23 February 2013

Quest for The Empire Strikes Back: A Review of Caliban's War, James S. A. Corey

The future looks bleak, little point in investing in new bathroom tiles as Venus is about to kill us all.  And that is how I am going to start my new post with the apocalyptic prediction that the end is at hand, thanks in full to the second book in The Expanse Series, Caliban's War.

Like the first book  in the series (you know the post where I went ape shit crazy over Leviathan Wakes), Caliban's War is a spectacular space opera.  Not too surprising, as this is a continuation of events that  spiralled out of control for humanity in book one.   If you loved Leviathan Wakes then you were committed to the end, having to read 2, and soon 3 quickly as humanly possible.  A trilogy is good when it has an addictive quality.  Like stupid-ass potato chips that we are only now learning were laboratory created so you can't just eat one ,  a good series is like crack potato chips.  In the midst of this type of reading addiction, can objectivity come into play to decide if all the books deserve the same acclaim?  I would say, yes.  We know when something works, for example Die Hard and what doesn't, Die Hard II, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Live Free or Die Hard and  the new gem, A Good Day to Die Hard.  I think I wasted some brain space having to look up and then type out those titles.  

The burning question is of course, is Caliban's War worth it's weight?  Is this The Empire's Strikes Back of The Expanse Series?  It pains me to say, no. Frankly, I am struggling to come up with a middle book that rises to such glory.  Having said that, the book is still awesome. I found myself tearing through the chapters trying not to freak myself out too much and not succeeding.  

So, what is going on with the solar system.  To be brief, because I really hate spoilers, we are screwed. Venus is most likely sentient and not in a friendly, "Hey humanity guys, wanna play some B- ball this weekend?", but in a "I will turn you all into vomit zombies!" Sigh, yes vomit zombies; I realize I didn't mention that in the Leviathan Wakes post but since you have all diligently read the book I can bring up the vomit. There is a lot of vomit.

What makes Caliban's War interestingly different enough, is the appearance of one tiny fouled-mouth Indian grandma. Chrisjen Avasarala, the assistant to the UN's undersecretary of executive administration is a unique character in SF.  I have never met someone like her in the theatre of the genre. She is tough, she is not white, and she is not young.  She is everything that I have been missing of late, a good character to grab onto. I love how she encompasses so much power, almost loses said power and then returns with vengeance to become even more powerful. Thanks to her story the overall angle of the plot takes a unique turn, it gets even more scary. Through Chisjen's perspective the alien threat takes on a more real threat. The story arc needed a character with more depth to pull off the weight of  the plot. As Chisjen freaks out, we freak out with her. Being privy to her private fears is a powerful means to convey the levity of the situation. Which I will refrain from mentioning, but there is vomit and zombies, and oh yeah, most likely a sentient Venus that wants to kick your ass. 

18 February 2013

Brief Interlude: A Review of Beyond the Sky and the Earth, Jamie Zeppa

Beyond the Sky and the Earth, by Jamie Zeppa is not SF.  If you were to sit down and try to find 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon separation between SF and this book you would be 5000 steps apart.  I cannot even use my well-versed sarcasm to pretend this book into SF as it is a memoir of young women's adventure teaching in Bhutan.  So why include it?  To be frank I debated if I could.  Thank the Maker is clearly a platform for praising SF.  Beyond the Sky and the Earth is clearly not.  Here I am reading through this book that I have read countless times and still feel as I always do when I turn it's pages, contentment.

Feeling content is a powerful experience to receive from reading. Sure, maybe in your world this might be the reason you read, in mine not so much.  Novels of late have taken me on harried, emotional rides pushing me to turn pages faster, skim paragraphs for the gist all in the pursuit of the 5 Ws (don't forget how) quickly enough to (errr....) post about them.  (Hey, I'm a committed blogger.)  My reading resembles more a junky's need then a past-time.  Don't misinterpret me though, I have been loving these past months, having enjoyed some truly incredible books:  The Expanse Series, The Unincorporated Series, The Rook.  Is it necessary for me to type them out since you now have read all those books that I told you to, right.  Right?!

