29 December 2013

Review: 2013

I am beside myself with post-Christmas reading excitement. While many a family find the time proceeding the big turkey day for more family gatherings and adventures in retail therapy, in our house we progress quickly to full sloth mode. Days come and go in which PJs are changed from dirty to clean without ever really contemplating putting on day clothing. The husband of the house may not be seen until 2 in the afternoon, from which he rumbles down the stairs in search of food and subsequently his family. The son, just shy of 4 sports not one, not two but five well-placed DC comic tattoos across his little body as he runs from one activity to another, happily munching on candy canes with side orders of turkey. As for me, the momma, I read and I read and I read, read, read, read. 

Sitting at my feet are a pile of books, the very books I have asked for on my wish list, plus a few more. There is no greater level of excitement for me than a pile to read through and time to do that very deed. As I sit here typing, the books seems to wink at me, whispering to put the computer aside, bidding me to come and start a new literary adventure. Before I fall into the reading trap I find I must get this one last post out before the new year, after all it has been two years of posting with 2013 being a remarkable year for books.  

I became part of the Liaden Universe, seriously immersing myself into it's expansive folds of romance and space operatic thematics becoming a fast fan of Lee and Miller. Thanks to a blogger friend I picked up Primary Inversion, falling completely head over heals and as quickly falling out of favour once I moved further into the series. My intentions for Girl's Guide to Sci-Fi has always been two-fold:  convince people to read SF while on a personal note become a more rounded SF reader.  I found myself picking up books by Pratchett, Banks, Novik, Robinson, Mieville reading old themes and with relief some new. I liked some, raved over others and found disappoint in more books than I thought I would.  2013 was my year of exploration, pushing myself to see how much I truly knew the genre and whether there are parts to it I have left to read (Steam Punk, you on my list for 2014). I pushed myself so far that I burnt myself out, having to reset my gears with a string of mysteries at the end of year.  

2013 began with a bang with the discovery of The Rook and the continuation of the Expanse series; I was lost in tales of magic and space operatic horror. Daniel O'Malley became my new author to troll, maybe stalk, discovering if and when the sophomore narrative of his magical world would be out (not it appears any time soon). The process of waiting for an author to a complete, edit, publish and distribute a book was the bane of my year. With many of my favourite reads parts of trilogies, my world of waiting seemed an endless process. To complicate the matter, I decided to return to the library, relinquishing my buying power for good old common sense/cents.  And so with library card in hand, I became number 42 on many a waiting list, suddenly having to learn patience and new found willingness to read authors unknown or who I thought were too SF even for me. As you may have predicted, it turns out that nothing is too SF for me, too fantasy yes, but too SF, never.

With 2013 closing, my heap of books are ready for 2014. I expect great things this coming year, as should you all.  Happy reading!

22 November 2013

This Girl's Wish List 2013

Many a night was spent sprawled out on my family's living room coiled rag rug dog-earring pages from the annual Sears Christmas Wish Book.  That puppy by the time good ole' St. Nick made it's trek to our Christmas Tree, was in tatters, with the Barbie/Star Wars pages blurred unrecognizable by sticky little frantic fingers. Like most Canadian children, my brother and I set our lists and future play happiness from what we discovered in that tome of wonder. The Big Guy and Sears must have had quite the partnership, I wonder who received the royalties, Santa or Sears? Either way, hands down, it was a win-win.

Now that I am grown, less in mind than in body (forever 8 at heart) I wish I could flip through an adult version of the Wish Book and obviously (NOT booze, but good guess) tag my books for the coming year. Once completed would then leave the book lying haphazardly in the path (draped over his face while sleeping should do the trick) of a certain gift buying husband. Like Sears and Santa, a win win for our family too. With the internet and the ability to shop, gift, share, wish, harass and ship any single thing you could desire the Wish Book has become a child-hood tangible memory. With the memory looping in my head like an earworm, I can't help but post my Wish Book List and maybe influence a certain hubby and even yourself. You too must have a list and or have a list you need to buy for.

Is it necessary for me to qualify why this is on my reading list?  The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is by Neil Gaiman. Although I have yet to explore his highly acclaimed Sandman graphic novel series (one of my many skeletons in the closet) I am a huge fan of his novels. American Gods, coming first to mind is an exploration into the workings of religion and it's place in current times. American Gods is the baby that Twin Peaks and Fifth Business would have procreated. Weird, full of allegories and am hoping when I read The Ocean At The End of The Lane I it too takes me into a world that wraps me in mysticism.

I purchased Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for my Mom the year it came out, leaving it with her in a Mexican, sea-side RV park never to see again. I regret to this day not reading it before gifting it to her. Of all the books on my little list it is this one that I expect to cherish the most. Not the smartest knife in the draw at times, it is only this past year that I figured out that I really, really like space opera and really, really, really like books about magic. Funny how you don't know a person, especially when that person is yourself.

I don't know about you, but there is nothing like a six- hundred page historical account to make you feel all cosy inside. Having pined after and yet to squeeze the time in to read Paris 1919:  Six Months that Changed the World, I feel I am now significantly rested and ready to take on both. Plus, when done, I have the perfect books to press summer flowers in. Margaret MacMillan, renowned history prof, dives into the melee that is pre-war Europe trying to uncover and properly express the quagmire that resulted in WWI, the war that to this day, shapes our world for the better and the worse in her new book The War That Ended Peace. I cannot wait.

Trilogies are a bitch. Reading one, results in reading book two which results in reading book three. A scientific law, trilogies are one of the Laws of Physics or Thermodynamics or is it Gravity, quantified as a force of nature. It takes effort and commitment from readers, making us all impatient weirdos waiting for the next book to be published. With MaddAddam out, I find myself reluctantly ready. Atwood's trilogy is not a funny romp, it paints quite the disturbing post-apocalyptic future with chapters of violence that haunts me today. I am not really selling this, am I? My point is while this may not be the best book to read during the holidays, it is a triumph of a series, one that captures the brilliance that is Margaret Atwood.

