29 December 2012

Skirting the Issue: My Top 6 SF Books

The question is what book dazzled me this year.   Sitting here I cannot arrive at a single book deserving of being placed on my top ten.  Skirting the issue of my best read of 2012  I am revealing my Top Ten.  A Top Ten list while informative is really not about the books themselves.  A Top Ten reveals what you as a reader like, duh.  My Top Ten does not even hold ten.  The top 6 are locked down but four others are up for debate.  

A recent addition, Black Out/ All Clear by Connie Willis triumphantly moved into the number 6  position.   Time travel has never looked so good.   And that is saying something considering Kage Baker has locked down the idea of time travel so soundly in her Company books.  Why I love them:  packed with WWII trivia, solid plot development, time travel.  Read: Twice.  

Can a SF reader call themselves a SF reader if they do not embrace something by Isaac Asimov?  A debatable question maybe controversial enough to launch a side blog focusing on the" Foundation Effect".....   The Foundation Series takes spot 5.  Why I love them:  the idea of pyschohistory - prediction of future events through Mathematics, the suspenseful, alien quality while being old-fashioned.  Read:  Thrice. 

 I am a space opera junky.  Therefore my top 6 would be of little relevance if Louis McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga was not to be found on it. Of all the books, and by all I mean  I am too lazy to count them, my favourites are those featuring the Gems from the Cetagandan Empire.  I love secret societies, especially opulent, weird, genetically perfected societies.  But above all it goes back to Miles; SF's most charismatic hero ever written.   The most recent addition to the Saga, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is a classic Bujold plot filled with love, intrigue, humour and suspense.  Maybe not the best book to pick up if you are new to the Vorkosigan Universe but definitely one of the author's stronger books released in recent years.  Read:  Most books twice, some more depending on how sappy I felt.

In  third  happens to be about a Company.  Dr Zeus Inc. profits by time travelling  from the 24th century into the past to save artefacts deemed valuable to be then retrieved in the future.  The Company employees, once human, were transformed as children into immortals.  I cannot choose one book from the Kage Baker's series so instead claim the entire group to fill one spot.  Why do I love them:  the humour,  the strong characterization that Kage wrote so well, the love stories and finally her concept of time travel.  Read:  4 times maybe more depending on the book.  


Without a doubt my favourite book of all time is Dune by Frank Herbert.  This blog is really an homage to his genius.   It's hold on me is simple.  Being a lover of reading, there is nothing more powerful than discovering an author who has complete control over his vision.   The wacky thing is. Dune ranks 2.  Although it is my favourite SF book, it is not the book that I return to time again to simply lose myself in its pages.  Read:  Over 20 times....i realize by typing this out that  a. I look insane   b. I look awesome.

Top Spot happens to be Chapterhouse: Dune by Frank Herbert.  Book 6 in the Herbert's Dune series, Chapterhouse:  Dune has been reviewed by many as weak link in the chain of books.  To me though it is the most fascinating of them all.   A reader is permitted  to go behind the velvet rope.  Walk amongst the Bene Gesserit as it struggles to survive against a foe more all encompassing then the God Emperor's (Leto the II, Paul's son, half man, half sandworm...read the books!) Golden Path.  Please excuse me I got all Dune there on you.  Why I love it: look into the Bene Gesserit, an all women powerhouse, the suspense of what is coming back from the Scattering, the final showdown, the speculation of how Herbert would have closed the series...which is defunct thanks to these.  Read:  More than Dune.  Holy Shit Balls.  

14 December 2012

Sugar Plums: Books for wee imaginations

An Auntie of one and god-mommy of two I have earned the title Book Auntie, showering the little ones in my life with gifts to spark their imaginations over the years.  Now that I am a  mommy myself I am able to share those stories with my child as he grows.  Here are a few of our favorites....


Alligator Pie, Dennis Lee
If you are Canadian then I can guarantee that you have just quoted the entire first stanza to the Alligator Pie poem.  If you are not, well what a great opportunity to find out what little Canadian children are being read. The poems are wonderfully insane as only Dennis Lee can write and the illustration by Frank Newfeld are disturbing enough to trigger little minds to look at them over and over again.


Serious.  This book was purchased on the sheer hilarity of the title and shipped off to my niece that day.  Opening it up is one ridiculous page after another documenting a farmer's woes when his cows go on strike.  Luckily the duck was a neutral party....

When Lois Armstrong Taught Me to Scat, Lovely wonderful illustrations to accompany great sentence like "Chew-itee Chew-itee chew-itee Chop, Crackity Crackity Snappity Poppity Pop!" makes for a great read to cuddle up to at night.  Son approved since age one, this book is a favourite at our house.

Trying not to get too sentimental this collection happens to be the first book purchased by me for my little son. At just a week old, and having realized that my entire life for the next 6 months would be spent sitting nursing him, I wanted to do something beyond staring at the wall.  Pooh got us through many a long night.

All Aboard the DinoTrain, Deb Lund
Alright, alright I confess I got a Dino loving little boy at home.  The pages are filled with weird 4 stanza lined, rhyming drama about a  group of dinosaurs taking a train to parts unknown. At this age it is more about the transportation then the destination.

