29 April 2012

The Way: A Review of Greg Bear

All over the news is the talk  of asteroid mining in the very near future.  The CBC Saturday morning talk show is spending valuable air time to discuss how Canada can ensure that we as a mighty country can be one of the players in this new mining race. Although I find this fascinatingly improbable at this current time (How many of us have actually made it off planet? And of those where have they gone, the moon.  That is so 1960's already.) it does lend me the opportunity to introduce one of my favourite "asteroid" inspired SF novels. Asteroids play a major role in the SF diorama.  They can be hopeful, threatening, dominating, obscure, surreal, alienating and even sentient.  My favourites tend to be of the geod variety.  From the outside,  a large frozen mass of ice, rock and air.  From the inside, a cave of wonders with endless possibilities for survival and/or death. 

Eon, Greg Bear
To date I have yet to come across a more science laced, befuddling mind trip than Eon.  Eon, the first in The Way series is set in 2005.  The world is at the brink of WWW III when an object appears in the solar system from out of nowhere.  A team of Russian, Chinese and American scientists  begin to explore the Stone ( asteroid).  As the exploration widens it is discovered that the dimensions of the stone's exterior does not compensate for the vastness of it's 7 chambers.  What is found in those chambers I will let you discover on your own.  Trust me when I say this, do not check out wikepedia.  The plot is shamelessly laid out and to truly enjoy this book you should be as unaware of what lies in those chambers as possible.  

There isn't a book that I haven't enjoyed by Greg Bear. The Ultimate Guide to Science Fiction considers him the best working writer of hard SF.  Eon, Eternity and Legacy contain some heady themes:  genetic engineering, post-symbolic communication, human augmentation to name a few.  I am not going to pretend, at times I had no idea what Bear was trying to describe.  That is the fun of hard SF, it  pushes you into thinking about new realities using mathematics and science.  Plus you end up feeling like a bad ass having been able to to make it to the end.  

20 April 2012

Ruler of the Universe: A Review of The Sparrow

Jacket covers have been swirling through my mind over the past few days.   There are so many books that I have been dying to discuss. Now that I have initiated "Dune Girl's List of Hardcore, Slap You Off the Sofa SF Books", I really get to go there.  (Like you, I have no idea what I am referring to when I type "there".  The idea of a vaguely awesome, sparkly, ominous sounding place where all my wicked books reside really appeals to me.)  To be truthful, I am well aware of what the next theme and subsequent entries will be.  My brain decided and voilĂ , there it was. Brains are helpful that way.  They take over when you least expect it.

In an interview Mary Doria Russell was asked if science fiction is suited to exploring questions of religion, in the same sense that legends and folk tales do in other cultures? Here is her response,

...human beings have always told stories about alien beings, but in the past they were called angels and demons and elves and trolls. Folk tales and science fiction are often about what it means to be human in a large and terrifying and beautiful universe, so naturally they overlap a good deal. As for religion, well, the great monotheistic world religions address the same concern. And if God is real, and the ruler of the universe, then logically that sovereignty must extend to other worlds and their inhabitants. That's a perfect set up for SF.

Not surprising religion, and faith are consistent themes in SF.  Most to all SF books have dark shadows lurking in the plot lines with characters undergoing extreme emotional or physical crises.   Sure I admit that some of those crises are more ridiculous than terrifying;  The unfortunate whale in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams that plummets to its death, just as it realizes it is sentient is not only hilarious but rather sad.  That whale just got it, and then it was gone.  Sidebar:   If you haven't read (or better yet heard) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy then once again our blossoming friendship is on the line. You also have not lived.   Yes, you were just slapped.  

Then there are those books  that are straight up terrifying requiring some type of jeopardy

of faith to ground the crisis into a believable reality for the reader.  Even I, whose ability to suspend disbelief is abnormally high (I cried when I discovered that the Millennium Falcon was not a real ship.  It's not by the way.  Deal with it.) need some part of humanity to cling to when a SF story is truly alien. With this in mind let me introduce The Sparrow and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell.   I once recommended this book to a friend not preparing him in any way for what he would be reading.  He no longer looks me in the eye.   It rather surprised me because of all the books I have read Children of God is the one that I continue to ponder on,  and cherish as if it was my own work.  These are not happy books but they are filled with beauty.  There is depth and eloquence in Russell's world that is so very near to our own but so very not.  Once read you will never truly leave these books behind.  

15 April 2012

The Deep End

Sitting on my sofa, looking out onto a grey, wet spring day my mind wanders to all the stories I've read that sing to my imagination.    I have been toying with ideas of how to introduce some of my more hardcore Sf books.  And it came to me this morning, that these books that I  am finding the most challenging to recommend are also my most unique collection of books.  I always thought I was a character reader, having fallen in love countless times but in fact I am more in love with the stories swirling around these people.