Finally, Allegiant, the third (see what I mean, force of nature) in the Divergent series by Veronica Roth is here and apparently has raised quite a bit of hullabaloo. Being on a self-enforced library-only policy, I haven't been able to add this to my collection and thus am hoping to receive it as a gift. Dripping with heart-ache, first love drama that seems to accompany most YA (young adult) novels, The Divergent series takes the drama of teen-land, and places it firmly in an authoritarian future in which humanity is defined not by blood but factions. If you liked The Hunger Games, read this series, you will find a more original theme, controlled with better writing and tighter editing. 

15 November 2013

For Greg's Pop: An Atwood Kind of Life

A friend emailed me inquiring on what to buy his Dad for the holidays. His goal, to introduce and successfully hook his Pop into the wonderful world of SF. Quite a mission and one that I soon jumped on but quickly found myself overwhelmed. After all, this is quite a heady decision; the book I recommend could either successfully draw someone to SF or disastrously push them away. Who am I to hold so much power in my little geek hands? I soon got over myself, realizing who better than a  hard-core self-proclaimed SF nerdlington to decide someone's future reading fate.

Being a proud maple-leaf wearing, 'sorry' expounding, 'eh' dropping Canadian there may be a few facts that might surprise you about my country. While winter does reign over most of this expansive land for a remarkable amount of time, a thawing does occur (sometimes, almost always) resulting in rather pleasant, even scorching summers. 

98% of Canadian fathers are 100% convinced that their child will be the next big hockey star and have either registered that little newborn into skating lessons their second day on Earth or have attempted to contact an NHL recruiter to come look at their child's massive newborn thighs (for those tight corners).  I may (or not) be referencing a husband (maybe mine) who purchased gloves, helmet and stick for a certain 2 year old last year.

You may be familiar with the French/English divide that sometimes exists (on slow news day), even aware of the frequent Quebec threat of divorcing itself from Canada. However what truly separates one Canadian from another is not Tim Horton doughnuts, or who wins the nice award (Nova Scotians, obviously), or whose mayor is more cracked out (really not a contest) but our stance on Atwood, Margaret Atwood. Yes, indeed it comes down to Atwood. She is either loved or despised and since I am one of the former my recommendations will be Atwoodian inspired.

Many a word has been written with regards to Atwood's reluctance to placing her books under the SF genre and while I may have sounded off on this very topic one too many times, I am
laying the debate to rest. Do you hear me world? Whether you wish to call The Handmaid's Tale, SF, speculative fiction, a horse's behind, is of no concern to me.  It is science fiction and it is good. And with this I say, read it for what it is, a truly harrowing tale of a future that may just come to pass, with all the horrors that are contained in a dystopian novel.  It is a classic and with all classics a must read whatever genre you choose to align with. In my opinion, The Handmaid's Tale is the perfect litmus test for Margaret Atwood, not for dipping ones toes into the big sea of science fiction.

If The Handmaid's Tale is more about Atwood's very "Atwoodian" style then what would be the best SF book for a non-SF reader? Why not a diaspora-laced tale of destruction and redemption: Oryx and Crake, book one of the MaddAddam trilogy? After all, if you are going to push someone's reading boundaries, you should at least recommend a writer who is able to weave together a world-developed story-line. I really like Atwood. I should buy some type of shirt or coffee-mug or something. 

It may seem a tad presumptuous to recommend a trilogy. What if the intended reader (Greg's Pop) doesn't like it? The great thing about this book is it can stand alone. If you love it, great, lucky you, there is The Year of the Flood an all-encompassing intense little nightmare that won't ever leave your thoughts (holy crap people it is INTENSE) and from there you can move onto MaddAddam (which I cannot comment on but am hoping I unwrap it under a tree this year). By recommending a trilogy you have a better outcome. If he loves it, then he reads more SF, resulting him wanting to read even MORE SF and then he is hooked, and you have a Dad who reads SF and that really is all you have, isn't it?  

Then again, if he doesn't like it, you have a Dad who didn't like it and well, he most likely will still be your Dad, just a Dad who thinks your choice in books are off the rocker. I realize I am of no help and most definitely not the best person for this insurmountable task. Have him read Dune.

26 October 2013

We're Ready to Believe You

Seemingly casually tossed into the trash bin behind my house, lies my first and only copy of Dune. Seemingly indeed, as it took a final unfortunate dip in the bath that resulted in it's tossing. I have had that book since grade 11. That book has been with me to Japan and back, across country to Toronto,  moved from Ikea shelving unit to shelving unit to where it finally sat in my home shared with my family until the unfortunate bath incident of 2013. 

A house, at least my house is not a home until  the books are at rest. Forget the china, the coffee machine, the linen, my home does not coalesce until the bookshelf has been assembled and the books are categorized and duly shelved. I really should have pursued the library sciences during my undergrad years because my talents for categorization is beyond the average level of normalcy.  Bi-annually I can be found on my third floor knee deep in a book mess, carefully and thoughtfully pulling books out from the layers of stacks, found behind stacks to re-organize and exhibit. As I sit in our den, I can see all those books, all those dear stories that bring me so much joy, happily arranged. With only one area to put the books, I have become quite adept at arranging them. While some dream of walk in closets and marble columns, I sigh over a home library complete with deep leather chairs and a roaring fire to keep my footsies warm during cold grey Novembers. 

