16 December 2015

This Girl's Read of 2015: Nemesis Games, James S. A. Corey

As in years past, 2015's read of the year coincidentally lights up my brain just as the days darken and windows begin to reflect the sparkle of holiday lights. With the tree up, Christmas has suddenly advanced significantly in this house with seven types of cookies in the freezer and a generous amount of rum in the cupboard. My husband confessed that whenever he sees me near the tree he hankers for an eggnog; must have something to do with my name, inspires drinky feels. With this festive beverage firmly nestled in your brain, time to reflect on what makes a book worthy of the number one spot. Personally, my read of the year must be an all encompassing experience, something that blinds the world, slowing reality while simultaneously rushing time as the pages run out far to quickly. 

And of utmost importance for this girl so happens to be the fifth instalment of James S. A. Corey's The Expanse, Nemesis GamesEver since the charged Leviathan Wakes, The Expanse has kept me, a self-confessed space opera junky firmly in the stars. A sucker for all things vomit zombie related, the substantive world building and charismatic allure of this series has never left me dismayed with disappointment.

Nemesis Games returns James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante to our solar system having escaped the perils found in Cibola Burn. I am a spoiler-free book reviewer, alluding to greatness without jeopardizing the reading pleasure and thus finding this post difficult. It is not like I am recommending you to jump into this serious at the 5th stage, this is a courtship with the entire grouping. 

Keystone to the overarching plot, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th were grand studies of humanity's reluctance to learn from our past. Nemesis Games focuses on the personal, revealing the complex lives of James Holden's crew whom have yet to have their moment. And when the authors decided to give the crew their moment they decided to go pedal to the metal, escalating an already intense series to an all time high. There is an apex in every grand literary series at which immediacy is craved. Space opera, if it is to become really good space opera uses the universe as it's stage while grounding the narrative with a human perspective.  Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga shines because she knows how to write likeable characters. And with Bujold, Baker and Herbert, Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham intrinsically know the key to The Expanse's success is the crew of the Rocinante. The addition of depth to Naomi, Amos and Alex keeps the heartbeat of the storyline, reminding us, that even in space, forgiveness and love are a worthy pursuit even with the destruction of the Earth. 

Sshh, you didn't read that. 

3 December 2015

This Girl's Wish List 2015

It must be Christmas. Moments ago I could be found in the storage room, wedged between a bike and a large robotic T-Rex while my toes were nestled alarmingly between the blades of the push lawn mower, all in the fruitless pursuit of Christmas cards. Cards, that as my hip brushed against a pile of old clothes, cascading the lot of size four PJs and underwear down upon me like an unnaturally cute snow storm, I realized that I never actually purchased said items. 

Recuperating from Storage Wars, it is time to gather my thoughts and focus on this girl's wish list. With a library-only policy in perpetual effect the pressure of deciding what books to own has become a quandary. Not only am I not allowed to purchase but any gift arriving under the tree should have an impelling re-reading allure. How does one kindly request possible seasonal gifts to meet that standard? Writing a blog is beyond effective, as is directing the major book patron in my life to this city's premium SF bookstore; a conveniently short walk from this girl's front door. The hubby knows a happy marriage is built on the foundations of solid space operatic adventures and magical tales. Over the years he not only introduced his geeky wife to The Expanse, my personal obsession, but Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and Jo Walton's delightful Among Others. And while I am positive that he does not need This Girl's Wish List, compiling lists are the ideal busy work when one is ignoring the laundry, and maybe the kitchen floors, dinner and the dusting.

Of all my SF reading years, 2015 was my least engaging. I managed to successfully ignore all the hot it books while reading a thoroughly wonderful lump of sci-fi.  Take that internet, I am not your puppet. Okay, not completely accurate as I creep three bloggers, reading everything they recommend. Megan from Couch to Moon, Anton at Genre-Bending and Emma at This space intentionally left blank read well, love science fiction and thoroughly know their geeky stuff. I am perplexed on why we four are all not hanging out, eating popsicles and being awesome together. And so with that little weird fandom crush confession, I give you the books I hope to read  this holiday season, thanks in full to the power three. 

Topping the happy list is Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora. Although 2312 was overall a fail for me, components continue to sing in my imagination. A lover of grandiose ideas that seem to explode with vivid imagery of the universe, 2312 was a winner and my anticipation for what lies within the pages of Aurora finds me rubbing my hands together like a crazy evil scientist. 

Following closely are Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente and A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Shwab both meeting my weird requirements. Radiance is described as a space opera mystery set in Hollywood within the larger framework of an alternative universe. A Darker Shade of Magic is my attempt to full the void that The Rook has left in my heart for fabulous magical mayhem. A Darker Shade of Magic offers four realities of London: Grey, Red, White and the never mentioned Black. Intriguing enough, add Kell, one of the last Travellers, a magician who choses to live between the worlds, and you have my full attention. Sitting here, pondering this book the more I realize I should put it at the top. 

Perpetuating my disturbing desire for the post-apocalyptic is Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace. Wasp is not only a ghost hunter but an Archivist, chosen at birth and with that sentence alone I am in. Simon Ings' Wolves is on the list simply because one of my Power 3 found it to be her favourite book of 2014. I really do read what they recommend, hence the addition of Aftermath from the Star Wars universe. Unable to escape the Star Wars hurricane that has been these past months, Chuck Wendig's offering interests me enough to give this entire fandom genre a go again.

