Should Harrow the Ninth Win the Hugo?

THIS book. What a ride. Gonna go ahead and announce now that pretty much this entire review is going to be a SPOILER because I’m not sure how to talk about it without doing so. If you’re looking for a quick (spoilerless) opinion on whether or not you should read it, I would say:

Yes. Read it, but don’t drop anything you’re super excited about to do so. There is a lot to appreciate in Harrow the Ninth, but personally, it was a bit of a slog. If you’re expecting to enjoy it for any of the reasons you liked Gideon the Ninth, you will probably be disappointed. Harrow, it seems, goes decidedly her own way (we should expect nothing less).

All of that said, I feel it was worthy of the accolades it’s received, but it probably won’t be my pick for the Best Novel Hugo Award. To explain why, we’ll have to get spoilery . . .

— Entering Spoilerland —

— Look out! —

Ok. Now that I’m done having fun, what’s the deal with this book and how can I think it a slog, but a good enough slog to win an award?

Essentially, Harrow the Ninth is a (mostly) well written book that expects a lot from its readers, and pushes a lot of boundaries all at once. Personally, I feel as if this should have been right up my alley, as I pretty much go all in for things any time they get weird or unexpected. This book did all of that in droves, but I believe it suffered mainly from expectations set up by the first book, Gideon the Ninth.

Gideon the Ninth was a gem which seemingly we all could admire. My review described it as both fun and provoking. Down to its simplest elements, it was a mystery, and an adventure. Start accounting for some of its complexity, and it was a prompt on the nature of abusive relationships and what kinds of things we’re ‘allowed’ to show in our fiction . . .

Harrow, in many ways, left all of that behind for a rumination on grief, loss, and mental health. It traded in a somewhat (enthusiastically) crass but ultimately consistent narration for shifting types of POV (mostly 2nd person, and 3rd person, but some 1st person too) along a non-linear narrative and alternative reality dream sequences. It shattered any trust we had in ourselves as readers to a) remember past events in the story (aka book 1) and b) understand at any given moment what the hell is actually going on.

Too put it simply, reading Harrow the Ninth felt like being gaslit for 400 pages.

This in fact, makes perfect sense for the novel since we’re reading AS a main character who is trying so hard to repress any feelings of grief or loss, that she literally gives herself a lobotomy (I suppose Ianthe helps) to wipe out all memory of what she fears to lose.

That Muir is able to manage this weird sort of readers-are-so-deep-into-the-character-we’re-essentially-method-acting is, from a technical standpoint, quite incredible. And as a writer, I’m in awe and hope that I will someday be able to pull off something half so complicated.

Being gaslit, however, isn’t exactly pleasant, and I found that I was somewhat eager to distract myself from this book, and often reluctant to pick it back up.

So why do so many consider this book so good?

Obviously, it’s impossible to say for sure, but I would point to the following:

Humor:

Considering how serious everything in the Locked Tomb series seems to be, there is a surprising amount of humor within the series. In Harrow the Ninth, it’s often Ianthe’s frank wit (and unapologetically misplaced morals) or Harrow’s general hatred and reluctance for everything that do most of the heavy lifting. We aren’t given any Gideon lines until the last quarter of the book.

Personally, I was most often chuckling at the seemingly normal (and quite frankly bureaucratic) nature of The Necrolord Prime, aka God, aka John.

And of course, the almost nonsensical naming conventions (reminiscent of Ian M. Banks’ Culture Series), which apparently can and do include Eminem lyrics.

For some complexity is beautiful

Reread everything I wrote a little bit ago about the shifting (and unreliable) POV, non-linear narrative, and alternate realities. From a technical standpoint this is amazing to see unfold.

Women Being Badasses

I feel like this is where the rubber meets the road for most people, and is one of the main draws to the series. Harrow the Ninth, as with Gideon the Ninth, is still a story about women who defy expectations. Who want more than whatever bullshit they’ve been given, and are ready to rain hellfire upon the world until they get it.