No human would stack books like that
I come from a line of bookworms. Mom's house is marked by the Ghostbuster level of stacked library books found on her dining room table. Every place we moved, my Mom was quick to find and procure library cards quicker than she had my brother and I enrolled in school.  I have yet to meet anyone tear through a book like that women can and for most of my life I thought every household read like we did and every Mom could be found buried nose deep in a mystery novel while still managing to make home-made cookies all while running a ceramic class from her kitchen.  Readers beget readers, who beget readers who one day may be writers. (You never know, personally I am hoping Dune Son, becomes a vulcanologist or better an egyptologist but writer is cool.)

With Dune in the garbage and Heretics of Dune in tatters (The  Unfortunate Incident of Why you Should Never Lend a Book to Your Husband of 2007) I am feeling sentimentally off-kilter. Dune hubby mentioned he would buy me the Dune series for Christmas after he found the remains of dearly departed in the trash as he was hauling it out to the curve. While a nice gesture, it was way too much for me to handle. What print would he buy, does he know what cover art I approve? To make it less awkward I kindly refused, telling him that "WHAT COVER WOULD YOU BUY? in a rather high-pitched intense voice, and then walked over to our sofa, lied down in a lump and took a nap.
Take that Bembridge Scholars!
Funny how a good movie can bring up a whole lot of weird. Thanks Ghostbusters! (I know, best movie ever right! Next to The Mummy which is highly entertaining and should really have won some type of Oscar as every time it is on TV I have to watch it. I have to, I can't not watch it.) Yes, this rather dangling, reminiscent post is about Ghostbusters. If you were to look up unrelated and what? in the dictionary you would see a reference to this post. 

15 October 2013

The Rantings of a Bookless Reader

Thanks John Scalzi for your essay  "The 10 SF/F Works that Meant the Most to Me"; my feelings of dread and despair are dissipating! 

In the event that you were unable to unlock the mystery to my gaps on my blog, I have been stuck in the mire of a reading slump (Can you read the horror in those words I just typed? Because I tried to type in a horrific manner to allude to it, and then realized that no one can actually see my facial expressions and then thought, might as well just keep on with one long bracketed clause to over explain my intent because a bookless me equates a time on my hands me, #let'spiddleawaythehours). 

Writers love to go on about "the block" while I am sure it is face rip-off frustrating, I  propose the reader without a book, is even more aggravating and most definitely more annoying, especially to those dear ones living with us bookaholic types. NOTHING TO READ, think on that because obviously I have in fact numerous books to read, even have a library down the street and the entire web at my disposal but for one month and two days, I have not had a book, not a short story, not a hint of a plot that has peaked my interest. It has been so bad I have actually thought about leaving SF and hanging out with my old buddy, the Mystery Novel. Was that a collective gasp? For goodness sake people, I started watching TV with my husband again...(side note, this may have nothing or everything to do with Survivor being back on). 

And so it is with thanks to John (we are in no way on a first name basis but what the hey...)for listing his personal top 10 which in tern has given me a purpose in life again. To be fair, I posted a similarly themed list way back, so avoiding the awkwardness of it all, (way to go John) let me release to you my list of  4 books that I highly recommend but have not a speck of desire to read again, which in no way takes away from how awesome these books really are.  

1. Blindness, Jose Saramago - Sweet blessed scary as shit, wish I could erase scenes from
my brain, Blindness. A masterful piece of literature written originally in Portuguese, with kudos out to not only the author but the translator who so successfully gave this gift of a novel to the English reading world, Blindness is the tale of humanities quick descent into anarchy. A highly contagious, air-borne (no one really knows) infection causes an epidemic of white blindness. Unable to see, unable to find their way home, or at home, unable to care for their personal needs the city falls into the blackness of hell on Earth.  Funny how hell always ends up being created by mankind. If only we could be nice to one another and it is with this little seed that this dark story is brought back into the light.  Most probably the best written and controlled little masterpiece in the past 30 years, Blindness threw me so completely into it's clutches that I seem to be haunted by it to this day. I don't need to revisit it, I am still gripped by Saramago's brilliance.

2. Lilith's Brood, Octavia Butler- Anyone with a penchant for SF must read Octavia or they are simply not SF readers. The master of the post-apocalyptic, American dream she is able to weave up such a despairing picture of America while still holding true to it's core belief in freedom and self preservation that a reader is exhausted at the end. Best known for her Parable series (depressing as shit but amazing all at the same time), it is her alien series, Lilith's Brood that truly blew me away. To this date, I have yet to pick up a book that so completely allows me to explore and love an alien race. And when you truly fall for an alien as I did hers, what is left for me to explore? As with Blindness, Lilith's Brood took a hold of me resulting in me not needing to dive back in because I am still caught in its prose.

3. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card - Shocking is a mild adjective considering the extensive hype that continues to swirl around this novel. Considered by many the best SF book ever written, which I find a bit of a stretch, and would  more accurately describe Ender's Game as the most successful SF book that is so very SF but so very digestible to the general public. Just in case you have been trekking along the Appalachian Trail, they are making a movie of it. Glee...not really, I have a general distrust of any movie director believing they can do justice to a dearly loved book.  Don't misjudge me, I dearly love this book.  I tore through it's pages like the Tasmanian Devil has want to do in the Bugs Bunny Cartoons. It is exciting, it is thrilling, it is thought-provoking but the best, ever written not so much. What we have here is the perfect plot. Most likely because of its plot strength, once having arrived at the denouement  there was nothing left for me to re-investigate. 

4. Doomsday, Connie Willis - As a huge fan of Connie's it pains me to admit that her Hugo Award winner Doomsday is not one that I return to. Unlike Black Out/ All Clear that continues to knock my socks off even after my third read through, Doomsday sits quietly on my bookshelf. When it comes to historical fiction/alternative universe plots and house buying, it is all about location, location, location. There is history that grabs me more than others and the fourteen century,  Black Plague days of merry-old England, go figure, is not high on my 'to visit' list. That being said, smash me down into the muck of WWI or the bombings of WWII and I am all yours baby, all yours. I have no idea what that reveals about me and frankly not keen to find out. All said, Doomsday is a stellar novel, showcasing Willis's time traveling historians who through the means of amazing tech go back in time to discover the world as it truly (?!) was. 