Best Mother Goose Ever, Richard Scarry
I really am unsure of the appeal to this book but it was well-loved by me as a child and now my son.  Filled with very British inspired illustrations to accompany classic mother goose poems, this is a must for every little person.  Bonus points to your family if your husband reads every single poem out loud in a different accent.

7 December 2012

The Gift of Sci-Fi


Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the Death Star
Not a Storm Trooper was stirring not even a bounty hunter
The stockings were hung by the chimney with fear,
In the hopes that Darth Vadar soon would be there.

Welcome to the first annual how to turn your loved ones into sci-fi nerds this Christmas.

For the wee ones:  Have a little one who finds the dark scary?  Pick up The Woods by Paul Hope , cuddle up together and learn that as long as you have someone to hold your hand, there is no reason to be afraid of the unknown.

The Safe Bet:  Buying for someone who likes adventure books but not adventurous enough to go full Vernor Vinge, spiders that drive, adventurous?  Grab  Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, wrap it up, chuck it under the tree and be confident in your choice.  Why?  Well, you just happened to gift  one of the hottest books of the year jammed  with 80's nostalgia that takes the reader on one hell of ride.  Bonus points to you if your loved one is a fan of RPG (role player games!).


For the tortured soul:  Have a tween girl in your life lying around the house like a sack of sad goo willing to venture beyond zombie/vampire love?  The Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth is a must.  These books are similar in theme to the Apocalyptic violent blood bath found in The Hunger Games but in my humble opinion better written with a more swoon worthy love story.  Your tween can spend the holidays lost in a land of violence and gore pining over Tobias while you can spend it lost in rum. 


For the reader:  This is for The Reader in the family.  You know that person who is most often identified because of the book they are nose deep in than there facial features.  Time to impress this reader in your life and introduce them to time travel.   Black Out/All Clear by Connie Willis are on my personal top ten books of all time. (holy shit balls) Bonus points if The Reader is WWII nerd.  And no I do not think these books are too long.  The longer the better. 


For the nut job:  Have someone willing to read anything, not judge and likes to get nuts? A couple of holidays ago, my hubby gifted me the Gaea Trilogy by John Varley and it was the best Christmas ever as far as reading crazy ass, what the crap is going on kind of holiday.  All I remember is drinking rum and cokes, and living in a world where an orbital satellite is sentient and manifests itself into an image of Marilyn Monroe.  Honestly people, this shit is crazy!  

26 November 2012

Deck the halls already: A rant

Never in the history of me being me have I ever consider decorating for the holidays until about 2 weeks before the blessed event.  Never. Ever. Until today....

Not sure why, well who is kidding who, thanks to the overwhelming pressure by stores to make this holiday a year to remember (dollar wise) we, the general public have been sucking on the candy stick of Christmas consumerism since November 1st.  Yes, that is right, November 1st, the day after Halloween.  I kid you not, stores in the city were pumping carols the same day they were trying to unload 55 million bags of Halloween treats.  For once I would like November to be November.  You know the month that Dune Girl was born. (obviously)  Yes, I turn older Tuesday.  It is pretty sweet.  To make it sweeter,  the hubby  turns 5 years younger than I but one year older for him one week later.  With two birthdays to bathe in booze, Christmas has always been on the back burner for us.

This year though we are ready to break the unwritten family rule and deck the house out like a hussy Santa.  Things are getting nuts.  
I never did finish it

You might be wondering if this internal struggle has gotten in my way of reading books and then oh, I don't know blogging about them on this blog for books.  Not really, I am actually reading something right now, it is just taking me forever.  After the third serious attempt to read Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (I KNOW) I am finally into it. Finally...To be frank this book bugs me.  I don't know how many years I have been hearing the merits of this thing.  Every time I have heard an incredible review I am running up to my bookcase and pulling the dam thing out to then very quickly  shove it  back on the shelf.  This may officially showcase my level of average intelligence but the first 60 pages of this book MAKES NO SENSE.  Someone seriously needs to sit down with me and talk me through it.  I am not joking. The only way that I have managed to get anywhere in it is because I skipped the first part.  You read that right, I skipped something and am proud of it.

Anyway I am not far enough in to review the book. My hope is that once finished I can return to the first part and suddenly all will be revealed to me.  This is my hope...I am not holding my breath.  And no, I haven't watched the movie. GAWD, give me a little credit.

Beside this epic struggle of Santa or not to Santa  I was handed the new book by Lois McMaster Bujold:  Captain Vorpatril's Alliance yesterday  and subsequently have stopped all communications with my family.  For those of you in the know this is a book from the Vorkosigan Series which just happens to be one of my fave's.    It's like the world knows it's my birthday!

12 November 2012

Kitchen Sink: A Review of the The Unincorporated Woman

I read by default. Whatever is around I read. As a kid I used to pour over the milk carton during breakfast desperate to read something, anything. To avoid reading milk (not a page turner at all, do not recommend) I got into the habit of stockpiling books like Skyscrapers on my bedside table.  As I finish something all I have to do is lean over and grab something new. I really don't read up on what's coming or who is about to release the next big sensation either.   So it was a pleasant surprise to discover that the third in the Unincorporated series, The Unincorporated Woman by Dani Kollin and  Eytan Kollin was out and sitting on my kitchen table. (kudos to my father-in-law, my very own book fairy)  Is it odd to review book three in a series having not spent much time raving about the previous two? More still is it odder that my recommendation to read the entire series is based on the merits of the third book? 

