Aaron's PicksBooks, Music, and Movies
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Welcome to Aaron's Picks!
This is my chance to share some of the things I enjoy with the rest of the world, books I love to read and reread, music I enjoy listening to, and movies I love to watch.
There are three sections to this page. I highlight one item from each category. If you want to browse all the items in a category (books, music, or movies), scroll down to the category and click in the link right above the highlighted selection.
Since this web page is generated dynamically from a database, each time you visit, a selection from each category is randomly chosen as the highlighted item.
Shadow of the Hegemon
Orson Scott Card
In the aftermath of the Formics War, the child-geniuses who helped Ender win that war return to Earth, each to his or her family and homeland. Suddenly, all across the globe, every single one of Ender's jeesh is kidnapped except Bean who barely escapes with his life. Bean's enemy Achilles, the mastermind behind the kidnappings, does not give up easily. Petra, in captivity, manages to slip a brief encoded message past her captors in hopes that Bean is still alive will be able to help. Bean and his ally, Sister Carlotta, must evade Achilles widespread intelligence network and somehow free the captives while preventing Achilles from establishing himself as a psychotic dictator bent on world domination. Peter, Ender's brother, as expected, uses world events to forward his own ambitions to become Hegemon. The world is in flux as national boundaries change quickly, old national and cultural enmities are unexpectedly set aside, and armies invade. Achilles will stop at nothing. Betrayal and murder litter his path to power as the novel unfolds.
It's out, the new Orson Scott Card book, Shadow of the Hegemon. I don't want to give away any more of the plot than is already apparent in the summary above, so let me tell you about the book indirectly, about my own reactions, what I liked about it.
First of all, I must admit it. I'm a Card fan. I was introduced to his work like many other Slashdot readers as a teenager when I read Ender's Game. The intensity of that story and the believable brilliance of the main characters hooked me from the start. The sequels, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind continue Ender's story, but are substantially different in style and tone from the first. Card's more recent bold experiment, Ender's Shadow returns to the events in Ender's Game and retells them in parallel through the eyes of a different character, Bean. That book recaptures some of the essence and style of Ender's Game while making the story into something completely new and original.
Shadow of the Hegemon charts new territory as a sequel to Ender's Shadow telling the stories of the aftermath of the Formics War. This is not a parallel book like its predecessor. It takes place during those years mentioned only briefly in Ender's Game as Ender travels through space on the colony ship. Ender plays no part in this book.
The book definitely has action, and I love it! While Card often writes so much about the inner thought processes of his characters that sometimes his stories can slow down, there's enough action and adventure and a fast enough pace to make this book a really fun read. I might characterize it as a cross between the slower moving intellectual style in the later Ender series books and the fast paced intensity in Ender's Game. It's a blend that works.
Among the many things I enjoyed in this book is Card's excellent development of Bean's human emotional self. While Bean is intellectually brilliant, as the book opens, he seems to go through the motions of human emotional interaction without truly having felt the emotion. Card seems to have captured the shortcoming that children who suffer deprivation of human contact early in life sometimes exhibit, and included it in the character of Bean. As the story progresses, Bean slowly develops genuine emotional ties with other human beings and the emotional side of his character matures considerably.
Like any work of fiction, there must be a suspension of disbelief. The character Achilles, Bean's enemy from his earlier years growing up in Rotterdam and again at Battle School, returns as a highly connected villain worthy of any James Bond movie. In Ender's Shadow Bean exposes him as the psychopathic murderer he is. Achilles, also a genius, has escaped from an institute for the criminally insane to wreak havoc on the world in general, and on Bean and his personal enemies in particular, as he ensconces himself in positions of power. In several places, Achilles seems to have a nearly omniscient ability to monitor the actions and whereabouts of his personal enemies, stretching my suspension of disbelief a bit thin as I read.
I truly enjoyed Card's character work in this book. I appreciate his willingness to create characters with backgrounds from many different cultures and locations. Card conscientiously takes the time to study and learn enough about other cultures and peoples. As a result, his characters have a depth and background beyond those in many novels.
Card creates characters with religious beliefs that are real to those characters who hold them. Even those characters who are atheist or agnostic in their own beliefs hold tightly to those beliefs every bit as tenaciously and religiously as do those characters who espouse a particular recognizable. Card always seems to treat religion with the respect others often neglect. His characters in this book, in particular Sister Carlotta, Ender's mother, and several characters from India and Pakistan, through their words and interactions, show
how their own profound religious beliefs make up their core and affect their choices.