28 September 2013

The Land of Meh: Rethinking the Skolian Saga, Catherine Asaro

Follow-up to Primary Inversion
With the leaves on the verge of turning, the squirrels on a full-scale deployment to bury as many nuts as possible and me keening over the colour "grey", I have slipped into the land of meh.  You know that land, the one at which everything is fine but fine never is fine enough. Over the past months, my gleeful boasting of discovering new authors, with long catalogues of works to sift through have drastically, and depressingly fallen apart. It feels as if I was captured in a magic reading bubble that once having read, blogged, and subsequently proclaimed amazing, popped as soon as I reached out for the book two or three or book four. As with songs, there seems to be a trend for one hit wonders in the SF world which in turn leads to massive sales and acclaim for a series that in truth should be re-evaluated and proclaimed, meh.

It is best to be truthful from the get go, the Skolian Saga is falling to pieces around me. I know, I know this is the same universe that brought Primary Inversion which I still stand behind as a must read. But as the more books I put on hold through the library, and then eventually sign-out, take home, read, and return I am left with the desire to read more of them hoping to uncover that what so impressed me with the first read from Asaro's works. Unsure at who is at fault, the author or myself, I spent the last two months plowing through the saga, feeling rather bored and rather annoyed. So what is the problem, or is there a problem at all. Maybe it is fall, or maybe it is me or maybe the world is not perfect and not all writers are Herbert

what's with the cheese-ball cover?
All the elements that make Primary Inversion such an enjoyment becomes trite after book 3. Asaro's story-telling is a redundancy of romantic ideals, sexual exploitation and fairy tale plot twists that worked only the first time. There are parts to the Skolian Saga that deserve acclaim:  the Juggernauts, the conception of inversion,  the archaic quality to the Ruby Dynasty. However world-building is complex and what I am discovering is some authors who pour their creativity into this type of SF are writing beyond their capabilities. 

Asaro's strength lies within the world of science. She has that wonderful knack and mind to express laws, theories and hypotheses to support her ideas. Rather than taking on the universe the books would be better if Asaro honed in on smaller scenarios, less grand scale visions which subsequently would result in a more intimate and true expression of the world she is trying to develop. The Skolian Saga becomes less of a space operatic adventure and more a tale of disconnected ruling families, and wealth that feel less SF and more romantic in genre.

10 September 2013

The Man Who Sold the World: A Review of the Culture Series, Iain M. Banks

As promised, my review of the Culture is at hand, unfortunately the speed at which my thoughts are progressing are as slow as molasses, actually molasses just lapped them and a sloth is about to break out in front. The immensity of the Culture series, combined with the creative genius that is Iain Banks has left me at a loss. I can't even claim that I am muddled over with sentences, as the only thing bouncing around my synaptic nerves is a large, neon yellow WOW. Literary eloquence and perfection is not grounded upon the word wow, thus I sit listening to Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World", shaking things up every 10 minutes by switching to Nirvanna's cover in the dire hope that adjectives, adverbs and brilliance channels down onto me.  
Nothing yet, I suspect heavenly intervention may not transpire today. I am totally going to write to Bowie (he is god, right?) and express my dissatisfaction with his lack of intervention. And with one word, I will plug along, an eternity of books have been published with less, how bad can I mess this up?  

Abhorring research, hence my lack of attaining a doctorate, I jumped into the first two books having no sense to what I would be getting into. Based completely on guilt, my initial interest quickly blossomed to astonishment at the scope of Banks vision and then back to guilt because it became obvious my intentions to be a great reader of SF had failed miserably since it was only now, after Banks passing that I came to appreciate him.  I realize I am gushing but it is a rarity to find a book that reminds you of what you are incapable of as a writer. Gushing, good Bowie-lord, I seem to have slip into Dune level freak-out worship.  

But is Dune level accolades of merit really worthy, especially since I have only read the first two in the full catalog of 10 (TEN)?  Yes, yes it is. What kind of blog would this be if I kept my opinions to myself, waiting to deem a read awesome until the research was finished? An honest review, true, but boring I tell you, boring and frankly an impossibility for me as I really do live by the old adage "cart before the horse", finding it effective as long as I keep my cart moving. I know, half of the time I too, have no idea what I am going on about.   

Let us step back slightly and look into what the Culture is or more that what it is not.  It is not for the faint of heart, let's give "this Science Fiction thing" a try, kind of series. This is a full in your face, love it or hate it Science Fiction, world-building, space operatic, centuries of history and story- telling series. Banks presents the universe in which the Culture presides through individual arcs that jump by hundreds of years in the Culture's history which together creates a panorama of the universe.  As a reader, you are completely engaged in each book for what it is, a stand-alone story that appears to depict an angle that you, as the reader thinks is the source to defining the norms to this universe.  In fact, as you progress past Consider Phlebas, the story of war through the eyes of one man, into The Player of Games, your perceptions have been put on its head, and you have to start over,  gathering new pieces to the quickly expanding and expansive story that is the Culture.  

These are brilliant, hard-core SF, encapsulating all that this genre can offer and enters into the canon of SF that should be categorized literature.  Yes, yes I did go that far.