I think this quote from a Vox interview with Tamsyn Muir really put it in perspective for me (emphasis my own):

“As anybody else who was born in and around 1985 will know, a lot of the stories we got fed, even in a time where women were out in the battlefield more, was that at the end of the day, being angry and fighting actually wasn’t great. And so what the real takeaway at the end of the day was, the love of your friends and hugs is the greatest thing that a woman can have. So being able to repudiate that and give a middle finger to the “a woman’s place is actually the peacemaker and the heart of the group” has undeniably set the tone of the books.”

https://www.vox.com/culture/22266652/tamsyn-muir-interview-locked-tomb-gideon-the-ninth-harrow-the-ninth-vox-book-club

There still isn’t enough of this in fiction, even in this, the year of our lord (necrolord? John?), 2021. We’re still fighting old ways of thinking, and despite all of the confusion of this story’s structure, these characters (Harrow, Gideon, Ianthe) are powerful.

So . . . Should it get the Hugo?

It is certainly worthy of one, but it won’t be my choice. While I can appreciate everything that his book was able to accomplish, I just can’t shake the fact that while reading it, I had almost no desire to complete it. Harrow the Ninth is in many ways a masterpiece, but it wasn’t the one I was led to believe I’d be reading, and the entire time I read it, I was just waiting for it to be different. By the time it started to become the book I wanted (aka when we finally get Gideon back), it felt like my order got lost at a restaurant. The food was cold, and I was already too upset at the wait to enjoy it anyway . . .

Oof, I hate writing negative reviews. If you think I’m wrong about this one (or even if you think I’m right), let me know in the comments section. Also, some things I learned about while writing this review which I couldn’t figure out how to squeeze into the review, but that Muir squeezed into the book:

Coffee Shop / Barista AU
The Denial of Peter
Draco in leather pants
Evil Vizier

Anywho, see you next time. Thanks for reading!

Review of ‘Remote Control’ by Nnedi Okorafor

This was supposed to be my beach read last week. Something short which wouldn’t take too much investment as I knew I’d be spending a lot of time with family, and it would be hard to squeeze in time for reading.

Wow did that plan fail.

I finished up another library book just before my trip, and was still waiting for my next hold to come in so I figured I could read a little of this, and then finish it while at the beach.

Two days later, I was posting four stars to goodreads and wondering what the heck I was going to read now. I finished this that quickly. I suppose I should have known . . .

Ever since I read Binti, back in 2017, Okorafor has been like pizza for me. I tell myself just one more slice (chapter), ok maybe two more but then that’s it! Only to realize later that I’ve crushed the whole thing in a sitting (send help about the pizza . . . the problem is getting out of control!).

I’m still getting caught up on everything she’s written (Broken Spaces & Outer Spaces, and Who Fears Death currently next in line), but I’ve managed to get a couple of her stories read, and have loved every one of them.

Anyway, this story was not different. Right from page one, I was already smiling as the book opens with a quote from Omar Little . . .

Yes, Omar Little from The Wire.

And it set the scene perfectly. As members of the town flee the presence of Sankofa, the “adopted Granddaughter of Death”, I could just hear them saying her name as they ran, much to the cadence of “Omar is coming!”

Another of Okorafor’s strong suits is worldbuilding.

It’s no surprise then that the world of Remote Control simply shines. Those who have read Okorafor before, will see a lot of new elements, but also recognize things from her previous stories.

For instance spiders seem to be a common occurrence, and in past books have always felt like some kind of unknowable architect, moving through the world with their own agenda, weaving a web of fate in which humankind is merely an unsuspecting fly.

After a quick google, I thought that perhaps this constant occurrence was meant to be Anansi, a popular figure in Akan folklore. A second google revealed:

Okorafor has spoken on Udide — and generally seems to have cornered the SEO on the term — during her TED Talk about Afrofuturism and how it is different and unique from Western, mostly white and male, Science Fiction.

In her novel, Lagoon, Udide the spider artist, is a vast spider who lives underneath the city of Lagos and is responsible for weaving the past, present, and future into the lives of the city. For Okorafor, Udide seems to be a metaphor for Science Fiction itself, and the socio-political power of stories. Science Fiction is a will-to-power. The question: What if?

Assuming her tweet holds true for the Remote Control as well, then it would seem Udide (or some aspect of Udide) is the large black spider Sankofa encounters in the very first chapter as she enters town:

“Good evening,” Sankofa said in Mampruli as she stepped up to the gate’s door. The spider paused, seeming to acknowledge and greet her back. Then it continued on its way up, into the forest of broken glass on top of the gate. Sankofa smiled. Spiders always had better things to do. She wondered what story it would weave about her and how far the story would carry.

