Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Review: Crispin: At the Edge of the World, by Avi

Crispin: At the Edge of the World is the second book in Avi's trilogy about his young character, Crispin, and follows directly after the events in Crispin: The Cross of Lead. The first two books in the trilogy (I have not yet read the third) are very engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking pieces of historical fiction. They are more realistic than many young adult books, and Avi takes care to ensure Crispin is a product of the time the story takes place, and not a person with unrealistically modern ideals. There are themes of religion, tolerance, politics, and coming-of-age, among others, all richly probed without bogging down the plot. If you have not had a chance to read The Cross of Lead, you should do so, and if you have, do not hesitate to read the sequel.

Spoilers below for those who have not read The Cross of Lead.

Even after successfully escaping the hold of John Aycliffe, Crispin and his friend-protector, Bear, are still not in the clear. The two run into trouble when John Ball's Brotherhood, of which Bear was a part, believes Bear betrayed them and they attack, wounding him with an arrow. Crispin and Bear escape and hide, worried the Brotherhood will continue to hunt them down. The arrow wound weakens Bear immensely, but he and Crispin are fortunate to find a medicine woman named Aude with a young girl named Troth.

Crispin, whose isolated Christian upbringing has left him ignorant of other worldviews, distrusts Aude and Troth. Aude, he believes, is a witch, since she worships a God different from Crispin's, and Troth has a cleft lip, which Crispin believes may be the mark of the Devil. However, with Bear delirious from his wound, he realizes they are their only chance of survival. In the time he spends with them, he also begins to grow closer with the young girl, and Troth, in turn, ceases to keep her cleft lip covered, a sign of trust.

Crispin, I mention, is ignorant, with a small worldview, but I don't want readers to think that this is a criticism of his Christian upbringing. Avi offers no criticism to religious views, and in fact Crispin's ignorance is not a criticism at all, but an observation. Access to world news and events is at our fingertips now, with smartphones and social media, but in Crispin's 14th century world, isolation is easy and news hard to come by. Living in an isolated community requires certain prejudices to be developed for a sense of security, and for Crispin to come across a pagan woman is a breach of these secure prejudices. Bear, however, serves as a teacher figure, one who teaches tolerance and empathy, and Crispin is an eager learner. He wants to be a good person, and sometimes being a good person means challenging your own views.

Just like in The Cross of Lead, there is plenty of adventure and some surprising violence (this book has some surprisingly gory violence towards the end). A lot of the conflict revolves around the fact that Bear is aging and his wound keeps him from full strength, meaning Crispin is constantly struggling with the realization he needs to step up in his duties. That said, I like the fact that, unlike other YA fiction, Crispin is not the one who solves all of the problems and he does not always have the best solution. He learns from Bear, and he also attempts to distinguish between when he should heed Bear's commands or disobey them. With its well-developed, engaging characters and plot, and an ending that will be sure to tug at heart-strings, I highly recommend At the Edge of the World. And if you haven't read The Cross of Lead, start there. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Review: Boltzmon!, by William Sleator

Boltzmon! is a very strange story, fast-paced in the YA fashion without pausing to give much thought to its science, but with an ending that turns out to be surprisingly poignant. While the title sounds like the name of a Pokemon that shoots out lightning bolts, this is actually a much more mature story than the title gives it credit for. Along with its science-y themes, the book touches upon family, bullying, and self-reflection as well, and these play out in surprisingly sophisticated fashion. While the title may be silly, this is one book you shouldn't judge by its cover. It's quite good.

The story is told from the perspective of an eleven-year old boy named Chris, and at the heart of his life's problems is his older sister Lulu, who is bent on making him miserable. Not only does she bully him at home, but now that they both go to the same middle school, she spreads rumors about him and causes other kids at the school to bully him as well. Chris doesn't know what he did to deserve this treatment. He spends his free time at home mapping an imaginary world called Arteria. In this world the pirates like to target and kill blonde-haired girls. Chris relishes in imagining his own sister being tormented in Arteria.

It turns out that Arteria is a real place, as a chance meeting with a being called boltzmon reveals. Boltzmon, as it explains itself, is a piece of a black hole that has the knowledge of everything it has absorbed. It can also bend space and time, which means that it comes from the future, where it has already absorbed Earth and even the planet of Arteria. It knows that Chris will be dead very soon if he does not visit the Time Temples in Arteria. Oh, and boltzmon's very unstable. When Chris or somebody says something that perturbs it, the boltzmon transports itself and Chris through space and time - to 40 years in the future on the planet of Arteria.