28 August 2013

Epic: A Review of Primary Inversion, Catherine Asaro

There are times when tunage is a necessary means by which to ground oneself to a task. Think of the countless nights you dosed yourself in songs in the desperate hope of passing philosophy 101, the bane of your second-year undergrad requirement for your B.A. in Anthro.   Now flash forward to today where you sit at your desk, looking all grown-up while blasting top 40 pop through your earphones in an attempt to drown-out your colleagues continuous verbal mumbo-jumbo while you pretend to write your monthly report but instead, are actively blogging.This cannot just be my life? 

What does the Powerpuff Girls', "Heroes and Villains" soundtrack (Japanese re-mix) and Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro have in common? Beyond the obvious fact that both seem to give off a sparkly pink aura, they sync perfectly in my brain as I attempt to write an objective review of the first book in the Saga of the Skolian Empire. In case you missed the innuendo, this review will in no way be objective.  

I came across the Skolian Empire saga through the recommendation of one of my all-time favourite bloggers, Emma Epps. Check her blog out, she is cool. She gave me the confidence to keep writing away and chucking it out to the world, showcasing my true level of geekdom. (which I must say is not that high, having just attended Fan Expo 2013 Toronto and witnessed some epic nerd tendencies). Like everything I will review now, this book is space opera.  What you say? Hey, I warned you guys in my ode to Popsicles that I was going full-out bat-shit crazy on this sub-genre and bat-shit crazy I go.  
This book is awesome. It was a pleasure to read a romantically-infused character driven plot with some edge. The Skolian Empire is not a nice place to live. Two empires continue a generational war that appears will never cease especially with the Eubian's genetics dictating a need to inflect pain and fear on the Skolians to find sexual and emotional completeness.  Things tend to get a little nasty at times.

Asaro is not the best world-builder I have read (Herbert, Banks, Bujold, Tolkien) but she does have a firm hold of the ideas, theology and sociological norms in Primary Inversion (book 2, not so much) that bind her universe together. Plus, she does not shirk from science, delving into some pretty deep concepts making at times the book seem hard SF. I should emphasis "at times" because the Skolians survive from their telepathic abilities, which is the key to their power. While the Eubian's rule thanks to their superior tech, the Skolian's success is hinged on their control of a telepathic web-interface allowing for immediate communication response through space (this is important and currently impossible).  

To summarize, there is sex, there is romance, there is war, there is pain, there is slavery, and there is telepathy which all makes for one well-rounded space book.  

21 August 2013


In April, the SF world learnt and subsequently tried to fathom that one of this century's prolific writers would be leaving us. Iain Banks passed away on June 9th leaving me feeling more frustrated than sad. Odd reaction I admit, but Iain's death left me feeling regretful. 

Having questioned myself (mostly silently, but can't swear on that. Side note - I caught myself bobbing my head up and down, whispering yup yup yup at ice-cream in the grocery aisle yesterday.) I arrived at a few reasons for my feelings of frustration. The first seems obvious, it took Iain's announcement of his terminal illness for me to spotlight  his books.   He has been around in the SF scene for quite some time and it is really shameful of me not to have read at least one of his books by now. 

True, I have been busy, but really, of all people, I should have read at least ONE book.  With regret comes lose, which in tern leads to the unproductive "what would have been" daydreaming. I am in a loop of what if's, unable to shake the thought that if only Kage Baker, and sigh, Frank Herbert were still with us,  I could be reading more super awesome stories. Just pondering on this makes my heart hurt.  Just think, the debacles of the new "Dune" series of books would not exist and we all would have on our bookshelves FRANK HERBERT penned new Dune books. You know, I have to lie down for a moment and compose myself.

Yes, everyone does die; spare me the comments of advice to pick up The Tibetan Book of the Dead (own it, just haven't read it yet). I might live in a rosy coloured bubble comprised of sitting on park benches and eating Popsicles but I do comprehend that we die.  I get that, I do.  What I am struggling with is that I have been a shit reader and realize through Mr. Banks passing of how many books I need to get to.(There must be some way I can get some type of "reading" grant that would free me up from my job.)

I am often told (yes, by my mother) that I should write a book.  To be frank, it is of no interest to me. Sure, I like doing this thing but the thought, care, frustration, tears and stubbornness needed to write a book is out of my scope of abilities (Dune Mommy is tired,  yo). Anyway, I LOVE being a reader.  My contentment of being the audience to all those writers out there is work.  With this in mind I leave you, I just finished Consider Phlebas, and am moving onto The Player of Games. And yes, they are awesome, and yes, expect a ridiculously amazing review in the near future and yes, I have no idea who Phlebas is nor why he should be considered.

13 August 2013

I Give It 5 Popsicles Out of 5

As the summer slowly passes into awesomeness, there are a few things that have become apparent to me. The first  is while I self-proclaim to be a winter baby, in fact I am a sun worshiper and will, if the glories orb of heat and light is beating down onto my deck, will slip into a Popsicle induced sun-coma, resulting in me forgetting anything that I was supposed to do that day, week and oh, look at that, month.  The second lesson from this awesummerness is my realization of how much I enjoy a Popsicle; so much that I am kind of a Popsicle pusher, stocking my freezer with delightful frozen water on a stick treats for anyone who wants one. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of takers so really the only who is benefiting from this is my little Dune Son who has learnt that cake at 8 in the morning is a big No but asking for a cold treat gets a completely different response.

Of course, you are wondering what the sweet bejeebus am I going on about as this is completely off topic from my SCIENCE FICTION blog that you have clicked to thinking you would in fact read about SCIENCE FICTION. Basically I am trying to say, while avoiding saying it, is that I have been a really crappy blogger these past few months but between the sun and the Popsicles, there was little to no chance of me being a prolific writer.