3 November 2015

Short: A Review of Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman

Smitten once more with the short story, I have been peppering the hours of the day with delightfully quirky tales. The short story is the perfect companion for a parent. Five years ago, a weird four-page turning oddity would have brightened my sleep deprived mind, saving my sanity as I navigated my way from the coffee machine to the nursery. Still maneuvering those turbulent parental waters, my tasks have shifted slightly from the keeping someone alive chores to honing the little person into someone who people might like to know duties. The school playground is filled with parents, either helocoptering, turning a blind eye or like me debating what is an appropriate display of wrestling and when to throw oneself into the melee. A hardened senior kindergarten Mom, I have little regard for decorum, and can be heard blocks away, bellowing for my offspring to get a move on. A quick little ditty to remind me that I am more than the person in red rubber boots standing in a park for two hours, is the key to keeping me, me.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman wasn't quite what I anticipated having recently immersed myself in his novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Prepared for weird, really and truly deliciously weird, I was somewhat disenchanted with the collection. I kept hoping the next story would satisfy my inner child, the one who wished The Hardy Boys Mysteries were as terrifying as the intro implied. The collection has generally been seen before, either published or viewed through the social mediums we are now so familiar. The Dr. Who fan-fiction 'Nothing O'Clock ' left me charmed enough to investigate this extensive SF
phenomena that never quite peaked my interest. Shadow Moon from American Gods is given more space to grow, allowing me more time to bathe in the richness that is this character. 'The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury' left me questioning memory, lose and shifting of time. And then there was the fantastical gem, 'The Return of the Thin White Duke', the little horror tale 'Click-Clack the Rattlebag' and 'The Invocation of Incuriosity' that all contributed to the Halloween mythos that was this past weekend.

Trigger Warning may not be Neil Gaiman's strongest display of writings but it should be noted that these are still tales spun by Neil Gaiman. A Neil Gaiman story can evoke the magical unlike most writers of our time. More a storyteller than a writer, he would fit nicely around any hearth through the ages, weaving up tales of lore, fancy and myth, acting as a medium to weave a community together. A civilization's darkness reveals more than the light. Show us our fears, our despair, our longings and we are more able to denounce the little demons, giving energy to push into the light of hope and change. And for this girl, willpower to continue down the road to the playground and help a little boy become a mindful human being. 

27 October 2015

Morning Chocolate Cake: A Review of Armada, Ernest Cline

I am almost but not completely ready to discuss Armada by Ernest Cline; almost, a few antidotal paragraphs are vital as I procrastinate my reluctance to acknowledge my distain. Thankfully, my fortuitous decision to serve up a slice of chocolate cake with my morning coffee is lulling me into a false sense of sugary safety.

Unaccustomed to October play-off major league baseball, Canada rightly so, decided to whole-heartedly lose it's marbles.  During the 1992 World Series, I witnessed my dear father rise from the depths of our den, walk calmly to the front door, step out into the cold Saskatchewan wind and shout to the heavens "Okay, Blue Jays, Let's Play Ball!". From there, this large, 6 foot four inch tall dad of mine, proceeded to shut the door, retrace his steps, descending down into his sports lair where he watched his team clutch the title. And so it came as a shock that as most Canadians were screaming their roofs off as Jose Baustita threw his bat into infamy in Game 5 against Texas, my parents were seemingly unaware. Like nervous parents across the ages, my folks could not commit to the nail biting intensity that was October, opting to keep the telly off, and the blood pressure low. And this is this girl's attempt to not even discuss the federal election that was so prominently intwined through the Jays fever. So, yes,  the span of months of blog neglect were rightly filled with newsworthy events. Nevertheless it all returns to the fact that I didn't like the book and morning cake really is best served cold.

Ernest Cline, crowned purveyor of 1980s nostalgia rose to the heights of geeky goodness with Ready Player One. An homage to gamer cultural, Ready Player One offers a unique literary opportunity to fall within the clutches of a video game without ever having to play. Addictive enough to distract I recall only the joy of pursuit unable to summon details, depth or characters. A recent review that shines a less than spectacular light upon this first novel has me questioning if Ready Player One was worthy of my passionate recommendations. Did the chase leave me so besotted that I was blind to all else? Having completed Armada months ago, irked beyond a rational state, I question less Cline's writing prowess and more our cultural obsession with nostalgia.

What is of more importance, an author who writes well, or an author who through social media networks displays a lifestyle perpetuated in his/her books that coincidentally enhances the sales? Simply stepping into the arena of Twitter it is obvious that it takes more than written talent to promote a book. My feed is inundated with Andy Weir hugging yet another scientist while Scalzi is documenting a minute by minute account of his existence, to Ernest Cline driving his Delorian across the galaxy saving old Atari video games with George R. R. Martin. While I am not against such campaigns, finding it all quite entertaining, I am beginning to suspect we, the reading public have been duped. 

