Sunday, September 24, 2017

This week at the library...

MONDAY
Central Library, 6:30 p.m.

Le Petit Cinema presents...
THEIR FINEST
With London emptied of its men (all fighting at the Front), Catrin Cole is hired by the British Ministry of Information as a "slop" scriptwriter charged with bringing "a woman’s touch" to morale-boosting propaganda films. Her natural flair quickly gets her noticed by dashing movie producer Buckley, whose path would never have crossed hers in peacetime. As bombs are dropping all around them, Catrin, Buckley and a colorful crew work furiously to make a film that will warm the hearts of the nation. 117 minutes / Rated R


TUESDAY
Buena Vista Branch, 7:00 p.m.

8+9 BOOK CLUB
The club has read and will discuss The Accident Season, by Moira Fowley-Doyle. 

The accident season has been part of 17-year-old Cara's life for as long as she can remember. Towards the end of October, foreshadowed by the deaths of many relatives before them, Cara's family becomes inexplicably accident-prone. They banish knives to locked drawers, cover sharp table edges with padding, switch off electrical items--but injuries follow wherever they go, and the accident season becomes an ever-growing obsession and fear. But why are they so cursed? And how can they break free?

This club is for enrolled teens only, and is full. To be placed on the waiting list, please email melliott@burbankca.gov.


WEDNESDAY
Central Library, 6:30

MEETING: FRIENDS OF THE BURBANK PUBLIC LIBRARY


Buena Vista Branch, 7:00 p.m.

Author event:
MARK BOWDEN,
in conversation with KEN NOLAN
Author Mark Bowden, who wrote the 1999 bestseller (and finalist for the National Book Award) Black Hawk Down, is back with a new book: Huế 1968 is one of the most heavily researched and reported accounts of combat in the Vietnam War, and one of the first to tell the story of an engagement in that war from both sides. Played out over 24 days and ultimately costing 10,000 lives, when the Battle of Huế ended, the American debate was never again about winning, only about how to leave.

Mr. Bowden will be interviewed by screenwriter and producer Ken Nolan, who wrote the screenplay for Black Hawk Down. Please join us for this memorable conversation.

Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing.



SATURDAY
Central Library, 2:00 p.m.

STORYBOARDING WORKSHOP FOR TEENS
with CARTOON NETWORK
Teens in grades 6-12 can practice their writing, drawing, and storytelling skills in this workshop. The workshop is FULL, but a few names are being taken for a waiting list. You will be contacted on Friday if you are able to attend. This workshop is for teens only. Email melliott@burbankca.gov.





CHILDREN'S STORYTIMES

BABY STORYTIME (under 12 months):
Northwest Branch: Thursdays @ 10:00 a.m.

Registration is required. Please call 818 238-5640 to sign up. Fall Session begins September 14 and ends on November 16, 2017. Songs, stories, and rhymes for children under 12 months.

TODDLER STORYTIMES (under age 3):
Buena Vista Branch:
Tuesdays and Wednesdays @ 10:00 a.m.
Central Library: Fridays @ 10:00 a.m.

Registration is required for the Buena Vista Branch Toddler Storytime.  The Fall Session for Tuesdays runs from September 12 to November 14, 2017, and is now full(Please consider attending at the Central Library on Friday mornings at 10 a.m.)

PRESCHOOL STORYTIMES (ages 3-5):
Northwest Branch: Wednesdays @ 10:00 a.m.
Central Library: Thursdays @ 10:00 a.m.
Buena Vista Branch: Fridays @ 1:00 p.m. (Rhythm & Reading)


BILINGUAL PAJAMA STORYTIME (English/Armenian)
Central Library, this Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.

Bring your favorite stuffed toy and enjoy stories, songs, a short movie, and refreshments.

Բերեք ձեր սիրած փափուկ խաղալիքը ևվայելեք պատմություններ, երգեր, կարՃամետրաժ ֆիլմ և զովացուցիչ հյութեր

Friday, September 22, 2017

What we're reading: Same neighborhood, different planet


The Tortilla Curtain
by T.C. Boyle

Reviewed by Larry Urish, library monitor

Every time I read a novel by T.C. Boyle, I’m reminded of “Everybody Hurts,” the sadly soulful 1992 hit by Georgia rockers R.E.M.
      
