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.