Armada is the story of a teenage boy who saves the world. With an innate talent for video-games, Zac Lightman spies through his school classroom window a spacecraft that improbably emerged from the very game he obsessively plays. The plot moves along at a maddeningly logical progression exhibiting little in way of surprise. Having either read or viewed this arc countless of times, relishing each new spin on the classic tale, I would have gladly enjoyed myself if I hadn't been drowned in 80s jargon. Every other sentence hallmarks the past, and while that can be highly effective in developing wit, too much becomes saccharine. Do yourself a favour, rent The Last Starfighter and enjoy the plot in it's original conception.

8 September 2015

Park Bench: A Review of The Knight of Chains, The Deuce of Stars, Yoon Ha Lee

The world beyond my kitchen window is an explosion of summer's beauty. Peaches and pears fall over themselves on the counter behind me; trees boast their lushness, seemingly winking at passers-by as they offer a respite from September's inevitable bustle. While busy, the Ontarian Fall is a delayed spectacular affair. With the marketing world pushing pumpkin spice onto our sensibilities, firmly reminding us to put away our sunshine dreams, September continues to present summer's last fabulous aspects. 

This is the time to look up into the canopies, listen as birds flit overhead, marvel at the bounty that is our local gardens. Gorge on tomatoes, eat corn by the bucket, sip lemonade as you observe the world becoming just a little crisper, more colourful. I gush but I am consistently amazed by the boundaries our culture imposes on the natural world. The seasons are more a continuous song of life rather than the beginnings and endings that are simultaneously lamented and glorified. September's back to school, return to the serious business of being busy resonates little for me. Rather, this in-between stage presents an opportunity for reflection. September is life heightened to its peak of summer glory, tipping into a new phase bringing with it renewed reasons to just go outside.

Whatever way you choose to view this slip from summer into fall, seek out a bench, preferably tucked secretly amidst a cove of greenery and read. There is enough going on these months ahead to take away our inner reading-selves. And as my little world, with my little family inevitably rushes along, I have discovered the wonders of the SF short story. A well-written, tightly-bound short can have a profound effect on a reader. The inherent character of its length energizes imaginations more fully than most perfectly executed novels. An idea not fully realized is a tantalizing gift. Like a seed, the short story's concept continues to shift and shape long after the final paragraph is read. Without the space to explore an author can play, toying with plot-lines that if further developed might lay flat rather than shine as most do within this particular format.

I have been preoccupied with two collections: Space Opera by Rich Horton and Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. Being a self-diagnosed space opera junky, the chances of me walking out of the local bookstore without Rich Horton's collection was an improbability. The man basically visualized me in his mind as his target audience, proceeding to pack the book with some of the best examples of space goodness. With authors like Kage Baker, Naomi Novik, James Patrick Kelly, Alastair Reynolds and Yoon Ha Lee part of the line up, the book glows from the wonders bound within. 

With all the space operatic madness to choose from no short story compared to the scope of pure imagination that is Yoon Ha Lee's The Knight of Chains, The Deuce of Stars . Lee's genius is his ability to move the printed word into a three-dimensional kaleidoscope of colours, formulating a poetic explosion that overpowers the reader with opulence. When a story begins with "The tower is a black spire upon a world whose only sun is a million starships wrecked into a mass grave.", a park bench worthy of such a sentence is required. 

But not all short stories need to smash your mind in with extravagant eloquence, Intergalactic Medicine Show, published stories from Card's on-line magazine have a more personal touch. With 4 shorts from the Ender's Game universe, the collection has an old friend over for dinner vibe. The new vantage points revealed in this well-defined world expands my appreciation for the dedication Orson Scott Card has committed to his original story-line. 

Short story collections, whether it be a composite of SF's current gifted writers or a book solely dedicated to one author all share their unique slant to life. Each present a glimpse into galaxies, planets, aliens, men and women all who entertain me as I sit on my local park bench observing the slow rotation of life.  

18 August 2015

Pantheon of Riches: A Review of The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman

Mere weeks from now I will be meandering down our street intent upon my son's progression into his second year of schooling. Not one to shrug convention, we whole-heartedly joined the multitudes of Ontario families last year, enrolling our wee one into his first of two years of kindergarten. That junior year was a pantheon of riches with each month a new exploration into emotional, social and educational avenues. With senior kindergarten looming, and this our first summer dictated by the school calendar, I ponder on where the summer actually went. The two months seemed to have flowed through my fingers, yet joy bounces through our house.

As my toddler grew from a two to three to a four year old pre-schooler I lingered on the past, missing the chubby cheeks, the giggly-worthy mispronounce of 'dinowhore'. Tears would spill down my cheeks each fall as I packed away clothes, aware that the little lobster shorts would never be worn again. But now, as my son and I wander through the halls of the Royal Ontario Museum discussing the merits of bats to the ecology I realize how pointless those tears were. The pure happiness of parenthood is discovering who that little baby will become. Our future is bright, our past is cherished but the present that surrounds us, is all that matters. 

Not every moment is perfect, disagreements abound; this girl's life is not 'facebook' perfect. But it is my life with my son and my husband, a unique, quiet little life that we actively create, keeping life less busy, less full of events, more into park days and books. With the rush of September approaching, a good read is needed to ground oneself to the moment that is this season. Having found this read in Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists, I recommend you to read it as well. Not a science fiction book, The Imperfectionists attempts to capture the realities of the newspaper world. Set in Rome, the reader bounces through decades, following the inception and death of an international newspaper geared for the expats of the world. 

