30 December 2014

Seeking Clarity of Mind: A Review of Seeds of Earth, Michael Cobley

On-line, and surprisingly even in person I have little to no difficulty in expressing my viewpoint regarding books. However place me firmly in a SF bookstore surrounded by shelves of SF goodness facing one very informed, very passionate clerk and I lose my shit. LOSE IT. I found myself only yesterday talking too loudly, hogging the clerk's attention, uttering incomplete utterance of garbage and insanity. I left 40 minutes later with four books, no fast friends and a grin the size of the Cheshire Cat. By the time I made it home with my bounty, I had convinced myself that my level of foolishness had dropped me further into the abyss of geek-doom. If a geek acts even more geeky does this equate to being a better or lesser geek?  

Honestly, what is up with that? Trying to take over the world, one science fiction book review at a time is greatly hindered by my inability to express clarity of mind. Bat shit crazy works for the majority of my life instances but with my 2015 resolution to expand my blog readership to 10, I may indeed have to pull myself together (slightly). 

Although my inability to advocate my opinions is of some relevance, the query today as we move into the new year is what is up with Seeds of Earth? Michael Cobley's Humanity's Fire trilogy has taken over my life; talking to family members was terminated yesterday with full book hibernation commencing by this evening. Seeds of Earth is a space operatic maddeningly addicting, roller-coaster of a novel. 200 pages in, I fool-heartedly attempted to explain the premise to the hubby who halted my predominately hand-gestured synopsis requesting words as I attempted to describe the multi-faceted chaos with squiggly lines about my head; our conversation seized quite succinctly at this point.

I stand in a long line of reviewers who have found difficulty in expressing this book without divulging spoilers. There exists a fine line between numbing our readership with minuscule references to seemingly unimportant events to offering a flippant expose leaving little expression to how fun a book is to read. And fun, this book is but how to go about this review without sounding like Mad King George? 

150 years ago three generational ships from a desperately planned 15, successfully took-off for parts unknown in the hope to save humanity from the looming genocide by the first intelligently advanced aliens to contact Earth.  The book opens to the reader introduced to the planet Darien, the Uvovo and the thriving human colony whose ancestors made the harrowing flight to safety in one of those three ships.  By chapter 4, I excitedly thought I had a Frank Herbert inspired ecologically slanted space adventure in my hands. The details around the planet Darien and the symbiotic relationship the Uvovo share with the forest had me instantly thinking of the spice and the Fremen. As the pace dramatically increased, I realized that what I was reading was a true space opera of epic proportions. By chapter 10, I realized I had no idea what I had and was loving every minute.

Seeds of Earth is not for the faint of heart, let's give SF a try, kinda read. This IS science fiction. It will slam you with detail, spin you around while throwing alien races at you faster than you can successfully imagine them, all to weave you into a political plot involving half the universe while keeping the story intimate. I can't wait to finish it and move onto book 2 and 3. 

22 December 2014

Out With A Bang: A Review of Lock In, John Scalzi

By the end of September I had accomplished my reading goal of reading 45 books with the final total rounding up to be 53 for 2014. Unsure why I find book tallying so satisfying but I do it every year more as a personal censes than a motivational tool. Reviewing my list, I see that while this was the year of the mystery novel, it was more so the year of reserved admiration. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed myself, there wasn't one book that completely freaked me out like The Rook or Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. Sure, there was the fourth in the Expanse Series, Cibola Burns, which I have to reiterate is the best of the series, the very best and if you have not picked up Leviathan Wakes yet, you clearly are not the space opera junky you claim to be. 

Thankfully, at the very end of this year, gifted to me on my birthday I received the hard copy edition of John Scalzi's novel, Lock In; suddenly, I find myself having something new to rave on (bully may be more accurate) about at social gatherings this holiday season. I just love to demand people to read books, it is rather a slight problem and it may be prudent that I review my current persuasive technique. I am beginning to doubt the effectiveness of the phrase "What do you mean you haven't read Dune. You are dead to me." People seem less likely to then listen for the next little diddy in which I bubble over with enthusiasm for my newest, funnest little book addiction, clearly expecting all around me to leave that instant for a bookstore or library to procure the very novel I am frothing at the mouth over. I really am not invited to a lot of parties.

The science fiction of Lock In is near future stuff, stuff that is just a little too close to present day for my taste, making it more a prediction of coming events than a humble sci-fi story. Humanity is recovering from a devastatingly incurable disease that at its extreme locks a person's mind into their inanimate body. In response to Haden's syndrome, the U.S has spent 3 trillion dollars to first find a cure and when it appears to be incurable, free those trapped inside themselves. Technology has advanced to such a state that those with Haden's syndrome have neural networks surgically inserted into their brains allowing Haden's to participate three ways in society: through The Agora, an on-line city, through the use of robots (threeps),  or by "riding" trained professionals who have the capacity to download Haden's, allowing them to control their bodies. I know!

This book has a lot going for it, a plague, science, high-level politics and murder. Yes, in the end it happens to be a mystery novel!  Some found Lock In difficult to read, (not sure how, as I basically found it to be crack) and recommend the back-story novella that Scalzi posted on Tor.com. Being a complete moron, I had no idea about this little gem until I started researching for this post (i know, I research!). In my humble opinion, you don't need to read it first as I like a book to reveal itself slowly rather than slapping the reader in the face with too much information. 

Before I sign off for 2014 let me add just one more thing, would you just read The Expanse series already.

16 December 2014

All I Want for Christmas: This Girl's Wish List

With Jo Walton sorting out your gift-buying this season, the ultimate question remains, what does this girl want to see under the tree? Most years, my book list is circumvented by my very wily hubby who makes a trek down to the local SF bookstore at which, I can only guess he calls in the masters and mistresses of book wisdom to discuss what a space operatic nutter would like. The meeting of minds (and robes because in my mind all SF book owners are part of a secret geeky society with strict rules around cloaks, robes and capes) has resulted in some ultimate gifts culminating with me discovering and subsequently falling all over myself for the Expanse series. 