Okorafor, Nnedi, Remote Control, pg. 10

We aren’t told its purpose, nor are we sure what business it has in the town, but it seems to give the weight of this moment some emphasis. Fate is at work here, or was, and is now scurrying onward toward whatever’s next.

In that same scene, we also see a grasshopper (prominent in Akata Witch and Akata Warrior), though I haven’t taken the time yet to familiarize myself with any symbolism related to it and what its appearance could mean.

A later scene shows us a wall filled with masks, which seems meant to invoke the Night Masquerade of Binti, or something similar in the Akata Witch/Warrior books.

In this way, all of Okorafor’s stories seem to take place in a kind of mythic African universe, but I don’t believe that they are the ‘same universe’ as we would say about the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere . . .

To me, this is incredibly refreshing, as I don’t feel the need to read every one of Okorafor’s novels, afraid I may miss something, but it does add a bit of added enjoyment to the stories I have read.

But considering I compared my compulsion to read her stories as equal to that of stuffing my face full of pizza . . . I will probably end up reading them all anyway.

Conclusion?

Go read this one. Probably read it twice. I’ve only begun to unpack everything that is packed into this relatively short novella, and I’m sure that upon second and third reads I will think about and discover even more. That seems to be the nature of things when reading Nnedi . . .

Anyway, that’s all for now. If you’ve got thoughts and opinions, please leave em in the comment section. I hope to hear from you there! See you next time!

Gideon The Ninth: Fun AND Provoking

I’ll admit, it’s been a little while since I read Gideon the Ninth (November 2020), but since Harrow the Ninth is a Hugo finalist, I thought it might be good to review the first book here, before my eventual review of the sequel. Please forgive any cobwebs that might blow by as I get going . . .

Initial reactions?

I think my initial reactions to this book were a little bit surface level, but definitely positive. Gideon The Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is a FUN book. This story is equal parts exciting, mysterious, thought provoking . . . and in a lot of instances, just weird. Obviously I loved it!

The main character, Gideon, is probably the main draw for most, and deservedly so. She is — by turns — funny, crass (I think one of the first lines, if not THE first line has to do with her looking at inappropriate magazines), self-serving, heroic, and very likable.

As the story progresses, we get to know her more intimately, and we see that the adjectives I just used are but one facet of Gideon, and that she has many more facets which encourage or contradict our impression of her seemingly at random (although nothing is ever truly random in a novel I suppose). To say it succinctly, Gideon is a mess, and she would probably be the first one to describe herself as such . . . after which she’d probably do pushups.

Now I don’t say that Gideon is a mess because I want imply that this is somehow bad character building, or bad writing. On the contrary I think it is excellent character building and excellent writing because it is super relatable. I guarantee that nobody reading this blog (so like all three of you) has ever found themselves living in a futuristic necromantic society (without having read this book I doubt I would have thought those two words could be used together) in which walking skeletons are quite common, and people routinely raise the dead from their graves. So far as I know, that doesn’t happen, so the fact that Muir is able to get us to relate to a character for which these things are even somewhat normal, is a feat in and of itself.

Then the author boots us into a kind of gothic puzzle-type mystery of which all of Gideon’s comfort with the paranormal, contrives to do her absolutely zero favors.

And then there’s Harrowhawk . . .

She is probably the next thing that people get most excited about when talking about this book. Harrowhawk is Gideon’s — again by turns — nemesis, friend, employer, enemy, lover, peer (she’s the only other person in all of Ninth House even remotely Gideon’s age) . . . and a list of other things that I’m probably too lazy to write here. If Gideon is a mess, Harrowhawk is a complete disaster (again in a good way).

I won’t say much more about this here, other than to say that my one complaint of the novel is that there is a pivotal change in Gideon’s perspective when it comes to Harrowhawk, and I wondered as I was reading, if someone in Gideon’s circumstances would have actually felt this way given all the trouble Harrowhawk puts her through. I’m unsure, but it definitely made for good drama.

I feel the last part of this book that goes in the ‘fun’ category is the aesthetic. Everything in this book is so unequivocally gothic, that it often rushes right past frightening, stays for a quick lunch in absurd, and then launches right into laughable. Again, I felt this was intentional, and very much ‘in-character’ for Gideon who seems rather fed up with all the doom and gloom that is the Ninth House.

Initial Reactions Implies there were then Secondary Reactions?