Boyle always manages to remind us that every single inhabitant of that cosmic blue marble in space is, one way or another, hurting. Whether his “social canvas” is a society of counter-culture idealists (Drop City), friends and colleagues of celebrated sex researchers Masters and Johnson (The Inner Circle), or self-important back-stabbing scientists inhabiting what is essentially a giant terrarium (The Terranauts), Boyle crafts rich, compelling, darkly humorous stories that ultimately point to all manner of human suffering.

Which brings us to Boyle’s 1995 work,
The Tortilla Curtain, a novel that applies more now than it did 22 years ago, given today’s political climate regarding the U.S./Mexico border. It’s a disturbing tale of two couples who reside in the same neighborhood – but live in completely different worlds. As the reader quickly learns, their differences are nothing short of stunning.   

Liberals Delany and Kyra Mossbacher
(along with Jordan, Kyra’s son from a previous marriage) enjoy a comfortable upper middle class life in a Topanga Canyon community.
The couple’s “First-World" pain (a trendy term of late) includes such annoyances as homeowner association dues, snail-speed L.A. traffic, and overly opinionated neighbors. At the other end of the spectrum, Cándido and América Rincón (and their unborn child) live in squalor, barely scratching out a living from day to day in an undeveloped canyon not five minutes from the Mossbachers' McMansion. It’s not what the Rincóns had imagined before slipping across the border from Mexico earlier that year.

The Tortilla Curtain begins when Delany accidently hits Cándido with his Acura as the latter is heading across Topanga Canyon after a fruitless search for a day-laborer job. As the story unfolds, readers learn about the stark differences between the Mossbachers and the Rincóns: Kyra is miffed over the latest real estate deal that fell through, while 17-year-old América washes clothes in Topanga Creek and keeps a wood fire burning. Delaney struggles with his newsletter articles about the local ecosystem, while the now-injured Cándido limps up the steep canyon to beg with others for work. One could argue that the novel actually consists of four stories, each from a different character’s perspective. Boyle taps into his spectacular talent to seamlessly weave these separate experiences together in a masterful fashion. In doing so, he shows the reader what life must be like for decent, hard-working people who enter this country to make better lives for themselves. And we learn how, though life may be far more comfortable for others, their far less obvious pain is just as real. After all, everybody hurts.

More than two decades after it was first published, The Tortilla Curtain remains an important novel to add to any reading list.

Try anything by Boyle. If you prefer to try him in smaller doses to start, check out his short story collections. They pack the same punch in far fewer words.




Editor's note: If you are searching our catalog by author, look under "Boyle, T. Coraghessan" to find this author.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

This week at the library...

MONDAY
Central Library, 7:00 p.m.

Opera Talk presents...
CARMEN
Tonight's multimedia presentation and discussion of the opera Carmen will be led by Larry Verdugo from LA Opera’s Community Engagement Program. Opera Talks are informative and entertaining, geared to opera amateurs and opera buffs alike.


Nobody—not even a lover—can tame Carmen, who bursts into life on the stage with an intoxicating whirl of thrilling choreography, vivid orchestrations and heart-stopping drama. Bizet’s unforgettable score is an endless parade of one great melody after the other, from the languid allure of Carmen’s sensual songs to the macho boasts of the dashing bullfighter.


TUESDAY
Central Library, 12:00 noon

BROWN BAG BOOK CLUB
The club has read and will discuss The Wangs vs. The World, by Jade Chen. Bring your lunch and join in! Questions? Call Naomi at 818 238-5620.












Central Library, 7:00 p.m.

DRAWING 101 FOR ADULTS
This class will be on PERSPECTIVE. We will cover the basics of drawing objects in a realistic space on a two-dimensional surface. It will include one, two, and three point perspective and explain how these are used in art today. All are welcome, and supplies are provided, but you must sign up! Call 818 238-5580.

The class is taught by Noah Fontana, who works as a story artist, animator, illustrator, and visual development artist.


Buena Vista Branch, 7:00 p.m.

SCENE OF THE CRIME MYSTERY BOOK CLUB
The club has read and will discuss Death at Victoria Dock (A Phryne Fisher Mystery), by Kerry Greenwood. Questions? Call Naomi at 818 238-5620.












THURSDAY
Buena Vista Branch, 6:30 p.m.

OUTDOOR SCREENING: SING!
Burbank Public Library and Universal Studios present an outdoor screening of SING, an animated comedy about finding the music that lives inside all of us. Bring a blanket or a beach chair and join us!