Beautifully simple in it's design, The Imperfectionists is a gathering of lives. The chapters are dedicated to the nuances of each person's character by revealing a personal crisis. I am haunted by this book. This is the art that Tom Rachman has with the printed word, the talent to make life dramatic, elegant, as we the readers witness countless small heartbreaks that define the employees of this nameless newspaper. The Imperfectionists captures the imperfections of life, the reality that no one life is perfect. While it reveals the inner workings of journalism, it lacks the altruistic, objective journalism often portrayed in many novels. By focusing in upon the people of the newspaper, allowing each character a moment in time, the novel explodes with richness. I loved this book and plan on reading more of this gifted writer.

9 August 2015

Perspective: A Review of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein

Summers can be surprisingly anxious correlated to the grand orb of warmth, the sun. Will it shine, is it too strong, too bright; in Newfoundland the question of the season is where art thou dear summer, where art thou? When the local meteorologist is arrested on air for trafficking rain, drizzle and fog you know your impending holiday will be less beach and more cozy sofa. Although my shorts have seen the daylight twice on this trip to my nation's most easterly province, my complaints are few and far between. After all, it is August, albeit a foggy, steely grey version. 

And so, as I endeavour to read Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress the hopeful positivity I am directing to the season has spilled over to my reading adventures. Half-way through, I confess the book lays splayed open, accusingly taunting me as I forgo it for yet another whimsical murder/mystery. Can summer truly happen if an Agatha Christie has not been read? 

Known primarily for it's libertarian ideals, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress has been kicking around since the 60's. A story of revolt, it was originally released as a series in World of If  subsequently winning the Hugo of '67. Heinlein's 21st century is an Earth  of Federated Nations that repurposed the Moon as a penal colony; a modern Australia, if you will. Millions of outcasts bonded by geographical isolation and servitude live in cities deep under the strata. Left mainly to their own devices with Warden marking a cursory nod to the planets control, the Loonies have developed a uniquely avant-garde society. Highly developed polygamous relationships evolved from the necessities of a ratio of two men for every woman.

The story begins with Mannie, our hero, a free-lance computer tech who discovers that the Warden's thinkum dinkum is sentient with a fully engaged sense of humour. Intrigued, a precarious friendship develops with the mainframe being guided along the precarious path of humanity. This wonderfully attentive opening sequence quickly progresses from a first contact story-line to a developed portrayal of the mechanism, reaction and consequences of revolution. 

Reading the grandmasters takes some patience:  the reader has to actively visualize the times from which the novel was conceived.  The limited exposure to 50-60's SF has been more an exploration of the author's viewpoint constrained by his own societal barriers than a glimpse into the genesis of the genre. Beyond Foundation, I have yet to read an oldie but goodie that has struck me as good. With The Moon is a Harsh Mistress abandoned, seeping out guilt on my nightstand, the passing of the reading day leaves me less likely to ever read it through. Ultimately, the success of a novel lives and dies with connection. Unlike Asimov's Foundation, Heinlein lacks the every-man knack, even though he clearly attempted that very thing through the unique slant of the prose. Creating a sense of 'The Other' would not have been a new formula during Heinlein's era but I imagine his literary perspective would have been a refreshing change.  And while I admire those very abilities to create a very Luna speech pathology, it is extremely difficult to digest. Rather than invite me in, it pushes away distracting me from the plot, generating a heaviness to the tone. 

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is full with imaginative, engaging ideas. It deserves its place in the cannon of science fiction, unfortunately for this girl, the writing rather than the concepts served to distract. As I reach for yet another obscure murder from the Dame herself, I look to the rainy skies hoping not only for sun but a more positive experience with the grand-daddies of Science Fiction. 

27 June 2015

Putting the SF in SF: A Review of Foundation, Isaac Asimov

Perfection, thy name is a blue-sky day, an empty park bench, and at hand a space book to while the hours away. Reading in the summer months has always been an obsessive period. July/August is when this girl ticks books of her list, either be it a complete retrospective of all that Agatha penned or an intense relationship with Tostoy's horse drawn lanes.

This summer's compulsion sprang from Empire of Dust. It's simplistic space operatic drama triggered a desire to make this summer a science fiction summer, grand master realm science fiction; the science fiction that puts the science fiction in science fiction. 

Without grade 10 English my journey down this space path may never have occurred. It wasn't until Japan that my SF passion developed as I moved from obsessively rereading Dune to exploring the genre. A decade or so ago, living in a small agriculturally Japanese town, English books were a rarity. An English teacher had to either bring her own into the country, share with others, or luck upon a cast away. In the copy room of the small school I taught was a pile of random English novels left behind by past teachers, long gone. Amongst this pile was Foundation, and hence began my second intense relationship with a series that gave birth to the geek I am today.

Sitting with Foundation open before me, I am yet again astounded that I like it as much as I do. It is said that to read the grand-daddies you have to look to the times that they were written. Even on this, my umpteenth reread I continue the futile search for a viewpoint beyond the male perspective, or at the very least a casting of women that does not portray my fellow sistren as nagging, flippant wives, dazzled by jewels, obsessed with the next miracle home appliance. For such a creative mind, how was Asimov unable to stretch his imagination beyond his social confines, explore the concept that the world is larger than the male perspective? Even as I expound on this I realize that Foundation has no place for these enlightened sentiments.

