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 . . .

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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 Saturday. Honestly, 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!

Book Review: Creatures of Light and Darkness by Roger Zelazny

Awesome Cover!

Awesome Cover!

You know that feeling that you get, when you’re doing something you’re not supposed to do. We all know it. You’re not supposed to eat dessert before your dinner. You’re not supposed to be on Facebook at work. You’re not supposed to read Roger Zelazny’s Creatures of Light and Darkness.

Well I suppose that last part isn’t exactly true. There isn’t any real reason why I (or you) shouldn’t have read Creatures of Light and Darkness. It mainly comes down to the fact that I’ve got some deadlines to meet and there is already too few hours in a day to read any random title I come across on the interwebs (I have a feeling I’ve just angered a good many by categorizing Roger Zelazny’s work as ‘random title’). My ‘To Read’ list is long and if there isn’t order, I’ll never get anything red.

Cue Twitter chats. Cue chaos!

I recently became obsessed with twitter chats. I basically just type any old thing I’m thinking about, add a # sign at the beginning and the word ‘chat’ at the end and see what I can find. Of course I searched #SciFichat. It looks like a variety of people use the hash-tag for different things but I was able to find a weekly chat on Fridays from 2-4pm. Of course I wanted in immediately but had to wait until Friday. It turned out, the topic was Roger Zelazny.

Up until this point, I had never heard of nor read Zelazny, and was thinking I might be sidelined before ever starting my first #SciFichat. Desperate, I turned to wikipedia and was able to learn that Zelazny is a) American (not that it matters), b) writes Science Fiction & Fantasy (could have guessed) and c) has won 6 Hugo awards & 3 Nebulas. He’s officially a big deal.

I scrolled down to find out if I’d heard of any of his work and simply not connected the name. Unfortunately, I had not previously encountered anything by Zelazny but was starting to get excited because it appeared that most of his stories where based in mythology. Indeed he wrote stories using Greek, Hindu, Christian, Navajo, EGYPTIAN, and even Cthulu Mythos.

I stopped reading (and chatting for that matter) after it sunk in that he’d used ancient Egyptian culture and mythos as the basis for one of his novels. Creatures of Light and Darkness was already on it’s way. I did receive this warning from a fellow chatter once I’d announced my excitement  to the group:

He hadn’t given me the half of it.

Pros:

As for things I liked about the novel, obviously I enjoyed the Ancient Egyptian motif. After all, it was basically the whole reason I decided to read the novel. Interestingly, the book was not set in Ancient Egypt (as I originally assumed), but instead, in some future where both men and machines had grown technologically sophisticated enough that some (283 to be precise) entities have become immortal, and whether through technology or supernatural powers, are like unto gods. Hence we have characters named Osiris, Anubis, Horus etc. which for all intents and purposes, are the gods their names evoke.

Another thing I really enjoyed about the book was Zelazny’s writing style. For lack of a better description, the writing felt ‘Old’. Many phrases and turns felt as if they might have come from the Bible or some similar text. This was absolutely perfect as Zelazny is essentially writing about gods. Contrast this with some dialogue that is relatively modern and some description of modern, or futuristic technologies and the effect is a book that readers will shotgun in one week because they can’t seem to put it down.

Cons:

There were some things I didn’t enjoy about the novel. Namely, the plot is quite difficult to follow in some places. Mostly, I think this occurs for two reasons:

a) Much of the action involves something called Temporal Fugue, which is essentially time travel but with the added complexity of probability and martial arts. Not very easy to follow.

b) Still more of the plot involves complex familial relationships (paradoxes really) between the different characters. I originally believed that a better knowledge of Egyptian mythology would have helped but it seems that Egyptian mythology is so convoluted anyway that I’m sure Zelazny could have created the relationships from scratch (however, I don’t think he did. Just used the mythology very liberally).

Who doesn't need more horus in their life?

Who doesn’t need more horus in their life?

Finally, Zelazny creates some instances within the novel that are utterly ridiculous. They don’t seem to match the tone or candor of main plot and are therefore a little distracting. Thankfully, they are quite hilarious and enjoyable on their own. Unfortunately, the reader is left wondering why they are written that way to begin with.