Don't mistake me, all three books are stellar. In fact the first, The Unincorporated Man won the Prometheus Award (according to their bio) and more importantly this girl's heart. I don't want to ruin the books for you as there are a lot of " what the hell is going to happen" next moments. Simply put the human race has incorporated itself.   Upon birth you  own a small  percentage of shares in yourself. Life is spent raising your self interest so others will buy into you so you can raise money to gradually buy more shares of yourself in the hopes of attaining majority. Holding majority allows for freedom to do what you like and it is this rainbow of hope that people strive for but also keeps them bound to corporations. Fascinating universe, now take this perfect world, plop the only unincorporated man into it by way of cryogenics and voilĂ  you have on your hands a story, no wait, A Revolution, no wait, a war.   

Of all the books I've read this year, these win the Dune Girl's award for guts. I swear the Kollin brothers before they sat down to pen these stories must have made a pact. If we are going to write SF then WE ARE GOING TO WRITE SF. There is every possible form of sub-genre found in these books including the proverbial kitchen sink. That, in my books takes guts especially since the books are not muddled.

Let's review shall we. First off, there are asteroids. Billions of people call asteroids home in this universe. In fact, most have never been planet side, and do not find it odd that their horizons bend upwards.  (Living in huge rocks, curved...look it up). Then there is AI.    What was once the world wide web has evolved into something so all encompassing that avatars have become sentient unbeknownst  to the human race. Looking for some romance. Check. Love stories a-plenty. Too sappy for you, do not worry, the Kollin brothers make sure the realities of war effect all in a most tragic way. Like a good War with guns and shit.  Covered. Most  surprising to me  is how much I am enjoying reading about battles. SF is not my favourite genre so The Unincorporated Woman is expanding my reading world and may result in me trying out some other military inspired stories. Into space opera?, well congratulations you are about to read a roller-coaster of emotions as dramatic as anything that Lois McMaster Bujold has weaved.

To be brief, The Unincorporated Woman does wane a bit. The WAR is long and does take up the majority of the drama. But the characters new and old are so addicting that it is one of those series that you hope for more to come.    

4 November 2012

Darth Mouse

I received a call from my husband a couple days ago informing me of some big news. Big in our life can range from I want pizza for dinner to I won 50 grand in Vegas so I was completely open to anything that might be revealed to me.  To my absolute gob-smacking shock it was the news of Lucasflims being sold to Disney for 4 billion gazillion galactic credits.

With the Internet having  exploded in upon itself with this news, at least the part of the interweb that I cruise around in (apparently there was a some type of large rainstorm that hit parts of the north east coast).I debated whether to ignore the large Darth Mouse in the room or jump gleefully into his arms. Wheeeeeeeeeeee!

How do I feel about all this hullabaloo?  Frankly, I don't care (Okay, okay, I do care just not CARE care).   I think I have read more articles than there should be speculating on what the new films will be about.  Are they going to follow The Thrawn Trilogy ?  Interesting concept but I can't see Lucas agreeing to follow Zahn's vision.  And yes I do believe Lucas will have a deciding voice in the creation of the next 3 installations,  4 billion dollars or not the guy is Star Wars.  While I am a fan of Grand Admiral Thrawn and would love to see the Noghi come to life, I have issues with Luke's future wife Mara Jade.  Having to sit through three films watching Mara Jade wrestle over her inner struggles to kill Skywalker ranks as cringe level high as having to sit through the Aniken/Padme Amidala love story.  Probably the most far fetched script is the Boba Fett spin-off.   There is no debate that the Bounty Hunter is kick-ass but the allure to his character is the not knowing.  Like Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe these characters are bad ass because they  exist only in the present.  

Personally, I would love to see a revamp of the franchise.  Take Star Wars to the new generation of fans as the release of J.J. Abrams's Star Trek The Movie so successfully did.  Before this film  no one contemplated recasting the iconic roles of Spock, Kirk, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov.  Who could possible play Spock or that matter dare to walk in the shadow of Shatner?  It's Shatner for heaven's sakes, who would have the guts to do that?   Just imagine recasting for Star Wars. To be truthful the idea of messing with the original IV, V, VI makes me queasy but if done properly what a glorious thing it would be.  

All in all, the point is this.  Who cares!  There is going to be three more films and whatever your level of hatred for I, II, III is, with Lucas out of the director's chair we are bound to have some straight up wicked shit to watch.  MAYBE and I say maybe on this one, whomever successfully produces the new films will decide that  Frank Herbert's vision of Dune should be properly conveyed...if only.  Does anyone have Peter Jackson's direct line?   I have a proposition for him.

28 October 2012

Freaky

With Frankenstorm bearing down, and 500 itsy-bitsy chocolate bars safely hidden (from whom, I'm unsure) in our large kitchen cupboard,  my mind is on Halloween.  When it comes to horror my readings run as far as the two typical giants: Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe.     From these authors there are a couple of books  that freaked me out.  Way back in the 90's It, the miniseries aired.  Like most I was glued to my set, firmly entrenched behind a mountain of pillows with my fingers firmly pressed into my ears, too terrified to actually hear half of the dialogue.  Once the fear of Pennywise  dissipated I read the book.  Like most  King books there is some random sex thrown in that makes little to no sense, thankfully the really weird crap happens at the end making it somewhat easier to ignore.  The book that made me a Stephen King fan though, was  Bag of Bones.  Wonderfully written, a real step beyond the typical formulaic King style, this book has a Gothic element while still being firmly grounded in Maine.  