That being said, Popsicles and sun create amazing reading opportunities.  And so here I now sit, ready to share with you all those new books you need to go out and read if you want to continue to be my friend. See, it all works out. Care for a Popsicle, I've got rockets!  
Read SF, Join me!
Third lesson of this summer is of no surprise to anyone. My space operatic tendencies in book reading have moved into a full out addiction. I'm at a  point in my reading career (oh gawd, if ONLY someone would pay me to read books for a living) that I might have to pigeonhole myself into one awesome SF sub-genre, subsequently admitting that I am really trying to turn you all into operatic space nerds rather than SF geeks.   (What did she say?) If this is a shock to you, then you really need to pay attention more to my posts because my MOTHER (I am all into caps today and SHOUTING) has started to read science fiction and if my mother has turned to the nerd side, thanks to my aggressive bullying,  then you are soon to follow.  

With a Freezie in one hand (just as yummy just less drippy) and the other on my ratty copy of Dune, I pledge to start posting again.  Post frequency may decrease and my open mindedness to other sub-genres firmly closed but I am back and ready to take over the world, one space opera book at a time.  

But where is the review?  Next week, my friends, next week, or month.  I don't know, it looks really sunny out there.  Some

13 July 2013

Hey Punk: A Review of Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

Although I am a space opera junky to the core, there is a part of me that is rather punk, cyberpunk, that is.   Let's take a quick look to the source of all knowledge, Wikipedia to discover what cyberpunk is:  it involves high tech, surrounded and used by a low life.   Not a drinker of the wiki-cool-aid, I find myself agreeing in general with the glib definition but would add one thing, characterization.  If you have not read this genre before you may be under the impression that with tech comes intense hard SF to plod through.  Admittedly, you will find some techy mumbo-jumbo that will fly right over your head into Neverland but they are few and far between.  

The two books recommended are intensely alive on account of the authors' abilities in creating  depth and gregariousness to their leads.   In a weird (and I mean, I have had one beer weird way), cyberpunk is fantasy.  Oh beer, you taste so good.   But seriously,  fantasy is well,  fantastical, as is cyberpunk.  Take away the midges, elves and warlocks adorned in deep lush purple vests, put a cell phone implant into their thumbs,  and give them the extremely handy while creepy ability to live in digital space and voila, you have the same books, man.    Okay, I don't think I need to go Lebowski on you there, but I reckon that I am on to something, something that I have no notion of expanding on any time soon.  Shall we move on?

Accerlerando - Charles Stross
To be completely honest, I am half-way through this book and have NO idea what the crap is going on.  (like none)  That being said, I am so overly entertained by my bewilderment that I can't help but put a recommendation through.  I am lost in a future that is so over-whelmed with digital information that the main character has downloaded his memory (BRAIN) into his digitized glasses.  

I find myself still in part one of three novellas found in the book, maniacally following the life of Manfred Macx as he loses in his mind (literally) in Europe while trying to properly represent the entire lobster population of Earth.  The crustaceans are the first digitally uploaded sentient to the solar system and need some much needed representation.  Okay, you know what, it would be best for you not to take anything I say here as a serious synopsis because, as mentioned, I have no idea what is going on.

Snow Crash - Neil Stephenson
Dear fabulous, amazing Snow Crash, how I wish I had yet to read and experience your ramped-up, intense world.  I had so much fun reading you the first go around.  Snow Crash rocks, and so happens to be one of my top 20 books that everyone on the planet should read.  It is THAT good. 

What we have is cyberpunk at it's best:  Hiro Protagonist, a pizza delivery boy by day, warrior by virtual night is on the hunt for who is  killing all the hackers.  Rather short definition,  but trust me, it is better for you to just walk right into this novel, not knowing what is going on.   Plus, my intellectual capacity does not allow me to properly summarize a book that is so solidly in the future but so tightly wrapped up in Sumerian mythology.    

2 July 2013

HSB: A Review of Abaddon`s Gate, James S. A. Corey

The day has arrived that I am able to discuss Abaddon's Gate, the final book (but guess what it's not the final book!) ending (nope, not ending) the Expanse Series that I so absolutely, holy shit balls (HSB) level, love.

Where does one start to being objective when truly all I want to be is a giddy psycho, yelling gibberish on a soap box about reading this series?  I guess at the beginning:  space opera.  As you are well aware, the operatic nuances of space is a sub-genre I cannot get enough of.  Keep it relatively light, keep it moving and keep it within the vacuum of SPACE and I am all yours.  Even though I have a low tolerance for violence, I still can look beyond gore as long as it is reflective to the plot.  Or do I? as I seem to be the only geek on the planet not singing the tune to fire and ice..  For the sweet crap guys, is there enough blood...you sick bastards....where was I?

Let me not mislead you, The Expanse is not void of violence.  In Caliban`s War, book two, Venus becomes sentient making it`s life mission to turn the human race into vomit zombies.  Abaddon`s Gate's tendency to violence is more intimate as the authors remove the presences of the alien-esque quality to the horrors, bringing them into the arena of humanity pitted against itself.  There is something quite frightening to admit that the true horror in the universe is our inaccurate perception of reality and the resultant violence we inflict on ourselves.    Not diminishing the fact that what was so friggin scary in one and two ends up being even more ridiculously scary.
What the crap is going on?

Abaddon`s Gate moves in a direction that at the half way point felt removed from the series.  The first two books effectively portray a solar system stretched to its limits.  Humanity has been broken down into three groups:  Belters, Martians and Earthers.  The gravity you grew up in, defines you, profiling you.  We (humanity) continue in this future of the Expanse to create hate based on nuances of differences.   A bleak perspective but in my estimation, a pretty accurate one.  It is nice to hope that the Start Trek universe of equality (accept for those no good Romulans and Q, what the hell is up with Q) is the direction we are moving towards.  There tends to be this Disney Land perspective of the future that a lot of main stream SF speaks to.  While nice, and by nice I do not mean nice, this is not the SF that holds my interest and keeps me so loyal to the genre.   I want grit, I want emotions, I want a reality that sings to the complexity of putting people into the reaches of space, expecting them to live in environmentally-controlled ships and hulled out satellites, where one small mistake results in annihilation .  I want a future that holds to the essence of who we are while moving us further from our home, Earth.  