Buster Moon, an eternally optimistic koala, puts on the world's greatest singing competition to save his crumbling theater; competing are Rosita, an overworked and underappreciated mother of 25 piglets desperate to unleash her inner diva; Ash, a punk rock porcupine with a beautiful voice behind her prickly exterior; and Johnny, a young gangster gorilla looking to break free of his family's felonies.

108 minutes / rated PG




Central Library, 7:00 p.m.

GENRE-X BOOK CLUB
(not your mother's book club)

Genre-X is a book club for Millennials and Gen-Xers to hang out, drink coffee, and read short, interesting books. This month: The Sculptor, by Scott McCloud. 

David Smith is giving his life for his art―literally. Thanks to a deal with Death, the young sculptor gets his childhood wish: to sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands. But now that he only has 200 days to live, deciding what to create is harder than he thought, and discovering the love of his life at the 11th hour isn't making it any easier!






FRIDAY
Northwest Library, 4:00 p.m.

4TH & 5TH GRADE BOOK CLUB
Sign up for the book club exclusively for 4th and 5th grade students! Call 818-238-5640 to be added to the list. We meet once each month during the school year and read and talk about some great books.






CHILDREN'S STORYTIMES

Storytime plays an important role in promoting early literacy and the love of books, learning, and exploring the world. Storytime programs expose children and their parents and caregivers to books, simple songs, finger plays, rhymes, and crafts.

BABY STORYTIME (under 12 months):
Northwest Branch: Thursdays @ 10:00 a.m.

Registration is required. Please call 818 238-5640 to sign up. Fall Session begins September 14 and ends on November 16, 2017. Songs, stories, and rhymes for children under 12 months.

TODDLER STORYTIMES (under age 3):
Buena Vista Branch:
Tuesdays and Wednesdays @ 10:00 a.m.
Central Library: Fridays @ 10:00 a.m.

Registration is required for the Buena Vista Branch Toddler Storytime.  The Fall Session for Tuesdays runs from September 12 to November 14, 2017, and is now full. (Please consider attending at the Central Library on Friday mornings at 10 a.m.)

PRESCHOOL STORYTIMES (ages 3-5):
Northwest Branch: Wednesdays @ 10:00 a.m.
Central Library: Thursdays @ 10:00 a.m.
Buena Vista Branch: Fridays @ 1:00 p.m. (Rhythm & Reading)


BILINGUAL PAJAMA STORYTIME (English/Spanish)
Northwest Branch, this Thursday, 6:30 p.m.

Join us for a bilingual storytime with stories, songs, and rhymes in English and Spanish. There will be a short video at the end of the program.

Vengan para una hora de cuentos bilingüe con cuentos, canciones, y rimas en inglés y español. Habrá un video corto al final del programa.


MUSIC & MOVEMENT
Central Library, this Saturday, 10:15 a.m.

Join us for a fun introduction to movement, coordination, rhythm, and dance, using shaker eggs and scarves and listening to music.








Monday, September 11, 2017

A Special Event and Book Signing with David Thomson


Warner Bros: The Making of an American Movie Studio, by David Thomson

This Wednesday night, September 13, the distinguished film critic David Thomson will be here at Burbank Public Library to discuss his new book on the Warner brothers. The event is free to the public at the Buena Vista Branch and begins at 7:00 p.m. Mark Greenhalgh, a senior archivist at Warner Bros., will introduce Mr. Thomson, and he will be interviewed by George Feltenstein, who is Senior Vice President of Theatrical Catalogue Marketing at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Warner Bros: The Making of an American Movie Studio is part of Yale University’s Jewish Lives series, an ongoing publishing project that pairs major American Jewish historical and culture figures with well-known contemporary writers. It is hard to imagine a more felicitous pairing of writer and subject than David Thomson writing about the Warner brothers. Thomson has written more than 40 books, almost all of them on the history of the movies, including biographies of classic film stars and of directors, books about particular movies, and comprehensive works on the general history of motion pictures. (We stock 18 of them in our collection.) His New Biographical Dictionary of Film, now in its sixth edition, has become a classic film reference. The novelist John Banville called Thomson our “greatest living writer on the movies,” and many others have praised his work as a critic and film historian.

