Friday, August 24, 2012

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (and Top 100 SF and Fantasy Books)

Today I finished Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.

Ender's Game was ranked by NPR as #3 in the Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books.


In the book, humanity has survived two invasions by aliens, the "buggers*." Mankind survived the last time through the genius of a mysterious admiral named Mazer Rackham. But Earth might not be so lucky this time. The International Fleet has been trying to find the next Mazer Rackham to stave off extinction before the Third (and probably final) Invasion takes place.

*How did that name go over with British audiences?

Ender is the newest boy in a line of many who have been chosen from a young age to become commander of the fleet. If he can survive sibling rivalry, the rigors of training, his dangerous peers, and the intense demands of his officers, Ender will be put in command of the International Fleet.

Then he'll have to survive the battle against the buggers. Because if he falls, all of humanity falls with him.

Serious Literature

This book is a perfect example of how genre fiction can be serious literature. Ender's Game reminded me of 1984 (George Orwell) in its depiction of totalitarian minds and world domination. It also ranks alongside Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein) as superior science fiction.

The humans vs. bugs storyline, and the examination of the military mind, further remind me of Starship Troopers. Both books focus on humanity's need to expand and conquer - and what happens when mankind comes into contact with rival species.

Like 1984, I occasionally had to put Ender's Game down because the insights into human nature were so incisive and condemnatory.

The characterization in Ender's Game is the strongest part of the book. The characterization really drives the narrative, which would be far less interesting without empathetic characters (because most of the book is spent in training). Ender is a deep and involved character, and setting him in a believable science fiction world creates a compelling story.

If I read the book again, it will be for the characterization, and for Card's insight into the human condition.

Blog Post Easter Egg: Another Look at NPR's List

I've read the following books from the list:

#1 The Lord of the Rings
#2 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
#3 Ender's Game
#6 1984
#7 Fahrenheit 451
#11 The Princes Bride
#13 Animal Farm
#31 Starship Troopers
#32 Watership Down
#40 The Amber Chronicles (only the first book)
#46 The Silmarillion
#60 Going Postal
#67 The Sword of Shannara Series (The Sword of Shannara and First King of Shannara)
#70 The Time Traveler's Wife

Noticeably lacking from that list is The Chronicles of Narnia.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams

The entry for Earth in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the universe's most complete and exhaustive encyclopedia) reads as follows:

Earth: Mostly harmless.

Mostly Harmless is also the title of the fifth (and final) book in Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's trilogy.

After a series of misadventures, publishing arguments, and sandwiches, Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent find themselves on Earth once again.

Earth is still mostly harmless - although the same cannot be said of the Vogon fleet.

...or of the infinite number of parallel universes and the ensuing consequences when they collide. (Just ask Trillian and Tricia McMillan).

Earth, while mostly harmless, still boasts:

a) oodles of existential angst
2) ravenous media outlets
d) New York City

And as long* as there's an Earth, that's the way it will be.

*As long as.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Day 20: Harry Potter, Pirate Staircases, and The End

Dylan’s Children:

a) Dylan is going to have 11 children. All of them will be boys*. They will form his own personal soccer team.

*It has been pointed out that this is statistically improbable**, but Dylan doesn’t believe in statistics.

**It has been pointed out that this is a gross understatement.

2) Dylan will have another son who will coach. (This son does not count among the 11 children*.) He will be the youngest, and he will be able to coach because he will be a prodigy.

*Because he's the coach.

d) Dylan has picked out the names of his first six children:
1. Thundersnow
2. Number Two (This is a dishonorable name. It will teach him not to come in second.)
3. Boom-Post! (That kid will never score.)
4. Dylan Jr.
5. Dylan Jr. (Both will be named Dylan Jr.’s in case one of them sucks.)
6. [The editor cannot recall the name of #6]

Numbers 7 through 11 are currently unnamed. This, presumably, will teach them not to come in 7th through 11th.

The coach's name is “the coach.”

Question and Answer:

What if a woman doesn’t want to have 11 children?
Dylan: Then she’s not the One.

