A Wrinkle in Time

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“A Wrinkle in Time” is a trilogy by Madeleine L’Engle about the time traveling adventures of Meg Murry and her brother Charles Wallace. Those adventures have science fiction and fantasy elements and are classified as young adult literature.

The first book which gives the trilogy its name is “A Wrinkle in Time”. After reading the first pages I came to the conclusion that this is an insanely cool book and I didn’t change that opinion after finishing it. The author has some really strange ideas and a great talent to pour them into a book.

Meg — also called Megatron by her father — and her brother Charles Wallace, who has some unusual telepathic capabilities, are searching for their father, a physicist who didn’t return from a secret government mission. They are helped by three elderly women called Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, who are not really what they seem to be at first. With the help of those three the children travel to other planets, times and even other dimensions. They also shortly visit a two dimensional world, but that visit is very painful for them as they are three dimensional creatures and cannot deal with the two dimensionality.

In this first book the children get to know the Echthroi who reappear in the other two books and are the enemies of all independently living creatures. Those enemies aren’t named in the first book, but in all three books it’s a fight against the ultimate evil that wants to unmake happiness and individuality.

This first book has some nice tidbits for people with interest in mathematics and science in general like discussions about dimensionalities, tesseracts and folding space and time.

The second book “A Wind in the Door” is interesting. It has the same great story telling you get to know in the first book, but it’s not as good as the first one. At some point some repetitive parts became somewhat tedious to me and I asked myself when the author would finish that. But there was still enough fun and interesting concepts in it to keep me reading it. Much of it happens at a microscopic level inside a cell of Charles Wallace’s body who suffers from an illness his mother, who is a biologist working in her home laboratory by the way, is trying to find out more about.

I liked the third book “Swiftly Tilting Planet” best. I also think this one is more for the adult than the young in “young adult”. It’s a huge story spanning centuries. Charles Wallace is the main protagonist here. He travels through time with a unicorn called Gaudior. It’s really easy for Gaudior to travel through time but really hard and even hazardous to travel through space. So whenever the two of them reach a new destination and Charles Wallace asks “Where are we?” he is reminded by Gaudior “It’s not where but when!”. So they mostly stay in one place and relive different parts of the American history in which Charles Wallace has to use his telepathic talents to merge his mind with the minds of specific people of the time they are currently visiting and to nudge those people to do the right thing to prevent the Echthroi from manipulating the events to a bad outcome for humankind.

I really liked those glimpses into history and all those events have some kind of effect on later generations. And there’s also a nice wrap up that changes the perspective on a person introduced at the beginning of the book.

So I really recommend this trilogy for its cool ideas and the great story telling talent of its author.

Tom's Midnight Garden

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In the vast multitude of fiction books, some are specifically recognised as children’s books. I guess children’s books are recognised as such because they tend to be more predictable and structurally as well as thematically simpler than books for adults. Some people take great pride in not reading children’s books once they become adults. I’m not one of those and like to read well written children’s books from time to time.

“Tom’s Midnight Garden” by Philippa Pearce is one such book. Tom, the protagonist of this book, needs to spend some days with his aunt and uncle while his brother gets rid of the measles. His uncle and aunt are a childless couple who are happy to have a child at their place for some time, but who also don’t know a thing about children. So Tom gets bored and as he wanders around the house, in which his aunt and uncle occupy one apartment, he discovers a garden that seems to only exist during the night.

So now Tom visits the garden every night where he meets a girl named Hatty. They become friends and have some adventures while playing in the garden.

At first it seems that Tom visits are linear in time but then it’s suddenly winter in the garden while it was summer the night before. He also seems to jump forward and backward in time with his visits. And Tom also has some special capabilities while in the garden.

I wouldn’t call this a fantasy book. There are no knights or kings and wizards are also not to be found here. It’s a tale for children about friendship and loss in which the world has some fantastical properties that the rational mind dismisses as highly improbable.

But if you read it as a child and just take the world like it is described without questioning it, it is a wonderfully written story.

Only the end felt somewhat disappointing to me. It felt like a rather fast and abrupt wrap up after a nice tale. Somewhat like “Well, I told you the story. That’s it and here’s the explanation of the loose ends. Get lost.” But as an adult reader you will have an inkling of what’s going to happen some time before it ends and maybe it’s the disappointment to not have been proven wrong that gives the ending a bad taste.