Thus the story jumps back and forth, mostly, between Earth and Arteria. Though the boltzmon is unstable, it seems to have a purpose, one that's not so clear early on. Chris takes the form of an Arterian in Arteria, and the boltzmon takes the form of whatever or whomever it pleases. For example, in the first trip, the boltzmon is a cranky old woman who absolutely needs to sit down, but a middle-aged wealthy blonde woman refuses to move her bag in order to make room for the old woman. This perturbs the boltzmon to no end, and the boltzmon seems intent on annoying the blonde by any means possible. This blonde becomes an important part of the Arteria plot, and Chris begins to assume that she is actually his sister, Lulu, forty years in the future.

The story hinges upon the mood of the boltzmon, but though the boltzmon is very unstable, its motives are much clearer and more coherent than they originally seem. The book, therefore, is not just a random series of adventures, but a fluid whole. We travel through time a little bit, as Chris witnesses the means of his death and realizes the way to correct it. In the end, while it would be simple for the book to create an easy villain, it's much smarter than that. While bullying is at the heart of the villainy in the novel, Chris also needs to learn to stand up for himself. The human element is much more effective than the scientific, as Sleator explains the science behind his boltzmon with as few details as possible in order to still give a good idea of what it is. In forcing his characters to reflect about themselves, on how they grew to be who they are, he also provides a lesson in the power of self-reflection. While the adventure leading to the end is comical and fun, the ending is very poignant and certainly worth the craziness.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Review: Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke

What will happen when, if, humans make contact with an alien species has been the subject of lots of science fiction books, movies, TV shows, video games, and the like. There is a lot of room for creativity here. For one, how these aliens will look is up to the imagination. For another, what level of technology they have attained may vary. Finally, how both the aliens and humans will react to one another can range from hostile to friendly. In most such stories, alien contact ends in violence. Arthur C. Clarke takes the exact opposite route in Childhood's End. Contact with aliens ends in peace on Earth rather than violence. This has implications itself, as Clarke describes throughout the course of the novel, but the ending will leave you with more food for thought than most other alien invasion stories out there.

These aliens are named the Overlords, for they appear to be acting as lords over the human race. Once they arrive and hover in the skies, people find no reason for war or violence. Indeed, the Overlords intervene in nonviolent ways to help influence humans to stop fighting. In one instance, they take away sunlight from a region momentarily to show there are other means than violence to show one's power. Only one man has any contact whatsoever with the Overlords, and his name is Stormgren, Secetary-General of the United Nations. Every now and then he rides up in the Overlord ship and speaks to Karellen, known to humans as the Supervisor. Stormgren never sees Karellen or any of the Overlords, but he trusts Karellen's purpose. There are small groups of people who rebel against the Overlords in their small ways, and one of the major complaints is that the Overlords do not show themselves. Karellen satisfies them by saying humans will get to see the Overlords in fifty years. A small satisfaction, but he says humans aren't yet ready to see them. Once they do reveal themselves, Karellen's rationale makes perfect sense.

The book jumps ahead in time, when people have flying cars and some of the Overlords freely mingle with certain humans and share technology. Two important characters are George and his wife Jean. At a party of a wealthy eccentric named Rupert they meet an Overlord named Rashaverak, who is reading Rupert's library of books on the paranormal. Why he is studying the paranormal becomes apparent only at the end. Rupert pulls out a Ouija board with mixed reactions from his guests. Rupert's brother-in-law, Jan, is purely a scientist at heart, but on a whim he asks the location of the Overlord's planet's star, and the Ouija board spells it out. The significance of these details become known only much later into the novel.

Like Clarke's Songs from a Distant Earth, the science is fascinating, but the human drama: not so much. While Clarke doesn't make any of his characters overtly atheist, they seem to view human sexual relations as being open to multiple partners. This is apparent as George ogles Rupert's beautiful new wife and seems to have an inkling that a relation with her is possible, not that it ever comes down to that. The female characters play minor roles when compared to the males. Although at one point Rashaverak confides with Karellen that Jean might be the most important person on the planet, the events at the end contradict that statement and it doesn't come to fruition. When the story focuses on any human characters, it's on the male ones, and even the Overlords, though sexless, seem male.