I wonder what Poe's perception of this century would be if he was aware that most people know of him through  The Simpsons .  I predict something similar to Hop-Frog being composed.  Of all Poe's short stories, it is this little revenge tale that has captured my imagination so completely.    But of all the tales, it is The Murders in the Rue Morgue that truly highlights the genius that is Edgar Allan Poe.   

As you can see, horror books are not my thing.  Horror films though, now we are talking. My top 5 horror films are:
  

Number 5:  Hellraiser
(upon seeing Pinhead) Oh, shit....
No shit, indeed.  Hellraiser goes just to the point of gross that I can stand, apparently I can stand a lot but not Texas Chainsaw Massacre a lot.  If you know what I refer to, then you are one sick puppy with some pretty good taste in gore.

Number 4:  Dawn of the Dead
Every dead body that is not exterminated becomes one of them.  IT gets up and kills!  The people it kills get up and kill!
My brother brought home a VHS copy of this bad boy and voilĂ   a zombie fan I became.  The thought of being locked in a mall, with free reign to all that is in there, plus the extra bonus drama of zombies trying to break in is, well, awesome.

Number 3:  Rocky Horror Picture Show
Frank-n-Furter it's all over.  Your mission is a failure, your lifestyle's too extreme.  I'm your new commander.  Your are now my prisoner.  We return to the Transylvania.  Prepare the transit beam.
Yes, I know not really scary but come on!   There are so many reasons why I love this film that it is resulting in an overload of words blocking me from expressing myself.  Basically the film exemplifies my inner desire to be a sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania.   I do hope that while reading parts of this, you were singing.

Number 2:  Halloween  
He came home!
Good lord, he did.  Get the hell of out of that town people! I don't know what is more frightening, hearing this or seeing this. If ever I were to see and hear both at the same time while walking down the street I would die right there on the spot.  

Number 1:  Amityville Horror
Kathy Lutz:  I just wish that...all those people hadn't died here.  I mean...ugh!  A guy kills his whole family. Doesn't that bother you?
George:  Well, sure, but...houses don't have memories.
My life took an unfortunate turn for the terrified today when, while researching for this post I discovered that this film is based on real life events.  I have spent over 25 years trying to ignore that this movie ever existed.  To be truthful, I have never  been able to watch it through to the end.  Ever.  Thus is the consequence of a little girl's first horror film viewing while at her first Halloween sleep over party at the age of 9.  My Daddy had to rescue me that night and take me home.  I remember not sleeping for a week.

19 October 2012

Beam me up: A Review of Red Shirts, John Scalzi

A while back I expounded  on my love for John Scalzi.  As is the case with almost all writers with a growing body of work there is going to be a book or two that lacks appeal. So be the case for Red Shirts

Trekkies or should I say Trekkers  (still unclear? read this and become more so) are familiar with the term "Red Shirts".   Please be advised that this post contains reference to Star Trek.  While I cannot bend you to my way of thinking I strongly recommend you embrace your inner fan.  The term red shirts refers to the crew of  the Starship Enterprise on the television series Star Trek who would tragically die on away missions.  In practically every episode of the original and the newer versions (The Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine) the lead cast members lives would be put into jeopardy (this is called drama).  Rather than killing Spock or Kirk and thus having to go out and cast a new lead to the show Roddenberry would kill one of the Enterprise's crew.  As it so happened those crew members seemed to wear red shirts.  

I feel like we should all do a shot right about now....or have a beer.  You do click on the links right?

Using the premise of the red shirts,Scalzi superimposes it into a " real life" spaceship that so happens to be connected in a "twilight zone" parallel universe kind of way.  A universe that results in the lives of this ship's fate being  impacted by a TV show's weekly scripts that are consequently being aired in the U.S.A during the 1990's.   What?...come again. Let's try this again... There is a spaceship that exists in the future whose crew are killed off during away missions because the ship is linked to a 1990's science fiction television show that so happens to resemble Star Trek.  What ever is written for the script ends up occurring in real life to the crew of this ship. Come again?....Okay, so there is.... you know never mind.

Now to be fair, there is a very sound idea here. One that would have been great if a little more effort on the part of the writer and a little more editorial review had been invested. This book has been rushed.  Frankly, I am amazed that in its current state it was even sent for publication and then so widely supported by the publishing house with a full book tour put behind it. Either Scalzi was pushed to produce a new book or has gotten too big for his own good. In any event, I did not like this book.  I did not. The rambling end to the book is so annoying that I just wanted to read the darn thing to be done with it and move onto something with thought behind it.   

