Sunday Short: “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury

Welcome to Sunday Shorts, a brand new weekly feature on my little blog! As I struggle to catch up on book reviews, I thought it would be fun if each week I wrote about a short story that has brought meaning into my life.

Why am I doing this? I’m glad you asked.

While I’ve loved writing about books I’m currently reading, I haven’t spent as much time as I want exploring those works that hold personal value. I love short stories, and while I review entire collections in one post, I think that specific individual stories deserve some extra attention. Some of the short stories I review in this feature may be new ones that I’ve recently discovered, while others (like this one) captivated me a long time ago. With summer rapidly approaching, I thought a fitting beginning to this new journey would be a childhood favorite by my hero Ray Bradbury.

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Photo Credit from Literary Hub

“All Summer in a Day” takes place on the planet Venus, in a classroom full of the children of those who had colonized the planet years ago. Due to the weather conditions of always being cloudy and raining, the children have never seen the sun. Once every seven years, the rain stops and the sun comes out for a brief period time before turning back to nonstop rain.

Standing apart from the other children is Margot, who we discover actually remembers the sun. Unlike her classmates who are too young to remember, Margot left Earth two years later. I thought it was a nice bit of setup that Margot stood alone from everyone else. I’ve always loved Bradbury’s poetic way with words, such as this beautiful description:

“Sometimes at night, she heard them stir, in remembrance, and she knew they were dreaming and remembering gold or a yellow crayon or a coin large enough to buy the world with. She knew they thought they remembered a warmness, like a blushing in the face, in the body, in the arms and legs a trembling hands. But then they awoke to the tatting drum, the endless shaking down of clear bead necklaces upon the roof, the walk, the gardens, the forests, and their dreams were gone.”

Bradbury then goes into some details about Margot, such as how frail she is compared to the other children “who looked as if she had been lost in the rain for years and the rain had washed out the blue from her eyes and the red from her mouth and the yellow from her hair.” Each of the children had to write a short piece about how they viewed the sun, and Margot wrote a small poem which was met with jeers. Margot never engaged in games with the other children either. She was an outcast, hated by all of them for being different. This animosity reaches its climax when Margot’s classmates decide to lock her in a closet until their teacher returns.

Without noticing Margot’s absence, the teacher lets the children play outside when the rain suddenly stops and the sun comes out. The children run around, basking in the glorious warmth of the sun. After a while, the rain returns and the sun disappears for another seven years. Returning to the classroom, one of the children suddenly remembers the poor girl they locked in the closet. Margot had stopped crying and was silent by the time she was released.

I love this story for several reasons. While being incredibly short at only four pages, Bradbury manages to tell an extremely emotional story on the horrors of being bullied. I find it a stroke of genius that the story ends suddenly without any of the aftermath of the cruel joke. While we can imagine the devastation of poor Margot, the fact that we are left to complete that journey brings those emotions out that much stronger. Having been bullied myself as a child, this poignant tale has always stayed with me.

Another aspect of this story that I think is worth mentioning is in regards to life’s precious moments. If the sun represents happiness, then it is sad to think about how moments of happiness are few and far between. Personally, I choose to think that Bradbury is teaching us the importance of holding on to those moments that bring us complete fulfillment. Sometimes, those moments are only with us for the briefest of times. Who knows how long before we find that again?

I hope you enjoyed my first Sunday short and will return for the next. Stay gold my friends!

Photo Credit: John Towner

7. ‘All the Birds in the Sky’ by Charlie Jane Anders

After reading All the Birds in the Sky, the first novel from Hugo-award winner and former editor of io9, Charlie Jane Anders, I can honestly say I’ve never encountered a novel that so perfectly blended my two favorite genres. Growing up as an outcast, I sought comfort in science fiction and fantasy. Solace could equally be found in Dungeons and Dragons along with reruns of Doctor Who. In those moments, I didn’t feel quite so alone. This book about two opposing outcasts is a work that can only be described as sheer brilliance. Charlie Jane Anders has crafted a beautiful novel that attempts to teach us that our similarities, not our differences, define us as a society.

