Climate Change is Real! says Orca: Idiot Gods by David Zindell

“I am the eye with which the universe / Beholds itself and knows itself divine.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley, Hymn of Apollo

CoverDavid Zindell you have filled my heart to overflowing. This book Idiot Gods is different  – a lyrical story on climate change from the point of view of a whale. An Orca, to be exact, named Arjuna. With Conservation Week just behind us, this is the perfect summer read.

Neverness author David Zindell immerses the reader in the complex and deeply spiritual currents of thought from the mind of his unlikely hero. Deeply disturbed by a chain of tragic events in the ocean, Arjuna realises that humans are responsible for the breakdown and destruction of Earth. Or Ocean, as Orca call it.

Guided by the songs of the ocean and his ancestors that link him to all creation, Arjuna tries to communicate this to the human race. His attempts to raise the alarm land him in the ‘poisoned pools’ of captivity. Could this experience be part of his life’s song? Or the final bars?

“You want to be closer to our people – you even want our love! How, though, should you think that trapping us in the pools of the Sea Circuses of the world and feeding us dead, drugged food will result in feelings of amity and accord?” (p.276)

“Why can you not find such satisfaction through communing with other humans? Instead, you seek validation through swimming with us and slathering upon us effusive affections. If we respond in kind, or indeed in any way, you take that as affirmation of your own specialness and worthiness to be loved.” (p.276)

With a solid knowledge of oceanography – and a great imagination –  Zindell raises the issue of human hubris, assumed superiority, cruelty to each other and the creatures they share the planet with.

“I see an entire species that lives off itself. Like sharks devouring each other, you eat each other’s labour, money, time, sweat, tears, hopes and dreams.” (p.260)

The trials of life in a polluted sea are painted in stark detail: an ocean empty of fish, filled instead with ships waging war on each other and whales.

“And the bull-whales gather their women and whale-claves in a ring / When danger threatens, on the surface of the ceaseless flood / And range themselves like great fierce Seraphim facing the threat / Encircling their huddled monsters of love”.
D.H. Lawrence, Whales Weep Not.

The Orcas’ experience of madness and depression in captivity is told with a poignancy that I found incredibly moving. Can Arjuna communicate the things he desperately wants to tell us? Or could war with humans be the only solution?

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Slave Power by Raewyn Dawson

CoverKate R, a Year 11 student at Riccarton High School – read the new book Slave Power by Christchurch author Raewyn Dawson. Here’s what she thought:

Slave Power by Raewyn Dawson is an exhilarating, exciting and breathtaking book about a young girl named Melo who fights to save the riders of the Wild Horse Tribe from her old rival and fellow rider Mithrida from attacking and destroying their tribe.

Suddenly Melo is kidnapped by the City Slave Traders she finds herself on the Holy Island as a slave. While Melo and the other slaves are being trained as fighting soldiers, they make friends with each other and try figure out a plan to escape being slaves when they get back to the mainland.

On the Holy Island, Sofia, a young priestess in training, wonders why strangers have landed suddenly on their small island. As she tries to find out , she becomes friends with Melo and the other Slaves and tries to help them connect with the Black Rock and overpower their kidnappers.

Back in the Wild Horse Tribe, Mithrida has destroyed the plains and has forced the Wild Horse Tribe and their fellow Eagle Tribe to join forces and try to take Mithrida down forever.

In the end, the slaves make it back safely to the mainland but have sadly lost Lady Tutea (leader of the Eagle Tribe who joined them in battle ), and finally found Mithrida and sentenced her to execution.

Slave Power is an amazing book with good descriptions but there are some quite sad and descriptive parts in this book that may be disturbing for children to read. The age this should be recomended for is between 14 and above.

Daughters of Dystopia

Dystopia: relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.

I love a great dystopian novel, it’s a genre that can veer into classic science fiction, but the ones I love the most are the ones you can imagine happening in your world, if the circumstances changed just slightly, a world power got that much more control, a disease could not be contained or the general populace let things that are deemed as unacceptable become acceptable, little by little. Ordinary people trying to survive, railing against the system or changing it forever.

