Archive for the ‘Science Fiction / SF’ Category

Jeff Hirsch’s debut novel, The Eleventh Plague, was published on September 1, 2011. He spent his school days writing poems, short stories, and directing plays. After that he went to college to study acting and then, eventually, playwriting. Learn more about the author at http://www.jeff-hirsch.com.

Story overview:
In a world mostly destroyed in a past war (World War III), survival became the new way of life. For fifteen-year-old Stephen Quinn, this was all he ever knew.

With his mother dead and his grandfather’s recent passing, Stephen and his father continue their lives as scavengers, but not before a group of slavers trap them at the back of an airplane carcass.

After escaping the slavers, Stephen’s father becomes seriously injured. It isn’t until a small group of men find them that they get the help they need. To Stephen’s surprise, he is led into a secret town (Settler’s Landing) where people live as if the war never happened. But when Stephen’s premonition becomes reality, a new war begins, and his life changes forever.

My thoughts:
I was amazed by this book. A page turner all the way. Kept me wanting to find out what happened next. The characters are believable and the story plot captivating. It has a slight flavor of Stephen King’s The Stand, but for a younger audience, much younger. Would highly recommend this to those who like post-apocalyptic tales.

Things to consider:
There are some usages of foul language, mostly in the beginning, and some romantic scenes, but nothing sexual. Action violence, death, and disturbing injuries, but, in my opinion, all these elements contributed to the realism of the story. Even though the reading level is listed at age 12 and up, my best advice is to keep it on an older teen level, 15 or so. The story is geared somewhat more toward boys, but there’s a spirited girl with attitude that is sure to intrigue a female audience.

Opportunities for discussion:
Having lived only to survive for so long, Stephen didn’t know how to react to kindness, but the longer he stayed in the town, the more he saw the good side of humanity. Even then, some of the people there were filled with blind hatred, which he knew was destined to repeat the same mistakes of the past. Ask your youth if they ever saw friends fighting. Then ask them how they felt about it. Who was right and who was wrong? Or did each person contain a mixture of both? Sometimes trying to see multiple perspectives is difficult, but giving a soft word can help to clear up the argument–and in some cases, avoid a war.

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As a big fan of the Amulet series, I decided to track down some of Kibuishi’s earlier works. Daisy Kutter came from a sketch he drew of a cowgirl that got posted to an online illustration forum years ago. Her world eventually developed into this graphic novel.

Story overview:
Daisy Kutter–an expert train robber and gunslinger–isn’t as young as she used to be. Leaving her old life of crime, she finds discontentment in her new trade: a storeowner. The old desires for adventure still flow through her veins.

When two strangers show up and ask her to join them on one final mission, she turns them down. It isn’t until she gets beaten in a poker game by the “boss” of these men that she is forced to go along with the job.

The job? To rob the train of the owner himself. Why? Because he wants to test out his new security system. When her close friend, Tom, tags along, Daisy learns that there may be more to the job than was advertised.

My thoughts:
This story combines an interesting mix of Western and SF: revolvers and robots. As an earlier work of Kibuishi, I thought the story was pretty good. Not great, but good–not to the level of Amulet. I like how Kibuishi interwove the Texas Hold’em Poker game into the story as a whole. Good character development. Worth a read, but not mandatory.

Things to consider:
I was surprised by the amount of curse words that were present. Surprised because Kibuishi’s Amulet series has none (that I can remember). There are also a few bloody scenes. Clearly, this is meant for an older audience. I’d suggest this for the age of fifteen at the earliest, or perhaps older depending on the individual–most fitting for Young Adults. Equally balanced for boys and girls.

Opportunities for discussion:
I liked how Daisy’s old partner in crime, Tom, chose to use his skills as a sheriff instead of a criminal. While Daisy tried to become a storeowner, something inside her still burned for her old life. It wasn’t until she took on that role once again that she was able to see its folly. There are times in our lives when we know what’s right, but do the wrong thing anyway. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way (when that’s the only way to extinguish the flame), but it’s always better to follow Tom’s example instead of Daisy’s. Ask your children when the last time it was they did something they knew they should not. Ask them how it made them feel in the end. Remind them that applying a little self-control can help them to avoid a great deal of pain and regret in the future. Self-control is, after all, a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

From the author of Anne Droyd and Century Lodge comes the next book in the series, The House of Shadows. Will Hadcroft is probably best known for his The Feeling’s Unmutual non-fiction story, which overviews his challenges of growing up with Asperger Syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder, which usually results in difficulty interacting socially, repeat behaviors, and clumsiness).