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

 

Magic and technology. Never have two opposing yet necessary forces been captured so well as in these two main characters. For magic, there’s Patricia, a witch who got her first taste of magic as a child. One day, a wounded sparrow leads her to the Parliament of Birds. When asked the impossible question of “Is a tree red?” Patricia’s struggle of an answer haunts her until the end of the novel. For technology, we have Laurence, a technology genius who builds the next generation of AI (as well as a two-second time machine). Both Patricia and Laurence grow up with unhappy childhoods. They are teased and misunderstood in a world that fails to appreciate each of their respective talents. Then, they meet each other, where they find some measurement of solace. Both long for escape, one into the woods, the other into the stars. As different as their beliefs are, they are drawn to each other. A series of unfortunate events separates them until adulthood, where they enter and leave each other’s orbits as only two brilliant stars could accomplish.

I appreciated how it often felt like I was reading two very separate novels. Our two main characters spend the majority of time separate from each other. Patricia, now a successful witch, uses her powers to help people. Laurence spends his time working with a group on a project to save the human race from their inevitable destruction. Separately, each character is quite dazzling. When they do come together at random points, it’s a moment of beautiful intensity. I had no idea where this novel was heading in terms of plot, but I promise that it all comes together meticulously in the final pages.

I appreciated how throughout the novel, Anders echoes The Magicians, one of my all-time favorite fantasy series that reveled in sarcasm and melodrama in equal measure. While most readers of serious sci-fi and fantasy might be put off by this approach, I personally appreciated the willingness to pick and choose from any genre at any given moment. Anders plays fast and loose with the traditional rules, and I think the book is so much stronger because of the freedom of style. The result is a hodgepodge of sci-fi and fantasy tropes. Where else are you going to find death rays and sentient computers in a universe that also has schools of magic and inter-dimensional portals! Throw in some comedy and a dash of romance and the result is such a fun book.

At its heart, All the Birds in the Sky is about the great divide between science fiction and fantasy, or magic and technology. Patricia and Laurence are so different in many ways yet so drawn together. The romantic element is so subtle in the storytelling, it’s just perfection. There’s a moral to the story that becomes crystal clear by the book’s end. By focusing on the similarities of Patricia and Laurence, while not diminishing the differences that tear them apart, Anders has created one of the best couples to ever appear in a work of fiction. And they save the world to boot! In the end, we see that these characters are us. We are all on a never-ending search to belong, whether to ourselves, to a community, or to each other. How each of us can accomplish this is the most important question of all.

“She misplaced herself in the woods over and over, until she knew by heart every way to get lost.”

 

I read this book for the Beat the Backlist Challenge.

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below. 

2. ‘A Robot in the Garden’ by Deborah Install

I decided that my next book should be something light and funny. While perusing my local library, I stumbled across this book (among several others of course). The back cover blurb sold me on it immediately. Who can resist a book about a friendly robot that teaches us what it means to be a good human being? Well, I couldn’t say no!

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

“Life takes us in peculiar directions sometimes, and on those occasions, the only thing to do is give it a high five and roll with it.”

Set in a world where robots and androids are commonplace, A Robot in the Garden is the story of a friendship between two very unlikely beings. Ben is a vet school dropout who is still coming to terms with the loss of his parents. His complete lack of motivation is destroying his marriage to his wife Amy. One morning, he discovers a battered robot named “Tang” just sitting in his front garden watching his neighbor’s horses. While his wife wants him to get rid of it, Ben feels bad for the little robot who seems to have a cracked part badly in need of repair. As the two new friends begin an around-the-world journey to find the robot’s owner, Ben begins to discover more about the person he truly wants to be.

You can’t help but fall in love with Tang the robot. He is an endless source of amusement, and there are so many great scenes in this book that had me laughing out loud. I think my favorite chapter was the one set in the cheap hotel where the two friends were being looked at suspiciously, only for Ben to discover that this hotel is where clients come to have romantic rendezvous with their android “companions”, if you know what I mean. Tang also has to have his lower flap taped over because of its tendency to just pop open at inappropriate moments. Although funny and adorable, the little robot can be a constant source of frustration for Ben. Tang is prone to running off and being disobedient, and will throw huge tantrums (affectionately called “Tang-trums” by Ben) when not getting his way. Writer Deborah Install used her young child as inspiration for the character, and it clearly shows as Ben has to learn the joys and pitfalls of fatherhood.

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I want a cute little robot of my own!

In addition to so many hilarious moments (British humor rocks), there are equally so many endearing scenes that will have you hugging the book. Both Tang and Ben grow so much as individuals that you can’t help but be inspired by their journey. A Robot in the Garden is a fantastic debut novel from Deborah Install, and I hope for further adventures from Ben and Tang.