It's the bigger ideas that make this novel such an interesting read. While the Overlords do bring peace, that peace comes at a cost. Humans have no need to create art anymore, and life has grown dull. The Overlords act as a Big Brother entity, sometimes intervening when humans are misbehaving, and sometimes, such as when one country launches a nuclear missile at an Overlord ship, they do nothing, which is just as effective. The psychological toll is immense. People always wonder if the Overlords will do anything in reaction to bad behavior. It's almost as though the Overlords are god-like beings, or at the very least a manifestation of Santa Clause, but their presence is both felt and seen with inconclusive evidence.

The goal of the book is to learn of the Overlords' purpose, and the book provides some red herrings so that you might think you know what will happen in the end, but it's pretty unlikely you will guess correctly. The conclusion is fascinating and terrifying all at once. Clarke puts readers in a position to wonder about the future and what it would mean for humanity to be placed in the role it finds itself at the end of this novel. True, the ending will also require some suspension of disbelief, as Clarke treads off the path of his more realistic sci-fi elements, but even Clarke admits in the introduction of the book that this is a work of fiction and what happens does not necessarily reflect his own views. If you can look past some of the silliness, you will find an intriguing novel with fascinating ideas and an ending that is hard to stop pondering long after you finish reading the novel.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Review: Keturah and Lord Death, by Martine Leavitt

I love it when an author comes with a unique idea and pulls it off perfectly. Keturah and Lord Death is a dark fairy tale with memorable characters, romance, death, and storytelling. On its surface it reads like a simple tale of a girl who seduces death, but this setup also allows for so many in-depth interpretations of the novel about love and about death. Whether you read it simply for its beautiful story or you analyze its deeper meanings, or do both, you will find a powerful and thoughtful tale well worth the read.

A young woman named Keturah wanders alone into the woods, pursuing a mysterious hart that enchants her. She ends up lost and, after several days, sees a man approach her. This man, she knows, is Lord Death, and she speaks with him, trying to win herself more time. Something about Keturah charms Lord Death, and he pleads with her to sacrifice the life of another from her village, Tide-by-Rood, so that she can live. But Keturah is too selfless to allow that to happen. She instead goes for another tactic. She begins to tell Lord Death a story about love, a story that's very much about herself, but she refuses to end it. She strikes a bargain. She will finish the story if only Lord Death allows her another day. Lord Death ups the ante. If she can find true love, of which he is doubtful, he will allow her to continue her life. If not, he will take her as his bride.

Keturah has other motives than her own survival. From her conversation with him, she learns that her entire village will be wiped out by the plague. She needs to warn Lord Temsland so that he can take steps to prevent the plague from setting a foothold in the village. When she returns to the village, she finds many of the villagers suspicious of her. They believe she wandered into the company of fairies and many have begun to avoid her company. Her grandmother, who she lives with, is of course happy to have her back. And only her two friends, Beatrice and Gretta, learn the truth, and they're happy to help Keturah find her true love. Of the matter of the plague, Keturah decides not to tell her friends, but she attempts schedule a one-on-one meeting with Lord Temsland's son, John, in order to tell him.

Many of the characters in the novel have one special trait that helps identify them, but author Martine Leavitt provides added depth to each character as well. Beatrice is a great singer, and Gretta does a great job of stitching. Keturah believes Beatrice would be happy if she married Choirmaster, a lonely man, while Gretta would be happy with Tailor, a widowed man with children. However, both Beatrice and Gretta insist on those men being Keturah's true love. There is also Ben Marshall as a possible suitor, but to win his heart one has to win Best Cook. The best cook in Tide-by-Rood has always been Padmoh, who Keturah believes is better suited to Ben, but she also realizes he may be the easiest to win her way out of an early death if she can only wow the judges at the fair. The one man Keturah doesn't think of as her potential true love, however, is probably the one who's the most obvious match for her - the kind John Temsland.

In the end, there are really only two choices for Keturah's true love, and you'll probably guess who those two are pretty early on, but who she'll end up with is another matter. Of course, who Keturah will end up with isn't the sole point of the novel. Keturah is such a strong character because she isn't wholly concerned about love. She has concerns about the well-being of her friends and of her fellow villagers. She's a strong, fearless person, a beautiful woman who is more than just a beauty. She knows how to tell stories so fascinating as to woo Lord Death. She's smart, and despite all these qualities, she isn't conceited or self-centered. I know what you're thinking, she sounds just the opposite of so many young adult heroines out there, and that's partly what makes this such an engaging story.