When I began reading Gather the Daughters, by Jennie Melamed, it was no surprise that both the victims and heroines of the story were young girls. Melamed is a psychiatric nurse who specialises in working with traumatised children. The girls in this debut novel slowly come to the realisation that the only world they have known is filled with lies and not as idyllic as their leaders have taught them it is.

The girls live on an island, living a puritan life, where everyday decisions and everyone’s lives are constrained by a set of rules set down by “The Ancestors”. The male descendants of these original peoples who fled The Wastelands across the sea run the island along rules to suit their own needs. Young girls are married off to older men as soon as they come into ‘fruition’, at puberty.The rules set down, called Shalt Nots, include practices that are definitely of benefit to the elder men, not their young daughters.

Every summer until then, the children of the island run rampant, rarely going home, sleeping rough and enjoying their freedom until the shackles of childbearing and helping the community survive are placed on them.

Told through the eyes of the older girls who are all about to reach fruition, chapters are given over to each girl in turn and I enjoyed the pace of the book and the way the author slowly revealed the horrors of being a young girl on the island. Little is shown of the feelings of the young boys, or the men’s justifications for their actions.

The main heroine is Janey, who should have reached fruition at 17, but is so desperate not to be a woman and succumb to the demands of a husband, she is slowly starving herself. She and Vanessa, who has access to her father’s library of books from past days, give the other girls knowledge and courage, trying to find a way to escape, or at least effect change.

Janey wakes early the third morning, at the first tint of crimson shattering the black night sky, as if someone had shaken her from slumber. She takes the precious moment gladly and watches the girls sleep peacefully. Let this last, she prays, she knows not who to – certainly not the ancestors, or their puppetmaster God. Just for a little while, let them have this. Let them have it. Please.

It certainly had a hint of Lord of the Flies or The Handmaid’s Tale at times and I kept imagining it as a film, but I’m never sure if that is a good thing.

If you love a good dystopian tale about strong young women who decide to take a stand, this is your book. I powered through it in a few days, which is pretty amazing for me. I was in turn heartened and horrified but kept on turning the pages, wanting to see the fate of these young heroines clinging onto their childhoods to save their lives.

Gather the Daughters
by Jennie Melamed
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781472241719

Review: The Fox and the Ghost King

Cover of The Fox and the Ghost KingWhat do you get when you cross foxes with football and the ghost of King Richard III?

Give up?

Well, I’ll tell you. You get Michael Morpurgo’s The Fox and the Ghost King, that’s what. It’s a pretty odd sounding combo, I know, but the result is a really sweet against-the-odds, underdog (or should that be underfox?) story.

It’s a little bit of fairy-tale blended with a little bit of history, and a whole lot of pluck.

Cover of The Tale of Jemima PuddleduckI don’t know any foxes personally, but think they have a bit of a bad rap. They are usually portrayed as villains – the Sandy Whiskered Gentleman in Jemima Puddleduck, for example.  But they are so darn cute, I’m sure they don’t really deserve it, do they? The fox family in this story are definitely on the cute side, anyway.

What I didn’t know about foxes is that they are football fans. And no matter where they live, their favourite team is Leicester City, otherwise known as The Foxes (naturally). Now, what I didn’t know about foxes is far surpassed by what I didn’t know about football. I know now that Leicester City have long been the underdogs of the Premier League, till in 2015-16 when a little bit of magic turned things around for them. This bit of the story really is true. The other bit of truth in the story is the discovery of Richard III’s body – under a carpark if you recall.

The magical bit is the way that Michael Morpurgo weaves these threads together, telling the tale through the eyes of a cute and cheeky little fox cub. Odd combo it may be, but it definitely makes a fabulous read for a small person.

Further reading

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

Laura Chant lives with her Mum and beloved little brother Jacko and she has ‘warnings’. Odd sensations overcome her. She’s had them before, when their Dad left the family home and when she met Sorry (Sorenson) a prefect at her high school. And now she’s had another one.