Many a holiday has been highlighted by my reading choices, as I guess all of us are want to do. The right read at the right time is the simply the best of all worlds and unlike food can be re-visited, treating the books as little time capsules of happiness. As mentioned Ibsen will forever have my heart, but so too does John Richardson Picasso biography. Seeing those three tomes of extreme detail, chalked full with art on my shelf puts the feeling of Boxing Day sloth mode fully into my brain. For my American friends, Boxing Day is the best and I highly recommend you adopt this further extension of Christmas. Christmas may be the big daddy of glamour, but Boxing Day is the PJ wearing choco-eating from your lap, playing Trivia Pursuit while gnawing on a turkey leg by 10, cool little cousin. 

Thanks in part to my library-only policy and a recent trip to Arizona, my book list is slightly less extensive. I may have lightly indulged at a large U.S bookstore taking advantage of the slight mark-down in book prices. I say slight, because at one time books just south of the Canadian border were being sold for a nickel, a nickel I tell ya; now, not so much.  I can still buy a bottle of rum for a quarter, fill my gas-tank with spare change but the simple act of locating a bookstore, never mind buying a book is a feat for the seasoned warrior. Where have all the book-store in the States gone?  

First up, Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev. I have deep affection, fascination, fandom of Russia. Really, it is quite odd as I am not Russian, nor can claim any past heritage to the Motherland but for some reason the land speaks to me. Whether it be Tostoy's vodka-drinking, ice-skating, fur-wearing aristocratic glimpse, Dostoevsky's deep despair, the Soviet era, Putin, I want to go to there. I have many friends who are Russian, who fled Russia, who share little insights into the corruption, the crime, the poverty and yet I want to go to there. I have a dear friend, whose mother was in the war, who ate shoe leather to survive, who had shrapnel in her body until her passing, I still want to go to there. As for my friend, she fled with her small son and husband, managing to escape to Israel and yet, I still want to go to there. And so when I read Anton's review on Genre-Bending, it was a done deal. Nothing like a Russian, reading a Russian perspective of the goings-on  to grab my full attention. So yes, this Christmas I want corruption, I want the Motherland.

Next up is the continued exploration of the newest SF author on the big stage, Karen Lord. On the list is her inaugural award-winning fantasy novel Redemption in Indigo and the newly released The Galaxy Game that continues the world-building found in The Best of All Possible Worlds. I want them both, yes I do.  I have a feeling that Karen Lord is onto something, opening the genre into a new an exciting branch of SF story-telling. I want to be there for this amazing and a long time coming, triumph. To do that though, I really need to check out her other books to confirm whether I am correct or not. I know I am though, my geeky SF sense is tingling.

And with that, I am done. I know, it is rather shocking but I already own The Maze Runner, have Good Omens on my night-stand and may have purchased some gems for some loved-ones that I may (you never know) read once they are done.  I cannot mention the titles as that would ruin Christmas, but I anticipate happy days ahead for some people.

12 December 2014

All You Want for Christmas: A Jo Walton Kind of Year

Toronto's official start to the Season is marked by the Santa Claus parade.  I happen to live at parade ground zero with hundreds gathered around my neighbourhood organizing, volunteering and observing this annual holiday parade. As a result. the Christmas fever starts as early as mid-November here. While I have tried to restrain myself these past weeks leading up to our little family tradition of tree dressing and house decorating this, the second week in December, I am relieved to finally get this Christmas started.  I take holiday baking a tad too seriously. Christmas is nothing without a cheese ball, some rum and 45 different types of home-made baked goods to nibble on.  As a token of the Christmas spirit let me share the magic that is my Mom's Cheese Ball.

Mom's Cheese Ball 
Using a food processor whip together ingredients into a gelatinous mass of cheesy goodness. Form into ball if desired, covering with shaved almonds or paprika. Food processor may overheat and die from the strain.
2 1/2 cups extra old cheese 
1 16oz cream cheese
1 cup parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon Cheese Whiz
1 tablespoon mayonaise
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of salt
1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice (2 is better)
1/2 cup white onion

And with the sharing of the cheese ball let us commence with the annual Thank the Maker's  recommendations for gift buying. In 2014, no author captured my attention more so than Jo Walton. From her hauntingly beautiful Amongst Others, to her dragon oddity, Tooth and Claw, Walton's catalog is the perfect example of SF for the non-SF reader. Walton has the ability to turn the perception of reality on it's head with a quiet assuredness marking her as a talented story-teller. Not every writer can tell a story, many are master weavers of dialogue, or the perfect plot twisters and some are pedantic science nerds who write abstracts in the guise of novels.  Walton is able to make speculative fiction, reality. Every single book I have read by her has lost me into it's world the first paragraph in, every single one. That, my friends is the markings of a master story-teller.

For the mystery lover:  Small Change Trilogy - I nursed myself back to sci-fi health on this series after ending my salacious affair with the mystery novel this past summer. A historically speculative series that places the reader into a world with Britain having signed a peace treaty with Nazi Germany. The key to its genius are the successful mash-up of old school "Agatha-esque" detective novel with tried and true SF.

For the person you love more than anyone:  Among Others - I died and went to fairy heaven reading Walton's awarding winning novel Among Others. Seemingly simple, a diary of a teenage girl at boarding school, the novel takes us on a journey of heart-ache, magic and above-all else, healing. Not the easiest book to read if you are not into SF because the protagonist is a SF geek referencing countless old school sci-fi but trust me, the fairies make it all worth-while. 