It is nice to just read, though.  Sit down with something familiar, and turn the pages at a more leisurely pace. Beyond the Sky and the Earth is my little break from Thank the Maker. It is my way to get out of my head, out of reading for reading.  This book is my personal memory journal.  No, I have never tripped over to Bhutan for an adventure, fell in-love with my student resulting in the birth of baby.  No, I have never meditated, emptying my mind of all thoughts while prayer flags whip in the wind.  But thanks to Jamie's honesty and writing prowess I feel like I have.       

I have grown up with this book.  Odd now that I think back to how long it has been with me.  Way back, before life here, I was a daughter, living in the prairies of Canada ready to get out and live.  And live I did.  My move to Japan shook up my world view, expanded my understanding of who I was and more importantly who I will always be no matter the location or the experience.  I take something new away each time I sit down with the memoir.  The copy I own is littered with scribbles, arrows pointing to poignant paragraphs that had at one point in my life, meaning.  This is truly a great travel memoir.  For all you reluctant SF readers, I give you Bhutan.  Hey, even Dune Girl needs a break from SF from time to time.  

8 February 2013

Do You Believe in Magic: A Review of The Rook, Daniel O'Malley

Have you ever experienced a moment in time that you know will result in something brilliant coming your way?  Such was my foresight in purchasing The Rook, by Daniel O'Malley as a Christmas gift not only anticipating that the receiver would love it but that it would soon be in my hand to read.  And as all good things come full circle, here I sit with this very said book unable to put the dam thing down.  I most likely didn't need to swear but Holy Shit Balls people this book is redonkulous and by redonkulous I mean amazing.  A year of blogging has really honed my writing, don't you think?

Yes, The Rook, where to begin but with a little confession.  Magic is my thing, so are superheroes, sarcasm, and witty, quirky female protagonists.  So not surprisingly I fell pretty hard and am finding myself having to leave the book on another floor in my house to ensure that I go to bed instead of reading it through to the morning light.  Which is something I have never done.  I willingly will sacrifice my daily interactions with humanity for a book but will not jeopardize a full night's sleep.  Even more so now that there is a three-year-old in the house who likes to request to watch "Super Friends" (here is over 2 hrs worth) at 4 in the morning with him.   Much to his surprise, his Mommy has never said, sure, 4 in the morning is the best time to sit back and watch the Super Friends kick some Legion of Doom ass.  (see how quirky and witty I am)

The book opens to carnage.  Latex gloved bodies are strewn all over a London park with the witty, quirky protagonist Myfanwy Thomas standing amongst it all, bewildered to not only what has transpired but to whom she is.  And from that dramatic launching point, you are drawn into a world not unlike our own, just with more fantastical elements on display.  An X-File junky back in the day, the old mantra "I want to believe" is as much a part of me as The Force is to Luke Skywalker.  (Honestly, I have no idea).   And so it does not take me long to want to accept a world filled with secret agents from a supernatural government department mandated to save us all from the nightmares we "normals" can barely comprehend.  

Reminiscent of the Harry Potter world that J.K. Rowling deftly spun, O'Malley easily meshes the world of today with the world of magic. It is easier to believe the unbelievable if everything else described is grounded in present day.   Where things take a turn is while Hogwarts's magic is PG, the magic and subsequent horrors found in the The Rook are resoundingly adult.  I just gorged on a descriptive side-story of the hatching of a dragon egg.  Words that come to mind is monstrously gory.   It was a wonderfully, delightful way to start my day.  