Cover of The Changeover

Warily she continues through her day at school, picks up Jacko and walks home, everything as normal. Except on the way they pass a shop that was never there before and the strange, rather sinister old bloke inside bothers her enormously…

Jacko’s health starts to deteriorate, his life hanging in the balance, and Laura is convinced it’s because of the man in the shop. Her Mum is struggling to make ends meet, keep her job and be a loving Mum, there for her children. It’s tough going and Laura’s mad ideas are just not going anywhere. Laura feels herself to be alone.

So she turns to Sorry for help, knowing, believing he is a witch.

The Changeover is classed as a teenage story with supernatural elements. I first heard it as an adult, as it was read on a children’s holiday programme. I missed the last few episodes and headed to the library. I had to know what happened. There appears to be more going on with Sorry and Laura than meets the eye and what happened to Jacko? Are Laura’s bizarre theories correct? I was so pleased I tracked the book down.

Whilst I have read sci-fi and Fantasy, The Changeover avoids both genres. It’s a darn good story with witches and a bit of magic thrown in and it works. I was caught up in a great story and characters. Jacko is a small boy I wanted to live, not die and I found myself driven to read on, to urge Laura to put some of her thoughts into action, to save him if she could.

As a young woman New Zealand author Elizabeth Knox met Margaret Mahy and got to know her well. In her introduction to the latest edition she writes of the her hero Margaret Mahy:

“I’m thinking of her laugh, her hats, her dogs and cats, her winter coughs, her knitted coats, her rainbow wig, and very imposing penguin suit. I’m thinking of her long sentences and pithy quips; of the rose window of the top bedroom of her flat in Cranmer Square; of her empty refrigerator, of her very model of a modern Major General and, in the same vein, her virtuoso “Bubble Trouble”, and the loving rapture in her grandson Harry’s eyes when he watched her perform it at the launch of Tessa Duder’s book”.

A recent reread of The Changeover as a middle aged adult and I still loved every minute of it AND there’s a movie coming in September AND its filmed in Christchurch, New Zealand, Margaret Mahy’s home town. Will watching a favoured book turned into a movie be iffy? Possibly (watch the trailer below and judge for yourself). But I will go and pay homage to a wonderful writer.

The Changeover
by Margaret Mahy
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781869713553

Harry Potter: a personal history

Cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneWhen I was 7, a substitute teacher read the class the first two chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I thought it was a bit rubbish and told my mother so when I got home. “I think I’ve heard about it on the radio,” she said. “It’s meant to be quite good.” Oh. I gave it another try, this time borrowing it from the library. I read it so compulsively that I finished it on a family visit to a friend’s for dinner, surfacing at the end to ask if there was a sequel. I was hooked.

That was in 1997. Over the next few years the world caught up in the same kind of madness, and I slowly caught up to Harry in age. By the time Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (the seventh and final volume) was published I was a teenager on a gap year — I still have a photo of myself in a bookshop in France on the day it was released. Like a lot of people, Harry Potter was my first experience of fandom, sharing my fiction affliction with millions of others around the world. There are a thousand stories like mine.

My relationship with the books is a lot more complicated now than it was in the beginning, but they shaped so much of my growing up that I still love them anyway. From making Harry Potter paper dolls with my best friend to writing a fan letter to J. K. Rowling (and getting a reply!), buying my first merch (Hedwig sweatshirt) in Germany in 1998, getting spoiled for who died in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix because for once I didn’t read fast enough, dressing up for a launch event at the local bookshop in 2005…

Somehow, as of today, it has been 20 years since Harry Potter was first published. Time for a re-read and a chocolate frog, I think.

Celebrating 20 years of Harry Potter

“Happee Birthdae Harry” as Rubeus Hagrid so aptly said twenty years ago.

Yes, its hard to believe, but this year, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone’ celebrates the twentieth anniversary of its first publication, and my generation of twenty-somethings can now, finally, feel old.

