Book Review 39: Captives (Safe Lands #1) by Jill Williamson

captives-jill-williamson

What is freedom?

That question is the one that kept coming to mind as I read The Captives (Safe Lands Book 1) by Jill Williamson. It is a YA Dystopian novel and not a genre usually read. (However, I did read and review the wonderful Book Thief by Marcus Zusak last year.) This novel was recommended to me by a blogger and reader I trust and I’m thankful for her recommendation.

The Captives is set in a futuristic Colorado and revolves around a family that lives off the land in a village named Glenrock.  The family believes in Christianity and follows its values. However, one of the sons decide he’s had enough of the old ways and beliefs of his family and is determined to make a name for himself in Denver City.  Denver City is a modern utopia and has everything one wants especially for a teenager.

The son devises a plan to get his family to leave Glenrock and join him in Denver City.  However, the plan doesn’t go as expected and there are some disastrous results because of his choice.

While in Denver City, the family learns how the people of the city lives and is in stark contrast to how they lived in Glenrock.  Pleasure and Entertainment is the main lifestyle for people of the city.  Women are used as baby factories for the state and being in a committed relationship or marriage is considered outdated by the citizens.  The city decides on where you will work or what career path you must take and there is a harsh punishment for those who try to buck the system.

However, the eldest son of the family was not around when the rest of his kinfolk were taken into Denver City.  He decides he must go into the city in order to rescue them.  But, he learns quickly that once you come to Denver City it’s not that easy to leave.

Since this is the first book of the series, the author finishes the novel with a few open-ended questions that needs to be answered in the subsequent books of the series. Williamson has written a solid, thought-provoking YA novel that put a smile on this middle-aged reader’s face.  This is the one of the best novels I’ve read so far in 2013 and would recommend it for readers 14 and up.

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Book Review 25: Havoc In Islandia by Mark Saxton (Islandia Quartet Book #4)

The past two reviews, The Islar (a sequel) and The Two Kingdoms (a prequel) to the underground utopian classic, Islandia, has shown a depth and clarity of a fictional world unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

Havoc in Islandia, a second prequel to Islandia, I believe is the most interesting novel of the three Islandian books written by Mark Saxton.

The novel tells the story of when Roman Catholicism arrived in Islandia determined to proselytize the natives and make the land become a Catholic nation. The protagonist, Bren, is an officer in the Islandian resistance who is trying to save the land from Catholic rule. He is young, inexperienced, and not fond of
Catholicism either. However, he is love in with a woman who has converted to Catholicism and that adds a little of bit intrigue to the story.

I know some Christians would probably automatically think this is anti-Christian novel and I could definitely see an aspect of that after reading the novel. However, I found the novel compelling and Saxton tells a good story.

My issue with the novel is that the portrayal of Catholics (I know they are the villains) in the story could have been handled with a little more depth and not be so stereotypical of what bad religion is supposed to be.

Moreover, there several points throughout the novel where the author shows some thoughtfulness to effect of what proselytizing had on the people.

For example, here’s an excerpt to demonstrate my point:

“The main tenets of the faith-I mean such things as the Virgin Birth, the Godhood of Christ, the Trinity, and the transubstantiation of bread and wine are extremely difficult. They confront the intelligence like a great well. They are also exceedingly beautiful. I came to see them as tests of my ability to deny my mind. Some people are able to accept these assertions with no reservation and say they then enter realms of a different sort of understanding. Many others, like me, work harder to get less. Because of the beauty of the concepts, and because they so much ought to be true, we others do manage to achieve a state in which we simultaneously believe and disbelieve without contradiction.

It took me tremendous effort and a long time to find my way into that second group. I went through it because I wanted the strength and reassurance of faith, faith in a determinant, something that could say yes or no as well as I am.”

That was said by Lord Mora, one of the leaders of the Islandian resistance and him dealing with his conversion to Catholicism. But, he decides to resist the church in order to keep them from controlling Islandia.

I could identify with Lord Mora’s struggles of believing in the basic tenets of Christianity because I’ve had some of same thoughts since I became a Christian. That excerpt reminded me of the Doubting Thomas story in Book of John, Chapter 20:24-29 of the New Testament where Thomas didn’t believe it was Jesus who appeared amongst the disciples after the resurrection.

I wished Saxton could have shown more of this type of struggle that the Islandian natives had in converting to Catholicism and that would have given the novel another dimension of depth and honesty.

Outside of that, I really enjoyed reading Havoc in Islandia. Unfortunately, this book is out of print as well as the other two aforementioned novels. You will have to go to the library or buy a copy from Amazon like I did to get it. I do believe it is well worth the extra trouble to read this book and the other two Saxton Islandian novels.