As I plow through the pages at an alarming speed, I know I will be returning to it again and again.   A lover of minutiae, this book is rammed with oddities to spark my imagination.   Superpowers range from the ability to fly , to the obscure:  through touch one gifted boy causes colour blindness.  Of all the characters it is Gestalt,  quadruplets sharing one mind that highlight the creativity of O'Malley.  This is a character driven novel, filled with quirks, humour and horrors.  Your skin will crawl while tears of laughter roll down your cheeks.  

2 February 2013

Home: A Review of 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson

I am in love.  Maybe not in love but definitely in crush at this moment.  I doubt my husband mind's too much as my object of affection is for once not LL. or even 007 but the solar system.  The solar system, our so-called address in this ridiculously endless universe that we barely comprehend but so vibrantly exist in, is my crush. 

It has been awhile since my last sojourn down the solar system path of useless facts. (Jupiter has 63 known! moons.  Scientists do not know why Neptune is blue.)  My first trip through the planets was grade 4.  Learning, memorizing the order, participating in the class project of displaying the vastness, distance and size of each planet on one long black paper rolled-out down the school hallway is my first memory of how amazing space is but also how frustrating to scale models can be.  Life carried on from there with Recesses filled with the constant debate of who's turn it was to be Muffit in our enactments of Battlestar Galatica. Space was part of my childhood but only in the form of entertainment.  It wasn't until Grade 9 sitting in Science class that I became a science loving nerd whose entire world view was upended having learnt that all those stars out there are really from the past. To date, still my favourite fact.

So what sparked my old flame, SF of course. Patterns surround us, all you have to do is look for them and voilĂ   everyone is wearing peacock blue to work.  Recently, I clued in that most of the books read these past 9 months have similar thematics: the expansion and settlement of the solar system, and the solar system portrayed as a character upon itself.  

Three quarters finished Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312, I debated whether reviewing this book but decided to just go for it.  Like most books on lists, Locus's Reads for 2012 comes to mind, I never quite agree with the acclaim showered down.  I was all in, ready to love 2312 but as I approach the 300th page I am wondering not only what has happened to the plot but what am I missing that everyone else is so on about?

That being said this post is more about the solar system than a book review so let me give credit where it is due. I have never read a book based on Mercury. Never visited the planets as I have thanks to this book. It is a glorious tale, one of espionage, human foils of living in Space and what the successes of expansion into the moons, asteroids and planets of our solar system has on Earth. These aspects of the book make it a brilliant, hard SF book.  Imagine living on a planet, whose city is a domed, encapsulated bio-bubble that slowly circumnavigates the planet on 12 rail tracks all to avoid the Sun. This is life on Mercury;  living as close to the Sun as possible, living in the shadows, being a Mecca for Sun Worshippers (people who walk Mercury, just fast enough to avoid daybreak, all in the hopes of experiencing the Holy glory that is our sun). Fascinating, highly creative, fact heavy stuff in this book, which had me to where I am now, wishing the plot that Robinson laid down in Chapter One continued to have a resounding pulse. Did I miss a few or 100 pages inadvertently? Am I reading something so avant-garde that it will change the notions of SF?  I doubt it. I think what I hold here is yet another author with too many wonders captured in his/her head that he/she must lay-out on paper not taking into account that too much detail, too much global socio-environmental issues can muddle a great idea. We all can't be Frank.

For me though the true downfall to this book is Snow, the lead human character. Unlike The Unincorporated Series and The Expanse (both more operatic than speculative SF) 2312 does not have people in it that hold your attention. I like this book for it's portrayal of the Solar System. Through it's pages I am able imagine body surfing on the rings of Saturn while contemplating on the effects Earth's gravity has on us not only physically but psychologically. Good characters who I attach to, wanting to like is lacking. Snow, just like the plot in the first chapters has a mystery to her. We want to get to know her, figure out why she grieves so deeply for her Grandma, but as the story moves along I just don't care for her.  She is annoying which is the death to any character. I read on because of the hard SF, hoping things that were laid out are brought back to the fore. It is a shame. I wanted to love this book and still do. Maybe I am missing something?