Together we and Harry Potter went through school (admittedly with less owls and enchanted halls on our end), and gradually ‘grew up’ through both good and bad experiences (though again, less trolls and horcruxes’ were involved), losses, and gains. Harry Potter really was the story of our generation. I remember my father bringing home the first Harry Potter book with a casual ‘the woman in the shop said this was quite good’ (yes – they hadn’t quite taken off at that stage).

From then on, as each book in the series was released, there would be a flurried, exciting day where me and my two sisters would charge down to our nearest bookstore and buy a copy each (the only way to avoid an ugly scene). We would then spend the next day (and night) with our noses buried in its pages, never emerging until the very last sentence had been read. One year we were so immersed in the latest installment we let our log fire go out three times, and forgot to eat any food until dinner time (a very monumental thing for us).

Twenty years on from our first introduction to Rowling’s incredible world, I not only feel old, I also feel oddly proud that ‘Harry Potter and Philosophers Stone’ is every bit as good to me as  when I first read it all those years ago. Reason enough, I think, to break out the butterbeer and cauldron cakes.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

As a young girl I loved magic books (what kid doesn’t) particularly E Nesbit’s ‘Phoenix and the Carpet‘ and CS Lewis’ Narnia. I also loved boarding school stories like Enid Blyton’s ‘St Clare’s’ series and Anthony Buckeridge’s ‘Jennings’, so finding an author who so beautifully married together boarding schools and magic was simply the best thing ever.

Not only that but Rowling was also incredibly funny. There are passages which still make me gwarff out loud like Lee Jordan’s ‘impartial’ quidditch commentary:

“So-after that obvious and disgusting bit of cheating-“
“Jordan!” growled Professor McGonagall.
“I mean, after that open and revolting foul-“
“Jordan, I’m warning you-“
“All right, all right. Flint nearly kills the Gryffindor Seeker, which could happen to anyone I’m sure…”   .

And Ron’s pragmatic reply to Harry’s question:

“what if I wave my wand and nothing happens?”
Ron: “Throw it away and punch him on the nose.’

Some comic relief and cosy moments at the Burrow actually manage to transform these books into go-to comfort reading for me (except for the last book I guess- and the end of the fourth and the sixth and, well, a few other moments…).

Cover of The phoenix and the carpet  Cover of The chronicles of Narnia: Complete collection

And of course the stories are damn good. Who doesn’t love a story which features the underdog (in this case an unloved orphan) transforming into a honourable hero with the skills and courage to save the (wizarding) world. In addition, as the story grew both in intricacy and character development, so did Rowling’s first generation of readers. The stories’ growth really couldn’t have been better timed. There were always strong themes of sacrifice and loss running through Harry Potters story but, somehow, Rowling managed to introduce more intricate, often darker ideas like Horcruxes, the death of Dumbledore, Snapes’ heartbreaking love for Lily, and the supremely evil professor Umbridge’s ‘takeover’ of Hogwarts, just as her audiences were growing in reading level and maturity.

Rowling always celebrated important character traits too such as loyalty and knowledge, themes which will make her stories timeless. Ron and Hermione sacrifice a happy, normal life to follow Harry on his quest; Snape sacrifices his own name and safety to avenge Lily and keep the mission going and, in the end, Harry makes the ultimate sacrifice, his own life, to rid the world of Voldemort.

Knowledge is celebrated through Hermione, the cleverest witch of her time and Dumbledore the epitome of wisdom. It is doubtful if Harry’s quest would have progressed as successfully had it not been for Hermione swotting up on virtually every wizarding book under the sun including material on horcruxes, and had it not been for Dumbledore’s private lessons with Harry in which they discussed Voldemort’s past.

Cover of Harry Potter and the chamber of secretsCover of Harry Potter and the goblet of fireCover of Harry Potter and the prisoner of AzkabanCover of Harry Potter and the Order of the phoenixCover of Harry Potter and the Half-blood princeCover of Harry Potter and the deathly hallows

And who couldn’t love the world Rowling managed to create? An amazing world of Quidditch, pet owls, wizarding schools, and so so much more. Somehow, Rowling still managed to also ‘keep it real’ by having very real themes of love (in many forms), and painful loss. Perhaps this is part of Harry Potters huge appeal – that perfect mix of magic and reality.