Yes, the ‘provoking’ part of the title.

So I did some googling to try to refresh my memory about what happened in the first book, and realized there was actually a bit of controversy regarding Gideon and Harrow’s relationship. It’s a queer romance, which was gathering hype, because representation is important, and their isn’t (to my knowledge) a lot of mainstream Science Fiction which includes this and so people wanted to be happy about it. This should not raise any flags, or be considered a controversy.

But a lot of people are taking issue with the fact that it’s so screwed up. Essentially, Harrowhawk is in a lot of ways abusive, and uses not only her power as head of Ninth House, but also Gideon’s feelings for her to further her own agenda. That abuse of hierarchy, some have condemned as Slavery Romance, and when looked at in such a light, is pretty gross.

But the publisher, Tor Books, argues there is value in depiction of problematic relationships in fiction, so long as they do not Romanticize them. Their argument goes along the lines that books like Dracula, and The Mysteries of Udolpho give readers a safe place to:

. . . encounter monsters, serial killers, and other dangers they might fear, so too they allow readers to look at problematic relationships from a safe distance.

https://www.tor.com/2020/12/01/gideon-harrow-and-the-value-of-problematic-relationships-in-fiction/

They reference Gideon’s Gothic aesthetic and clear influence and then continue on to point out that:

Books that depict problematic relationships can be a crucial tool to help readers who may be navigating their own toxic relationships understand that other people have gone through the same thing and that they don’t have to accept it as normal.

https://www.tor.com/2020/12/01/gideon-harrow-and-the-value-of-problematic-relationships-in-fiction/

Finally they come to:

To queer readers, many aspects of Gideon and Harrow’s relationship feel familiar. Queer people often end up forced to interact with someone they hate, such as if they’re the only two out kids at a small school . . .

https://www.tor.com/2020/12/01/gideon-harrow-and-the-value-of-problematic-relationships-in-fiction/

Now a lot of this, I’m unsure how to talk about. I can see after reading some of this debate that my earlier complaint that someone in Gideon’s circumstances might have chosen differently, was woefully simplistic, and comes from a place of my own privilege and agency in real life.

As for the debate above, all I can say is that I don’t ascribe to a view of literature that must have all the unsavory things removed. Yes people model their behavior after things they learn in stories, but I don’t believe that the only way to model good behavior is to model only good behavior. I believe we are smart enough to distinguish when an author is glorifying something we don’t agree with, and that as long as we’re thinking critically about what we read, we will still walk away without feeling the need to go out and enact whatever atrocity we’ve just seen.

I believe that people can write things that hurt other people, intentionally or unintentionally, and that we should always look at the motivations for why we feel we need to write the stories we write. We need to make sure that we are not writing a story to hurt someone or silence them.

Finally, it seems to me, that despite the moral ambiguity represented in Harrowhawk and Gideon’s relationship, I didn’t feel that the book condoned this behavior in anyway, simply showed it, and allowed readers to do, as we’re doing now, discuss and come to our own conclusions.

So it’s a good book?

In my opinion, yes! Go and read it. Sorry this post was a bit of a ramble, but I think it’s important to think about these things. Gideon the Ninth won both a Locus Award, and a Crawford Award (unfamiliar with a Crawford), and was a Hugo Finalist which is what put it on my radar. It certainly wraps some difficult themes in a goofy-fun mystery/adventure, and for that, I think it is deserving of all the awards and praise it has garnered.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please let me know in the comments.

Should ‘The Space Between Worlds’ get a Hugo?

Another Beautiful Cover

As I mentioned last week, in my Hugo Nomination post, this story nearly dethroned The Once and Future Witches as my nomination for the award. However, I did not have to settle for nominating just one great book, and instead, got to nominate three! So . . . props to that!

Which means! I don’t have to try and come up with and defend a reason why this book got the nomination over the other, or vice versa, which honestly is a huge weight off my shoulders. I do not know which I would have chosen (Or, at the end of all this, which I will choose though I suppose many of my choices will be eliminated by the other voters and I can just pick my favorite of the finalists)

A little background on my expectations for this book: I had none, really whatsoever. This was another book that made it onto my list because I’d seen it on the Goodreads Best Science Fiction 2020 list, and a few other places on the net.