This is a very powerful read, and as you reach the end you realize it's much more than about a girl seeking true love. In personifying death as a man, Leavitt leads us to consider one's relationship with death and coming to terms with death as an inevitable part of our lives. Part of what inspired her to write this story, as she writes in her Afterword, is that her own sister died at the age of eleven. The love and sorrow that Leavitt feels for her sister translates on the page in the form of Leavitt's powerful, evocative language. The amazing thing about the story is that one can read it as a straight romance and still feel the power of the story just as much as one who reads it as an allegory. To achieve what Leavitt does in this book is a difficult, impressive, and very satisfying accomplishment.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Review: The Martian, Andy Weir

There are two things that make The Martian, by Andy Weir, such a popular novel: Weir's sense of humor and his attention to technical details. Weir fires off many quotable one-liners that are laugh out loud funny, and in between he provides grueling technical detail into his main character's ingenious methods of survival. This is a novel with a simple premise - a man's quest to survive alone on Mars - and is told with realistic detail. And yet, Weir's storytelling chops are lacking. Yes he has a great sense of humor that helps break up the novel's many boring passages, but his love for the technical details of the Mars mission harm his overall story. When you break it down, there is very little plot, little to no character development, and hardly any philosophical speculation on the situation Weir's main character finds himself in.

Weir jumps straight into the heart of his novel. The crew of Ares 3, a Mars mission, believes one of its members, Mark Watney, is dead. We know this because Watney writes it in his journal. A dust storm jeopardizes the mission and heavy winds cause an antenna wire to impale Watney while the team was getting ready to abort the mission. The team loses contact with him and desperately searches for him, but with time running out, they have no choice but to leave him. Watney finds himself alone with no way to contact Earth on a landscape that is uninhabitable. He must use his ingenuity as a botanist and engineer to figure out how to survive.

The novel is all about calculations. Watney knows that NASA has planned a series of Mars trips about every four years, so his first calculations are how to survive until Ares 4. He has lots of rations, especially since his six-man crew has been reduced to one, but not enough to last until Ares 4. As a botanist, however, he figures out how to grow potatoes (yes, on Mars). But to grow enough to ensure his survival requires turning his entire living space into a garden, along with the spaces of the two vehicles left behind. Watney explains in his journal entries all of his methods and calculations in explicit detail.

This becomes a formula for the story. Watney runs into a problem, some of them having no immediate impact, and others having enormous immediate impact. Watney then explains exactly how he goes about solving said problem - what methods he uses, what materials he uses, what quantities he uses, how he tests his methods, how he modifies his methods based on how his tests go, and how those methods work out. I know there are plenty of people who will enjoy all of the trouble Weir goes through to explain all of these details because, from what I understand, they are very accurate and probable. And yet, they do not make for good storytelling. The story stalls during these moments. We know, as the reader, that since the book is written as journal entries, Watney will be fine because he survived to write that entry. This takes the suspense out of the story. It felt like he was writing a how-to book rather than a thrilling novel.

Watney isn't the only character in the story, but he is the only compelling one. Weir does a good job of creating a unique individual in Watney, and it's Watney's sense of humor that sets him apart. Weir has a keen ear for the sorts of humorous memes that get passed around social media, and that's largely the sort of the humor Watney has. I laughed out loud during a lot of moments of the book. In fact, I think it would be safe to classify this as a work of comedy more than a thriller. And it's this humor, I think, that is the biggest draw to the book. Reading the Kindle version, you can find all of the novel's funniest passages by searching for the most highlighted sections.

Watney is not the only character in the novel, and, in fact, there are quite a lot of characters who show up. There is the head of the NASA operations on Mars, Venkat Kapoor, along with other NASA characters such as Mitch and Teddy and Mindy and Annie, and then there are the crew members of the Ares 3 mission: Lewis, Johannsen, Beck, Vogel, and Martinez. The problem is, all of these characters are one-dimensional. To be honest, of the Ares 3 crew, I had trouble remembering who was a man or who was a woman, and when an apparent romance is revealed, I hardly cared, and when each crew member has a chat with a loved one on Earth, it was just a waste of pages. These characters are integral to the story, yes, but are treated almost as extensions of Watney's character, wisecracks all of them.