Rowling also includes some great hat tips to ancient mythology. Like St Patrick or Herakles, Harry Potter has power over serpents (though admittedly Harry takes a somewhat more passive approach to Herakles and has a reasoned chat to his snakes rather than killing them in either hand from his infancy). Cerberus, the 3 headed dog like guard of the underworld, even makes an appearance as Hagrid’s beloved pet ‘Fluffy’, and there are frequent references to Rowling’s own personal favourite of mythical creatures – the phoenix, the ultimate symbol of renewal celebrated in Greek, Roman and many other mythologies. Also, like all mythological heroes, Harry is on a ‘quest’ which only he can achieve. Wise as Dumbledore is, and loyal as Hermione and Ron remain to the bitter end, Harry still must go on his own and leave his companions to confront the essential menace and conquer the root of all the evil.

Cover of The tales of the beedle bardCover of Quidditch through the agesCover of Fantastic beasts and where to find themCover of Harry Potter and the cursed child

I also love Rowling’s clever use of latin within spells and potions (For a start, ‘accio’ sounds so much more impressive than ‘fetch’ and ‘felix felicitis’ far more meaningful than ‘lucky day’), and one has to admire the hidden meanings dedicated Potter fans manage to unearth behind seemingly innocent phrases. Take Snape’s first question to Harry:

“Potter! What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”
Some dedicated Potter fans insist that what this really means is ‘I bitterly regret Lily’s death’, because, according to Victorian Flower Language, asphodel is a type of lily while wormwood means ‘absence’ and symbolizes bitter sorrow. Just as rabbis take a passage in the Torah and discuss its complexities and multiple meanings for many days, so it seems, do Potter fans for a snarky question from Severus Snape. There exists a sort of Harry Potter midrash. Who knew?

With a gripping, intricate story, quite literally magical setting, strong characters, and great humour, there is so much to love and celebrate about this incredible series. Rowling has helped to inspire a whole generation of bookworms and after twenty years, more beautiful reprints, and more spin off movies, it looks as though she will continue to work her magic for new generations to come.

Further reading

Helen
Central Library Peterborough

Themis Files : Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

Waking Gods is the much awaited sequel to Sleeping Giants, Sylvain Neuvel’s first novel of the Themis Files series.

CoverCover

OMG. After reading The Massacre of Mankind, Stephen Baxter’s sequel to H.G Wells’ War of The Worlds, this is too good to be true!

Once again, London is visited by Aliens. A whacking great Robot, piloted by almost-human beings. Except for their legs. They bend backwards. And their DNA…

Is it here to attack or protect us?  Or is it dissatisfied with the election? While the reader ponders this question, twelve more appear in the world’s major cities.

In Sleeping Giants we are introduced to a giant female figure, scattered in parts all over the earth. A machine, full of deadly possibilites. Our intrepid hero Dr Rose Franklin’s mission is to retrieve it – her – Themis; assemble her and learn how she works.

The Themis Files are written as a series of reports. Characters are interviewed, recorded or write in their personal logs, while the reader observes and absorbs the information, much as an invading intelligence might.

Neuvel has created some great characters here. In the partnership of the pilots, Kara Resnik and Vincent Couture, he reverses the roles. Kara’s character is a tough cookie, army-trained, who hits first, and wisecracks later. Vincent, scared of heights, self-doubting, is her voice of reason.

Rose Franklin is the scientist who first discovers Themis, falling into a hole and discovering a giant hand, glowing with an unearthly green light. Then there is Eugene, his unnamed Benefactor, and the consultant “Mr Burns”. The leaders of this enterprise aren’t quite what they seem.

Waking Gods introduces a new character, Eva (named after another famous robot or two). But that’s all I’m giving away.