For the weeper:  My Real Children - Having just finished My Real Children I am still a little unclear on how to best proceed with my review.  A novel documenting the life/lives of one woman, showcasing possibly two realities in post-war Britain. It emphasizing providence or free-will depending solely on the reader's personal perspective of the universe and faith. This book has left many in the SF world pondering whether it is sci-fi enough. And while I too have some misgivings regarding that very question, the book captured me, breaking my heart numerous times, perplexing me on the dynamics of reality. The book opens to the protagonist, an elderly senile woman befuddled and vulnerable living in a senior's care centre, not quite able to determine which of her memories are real and who in fact are her real children.  

For the weirdo:  Tooth and Claw - Okay, maybe weirdo is strong but this particular book is straight up awesome odd. If you know hands-down that the person you are buying for is against dragons than you might want to forgo this little book because this book is about dragons; dragons who eat each other. Actually it is decidedly more, a Victorian romp mashing dragon lore with Trollope, putting both on it's head.

12 November 2014

Something New: A Review of The Best Of All Possible Worlds, Karen Lord

I read something new, something that I have yet to discover in science fiction, something that has left me befuddled. Never quite smitten with the labels which books are slotted into, even finding the nuances of genres somewhat intrusive, even arrogant, I try to minimize my review descriptors.  Who am I to proclaim something speculative, historical, militant, dystopian? The Best of All Possible Worlds does not quite fit into any science fiction type albeit being very sci-fi. How should I approach this review when so many words inaccurately describe it's uniqueness?

Karen Lord's second novel is difficult. A love story, encased within a tragic space operatic genocide staged all upon the homestead planet of Cygnus Beta. The book is reminiscent to an anthology, almost a therapeutical diary of one women's journey to love but at the very same time something much more. It dances upon the very idea of what a science fiction book should be. 

I can only speculate that having written your first book to high-acclaim, an author might struggle with their second novel, despairing somewhat in doubt and fear that all that was said about the first is a merely a one-hit-wonder. So could be the case with Redemption in Indigo, a raving success for this new author. And while I have not read Karen Lord's first book, nor in any way sure that she had such doubts, I feel it is unsuitable to compare the first book to her second, especially since it appears that the second is so very sci-fi and the first so very fantasy. 

I realize I am being vague but there is a subtle art to reviewing without divulging too much and jumping into the spoilers lake of doom. Reviews that are primarily plot synopses provide little pleasure and indeed, have me moving on not bothering to discover the opinion of the reviewer. Reviews that are plot-centric are for the eighth grade. And while I am thankfully, no longer locked in the despair of teenage junior drama, a little revelation is the perfect persuasive tool. I want you to not only read The Best of All Possible Worlds but draw conclusions, contribute to the debate and discover why I find it a frustratingly fascinating SF novel.

As mentioned, the drama plays out on the world of Cygnus Beta, an immigrant world, open to all looking for a planet to call home. The protagonist, Grace Delarue, is an assistant biotechnician assigned to work with a team of Sadiri, commissioned over a span of year to genetically trace their roots. The novel opens to the near genocide of the Sadiri and the complete destruction of their home planet. The Sadiri, a race of intellectuals who having mastered their psi abilities and manipulability of time and space are portrayed as the the altruistic political leaders of humanity. With the Sadiri reduced to mere 100s, their status in the universe is questioned with they themselves trying to maintain not just their cultural identity, but their very survival. Finding suitable partners to continue the species becomes an all important mission with Cygnus Beta being a mecca for ta'Sadiri, the genetically and hopefully sociologically compatible future mates who immigrated decades, even centuries in the past to this very planet.

There is a claim the novel is nothing more than a love story amongst bureaucrats. The Best of All Possible Worlds is far from that, delving into deep issues of immigration, of war, and of survival. Because the viewpoint is through the first-person narrative, it can appear simplified. This is not a fast-paced space drama. The story begins with the annihilation of a planet. Instead of concentrating on the sensationalism of that dramatic event, the story is the minutiae of daily life. I find this extremely interesting while tedious to read. I grew weary of Grace's world-view, wanting to pull away from her mundanity, wanting to explore the larger political theatre that was purposely veiled.  

Science Fiction loves the large scope. Maybe it takes a new author on the scene to shock us out of what is expected from a sci-fi novel, someone who reminds us what it really means to read science fiction. I want a book that will push the parameters of the genre, testing and questioning how I perceive humanity. The Best of All Possible Worlds is not a complete success, parts left me waning but it is worth your read. You wouldn't want to miss the next big thing would you? 

3 November 2014

Sixes and Sevens: A Review of The Monogram Murders, Sophie Hannah

Upon occasion I dabble in the odd mystery or ten. The random sprinkling of murder insulates me from sci-fi burn-out from which I experienced only a few years back. Indeed, the first year of Thank the Maker was one of over-extension, reading far too much SF for the sole purpose of having on-hand a pool of resources for review purposes.  Not surprisingly, I experienced an epic mental explosion resulting in a three month reading black-out. Eventually I nursed  myself back to health with heavy dosages of good ole' Agatha's and PD James plot twisters. 

This past month has been quite epic simply for the amount of books I managed to get through. Because my library-only policy is still in effect I am completely dependent on what books are in. Gleefully this October saw all my holds arriving at the same time, resulting in a towering stack to work through. And so having learned from my past, I ensured that midway I had something a lot less 'spacey' and a lot more 'detectively' to pull my attention from my tower of SF power.  Really more for research, I put on hold the much discussed new Hercule Poirot mystery even though I have never been a fan of authors reviving a series or much-loved character once the author has died.  With my skepticism firmly in my pocket I read The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah.  Because this blog is mine, I am going to break my self-enforced SF rules kinda like I did here and here, and finally here  to review the art of murder. 

