Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tuesday Trio: Three Recent Reads You or Your Kids Can Enjoy

With the real world getting in the way, it's been hard for me to keep up with a lot of stuff beyond reading. The good news is that I've had a lot of extra time to read lately, and while not everything I've read lately has been great, there have still been quite a few highlights out there, and those highlights have been mostly for the kiddie set. I read a lot of young adult stuff as is, and picking up a good genre title that could introduce some young ones in your life to the genres you love can always be a challenge. So, in honor of the Tuesday after an American long weekend, here's a trio of recent genre fiction that you may have some interest in:

Man, is Brandon Sanderson good or what?

I will reflexively read anything he puts out there (Sanderson being responsible for the great Mistborn series along with concluding The Wheel of Time, on top of a bunch of others), so that I'd read and probably enjoy Steelheart is no surprise for me. What I didn't expect was such a solid start for someone who's known more for fantasy than sci-fi in his first solid young adult effort.

The idea behind the book is fun: the nation is effectively run by supervillains, or "Epics," and the one running Chicago is Steelheart. Steelheart killed David's father, and David wants in with the insurgent opposition group, The Reckoners, to get his revenge. The problem is that Steelheart appears to be invincible. The wrinkle is that David's seen Steelheart get hurt before, and thinks he can do it again.

It's a fun, fast-paced ride in every way. The story flows extremely quickly from one point to the next, it's dark without being super negative, it has a lot of good action scenes to go along with some great worldbuilding, which is a standard of Sanderson. Just great. In a lot of ways, you might want to compare it to a sort of literary Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in that it's otherwise normal (but still exceptional) people going up against superheroic menaces. That Sanderson is a master of worldbuilding as well as creating credible, rules-based magic systems doesn't hurt - the world of Steelheart is well-formed, and the rules for Epics are easily understood to the reader even if they aren't fully realized by the characters yet.

We have to wait until next fall for the sequel, and that makes me sad. Alas..

The 5th Wave is literally one of the better alien invasion novels I've ever been able to read. I enjoyed Rick Yancey's Alfred Kropp series quite a bit, but the size and scope of this one was putting me off for a while. Thankfully, a few people recommended it, I dove in, and quickly mowed down about 300-odd pages in the first sitting.

It's that good.

The story is pretty simple. An alien spaceship comes to earth, kills off a small number of people in an electromagnetic pulse in the first wave, and a larger group in the second, and so forth. We follow Cassie and her little brother as they work toward survival in this new world where the aliens are taking over.

The book is solid. It's fast-paced, plenty of action, it doesn't shy away from good sci-fi elements, and it stays well within the young adult universe while doing so. It reads like YA, which feels a little off-putting given the subject matter and some of what occurs, but it's less like a book and more like an action movie in structure. Plus, nothing seems overdone. There's a lot to keep you guessing throughout, and the setup is ripe for a sequel. In a world where Ender's Game is getting a lot of attention, and where most of the science fiction coming from the young adult camp is more dystopian Hunger Games-style knockoffs, it's great to see a more post-apocalyptic landscape where there's real danger and real, classic science fiction.

Overall, a solid A. I don't know what I would have preferred to make it even better, but at this point I'm just grasping at straws. If you want a solid, quick sci-fi read for an age group sorely in need of books like it, The 5th Wave is absolutely it. Can't wait for the sequel.

One of the biggest publishing stories of the last 8 or so years has been the rise of the half-illustrated half-written diary narrative for middle grade readers (typically aged 8-12). The top book in the genre, and the one that exploded it into what it is today, is Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which has spawned eight books, two movies, and a mess of merchandise to go with it. Jedi Academy is essentially what you would get if Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants morphed into some sort of thing that had Midi-chlorians. Need I say more?

The plot is basic, where Roan, our boy hero, is accepted into the Jedi Academy. The book follows his journal as he goes through his first year at the Academy, learning how to use the Force, making friends, and so on. Very basic. He criticizes his teachers (one of which is Yoda, continuity-nerds), there are a lot of callbacks to the films and perhaps even the television stuff, it's equal parts fanservice and entry-point in a style that matches up with some recent literary trends.

If I have an issue with the book at all, it's that it maybe tries a little too hard and ends up being a little too cute. Jeffrey Brown, who did the adorable as heck Vader & Son, certainly has the intentions in the right place, but the whole thing feels a little too cute and a little too sterile from time to time. This is, however, coming from an adult reader looking at a book for an eight year old when I should be just glad that this book will exist after I make my son watch Star Wars (in machete order, of course) and he asks for more.

Overall, it's really fun. It's a super quick read, it does what it needs to do, and there's not much else to ask for in it. Looking forward to the next volume, it's great to see more things like this out there.

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