Tag Archive | speculative fiction

Sci Fi Summer Read-athon starts tomorrow!

Seasons of Reading is hosting their annual Sci-Fi Summer Read-athon beginning tomorrow and running through June 7.

Some folks are really ambitious with their plans, posting that they plan to read three or four or more books.  In a week.  I don’t have that kind of time, but more power to ’em!

Of course, I could be wrong, and those are the books they intend to read throughout the summer.

Me, I just hope to get halfway through Olympos by Dan Simmons during this week.  It’s the sequel to Ilium, which I finished last week and plan to review in the near future.  Like Ilium, it’s a doorstop of a novel (upwards of 800 pages).  I’m currently on page 127.

What are you reading right now?

Book review: The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2)The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In The Fifth Season, we were introduced to Essun after the loss of her family. In The Obelisk Gate, we find out what happened to her daughter Nassun after her father killed her little brother and took off for parts unknown.

Essun works diligently to fit in and provide aid and stability to the underground community that has taken her and her traveling companions in. But politics and infighting, within the community and between the Stone Eaters who show up in unexpected places, make her situation precarious. Her Orogene abilities grow ever more powerful; meanwhile, Alabaster is dying, inch by inch.

Nassun travels across the ravaged countryside with her increasingly unstable father, until they reach their destination, a school that supposedly can cure Nassun of her Orogene nature. She, too, shows an increase in her power, much to her father’s dismay, leading to discord and treachery.

Environmental conditions worsen, vicious gangs roam the land; and the Obelisks approach.  And both Nessun and Essun are asked to consider the possibility of the prior existence of something called “the Moon.”

2017SFFReadingChallengeLike the first, illuminating excerpts from this culture’s foundational texts are sprinkled throughout the novel.  I love this method of providing back story and cultural context.

A worthy follow-up to the first volume. I can hardly wait for the third!

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This book was read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning SF/F Challenge.  Click that badge over there to see what others have been reading.  And once there, consider joining us.

Book review: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It isn’t often I run across a novel that I almost literally cannot put down.

The Fifth Season is such a novel. I resented the time I had to spend away from it.

On a planet that might be Earth, a giant rift opened in the ground near the capital city Yemenes, creating volcanic eruptions and violent earthquakes that ripple across the land. In some areas of the planet’s single land mass, these eruptions and earthquakes have been mitigated by Orogenes, people with a special ability to quell the land and harness its power. Orogenes are despised and feared, even persecuted and murdered, by the ordinary folk, unless they wear the uniform of the Fulcrum — the school where Orogenes are trained to use their power in a constructive and controlled fashion.

But no Orogene can prevent the destructive atmospheric fallout from the Rift. The eruption has instigated a Season — ash coats the world, sunlight is obscured, plants and animals die off, and human life becomes increasingly precarious.

The story follows three women:

  • Essun, a middle-aged mother who hid her Orogene abilities from her fellow villagers, including her husband, but passed them along to her children
  • Damaya, a young trainee at the Fulcrum
  • Seyenite, a graduate of the Fulcrum, on her first big mission

These women live their lives, follow their orders, and try their best to stay safe. But their lives have an unexpected convergence; what one does in her youth severely impacts the life of another some ten years later.

Scattered throughout the novel are hints of the underpinnings and history of the cultural socioeconomics and societal structure. Pieces of lost technology (or “deadciv” artifacts) turn up now and then; some are benign, some are deadly. And just what are those large crystalline structures occasionally seen floating through the air?

2017SFFReadingChallengeFabulous world-building. Intriguing characters. Fascinating plot. Within 10 minutes of finishing this book, I bought the second of the series and pre-ordered the third. Yes, it’s that good. Yes, you should read it.

Why are you still here? Go get it now.

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This book was read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning Science Fiction/Fantasy Reading Challenge.  Click that badge on the right to see what other participants have read.