The first Anne Droyd book was written in mind of children that suffer with similar symptoms. However, the story is not limited to this group by any means. It is a tale of a robot designed to have the appearance of a young girl, thus, an android. She comes across three children who end up adopting her in an attempt to help her understand what it is to become human. You see, she possesses some biological properties that make up her brain, and it is the children’s responsibility to awaken them.

Story overview:

Gezz, Luke, Malcolm (Malc), and Anne are on winter break in the coastal town of Whitby. Gezz’s parents—who are the chaperones—are not known for their wealth, and so the group ends up staying at a low-cost Bed and Breakfast. It doesn’t take long for them to realize that this place—and the family running it—are more than a bit odd.

The only semi-normal member of the Stevenson family is a girl named Sophie, who happens to be around the same age as the rest of the children. Malcolm takes an instant liking to the girl, and the others accept her into their group without any quibbles. Only, there is one thing. They promised to keep Anne’s secret safe. What secret? That she’s an Android. Sophie realizes there is something different about Anne and she is determined to find out what the other children are hiding.

But that’s not all. Sophie’s family has a few secrets of their own. Strange comings and goings of people in the night have all the children on a mission to uncover what is going on. It isn’t until they come across the frightful figure of a man, with the characteristics of a best, that they realize this isn’t the kind of vacation they were expecting.

My thoughts:

For some reason—which I can’t put my finger on—Anne leaves a lasting impression on one’s memory. The idea of a robot trying to figure out what it is be become human is not a new idea (can anyone say, Data?), but Hadcroft does this in a unique way. The behaviors of Anne Droyd are believable, as well as the personalities of the children who take care of her. In The House of Shadows, I found myself enjoying the side stories, such as the boating incident and the counterfeit money. But the ongoing plot as a whole also does not disappoint and comes out with a satisfying end. Overall a fitting sequel in the Anne Droyd saga. Here’s looking forward to the completion of Anne Droyd and the Ghosts of Winter Hill.

Things to consider

There is nothing questionable that I could detect in this story. I would age rate this for children ages twelve and older (tweens plus). It is important to note that this is a British written novel, which has not been converted over to an American audience. There were a few phrases, slang, and descriptions that confused me. Such as “Oh, you’d better take your coats. It’s still quite cold in the evenings and you’ll have to queue up on the pavement. There’s always quite a queue.” It took me awhile to realize what “queue up on the pavement” meant. There are also some punctuation differences such as single quotes instead of doubles and the placement of things like periods. Still, this does not affect the overall clarity of the story as a whole.

Opportunities for discussion:

There is a theme of addiction in this story. Not only Malcolm’s alcoholic parents, but Sophie’s family who tried to continue her grandfather’s experiments to prevent illness. Even though the experiments destroyed her grandfather’s immune system and ultimately lead to his death, Sophie’s mom wanted to use the mixture of chemicals to eliminate her negative moods. As you know from reading the story, this had negative consequences. Not only to the mother, but to Sophie. Unfortunately, children are often the victims in cases of addiction. Read the sequence on page 192/193 and ask your child to think about how Sophie is feeling. Warn them of the negative consequences of addiction and how they not only hurt themselves, but the ones they love too.

According to Wiki, this manga is a science fiction / mystery. It won the 2001 Kodansha Manga Award in the General category, an Excellence Prize at the 2002 Japan Media Arts Festival, and the 2003 Shogakukan Manga Award in the General category.

Sounded impressive so I checked it out.

Story overview:

We find ourselves moving between 1969 and 1997 (and perhaps the future?) The story follows the man-version and boy-version of Kenji, along with his friends from the present and the past. In the present, Kenji takes care of his sister’s infant, Kanna, whom she abandoned before disappearing. Along with this he has taken over the family liquor store and turned it into a convenience store.

One day Kenji stumbles across a strange symbol of an eye in the center of a hand pointing upwards. He vaguely remembers this symbol from somewhere, but gives it little thought until one of his old childhood pals (Donkey) commits suicide. Shortly after receiving news of his friend, a letter from Donkey (apparently written shortly before his death) arrives asking Kenji if he remembered the symbol.

It appears as if a mysterious cult is using it as their logo. The man in charge is only ever seen in shadows, and is oddly known as “Friend.” Kenji goes on a hunt to discover the meaning behind the symbol and find answers to Donkey’s mysterious suicide. In the process he reunites with some of his childhood buddies (who came for the funeral) as they try and recall the past.