This novel and along with the others show the power of imaginative literature at its best and readers unaware of these books need to seek them out for their own reading pleasure.

Book Review 24: The Two Kingdoms by Mark Saxton (Islandia Quartet Book #3)

Last year, I posted a review for the book titled, The Islar, by Mark Saxton. It was a sequel to the underground utopian novel Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright. Saxton wrote two more novels in the Islandian universe and this review of The Two Kingdoms is a prequel to Islandia.

The Two Kingdoms tells the story of Frare, a young officer in the Islandian Navy. He is caught in a power struggle between Queen Alwina of Islandia and King Tor of Winder.

Queen Alwina is the first queen in Islandia’s history. She just took over the kingdom from her father, King Alwin, who recently passed away. King Tor of Winder is the queen’s neighbor and ally against another kingdom on the Islandian continent who wants to remove her from power. However the queen (who barely is in her twenties) is headstrong, passionate, and manipulative has created a contentious alliance with King Tor.

Frare has to become an ambassador for both sides to make sure that Queen Alwina and King Tor work together to defeat the enemy who wants to take over all of Islandia.

Islandia’s utopian paradise is in jeopardy again from being controlled by the outside world. However, Queen Alwina’s actions make a target for assassination and Frare must do all he can to save her life and keep the alliance with King Tor.

This book was enjoyable to read and it takes me away to a world unlike anything I’ve read in contemporary fantasy fiction.

I have to write that Queen Alwina believed a in New Age type of God called Om that was disconcerting.  But in the context of the novel, it was believable.

As I wrote in the review for The Islar, Saxton has written another terrific novel in the spirit of Islandia. Unfortunately, this book is out of print as well. And you will have to go to library to find it or a buy a copy from Amazon like I did.

I’m glad I did buy it and hope someday this novel along with the other Islandian books are back in print. The Islandian universe deserves a wider audience.

Book Review 21: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

When I heard that Ray Bradbury had passed about eight days ago, I realized that I had never read any of his books. Wow, that surprised me. Well, in honor of his passing, I decided to read his most popular and enduring work, Fahrenheit 451.

“Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope.

“So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless. We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam.”

Both of those passages were spoken by Mr. Faber, a former professor, to Guy Montag, the main character of the novel. Guy is a fireman living in a grim, dystopian society where books are outlawed and anyone caught having books gets them burned to temperature of Fahrenheit 451.

However, he discovers upon burning books that something is not right and begins to realize he may have been doing the wrong thing all along. Guy meets a few characters that confirms his suspicions and the transformation begins.

This is such a well-known novel and covered from so many angles that I have just a few observations after reading it.

Fahrenheit 451 is Ray Bradbury’s love letter to books and literature. His prose is full of poetic imagery and all sorts of literary allusions to great authors from the past. I could sense that writing this novel probably sadden him on some level and if the prophecy of this story ever came true….it could have probably broken his heart.

I must admit that the novel felt cold and distant even though it was readable and engaging. I didn’t get any warmth or connection from Guy and the other characters. It was like watching a documentary on some alien society that was destroying its own soul.

Nevertheless, the story came across as believable and frightening in its implications. Even though, we live in a multimedia/electronic age, the written word needs to be appreciated and cherished for as long as possible.

Fahrenheit 451 is an American classic and should be read at least once by all lovers of fiction.

RIP, Ray Bradbury.

Book Review 15: The Islar by Mark Saxton (Islandia Quartet Book #2)

Have you ever read a sequel that is better than the original?

Well, The Islar by Mark Saxton, I feel is such a book. It is sequel to the underground utopian classic novel, Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright.

For those who don’t know, Austin Tappan Wright was a Harvard-educated
lawyer, who in is his free time created an imaginative world, Islandia, that
is as detailed as Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

Wright died in a car accident at the age of 48 with his work unpublished.
However his daughter, Sylvia, got an editor to look over what her
father wrote to see if it was publishable.

Well,  the editor for the novel that became Islandia was Mark
Saxton and he got it published in 1942.  Islandia has never got the
recognition like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of
Narnia but has had a small, devoted following over the years and the writer
of this review is a member of that group.

I found out that Saxton got permission from Wright’s daughter to
write sequels in Islandian universe.

So what is The Islar about?

The Islar tells the story of John Lang III, who is the grandson of John
Lang, the protagonist from Islandia. John Lang was the first American to
travel to Islandia and live amongst the natives and learn about the culture.
Well, Lang decides to stay in Islandia.  He gets married and becomes the
American connection for the leaders of that country.

In The Islar, Lang III has become a prominent member of the current
government and their attempts for Islandia to become a member of the United
Nations. However, for the UN to accept Islandia as a member they have
requested the country to become modernized.