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Book review: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup GirlThe Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The heat is nearly unbearable.

The ice caps melted; the sea-level rose; the fossil-fuel economy collapsed; worldwide famine ensued; and Asia took the lead in science- and technology-driven solutions. Unfortunately, the genetically-engineered crops produced by the agricultural research companies also produced horrific diseases for crops and for people, further decimating global population and food supply. Riots, black markets, corporate espionage, ethnic cleansing…the world of 100 years or so from now is not a pleasant place, unless one is very wealthy.

And in Paolo Bacigalupi’s future vision, one is either very wealthy, or one is not. The only denizens of a nearly non-existent middle class are the calorie-men, like Anderson Lake, the manager of the factory where much of the action of this novel centers.

Anderson Lake prowls the street markets of Bangkok, hoping to find pure, unaltered food — a real canteloupe, an actual vine-grown tomato — that he can purchase and take back to his employer for gene analysis and modification. What he finds, eventually, is Enniko.

Enniko — the Windup Girl of the title — is a “New Person”, the genetically-engineered, vat-grown human-like plaything of a Japanese businessman, who left her behind in Bangkok when he grew tired of her. Her unaccompanied presence in the city is problematic, and she places herself under the protection of unsavory individuals for her personal safety.

Around both of them, Bangkok is aswirl with civil unrest, thievery, police corruption, political assassination attempts, and the outbreak of a new and mysterious disease. There’s so much going on in this story that it’s nearly impossible to synopsize.

It’s not an easy read: lots of characters and subplots to follow; lots of Bacigalupi-created neologisms; lots of untranslated Asian-language words (presumably Thai, but I could be wrong). The word meanings can be gathered from context, but it makes for slow going initially.

Have I mentioned that I loved it? I did. It’s fabulous. Gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, horrifying, and spectacular. Once I finally got into the story, I could hardly bear to put it down.

2017SFFReadingChallengeThis is not a story for everyone. But it was the story for me.

(If you like China Miéville, you will love this. Trust me.)

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This book was read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning Science Fiction/Fantasy Reading Challenge.  Click that badge on the right to see what other participants have read.

Further musing on this year’s SF/F Reading Challenge

Because I’m doing my best to “shop” my bookshelves and the public library, I’ve reviewed the awards lists carefully to find books already in hand, so to speak, to meet this challenge.  So far, I’ve found these here at home:

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman.  Winner of the 2006 August Derleth Award (British Fantasy Awards). Winner of the 2006 Locus Awards.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman.  Nominated for 2002 World Fantasy Awards. Nominated for the 2002 British SF Association Awards.  Winner of the 2002 Hugo.  Winner of the 2002 Bram Stoker Award.  Winner of the 2002 August Derleth Award (British Fantasy Awards). Winner of the 2002 Locus Awards. Winner of the 2003 Nebula. This would be a re-read in preparation for the TV series that debuts on Starz in April 2017.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  Winner of the 2009 Hugo.  Nominated for the 2009 World Fantasy Award.  Nominated for the 2009 August Derleth Award (British Fantasy Awards).

(Aside:  This is only a partial list of the nearly uncountable awards Neil Gaiman has been nominated for or won.  Why isn’t he a Grand Master already?)

The Wooden Sea by Jonathan Carroll.  Nominated best novel for 2002 World Fantasy Awards.

Ilium and Olympos by Dan Simmons.  Simmons was voted a Grand Master of Horror in 2013, so any of his works will qualify.  Ilium was nominated for the 2004 Hugo; and Olympos was nominated for the 2006 Locus Award.  Also on my shelf are Lovedeath, nominated for the 1994 Bram Stoker Award and 1994 Locus; Phases of Gravity, 1990 Locus nominee; Drood, 2010 Locus nominee; Worlds Enough and Time, 2003 Locus nominee; and The Terror, 2008 Shirley Jackson Award nominee.  Can you tell I like Dan Simmons?  A lot?