Years ago I realized that while I spent most of my teens reading Agatha Christie books I really had not explored her books beyond Hercule Poirot. With this awesome mission I started to collect omnibuses conveniently published by decade. Agatha Christie had a wonderfully long writing career that spanned over six decades. Christie beyond being a brilliant story-teller, created entertaining suspenseful adventures soaked in atmosphere indicative of the times. Her books are time capsules; archeologically preserved nuances of how people spoke and maintained a sense of self from the 20s up into the 1970's.

For the record, The Monogram Murders is not an Agatha Christie novel, it is Sophie Hannah's and therefore is doomed from inception.   While I give Hannah some credit for convincing the Christie estate for the rights to use Hercule Poirot, this should not be considered part of the official cannon. It rather irks me that Agatha Christie is more prominently displayed on the jacket cover, giving a very distinct impression that we are to assume that it should be classified as a novel by Dame Christie herself or at least sanctioned by her. 

I found quite a bit at fault with this book. The plot twisted so much that by three quarters through I found myself skimming paragraphs just to locate the denouement. Hercule Poirot is one of the best known detectives in literature, readers feel as if we know him and know him well. If this was my first introduction to Poirot I would never read him again, as the portrayal found in The Monogram Murders is not in the least flattering. Finally the great flaw is the lack of atmosphere. The book unsuccessfully painted a clear picture of space and time. I could not discern what decade I was in nor believed it when sprinkles of idiomatic language were drawn on. Using "sixes and seven's" does not make for a period piece, it takes much more technique to capture a time from which an author has not lived through.  

The question is, should you read it? Frankly, if curiosity is driving you batty as it did with me, go for it but if you want to read a real mystery pick up The Mysterious Affair at Styles and see how it all began. 

29 October 2014

To Eat Your Own: A Review of Tooth and Claw, Jo Walton

It would be remiss of me not to review at least one book this year about dragons. Late to the Jo Walton party, having only earlier this year discovered her acclaimed novel Among Others, I have spent the rest of 2014 reading through her catalog of work. I should say, most of, a voracious contributor to Tor, Walton recently published a collection of blog posts she wrote for the site that at this point in my life is of no interest to me. I know rather crappy of me, being a blogger, not reading other blog posts but Walton's talents for composing a tale is far more exciting than her opinions. Funny how fickle we are as readers, although my adoration for Herbert is a little past the ridiculous, I have not read nor interested in reading any of his other books. Please do not chastise me, in my defence I am what I am when it comes to my reading pursuits and at the best of times it makes little to no logical sense. My husband to this day has yet to resolve to the fact that he married someone who spent the holidays of 2004 happily reading a 800 bound, brooding, dark biography on the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen

What can I say, the playwright not only is fascinating but a relative. One should always keep up with the goings-on with family, you never know what aspect to your character is genetic instead of that 'odd thing you tend to do'.  Thus it is so with the dragons in Tooth and Claw. Tooth and Claw, an earlier work of Walton's which not surprisingly won the World Fantasy Book award the year of it's release is about dragons eating each other. I kid you not, as I have literally stolen that which Walton herself has opened her summation of the conception of Tooth and Claw. Click here if you missed the last link to Jo's site where she talks about herself. You know folks, all my links have a purpose, okay maybe not this link, but most do. 

Apparently, Tooth and Claw has been stylistically compared to Jane Austen if Jane were to interpose her humans with dragons. Walton insists that there is little to no Austen in it and rather the inception is thanks to Trollope. Having not read any Trollope, a travesty that must be addressed, I cannot attest to that, but since authors know best when it comes to their own work, I would be inclined to agree. 

Beyond the Victorian sensibilities, what I did manage to discern was that the world-building was multi-layered, complex and wonderfully disturbing. No society is without it's tragic flaws. Walton's dragons have a habit of consuming each other; so much that Church and State have strong dictates of what is considered lawful and/or sinful. The climax of the novel is the civil suit against the son-in-law of a patriarch dragon who is deemed to have eaten too much of his dead father-in-law. I cannot tell you how amazing it is to type that sentence out! Can you imagine how hilarious it was to actually write this book?  Not that this book is funny, it is not at all, taking itself as seriously as any upper-class English nobility from the 19th century would have tended to do. Tooth and Claw is brimming with simply glorious teeny tiny details that entertained me to no end. I love when the tried and true version of fantasy or myth are reinvented or simply explored more thoroughly resulting in an almost anthropological study. 

I highly recommend this book simply for the sheer pleasure of discovering what is deemed an acceptable amount of dead dragon that a son, daughter and son-in-law are allowed to eat. 

21 October 2014

Spinosaurus aegyptiacus: A Review of Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton

At a recent dinner party a guest shockingly proclaimed that there was a dinosaur to be had in every room in my house. Pondering on this, I quickly concurred as the owner of those very objects breezed into the dining room donning T-Rex jammies, looking for a goodnight kiss and someone to read him a bedtime story. Many a friend inaccurately assume that because of my personal attachment to Star Wars and Dune that I nourish my child on all things sci-fi.  And while I did have a weak moment at 9 months insisting on dressing him up as Darth Baby for Halloween (yellow duckling won out over the dark lord of the sith) I have allowed him to develop his own weird propensities.

Not all kids are into dinosaurs. My brother and I could care less with our attention solely focused on barbies and action figures. Do not misconstrue, I am enraptured with the three geological ages when these beasts walked the Earth but my interest was more finely honed only when my son started accumulating Tyrannosaurus's faster than my brother used to collect hot rods. This seemingly random tendency came as rather a shock to my husband and I as neither of us were whispering sweet dino tales to him at night.  Like all parents, we quickly rebounded, proceeding to fill up our house with nightmarish clawed and fanged figurines that should have scared the average toddler but in our house were kissed, cuddled and tucked into bed like they were soft puppies instead of ferocious velociraptors.  To this day, we cannot comprehend how dinosaurs became such a large part of our lives. One day our son was a little baby, the next a dino-loving maniac.