The author, Micaiah Johnson was completely new to me, and probably new to most people, as this book appears to be a debut (excellent!). I’m not sure if I even read the premise or if I just dove in blind but I can say that in either case, I was completely blown away.

I’ll start by admitting that I’m no stranger to multiverse stories, and have always had something of a soft spot for them. I can think of at least six novels I’ve read in the past that relate to it in some way (Michael Zapata’s The Lost Book of Adana Moreau being the most recent, and Michael Crichton’s Timeline being the first. I suppose you don’t need to be named Michael to write one though). And then of course there is all the movies (The One with Jet Li perhaps being an oldie but one of my fav’s), and TV shows (looking at you Rick and Morty).

Oh and duh, Into the Spiderverse.

Needless to say, it would seem that perhaps there are infinite possibilities and ways an author can use this trope, and an infinite amount of stories which already have.

Yes, it would seem that there is something altogether irresistible about the notion of ‘what could have been’. What would my life be like if I had done X instead of Y? Would I still have chosen to do Z? The world may never know, but I have always wanted to.

And that only considers the life you could have lived if you had made different choices. It doesn’t even scratch the surface of the things that affect your life over which you are completely powerless (who doesn’t want to wake up in a universe where covid-19, or most of 2020 didn’t happen?). It’s a loop you can get stuck in forever if you let yourself.

So Why Was This Example So Good?

Well, I suppose the kinds of things that make any story good, whether it involves a multiverse or not.

An intricate and well-developed setting. In this case, a kind of post apocalypse in which the beautiful future we’ve always imagined is only available for the few super rich, while everyone else struggles to survive in the mud and ash.

A compelling main character who is driven and moral (though I don’t think she would consider herself to be moral). One who we want to see succeed though we cannot for the life of us see how she will pull it off.

The list goes on, but I believe it is this (traveling through the) multiverse component that compounds all of the choices our heroine makes. It is so much harder to see a villain be evil when we have traveled to a universe in which they are good. How can our heroine survive when she never has before (a seemingly literal use of the odds are against her)?

Of course everything I’ve described here seems so reduced and easy when described in a post like this, but the author’s skill really shines through if (hopefully when) you read it, because the reader can’t look at the story on this level while it’s happening. All you’re concerned with is what is going to happen next!

So . . . Hugo?

As of 3/23/2021, assuming none of the other books I recommended are finalists? Yes in every universe. I think it will take an extremely good book (or a lot of soul searching on my part) to knock this one from the top spot.

We’ll see what the future holds . . .

See you next time!

My Hugo Nomination – Plot Twist!

Image from Michi Trota on Encyclopedia Britannica

So, today is the big day! Or perhaps more correctly put, the last day in which we can nominate who we think should possibly win a Hugo award. I’ve been doing some posts leading up to the nomination, in which I essentially review books and say whether or not they’re the books I’m going to nominate. I was thinking it would be cool, and somewhat dramatic, to go through the books and close in on the final title.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow, was looking like the front runner, but I hadn’t yet had a chance to review The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson, which has been causing me to doubt my earlier choice. I wasn’t sure how I was going to rectify this situation (partially why it’s taken me so long to post the review although it’s mostly laziness on my part).

The Twist?

Yes! The Twist! I logged in today, still unsure who I was going to pick. Then to my complete and utter surprise, when confronted with the form, I learned that you can submit up to five titles for the award! Oh happy day! I like nothing more than to defer decision making as long as possible.

So, to answer the question of who I nominated for the 2020 Hugo award, my answer is three:

You’ll notice that I could have also added Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson, and Network Effect by Martha Wells, but as I discussed in previous posts, I just don’t think they’re the right choices. So, I only used three of my five options.

I’ll make sure to have the Micaiah Johnson review up next week, and then from there, I’ll continue working through my list until the finalists are announced, and then I’ll rush to try and read them before voting for the winner happens. I’m very anxious to see who the finalists will be. Hopefully somebody I picked!

Anyway, until next time . . .

PS: Have a nominee in mind? Post them in the comments. It might be too late to get them on the ballot, but I’m still always curious to read good books I haven’t yet heard of.

Should ‘The Vanished Birds’ Get a Hugo?

Cool looking cover!

It could. It very much could. If nothing else, it will certainly be a strong contender. Of the books I’ve reviewed so far (Rhythm of War, and Network Effect) this book, to me, felt the most like a Hugo award recipient. I suppose this requires some explanation . . .