14 October 2012

Not the Droids You're Looking For: A Review of the Thrawn Star Wars Trilogy, Timothy Zhan

Unless you count my brother's The Empire Strikes Back's pop-up book he got from Santa when he was 7 and I 9 I have not read any type of Star Wars book. This little fact has slowly over the years been bothering me and thus in June I made a conscience life-altering decision to become a more rounded Star Wars fan. Please note that I used the word fan not fanatic. While the idea of dressing up my family in bounty hunter outfitters (Bossk, IG-88 and Boba Fett) for Halloween may be my most ultimate idea ever this is really just a dream and not an active item on my to-do list. I am okay being consider a geek. I am not okay with being viewed as a threat to my neighbourhood.


The Star Wars book universe is immense.   Therefore rather than blindly grabbing the first book with a wookie on it, I decided to do some research. It didn't take too much effort to find what I was looking for.  

So you've seen the Holy Trilogy so many times you can recite it from memory. You have the soundtracks on infinite loop on your MP3 player. But have you read the best Star Wars books and graphic novels? Below we've narrowed down the Star Wars books to the ten that are absolute must-reads for fans of the saga.   If you’re a Star Wars fan who hasn't read the Thrawn trilogy, we feel sorry for you. Heir to the EmpireDark Force Rising, and The Last Command launched the entire Star Wars Expanded Universe book series and are responsible for the resurgence of Star Wars in the 90s. This year marks the 20th Anniversary of Heir to the Empire, so it’s a perfect time to start.

Before I go full Star Wars on you I am assuming you have some working knowledge of the franchise. I have only met one person who has never watched the films. Because this person happens to be my darling sister-in-law I have let this huge error in her ways pass.  Once in awhile I sneak little glances her way to see if she is living fine outside the world of Star Wars and miraculously she is okay. I've decided she closet drinks, it is the only explanation of how anyone can avoid all the ways of the Force.   

The review of The Thrawn trilogy is dependent on how you view yourself; a fan or a fanatic. As a fan, reading this trilogy is a fun, little snippet into what may happen to the New Republic and the Empire after the destruction of the second Death Star. I really enjoyed jumping into this time-frame. To think that all would be fine once the Battle of Endor is a child's vision. Zahn's books matures the series bringing in more complex, adult problems to a very idolized film world. Ackbar, Mon Mothma and in turn Leia all have political depth to them making them more interesting to follow. Internal power struggles distract the Republic from properly governing the worlds now under their domain.  

No discussion of Star Wars would be complete without the Empire. Zahn does not disappoint. Allowing the reader to understand the motivations and problems facing the Empire and more importantly presenting it as a political dynasty rather than a singular evil entity was fascinating. Above all, Zahn's biggest accomplishment in these books was Grand Admiral Thrawn. I love bad guys. It was so satisfying to finally read a new character within the Star Wars universe who could have easily been a part of the original three films without having any ties to Darth Vader.

If you are simply a reader interested in new things, these books are okay. If you are looking for literature, move along, these aren't the droids you're looking for.  However if you are a fanatic who happens to have Han and Leia action figures in their original bubble cases stored in your china cabinet (this is my entire retirement plan) then these books are for you. Honestly, I have no idea how I feel about these books. Yes, I like the idea of them but because of the weak (extremely so) writing cannot decide if  the  Star Wars universe works beyond the genre of film. My instinct is telling me they do.  What is needed is a better writer who is up for the challenge. I wonder what Connie Willis is up to nowadays?

6 October 2012

Awesome Sauce

Being that it is Thanksgiving weekend, I've decided to mark the event by highlighting a few books that  merit a big ole' awesome sticker slapped onto their covers.  I don't know about your family but we don't sit around the turkey expressing our thankfulness to one another.  Frankly, we eat, we drink, we argue about politics and then dream about turkey sandwiches.  In fact the turkey sandwich is such a hit in my Norwegian side of the family that you sit down for dinner at 1 in the afternoon for the sole purpose of then having turkey buns at 6p.m.  on the same day.  Okay, it may have more to do with the prairie/farming history my family tree is rooted to but I digress.  Actually I seem to have digressed a lot.  If only we could skip right to pumpkin pie and turkey buns....I think I just went cross-eyed from anticipation.

Thanksgiving is big here in North America.  So is being awesome.  Hence my combination of the two.  You know we all have books we have read that are great.  We love them.  We read them over and over again.  But then there are books that are for some reason straight up amazing, awesome if you will.  The odd thing about these books is that you may never read them again.  The book's hold on you is brief, a weekend or two even a month (how long does it take you to read a book for goodness sakes?). But during that time you are transfixed, glazed over, zombie-like as you immerse yourself in the world found in those pages.

To give some context to what I mean when I type the word awesome,  please keep this in mind.

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline  It goes without saying that this book is awesome, wicked in fact.  Stupid ass great.    If you spent your childhood fighting over the Atari controller, believe neon to be a colour, and, feels an intimate connection to Zelda then you must read this book.  Ready Player One is a homage to our gaming childhood.  Plus the book has that world within a world, within a world element to it that I just love. 


American Gods, Neil Gainman  Most of us have been introduced to something that Gainman has either written, produced, scripted or created.   If  Burton, Depp and Gainman were locked in a room together, and told that the person who created the weirdest, darkest piece of creativity would survive I am  unclear to who that would be.  I am quite aware that Depp does not write. This is my blog and my post and I like to keep a small part of my brain thinking about Depp at all times.