To each his own, they say, to each his dino-crazy own.  

And so with dinosaurs constantly on my brain I finally read Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park just this past week. Truth be told, I am not a big film person, even less into reading a book after watching the film adaptation. I will resist the urge to rant on about the poorly executed variations of Dune and say only this, it takes a talented screen writer and thoroughly knowledgeable director to really pull off a good SF adaptation.  Jurassic Park the film comes very close to being not all that bad now that I have experienced both artistic versions of the story. Back in 1993, I was one of the millions sitting in the theatre freaking thoroughly out over the raptor sisters and surprisingly cheering on the T-REX. Even though the movie was awesome it never occurred to me to read the novel. In fact, the idea did not cross my mind until a blogger friend drew my attention to Jurassic Park while I was creating a list of SF books for SF non-readers.

And man, am I glad he did. It is difficult not to compare the book to the film as my reluctance to read the book solely rested with my notion that I already knew the story. How wrong I was and how telling it is of my presumptive nature that two forms of medium could actually portray the same essence of a story-line effectively. Dune television and cinematic interpretations have really jaded me.  As I began to read Jurassic Park, it took four chapters in before I seized to compare the film to the book and started to enjoy myself. I could not get past what was missing or what was exaggerated or what was altered, finding myself writing mini comparative essays in my mind as I moved from page to page.  Gradually the plot enveloped me and I forgot to think and instead became consumed with the action that Crichton was so good at writing.

There is a lot to this book, a lot that if added would have pushed the film into a darker less marketable cinematic money maker. The characters are thankfully more developed and three-dimensional. Alan Grant is not in love with Ellie Satler, nor does he have a fear of children or a school boy infatuation with dinosaurs. John Hammond is not a nice, frumpy, harmless Grandpa wanting to bring dinosaurs back to life to enrich the lives of children everywhere. Muldoon, the safari/animal expert, Genarro, the lawyer and Wu, the chief geneticist play much larger roles in the book, each having a healthy dose of dread for the Park and it's dinosaurs. The software nerd dies a spectacularly disgusting death and the island itself is far more intimidating than the film version depicts. 

Chaos theory is strung through-out the plot which simply would have been impossible for the film to relay. This is the magic of novels, the ability to string an allegory, linking and defining the action without boring the audience or sounding trite.  A little dated at times, scientific discovery stops for no writer, and what was true back in the 90's has theoretically developed and expanded in scope today. All in all though, the novel holds up and would be perfect if you are looking for a quick thriller to pass your time with. 

29 September 2014

On-Hold: A Review of The Best of Connie Willis

To a certain degree, I am what I am thanks to the local library. Being a Mountie's daughter, I was moved across country, at best every four years.  Our family migrations were extreme adventures involving complicated packing days with professional movers efficiently securing our belongings up into cardboard boxes all tagged with blue tracking numbers. Those registration stickers were gold, and many a move I was banished from the front lawn for peeling off a few and sticking them to my knees, shoes and elbows. It was the early 80s, stickers were a rare and highly coveted kid commodity. The stress of those experiences weighed solely down upon my parents shoulders. Mom managed the emotional well-being of her kids by teaching us to embrace the experiences. New bedrooms, schools, friends, places to play were to be wondered, and discussed. Growing-up this way taught me to always look positively forward, understanding that a home was less a house and more the people with whom you called family. 

We moved from the high tides of The Bay of Fundy to the Yukon one summer, camping across country in a hard-top tent trailer, visiting family along the way. My childhood was mingled with clam-digging to sledding down frozen hills in forty below weather with the Northern Lights dancing above. I spent my early life getting to know this country better than most and forever am grateful for the decisions my parents made. 

And with all these moves, came the consistency of the local library system. There was not a town our family lived that we were not card-carrying library members. Having that constant kept me grounded, able to leave childhood friends behind, walk into new classrooms, and find my way with new groups of soon-to-be friends. Libraries were my first introduction to independence. I have fond memories of every library I frequented from the large, artfully decorated to the one-room, book-lined variety located in the basement of the community hall.

Today, my library experience has waned with my local containing a rather sad collection of SF books.  I think you can guess where I am leading, right back to dancing with the devil, reading mysteries and forgoing my geeky ways.  Cruise through the nearest library and you will quickly discover that beyond the literature section, mysteries reign as the genre of choice with SF but a sad collection of tattered paperback fantasy series, sprinkled with Star Wars editions and Asimov offerings. Care to discover what all the fuss is about regarding Ancillary Justice or My Real Children? Best to meander over to a well-stocked bookstore, cash in hand as your chances of borrowing any recently published novel will put you into the year 2016.  There is a reason why I have been buying books over these past years, the procurement of recent SF through the library is maddening at best. I'm sorry but being the 40th hold to read Cibola Burn is not going to cut it, someone pass me my Visa.

Nevertheless, I am currently on a library-only rule for spatial and frugal reasons, and found myself finally reading Connie Willis's The Best of Connie Willis: Award Winning Stories. (It was my last book in the SF stack.) Short stories always turn me into Goldilocks; they are either too short or aggravatingly too long, pushing way past the boundary of necessary detail.  Aware that most of my favourite SF writers cut their publishing teeth with submissions of their short story works, I should embrace this creative outlet more thoroughly but I cannot fight my reading tendencies. Give me a 'break-a-toe if dropped' hard-cover novel over a slim, well-executed 50 page thriller any day.

