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War Dances, A Book Review

I guess I finished reading War Dances by Sherman Alexie back in October and never got around to reviewing it. Book reviews are sort of a new thing for me, but I’ve found it’s a nice way to provide space to reflect on what I’ve read and possibly offer something helpful for anyone considering reading the book too.

war_dancesAnyway, it’s a collection of short stories and poems which makes it great, if you read like me, in short spurts, catching time where you can with very few long stretches to gain serious traction. It also probably makes it a quick read for those of you who fly through books. That being said, there’s nothing light about the content of the book. Though Alexie usually wraps his characters and plot lines in some amount of humor, many of the stories deal with very non-funny, intense subject matter. One story is about a man who accidentally kills a young, black teenager who breaks into his house. The character grapples with his choices and actions, as well as what it means to be “innocent.” Of course, issues of race, violence, and justice come up as well.

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Childhood’s End, A Review

I have never written a book review and it almost seems pretentious of me to even try. What could I say about any book that hasn’t already been said 100 times by others—more eloquently than I could ever say, for sure? But this review isn’t necessarily for anyone but me I guess. It’s a chance for me to process what I’ve read and by sharing it, maybe it helps someone else too, who knows? So let’s get to it.

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke is a sci-fi novel—one of the first I’ve read, really—and while yes, it is about space, time travel, physics, aliens, and the like, it’s far beyond just a cosmic tale. I won’t get into the details of the plot or spoil the ending, because that certainly has been done. Instead I think I should point out what I found intriguing about this book.

Like I said, I don’t usually read sci-fi novels. This novel was recommended to me by a good friend, possibly over 10 years ago, and it’s sat on my mental bookshelf until this summer. His review was glowing and I certainly respect his taste, yet I think it was the fact that it was a sci-fi book that lowered its rank a little. I’m glad I overcame that. Yes, the book is very well written and Clarke weaves the story’s plots and timelines together masterfully, often jumping 50 or 100 years at a time, and I never felt confused or abruptly transported in the storyline. It’s really a commentary on human nature and our creativity and potential.

No Utopia can ever give satisfaction to everyone, all the time. As their material conditions improve, men raise their sights and become discontented with power and possessions that once would have seemed beyond tehir wildest dreams. And even when the external world has granted all it can, there still remain the searchings of the mind and the longings of the heart.

Aliens come to earth and help solve our greatest problems which leaves humans comfortable and at peace, yet there are many that are left questioning the inevitable “why?” and “what’s next?” For all the cultural and technological advances that take place for humans, in the end, there is no stopping our potential to evolve and become greater than ourselves, but only through our most creative and non-scientific endeavors (think unexplained phenomena), and only in a united form. Clarke has this transformation take place (fittingly) with the children in the novel and the adults are beyond the next step in evolution. In fact, anyone older than 10 is literally left behind and the aliens that are first seen as “overlords” eventually liken themselves to “midwives attending a difficult birth”.

I really don’t want to give much more away in case anyone is actually reading this, but I really enjoyed discovering the still-current perspective of Clarke’s 1953  tale on how technology and cultural changes affect—or don’t affect—us as humans. And how he saw that, in the most ideal of circumstances, humans thrive best through following creativity, curiosity, and that a certain level of adversity and discomfort is really necessary for us to achieve our greatest potential—a potential that is essentially limitless.

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