“But of all the complex human emotions he could have settled on, he seemed to understand love.”

 

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below. 

1. ‘The Institute’ by Stephen King

I’m beginning a new tradition each year where I review a book given as a gift. This year’s choice is the latest from Stephen King, which was given to me by my best friend Barry for Christmas. King played a formative role during my early reading years, and he is a writer who continues to impress. In fact, I’ve never read a Stephen King book I didn’t like. The Institute was no exception.

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

Some readers would likely believe that King has long passed the most memorable phase of his career. While The Institute may fail to reach the heights of novels such as The Shining or Pet Sematary, I would argue that the newest King is an exceptional work from a master that hasn’t lost any of his powers. In fact, I think Stephen King could write a successful book in any genre and is So Much More than a Writer of Penny DreadfulsThe Institute is a remarkable work of science fiction, a genre that isn’t new to King with past contributions of The Running Man and, one of my personal favorites, The Long Walk. In The Institute, children with psychic abilities are kidnapped by government forces and are subjected to horrible tests in order to use those powers for assassinating up-and-coming political figures. If you’re as big a fan of Stranger Things as I am, then you will love this book.

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Super kick-ass psychic powers for the win!

I remember an argument I had with a friend once on how King’s novels can be boring, that he spends numerous chapters on mundane character moments. While some of his works could be shortened, I appreciate the amount of characterization that goes into a Stephen King novel. I develop a real connection with the main characters, which in turn gets me more involved in the story. In particular, I think King writes children characters extremely well. The reason It is such a powerful piece of fiction is because of the development of each of the children in the book. I was rooting for the good guys in this one all the way through, but of course, not everything is so black and white. At the beginning, you grow to hate all the members of the secret government agency. As the story progresses, we get into some deep philosophical issues that perhaps the Institute is saving the world by using the lives of these special children. Do the ends justify the means? Leave it to King to make it slightly more complicated than it seems. In the end, I still couldn’t sympathize with the opposition. I wanted them to burn. King also makes no qualms about voicing his complete hate of the Trump administration. Stephen King is like your dad screaming his political views, the exception being he can hit a wider audience.

King’s tendency to expand character details leads me to another strength of his writing. His villains are always quite menacing. I’ve said before that while King has given us some truly monstrous creations, such as Pennywise the clown and Christine the car, his best monsters are completely human. Personally, I’m more frightened of Annie Wilkes and the mother from Carrie than of the supernatural variety of evil. The Institute is the epitome of human darkness, represented by its leader Mrs. Sigsby. King never shies away from the physical and psychological cruelty in his works, and there are some moments where you truly want to look away.

Overall, I loved The Institute, finding it to be an excellent sci-fi thriller. It was the perfect start to this new year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. King turned up at least one more time in the coming months.

“This life we think we’re living isn’t real. It’s just a shadow play, and I for one will be glad when the lights go out on it. In the dark, all the shadows disappear.”

 

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below. 

 

 

Science Fiction and Fantasy Mini-Reviews

I am firmly in end-of-year mode, which means finishing up my reviews for the year so I can start all over again in 2020. Since I don’t have time to review each of these books separately, you get to read all of these mini-reviews in one fantastic post!  During my Christmas vacation, I had the opportunity to read several books in my favorite genre. Let’s start with some awesome graphic novels of some classic sci-fi/fantasy works.

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Hope Larson

I actually never read the original novel until I was an adult. My wife introduced me to it, and while I never read the rest of the series, this book always stayed with me. So many great characters filled the pages as Meg and her brother Charles Wallace attempt to rescue their father from across space and time. The character that always resonated with me was Meg for her stubbornness and big heart while I adored the three Mrs. of Who, Whatsit, and Which.

I loved this version as I thought it was adapted well without losing any of the poignant moments that made the original work such a classic. The art work, done in black and white, adds an additional element to the storytelling. This special anniversary edition includes one of the final interviews Madeleine L’Engle completed before leaving our universe once and for all. A delightful read that hopefully sparked renewed interest in this classic tale.