The dashing Errol Flynn in Captain Blood, 1935
What Thomson writes is impressive for its insight and observation, and is presented in an elegant and engaging prose style that is distinctively Thomson’s own. But what is especially noteworthy about Warner Bros: The Making of an American Movie Studio is the intelligent way Thomson has solved the special problems of writing one of these characteristically compact volumes for this series, a challenge amplified by the scope of his subject. How do you write something in this short format that captures the essence of the Warner brothers’ story? There are four brothers, there is Warner Bros. as a corporate entity, and there are the many decades of films and movie history. So what Thomson has produced is not a biography in the expected sense, nor is it a corporate history, or a comprehensive overview of the oeuvre of the studio. That simply was not going to be possible. 

A meeting at Warner Bros circa 1940s. Jack Warner is at
the head of the table, and Harry Warner is to his right.
Thomson’s book is perhaps best described as a biographical sketch, not so much of the individual brothers (although we do get a sense of their different characters and sometimes competing visions for the studio) but a sketch of the character of Warner Bros. as a studio: what was innovative about the kinds of movies it produced, and what was distinctive about the studio’s portrayal of American culture. We get an understanding of the lasting impression that those movies made on our sense of ourselves as Americans. Thomson’s intriguing analysis of the movies intersects with details of individual biography, but that occurs mostly reflectively and by intimation. We can accept this approach not only because it is a solution to the formidable task of choosing focus and telling a story succinctly here, but because we know that with art it is hard to tell the dancer from the dance. 

Bette Davis in Now, Voyager, 1942
Thomson touches upon an astonishing number of movies in so brief a space--it’s a tour de force that demonstrates his erudition about the history of film, but also his familiarity with the Warner Bros. catalog. The prose is fluid and literary, and while Warner Bros may not lead you to want to find out more about the Warner brothers, it does something more important: It inspires you to go back and rediscover these wonderful movies (with a new sense of their context) or to see them for the first time. This discerning and measured focus, one that allows Thomson to do what he does best, is what will make this small but scintillating volume a pleasure for every movie-lover.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

This week at the library...

TUESDAY
Buena Vista Branch, 4:00 p.m.

Family Films Presents...
CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: The First Epic Movie
Two overly imaginative pranksters named George and Harold hypnotize their principal into thinking he's a ridiculously enthusiastic, incredibly dimwitted superhero named Captain Underpants.

90 minutes / rated PG



Buena Vista Branch, 6:30 p.m.

Twilight Cinema presents...
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOLUME TWO
The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill's true parentage. Old foes become new allies and characters from the classic comics come to their aid as the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand.

136 minutes / rated PG-13




Central Library, 7:00 p.m.

6+7 BOOK CLUB
The club has read and will discuss Beastkeeper, by Cat Hellisen. This club is for registered teens only; to be placed on the list, contact melliott@burbankca.gov.







WEDNESDAY
Central Library, 5:30 p.m.

MEETING: LIBRARY BOARD OF TRUSTEES


Buena Vista Branch, 7:00 p.m.

AUTHOR EVENT: DAVID THOMSON
Our guest is the distinguished film critic and author David Thomson, who tells the story of the Warner brothers -- Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack (Mose, Aaron, Szmul, and Jacob) -- who arrived in America as unschooled Jewish immigrants. Together, they founded a studio that became the smartest, toughest, and most radical in all of Hollywood, one that would reshape Americans’ ideas about their country, about immigrants, and about themselves.

Mr. Thomson will be introduced by Mark Greenhalgh, a senior archivist at Warner Bros., and will be "in conversation" with George Feltenstein, Senior Vice President of Theatrical Marketing at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

The book will be available for purchase and signing.

THURSDAY
Central Library, 4:00 p.m.

Family Films Presents an encore of...
CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: The First Epic Movie
Two overly imaginative pranksters named George and Harold hypnotize their principal into thinking he's a ridiculously enthusiastic, incredibly dimwitted superhero named Captain Underpants.

90 minutes / rated PG


FRIDAY
Central Library, 2:00 p.m.

Friday Matinees presents...
FIELD OF DREAMS
“If you build it, he will come.” With these words, Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella is inspired by a voice he can't ignore to pursue a dream he can hardly believe. Supported by his wife Annie, Ray turns his ordinary cornfield into a place where dreams can come true.  Field of Dreams is a glowing tribute to all who dare to dream.

106 minutes / rated PG






Northwest Branch, 4:00 p.m.