 I am a sucker for a good old story, one that pulls me in and leaves me lonely once I've turned to the last page.  To me, a good book is marked by it's ability to force me to stop reading for a couple weeks.  I cannot just jump into a new book if the last effected me deeply.  Maybe this is why I reread so many of my books and more than once.  It doesn't matter to me that I know what is going to happen it is about being able to live again in those pages; feel what I felt during the first read.  

The first book to have this effect on me was Ronald Dahl's James and Giant Peach.  I remember exactly the library book shelf that I found this book on, even recalling the pure joy of discovering all the wonders within those pages.  In fact, it was through James and the Giant Peach that I discovered Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  I have yet to meet anyone not smitten with that tale but for me I would hold hands with little James Henry Trotter over Charlie any day.  As with most great children's stories, James and Giant Peach has it's darkness to it.  James parents, dead thanks to a renegade rhino (it ate them!) is a sad, abused child living with his two awful aunts.  Luck would seem to fall upon James when he is given a bag of magical green-glowing crocodile tongues which if mixed with water and 10 hairs from his head will make him happy and provide him a  a life filled with adventure.  As with most wonderful things promised for sad little boys, fate takes a hand and those very crocodile tongues end up enriching a peach tree outside of his Aunts' house rather than himself.

I cannot tell you how amazing it was to be 8, and reading a book about a giant peach that is so big that a little boy can tunnel his way to the pit and then befriend the enlarged insects living in it.   The child-like amazement that strikes me every time I read a good story is really why I have this blog.  
Warning:  The books I am about to recommend in the next couple of posts are not for the faint of heart.  If you have an issue with aliens, spiders, time travel, folded space, and/or so much scientific jargon that you can gag on it, then these books are not for you.  And into the deep end we plunge!

I am actually grinning ear to ear as I type the title out. I have been waiting impatiently to introduce this book to you all.  Of all the books I have read in the past 10 years it is this book that truly entertained me for the sheer ability to freak me into liking spiders.  That's right folks, the aliens in this book resemble arachnids, arachnids the size of people who live in a society similar to 20th century humanity.  Like all of the Vernor Vinge's books the scientific mumbo jumble is intense.  So not only have I introduced you to a book about spiders but a book that falls under the hard SF category. 

10 April 2012

Same Old Story: A Review of Sisterhood of Dune, Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

 I am deep into Sisterhood of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson and non too pleased to be back revisiting this particular time in the Dune chronicles. Only 80 years have passed since the thinking machines were overthrown in the Battle of Corrin. Humanity struggles to define itself as the universe learns to live free from the bondage of Omnius and the cymeks. Not one to read a book jacket or review before I pick up a book, I had hopes that Sisterhood of Dune would be further into the history of the Bene Gesserit. I wanted to be thrown into the workings of the Sisterhood as successfully as Frank Herbert's Chapterhouse Dune.  

Once again, I am comparing the master at work to his apprentices and wishing they would leave the Dune universe alone. There appears to be a fatal flaw when creating new additions to an otherwise completed series. That flaw is the tendency to stay too close to the characters/themes/plots that marked the original. The best example is the continued exclamation of "I have a bad feeling." originally uttered by Han Solo in Empire Strikes Back that is then adapted by Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi. Taking this unique expression into parts I, II, and III stagnates the series, creating a world more one dimensional than Lucas was in all probability aiming for.

This predictability can be said of all the new Dune series. While the original 6 books had well-defined characters that we of the Dune universe embraced, the new series relies on the tried and true of the original. I don't blame Brian and Kevin wanting to take those traits into their books. The Dune universe is a complicated, highly developed world, so all encompassing that I wouldn't dream of fiddling with it. How do you add to such a world?  I feel they are afraid to really allow their creativity to shine through.  As I turn the pages of this book I am continually met with similar themes.  The Atriedes is pure of heart, the Harkonnen siblings on the hunt for revenge, the Emperor Salvador, ineffective, the first Navigator Norma Cevna, powerful but losing touch with humanity.  

What this book needs  is a better editor.  The book is heavy with repetitive descriptors and information. Tell me once why the Harkonnens want revenge on House Atreides.  I am confident I can maintain this piece of information for longer than five pages. Let's hope the next book these two write includes a new thought or character.  The Dune universe is large enough to absorb it.

7 April 2012

3: Trilogies that every geek must read

What can I say I like the number three.   My predisposition to 3 was set way back in elementary school when you have to make some major decisions. The favourite list was rebounded at recess while me and my friends would negotiate who was our all time best friend ,  second best friend,  best friend at guides,  best friend during summer vacation, I think you know where I am going with this.   Did your favourites match your friend's and if not  could you live with that?   In the interest of science here was my grade 5 Favourite List.   Favourite colour?  yellow,  Candy bar?  Chunky, Chips?  Salt n Vinegar, Pop?  Cream soda, Subject?  English, Gym sport?  floor hockey, Song?  Footloose/Beat It, Movie?  Footloose/ Empire Strikes Back, E.T.   Would we be running in the same crowd?

