward from there, Jordan deeply personalizes those whose tale he tells.  

More than detailed personalities though, Jordan also takes time to detail settings, to fling the doors of the world wide open for the reader to step through instead of simply providing a window through which they can view events from the sideline.  Reading these books is like being a part of them; you can see every room and landscape, touch every surface, thrill in every triumph and weep with every death. 

In short, for those of you looking for an adventure, you can find it and more in The Wheel of Time.  But be warned, addiction is a serious risk.    

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Trust me. I'm a genius." ~Artemis Fowl

In fifth grade I was introduced to the world of the fairy underground, LEPrecon (silly humans and their leprechauns), an elf named Holly Short, and a 13-year old criminal master mind.  I still love that place, the land where a teenager young enough to believe that fairies may exist but smart enough to outwit them plans to kidnap a fairy, and then ransom him/her off for fairy gold.  And that is just the beginning.  I read the newest installment of the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer in less than two days over Christmas break.  Artemis Fowl the criminal mastermind has become a more globally conscious genius, his body guard Butler still manages to tease death, with the help of his trusty Kevlar vest.  Foaly the technologically geeky centaur now has a lady friend that somehow managed to separate him from the tinfoil hat he once sported.  And Mulch Diggums, dwarf thief extraordinaire continues to stuff his face every chance he gets. 

For those of you new to the world of Artemis Fowl and the Fairies that live thousands of feet beneath our feet- I’ve introduced you to some of the eclectic cast of characters because the personalities Colfer has embedded within them enthralled me.  As those of you who are familiar with the stories would agree, these personalities appeal to humor and sincerity, love and hate, fear and deep sorrow, confusion and insecurity, wonder, and of course imagination.  Understandable by avid fifth grade readers but enjoyed by the likes of parents and teachers (especially my mom and my fifth grade teacher Mr. Nickey) the tale of Artemis Fowl’s trials and tribulations, genius acts and occasionally questionable morals epitomizes the fantasy genre.  The plots are youthfully enjoyable, yet full enough of hilarious witty remarks and Artemis and Foaly’s genius thoughts to stimulate the adult mind.  

Realistic to the point that you will find yourself looking over your shoulder for the tell-tale shimmer that reveals a shielded fairy (at least as a fifth grader), yet embedded with magic and adventure, Artemis Fowl’s world begs, and deserves, to be explored by readers everywhere.  It is a world perfect for a weekend escape, a week- long odyssey, or even a month long hiatus from life in this universe.  And please, start at the beginning of the series.  That way, when the world effectively enchants you, you will still have the rest of the story in front of you to discover.