Foundation is based upon the fall of Rome. Hari Seldon a brilliant mathematician/psychiatrist develops the science of psychohistory:  a mathematical algorithm to predict the future of humanity. Seldon calculates the fall of the mighty Galactic Empire, sealing the fate of billions but through those same predictors finds a path through which humanity can grow and flourish once again. Although it is filled with space ships Foundation is at its core an ancient tale and as such should never be expected to be forward looking. 

It is an easy read, Asimov was not a poetic genius able to swirl words together. He was a story teller for the people, making him forever readable. The tone of Foundation is simplified, somewhat the voice of Tomorrowland, if the voice of the old 1960's Disney play-park could speak. It is also space opera at it's purest level, a novel documenting the fall of an empire and the rise of another. This story has touched many a writer, and its legacy can be found in countless plots. 

Without Foundation, I wonder what path science fiction would have taken?

22 June 2015

KOA: A Review of Empire of Dust, Jacey Bedford

Summers as a kid found me either barefoot, ripping around on my 3-speed bike, or backseat of the family car, spying for KOA signs. We were a camping family; that was our thing. I grew up learning to catch salmon in the fjords of Alaska all the while sipping on hot apple cider mentally preparing for my daily morning argument of why my brother should allow me to eat the Fruit Loops from the multi-pack cereal snack box. My parents believed in packing us all up and seeing Canada through the vantage point of the open road. There were no overnights in hotels, or road side diner pit stops. We drove from Nova Scotia up through to our new home in the Yukon one long summer, stoping for the odd baseball game, the odd relative reunion and fishing. As long as my Mom had a book, my Dad could stop at any prospective raging river or brook to try his luck. For all those trips, all those places travelled through, it was not the arrival but the anticipation of getting there that lingers. 

Maybe this is why Empire of Dust by Jacey Bedford was the perfect book for this girl to launch her summer reading campaign. Even though Empire of Dust is described as psi-tech it really is an old school space adventure with focus on adventure. My local SF bookstore had to weave their art of negotiation rather tightly around me before I tossed it into the buy pile. However I soon discovered that the very tech I was reluctant to explore created a more cohesive world-view, lending an air of uniqueness to the plot that heightened my imagination. 

Bedford's world-view is thankfully not utopian. The story is rather dark, Cara Carlinni, a first grade psi-tech telepath is on the run, hiding from her past employer, the mega-corporation Alphacorp. The science is not holistic encompassing; being upgraded with technology to expand a person's latent psychic tendencies has a price of servitude that can be viewed from both ends of the spectrum of personal gain to life-long bondage. To be fair, the adventure does drag, the crisis opening the novel does not dissipate until the denouement. Once resolved to the notion that all the secrets Cara held close were not going to be revealed quickly, I stepped back, and simply enjoyed the ever-increasing pace and seemingly never-ending level of anxiety that shadowed the main characters. 

Empire of Dust is the perfect little space book, for the perfect summer day. It is less about the characters and more about world-building, scope and plot. Sometimes the journey is the story, especially when it comes to Empire of Dust. 

25 May 2015

Thank the Maker: A Review of The Galaxy Game, Karen Lord

With an attraction to Netflix that continues unchecked, intermingled with an unrelenting level of procrastination that would alarm even my university days self, this girl's blog has been neglected. I applaud my blogger friends who have the willpower to post monthly and offer complete amazement to those who manage to populate their sites daily. And to all my other excuses spastically bouncing in the caverns of my brain, I say to you be quiet, it is time to write. It is time to write; thank the maker.  

Inevitably there will be books by our favourite authors that will leave us less than inspired. Does this mean a disillusionment of all that was, a complete abandonment of an author you once held in regard? Reading is an immersive event, subsequent to our moods, place in the world, and perceptions. Subjectivity regulates the book game.

Many an acquaintance of mine presuppose my SF tendencies are a comedic commentary of my so-called geekness; a geekness that too my credit is more allure than reality. The newly minted holiday of May the 4th finds me at the epicentre of expectation with grand hopes of arriving at my son's school in nothing less than full Boba Fett armour.  My response, is meh, my fandom while pure is a contained aspect, one that I gladly will share but less likely to wear. This geekness I don whether I choose to or not, follows me, defines me, stretches beyond my own personal narrative. 

Surprisingly, I am a bigger nerd than I ever thought, simply based on assumptions. A blogger friend posted "Book Reviews are for Readers, Not for Authors", an article exploring the practise of faux reviews to either discredit competitors or boost one's own works. The heart of his rationale is reviews are for readers and thanks to this article, I am here this morning, writing. But the writing comes less easy, more complex as I strive to achieve objectivity in the face of my own personal predispositions. While I struggle with the notions of how I am viewed in my community, a parallel runs with my inferences of the authors I gravitate too.