Imaginative, unique and very human, this sequel was worth waiting for. I can see room for more. You’ll laugh, cry and be on the edge of your seat waiting for the Robots to move…

More Robots

Dorothy Must Die!: The End of Oz

“What did you do with the girl, Princess Ozma?” asked Glinda; and at this question everyone slowly bent forward and listened eagerly for the reply. “I enchanted her,” answered Mombi. “In what way?” inquired Glinda. “I transformed her into — into — “Go on!” Glinda said. “To a boy! “―The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904)

Cover of The end of Oz
The End of Oz, 4th title in the Dorothy must die series

Dorothy Must Die! is a young adult fantasy series by Danielle Paige; a new take on The Wizard of Oz, (which itself had many sequels). The End of Oz is the last (4th) book of the series.

I love how this series turns the Dorothy myth around. Dorothy and her cronies have turned BAD; corrupted by power and magic. The ruby slippers, for instance, may have come from a not-so-pro-Oz source…

It’s up to another girl, Amy Gumm, to wipe her out. Amy has been plucked from Kansas in a trailer tornado, and flown to Oz by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. In this story she is flown on the Yellow Brick road, across the Deadly Desert, with her her boyfriend Nox, and her arch enemy Madison.

Why have they landed in Ev, Kingdom of the Nome King? And why have they ended up at the gates of Princess Langwidere’s palace?

Many familiar characters are revived in the series, including Mombi (the Wicked Witch of the North), who first appears in The Marvellous Land of Oz, a book I remember reading in my childhood.

With peer rivalry between the two female protagonists, and the angst of teen relationships, this novel addresses some teen experiences using the realm of fantasy. It’s hip, using the kind of language teens speak today and references to recent teen culture (there’s a Punk-Goth Munchkin…)

Will Ozma ever be restored to her rightful place on the throne of Oz? Read on…

The End of Oz
by Danielle Paige
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780062660237

The Dark Tower: A Constant Reader worries

Last week’s release of the trailer for Stephen King’s The Dark Tower movie just about broke the internet, with fevered and passionate discussion about just how right or wrong the director had got things. Widely recognised as the most important of King’s works, The Dark Tower series is a ridiculously huge tale, with nearly 4300 words in eight novels, written over the course of 30 years. Simply put, it’s the story of Roland, the last gunslinger, who is working his way to the Dark Tower to take down the Crimson King. He is pursued by the man in black.

As a longtime Constant Reader, I have spent much of my grown-up life reading and rereading Stephen King novels.  My bookshelves are full of scary clowns, weird alien invasions, alcoholic hotel caretakers and needful things. I own all the books, have seen all the movies, and have definite thoughts on best and worst novels. I’ve downloaded the reading maps, sought out the editorials, and even fallen in love with the works of his son Joe.

Every reader who has a favourite author can feel nervous when books are turned into movies.  And it must be said that King’s movie adaptations can vary wildly in success, from the heady heights of The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me, through the disturbing Misery, to the adorable but kind of dorky 1408, and the downright embarrassing Langoliers.

So you will understand when I say that I am not alone right now in feeling VERY nervous about the upcoming release of two of King’s most well-loved works. The trailer for It was released a few weeks ago, and in less than 3 minutes managed to scare the pants off most of the western world.  I have yet to watch it without covering my eyes every few seconds. And the Dark Tower trailer is mesmerising for different reasons. How can one movie even begin to show us a world that is described not only in the eight Tower books, but also appears in countless other of his tales, from The Talisman, to Insomnia, to Black House, The Stand and The Shining and more.

Cover of Black house Cover of The Stand Cover of The Talisman Cover of The Shining

There’s totally no time to go back and reread the whole series before the movie is out, and King has already told us that this particular story is not one of the original ones from the novels, but another of Roland’s journeys. So all I have to do now is sit, and wait, and like countless other Constant Readers, hope that this movie is at least good, and hopefully great, that Roland Deschain is a true gunslinger and that the man in black is every bit as dreadful and mesmerising as he is in the books.

And try to figure out if I will EVER be brave enough to watch IT.

Further reading