My enthusiasm for Black Out/All Clear is evident through out Thank the Maker, and while Connie Willis may have written two of my fave's in recent years, her collection of stories is not my cup of tea. The problem with reviewing books is that honestly must be your guiding principle. Thus, when confronted with a piece of work from an author I adore, initially I want to minimize the lacklustre review, omitting the fact that I skimmed at best, may have even tossed the book to the other corner of the room before finally putting it aside. For the record, no book was tossed during the writing of this review, for book throwing read thisMy only reprieve in my guilt is that I have yet to read a short story whether it be by Margaret Atwood or Kage Baker that has filled me with reading contentment. Even though the collection left me wanting to read a novel, I admit that brilliance is bound within, just bound within a writing format that I have yet to embrace and in all likelihood never will. 

And now if you would be so kind, I have a stack of murder mysteries to puzzle through while I impatiently wait for my 'holds' to arrive.

18 September 2014


I have been sharing Thank the Maker on various blog networking platforms in the hopes of making it rich. Diamonds have an unfortunate trait of not falling from trees nor does a line-of-credit stay static in the vaults of the banking netherworld like a well-behaved money dog. 

The summer was divine, the perfect ideal of no job, young son, shorts, museums intermingled with tears, disconnection and whining ( I am such a baby at times). The sunshine bubble has popped, reality looms larger than this past Super Moon and this Momma needs to rethink her options. Hence the half-assed attempt to hustle my blog on-line hoping that my insight into life's deeper question, the continued need to micromanage SF categories into extreme geeky definitions.  What is up with sub-categories? The time I spend on finding the correct fashionable descriptor for every book review post could be better spent with me actually reading more books. Could we, as a collective SF community just get over ourselves a little and let a book be a book.

Where was I? I am beginning to suss out why this blog may not be bringing in the big bucks.  That being said, I have been nominated for a Liebster award and am rather gleefully happy about it even though I am unsure what it really is. Can I admit to that?  As part of the requirements of the nomination and to ultimately unlock famedom/cashdom I need to fulfill a few requirements with one of those being, thanking my nominator,  Carla Wynker whose blog The Carla Diaries can be viewed here.  The second component is to answer 11 (why 11?) questions posed by my nominator and subsequently nominate 11 (once again, why?) other bloggers with less than 200 followers.  Somehow I feel like I am in the midst of chain letter, wait..
By the way dear readers, I did not want to bring this up but it has come to my attention that I only have 21 followers. I am quite aware more than 21 people are reading this very post so why don't you be a dear and follow Thank the Maker, making my dreams of ultimate power come to fruition. It's difficult to take over the world, one SF book review at a time when you only have 21 minions.  Glad we cleared that up, and now a brief interlude brought to you by Carla, who wants to get to know me just a little better. Rather than posting the questions I will creatively integrate them into an opinionated exposé of myself, forever cementing the fact that I am completely off my rocker.

Thank the Maker was created three years ago in the vain attempt to convince all my non-SF reading friends to sit down already and read SF.  But as with all truths there is the real truth behind why we do things, to find out the real story behind the blog revisit Things:  A Review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  At this point, Carla wants to know what my favourite book of all time is, if you don't know by now then there is no hope for us being besties (spoiler alert: Dune). And while there are quite a few wonderful characters in the Dune series, morphing my husband into one of them is just darn creepy. Sure, it would be kinda cool if he was Batman but I think that is my son's idea of perfection, not mine.  As for my favourite book character, that is difficult as I am more about world building and plot development and couldn't possibly pick one Miles  over the other.  Saigon continues to be the city I want most to be found sitting along side a busy intersection slurping noodles contentedly with my husband, having packed only flat shoes in my travel bag, and trying ineffectively to read the only book I brought more slowly. 

Desert island questions are leading as I would much rather not be there at all, having in all probability fallen out of boat, but if I must choose I would bring a tarp, a knife and a flint.  Listen, years of Survivor watching has taught me a few things, as had the endless amounts of Flintstones re-runs I took in as a kid; there is not an episode of life that cannot be directly segued to Fred and Wilma.  Current favourite wardrobe item is my newly purchased bunny hug, which to everyone beyond the province of Saskatchewan is a hoodie.  And with this very cosy sweater, I will go out this afternoon to combine my three hobbies, walking, bench sitting and reading.  

Although this is less an award and more a means to support each other in the guise of a tween chain letter, here are my four, (11 is too much!) nominations for the Liebster Award: Still Life with Birder, The Dork Portal, Nigel G. Mitchell , This Space Intentionally Left Blank.  Do what you will with the award, blogger friends. Sometimes it is nice just to be singled-out and given the opportunity to ramble on about yourself.  My 4 (yes 4) questions are: who's your Daddy, what did he teach you, why are you blogging, the real reason please, and the most over-rated book you have read. 

As for my minions, start following, we have work to do.

26 August 2014

Summer of H & h: A Review of The Graveyard Game, Kage Baker

The summer of H and little h is coming to a close. Months previous I made the auspicious decision to take a sabbatical from my career. June, July and now August have been my momma months. Days of sunshine, dinosaurs, leaves, spiders, rocks, feathers, and the ever perfecting art of raising a son have overflowed my soul with gratitude. I am also dead tired, this kid rises at 5:40 like a machine, stopping only when it is bedtime. There is no ideal picture of a family. Having experienced both sides of the coin, the working mom and now the stay-at-home-never-stop mom both have its advantages. The working mom has a life. The stay-at-home-never-stop mom does not. HA, seriously, kids are heat seeking missiles that seem to find you even when you are hiding deep in the vegetable crisper, under the romaine lettuce. Don't ever ask a stay-at-home mom (or Dad) what she/he does all day because she/he has the legal rights to punch you in the face.

Moving into to this new chapter in my family's life I need some comfort books to get me through. No one said I had to be a big girl about this kindergarten thing. In these times of flux, I find myself perusing my book shelves, looking for a rereading distraction. I looked Dune right in the eye but was in the mood for something less duney, and a lot more funny. Not a lot of jokes cracked on Arrakis, have you noticed? 