One of the joys of reading science fiction is its speculative nature. The Martian will have you speculate, yes, on survival on Mars, but not with any philosophical depth. Its speculation is limited just to Watney's own ingenuity. The greats in the science fiction realm love to tackle the big issues and get you thinking about big ideas. Watney loves to crack jokes, but doesn't take any time to contemplate his situation, even though he does have plenty of time. All he does is watch and rewatch seventies TV shows left behind on a crewmate's USB drive. One of the values of reading good science fiction is what it makes you think about, and with The Martian, it's not a whole lot. If you want a simple tale that will make you laugh a lot, this is an entertaining read, and if you love to talk shop with your friends, you'll fall in love with Mark Watney's method of narration. Just don't expect a great book.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Review: The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula K. Le Guin

To read The Tombs of Atuan, you might not realize that this is the second book in Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea Cycle (of course, it does help that it says so on the book cover). Only halfway into the book is it clear, when the hero from the original book, Ged, shows up. The Tombs of Atuan introduces a new character who is just as compelling as Ged was in A Wizard of Earthsea. Le Guin also uses her fantasy platform to make a comment on women's place in the world, as her main character, Arha, has power, but it's much more symbolic than real. The Tombs of Atuan may not be as compelling as A Wizard of Earthsea, but its story nonetheless has plenty of great moments and the novel furthers the story and world-building of the Earthsea Cycle.

As a reminder about some key information from A Wizard of Earthsea, it is in true names that wizards find their power. However, there is a powerful force that can overcome the power of wizards because it has no name. These are the Nameless Ones, and those who live on the island of Atuan, where the Nameless Ones reside, serve them. This is where Arha comes in. Her true name, as Ged later reveals, is Tenar, but she is known as Arha because she is the reincarnation of the Arch-Priestess of Atuan. When the Arch-Priestess dies, those in the service of the Nameless Ones seek out a girl born on the same day of her death and this girl is raised to become her replacement, as she is seen as her reincarnated form. Arha means "The Eaten One," which represents what happens to the soul of the Arch-Priestess.

Arha, however, is not quite as obedient as the Nameless Ones' servants would like. She is full of questions and curiosities and seems much more eager to learn about her station and her domain than her own teachers. These teachers are Thar and Kossil, two high priestesses who are older and supposedly wiser, but have less power. Or so it seems. Arha learns some truths. Though she basks in her own power, she learns there are limitations. For one, the god-king who rules the islands is, technically, below her in stature. But in reality, the god-king would not follow her commands. Also, the Arch-Priestess is easily replaced due to the fact she reincarnates as another, perhaps more malleable, girl. The high priestess, Kossil, seems to despise Arha, and Arha soon feels there is more danger in her angering Kossil than in Kossil angering Arha.

Ged, who hides his true name behind his identity as Sparrowhawk, enters the Tombs of Atuan to rob them. These Tombs are where the Nameless Ones reside. The Tombs themselves are dark and no light is allowed. They contain the entrance to the prison, where prisoners are sacrificed to the Nameless Ones, as well as the Labyrinth, which contains treasure. Arha discovers Ged only because she visits the Tombs and the Labyrinth so frequently as a place of refuge. She realizes right away that Ged is a wizard. Wizards are hated by those on the island, especially Kossil. They are said to be full of deceit and lies. In the treasury of the Labyrinth is an artifact, half of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe. This is what Ged seeks when Arha traps him in the Labyrinth. Instead of killing him, as she should, she keeps him alive because she is curious and because she also seems to revel in her power over him.

The Tombs of Atuan begins slowly before Arha transforms the story into something compelling. Watching her grow as an arrogant, rebellious-minded youth and respond to her situation makes for an entertaining read, and the world-building is intriguing as well. When Ged appears, halfway into the book, the story gets even better, as we watch Arha struggling to avoid doing the evil thing her faith requires of her. She keeps Ged alive and trapped because she wants to know more about the world, and Ged seems to see some goodness in her.