What if a woman wants to have 11 children, but she wants to choose different names?
Dylan: Then she’s not the One.

What will your children look like?
Dylan: They can choose what they look like.

This whole thing is ridiculous.
Dylan: Then you’re obviously not the One.

Oxford Strikes Back
Day 20: Harry Potter, Pirate Staircases, and The End

Stardate: Friday, July 20, 2012

Harry Potter Returns to Christ Church

I like sequels, as long as they’re good.

I decided to write a sequel to my last Harry Potter adventure in Christ Church, site of numerous scenes from the Harry Potter movies.

So on Friday morning, I went to Christ Church with John, Christian, Linda, Sarah, Michael, and Whitney.

Folks were filming a TV show or movie outside of Christ Church. I was looking at them because I was on set. They were looking at me because I’m Harry Potter.

St. Michael defeats the Devil in the stained glass window of Christ Church Cathedral.

Harry Potter on the staircase from the films: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Does that picture look familiar at all...?

Can you spot the difference?

“So the rumors are true. Harry Potter has come to Hogwarts.”

This is probably where Neville found Trevor.

Harry Potter in the Christ Church Dining Hall. It’s very posh. It provided some inspiration for the Hogwarts Dining Hall.

"Frame the picture like this!"

Harry Potter finds perspective on the staircase.

The photogenic faithful who went to Christ Church.

By Stamford House in Brasenose? Or in Diagon Alley?

Going shopping, walking down Brasenose Lane.
Every time I walk that road, I think of Dr. Velie.
“Have you ever heard of ‘Murder on Brasenose Lane’?”

R2-D2 is no longer at Boswell’s, but Darth Vader is.

Darth Vader, meet the TRUE Chosen One.

He didn’t marry Natalie Portman, but he didn’t fall into a lava pit either.

Tickets and A Quick Detour to the Ashmolean

After going shopping, Christian and I bought tickets to see the Globe’s traveling production of Hamlet at the Bodleian Library (which houses the Hogwarts Infirmary).

Then I took an hour out to see the Ashmolean. I walked through their Egyptian exhibit again, and then I spent 30 to 40 minutes taking in their phenomenal collection of paintings.
There is far too much to see in that wonderful museum. #sensoryoverload

Fine. I Will Pay Money to Tour Magdalen College

Last year, one of my (few) regrets was that I didn’t pay a few pounds to actually tour the grounds of Magdalen College. This year, I forked over the money. Dylan and Blair came along with me.

On the way, it* rained on us.

This wouldn’t have been a problem if I had my 58 inch golf umbrella that I bought from JJB Sports.

But, obviously, I didn’t have my umbrella, so it* rained on us.

*What exactly ‘it’? Who sent ‘it’? Why is ‘it’ there? English grammar, provide me with the answers to Life, the Universe, and Everything – don’t make more of them.

Outside Magdalen Chapel

Inside Magdalen Chapel

I like the “sepia tone” of the painted window. It sets the window apart from so many others we’ve seen.

The Cloisters in Magdalen College


A Pirate Staircase

Every staircase had that little black sign on it. Blair kept asking why there were so many pirates at Magdalen.

Eventually, Dylan and I pointed out that it said, “private.” Not “pirate.”

But maybe Blair was right after all. Pirate sounds so much cooler.

Magdalen Dining Hall. Harry Potter was not here.

Dylan, Blair, and I wanted to see deer at the famous Deer Park. Magdalen has huge grounds, and its Deer Park is famous for actually having deer*.

Fortunately, there were precisely three deer: one for Dylan, one for Blair, and one for me*.

*As opposed to not having deer, which is the case with some deer parks in Oxford.

**It took me a while to work out the math, but I got there eventually.

We rode the deer and went on many adventures.

At the end of the adventures, we found a lamppost and some thick trees.

We went through the trees and found our way back in the wardrobe.

From the wardrobe, we walked back to Magdalen College and found a gate.