American Gods is an old tale of religion wrapped into an all American road trip.  We follow Shadow an ex-con released from prison after three years of incarceration.  As he struggles with his wife's tragic death and seemingly adultery he meets Mr. Wednesday,  a self-proclaimed aging God that accompanies him on his journey.    Way back I had (Canadian Lit) to read Fifth Business by Robertson Daves. It wasn't until I read American Gods that I found a book so wonderfully rammed with symbolism as Fifth Business.  (Yes, that is a good thing.)

Wicked, Gregory Maguire  Technically not a SF book but at the time I was locked to this book and feel the need to acknowledge my old obsession.    I am betting that you have read this one so I won't bore you with the details.  If for some unknown reason you missed the bandwagon that was Wicked, it is the story of the Wicked Witch of the West.  Guess what she was greatly underrepresented and misunderstood.



 

30 September 2012

Teenland: Comparative review of Divergent by Veronica Roth

My heart fluttered in my ribcage through out the summer as I dove deeper and deeper into the Sci-Fi Teen genre.  I thought I had broken free from those old binds that used to confine me as a 15 year old.  You know, the binds of first love, stupidity, despair and stupidity.  But alas, no; one child, one husband, a world of experience cannot completely erase the teen in me.   

Stupidity is the theme of my self-imposed teen summer.  I seemed to ebb and flow from pure enjoyment to pure frustration while reading both  The Hunger Games, and the Divergent  trilogies.   Katniss's and Tris's lack of emotional intelligence drove me to distraction.  How could Roth and Collins  develop  strong, vibrant female protagonists who both come across as emotional morons?  For God's sakes ladies, the boy likes you!



Contemplating my summer of stupid that was basically spent under my backyard maple tree ( got one tree and a deck....resist the urge to picture some type of Canadian dream retreat with loons and shit)  I am surprised at  how long it took me to come to terms with both of these series. I realized that to  embrace the books I had to look back to my own teen years and more specifically the level of idiocy I displayed.   Katniss and Tris are morons because guess what, that is what being a teen is all about. Sure, they are dealing with death, blood and murder but they are still young women experiencing love for the first time.  Am I selling the series to you?  Or like me is the thought of walking in your old beat up Doc Martins (!) really a quick trip to the first level of hell?  However you view it, both authors successfully capture the tortured,  touching emotions of  first love.  

There is a great amount of stupid behaviour in both these series but as I came to realize, good stupid.   I should also mention there is a great amount of violence that acts as the backdrop to  Katniss's and Tris's world view.  I must say I had quite the enjoyable reading summer skipping through pages of utter carnage while sitting looking out over various wading pools making sure my son was not drinking the water or taking off naked down the street.   Having already climbed high on top of the bandwagon that is The Hunger Games let me officially state that while The Hunger Games manages to have the glamour attraction to it, it is Veronica Roth's Divergent series that displays a more original plot with tighter, more controlled writing.  

8 July 2012

Let the Battle Begin: A Review of The Hunger Games

“I want to do something, right here, right now, to shame them, to make them accountable, to show the Capitol that whatever they do or force us to do there is a part of every tribute they can't own. That Rue was more than a piece in their Games. And so am I.”


I'm at a lose for words to adequately describe my overwhelming obsession with The Hunger Games.  Numerous paragraphs have been written, edited and then deleted all because of an obsession block.  Ever have the problem of not being able describe why you like something?  Having to answer why I like a book is probably the question I have the most difficulty with.  The irony does not escape me.  Thank the Maker is basically a medium to review books.  That being said, sitting down and working on a post for an hour or in this frustrating case, six days is easier for me than having to describe my likeness of book during conversation.  Books are personal.  Having to justify why I  like a book can disguise the bigger question of "Who am I  and what is wrong with me."  For example if I sat down with group of colleagues during lunch and proceeded to tell them that I spent the weekend speed reading through a book about  teenagers killing the shit out of each other I most likely will have; a. killed the casual conversation about puppies; b. verified to some that I am nuts and/or c.  confirmed my awesomeness to others. With this in mind let me confirm I am in fact, nuts and awesome as I dissect my obsession with The Hunger Games.

And obsessed I am.  I am this close (one room away, that is how close) from getting up and reading the book again.  Rather a statement since I just read the dam thing last weekend and have yet to read the other two books in the trilogy.  Idiot that I am, I did not buy the set.  I have never contemplated rereading a book so quickly.  Ever, not even Dune ever.  Why do I like it so much?  It's not because I like violence or blood or any combination of the two.  I had to stop watching Game of Thrones for that very reason.  The reason why I like this book so much is because it is a quick, fast read that is full of suspense with well-developed characters that you quickly love, hate or better still have mixed emotions over. But what really makes this book so likable is Susan Collins ability to capture awkward blossoming feelings of teenage love and then place those emotions within the amphitheater of survival and murder.

The Hunger Games is a book for young adults.  The premise is basically what I already alluded to:  A group of teenagers are put into a game (The Hunger Games, you are so smart) and expected to kill the living shit out of each other until one is left to claim victory. There is more going on here though. The world has recovered from Armageddon.  What is left of North America is the Capital, a prosperous ruling district that keeps 12 others isolated and controlled with an iron grip.  Each year one girl and one boy from each district is chosen to pay tribute to past crimes (the districts attempted to revolt) by participating in The Hunger Games.

