25 January 2013

The art of wooing: A review of Captain Vorpatril`s Alliance

More of a love story than a review, this is my attempt at wooing you all into reading Lois McMaster Bujold.  Yes, her again.  In my defence  I do try to review  books that I am currently reading (my attempt at keeping it fresh).  As it so happens here I sit  reading Captain Vorpatril`s Alliance after so quickly chucking aside the book that I have been wrestling with these past months. Cloud Atlas you are my Waterloo.  Maybe a  peaceful understanding will be met but for now you can stay hidden under my bed nestled up to a triceratops and that random purple sock.   I am indeed speaking to a book.  Good lord, I might need a rum and coke.  Never have I struggled with reading a book more. And this comes with having had  to endure the dusty, depressive Steinbeck books in High School and the endless political ramblings found in 18th century English Lit  I took as a credit filler towards my B.A. 

Honestly, am I the only one on this planet who does not like Cloud Atlas?

Let me begin with a warning, do not read Captain Vorpartril's Alliance if you are new to the Vorkosigan Saga.  Of all the Vorkosigan books it is this one that would benefit most with some background knowledge.   It wouldn't surprise me to discover that Bujold penned this book as a thank you to her loyal addicts.    Only an entrenched fan of the Barrayaran  universe can fully appreciate the little hidden insights into a character that for the most part is foil to the charismatic hero of the series.  Lord knows Miles Vorkosigan has had his time in the spot light.  As with some of the earlier books that explore the lives of Miles parents, Cordelia and Aral,  Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is a great first book in hopefully a new branch to the Vorkosigan story.

Following Ivan has been fascinating especially since I have dismissed him as a truly developed character for all these years.  He was just always there.  Which is rather a revealing statement after having read this book and acquired a more thorough picture of who Miles cousin really is.   My hope is to see more of Ivan's unique world view.  Terrible to say but the last instalment with Miles at  the helm, Cryoburn was rather a bust.  I was a little tired of Miles getting into a tight spot, figuring things out, getting into a bigger mess and then saving the day again.   It is good to  see someone else be the hero.

18 January 2013

Mythical Creatures Be Damned: A Review of His Majesty's Dragon, Naomi Novik

My experience with dragons is minimal at best, much to your surprise I am sure.  Listen, you can be a SF nerdlington without actually going whole hog and arriving to work looking like this.   Beyond the occasional movie, I'm not really into dragons. In fact, I don't really read too many books with fantastical mythical creatures besides Sandworms. Is the Maker high enough up the pop cultural scale to be included in the mythical creature pantheon yet?  Someone needs to work on that. 

My first foray into fantasy was through the Dragonriders of Pern.  So much has been written about  the late Anne McCaffrey that any sentiments by me will only be a small drop in an ocean of acclaim. The best way to shower Anne with love is to read her books.  Through Stainless Steel Droppings you can join the Dragonflight Group Read and dragon your heart out. Strangely enough over the past decade of reading SF seriously, Pern has been my only real dragon read.  That is until this past weekend, when I picked up His Majesty's Dragon subsequently failing in love with Temeraire. Who's that you ask?, why a Chinese dragon of significant character who is the star of not one but a series by Naomi Novik.  

His Majesty's Dragon opens with the discovery and subsequent hatching, you guessed it, of a dragon. The fast-moving plot sweeps you quickly into this alternative historical story. The Napoleonic War is the backdrop with one tiny, ever-so, okay not really, addition; DRAGONS. And we are not taking one dragon but breeds of dragons all across the world with their own distinct abilities, and intelligence. Some quirky facts:  Newfoundland is a breeding ground. Dragons while developing in the shell learn language resulting in the ability to speak upon hatching. Your world is richer by knowing this.  

At the half way point I questioned whether my interest would wane. So far, I am still intrigued thanks greatly to the historical backdrop. I am a sucker for historically-based novels. The greater the appeal if the author accurately portrays details while taking liberties to allow for fantastical elements. My only complaint with the book is with Captain Laurence, Temeraire's human handler.  The stereotypical constraints that confine the 19th century gentleman has bound this character into too tight a world view. The chap is a pill. My hope is Novik in her later books moves beyond this a-typical archetype allowing Laurence the ability to grow as a character. His two dimensional personality if not expanded by book 2 will in all probability have me casting this series aside. But before I proclaim such a fate, let's give the author the benefit of the doubt and carry-on. After all, the next book takes Temeraire and Laurence to China, 19th century China, and until my time machine is repaired this book is my only means by which to travel there.  

