May 20, 2013
You'll know this anyway from reading the cover, but the title character of Catherine Fisher's Incarceron is actually a prison. A prison that's alive. I know it sounds weird, having an architectural entity be alive except that Incarceron is less an architectural entity and more of a...world. But a creature that's a world. Sound weird? It is and it isn't.
The word "steampunk": I usually find myself compulsively avoiding anything that associates itself with that word, but my oh-so-wise older sister sent me this book and oh my. This turns something steampunk that I actually found myself enjoying. (Steampunk, in case you were unaware, meshes technology along with history so that you have--in this instance--sets true to a particular era, but technology of all kinds running everywhere behind the scenes)
That said, this novel tells the story of Finn--and eventually his small motley crew--prisoners who are attempting to escape Incarceron. Finn was, to his knowledge, born inside the prisoner although he gets vivid and memory-like flashes. And it also tells the story of Claudia, daughter of the warden of Incarceron.
While Finn's trying to escape the prison, Claudia's trying to escape an arranged marriage with the horrible crown prince. And she's also trying to find out more about her father's duties, as nobody seems to know where exactly the prison is or how one gets there or if one can get out.
Also, the Sapienti, a class of intelligent people, had initially created Incarceron as a paradise. An experiment in recreating Eden, as it were, which went awry. But nobody knows that until Claudia finds and takes her father's key, and ends up communicating with Finn who has its matching counterpart.
While the premise of the prison being alive sounds weird, maybe is a little weird, I couldn't put the book down. Plenty of other novels and films have made their locations characters, so to speak, but Fisher legitimately made her fictional prison a character. A character whose motives and whose origins, I may add, still aren't entirely clear.
Good thing there's a sequel.
First off, D.J. MacHale apparently wrote for Ghostwriter back in the day. That has absolutely nothing to do with anything, but I just told you anyway because I watched that show when I was a kid. And while it's true that the adult me did quite enjoy this book, I wonder if the kid-me would have loved it even more. (I semi-frequently wonder this in regard to book...but in fairness to MacHale, this book got published the year I turned 18 so kid-me wouldn't have read it unless she could time travel.)
Speaking of which, that's kind of what happens in this book. Sort of. Bobby Pendragon seems like a normal kid with normal friends. But then his Uncle Press shows up one night and whisks him away on an adventure because, you see, Bobby is a Traveler. Basically he can move through flumes (I admit, based on the description of the flumes, I one hundred percent imagine them to be like the wormholes in Stargate: SG-1) that allow him to travel through space and time.
And you know, he just has to attempt to influence events for good. Which he doesn't really explicitly know to begin with because nobody really tells him and so he starts some stuff that causes some problems but in the end he mostly fixes it.
Except, of course, that the bad guy gets away because this is a series, after all. And if you're going to have a recurring hero it's requisite that you also have a recurring villain. Also a recurring partner-in-heroism, good friends at home, and plenty of mystery left to solve.
Plenty of threads were left loose in a there-will-be-a-sequel fashion (as opposed to the it-looks-as-though-the-author-ran-out-of-ideas fashion).
Remember how I thought that Lauren Oliver might wow me by the end of Requiem?
And yet I can't deny that she does have a knack for writing that I find compulsively readable. I want to find out what happens even when I'm pretty sure I know what's going to happen. I find myself glued to Lena and to Alex and to Julian in spite of their ridiculous love triangle, the one you knew would happen because in YA dystopian fiction there must be a love triangle. Preferably with someone that one of the parties believed was dead, because then that makes it even stickier.
In this conclusion, Lena and Hana are the two viewpoint characters. Lena's wandering around The Wilds learning that having choices is perhaps harder than not. Hana has been cured and is engaged to the new mayor who, incidentally, is basically an abusive jerk. Also her cure doesn't seem to have fully worked and she still finds herself thinking of Lena, etc.
The two stories don't overlap much at all until near the end, and even then nothing too illuminating happens except that Hana gets to take an action that helps a feeling of guilt and remorse. And Lena somewhat discovers that her best friend might not be totally gone.
Not much, actually, get resolved in the end, in spite of an actual revolutionary act that involves the bringing down of a wall. At the end of the book, everything is still uncertain. Few definitive choices seem to have been made. And the very conclusion of the book dove a bit too far into the preachy for my tastes with a subtle-as-a-jackhammer metaphor of tearing down walls.
I believe this was intended as a trilogy, so I don't know what it was left so open-ended. Maybe that was the idea, that readers can choose how they think everything would have ended long-term. If that was the intention, the idea was sold (if not original) but the execution was sorely, sorely lacking.
Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy! appealed to me because I've always been a big fan of the show. Bob Harris, who wrote the book and competed in several events...well, to be frank, I didn't remember him. But that didn't make his story any less hilarious, intelligent, and full of small-but-not-too inane facts.
It's not the first book I ever read that had a connection to the show. I read Ken Jennings' trivia book Brainiac which also featured anecdotes. Trivia may be...trivial...but I find it highly entertaining. Also, I may have always had a bit of a dream to compete on the show.
Harris first competed on the show before it got rid of its you-can-only-win-five-times rule, and he took the test many, many times before he passed. And then when he ended up on the show (on multiple occasions), he found ways of studying and ways of rehearsing and he went...well, if his account is to be believed, he went a little over-the-top in his preparations.
As he narrates the several different times he competed, he also weaves in stories of his personal life from around the time of the show and in between competitions. He meets several fascinating people and so do we. And he becomes friends with a number of his competitors.
I never really thought about it, but that's a sub-group of people that must have a significant amount in common and that must know a lot about many things. The conversations he recounts fascinate me. (Although that could be yet another telltale sign that I am a big, fat nerd. Not that anyone really needs another.)
And while Harris made me laugh, made me a little emotional (there's a personal story about a dear friend who gets sick and...yeah, I'm not saying much else aside from that), and spun a great story...he also managed to sneak in some advice and some helpful hints.
In short, I suppose if you're a game show nerd, you'd love this. But I'd also like to think that you'd love this book if you just loved knowledge and people who pursue it.