The gate to Addison’s Walk

Along Addison’s Walk

C. S. Lewis became a deist after having an important conversation with J. R. R. Tolkien and another friend along this path.

Magdalen Tower

To Be or Not To Be

For dinner, we had all planned on going together, but then the people who were going to see Hamlet realized that we didn’t have enough time for a big meal. So a small group of us went to Beefeater* for a quick meal of fish and chips, and then we rushed over to the Bodleian Library to see Hamlet**.

*You don't have to eat beef at Beefeater. You don't even have to eat meat. Once I just had tea and scones.

**Hamlet was there, but we actually went to see the entire play - not just Hamlet.

It didn't rain.

We were rushing because I had read that if you didn’t pick up your tickets sooner than 20 minutes before the play started, you couldn’t get your tickets*. Well, that was definitely wrong. So we stressed out a bit for nothing (ha! What a surprise).

*In a better system, you could just pick up the tickets when you purchased them, but under this system you got neither tickets nor receipt when you handed over the money. Pssh.

Christian and I saw Hamlet* with Kristiani, Megan, and Julie. There were food and drinks in the Hogwarts Infirmary (actually the Divinity School).

*Note the i-talics this time.

Hamlet was phenomenal. Probably the best play that I’ve ever seen. The actor playing Hamlet did the best performance of Hamlet that I’ve ever seen. He moved me to tears during Hamlet’s soliloquy.

It* threatened to rain, but it didn’t.

* ‘It’ again…

This traveling production of the Globe was a marvelous piece of theatre. There was a small cast, so most of the actors played multiple roles. The scene changes were flawless: the actors moved some strategically-designed props while dancing to music. The movement of the props provided some percussion as well.

The choreography was brilliant, and the music was delightful.

It was a marvelous end to the day, and to the trip.

The End of Episode V

On Saturday, July 21, I took the bus to London Heathrow with Leah, Leah, and Linda. We had a slight delay at the airport (I took the time to eat a Magnum bar), and then we had our 9 hour and 15 minute flight to DFW. It was, thank God, entirely uneventful.

The most exciting thing on the flight was that I had to pinch my headphones at the perfect position in order to hear any sound, and the position kept changing over the 9+ hours. (So I didn’t hear most of Liam Neeson’s dialogue during Wrath of the Titans.)

When I got through immigration, the officer asked me where I come from.

“England," I said.
“Welcome back to America," he handed me my passport. "Go eat some good food.”
“Yes, sir.”

And I did.

Thanks for the memories, Oxford, England, U.K. (and Paris).

I went There and Back Again.

Oxford Strikes Back!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Day 19: Where C. S. Lewis Walked

Grocery List

a) “Shipping Costs HOW Much?”

On Thursday morning, Christian and I went to the post office to ship our parcels of purchased products. After we got packages and tape and packaged and taped (and addressed) our parcels, I was told that my package would cost about $80 to ship via plane to los Estados Unidos. (Or I could spend about $40 to ship it via ship...and it would arrive in 4-6 weeks.)

As I mentioned in the prologue of another blog post, spending $40-$80 to ship my library of Pratchett books would nullify the huge savings I had made by purchasing the books at charity shops. (I spent less than $3 on each book.)

Dr. Wright came into the post office while Christian and I were there. She took one look at me and my armload of books and laughed. It was a very sweet laugh of affectionate derision.

“I’ve been there before,” she said. And she learned her lesson.

Fair enough. I had just learned mine.

In the end, I paid for the parcel and the tape, which I had already used, and walked away with the parcel without shipping it. (Ha! What a silly Muppet!) Then I divided up the books amongst my helpful friends, who packed ‘em in their luggage and will deliver ‘em to me when I get back to OU.

2) Ode To An Umbrella

Thursday was the day that someone stole my umbrella.

I put it down at a bookstore for a minute and then someone stole it.

Isn’t that heartbreaking?

Seriously – why would you steal my umbrella?

Do you remember when I bought it? I was listening to James Blunt’s All the Lost Souls. Those poor Lost Souls. That poor Stolen Umbrella.