In honour of 3 here are 3 Sci-Fi  trilogies  

1.  Gaea Trilogyy:  Titan, Wizard, Demon by John Varley
Briefly introduced in my Contact post, the Gaea trilogy is one of those books that starts out weird and ends weirder.  I've read them twice now, even had to go out and replace Wizard because Dune Husband left it in a B&B in P.E.I., the summer of 2009; I thought I was over that but apparently not. He is also the same person that destroyed two of my original Dune books resulting in me no longer owning the complete collection. I am fully aware that I am not over that.

Back to the wonderful weirdness of Gaea, Gaea is a sentient, celestial body that has moved into our Solar System.  Six brave astronauts are sent to investigate, learning quickly that their awareness of the world needs to be greatly expanded.  The series introduces a whole new world loosely based on mankind but with a cinematic point of view. The astronauts find themselves stranded on alien-like soil with the survival in great jeopardy. The novel is" first contact"/ love story/ horror/ adventure story.   There are times in Demon that had enough as the strangeness overwhelmed even my ability to appreciate the odd.  Things get pretty nuts.  For example, Gaea takes on the bodily form of Marilyn Monroe and causes pure hell on those that live in her.  If you feel like getting weird but don't want to go all out Vernor Vinge weird (next post, don't worry) the Gaea trilogy is for you.

2.  WWW Series: Wake, Watch, Wonder by Robert J. Sawyer
The books follow the life of Caitlin Decter, a blind 16 year old who has recently moved to Waterloo, ON from the States because of her Dad's work at RIM.   Approached by a Japanese researcher who has developed a new signal-processing implant, she is given the opportunity to regain her sight.  With the implant in place she is not only able to see but is able to see the web in all it's great vastness and intricacies.  While this is fascinating on it's own the true genius of the series is what she discovers in the web or more accurately who. It's a great read full of action and believable characters.  Plus, Sawyer is Canadian, what more do you need?

3.  Foundation Series:  Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation, Asimov
Interesting how the Foundation Series keeps sneaking into my posts.   What can I say that hasn't been said before? Just read them okay, consider it homework.  

4 April 2012

War Is Coming

There are books and authors for that matter that haunt me.  Books that hold no interest to me  but for a  myriad of reasons result in me feeling a great necessity to read.   This need stems not from any personal motivation but a more global sense of duty.    The mere mention of Hemingway, Melville or Dickens triggers feelings of guilt that mimic full out high school panic.  I end up feeling like I am failing at life because I have not completed the recommended reading list.      In all probability I will never read my "duty" books.  High school taught me to be true to myself, read for curiosity rather than expectations.   Thanks to duty reading Of Mice and Men  a small part of my soul is filled with depression era, dusty sad memories that are not mine and of which I would like to vanquish.  I really need to look for a Reading Mage on craigslist.  There has to be people out there doing such a thing, right?, or have a slipped back into my awesome pretend world.

As I was typing there are books you avoid but haunt you for life.  And then there are books you are drawn too, books that whisper your name, books that everyone assumes you must have read but for some very personal reason you have not.   It will probably come as a surprise to you but I have not read Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin.

My reason surprises even me.  I do not want to ruin the HBO series currently being aired.  The show is visually stunning, the music deep and plot relevant, the actors well cast and the story is riveting.  Now to be honest there is too much violence in it for my tastes.  I end up covering my eyes and ears quite a bit, even leaving the room at times but I still love it so.  If I  succumb to the books I will lose that curiosity and wonder for the series.  I will be one of those people analysing how the stories deviate from the books.  For once in my life, (and I do mean this, I am Dune Girl after all and am so disgusted by every interpretation of Dune on the small/big screen that I vowed never to speak of it all again.  It was quite a vow.) I have no interest in champion books over film.  

Now, even I find my  rational weak.  Most likely over the next couple of months I will break down and dive into the  series but for now I am sticking to my defense.  Good fantasy/sci-fi is hard to come by on the small screen. My only dosage as of late has been Fringe.  To completely take this post off the rails let me just rant a little here.    How many different universes have the Fringe audience been introduced to?  If my count is right we have met 4 Scully's (oops, me bad) Olivia Dunham's in just over two seasons.  Seems a tad high don't you think.      

To those of you loving A Song of Ice and Fire series, I envy you.  The books are long, there are lot's of them and I can tell you all are having a fabulous time.  I am sure I will be joining you all shortly, war is coming after all.