Another Card talent exhibited in this book, if not as strongly as it did in Ender's Game, is Card's ability to make smart characters actually act and behave intelligently. So many authors resort to devices that seem to say, "This character is smart because I'm telling you so," without any supporting evidence other than the author's word, or perhaps on the word of the author's supporting characters who may say in agreement, "Yes that character is smart." Card does sometimes tell the reader that his characters are smart, but he always backs it up with intelligent decisions, thought processes, and actions that make it believable. He's not perfect, but he is definitely among the top talents.
I was delighted and amused whenever I noticed one of the characters speaking or thinking and idea that I recognized as one of Card's own opinions or ideas. If you have read much of Card's work and are familiar with his own opinions as often expressed his non fiction and on his various web sites (you can see some examples Card's political commentary at http://www.ornery.com/) you too will catch his characters presenting some of those same ideas.
With so many intellectually gifted characters playing on the stage, sometimes they begin to sound a bit like
each other. It's almost unavoidable for any author who writes as prolifically as Card to keep each character unique, fresh, and new. Card is one of the best at avoiding this problem, but it does crop up here and there.
When you finish the story, read the Afterword. Card's inclusion of a few words of commentary about the story
writing process, how the book came to be, and about the decisions he had to make as he wrote it is fascinating.
If you like Card, you will like this book. If you like action and international power plays, you will like this book. If you appreciate good writing and character development, you will like this book.
If you haven't yet read Ender's Shadow, I suggest you read it before you read this book. Like most of Card's work, this book can stand on its own, but it works better as a sequel since the book expects you to be familiar with the several main characters and their backgrounds.
I give the book a solid rating of 4. It's good. In fact, it's excellent. Go get a copy and read it!
Originally posted on Slashdot on 26 Jan. 2001 (See http://slashdot.org/books/01/01/06/1538218.shtml)
The Sound of Glory
Mormon Tabernacle Choir with Orchestra at Temple Square
While I enjoy the grandios sound of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I tend to prefer smaller choral ensembles with a tighter sound. Well this CD is an exception to this rule. I don't know if it's because it's a Telarc recording (and every Telarc CD I own is superb) and thus better captures the sound, if it's the Orchestra at Temple Square lending a magnificent instrumental performance, or if it's the glorious arrangements of Mack Wilberg, Barlow Bradford, and others, or a combination of all, but this CD is probably going to now be my favorite MoTab CD. The choir has a crisp, clean sound. Yes, they still are a choir of grand scale, compared to the smaller ensembles I usually prefer, but their big sound on this recording is exceptional.
Now I'm not knocking the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or other large choirs. I enjoy listening to them. Particularly live, in concert. If you ever have the chance to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in concert, do not pass it up! You will not be disappointed. My personal preference just usually tends toward smaller choral ensembles of twelve to perhaps thirty members.
I have a hard time narrowing down which tracks are my most favorite. I like every one of the Mack Wilberg arrangements. But I also like Barlow Bradford's arrangement of All Creatures of Our God and King. In fact, that track brought goose chills to my skin as I listened to it for the first time on the 4th of July, 2003, while riding in my brother's car up to Pine Valley, Utah. Even over the road noise, on a car audio system that is nothing to rave about, the music had power and depth.
It is interesting that this CD compilation has so many selections similar to the BYU Men's Chorus CD, Awake My Soul, particularly a prevalance of Mack Wilberg arrangements. This is not a bad thing. In fact, it's a wonderful thing. I own both CDs and I love 'em both.
I'm going to have to give this one a 4.5 out of 5 rating. It just sounds so good. Maybe it's my new Klipsch THX computer speakers I play it on while working at the keyboard... Nah, it's just an excellent recording of excellent performers giving a stunning performance. It's good.
The Man Who Knew Too Little
This is another Bill Murray laugh fest! While not quite as funny as 'Groundhog Day', it nevertheless delivered a good chuckle rather often.
On DVD the soundtrack is incredible. I love the title background music a lot. I admit, this was only the sixth DVD to enter my meager collection, so maybe I'm still just not used to the clarity of DVD Dolby AC-3 5.1 sound. This was the first DVD (or movie for that matter) that I purchased over the Internet from Reel.com (of course!).
[Since I first wrote the above paragraph in 1998, my collection has grown and can no longer be called "meager" and I'm not nearly so enamoured with the clarity of Dolby Digital sound that I rave over it. In fact, I've since become rather jaded to it and wouldn't mind improved audio since the compression AC-3 uses is not perfect and is not quite CD quality. I still like the opening credits theme song, though.]
I give this move a 3 1/2. It is worth owning. I will certainly watch it again. And again.