This book focuses largely on the development of Arha rather than the continuation of Ged's storyline. It's interesting to see the same Ged who in the last book became a powerful being, and who we know will become the world's most powerful wizard, reduced to powerlessness in this book. This allows the book to focus on Arha's development instead of Ged's, but it also shows us how even the most powerful of beings can be humbled and made human. That said, this book just does not stand up to the original. The original had very memorable moments of power and character growth. There are no earth-shattering moments in this book to match those in the original, and the climax comes too early, with the last two chapters serving largely as an epilogue of sorts. I do enjoy the series so far, but I have to admit that I'm not sure it has aged well. In today's fantasy/sci-fi climate, readers do enjoy the political side of world-building, but they also like action, and in that regard this book does not deliver. It requires patience, and if you have the patience you will find this an enjoyable read.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Review: Good the Goblin Queen, by Becket

When it comes to whimsy, there are limits. A little bit of whimsy can be a lot of fun, but too much can be exhausting. Becket, in Good the Goblin Queen, takes whimsy way too far. The story plays out like Dr. Seuss on steroids, with made up words and invented rhymes, all which play no role but to add to the endless whimsy. While the story has a fun concept - a girl who wishes to be queen is transformed into a goblin so she can be queen of the goblins - the author takes a heavy-handed approach to its humor by whacking the reader upside the head with the countless whimsical inventions - as many as can be fit into a single sentence, page, and book. While some children may find it amusing, the length of the book may put this out of reach of those who would likely enjoy it, and older audiences will grow bored with the lack of grounding and structure.

To begin the whimsy, a human girl named Good is adopted by a pair of orangutans. She is not happy with herself or her family. Her parents behave just like orangutans. They party all the time and rip up her books so she has to bury them in the backyard to keep them safe. Oh, and there's the bananas. That's the sole diet of Good's orangutan family. Clever? Somehow her father is elected President of the United States, and here's where things seem to take on a form of allegory. Does the orangutan president represent any one particular president? Since this book was written in 2015, could that president be President Obama? Could there be a poorer choice of comparison to a black president? Perhaps Becket is simply being whimsical, but part of me doubts it. I think he was just using poor taste.

Good happens to see a whole bunch of shooting stars one night and wishes upon them that she could be queen. Wishing on stars is apparently illegal, so when the secret service alerts the president that somebody wished on what was likely over one hundred stars, Good runs away. She runs into a ghost named Mr. Fuddlebee, who gives her a device called a Crinomatic that will make her wish come true. It does just that, but transforms her into a goblin, but before she can reverse it, the Crinomatic breaks. A group of seven goblins approaches her and recognizes her as the goblin queen. They then vow to take her back to the Goblin Kingdom.

The rest of the story is a series of adventures with the goal of reaching the Goblin Kingdom. The characters run into such conflicts as Nightmare Hollow, a giant, gremlins, and Old Queen Crinkle, queen of the vampires. These conflicts are largely resolved by Mr. Fuddlebee as a deus ex machina figure, or by the fact that the villains give the heroes endless amounts of time to solve their dilemma, such as the giant who waits for the heroes to repair the Crinomatic that will save them before deciding to step on them. All of this is told with lots of energy and humor that would, as I said before, amuse a younger audience, but just doesn't work for teens or adults.

Becket's dialogue and his writing set a tone of Dr. Seuss whimsy. The goblins always confuse big words that Good uses, in a way that would be comical to young readers. Sometimes this is done inventively, and it does give the novel some charm. The need to rhyme so frequently grows tiresome, and suggests an inventiveness without purpose. For example: "There were biggle goblins and sniggle goblins. There were snuggle goblins and huggle goblins; snicker goblins and bicker goblins; nag goblins, lag goblins, and bag goblins." The use of such nonsense words seems to provide no purpose other than to show that the author was in an inventive mood and that he enjoyed making things up on the fly. And that's how large segments of this book felt - simply made up along the way rather than developed organically.

But this is a parable of sorts. Underneath all the whimsy there is an important message the author would like to impart, and that's why I feel like the comparison of an orangutan to Obama is on purpose. At the end of the story, Good is faced with a dilemma that she herself cannot conquer, but from a book she learns some wisdom: to ask for help from DIOS. DIOS is an acronym for Dimensionally Intelligent Operating System, and it exists everywhere. All Good has to do is ask for help. DIOS, if you know Spanish, also stands for God. The message the book wants to communicate is that all you have to do is ask for help from God, or some other Dimensionally Intelligent Operating System, and everything will work out in the end. If you already believe this is true, you don't need to read a whimsical book about a goblin queen to know it, and if you don't believe this is true, the book is simply a waste of time.