Posts tagged ‘scott westerfeld’

March 9, 2012

Review: Uglies and Extras

by renata

I read and loved Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy well before I started this blog, so I haven’t reviewed it here. And anyway, you’ve probably already read it. Briefly: compelling, great world building, insightful cultural commentary, A+. But I only recently read Extras, the fourth book of the former-trilogy. I was a little nervous about it–I felt like Specials had pretty well wrapped up the trilogy, and I wasn’t sure what new ground Extras would cover.

Extras by Scott Westerfeld

Extras by Scott Westerfeld

Unfortunately, I don’t think Westerfeld was sure either. The book takes place a few years after Specials and reveals how one city has rebuilt itself after the “mindrain” that cured everyone from their “bubbleheaded” Pretty days. In this city, which seems to be somewhere in present-day Japan, everything is ruled by a Twitter/Klout-esque Reputation Economy, where the more famous you are, the more resources you get. It’s never clearly explained how this works, and I just didn’t find it to be as believable of a premise as I did the original Uglies world.

Anyway, in this book, we follow 15-year-old Asa Fuse, who is attempting to build up her “face rank” through citizen journalism. She stumbles into a clique called the Sly Girls and they end up discovering… something. Is it a weapon?

I won’t give away the ending, but I found it to be a bit hard to swallow. Perhaps if Westerfeld had dedicated an entire trilogy to this concept it would have been more believable, but as is, it feels like what it is–a tacked on fourth book because everyone loved the trilogy so much and wanted a fourth book. Sometimes, guys, you’re better off sticking with fanfiction.

Sharon Needles
I rate the original Uglies trilogy five plastic surgeons out of a possible five.

Extras is two plastic surgeons out of a possible five.

February 15, 2012

Review: Leviathan

by renata

I know Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy is pretty popular, and I’d heard a lot of good things about it. But I simply didn’t think I was interested in it–a steampunk alt-history of WWI? Ugh, but I don’t really like steampunk or war stories. But I kept hearing such good things about it, and I remembered my initial resistance to the Uglies trilogy, and how much I ended up liking Uglies. And then I found out that the audiobooks are read by Alan Cumming, who I adore, and that sealed the deal. I’d have to check out this whole Leviathan thing.

Leviathan

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, read by Alan Cumming

Okay, you guys, I totally loved it. Scott Westerfeld is just great. Even if his books have summaries that sound completely unappealing to me, he can just pull them off like nobody’s business. Although, I have to be honest, I still don’t really care about ~steampunk~. And that’s okay–in this alternate WWI, the Axis powers are the “Clankers” and use steampunk kinds of walkers and weapons and whatnot. I’m far more interested in the “Darwinist” Allied powers, who have been busily genetically engineering giant flying whales and talking message lizards. It’s a seriously detailed universe, and I’m captivated by it. I think that’s one of Westerfeld’s trademarks–it’s why I thought Uglies was so much more compelling than Lauren Oliver’s Delirium. They both had the same sort of plot, but Westerfeld had the scientific research and details to make it all seem plausible.

Also, a reason why I tend not to like war stories is because they are always oh-so-masculine. Westerfeld’s got that covered too, with Ms. Deryn Sharp, one of my favorite YA characters of recent memory. Deryn’s father was an airman who died in a hot air balloon accident. But before he died, he taught Deryn an awful lot about flying. So Deryn changes her name to Dylan and enlists as a young midshipman in the British Air Services, where she ends up serving on the huge airship Leviathan.

Deryn Sharp

Deryn Sharp

Of course she’s terrified that someone will discover her secret, but she’s mostly too busy being super competent and savvy. Cheers for Deryn Sharp!

Then there’s our young Clanker protagonist, Alek. He’s the (fictional) son of the (real) assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and he and some of his household staff are on the run. They run right into… the Leviathan. I have to admit, I was initially frustrated with Alek and anxiously waited for the book to get back to Deryn’s chapters. He did grow on me, though I still prefer Deryn.

Alan Cumming, with his plethora of available accents, was a great choice for these audiobooks. You can hear a sample at Scott Westerfeld’s website. However, I couldn’t get the audiobook for Behemoth, the next book in the trilogy. And I discovered that the books are illustrated! (You can see one of the illustrations above.) So far Behemoth is great and I love the illustrations. And I’m still hearing the characters’ voices as Alan Cumming, so it’s a win-win situation.

fail whale
I rate Leviathan four flying whales out of a possible five.

September 15, 2011

Kids These Days: Technology in YA

by renata

This summer I listened to the audiobook of So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld. I really enjoyed it, but was also surprised by how dated it has already become since its publication in 2005. The datedness is accelerated because of the book’s concept, about a teenager who works for different marketing companies as a “cool-hunter.” And, unfortunately, what was cool in 2005 is different from what was cool in 2011. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you heard anybody bragging about a cell phone with a camera? For me, it was when I read So Yesterday. And before that, it was when I lived in a developing country. And before that, well, it was probably 2005.

So Yesterday

So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld

I think the book’s anti-establishment concept is still cool enough to endure, despite some slightly dated references. (I think it probably would have been mindblowing when it came out.) But, unfortunately, I do think that contemporary fiction has a bit of a shelf life. This is something we talked about in my children’s literature class–how classics like the Ramona books just aren’t as appealing to kids anymore. I’ll buy it. As a kid I remember reading it and being like “Their teacher does what? Why are they acting like a dollar is a lot of money? They’re eating what for dinner?” It wasn’t enough to keep me from enjoying the books, but it did give me several pauses. By contrast, when I read books like the Animorphs series, I remember thinking how cool it was that these kids had AOL and went to a mall that was recognizably like my own mall. I feel you, kids who transform into animals to fight aliens. I feel you.

Of course, kids today would read those books and go “AOL? LOL!” (I talked awhile ago about how they are re-releasing Animorphs and Babysitter’s Club books in a “time neutral” format.) Technology is changing so fast these days; it really impacts the realism of children’s and YA novels. Now if you read a contemporary novel and it doesn’t allude to cell phones and texting, it almost takes you out of it. “What do you mean, you don’t know where your mom is? You didn’t even try her cell!”

So yesterday!

So yesterday!


This is partly why fantasy is so enduring. You don’t have to explain why there are no cell phones in Narnia. It’s because it’s magic there, duh. And they don’t have 4G so why bother? (Sci-fi can sometimes feel dated, if the things that the author has imagined as being very futuristic has already come to pass by the time you’re reading it. Or if the book has chosen 2001 to represent the future, for example.)

And certainly, contemporary fiction can endure even as it grows dated. Look at Little Women. I loved that book as a kid, even though it was written for an audience of children who grew up during the Civil War. I did not understand a lot of it, but I understood enough to be able to fall in love with the Marches. But other books, books whose characters and plot aren’t quite enough to keep them in print forever, those books will fall to the wayside like a Nokia flip phone. And that’s okay. Not every book is or should be Little Women. Sometimes teens (and kids and adults and every age of reader) just want to read something fun and timely, something that feels just like their school with its stupid no-texting rules and its totally low-bandwidth Wi-Fi connection. Something that will feel totally foreign to their children, who will all have routers installed directly into their brainstems and will have no need for external internet connections or text messaging.