PROJECTS IN THE PARK
An "Outside the Lines" program

Kids in grades K-8 can paint and create at a free outdoor craft program! Call 818-238-5640 to sign up. Outside the Lines is a week-long celebration demonstrating the creativity and innovation happening inside and outside libraries.



SATURDAY
Central Library, 2:00 p.m.

FAIRY TALE BOOK PARTY
Calling all knights and princesses (and trolls and dragons too!) in grades K-5! Call 818-238-5610 to sign up for our Fairy Tale Book Party!
  • Create a family crest!
  • Design a crown!
  • Build a catapult!
  • Listen to fractured fairy tales!
  • Royal attire is encouraged. (Wear a costume.)





CHILDREN'S STORYTIMES

Storytime plays an important role in promoting early literacy and the love of books, learning, and exploring the world. Storytime programs expose children and their parents and caregivers to books, simple songs, finger plays, rhymes, and crafts.

BABY STORYTIME (under 12 months):
Northwest Branch: Thursdays @ 10:00 a.m.

Registration is required. Please call 818 238-5640 to sign up. Fall Session begins September 14 and ends on November 16, 2017. Songs, stories, and rhymes for children under 12 months.

TODDLER STORYTIMES (under age 3):
Buena Vista Branch:
Tuesdays and Wednesdays @ 10:00 a.m.
Central Library: Fridays @ 10:00 a.m.

Registration is required for the Buena Vista Branch Toddler Storytime. Sign-ups begin Wednesday, September 6, 2017. This program is geared to children under age 3. The Fall Session for Tuesdays runs from September 12 to November 14, 2017.

PRESCHOOL STORYTIMES (ages 3-5):
Northwest Branch: Wednesdays @ 10:00 a.m.
Central Library: Thursdays @ 10:00 a.m.
Buena Vista Branch: Fridays @ 1:00 p.m.
                                  (Rhythm & Reading)



Thursday, September 07, 2017

What We're Reading: Looking Back at the My Lai Massacre



My Lai: Vietnam, 1968, and the
Descent Into Darkness,
by Howard Jones


This fall Ken Burns’s new documentary on the war in Vietnam will run on PBS stations, and it will no doubt open old wounds and bitter debates about the war. These feelings still run deep in America. Mark Bowden, who will be here at the library on September 27, will talk about his New York Times bestselling book Huế, 1968, which recounts the nature of the conflict in one bitterly contested engagement of the war, and the largely courageous actions of individual soldiers on both sides of the battle. Quietly, and with less attention than this more high-profile look back, Howard Jones has published what is being called the definitive account of one of the darkest moments in the war and in American history, a book he has researched and worked on for almost a decade, and which is part of the Oxford University Press’s series, “Pivotal Moments in American History.” His book seems to have something of importance to say in these angry and contentious times, and it is worthy of greater notice than it has been getting.

Most Americans know about what happened at My Lai in a rather general sense. But like their leaders during the war, they have not wanted to look too closely into the details. Some don’t care, while for others the details are just too disturbing: We want to dismiss them as an aberration, and we want to forget them. The first third of Howard Jones's book, which describes the massacre, is one of the most unsettling things you will ever read about American soldiers. Jones describes in graphic detail the rape of Vietnamese women and the murder of a group of almost 500 civilians, mostly old men, women, children, and infants, by U.S. soldiers in My Lai and in surrounding villages on March 16, 1968. Most of them were shot at point-blank range and thrown into a ditch. It is an event that seems incomprehensible; it will leave you deeply ashamed.


 Lt. William Calley arriving for his court martial trial. He was
the only soldier convicted of the crimes. Charges against others
were either dropped, or the others were acquitted outright.
There have been a number of explanations proposed for why My Lai happened, and Jones addresses these: a sense of fear among soldiers fighting an unseen enemy; resentment for the deaths of fellow soldiers; a breakdown of command and poor officers; the nature of war itself; the particular nature of this war and its command orders (things like “search and destroy” and “free fire zones”); and the emphasis on body counts as a measure of military success. These all combined to make the war more brutal than we realized at the time, and encouraged atrocities more pervasive than the comfortable notion of occasional “aberrations” that we have entertained. Nick Turse has also memorably addressed these in his recent Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.