From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury.  Bradbury is a Grand Master of long standing in several categories so, again, any of his works will qualify.  From the Dust Returned was nominated for several awards in 2002: World Fantasy; Bram Stoker; and Locus.  I have lots more Bradbury on the shelf, but this one, Farewell Summer, and A Pleasure to Burn are the only titles I haven’t already read.

Horns by Joe Hill.  2011 Bram Stoker nominee.  Currently reading NOS4A2, winner of the 2014 August Derleth Award (British Fantasy Awards), and nominee for the 2014 Bram Stoker and Locus Awards.

Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe.  Another Grand Master.

Embassytown by China Miéville.  2012 Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke award nominee.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin.  2016 Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy winner; 2016 Locus nominee; and so far the only female author on this list.  I have other female authors on my library wishlist, such as Elizabeth Moon, Lauren Beukes, and Octavia Butler.  I must make a point of checking out those books.

2017SFFReadingChallengeOkay, that’s 19 named books and three authors without named books, so let’s try for the Hydra Category (21+ novels).

Care to join us in this reading challenge?  Click the badge to the left to be taken to the sign up page.

Award Winning SF/F Reading Challenge

2017SFFReadingChallengeRemember last year when Shaunesay of The Space Between hosted the fabulous 2016 Award Winning SF/F reading challenge?  She’s doing it again this year.  You can post your sign-up blog entry here.  I’ll be posting a link to this blog entry as my official yet belated notice of participation.  Yes, belated, because the challenge actually began January 1.  Oops.

If you are looking for some award-winning books to read, here’s a link to the Science Fiction Awards Database, where you will find everything you could ever possibly want in the way of lists.

Join us!

Book review: Gateway by Frederik Pohl

Gateway (Heechee Saga, #1)Gateway by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rob Broadhead is in therapy, even though he is resistant to everything his therapist suggests. But he keeps coming back, week after week, session after session, until finally, a breakthrough is achieved.

The story that underlies that eventual breakthrough is the story of Rob’s experience at Gateway, a space station that houses the mysterious spacecraft of a vanished race known as the Heechee. Rob was a prospector, a person who takes a chance and joins an expedition to one (or more) of the unknown destinations pre-programmed into the Heechee ships in the hopes of finding something spectacular and making a fortune.

Rob made a fortune. And it broke him.

Frederik Pohl constructed his tale in bi-fold manner: Rob’s therapy sessions with his AI psychiatrist; and his time at Gateway, learning about Heechee navigation and preparing for his trip into the unknown. It’s an effective tool, revealing Rob’s psychosis and its triggering event a little at a time. And the information revealed about the mysterious and long-gone Heechee is intriguing enough for me to seek out the rest of the series. Well done, Mr. Pohl.

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2016SFFChallengeThis review was written as part of the 2016 Award-Winning SFF Challenge. This challenge is now over, but you can find the sign-up for the 2017 Challenge right here.

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Book review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

The Man in the High CastleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s 1962. Having lost World War II, the United States is now under the control of The Third Reich in the East and Imperial Japan in the West, with a no-man’s land/neutral territory — the Rocky Mountain States, governance unspecified — in between. Naturally, the Germans continue their extermination of Jews and other undesirables in their own territory and, due to the treaty between Japan and Germany, those found within Japanese territory, as well.

In San Francisco, Mr. Childan, a dealer in American antiquities, vintage handicrafts, and Hollywood memorabilia, is mortified to discover he has a forgery in his inventory, putting at risk his reputation and his entire livelihood of catering to the Japanese obsession with Americana. He consults the I Ching to enable him to choose a correct selection for his client, Mr. Tagomi.

High in his office in the Nippon Tower, Mr. Tagomi despairs he will find an appropriate gift for a client flying in from the Reich. He consults the I Ching to determine if Mr. Childan will provide any useful items from which to choose.