Unlike previous books I’ve considered, I came at this book almost completely blind. As mentioned in the Hugos are coming! post, I sort of cheated when trying to find a starting point for what books I would review. Sadly, at the time I made the list, I’d only read two books published in 2020, and both had been part of a longer series, so that’s how I’d known about them. As such, you might say that I only came across two titles published in 2020 ‘organically’ meaning, completely on my own, without any help from advertisements.

I relied on various lists around the internet to help me compose my eventual list. I believe The Vanished Birds was part of the Goodreads choice awards for Science Fiction, and I’d seen it in a couple other places on the net (Top 10 Tuesday SF Debuts at Onemore.org; as a runner up at Polygon’s The best sci-fi and fantasy books of 2020 to catch up with; and finally on Tor.com’s Reviewers’ Choice: The Best Books of 2020)

I’ll say immediately, that one of the things that drew me to the book before any of the many others I’ve but on the list, is that this book was a debut. I have my old standby authors who I read obsessively like anyone else, but I’ll admit that I occasionally let one eye wander to see what is new within the genre. For the Hugo award, this seems extra important as I feel a book winning a yearly award, should be ‘of the moment’ for the year it wins. Also, I don’t have to read any other works to get context for this one, whether it be other books in a series, or some of the author’s other books which are unrelated.

So, seeing that it was a new author that I didn’t recognize, I bumped it up on the priority list (I’m sure this was made easier because I did not have a long wait in the library queue).

So what did you think?

I really enjoyed this book. For me, enjoying this book seemed to stem from two things: 1) the character relationships, and 2) I felt like there was a kind of aesthetic pleasure in the descriptions and prose.

The future presented in The Vanished Birds is both beautiful and awful. Connected, but lonely. Given the book’s focus on traveling through something akin to wormholes (although I think they’re termed something else), there is also an emphasis on the passage of time, a kind of immortality, and being isolated from the rest of humanity through overly long lifespans.

Tack on a ruthless corporation bent on expanding ever outward into the galaxy, and there’s a lot of motives acting upon the characters at once. In many instances, all they can do is deal with the pressure on their own or try to bond with the few people that are in their unique situation. A kind of found family. I’m always a sucker for found family for some reason.

The only part I did not like about the book, was sadly the end. I had a feeling that during the last quarter of the book, the main story had already finished, and that everything the reader was supposed to take away from the book had already been given.

Hugo?

The Vanished Birds was the closest we’ve come to a yes for me. I think this book really set the tone and is the one to beat for any books I review going forward. It was extremely helpful in getting me to define what my criteria for the nominations will be, and I’m hopeful I can type those up so y’all can see them in another post.

I don’t think this one will get the nomination from me though, even it is certainly good enough to be nominated. I have no doubt it will have many, many other people pushing for it, and rightfully so.

I’m going to hold my vote for now though.

See you next time!

Trying to Get Caught Up on Scalzi (Review of Miniatures & Redshirts)

Miniatures
Miniatures was a very quick and fun read. The stories are short and very easy to speed through (I think I read the whole thing in two sittings). For fans who have read a lot of Scalzi in the past, this collection displays all of the trademark imagination and humor that we associate with a Scalzi novel. For people who have never read one of his novels, I feel that you’ll get a pretty good feeling for his style and what kind of stories he writes. Nothing in this collection was earth shattering but all of the stories were enjoyable and most made me laugh. If you’re feeling that you’ve been in a bit of a rut when it comes to what you’ve been reading, this collection will be a breath of fresh air.

Also, many of the stories were written a pretty long while ago. Around eight years ago and further back. It’s amazing to me how prescient they were reading them in 2017. Not in terms of technology that we have today (many of the stories don’t have really visible future tech), but in terms of subject matter. For instance one story was written in 2008 posits an alternate history in which Vladimir Putin is the first person on moon. Not sure what Putin was doing back in 2008 but he’s certainly relevant today. Another story (written in 2010) forms a scenario in which yogurt takes over the world. I think the mixed feelings of “How could this have happened?” and “Is this a joke?” perfectly reflect the way many Democrats feel after this most recent election. To think that it was written 7 years ago . . .

red shirtsMoving onward, I have been doing a bit of “catching up” in terms of Scalzi’s catalog. I just finished Redshirts but elected not to give it its own post as it’s a Hugo award winner and probably has had enough written about it. Needless to say, I enjoyed Redshirts a lot, but am surprised by just how critically acclaimed it was. A quick look at the other authors nominated that year show: Kim Stanely Robinson, Saladin Ahmed, Mira Grant, and Lois McMaster Bujold. Seems a strong roster. I’ve not read any of these other authors but am familiar with their work (except Bujold). I also feel that if Redshirts had been nominated for the most recent Hugo award, it would not have stood a chance. Definitely interesting to see how awards change and how “what’s popular” changes over time.