It seems from Jones’s analysis that certainly there were poor officers on the ground, both immoral and incompetent in decision making, and also unable to take control of the action they were directing. The general sense of what battalion, division, and higher command wanted, or what they either explicitly or in effect gave license to, were certainly part of the context. And while Jones gives us a good understanding of the soldiers' fear of both a largely unseen enemy and a civilian population that often actively or tacitly supported them, it is difficult to accept fear as a primary factor driving the events in My Lai. In that military action, it turned out that the North Vietnamese enemy was not in the villages as had been expected. American troops were unopposed, and (as far as we know) not a shot was fired at them by the enemy. These were not actions taken under duress.  If you are in a state of fear, you don’t have the leisure to rape women, or to line up all the people from a village by a ditch and murder them in cold blood; and fear isn’t a plausible explanation for shooting an infant through the head with a bullet.


Warrant officer Hugh Thompson and his helicopter obervation
crew saw and reported what was happening at My Lai.
Thompson landed and blocked soldiers from committing more killings.
He was central to the Army's investigation of what had happened at My Lai.

People who do these kinds of things are able to justify them because they have come to view their victims as “other,” as less than human. As "gooks." A veteran of both Korea and Vietnam told Philip Caputo, then fighting in Vietnam himself, “Before you leave here, sir, you’re going to learn that one of the most brutal things in the world is your average 19-year-old American boy.” It’s an assessment that ought to give us pause. We have a cultural history as Americans that seems to facilitate the branding and brutalizing of those we so readily identify as “others.” It ought to make our leaders understand that there is a danger in indulging these currents. They need to work to prevent us from going down those well-paved roads that lead us to racism and violence. The civilians at My Lai could be killed because they were not viewed as human beings, and that’s a perspective that nations at war work to achieve as they attempt to mobilize a passion among their citizenry against the enemy. In Vietnam, the civilian population--often sympathetic to the enemy and also looking like the enemy--became (in a war where the enemy went largely unseen and was often indistinguishable from the civilian population) a stand-in for armed belligerents.

Reporter Seymour Hersh broke the story of My Lai and was
awarded a Pulitizer Prize for his reporting.
It appears that more than 40 American soldiers took part in the killing of civilians, and no soldier in any of the platoons taking part in the action tried to stop the killing. These civilians were killed with less compunction than that felt over the pigs and cattle that were “wasted” along with them. It matters that we talk about what we would do, how we should behave, before we find ourselves in a circumstance that may test our response. We need to know what we hold to be right before then, we need to carry those values with us.

Hannah Arendt, in writing about the Eichmann trial, is famously associated with the notion of the "banality of evil," of the ease with which people can come to participate in actions that are atrocities. Perhaps more to the point--or at least actionable--is another thing she said about how things like this can happen: “The sad truth of the matter is that most evil is done by people who never made up their minds to be or do either evil or good.” If episodes such as My Lai are to stop happening, we must make up our minds, as individuals and as a nation, to do good.

Some of the most interesting parts of My Lai are the cover-up perpetuated by soldiers and officers and all the way up the chain of command; but perhaps most deflating is to read about the national reaction to the massacre and the trial of Lieutenant Calley, and to hear the cynical political calculations in recorded phone conversations and tapes between Nixon and Kissinger and Kissinger and Melvin Laird, the Secretary of Defense. They are simply astonishing, and they show clearly that no one gave a damn about these murdered people at all. You understand why the soldiers who did the killing didn’t care either. The fault was not only in the individual soldier, it was in the nation.

Jones does a good job of detailing the trials and the legal framework, and of explaining why almost everyone involved in the killing and cover-up escaped accountability. It all makes the episode so much more shameful. But it is hard not to feel a particular anger for those soldiers who killed these people, because what they did has forever darkened the reputation of those many other soldiers who served their country in Vietnam with great honor, heroism, and sacrifice. Along with the darkness, that’s what we ought to remember in this season where we take a look back at the war in Vietnam.


Tuesday, September 05, 2017

John Scalzi's Universe

For background on this post, please see my review of the first book in this series, Old Man's War, here. Then the rest of these reviews will make sense!


The Ghost Brigades (Old Man's War, #2)

In Old Man's War, we met the soldiers of the Colonial Defense Forces, with the experience of the elderly (all of them had to be 75 years old to be recruited from Earth to serve in the CDF), but with the youthful bodies of the extremely healthy and buff (with some added enhancements). In this book, we find out more about the hidden elite force within that already specialized intergalactic army, known as the Ghost Brigades. They are the Special Forces, created from the DNA of the dead, and without the inhibitions of regular soldiers, because they are initially created without consciousness, fully grown and ready to rumble. They all look like they're about 20 years old, but their personalities are infants taking form even as their bodies are operating as grown-ups.