Final thoughts:

In all, I really enjoyed this book. I will certainly have to dive in to more of Zelazny’s work when I get the chance. Looks like my ‘to read’ shelf just got a good deal longer.

Oh, and if anyone who was reading this has already read the book, please comment with thoughts on the last chapter. To me it seems very much like a parallel to the story of the three wise men (from the bible). Curious that the god Horus is conceivably Joseph in that situation. Not sure what to make of it. Please comment below. Bye all!

 

Review: Irredeemable by Jason Sizemore

Hmm. What to say, what to say. Sometimes, I try to come up with some clever play on the title of a work to get my reviews started. Something witty and charming which will set the tone for the review and give it a finished feeling towards the end. Jason’s Sizemore’s Irredeemable allows for no such turn of phrase or flip in rhetoric. Indeed, if the definition of the term means “unable to be saved, improved or corrected” (I Google therefore I know) then the only way the work can match its name is to say that there is no need for it to be saved, improved or corrected. Perhaps the title fits perfectly.

Cover

Cover

If the work itself stands without need of redemption, the characters that populate its pages are another story entirely. 18 other stories to be precise, and each of them are, in their own unique way, exactly as the title suggests. I think I’ll tell you about my three favorite pieces within the collection and then perhaps have some kind of conclusion worked up at the end. We shall see.

#3 City Hall –

For some reason, this story kept coming back to me. I found myself comparing each new story I read with this one. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just give you the premise. Essentially, a man named Alton gets into an elevator with some of his associates at work. It’s a tight squeeze and two passengers, who he does not recognize, recommend that he step off. He doesn’t. Things start to go bad . . .

I found the relationship between the two unknown passengers and the main character Alton to be very thought provoking. The man (James) and the woman (Rebecca) are both seemingly attractive and well groomed. The other passengers are decidedly not. Clearly, Rebecca & James do not belong on this elevator or perhaps even in the same building as Alton’s co-workers but there they are. Alton has some qualities that would put him right at home with his co-workers on the elevator but also some that might excuse him their fate. In the end we’re not sure whether he was meant to be there or not, although it is implied that perhaps it doesn’t matter.

Finally, whenever I meet characters like James and Rebecca I can’t help but think of the Rolling Stones’ song Sympathy for the Devil. These two characters certainly seem to match a similar theme (Devil as refined Gentleman or Lady?) and I always enjoy this when I see it. Plus, James is wearing pinstripe and I love pinstripe!

#2 Plug and Play 

As with the last story, Plug and Play is all about the end so I’ll try to tell you what I enjoyed about it without giving away that end. First and foremost, I think I enjoyed the ‘world’ in which the story takes place. We begin on an satellite or some other object orbiting the Earth. The main character works writing software and apparently needs some motivation. His supervisor is an android and seems to have a textbook solution to everything. An employee does X and the android’s programming spits out Y to resolve the conflict in the way that is most efficient, and best for the company. However, our main code monkey gets drunk, and then gets involved in some activities (drug trafficking mostly) which are quite outside the scope of our android’s programming  😉

There he is the man himself: Jason Sizemore

There he is the man himself: Jason Sizemore

I think there is really a lot to think about here in terms of business and the human condition. For me it was interesting to see the Android in a managerial position. Typically this is considered the ‘cognitive’ stuff that only people are supposed to be able to do. Also, the idea of robots is that they are supposed to do all of the mundane, laborious work (in this case coding). However, Plug and Play posits a world in which it is instead the human who accomplishes these tasks and the android who oversees him. Very interesting.

The motives within the story, while perhaps a bit dark thematically, are quite hilariously written and the world in which they exist is as thought provoking as it is humorous. A+’s all around.

#1 Mr. Templar –

This story was the one I enjoyed the most and I feel a bit awful because I don’t have very much that is ‘literary’ to say about it. I simply love Robots! Our main bucket-0-bolts is called Mr. Templar. He’s just trying to make his way on a desecrated earth. You know, find some android-grade petroleum to keep the gears spinning and the circuits firing for just another day, week, year etc. He meets up with another android who’s in worse shape than himself and decides (after a little bargaining on the other droid’s part) to rescue him and go on an adventure to find the creators (humans). I won’t give away the ending but it’s a bit emotional. That is all.