Elsewhere in the City, Frank Frink and his partner Ed set themselves up as creators of handcrafted metal jewelry, hoping against hope to find a market within a dominant culture with no interest in contemporary American work, only in the leavings of the past. Frank consults the I Ching for guidance in this new endeavor.

In the Rocky Mountain States, Juliana Frink — Frank’s ex-wife — takes up with a truck driver named Joe, an Italian who fought on the Axis side of the war. She consults the I Ching about everything.

And in both the Japanese Territory and the Rocky Mountain States, an underground novel titled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy makes the rounds of society. Said book, banned in the Reich, describes an alternate history: one in which Germany and Japan were defeated and the United States became the most powerful nation on the planet.

This novel appears in each our characters’ daily routines, eventually becoming an obsession with Juliana, who determines she must seek out its author. And when she does, his answers to her curiosity will make the reader question everything previously read.

One of the gifts of a great writer is the ability to leach in backstory and build a world without grand expository passages. Philip K. Dick is a great writer. He assumes the reader already knows this information and drops in nuggets of world-building data as ordinary bits of thought or conversation. We glean an extraordinary amount of knowledge about the Japanese-German controlled world in this way: Japan controls all of the Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand; the African continent is a wasteland due to Nazi policies; black slavery is commonplace; the American South is a hellhole…in fact, anywhere the Nazis are in control is a hellhole by contemporary standards, although if one is of Aryan heritage and/or appearance, life can be fairly pleasant. By comparison, life in Japanese territory, while rigidly governed by protocol, honor, and maintaining “face”, is nearly halcyon and idyllic. The Japanese will punish lawbreakers harshly, of course, but they’re not interested in punishing people for their heritage or ethnicity on their own inclination, only as part of their agreements with the Reich.

The Man in the High Castle is a marvelous story, simply written in elegant prose, full of depth and meaning and questions without answers. First published in 1962, it’s a subtle piece of metafiction from before the word was even coined.

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2016SFFChallengeThis review was written as part of the 2016 Award-Winning SFF Challenge. This challenge is now over, but you can find the sign-up for the 2017 Challenge right here.

Book review: Neuromancer by William Gibson

Neuromancer (Sprawl Trilogy, #1)Neuromancer by William Gibson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, maybe cyberpunk is not my thing.

More specifically, maybe the inventor of cyberpunk, Mr. William Gibson himself, is not my thing. This is the second Gibson under my belt. I realized belatedly that the first, Count Zero, read nearly 10 years ago, was the sequel to this novel. I enjoyed it more than Neuromancer, but not enough to keep it or consider reading it again. And, even though the title fascinates me, I’m fairly certain I’ll pass on the third entry in this series, Mona Lisa Overdrive.

Okay, the review part:

Case, a hacker, down on his luck and scrounging for ways to feed his addiction, receives an offer to repair the neurological damage caused by his last employer and the physical damage caused by his addiction in exchange for diving back into the Matrix (a “Deep Web”-type virtual space where the hacker’s disembodied consciousness runs free amidst corporate and personal data in search of booty to pirate) and stealing some very particular data for a very particular client. Desperate, he agrees, even though the repair job is temporary unless he successfully completes his assignment. Much world-hopping, bed-hopping, and cyberspace-hopping ensue.

This 1984 novel is notable for its prescience and coinage of words now in common use — Gibson foresaw the coming ubiquity of the internet, and gave us the term “cyberspace”. For that reason alone, it’s worth reading. And I won’t argue that it well deserves its Hugo and Nebula awards: at the time of its publication, Neuromancer was a uniquely fresh take on the whole SF genre, while at the same time creating a whole new subgenre.

What I will argue is that for readers who are not technically-minded (yours truly as case in point), it’s easy to get lost in the complexities of Gibson’s vision. While I ended my trip through the Matrix with a general feeling of resolution (in the sense that I understood the basics of the story and its ending), I was also rather confused — perhaps dizzied is a better word — at several points during the story. For example, I’m not entirely clear on what happened to Linda or why she kept showing up in odd places. The whole bit with why the Marcus Garvey was integral to the scheme to steal the data escaped me. And with so many characters and their inter-relationships to keep track of, I felt like I needed a flow chart.