Hence Karen Lord's The Galaxy Game, a star-spanning political enigma that bewildered me, leaving me uncertain of what I read but wanting more. In her short SF career, Karen Lord has made a name for herself, gifting the world the magic that is her Redemption in Indigo and the unique quality that the genre clearly needed in The Best of All Possible Worlds. I am a devoted fan. The Galaxy Game left me questioning whether it was just me or just the plot, or just the wrong time in my life to pick up this type of book. To the point, it tested my resolve to review books. A recent post of mine resulted in an author banning me from Twitter. Being an obscure blogger with little ties in the SF community, the action shocked me, guilted me, made me realize my words, while mild have power. Being a Karen Lord fan, how was I to write a review without causing a possible negative response? 

Realization or maybe even a sense of defiance, I sat down and started to process these feelings of guilt, returning to why I created this blog; the joy of reading and sharing. The Galaxy Game is not for the SF newbie, nor is it for the SF vet who likes things a little more normal than alien. The book is tough. I was lost, unsure who was who, unable to process the scientific means by which people travelled through the universe.  I was not a fan of this tale but I look forward to the next instalment. Lord continues to be one of the next best things in SF. Not all the stories she will share will ring true for me, but that doesn't mean it won't for you.

20 March 2015

Geek Out: A Review of The Martian, Andy Weir

Having slammed the door in February's cold face, it is time to welcome with open arms, March the month of breaks, the month we need the most even though we all think it's July. July, what a flashy hussy. Drowning in deadlines, heatless rooms, burst water pipes, doldrums of wintery skies, this family was in need of one bad. What will be tossed in the suitcase continues to mystify me as I wrestle with the appropriateness of my reading choices. 

Having already returned, inadvertently altering this post from a contemplative reading travel essay to "look who's back", I acquiesce
 my accomplishments were little to nothing beyond a killer tan and an unhealthy relationship with KUWTK; brain functionality is not a provision for this girl's vacay. When you read so much, reading nothing can be pretty darn awesome. 

While the resident geek may have slipped into a vacation coma, there were others who did read and read well. The hubby, a voracious internet addict, unplugged, sat in the sun, and opened up The Martian by Andy Weir. We, his adoring family barely saw him; this girl has never been more proud. 

2014 had two IT books, The Martian by Andy Weir and Ancillary Justice by Anne LeckieHome with palm tree deficiency syndrome, I am soothing my broken tanned soul with Weir's no nonsense science fiction tale. Mindful that I have used this reference numerous times, it rings true once again. What book is better labeled SF than a plot about an astronaut stranded on Mars. With the recent bad ass pictures of Buzz Aldrin promoting missions to Mars while touristing Stonehenge, this novel seems extremely close to our very near future. The Martian is thankfully martian-less; you won't find any vomit zombies, sentient planets or ingeniously improbable time travelling worm holes. The abrupt, at times crude means by which it is written is a compatible fit to the toils that the protagonist endures. Weir has spent most of his life geeking out, creating orbital software, envisioning Martian missions and the consequence that such a flight would have on it's astronauts. Eventually his little hobby became a book and here I am contemplating why journal entry prose wind up being some of my favourite good time reads. I am a sucker for the first person narrative. 

Even though The Martian negates the typical fantastical science fiction plot lines that I have been addicted to as of late, it dances within the confines of hard science. Like Mark Watney, the science is as laid back as the protagonist, allowing the reader to feel almost as smart as an engineering botanist, the first pioneer of Mars, almost.  

24 February 2015

Snow Forts & Gold Stars: A Review of Redemption in Indigo, Karen Lord

Is it just me or do Canadians take an inordinate amount of pride in discussing the most mundane of physical states, weather? Not completely disinterested in this effective conversation starter, the inevitable ranting is at best tiresome. Weather is weather, an atmospheric phenomena without feelings, vendettas or desires to ruin your day. Still can't deal, dress warmer, be that person with two coats on, snow pants and a scarf so you can actually venture outdoors maybe even take in a little sun as the icicles blind you with happiness.

So said this girl before our furnace looked the encroaching polar vortex in the face, choosing death over work. We are all quite disappointed in the choice it made.

Parka donned, at my dining room table, breath unnervingly visible, I listen to the sounds of furnace repairmen discussing the most destructive avenues to return the warmth. Drill away boys, drill away. Miraculously my love for winter, while dented has remained through out this heatless nightmare. Living up here requires some backbone. Actually I am an odd bird; the hubby in a very puzzled tone called me nordic yesterday as he watched me gleefully walk through yet another snow-apocalypse. A Newfie, he too comes from strong Canadian winter stock but views it as an active state of aggression designed to destroy his soul. The only thing keeping him sane is cheese. Of course the impending trip to Florida helps. 

Gold star perfect
With warm breezes off of turquoise waters washing over my frozen thoughts,  I continue to struggle with reviewing Redemption in Indigo. Thanks to a certain redhead, I tried Karen Lord's second novel, The Best of All Possible Worlds subsequently losing my cool, proclaiming Lord as the new best thing in SF. Slightly premature, having read only one of her books, I placed Redemption in Indigo on my Reading Pile/2015, diving in this past January and that's right, losing it once again.

I unravelled so completely over this, Lord's acclaimed first fantasy novel that I have been in a panicked state of writer's block since it was lovingly shelved. Sometimes as you read, realization strikes that what you hold is not a book but literature, a work-of-art, a story so well-crafted that you, a lowly unpublished non-writer could never achieve. I wasn't lying when I said I lost it.  