Conclusion –

In all, I highly recommend Jason Sizemore’s Irredeemable. The three stories mentioned above are the stories I enjoyed most, but there are 15 other stories that are equally as good and totally different. Just go and get it already. I think if I try to continue any longer these sentences will get less and less coherent. What you need to know is that it’s a great collection and you should absolutely read it.

If anyone out there has already read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. Or even if you haven’t read it, still comment your thoughts anyway. Goodbye for now . . .

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Short Fiction: Protected Species by Horace Brown Fyfe

Well, October has been a bit of a busy month for me. I had this grand plan to write posts each week about zombies . . . so obviously what I should do is write one Zombie post (see last week) and then write about  something completely different.

Ok?

Ok. This week’s short fiction post is about Horace Brown Fyfe’s Protected Species. I’m really excited about this piece because I feel like my exposure to it was the easiest, most natural, maybe even organic, way to find a short story ever. It was really quite simple, yet at the same time quite refreshing. I’ve been doing lots of reading lately and it all seems to be very targeted. Read X work to get a baseline for Y genre. Wikipedia the bio for author A and try to extrapolate the inspiration for novel B. Blah Blah Blah. And that isn’t to say I’m not enjoying it, it’s just that I build up these things to much in my mind. Fyfe’s piece was different. I picked it on accident. The story goes something like this:

Act I

JD (me) attends Capclave 2013 (WHOO!!). JD meets lots of authors and listens to many different pieces. He shakes his head appreciatively. He wanders around the Hilton in search of food and soda. After food and soda have been procured, he ventures into the dealer’s room determined NOT to buy anything! After talking with the first man he encounters he decides to buy two Science Fiction anthologies because a) he is interested in Science Fiction and b) he wants the man to stop talking to him. He leaves the dealer’s room and runs into an author he’d like to promote on A&A. The anthologies are forgotten.

Act II

JD (me again) leaves work Friday but leaves his Kindle at his desk as not to lose it during whatever adventure he may procure during the weekend. JD then adventures all weekend! He does not return to work until Monday morning. He’s borrowed his parent’s vehicle for transportation and thus has not noticed the Kindle’s absence. Alas, he’s foiled by his own cleverness. The Kindle is too well hidden and he again forgets to bring it home with him . . . 

Tuesday morning arrives and JD is escorted to his residence just outside the college. He has exactly enough time to unlock his door, gather the supplies needed for a day of hard toil, and catch his transport to the college. He has no more or less than time than needed; he has just enough. In fact, a Swiss watch maker might learn a great deal about precision from the events here transpired but alas, I digress. With his supplies gathered he reaches to his desk for his Kindle. Where is it?! No! It is his desk at work, not at home, that contains the device. Jd grabs whatever resembles a book on his desk at home and throws it into his pack, already in pursuit of the transport that will take him to the college.

Act III

Once safely aboard the vessel, JD reaches into his pack to find the item he procured off his desk is in fact one of the anthologies he has recently purchased at Capclave 2013 (Whoo!!). He opens the volume to the table of contents, selects H. B. Fyfe’s Protected Species (at random, he has not heard of any of the authors contained within this work) and reads happily ever after.

The End

Wow. Maybe I should become an author myself. That was simply riveting. Anyway, back to Protected Species. I really can’t say much about it except for the fact that I enjoyed it immensely. To say much more will likely give away the twist, which I don’t want to do. What I can tell you is that it takes place on a planet that isn’t Earth (if you’re wondering, yes you can deduce that the story takes place in the future and that we are exploring other planets). The main character is Jeff Otis and he has come to the planet to check the progress of its colonization. Everything is on schedule but he is perturbed by the worker’s attempts to hunt and kill a primitive ape-like species. He encounters one for himself. There is a startling revelation.

Please go read this one for yourself. It’s really short.

Bye all. Hope this was a fun post!