I said it then, and I’ll say it now. That umbrella was the best £3 I spent all trip.

Thanks for the deal, JJB Sports.

Umbrella, you kept me dry many a time.

Umbrella, you made me look even more shockingly handsome, suave, and debonair* than I already did.

*Yeah, I had to look up that word too. But it fits, doesn’t it?

Umbrella, you will be remembered.

I never even got to say goodbye…

Oxford Strikes Back Day 19:
Where C. S. Lewis Walked

Stardate: Thursday, July 19, 2012

Magdalen Tower

On Thursday, I went to Magdalen Tower with almost all of my amigos.

Dr. Robert Douglas Fairhurst of Magdalen College led the climb up the tower, which is the tallest tower (and has the best view) in Oxford.

Climbing Magdalen Tower with Michael.
Photo courtesy of Crystal.

A friendly gargoyle on Magdalen Tower.

On Magdalen Tower is a Cat and a :P

High Street seen from Magdalen Tower.

Over a year ago, Dr. Wright made an off comment that it was possible to go to Oxford a second time...

Down there yonder were the windows to C. S. Lewis’s rooms.

All the boys on top of Magdalen Tower.

Who knew that I would ever see that view again?

The Greatest Adventure is what lies ahead
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said
The moments, the memories, are all yours to take
The mold of your life is in your hands to make” – The Hobbit (1977 film)

The Kilns

Last year, I visited C. S. Lewis’s home, the Kilns, but I wasn’t able to go inside.

This time, I went inside.

The C. S. Lewis Foundation owns and maintains the house. I emailed ahead and scheduled a tour for some of the C. S. Lewis fans in the OU Honors program.

And so it was that Michael, Sarah, Whitney, Leah, Linda, and I visited the Kilns.

Going inside C. S. Lewis’s house, “The Kilns.”

Our guide explains how the house is decorated to resemble how it looked in Lewis’s time.

The typewriter that Warnie Lewis (brother) used to write thousands of letters to C. S. Lewis’s fans.

The room in which C. S. Lewis wrote The Chronicles of Narnia.

The original sign to the Eagle and Child (or The Bird and Baby, as the locals call it). This was the sign that hung at the pub when the Inklings frequented it.

The sign is seen here hanging up in Lewis’s library. Apparently, the owner of the Eagle and Child was just going to throw the sign away. (AAACK!) Fortunately for all of us, a man associated with the C. S. Lewis Foundation was walking by when the owner was taking it down. He asked if the owner would sell it instead of throwing it away.

The owner said, “How much money do you have in your pocket?”
And the man bought the sign for £8.

What a deal.

Here’s a picture of the current Eagle and Child sign.

The outside of the house is largely as it was in Lewis’s time. This garden wall was particularly significant to me because of a picture of C. S. Lewis and Joy Gresham (which was taken during Joy’s remission from cancer).

The Kilns

The pond by the Kilns. This was the view that Tolkien and Lewis had as they sat on a bench and talked about God, their books, and everything.

Sitting where Tolkien and Lewis sat.

Holy Trinity Church

We visited Holy Trinity Church, where C. S. Lewis and Warnie attended, and where they are both buried. (I have additional pictures in last year’s post.)

A beautiful pink rose in front of Holy Trinity Church.

Inside Holy Trinity Church

Holy Trinity Church, as seen from the perspective of C. S. Lewis’s seat.

Sitting where C. S. Lewis sat in Holy Trinity Church.

The Last Pub Crawl

After leaving Holy Trinity Church, we took the bus back from Headington to Oxford, and we ate some Ben’s Cookies.

Then we had dinner.

Then I realized that, after spending almost 6 cumulative weeks at Brasenose, I still hadn’t been inside the Brasenose library.

So I walked up the stairs to the library, tried the door…and walked inside.

Inside the Brasenose Library. It was cool. I would have been upset if I had visited Brasenose twice and I hadn’t at least gone inside.

After my library dream was fulfilled, we went to George and Danver’s for ice cream.

It was delishus.

Nom nom nom.