The universe is about to become even more dangerous for humans than it already was, partly due to the traitorous behavior of military scientist Charles Boutin, who seems to be selling out the CDF to the alien enemy. In a desperate bid to find out what Boutin is up to, the CDF creates a new enhanced human, using the same methods they do for the Special Forces, but using Boutin's DNA, hoping to access his memories. But when the memory transplant experiment appears to fail, Jared Dirac is given to the Ghost Brigades...

This was an excellent sequel to Old Man's War. Fun, fast-paced, tightly plotted, with a nice mix of serious contemplation and silly humor. I particularly liked the gradual development of the "consciousness" of Jared Dirac. It departs from the saga of John Perry in the first book, but it all ties together later, as you will see...


The Last Colony (Old Man's War, #3)

When this book starts, John Perry and his wife, former Special Forces fighter Jane Sagan, have settled, with their adopted daughter, Zoe Boutin, into a pleasant and innocuous everyday routine on the human colony at Huckleberry. Then the political connections of their past involve them in an ambitious plan to start a human colony on another planet, made up of settlers from all the major human worlds other than Earth (something that has never before been done). When they agreed to be the colony leaders, perhaps they should have reflected on the fact that the new world had been christened Roanoke...

This was so ingenious, and such a great ending to the trilogy. There are plots within plans with schemes that the reader gets to discover along with the protagonists, and just when things seem pretty dire, a dash of Scalzi's snarky humor lightens the mood.


Zoe's Tale (Old Man's War, #4)   

Just when you thought the Old Man's War saga was over, Scalzi decided to re-tell the events of the last book from Zoe Boutin's viewpoint. Zoe was the daughter of the traitor Charles Boutin, and she was presumed dead for a few years but was actually preserved and cared for by the Obin, an alien race that revered her father for giving them the gift of consciousness (it's a long story). After the loss of her father at a young age, Zoe was adopted by John Perry and Jane Sagan, and during the events of The Last Colony and Zoe's Tale, she is a teenager.

Frankly, I didn't see the need to re-tell the whole story from Zoe's point of view. It was entertaining hearing about the same events from a YA perspective...but I didn't feel there was enough new content to distinguish it from the other book—one somewhat important incident early on, and the close-to-final climactic scene with the Obin, which were both great, but...the rest was all the same. And she was such a mature, responsible teenager that it was mostly not that different. Not a bad book, just...unnecessary.


The Human Division (Old Man's War, #5)

Well...I bogged down about halfway through and wondered if I really wanted to finish this book. It's not that it's bad, it's just that I have a particular quirk: I don't like short stories. This book is written as a series of "episodes," strung together, and while there was some continuity, if I'm going to spend time reading, I want something substantial, with characters and a story line that travels throughout, not a bunch of vignettes.

I did, however, finish it, and in much better charity with it than I was feeling in that boggy place in the middle, because Scalzi saved the best stories for last; in fact, I stayed up until 2:30 a.m. to discover the fate of Space Station Earth. So I take back the "meh," but I'm sticking with the complaint that I don't like to be fooled into reading short stories when I'm expecting a novel!



The End of All Things (Old Man's War, #6)   

The stand-off continues between the Colonial Union, the people of Earth, and the alien Conclave. The Colonial Union tricked the people of Earth, the people of Earth are contemplating joining the alien Conclave, and somewhere there is a nebulous fourth group, ducking around behind the scenes and making the Colonial Union think that the Conclave is attacking their ships while causing the Conclave to believe that the Colonial Union is doing the same to them! Trust is in short supply, diplomats on all sides are tearing out their hair (or whatever equivalent gesture aliens prefer in times of stress, depending on their make-up), and if it's not resolved, it may be the end of all things for the humans.

This, like the last book, was serialized, but instead of many episodes, there were just four longer novellas. It worked better for me (than did The Human Division), and also worked well for the story, since there are four major viewpoints represented by the various organizations. In particular, it was interesting how the diplomats from each group managed to figure out, amidst apparently unsolvable crises, how to proceed to an ending to which everyone could, in theory, agree.

Of course, Scalzi did call this book "The End of All Things," which implies both the (potential) end of humans and also the end of the story. I wonder if that's true? After all, in the beginning he did say it was a trilogy...