Part of this confusion may stem from the fact that I read this book on my daily commute train, so perhaps my concentration wasn’t fully focused. Regardless, I am not a novice SF reader. I understand SF, especially good SF, can be complex and dizzying and character-heavy. (Witness my thorough enjoyment of Seveneves by Neal Stephenson and Perdido Street Station by China Miéville.) My conclusion, therefore, is that stated at the top of this review: cyberpunk is one sub-genre that doesn’t suit the way my brain operates. Too bad.

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2016SFFChallengeThis review was written as part of the 2016 Award-Winning SFF Challenge. This challenge is now over, but you can find the sign-up for the 2017 Challenge right here.

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R.I.P. XI Catch-up: Screen time

RIP 9 Peril on the Screen

How did I let two weeks go by without posting anything?  It’s amazing how quickly times runs past me these days.

The past couple of weeks, I’ve imbibed a few Perils On The Screen to quickly discuss.

longmireThe new season of Longmire came out on Netflix a couple of weeks ago.  This show was originally on some cable channel, got cancelled a couple of years ago, and Netflix picked it up to continue making new episodes.  It’s a contemporary Western that tells us the story of Walt Longmire, a widowed sheriff who, on top of investigating the murders that take place in his rural Wyoming county, deals with political maneuverings, shady businessmen, and tension with the neighboring Native American reservation.  Sheriff Longmire is played by Robert Taylor, an Australian actor with a pitch perfect American West accent; Katee Sackhoff plays one of his deputies; and Lou Diamond Phillips plays his best friend.  A host of other recurring characters and guest stars rotate through this well-acted series.  Highly recommended.

aftermathI watched the pilot of SyFy‘s new show, Aftermath, the other night.  Oh dear God, what a jumbled mess.  According to the show’s blurb, “When people start disappearing and disasters start to indicate the end of the world is at hand, the Copeland family – Karen, Josh, Dana, Brianna and Matt – must fight for their survival while piecing together clues on how to save what’s left of humanity.”  Mom (Karen, played by Anne Heche) is a badass ex-military pilot; Dad (Josh, played by James Tupper) is a wimpy academic; and the kids are one-dimensional.  To be generous, perhaps the idea was to plop the viewer right down in the middle of the apocalypse with the Copeland family, who themselves have little idea what’s going on, but this was done better in Cloverfield — and that movie had at least some exposition or background chatter (in the way of TV/radio snippets) that gave the viewer a vague idea of the circumstances.  I’ll give episode two a try, because it might get better.  But I don’t have much hope.

slitherLast night, spouse and I watched Slither, a worthy addition to the “Bad Movie Night” list.  It’s bad, but it’s fun bad, because it’s just so absurd AND it doesn’t take itself seriously.  A meteor crashes to Earth somewhere in North Carolina, a creepy crawly from that meteor takes over the body of a human being, and then multiplies itself in an effort to take over more humans.  Featuring Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, and Michael Rooker.  And a number of gross-out scenes, so if you’re sensitive to that, beware.  (I watched a couple of them through my fingers, but mainly turned my head and closed my eyes.)

maltese-falcomFinally, the 1941 classic The Maltese Falcon graced our flat-screen a few weeks ago.  Humphrey Bogart is at his snarling sardonic best as the world-weary private dick Sam Spade; Mary Astor is luminous and beguiling as the damsel in distress; and Peter Lorre plays as sniveling a criminal character as he can muster.  Great fun to watch, but set aside any modern feminist sensitivities when you do.

RIP 11Reviewed for R.I.P XI “Peril on the Screen” Challenge.  Click the badge to find out more about this annual event.

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