But even with that little stain, I recommend this book to anyone who likes to become a child from time to time and read a really nice children’s book or to anyone who’s on the search for a book for their children.

Chronicle of the Fallers

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I’m a fan of Peter F. Hamilton. I just like his kind of writing. Each author has his or her own style of writing that shows in every book even if the author succeeds not to write the same story over and over again. Hamilton’s book are really grand space operas with boastful protagonists almost always showing some kind of cheeky attitude to the world around them.

I really liked The Night’s Dawn. I mean, how can you not like this insane tale were the dead force their way back into the world of the living and one of them is Al Capone.

The “Commonwealth Saga” which was expanded in the Void Trilogy didn’t disappoint either although the Void Trilogy didn’t reach the scale of inventiveness seen in the Night’t Dawn or the first two books of the Commonwealth Saga.

Now Hamilton has expanded the Commonwealth Saga once more with the “Chronicle of the Fallers”. This is a story that runs parallel to the one told in the Void Trilogy and reuses some of the mechanics introduced there. Hamilton originally planned to make it a trilogy but it ended up being a duology consisting of the books “The Abyss Beyond Dreams” and “Night Without Stars”. To show my feelings about those two books, I could say that Hamilton ran out of ideas and that’s why it’s only a duology, but as any other Hamilton book those two books are so long other authors would have made a tetralogy out of them. So that’s not really a valid proposition.

After reading the first of the two books some two years ago, I decided to not read the follow ups, but when the second was released, I somehow couldn’t resist.

So I’m not really excited about the chronicles. They are far from the best there is to have from Hamilton. I don’t recommend them. If you are new to Hamilton, don’t start with those. Take any of the other books. But if you are a seasoned Hamilton fan having read all or most of his other books, you will probably want to read this sometime. It’s a solid story, nothing revolutionary and sometimes even boring, but in the end it’s OK and even fun when Commonwealth trademark characters like Paula Myo enter the scene.

To Kill a Mockingbird

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When I finished reading “To Kill a Mockingbird”, a book by Harper Lee, Amazon proposed to me other books from the category “heartwarming stories”. At first I was a bit perplexed, because being a heartwarming story is not what gained it the Pulitzer price.

The story of the book evolves around the lives of two children growing up in a rural town in southern USA. This main story arc is very well a heart warming story. A different aspect makes it interesting, though.

The father of the children is a lawyer who was given the task of defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. This adds another dimension in which the author explores the relationship between white and black people in the southern US of the 1930ies.

Today, more than 70 years later, that relationship is still a difficult one. In Europe currently a similar situation is developing with the refugees. In both cases it’s distrust, suspicion and other negative feelings towards the “others”.

The book reminds us that in the end it’s always also a “we”. That both groups are made up of human beings having the same rights – even if the way of living and being of one group feels strange or unnatural to the other.

Besides having a deeper meaning, the book is very well written and provides an engaging story. So even just as a “heartwarming story” I recommend reading it.

The Last Unicorn

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“The Last Unicorn” by Peter S. Beagle is on Amazon’s 100 Science Fiction & Fantasy Books to Read in a Lifetime and appears on other lists collecting great books. People confess having cried while reading it. Long story short. I was intrigued by this phenomenon.

I can assure you that crying is not the only possible reaction to this book. Simply being content at having read a beautiful book is another one.

The book is written in the style of a fairy tale. There is just one quest and several characters appear on the road to its culmination. Some stay and some leave again. There are no flashbacks, no side tracks. It’s fairly simple.

It begins with a unicorn. After hearing two people talk about there being no more unicorns, it becomes restless and sets out to find out whether it really is the last one and what happened to the other ones. Unicorns only die when they are killed. So the disappearance of all but one unicorn is a mystery.

On its quest for knowledge it meets Schmendrick, a magician who is most of the times unable to do any magic. Schmendrick is a very likable character. It’s quite enjoyable to follow his endeavors at doing magic. And Schmendrick stays till the end of the book.

I liked the tone of the book and the short stories it tells on its way to the uncovering of the great mystery. The characters are well crafted. The unicorn especially feels somewhat alighted or nearly arrogant. You would probably expect it from an immortal being and the unicorn actually says at one point:

You are a man, and men can do nothing that makes any difference.

So while it’s not a book that is guaranteed to make you cry, it’s beautiful in its way and an enjoyable read.