When in the mood for whimsy, I instantly think Kage Baker. And so with her  fourth book in her Company series, The Graveyard Game in hand, I spent the past weekend with an old friend. Book four focuses less on Mendoza, our herroine, the immortal cyborg whose epic affairs of the heart have so tragically led her astray for thousands of years and more on her friends.  Mendoza is missing. Rumours abound, but no immortal has seen our protagonist for centuries. Worried enough to forgo their own safety, her friends Joseph and Lewis are about to embark down paths that may lead to their own destructions.

Dr. Zeus Inc. augments children from doomed fates into immortals, who for the rest of time fulfil their Company programmed missions. In a sense, these books are treasure hunting at its finest with a twist of sci-fi to give it spice. What places the series on my favourites collection is the black humour sprinkled throughout that adds depth to the sense of doom that is implied chapter by chapter. Kage was a master at world-building and a marvel at creating people we cannot help but like, prickles and all. Of all the books, The Graveyard Game personifies Kage's ability to build layers to her overarching story-line. This book meanders from the main thus highlighting the complexity of the world she has created. No story is one note, no piece of history is accurate, there are myriads of light to each perspective and what better way to play out the level of peril Mendoza is in but to showcase it through the eyes of her friends. 

18 August 2014

Cotton Candy Days: A Review of Cibola Burns, James S.A. Corey

The wind is whipping through the greenery casting shadows of summer over my computer as I intently stare at one of my flower containers. Over night the flora in my backyard started sprouting bizarre off-shoots morphing the entire species into something completely unrecognizable.  I don't know what is happening but hazard a guess that August is at foot; August, North America's sweetest sorrow.

Here in Toronto where I live, much to the dismay of some of my maritime cousins, there is nothing that hammers home the end of all things flip-flop than the CNE. The CNE this city's local fair runs for three blessed corn dog, fried pickle weeks wrapping up all it's greasy goodness Labour Day long weekend. It has all the bells and whistles:  cotton candy, games of chance, twice fried butter, mid-way, corn dogs, The Polar Express. I just love me a good fair. The only drawback is the lacklustre displays of pies, jams, breads, quilts, best-looking gourds, tomatoes, and dahlias.  Being the largest fair in this country, you would assume that there was a stage dedicated to hourly pie beauty contests. Alas, the home economic feats of excellence has been surpassed by endless shammy, magic blender displays.

But where is the science fiction, you ask, where? Folks, things are going to get nuts very quickly as I commence my very subjective review of Cibola Burn,
fourth instalment of The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey. I thought a nice segue, filled with the spirit of cotton candy would lull you into a semi-conscious state before I slam you with space-operatic enthusiasm bordering close on obsession. James S. A. Corey is the pen name writing team of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck who have my heart forever since the release of their first book, Leviathan Wakes. The two wanted to capture the point at which humanity moved from the confines of our solar system into the great expanse that is the universe, during that rather bumpy, vomit zombie process, opening Pandora's Box. To date, we have met a sentient Venus, the very alien, very scary protomolecule, a full-scale Mars/Earth/Outer Planets war, Medina, a gateway eons old, now humanities access to countless star systems and the crew of the Rocinante, who always happen to be at the wrong place at the right time.

The Expanse books are reliant upon each other. Pick up Cibola Burn without doing your do diligence of reading the other three and you will be one very confused but entertained reader. All four are fast-paced, with Leviathan Wakes the best written with Cibola Burn coming in second. Cibola Burn moves the plot along to humans settling our first planet beyond our little corner of the Milky Way. Using the Gate, the crew of the Rocinante are requested by the United Nations to act as mediators on a newly discovered planet, rich in minerals, contested over by two groups of settlers.

While Calaban's War, and Abaddon's Gate are politically charged plots with great character development, Cibola Burn hones in upon humanities homegrown nightmares; racism, greed. Hence we have a book that is possibly more horrifying than the others simply because we recognize the fear more easily. This does not attenuate the spine- tingling alien anxiety that pulses through all The Expanse books. What is currently thriving on Venus may have it's protomolecular tentacles through-out the universe. Settlement has never been so harried. Cibola Burn delivers a more focused story-line of the same plot driven question pulsing through all the books; are we alone and do we truly want to find out if we are or worse, we aren't? 

The Expanse series is an amazing romp with Cibola Burn a SF grand slam home run. Go now, read it and be forever freaked out.

10 August 2014

Popcorn: A Review of Revolution

At some point in your life you will luckily reach this paradox:  the realization that you aren't as smart as you think, and by knowing that you are actually smarter than you thought. There was a good decade (stupid 20's) at which I spent days, weeks, years worrying about what you thought, they thought, or anyone thought. I lived less in the moment and more in the ever-worrying future of what ifs. My reading life took a toll, Dune aside, I spent the decade not indulging in SF simply because it did not align with what I thought I should be perceived to be reading. The oddity of it all, my 20's was my Dune decade. I was on a Dune loop annually revisiting the series of 6 which eventually cumulated with my inane, I would argue awesome ability to quote massive components of the books. 
We all have a book that impacts us the most, my number one obviously is Dune (just in case you missed the million references) closely followed by War and Peace with the entire yellow-bound Nancy Drew collection (insert sheepish grin) rounding out my top three. I was 8, Nancy had a lot to offer me at the time. While the obscurity of this top three is hurting parts of my brain, it highlights the best aspect to reading. It really allows us to be ourselves, even at times, discover who we are. If my grade 10 English teacher had not the gumption to assign Herbert's epic book as part of the curriculum I may not be the person I am today or the fortitude to admit I like really crappy SF.  It is one thing to expound on how Foundation altered one's perception of the 21st century, it is another to gleefully walk around with a hard-cover edition of Revolution  at the nearby play-park with a gaggle of moms goggling your choice of fiction. 
Look at it!

