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.