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.  

13 May 2012

Momma's Gonna Knock You Out

I've come across quite a few ass-kicking SF Mommas in my day.  My favourite is Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, mother of Miles Vorkosigan.  The brainchild of Lois McMaster Bujold, the Vorkosigon Series, is space opera at its finest. Filled with humour, the saga of Miles plays out over a complex militaristic universe that is filled with love, intrigue, despair, and most important of all good old story telling fun.  I have lightly gloried Bujold in my post Ladies First but a little blurb really doesn't in any way highlight my love for these books and these fictional people who I consider part of my extended family. I know, I have issues.  

Now I am sure you were pondering the question why I didn't choose Jessica Atreides as the Ultimate SF Mom?  Being the Mom to the Kwisatz Haderach is pretty cool.  Being a Mom of 2 year old dino loving son myself, I know that we all want to have our children excel in whatever they do.  Giving birth to a super human whose actions lead to a whole new world order is pretty wicked.  My issues with Jessica is her love for her Duke.  Okay, I get it, he loves her and she loves him and it was a great love affair but if it was such a great love affair wouldn't you expect your honey bunny to marry you? Frankly I find her devotion to the Duke rather pathetic.  I don't care how much training I have had as a Sister, I wouldn't take second fiddle as a concubine any day.  My second issue is with her taking the Water of Life knowing she was pregnant.  She had to know that something horrible would happen.  And then look what did, a completely messed up baby with the thoughts, memories, and wisdom of full grown Bene Gesserit.  No wonder Alia went cuckoo.  Sacrificing one child for the benefit of the other for the sole purpose of exacting revenge does not make for a good mommy. 

But of all these SF Mom's there is really only one in my book who really kicks ass and that is my Mom.  The moment my son arrived into this world all cute and yelling I have been consumed with the instinctual desire to want to kick any one's ass who might harm my boy in any way.  When we cross the street I stare down cars (CARS, not the people in the them) like King Kong stared down the T-Rex right before that big ape kicked that dino's ass.   That car gets close to the stroller I am a hundred percent ready to judo chop that piece of metal into the ground.  I have looked closer into this alarming tendency to cause insane violence and realize that it is genetic.  There is a poor salesman from a local radio shop who is to this day carrying around emotional scares from the verbal attack my mother laid down on him in 1983.

Way back in the day there was such a thing as a Walkman.  (In my humble opinion the best irrelevant invention ever.)  Suddenly you could walk around with music in your ears everywhere. No one could judge you for listening to Culture Club a zillion times in one afternoon.  Living in Whitehorse, Yukon at the time, put some havoc on me and my brother's ability to own such a wonder.  But we dreamed and saved and one day not only did we have enough coinage but Walkmans were available at the local radio store.  It was hands down the largest purchase for either of us and a great amount of discussion was made that day regarding what type of Walkman we both would buy.   For one gloriously isolating, music drowning week I listened to my Walkman. Then it died.  

The following Saturday, Mom packed us up and headed down to the radio store.   The salesman who recommended the product refused to take it back.  My only memory of the epic battle "Mom vs. Salesman" was me and my brother creeping out of the store at one point into a cold, bright winter day to sit in the back of our Suburban, trying to disappear as our mother proceeded to raze the building down upon all who unfortunately were out shopping that day.  Many hours later (most likely 20 minutes) my Mom returned not only with a new Walkman but an extended 5 year warranty and the deep- seated respect of her two children.  (Thanks to this same woman, I got to choose all of my teachers in Grade 12 because she did not like the English teacher I was initially assigned to.)  

In honour of my Mom, the "Ultimate Don't Mess With My Kids Mom" on the planet I dedicate this post.  

8 May 2012

How bout no

Much to your surprise I am sure, I don't like every book.    And when I type don't like, I really mean, "never finished, trying to return it to the nearest retail bookstore for a refund". Once in a blue moon inspiration hits and I've decided to expand my catalogue.  Below are a list of books I am trying to unload that inspired me not in any way.  Sometimes sticking to what you like works best.    I know the oddity of reviewing unfavourable reads with the intentions of hoping someone else will buy it and enjoy it but hey, why not, this could end up being a side racket for me.