This is why I HSB love The Expanse. The characters start out archetypal, then move beyond those confines into real people who want to be loved, to be surrounded by friends and not be turned into vomit zombies.  Hey, don`t we all want to avoid the vomit zombie thing when it comes down to it? Can`t we love one another based on avoiding that fate? Abaddon`s Gate reveals that no we actually can`t, and as a result, royally screwing our chances of survival to one out three vomit zombies. 

But how does Abaddon`s Gate fair in comparison to the other two in the series:  Leviathan Wakes, Caliban`s War? As I alluded to, and then effectively went rogue from, it at first does not fit and then as you reach the conclusion, realizing that there is no conclusion, just more choices to make, Abaddon`s Gate is the perfect ending to a sweet ass space opera.   Similar to the final book in the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay, the series ends with the personal long lasting damage of war and the effects misguided hate mixed with misunderstanding can do.  Abaddon`s Gate does not fly like Leviathan Wakes, nor captures the political drama of the solar system of Calaban`s War, instead it brings the stories home to our doorsteps.  It makes the alien quality of the protomolecule a stage to humanities inability to work as one, focusing it all through the eyes of the four crew members, a dead detective, a security chief and a preacher, named Ann.  It is the most violent of the three, holding the least amount of hope while continuing to glory in the goodness of humanity.

  It is straight up HSB good.  

9 June 2013

Choose Wisely: A Review of The City & The City, China Mieville

Lollygagging my few minutes to myself away, my thoughts are set in the future rather than the task of this post.   Abaddon's Gate is out, available and people are reading it.  People being not me, as I for some reason not only have not read but worse do not a copy of my very own.  At what point in my life did I lose sight of what matters?  Sigh....  
Holy shit balls
And so I sit, wishing I was reviewing THAT book rather than THIS book:   The City and The City .   For a book that has received quite a bit of buzz, The City and The City doesn't deserve such a poor intro.   Weirdly enough, I am not too sure how I would rate this book.  Have you have ever been excited to read something but the timing of it did not sync with your life?  Timing seemed to doom my first few attempts, I never could get into it.  And "getting into it" is the key, because the success of the book requires the reader to accept the codes and laws that dictate this world reality without too much up-front information. 

At it's basest descriptive level, The City and The City is a SF Detective novel.  Chapter One opens to a murder scene with the plot then expanding rapidly around the actions of the police properly identifying the young women and her killer.  The lead character, Inspector Tyador Borlu from the Extreme Crime Squad of the European city-state of Beszel is like most detectives you meet in fiction:  moral with a hint of shady to him.  You know,  a good guy with a past who, while having seen it all is still attempting to keep things right in the world.  Maybe I exaggerate him slightly, being a policeman's daughter, but overall he is likable and complex enough to want to follow from page to page as the intrigue develops and darkens.  This is a job well-done by Mieville;  a good novel is marked by it's character development.   

While the characters are vivid, and the plot multi-layered, the real star is the city, times two.  Inspector Borlu, a Beszel citizen lives in two worlds, or more poignantly, lives in one world while actively ignoring the other.  Beszel shares its geographical space with the city-state of  Ul Qoma.  Sharing is misleading as these two city-states  have an entwined tumultuous past, present and in all probability, future. They exist out of defiance of the other; holding true to their perceived uniqueness, to the extreme of unseeing each other.  Citizens of both are raised to be culturally unaware, taught to un-see, un-smell, un-react to the vibrancy of the other city.  Fascinating concept and it was this that first intrigued me and subsequently forced me to actually sit down and work through the book.   Work it was, but in a good way.  You need to be present in this book, actively aware of each word because the stories of the The City and The City is revealed not by page by page but by word by word.  

So why does my frustration linger? There is nothing inherently wrong with the book, Mievelle is clearly a masterful writer able to pull together unique ideas, to the point of legitimising them in the context of this world reality.  The detective story is as creative as P.D. James has ever penned, so why do I not like it as much as I know I should.  It all comes back to timing; I am sure if I read this during my apocalyptic  world's colliding stage, rather than my fantastical, space opera stage this review would be very different.  As the knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade said, "You must choose, but choose wisely".  

10 May 2013

The Last Word: The Liaden Universe Series Review, Sharon Lee & Stephen Miller

Warning, this post will subject you to yet another discussion regarding the Liaden universe series. Sensitive to the backlash, I have been contemplating how best or not to document all these books that have been distracting me so completely.    While tempted to just blitz it out and put you all through endless posts I have smartly decided that that would be the worst idea ever.  I know when enough is enough.  Or do I,  as this is an epic post documenting my journey through the universe hence really dragging things out even more.  

So why I am bothering knowing you are bored out of your gourd? Moving past the obvious, fixation and obsession issues, the reason is quite simple.  I have discovered something unique.  While never claiming to be an SF expert, I am a fan who has read a few (shitload would also work here) books from a variety of sub-genres (except Steampunk, gag) thus enabling me to talk about things with a slight bit of confidence.  Slight is the key word.  I am sure it will be revealed to me that what I find so alluring in The Great Migration Duology is yet one of a similar theme running through the genre.  If you know what those others books are, by all means enlighten me.  

To be honest, the Liaden Universe does not ring my bells as Bujold's Vorkisagan Series or Kage Baker's Company Series does.  Those are stand alone wicked awesome.  That being said, the Liaden Universe is pretty darn good, even great at times.  