Because of that, there is a coup to take back Islandia before it can come a
member of the UN. Islandia is a primitive, arcadian culture and the leaders
of the coup want the country to remain that way.

Since Lang III has an American heritage, the current Islandia leaders have
asked him to go America to seek their help in order to defeat the coup.

The novel is written in first-person from Lang III’s viewpoint and I got a
real sense of the history of Islandia and his reluctance to get totally
involved with the country being at crossroads in its history.

Should Islandia modernize in order to be accepted into the UN?  Or should it remain the same and hang on to its culture as long as it can?

That question is answered in the novel with a surprising outcome.

The Islar is an excellent sequel and enjoyable to read. You can read this novel
without reading Islandia.

This novel deserves a wider audience and should be recognized as one of the major works of fantasy and utopian literature.

Book Review 6: Queen of Angels by Greg Bear

Queen of Angels by Greg Bear has been a book I’ve wanted to read for years. I’ve seen it at used bookstores and bought it several times intending to read the book but never get around to it until recently.

Queen of Angels is an ambitious, thought-provoking science-fiction novel that deals with race, crime, religion, and nanotechnology to ask the question what is the nature of the self and can man conquer it?

However, it would be easy and simplistic to write that man cannot conquer his own nature without God. But, Bear makes an ambitious attempt in the Queen of Angels.

The novel is basically three stories in one. It starts with Emanuel Goldsmith, a famous poet in 2047, who kills eight students at his apartment. All the evidence points to his guilt and the L.A.P.D. and the Selectors, a vigilante group, are looking for him.

But, Goldsmith is kept in hiding from them by his publisher, whose daughter he killed along with the other students at his apartment. The publisher is obsessed with why the poet would kill those students without any remorse and also is dealing with the pain of losing his daughter.

The publisher has Goldsmith examined by Dr. Martin Burke, a psychiatrist, who has developed the ability to enter a person’s thoughts. Dr. Burke created a device call the Country of the Mind and when he enters Goldsmith’s brain to determine the how and why of what he did. What the psychiatrist discovers is shocking and I felt were some of the most disturbing parts of the novel.

Meanwhile, there is an AXIS Robot who is reporting a major discovery from Alpha Centuri’s Planet B-2 that will change the face of science forever and will coincide with the people of Earth who are getting ready to celebrate the coming of the Binary Millennum. But, it is not what the scientists thought it would be and deals with a radical discovery from a computer.

Moreover, the L.A.P.D. sends Mary Choy, a detective, to Hispanola (a futuristic Haiti-Dominican Republic) to find Goldsmith who supposedly fled there because of his friendship with the country’s dictator, Sir John Yardley.

When Mary gets to Hispanola she will uncover something that will make her reevaulate who she is and learn about man’s inhumanity to man disguised as a utopia.

Bear intertwines all the storylines pretty well. But, there were some awkward moments (mainly because of the author’s ambition more than anything else) and he leaves out punctuation and normal sentence structure reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy.

I’m glad I finally read the Queen of Angels and while Bear doesn’t fully convince me in his ambitious case to show man’s attempt in conquering his own nature. I like the fact that he wanted to ask the question….Who am I?

Book Review 2: Utopia by Thomas More

Well, one of my favorite literary genres is Utopian Fiction.  Actually one of my favorite novels, Islandia, is considered an underground classic of the genre.

I’ve always been fascinated with writers trying to create a perfect society even though we human beings are not perfect.

I bet God has a big, hearty laugh at our feeble attempts in trying to perfect something that he has created.

However, we will try again and again.

So I decided to read one of the classics of Western Literature, Utopia by Thomas More, to get a historical perspective on this genre.

Utopia seemed more of a book of philosophy than a novel.  And I felt let down by that.

I love good stories and I don’t mind reading someone’s philosophy as long as it has characters, plot or storyline, and a theme.

I will admit that Utopia had a theme but the characters and storyline left me wanting more.

The main gist of the book is that the perfect country is described to the narrator by a sailor named Raphael. He describes Utopia as a nation in stark contrast to the nations of Europe around the 16th Century and it be held up as a model of how a nation should run and govern its people.

Wealth and the Upper Class has basically been eliminated. Work and Goods have been equally distributed and property is owned by the nation and given out fairly.  Religion is allowed but does not control the wealth or power structure of the nation.

Uh-oh!  That sounds like socialism or communism to you more politically-minded folks. And it probably is. However that debate can be written or talked about for another day.

I thought Utopia was an interesting book to read and I could see its place as is the forefather to Utopian Fiction Genre.

But as human beings with our flaws and imperfections, Utopias can be interesting works of imagination and sometimes good food for thought.

And I can mark this book in my checklist of Western Classics that I have read.