10 January 2013

Comic: A Review of Saga, Brian K. Vaughan

Annually, I venture down the street to visit the local comic shop.  It is a little tiny hovel of a store, located above another somewhat larger even more obscurely packed store dedicated to the more avant-garde comic, the graphic novel. My first solo mission to buy a comic book found me  hovering on the ground floor, bumbling over myself for having asked to be directed to the X-men section.  Thankfully I spied stairs and scurried up them trying to remove myself from the extremely put out clerk who was so completely devastated by my simple request.  It is those shabby stairs that I climb yearly to ask the thin, happy 30-something owner the same question.  What to buy for a X-men crazed husband, who loves illustration more than the scripts?  And so my time is spent following after him, from one crowded shelf to another, squeezing past dazed customers, lost in whatever fantastical world they have devoted to, to find the book, the anthology that will bring a very happy smile to my hubby for Christmas.  The years spent in this tiny store has blossomed an interest myself for comics and even more slowly the graphic novel.   

It wasn't my husband who first introduced me to the world of comics, that was thanks to my little brother.  Crashed out  in the back seat of the car, actively ignoring the defining beauty that is Canada, my brother and I were lost in our comic worlds while my family spent the summers driving from campground to campground.    My father was not one for simple 2 hour jaunts.  Oh no,  we were buckled in for the long haul, 8 hours or more. To really get a kid to commit to such adventures, bribes were in order.  Sweet blessed hours were upon me when I had in hand a new Barbie and a Double Digest Archie Comic to help me forget that until we arrived at the next camp-site, (please, please, please have a swimming pool) there was nothing to look at.  Expect for endless forests, with endless mountain scenery and endless little brooks and waterfalls with mountain sheep scattered along the slopes.  

It was those trips when the love triangle of Archie was a little too trite for even my young 8
year old heart would I beg my brother if I could read some of his comics.  Much time was spent over the promises not to tear, bend, breathe or read them too strongly for fear of  damaging them.  Thinking back, there is no surprise where my current reading tendencies budded from.  

A notable addition to your book pile this year should includeSaga by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples (Illustrator).  A graphic novel is not worthy of it's salt if the illustrations do not draw you in. What is the point really?  Staples's illustrations in Saga pushes this graphic novel over the edge into awesome territory.   I won't even bother you with my feelings towards the plot...words like amazing, and why can't this BE A BOOK come to mind.   Volume 1 opens to the birth of Hazel, the off-spring of two star-crossed lovers who unfortunately are soldiers from opposing warring nations.  Between the illustrations and the plot there is so much eye candy to absorb that I had to pace myself.   I'm big on small details, Vaughan wins my heart for coming up with the best name for a Moon; Wreath.  Wreath!

3 January 2013

Read of the Year: A Review of Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Corey

In the final days of 2012 I finally found a book worthy to claim as the Read of 2012.   Among the alarming stack of books read there were some notable recommendations.   However there wasn't one book that screamed at me to scream at you to read it.  You must be thinking how can I even say that considering  I read Ready Player One.  Sure did, cannot argue that fact.    I am all for admitting that the book is cool.   So cool that I bullied quite a few friends into buying it.    But (tends to always be a but) when you think about it, would you read that book again?   The Read of the Year really is going to be something you want to go back to; what is the point of being blown away to never wanting to experience it again?  Because Ready Player One really is a hard copy experience of living/breathing/dying in the GAME, once you journey to the final level do you really need to experience that high again? I don't think so.    

That being said, what book knocked me over?  It is Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey.  Now this is where things get a little intense.  Not for the faint of heart, the book is SF at it's purest:  a truly operatic space adventure.  And what a lovely holiday it has been being riveted to the horror found within it's pages. Yes, I did type horror.   

The sub-category space opera has been used by me without fully comprehending it's meaning many a time.  Thanks to seeing the term splashed out in every single review of Leviathan Wakes I looked it up.   Apparently a book that exhibits romanticism or melodrama, usually between two warring factions is a space opera.  Oh, and all of this hububaloo must take place in space to make it legit otherwise you are holding in your hand Anna Karenina.  Now that would be something, Tolstoy in space.

Leviathan Wakes is turning out to be mega-long, keep-it-coming series.  Book two is out with the third to be released in the spring. Co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (James A. S. Corey is a sneaky pen name) created a universe in which humanity has expanded beyond the confines of Earth, and settled throughout the solar system.  Like The Unincorporated Series,  a percentage of humans have never lived on a planet, never seen blue skies, finds the idea of walking on Earth terrifying.  Politically you are either of Earth, Mars or the Belt.  The concept of being a Belter has drawn me into this story.  My imagination has come alive contemplating life in a hollowed-out asteroid.  The absolute of space has been wonderfully portrayed in Leviathan Wakes and it is this aspect that makes the book truly remarkable. There are not a lot of SF books that successfully draws you into a world that seems probable but also enviable   At least to a point, ignore the horror found in this book and you are all good.  I typed that word again, didn't I.