Redemption in Indigo is a fairy tale, somewhat Gaiman-esque, somewhat not, a very clear, very contained story of Paama, the wife of a fool, entrusted with the Chaos Stick that leads her down a path of self-fulfillment and empowerment. This is a story of magic, made real. It wound itself around me like a snake, entrapping me in it's seemingly elementary plot, leaving me spellbound to this day. Recently I read an author discussing techniques to avoid if you want your book review blog to be successful. Enthusiasm, he decided was not only destructive but trite and boring. I have decided to ignore his advice.  

5 February 2015

Unhinged: A Review of Feed, Mira Grant

I awoke refreshed yet ever so slightly unhinged this cold albeit sunny morning.  Equipped with a hypersensitive imagination, I avoid reading horror simply because in Canada it is next to impossible to procure the 50 shotguns needed for me to feel safe enough to fall asleep.  How then did Mira's Grant's first book in her zombie-enriched Newsflesh Trilogy make it's way into my 2015 Reading Pile? Sometimes all it takes is stranger's exuberance to tip one over the edge to zombie-town. 

My local SF bookstore has the quaint habit of recommending books using index cards. These little love letters are left amongst the bookshelves, swaying unsuspecting customers to expand their reading repertoire. Employee engagement is fully supported with all the clerks willing to spend a half an hour convincing you that while Feed is indeed quite gross actually is not about the zombies.  
And so here I am, a zombie book reader who now keeps one eye open while washing my hair, ever alert because the undead may be lumbering up the stairs to eat my brains. To be fair, they could care less about my brains, really wanting to spread the Kellis-Amberlee virus that has reanimated their dead asses. Mira Grant, nom de plume Seanan Mcguire, is a smart cookie. She realized that to swim in zombified waters she needed to add some depth to the pre-existing mythos of the walking dead. Like John Scalzi with Lock In she looked to the science of our day to create a believable level of terror. The nuances of the virus that aggressively spread in 2014 brought into effect a new world. Feed begins in an age with zombies. Life is less care-free. A walk in the park, a picnic by the sea, even attending a concert is fraught with danger. Humanity has dwindled, hiding in upon itself, terrified to gather. living on-line, barricaded behind windowless houses aware that everyone is susceptible to reanimation. It is quite genius, inventing a virus that lays dormant in every single species that's mass index exceeds 40 pounds that will result in you and yours eventually becoming zombies. 

But this is not a zombie book, it is a discussion of fear and the power it can have to solidify agendas, popularize hate and entrap our minds.  Feed is a well-masked exploration of the war on terror, honing in on the power of the media and the movement of information to not only hide but reveal truth. It is quite a heady subject for a little zombie book, and even though I enjoyed it, I wish I loved it. The book is fraught with repetition that unsuccessfully grounds the reader to the horrors of an infected world, forcing the reader to skim.  Trust me, I don't want to skim but if a book is bogged down with sameness, I will have to hunt for the ending from frustration not delight. I sit on the fence with Feed, wanting it to be less about sloppy blog writing (ha-ha-eek) that seemed antiquated in it's treatment of on-line news while loving the apocalyptic nightmare and the bad-ass generation who has inherited this zombie world.

20 January 2015

By Your Command: A Review of Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie

My intention today was to ponder on my relationship with YA. YA, or Young Adult for all us oldie-oldsons is a thriving sub-genre within the SF umbrella which comprises three-quarters of the Hollywood film industry. Although I appreciate Thor (for various reasons, holy sweet muscles), Spidey and all those teen dystopian flicks, I wouldn't mind watching an original screenplay once in a blue moon. 

The very best aspect to a novel is the power the reader has in painting the story in her imagination. Besides the Harry Potter franchise, I have yet to watch an adapted film that has managed to portray what the public generally agrees it should be, while maintaining the integrity of the book. An apt example is the YA megalith, The Hunger Games which works well on film as long as you haven't read the series or have and willing to ignore the glamorization of Katniss.  The protagonist is anything but the woman we see on screen, someone bent on revenge, able to make her victimization a weapon. The Katniss on the printed page is a young, scared, out-of-control teen who does not actively choose her destiny. War, death, and torture do not hone a person into a god-like martyr, it breaks you. It is this raw emotional quality that piques my interest with YA but I reiterate, not the topic of the day. 

Today, is all about a battle-ship; yes indeed, the Ancillary Justice party continues with the
follow-up review of Ancillary Sword by Anne Leckie. All this nonsense is thanks in full to The Dork Portal who instructed me to write a review already, so he could make a sound decision whether to read it. And so by his command, we are here, The Maze Runner (half written post, now chucked to the curb) be damned, let's decide once and for all if this phenomena of Leckie's is really worth your while. 

The verdict is yes....er.....no...er... I don't know. I read both books as if I was on fire:  even though this may seem an indicator of success, it speaks more to my reading habits. I read fast; I like space opera, there was little to no chance that this series was going to sit gathering dust. But is Ancillary Sword a good book?