Ayn Rand’s Anthem: The Graphic Novel by Charles Santino and Joe Staton

I read Anthem for the first time several years ago and appreciated its message of living for yourself. As most of you know, I love my dystopian fiction. For those unfamiliar with the story, it follows a character named Equality 7-2521 who lives in a post-apocalyptic world where individuality is nonexistent. There is only the collective “we.” Our main character discovers his love of learning after stumbling upon an abandoned mine. He also falls in love with a woman, something else that is forbidden in this society.

I appreciate that this adaptation keeps the story intact. It does not waver from the original story of individualism, liberty, and freedom. The illustrations are black and white and enhances the action of the story. It is a quick read as I finished this in one sitting.

The Illustrated Stardust by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess

Ever since I first read it years ago, Stardust remains one of my favorite fantasy novels of all time. This is the story of Tristan Thorn as he journeys to a magical realm to retrieve a falling star in the name of love. However, it is so much more: brothers willing to murder each other for a throne, witches trying to gain back their power, and a mysterious star who wants to go home. When you read a Gaiman work, you are actually reading several stories at once that never fail to impress.

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Rather than a graphic novel, this is actually the full novel completely illustrated. Charles Vess does a masterful job of bringing Neil Gaiman’s vision to life. The illustrations are so stunning and compliment Gaiman’s words to perfection. Once you read the first page, you are instantly hooked. Keep in mind that this is a very adult story so keep the little ones away. I also loved how Gaiman manages to weave all of the separate strands together with precision. This is a highly satisfying read.

I also had the pleasure of reading some classic sci-fi/fantasy novels.

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

The Screaming Face by John Lymington

I had never heard of this British author prior to reading this book. John Lymington was quite a prolific writer. The plot of this one sounded promising. The Earth is days away from facing an apocalypse that will end all life on the planet. Every 11,000 years, an astronomical phenomenon occurs signaled by a planet-wide screaming sound. The protagonist is a pilot named Bill whose work for the government on a super-secret project has led to marriage problems between Bill and his wife. Bill struggles with knowing that the end of days is coming and is unsure if he should tell his wife or not.

Unfortunately, Bill’s marriage problems compose of the majority of the book. In addition, Bill is sexually attracted to his sister-in-law, whose husband just left her for another man. Bill’s wife Marty suspects her husband of infidelity with another man. These domestic issues compose over two-thirds of the book. While I don’t have a problem with sex in fiction, I got really tired of reading about Bill’s yearnings for his sister-in-law. The main plot is finally picked up in the final few pages, but at that point, I was ready to be done. John Lymington did not win me over with this one. At the end, the only screaming face was my own.

The Trees of Zharka by Nancy Mackenroth

While I was skeptical of tackling another pulpy sci-fi work immediately following The Screaming Face, I was pleasantly surprised by this one. The planet of Zharka lives in perpetual penance for a great sin committed long ago. While the nature of this great sin is unknown, the priests of Zharka maintain order through forcing the populace to hard work and drudgery with the idea that after enough suffering, God will forgive the people. This story follows a young priest named Toma who begins to question everything he has been told.

Once again, I delved into another dystopia. Despite being a short novel, Nancy Mackenroth creates some memorable characters and some nuanced world-building. I also enjoyed the sci-fi element that the atmosphere of the planet grants certain characters special powers, such as telekinesis and telepathy. The book is also carefully paced. My one complaint about the book is the ending. When we finally get to the grand reveal of how these people ended up on Zharka, it felt extremely rushed. While the author intended for this revelation to have a strong emotional impact, it just felt tacked on. Otherwise, this was a solid read.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

I adore retellings of fantasy stories. In fact, I’ve written a couple of my own in the past. This version of Beauty and the Beast takes a while to get going, but the pacing improves after the first 100 pages. I appreciated the changes Robin McKinley makes to the original story, in particular how “Beauty” was the nickname of a bookish girl who was actually quite plain. In fact, a significant amount of plot is spent on the character feeling as though she is nobody special. Beauty’s family is fleshed out very well, and I found myself enjoying the majority of the characters. Beast’s castle is also incredible, and I love the whole concept of invisible ghostly servants. This one was a lot of fun.

Once again, the only fault comes from the rushed ending. It felt as though McKinley just became bored and churned out a resolution as quickly as possible. It just didn’t feel like a natural culmination of the story, which is too bad because McKinley has proven herself to be a highly adept writer.

And with that, I bid you all adieu until next year.

“And since I am the only one who sees you, why are you not then beautiful?”-Beauty

 

Have you read any of these books? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below.