Sunday, November 6, 2011

SF and a Mini Review: Patrick Ness's The New World

This is a free short story offered by for the Kindle.  The story is a prequel to The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking trilogy) - one of the best SF/dystopian reads for upper middle school and high school.

I downloaded the book and asked Colleen D. (grade 8, Freeport Middle School) to review it.  Here is her review, straight off her email:

In this short story by Patrick Ness, Viola faces some of the hardest challenges she will ever have to face. Her hope is "down." She and her parents are to leave the main ship to go explore the New World. Things do not go smoothly. A fire in the engine room. The cockpit ripped apart. Viola won't even cry.

**** Colleen rates it four stars.

If your students have not yet met Patrick Ness, introduce them.  If they have read Knife, or the entire trilogy, give them this story for closure.  Remember: Kindle titles can be read on just about every digital platform with a free app or download. 

Also highly recommended: the audio CD versions of the trilogy (the CD of this story is not worth the price).  My students who struggled with the stylistic challenges of the novels found that reading with the CD helped them to read the novels.  Most did not need to listen to all three books (e.g. they got better at reading). 

Chaos Walking has been called both SF and dystopia.  It is both, crossing space travel with the classic dystopian theme of a society gone terribly wrong. Students love them. Exploring Kindle titles available for free loan, I ran into a series of stories in the Galaxy Project series.  These are classic stories by the best SF writers of the last century.  At $1.99 each, or free Loan (read about this in my next post), they offer the ELA teacher easy access to great classics that will also grab today's students.  Why?  Because, like Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" and "2 B R 0 2 B," these are dystopian stories. 

Galaxy Magazine's editor, Horace Gold, was fascinated by reversals and "what if's."  Each of the Project stories takes a satirical, dark look at what happens when a single element of life is exploded or reversed in the future.  They are, in short, dystopian.  Many of the stories were written in the 50's and 60's, so cold war politics and technological advances (media, science especially) play a large part in many plots. There are great historical connections here.

The stories in the Galaxy Project Series will ring a bell with readers of today's dystopian fiction.  Check out the blurb for Ask Me Anything, by Damon Knight: "Knight’s tortured cyborgs in ASK ME ANYTHING - the amputated brains of children placed in metallic contraptions designed for combat and killing - have a horrifying validity."  Unwind meets Ender's Game meets The Adoration of Jenna FoxSend your students back to the source.  They will be reading great writing, grappling with compelling ideas (which are still valid today), and thinking about the act of creation. 

Where did Harry Potter and The Hunger Games come from, anyway?  What's new? What's different?

I have selected "The Tunnel Under the World" (Pohl) and "The Big Trip Up Yonder" (Vonnegut - sounds like The Declaration - available in other $.95 editions, one with "2 B R 0 2 B") for starters.  Reviews of other titles are welcome.

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