Looking forward, I may try to read Lock In quickly before Collapsing Empire comes out. I’ve been told it is very different from Scalzi’s other works which seem to all be Star Trek parodies in one way or another (with Redshirts being literally a Star Trek parody). I’m very interested to see what Scalzi would write about when he isn’t writing about shooting things in space. Until next time . . .

The Stars Are Legion: Half Space Opera, Half Surgery

the-stars-are-legion-final-coverSeriously though. This one’s a bit . . . gooey.

Remember Osmosis Jones? This book’s setting is like that, except turned up to eleven and not for kids. Basically, most of our story takes place inside a big a planet that is living and breathing just like we are. Instead of being made of rock, water, and precious metals, this planet is made of skin, veins, teeth, flesh and tentacles. Yea, tentacles.

There are many of these planets (hence ‘Legion’) and the protagonists must travel to a few (really where the space opera part comes in) and explore the depths of another. If you’re bothered by words like ‘placenta’ and ‘afterbirth’ showing up too many times on a page, then you may want to pass this one by.

Indeed the setting is probably the biggest hurdle to enjoying this story. However, after a while, you kind of get desensitized to it. After a longer while you realize just how critical these pieces are to the larger story (and messaging) Hurley is trying to create.

I suspect many will find The Stars Are Legion Hugo worthy and indeed it should probably get nominated (already found one review talking awards). I’ve been trying to relearn and improve my knowledge of the more technical parts of writing fiction. Hurley shows herself to be a master of these technical aspects. A great opening sentence (Simply: “I remember throwing away a child” Like who doesn’t want to read more after that?), sparse but meaningful use of onomatopoeia, and good use of POV to slowly reveal pertinent information for the reader (you can tell what I’ve been studying this week haha).

It’s setting, and use of POV, seem reminiscent of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, which I loved, and the cast of only female characters (there is obviously a statement about gender happening here) certainly puts the book in conversation with Leckie’s book. However, I’m unsure if it is as effective.

In all, I enjoyed reading this book very much. Ken Liu’s cover endorsement of “mind-bending” is absolutely true and I feel the book is worth picking up just to explore the setting alone. It certainly shocks and there is a good deal of awe. The fact that we get an intricate story is even better. If there is a sequel, I hope it’s revealed what some of these ‘terrible things’ are that the protagonists keep thinking back on although it is implied that they might only look towards the future.  We will see.

That’s all for now folks. Happy surgery!

Monday Started on Saturday but not close enough to the end.

mondaystartsonsaturdayOk. Maybe that is a bit harsh.

I’ve just finished reading Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Monday Starts on SaturdayHonestly, this book was super clever, but other than its cleverness, I’m not sure what I really gained from reading it. Certainly towards the end of the book, when the “big reveal” happens (if you could call it that) it is sufficiently mind blowing and I was curious as to why no one (except maybe Dr. Who) had ever thought of something like this. But once I realized that was what this book was about, I realized that most of the rest of it was simply put there to distract you from what probably could have been accomplished in 20 pgs not 200.

Now I also realize that much of it was also (likely) a commentary on Soviet Russia, but as with many other Russian books I’ve tried to read, I don’t know enough of the history to really keep a hold on things. That’s my fault though. I suppose I should get learned.

I guess I was just expecting something different.  I’ve really only just found out about Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, and it seems that they are popping up everywhere. First in this recommendation from SF Gateway, then in a list of Most Underrated Sci-Fi Authors over at OMNI. Even one of my co-workers recommended them (sorry no link 😉 )

However, after reading the whole thing, I felt somewhat like I’d been duped. Honestly, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I feel like I didn’t get it.

I’ll probably give Arkady and Boris another try. Much hype, very renowned. Plus Monday Starts on Saturday seems to have ended on a bit of a cliff hanger. I may pick up the sequel (Tale of the Troika), but I’d also like to try something of their’s that is unrelated to this. Maybe I’ll get more of what I was looking for (whatever that was).