My thoughts:

At first I didn’t care for the artwork, obnoxious characters, and the jumping back and forth between present and past, but by the end I saw the brilliance in it. The story is real. No, not real as in it really happened, but as in the situations, people, and dialog all being believable. In one sense this is a coming of age story; in another it is for adults to remember what it was like to be a child. The plot has intrigued me enough to make me want to check out the next volume.

Things to consider:

I have a hard time seeing this as being appropriate for children. Later teens perhaps, or young adult, but it just doesn’t settle right for anyone younger. The age rating from Viz Media is: “TEEN PLUS. May be suitable for older teens and adults. For example, may contain intense and/or gory violence, sexual content, frequent strong language, alcohol, tobacco and/or other substance use.” This does indeed contain most of those elements, except for gory violence and perhaps tobacco use (I can’t remember). That said, strangely enough, these elements contributed well to the realism of the story rather than just being there for poor taste. This I’m willing to forgive as long as the audience is the right age group.

Opportunities for discussion:

There is a suggestion and mention of cults. I would use this opportunity to discuss with your teen the deceiving nature of cults and for them to be wary of them. Tell them the signs to watch for and the deceiving nature behind cults as they contort and twist truths for their own gain.

ChewieDear readers,

I’m just pausing in my regular postings to mention a short story that I wrote with a StarWars twist. The theme is Halloween, and the competition is for the Ethereal Tales, fantasy fiction zine.

Please take a few moments to vote for this story on the Ethereal Tales Web site (see details below.)

Here is a teaser:

As if in reply the bed shook again, harder this time. Nathaniel grabbed his blanket and held it tight—the image of Luke Skywalker wrinkled under his firm grip. If only he could pull the lightsaber out of the blanket and use it to defend himself. That would be a sight to see. No one would dare threaten him then.

A sharp pain pierced the back of his neck. His heart stopped. Something was behind him. Perhaps it was a creature from another world, a fuzzy furball, similar to the ones from movies such as Critters and Gremlins. It would chew off his fingers and his mother would find his bloody corpse in the morning. Did he dare turn around and look? Another sharp pain jabbed into his neck and then vanished. Nathaniel’s hand instinctively grasped at the wound. At this rate he was going to die, and slowly, so what difference did it make?

He turned his head and gasped. The end of a tiny crossbow was pointed strait at him, and behind it, the face of a small wookie.

“Wrrrrrrooooow,” it growled, as if taken directly from a Star Wars soundtrack.

This wasn’t his imagination anymore. It was for real. Of all the times he pretended the action figure of Chewbacca was alive, never once did he imagine it would actually happen.

Continued . . .

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theforceunleashedMost everyone has heard the name Star Wars. Some people know more about the saga than you’d think possible while others have a limited awareness. But from the utmost fan to the novice, The Force Unleashed aims to please.

This story takes place between “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” and “Episode IV: A New Hope.” Launched as a video game by LucasArts this Novel adaption was written by Australia author Sean Williams, who has also co-written three books in the New Jedi Order series (which I have yet to read.)

Story overview:

One fine day as Darth Vader was out frolicking on a foreign planet, he kills countless Wookies while making his way to the home of a Jedi. The original Star Wars movie indicated this time in history–when Vader tracked down all the Jedi and slaughtered them–which is why Yoda was in hiding. At any rate, Vader succeeds at killing the man, but to his surprise a little boy (the dead man’s son) summons the very lightsaber out of Vader’s hand. Rather than kill the boy, he takes him in as his secret apprentice.

In the game this scene was shown in the beginning, but in the book we don’t learn about it until later when the boy–now grown into a young man–experiences visions from the past. It was at this time he was searching out people who opposed the Emperor. Unlike before, he wasn’t there to kill them, but was on Vader’s orders to rally them to start a rebellion. Yes, that rebellion. Why? Vader said it was so he could overthrow the Emperor and take his place, with Starkiller at his side.

With Starkiller’s attractive pilot, Juno Eclipse, they travel the stars in order to fulfill his mission. We come across some familiar characters, such as Leia Organa, and get an earlier glimps of the Death Star. Starkiller finds himself torn between his loyalty to Vader and his love for Juno, and in the process we are wonderfully exposed to many twists and turns.