You are right if you think this premise sounds familiar.  The theme of locking people up to battle it out is quite popular.   With this in mind, here are four similar themed books (movies if you prefer) that you may enjoy.


1.  And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie or The movie


29 June 2012

Busy Busy

Within the blogging community there are some frequently used words and phrases that pop up in most blogs.  Thanks to the endless repetive nature of them, I have come to abhor the word rambling and would like to put anyone who types the saying "I can't believe it is has been so long since my last post..." into a full nelson.  Yes, that is right, a FULL NELSON.  As a result, it is with great personal loathing that I feel the need to type the next sentence.

I can't believe it's been so long since my last  posting.  Gad, I hate myself.  Cruising blogs has become a perverse past-time of mine.  There is some straight up weird crap out there with some weird ideas of what is worthy to put out into the world wide webby.  I don't know how much time I have wasted sifting through a stranger's family blog.  You know what I speak of.  Those blogs where the parent (usually mother, okay, always the mother) posts daily updates of her five adorable kids doing various mundane things with sprinklings of straight laced Christian sayings so we all know she and her family are proper Americans.  I cannot pull away from this type of blog.  It is like watching a car crash of the American Dream. I always leave feeling a little better knowing that my son calls his Grandma "Darth Vadar", that my husband and I do not own matching anything and that I adore SF.

So let's get to it, shall we.  I have been a very busy busy reader this past month and have some ramblings to share. ( Excuse me while I go run myself over with a bus.)

As you know, having read my review of The Witches of Karres, the witches' story does not end with this book.  Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint and Dave Freer collaboratively wrote The Wizard of Karres.  It boggles my mind how three people can work together to create a book but they did and they did it well.  In fact, the writing style mirrors James H. Schmitz perfectly making it very difficult to find fault with this book.  Like the original, The Wizard of Karres and even The Sorceress of Karres are not going to win a Pulitzer.  But I don't read books just for the pure pleasure of watching my brain grow. I read for the fun of it and these books are straight up fun.   Now I must admit that by book three, written by Eric Flint and Dave Freer the story drags on a little.  And with Mercedes absence the ability to mirror Schmitz's style is lost.  Like the new Dune books, The Sorceress of Karres tends to rely on repetition to fill the plot.  Rather annoying but if you need some books for your beach bag and do not want to stretch your grey cells in any way, these three books are for you.

Sprinkled in amongst the witches I read Triggers by Robert J. Sawyer.  Now before I even get into what this book is about let me just congratulate my mother, who does not read SF for reading this book.  Way to go Mom, you have come to the dark side at last.  Now go out and pick up Black Out/All Clear by Connie Willis please.  Triggers is a great summer read.  It is basically one long continuous conversation with a group of people who happen-stance to be at the wrong hospital at the wrong time (or right...!).  Here is a snippet of the plot:  The president (of America, it is always America isn't it) is shot,rushed to the hospital and during his heart surgery something happens that results in a group of people being linked.  That is all I am going to say. I  hate reviews in which the book's content is unceremoniously undressed.  This is a quick, easy SF book to read.  It takes place in "normal" time with "normal" people who happen to have something abnormal happen to them.

And that is my busy busy month.  I am knee deep in summer reading, get ready for all things Star Wars in the  next couple of posts.

7 June 2012

Doomsday: A Review of Parable of the Sower, The Canticle of Leibowitz, Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd Century America

Once again another list has not only occupied my time and imagination but made me wish I had thought of it.  Googling Armageddon calls up some startling sites:  For example the now defunct site Countdown to Armageddon.  As my alarm bells start ringing in my head for fear of inadvertently clicking into some dark, religious nightmare,  I see this
Site last updated on September 13th
Our apologies for the lack of recent updates.
This site is run by volunteers who haven't
had time to invest recently.
It is hard to maintain full scale panic when you rely on volunteers.

That being said, the Apocalypse or Armageddon or my personal favourite "All Hell Is About to Break Lose"  sub-genre is a thriving, varied plot element that most SF authors use.  Looking for some type of crisis for your main character? Why not chuck in the complete destruction of his/her world.  Actually the only person I have met who takes this destruction pretty well is Princess Leigh.  The Death Star blows up Alderaan before her eyes and all she does is screams "No" and then proceeds to jump down a garbage chute with a Wookie, and two handsome blocks with blasters.  (kinda went off the rails there, but I think I have made my point.  If I was Princes Leigh, which trust me I have, also Boba Fett ((come on, he is awesome)) and saw my planet get obliterated I most likely would pull my face off.  Yes, my entire face.  I also probably would jump into a garbage chute with two handsome blocks as well, you know I think I will just stop here...).

As you are aware I lightly touched on Armageddon in Ladies First confessing that I overdosed on it a couple years back. So much so that until I read this list I thought I was done with the genre but soon realized that I have been reading it the entire time.  WTH!   The great thing about SF is that it is a huge category allowing for a great amount of flexibility.  If you would like to go completely berserk you can.  If you would rather step back from insanity and showcase something less violent that is also open to you.  With this in mind here are three great Armageddon-laced books ranging from full on nightmare to mild anarchy.

Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler - Full on Nightmare
Since reading this book I am unable to look at U.S interstates without visualizing the highways overrun with mobs of people making their way on foot to Alaska while trying to avoid being murdered, beaten or eaten.  (now that is a sentence)  If you are into full scale Apocalyptic insanity this series is for you.

A Canticle for Leibowitz, Stephen M. Davis - Mid-level panic
600 years have passed since the world was devastated by nuclear war.  Not surprisingly, those left to rise from the ashes decided to turn their backs on technology and jump blindly back into the dark ages.  If you could read, you were killed.  Isaac Edward Leibowitz, survives the murderous hoards and founds a monastic order whose mission is dedicated to preserving  knowledge.  A true SF classic and a must read for all you new SF readers out there.

Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd Century America, Robert Charles Wilson - Mild Anarchy
Great fun book to read for the summer.  Not too heavy on the berserk quality but enough to create a mild level of panic.  It reminds me of A Canticle for Leibowitz in that good ole' America has imploded upon itself and reverts to a neo-Victorian oligarchy ( NO idea what that means).   The books has an old west flavour to it, with great, extremely likable characters.  I really enjoyed reading this book.  Wilson is a true story teller.

31 May 2012

Old School: A Review of The Witches of Karres

Is there anything better than diving into a book that you can't put down?  Thanks to The Witches of Karres by James H. Schmitz I was lost to the world this weekend. Sorry family, but my mind was with The Witches.  Remember when we all went to the park and I returned home feeling ill?  The only illness that laid me out was an acute witch withdrawal. It has been awhile (at least two months - for me...an eternity!) since I have fallen victim to a really good book

And let me tell you it was glorious.   I am rather embarrassed to admit that my knowledge of SF books published before 1980 is limited.  Thank the Maker not only acts as my own personal brainwashing device (I will convert you to SF, I will) but it also forces me to explore and expand my  reading catalogue.    The Witches of Karres is straight up old school.   Can there be anything more old school than being originally published as a novella in 1949 and winning the Hugo  in 1967?    As I ate up the chapters I was amazed at how current the book seems.   If I had not completed a little wikipedia peak about I would never have guessed the book has been around so long.  And what is more fascinating to me is how much it reminds me of anime.


What book have you read recently where the main character  teams up with three children who happen to be witches? That is right, witches.  Witches in space! Witches who use magic to create  the Sheewash Drive:  a hyperdrive or for my treckers out there, a warp core.  I am tempted to add ten million more exclamations marks.  I absolutely adore this idea as much as I adore Pigs in Space. (went all Muppet on you there).


I am surprised that it is only now that I have heard about this book.  Having read it , it is pretty obvious to me the effect it had on future SF writers.  Like Asimov, there is something very particular to the way that Schmitz writes.  Sure, it is not going to knock your socks of with its prose.  And sure it is rather elementary (at times consider a children's book) but what makes this book a success is its overwhelming sense of fun.  SF truly lets an author go wild.  I have a feeling Schmitz had a blast writing this book.  The best thing though about The Witches of Karres is that it doesn't end here.  A handful of contemporary writers (Merecdes Lackey...anyone surprised?) have picked up where this book stopped and continued the saga in The Wizard of Karres and then with The Sorceress of Karres by Eric Flint & Dave Freer.

20 May 2012

Sexy Times: A Review of Kushiel's Dart, Jacqueline Carey

One of the most surreal and pleasurable moments in my life was late one winter night, coming home on the subway.  It had been a long day at the office and I was bone-tired. I was seated alongside two well-dressed, middle-aged women of a certain dignity.  I overheard one of them go on at great length about a book she was reading, a book that struck her to the core and made her think about her life as a woman and how she had the power to re-invent herself.  

And with this great impression I went on-line googled, bought and started reading Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey. Much to my surprise  this books is filled with sexy sex sex. So much sexy sex sex that I feel like I have passed over into the erotica/fantasy genre unable maybe even unwilling to find my way back.  I must admit I am not one to gravitate to novels filled with bosoms and bulges and was a little shocked once I knew what direction this book was going.  (It was going to sexy town in case you didn't catch that earlier.) Researching for this post, I am discovering that I know little of this sub-genre and am interested in discovering if Kushiel's Dart is a typical example or a purely unique idea.  

Kushiel's Dart follows the life of Phedre no Delaunay, a child sold into indentured servitude.We follow her willingness to serve Naamah and quickly become not only a courtisan but spy. Carey spins the idea of prostitution by placing it within a religious framework. 'Love as though wilt' is the motto by which the city of Elua lives.  While the sexy sex sex is pretty overwhelming there is a great plot hidden in its sexy depths. 

My issue with this novel is its flowery, over-descriptive narrative.  It is this style that questions my ability to truly like this book and resulted in me not even finishing it.  I agree that without this type of narrative the elegance of Terre d'Ange   (...a place of unsurpassed beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good...and the ensuing  race that rose from the see of angels and men live by one simple rule:  Love as thou wilt.")would have come out flat. A great amount of patience was required of me to work through the first 50 pages. At times I was drowning in adjectives, skimming through dense paragraphs hoping the plot would reveal itself.  Eventually it did and I am deep in a world filled with intrigue and despair that seems to accompany feudal ruling houses.