My first exploration in all things Wells did not go so well.  I got to the point that the protagonist has packed up his belongings on a cart and has fled.  No matter how many cups of coffee I had, I could never mentally picture what was going on.  And this is important because the book relies on descriptive paragraphs detailing the alien quality to create that sense of  horror and suspense.  

I actually finished this behemoth. I was all for this concept but like all Stephen King books I get to a point in his novels that he has chucked in some type of sexual violent scene and am "Why guy? You were doing so well." Yup there is some nastiness in this.  Sure I get that if an impregnable force field closed down upon a town, that some bad shit might happen  but that doesn't mean that I have to read about it especially when it doesn't really contribute at all to the story line.   King should just jump into soft core porn or erotica if he wants to talk sex.  

I am reluctant to add this to the list just for the sheer back lash I am going to receive but I found The Hobbit b.o.r.i.n.g.  Actually there is quite a bit to the the Lord of the Rings trilogy of books that I didn't like either.  The entire return to The Shire in The Return of the King was so long and so uninteresting to me.  To be frank, I would skip pages and pages.  EEK!  Good lord, I might have to pack up and move.

Ender's Game, The Series
Don't get me wrong, I love and highly recommend the book.  What I have an issue with is the long list of books that follow in the series.  When Card starts talking about the hegemony, I automatically slip into a semi-state of consciousness.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Okay, so it is pretty apparent here that I don't care about being popular. I hated this book. Hated it and the reason why I hated it is because I loved it so much for the first 200 pages. Then, all the bad stuff happened and my mind was filled with terrible things.  Yes, there are some of us who can read violent things, able to remove ourselves.  Then there are people like me that cannot in any way at all.  If only there existed a brain washing device to remove images from one's mind.  

4 May 2012

Laugh It Up Fuzzball

I'm in need of good laugh.  Not that life is really that dire but my current book  is heavy on the sexy times.  There is only so much panting and heaving a Dune Girl can take.    Okay,  I can take a lot, but my mother reads this blog and I would like to exhibit a little decorum.  Having already referenced one of the more outrageous SF romps, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy I am pressed to come up with more examples.  Having spent a couple hours on-line looking up other comedic SF I realize that I have some reading homework to do.  Looks like my summer is going to be hilarious.  That being said, I do have one author who tickles my funny bone.  

John Scalzi
Over the past couple of years I have been reading my way through Scalzi's library.  I have been extremely entertained by his ability to create exceptionally pleasing characters with believable plots.  Well, somewhat believable plots,  The Android's Dream is ridiculously redonk.  I laughed my ass off reading this political inspired satire.  I wish I could write like this guy.  The following blurb was cut from Scalzi's own blog about The Android's Dream. 
I think I love him.  

"10 Words or Less:  Man solves diplomatic crisis through action scenes and snappy dialogue.
Cover Blurbage: A human diplomat kills his alien counterpart.  Earth is on the verge of war with a vastly superior alien race.  A lone man races against time and a host of enemies to find the one object that can save our planet and our people from alien enslavement....
A sheep.
That's right, a sheep.  And if you think that's the most surprising thing about this book, wait until you read Chapter One.  Welcome to The Android's Dream."

Another fun Scalzi novel  is  Agent to the Stars.  If you are one to check out the links in these post you just discovered that the entire novel is available online and yours truly just made it available to you.    Now that I have lost most of my audience to that link I might as well just ramble on about my love for Scalzi.  Below is some of his recent tweets  from his Whatever blog.  Can I just add that his blog has been around since 1998, making it a granddaddy on the web and that it is awesome.   I wish in 1998 I had committed myself to blogging rather than teaching ESL and getting drunk in Japan(hi-five!).  How cool would it be now if I had 14 years of catalogued reviews to my name.   Anyway, here is an example of John's tweets.  Did I mention that I think I love him?

  • Just heard from Athena. She's on her way home. I asked if they'd been attacked by bears or something. She said "define 'attack'." 1 hour ago
  • I'm not liking the fact that it's 8pm and my daughter's track team still isn't home from their meet.1 hour ago
  • For those wondering what the actual Carrington Event was:http://t.co/5rGcMhKf 3 hours ago
  • "The Carrington Event" is the name of my next band. 3 hours ago
  • On my menu bar, I labeled my Google Drive as "Google Docs". BECAUSE GOOGLE IS NOT THE BOSS OF ME.