I hate this but no, not so much actually. A continuation of the story arc, Ancillary Sword moves our character Breq further along her quest for justice. Promoted to Fleet Captain, she is assigned to Athoek Station far from the heart of the Radch Empire; home to 1000s, surrounded by space gates, embroiled in micro and macro political intrigue. Whereas Ancillary Justice was fast-paced, heightened adventure, Ancillary Sword is a quiet, subdued version of that very action. There was so much that Leckie had to work with, even a Ghost Gate, an apparent haunted space portal that she herself took the time to include in her book. Why, or why would she not capitalize on this rather than hanging out in the underground levels of Station, trying to amend some small injustices? 300 odd pages of Breq missing herself as a battle-ship and the excessive mooning over the sister of a Lieutenant she once worked with was a tad tedious.

The simple fact is Ancillary Sword is not Ancillary Justice and that is a total bummer.

14 January 2015

Off the Cliff: A Review of Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

"You do realize that the protagonist is a battle-ship". This fantastic statement was uttered deadpan by moi less than 24hrs ago as the hubby was trying to discuss the fate of our furnace and the decreasing drop in temperature both in and outside our house. When you are three quarters through a novel that you have unfortunately been reading too quickly and are about to reach the denouement, heat is of little consequence, nor really is the basic necessities to life. Thankfully the heat came on, I was uninterrupted in my binge read-a-thon and the sequel sits in the stack by the bed; all is right in this girl's world. 

And so here we go again with another aggressively addicting series that has spellbound my brain, throwing me off the cliff of imagination, inspiring me to completely lose it on Thank the Maker. Like a good little space opera lemming I have succumbed to all that is right and confusing that is Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justices was the "it" book of 2014. It won everything. Everyone read it. I was not everyone. Slow on the uptake, never completely engaged with the happenings of the SF publishing world, adopting a lazier approach to the must read recommendations, preferring personal choice over popular sentiment, I neglected Ancillary Justice. What the hello was I doing all last year? (right, right, right, having an affair).  

Breq, the last ancillary of Justice of Toren, a two thousand year old sentient battle-ship for the Radchie Empire is on a vengeful quest. Wanting not to crouch on spoiler alert territory, I find myself struggling with what to type next, reveal just a little to inspire you to read the novel or allude to awesomeness, avoiding reading sabotage? I love surprises, especially when an author takes me on an unanticipated journey, revealing key plot points by twisting the conventional. Ann Leckie's AI sentient ancillary protagonist is the only means by which the reader is introduced to the Radchian universe.  Written in the first person narrative, Ancillary Justice has lost many a fan because of it's seemingly simple, conversational tone.  It is an easy read and while that may seem insignificant, no author or reader wants a novel to appear elementary, when in fact it is a multi-layered, successful, world-building, piece of art. (It is at this point, that I have decided to lose it.) I enjoy the boundaries that the first person narrative creates. As a reader, I delight in the not knowing, having to rely solely on the story that the protagonist is telling, finding, as the novel unfolds what is the truth. I also like aliens, alien mentality and the inability to predict alien perceptions, because it is an alien. Call me what you will, space opera slut/junky/nutter, I just love me a book that unnerves my humanity. 

Having decided to allude to awesomeness I realize I haven't provided much in terms of a review guide. As with Seeds of Earth, Ancillary Justice is SF. If you are rather shy about a race of aliens called Rrrrrrr or the main character a battle-ship, animating the body of a prisoner who was frozen for future ancillary work, then this might not be your cup of tea. However if you were ever going to give space opera a try, why not read the "it" book of 2014 and discover how crazy SF can so wonderfully be.

9 January 2015

This Girl's Reading Pile 2015

As I grow older, not taller my new year's eve shenanigans have become less fantastical to a point this year, that it was non-existence. I was deeply asleep by 11, unaware of the festivities bubbling up around me as my city approached the witching hour. Sitting by the tree on the 1st, coffee at hand, nibbling flat bread, I cruised through my favourite blog sites marvelling over the fabulous reading challenges that 2015 had inspired. Personally, I have learned to keep my challenge simple, a goal of 55 with 30 being exclusively SF/fantasy and of those, 5 from indie writers.

The beginning of this year finds me revisiting the eternal question of to buy or not to buy an e-reader. Some very nice people have sent me their books and although attempts have been made, filled with great intentions, two novels continue to sit on my desktop, radiating guilt. And so the low-tech geek who has yet to own a cell phone wonders if acquiring a device to make reading easier, would actually encourage her (basically me) to read more indie?  I know what you must be thinking, you don't own a phone? Having undergone numerous interventions by well-meaning friends regarding my phone-less state, I can honestly say that I have heard it all and while you may have some poignant arguments to contribute to the cell debate, this post is in fact about my 2015 reading pile. Clearly my new year's resolution excluded clarity and avoidance of meaningless mumbo-jumbo and side-bar commentary.
The ideal place to read the pile.....sigh

The pile of 2015 is a promising stack, ranging from operatic space insanity to zombies, not the vomit zombie, but the groddy walking undead type. Thus far I have only completed Seeds of Earth which has left me tempted to plunge right back into the Humanity's Fire series with The Orphaned Worlds but in all honesty, I don't believe my brain can handle the intensity.  Seeds of Earth was an unrelenting explosion of action which I thoroughly loved but needed a little something something to break-up the hammering of information being thrown at me; that something something happened to be Karen Lord's inaugural novel, Redemption in Indigo. Thanks to those two books, which just may be the strangest combination to read at the same time ever, I lost my entire will to write. Why bother mashing words together on Thank the Maker when I could be reading?