Okay, maybe classifying Revolution, book three in the  Secret World Chronicle penned this time around by Mercedes Lackey, Cody Martin, Dennis and Veronica Giguere as crappy is harsh, but this book is not going to win any awards. At best, this is a collection of pod casts written by mad-crazed fans of the on-line game City of Hereos who are having the time of their lives, publishing world be dammed. And you know what I love it, I love it all and I don't care what you think.

Sometimes you just want popcorn for dinner, Revolution is my summer popcorn read. Really a comic book that has exploded in your brains, Revolution continues the saga of Echo, and the Soviet meta-humans who are in a tragic battle to save the world as we know it. The bad guys are exactly what you want, bad, with an over-the-top Nazi, alien bad to them. Just have a gander at the cover art. That is a bad looking dude, and one extremely embarrassing book to tote around, let me reiterate. Why can't book covers be a little more restrained in SF? No one takes me seriously toting this around, let me tell you, no one. Of course, even without this book in hand, I somehow lose half my audience. It might, might have to do with my tendency to quote Star Wars a little too much, peppering my argument with Flintstone references to grind my point home. For some reason, my point never seems to be ground in quite the way I meant it to be.  

Yes, so Revolution, crap or popcorn-inspired cartoon fiction, either way it is awesome, rocks on rocks awesome.

4 August 2014

Dream Sequence: A Review of The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

Safely kept in my locked box of banking, insurance and passport information is my Great Auntie Marge's bun recipe. Some people lock up their gold, I feel compelled to place a bun recipe in there. All this started with a dream Thursday night which no doubt was enhanced by the cold/sinus medication I swallowed before hitting the hay. For some odd reason that over-the-counter seemingly harmless sinus med caused havoc with my system and I spent the night locked in a bread-making LCD  enhanced world which has haunted me just enough for me to pull out the flour and yeast and go old school in my kitchen this morn.

Interesting how our dreams influence our actions and vice versa. In June, while visiting my mom, who subsequently made buns during my stay, I was recommended a book by my Aunt Kathy. After reading The Night Circus, I wonder if Erin Morgenstern was inspired by a dream that resulted in her debut novel? Some people bake bread after dreaming, others write books, to each their own.

Imagine waking to discover a circus comprised of uncountable peaks of black and white coloured tents set-up magically during the night in the park down from your house. As part of the panorama insert an intricate clock-work machine, iron-gilded gates and a fence designed to keep the circus's secrets secret until the magical hour of dusk. Visitors to this extravaganza leave the next morning haunted by their experiences, unable to express those moments in time to even themselves. They yearn that the circus will be there when they wake so they can slip back into the world of magic before it suddenly disappears maybe never to return to their town again.

The circus is clearly the star even though we follow
two young magicians clandestine to entwine. Because I am a magic junky at heart, I was quick to like Celia and Marco, however, with a couple of months behind me since reading it, I can barely remember either character, seemingly more smitten with the conceptual spine of the novel. Without the wonder of the circus the novel would have fallen flat. Morgenstern's style of writing, while fitting for the late 1800s in which the novel is placed, is too stylistic.  The words weigh the plot down, muddling the reader, making it difficult for us to believe in the fantastical aspects of the people. When I read fantasy, I lose myself in the world that has been spun, The Night Circus, while a fun read, did not leave me spellbound.

I am befuddled by The Night Circus.  It is a shame because I did enjoy reading it but am reluctant to give it my complete approval. While it may be harsh to compare it to Dunn's masterpiece, Geek Love, I feel that Morgenstern would have benefitted from what Katherine Dunn accomplished so convincingly, keeping her characters as human as possible in a world that was very much not.

26 July 2014

Fairy Tales: A Review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

I come from a long line of readers, it is just how this family roles, we read, we read and oh yes of course, we read. Funny enough though we do not expound on our readings, choosing to pile the books up high around our houses, quietly enjoying our self-created book fortresses.  This all came to pass when I found myself a mom with a slight, so slight barely there, emotionally groundbreaking (once again, every so slight) identity crisis.  Not to go into the mom thing because Thank the Maker is not at all about the mom thing and all about what this mom is reading thing but the mom thing is really the catalyst of this entire thing. 

With newborn in tow, and book consumption down to an all-time low I realized that being a mom does not equate just being a mom and started to freak-out on what exactly I was/am/and going to be. Raising a child is not for the faint of heart, and if someone says it's a piece of cake, they are a dirty, dirty liar. That being said, this blog and this post is not about being a mom but in a convoluted way it is. And as with all things Neil Gaiman, his new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is about one thing but really so much more. 

As with Margaret Atwood, I have shockingly discovered quite a few people who are not into Gaiman's writings. The hubby, who should be acknowledged for his awesome foresight of taking the sonny swimming today, giving this mommy time to do some sci-fi geeking (writing) did not find The Ocean at the End of the Lane his thing. I still find this surprising as he cruises the deep corners of the web keeping informed of the latest UFO dramatic occurrence but couldn't stretch his level of disbelief to dip into a fairy tale. Not that I am saying that UFOs are hullabaloo and that buying a generator for the inevitable invasion is a waste of our savings, I am not saying that, I am just saying....you know, I am saying nothing, I like being married.

Whether you consider this a fairy tale or a story about the perceptions of reality, I found it to be an inquisitively magical novel that left me wondering what parts of our memories are accurate or fabrications of what we perceive accuracy to be. A warning, this is a fairy tale with demons, darkness and levels of emotional and physical dangers that accompany the lives of the children within the tale. It is not a romp of a novel, it won't leave you feeling blessed but it will leave you feeling touched with the magic of the unknown. This book delivers, keeping to what Gaiman does best, spinning the mundane into a supernatural package of questions.