My adventure began with The Dragon Variation Omnibus:  Local Custom, Scott's Progress, Conflict of Honors.  Because of my abhorrence of dust-jacket synopses I was completely unaware of what to expect and hence took time to get into Local Custom.  There is nothing like a little bit of romance (shitload would also work here) to push a reader along.  Did I just type romance to describe a SF book?   Romance, love, lust, whatever, these books have them in spades or should I type hearts.   While the romance is hot what keeps fans coming back in my estimation, is character development.  Lee and Miller have a knack for creating really (really) likable characters.

From these three books I moved further into the series. The point from having read 3 to 6 books, a pattern started to become more noticeable.  The ever seemingly popular formula "girl in trouble, won't ask for help, needs help, guy wants to help, saves the day, girl/guy fall in love" runs throughout the series which is a big bummer. I can handle one, okay two (Scott's Progress was addicting) but 6 "guy saves girl" plots is annoying as shit.  Why do women always need to be saved?  Why don't we save some ass for once?  The point is, and I do have one, there is a formulaic quality to the series.  However this does not disqualify the Liaden books as a good read; there are parts to the series that showcase brilliance.  

The Great Migration Duology:  Crystal Soldier, Crystal Dragon were delayed in writing by Lee and Miller until they felt they were grown-up enough to do them justice.  Fascinating and completely understandable because these two books are masterpieces of control.  The authors successfully take us back 1000s of years to the ancient drama that resulted in the formation of the Liaden universe of today, and by today I mean the vague future time that most of the series is based in.  So what is the big deal of going back in time you ask. Simply put, these are the first books in SF that I have read that managed to stay within the confines of a universe order while showcasing believable antiquity.  I am reminded of  Shakespearean plays, all extremely believable, but most definitely subjected to vastly different cultural norms.   It befuddles me how Miller and Lee managed to make science fiction seem historically biographical.  

There are numerous more books in the Liaden Series that I have yet to read and I am sure one day I will get to them.  For now though, it is time to move on and find a new set of authors to gorge on.

26 April 2013

What little boys are made of: Book ideas for wee ones

Dune Girl spends an inordinate amount of time reading not only to herself (happy to report, no longer out loud) but to little Dune Son.  In recent months, a few choice books have been introduced into our abode and are in obsessive circulation.  If you happen to have a wee one at home who is fixated on dragons, beasties and/or things with large teeth, these books are a must for you or whichever family you choose to book dive bomb.  How sweet would that be? A world at which dive bombings were book-related events instigated anonymously by literate benefactors.  

When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore, illustrated by Howard McWilliam is the cautionary tale of what happens if you build a sandcastle.  Spoiler Alert:   What happens basically is a dragon will move in.  Holy shit balls,  I know and do not despair, I am researching the fastest means that sand can be ordered to all our yards, information to follow shortly.  

The story encapsulates the joys and subsequent hardships of childhood beach adventures.  That world of sneaking snacks from the cooler, fighting with your brother, all while listening to the crash of the ocean waves and gulls flying by trying to both poop on your head and steal your hot dog is brought to life  From my son's perspective I can only imagine what is swirling around in his brain.   Being three,  this book is most likely a true representation, more documentary than fantastical to him.  Dragons, after all are real, T-Rex's are a little guy's best friend and yeti's  make perfect cuddle buddies.  

As with all great children's books the illustrations illuminate the text adding depth to this very succinct little story.   The pictures are the bomb.  DS  and I  spend more time pouring over them, trying to find the blue dragon  than reading the story.  For your information, the blue dragon is in the half built castle off centre in the above picture.  She is hard to find, but trust us on this, she is in there making cookies and scheming.

Any book that has a random Norwegian dinosaur wandering it's pages, is a book for me. The hilarious, dripping sarcasm in Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems is lost on my son but not all children's books are for the kids.   Parents read an insane amount of crap every day to appease the little control freaks in our lives.  ("OK, I will read Shark and Sharky Shark Shark for the 20th TIME THIS HOUR!")   As a result, as a parent you need to break up the garbage with some witty, child-friendly dialogue that is intelligent enough to keep from slipping into a reading coma.  

Thankfully, most of the sentences that burn into my soul involve poorly executed pirate/dino/lion related story-lines.   I dodged the "barbie/pony/glitter/I'm a girl and love pink and strive to be perfect in every way by being pretty" bullet.   To be fair, if my son wanted to read pink-inspired books I would read it.  I would, you know why, because I am mother, and that is what mothers do.  (okay, maybe we do more but it is one of the things we do.  I want a really big sparkly diamond shaped, diamond for mother's day)   It is not like we forced him down this creature-related obsession, he really, truly, all by his weird little own self, decided that dinosaurs were his thing.   So, while my world is filled with SF/Fantasy related children's paraphernalia, I am positive that if Mattel came out with a Vampire Barbie, dripping with blood and HUGE fangs, my son would want one.  And  I would buy it for him. Vampire Barbie,  you are damn right we would buy that, actually I would get one for us all.

And back to the book, shall we.  I do like tirades, they are so unproductively therapeutic.  Goldilocks, and the Three Bears is unhinged, re-framed and fabulously, superimposed with dinosaurs. Goldilocks is revealed as  a hapless moron who does not listen to her mommy and daddy.  She continues to break into large, imposing stranger's homes and then run amok.   Frankly, she deserves all she gets.    You see a large bowl of chocolate pudding laid out, doesn't mean it is for you and if it is for you, you should probably ask who wants me to taste like chocolate....not those dinosaurs, nope, no way.  I am surprised she hasn't been eaten years ago.

To all of you without kids, doesn't mean you can't pick these two bad boys up.  We all pour over the little images and maps that accompany our favourite SF books, don't lie, I know you do.  Pictures make things better.   Time to go back to  kindergarten and enjoy yourself.