My thoughts:

The story was much better than I thought it would be. Aside from the clunky action scenes–that sounded like a summary of the video game–I found myself getting into the tale. As a video game (which I’ve only partly played on the PS3,) and a book, I think the best adaption of this story would be in a movie format. I can see this being a hit on the big screen as it almost seemliness intertwines into the original franchise. I give the story four out of five, and am filled with a new desire to give the video game a second chance. That, and it’s important to note that the story has a lot of heart.

Things to consider:

I would age rank this in the early teens. There are no inappropriate sexual references or foul language, but there is a considerable amount of violence that could be disturbing to some children. And being Star Wars, this would definitely appeal more towards boys, but it isn’t limited to them by any means.

Opportunities for discussion:

Much like the original Star Wars theme, this story is a great opportunity to talk to your teens about redemption. The main difference here is that, unlike Vader who turned from the force, embraced the dark side, and then came back again; Starkiller only ever knew the dark side and was raised to believe it was right. It is common today for people to think they are “good people” and to “justify” their actions based on what they believe to be right, as is what Starkiller thought, but even in this tale Juno pointed out how [Starkiller] needed to be saved. Ask your teens if they think being a “good person” in their own definition is good enough. Then share with them your thoughts on the matter.

The White MountainsWhen I was in elementary school, I can remember coming home from school in anticipation of watching a BBC series called “The Tripods.” If I remember correctly, each episode ran for thirty minutes, and they always left me hanging at the end. The music was superb, the effects outstanding (for the day), and the story was spectacular. I just had to see the next episode to find out what was going to happen next; only to be rudely disappointed when the show suddenly stopped airing.

When I was in the sixth grade, my teacher–who was also a fan of the series–was nice enough to show them to the class. We got through two seasons, and like before, I was left hanging at the end. It wasn’t until many years later–after I created the first Yahoo Group Tripods Fanclub–that I learned the show was canceled before they produced the final season–the third book in the series.

Not only that, but when the first season was put into VHS format, they never released the second season other than what was shown on TV. This made things difficult for a fan who wanted to watch it again. To make a long story short, just this very month there was a release of both seasons on DVD with music from Ken Freeman that would have been used in the final 3rd season. It’s in Region 2, PAL format, which won’t work on US DVD players or televisions, however it will work on your Computer and they hookup nicely to TVs now-a-days.

Story overview:

Thirteen-year-old Will and his cousin, Henry (one month younger than Will) live in a small English village. Will’s other cousin and best friend, Jack Leeper, is “of age” to receive what’s called a “cap”–the boy is raised up into a three-legged alien ship (thus, Tripod) and has a metal cap placed on his head, which is used to control his thoughts. The villagers understand this celebration as a coming of age ceremony. It’s considered a great honor.

Once Jack received his cap, Will became horrified to discover that his friend was no longer what he once was. Being only a year behind “of age” himself, Will happens across a mysterious vagrant who goes by the name of “Ozymandias” (vagrants are supposedly people who had a capping go wrong). He convinces Will to escape to a place where there are “Free Men” living in seclusion at the “White Mountains” (actually the Swiss Alps, literally translated from the French Mont Blanc).

Henry learns of this, but rather than turn Will in, he demands to go along. Even though the two boys never really got along in the past, they go together with a common goal. Sailing to France they meet up with a boy named Beanpole, who becomes the third member of their party. Rummaging through the remains of Paris, hiding from Tripods, getting side tracked at a manor owned by a wealthy French count; they follow through many adventures on their way to the “White Mountains.”

My thoughts:

I had acquired a fondness for these stories ever since I was a kid. The TV show was never completed, but thankfully the books were. The idea of our world in the future, gone downward rather than forward due to aliens enslaving mankind by controlling their thoughts, is one of both intrigue and wonder. The discovery, adventure, and fight for freedom are ones that can spark the imagination of any boy.

Things to consider:

I don’t remember anything questionable in the story, but there are elements that may be a little disturbing to young children. I would say this is a great book for pre-teens (tweens) +, and is mostly targeted toward boys.

Opportunities for discussion:

The main theme in this story is freedom. Let your kids know that there are many people and groups out there that will try and force their opinions on them, sometimes by manipulation and sometimes by force. Tell them to keep their minds sharp and not let anyone else control them. Tell them to never stop questioning, testing, and examining the things in their lives. Share how true freedom is obtained in Christ, and that even though people can live content lives without, deep inside they have become prisoners to the things and ideals of this world. The story also speaks of the struggle to maintain ones own creative faculties.