*Note: Apparently there is a pretty rich and exciting world of Russian Sci-Fi out there so I’ll be looking into that. Found this list on Goodreads and apparently Macmillan did a series of Best Soviet Science Fiction. What I think may be really interesting is the stuff that is post Soviets though. I found a good place to start on Wikipedia.  We’ll see what I accomplish.

Review – Children of the Gods: The Talon Project by Darryl Olsen

childrenEver seen the show Ancient Aliens? This book is kind of like that. If you love that show and would enjoy reading a Science Fiction-esque thriller of similar quality, then I’ll give you the buy button straight away. It’s here. You needn’t read the rest of this review.

Still with me?

Good. I’d like to continue with the comparison I’ve just made for a bit longer and point out that I’ve never seen an episode of Ancient Aliens in its entirety. I’ve never been able to make it through.

A quick browse of the Amazon page will show you many reviews with 4 and 5 stars. Critics there will say they cannot wait for the sequel. That the adventure has just begun and they are waiting with baited breath to see what unfolds. In this respect, these critics are absolutely correct. At 68 pages, the author does not accomplish much more than set up the promise for what must be a longer story. After finishing the work, I too looked online for the sequel. Not because I was experiencing the ride of my life and wanted to continue, but because I had felt that the events of the story had promised me something and then failed to deliver. My mind tried to rationalize the feeling with: “Oh there must be a sequel. Everything will be better in the sequel.”

One of the initial reasons I had looked forward to reading the story was because of the shorter page length. I’ve often said that stories in SF & (especially) Fantasy often span for too long. Single volumes commonly span for 1,000 pages. With the amount of time I have for reading, this type of volume could take me months to complete. Children of the Gods: The Talon Project wasn’t long enough, but I don’t feel that it needs more pages (I see now that this is a very complicated opinion).  My best explanation of this opinion is that I believe much more could have been done in the amount of writing. Tighten up.

CotG sets reporter Michael Cohen on the trail of a big scoop. He begins pursuing the lead and what he uncovers is a conspiracy to hide certain knowledge from the American public & the world at large. I use ‘uncovers’ generously because he really doesn’t ‘uncover’ anything. He is told where to go and what to believe. The reader follows Cohen, digests the same ‘evidence’ and is expected to buy in to a premise which the main character himself doesn’t really believe. Now, we’re in a fictional story, pretty much anything can be true, so long as it is true within the context of the story. If you’d like to posit that every culture on the planet is descendant from an alien race, show us that it is. Arguably, there is some dialogue which says: “Hey! You know this passage from the bible? It’s in there because . . . Aliens!”

COTGbanner

Our protagonist feels the evidence is dubious because he is Jewish, and while not really religious, must overcome a life time of belief to accept this news. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for the sake of the story, but the passage is only half given and I didn’t recognize what was. I’m no biblical scholar but I’m guessing there aren’t many in the demographic who will read this story. Give us the whole passage.

Some of the other reviewers, bring up a comparison to Robert Langdon, and The Da Vinci Code. I think this demonstrates what I’m trying to say perfectly. If I remember correctly, Dan Brown’s ‘thesis’ in The Da Vinci Code was that the Holy Grail Myth was actually a complex set of symbols designed to conceal the fact that Jesus Christ had a child, and to conceal who that child (bloodline) actually was. This was very dangerous information because its revelation would upset the validity of the Catholic church. The power dynamic of our entire society would have been thrown in to chaos.

Awesome. Love it.

I see CotG as having a similar premise. A code, which once revealed, will open up an entire galaxy. The danger here being that once it is open for us to leave, it might be open for others to enter. We don’t know what to expect. Again, awesome. Love this premise too. Problem is, Dan Brown’s story was so tightly crafted, with so much attention to detail, that actual churches were banning it. While, I can’t expect this level of craft every thriller I read, this is the end we should be shooting for. Also, you’ll  note that The Da Vinci Code is a much longer story. However, I think TotG could have benefited from a similar attention to detail even at the shorter page length.

So, I hope I’ve been able to give an honest and serious discussion about Children of the Gods: The Talon Project. If anybody has read this story, and the review and has thoughts they would like to share, please comment below. I’d love to here them. Bye for now!