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 . . .

Jurassic Chronicles a bit of a bust.

jurassic-chronicles-ebookI was very excited to read this book. I was familiar with Victor Milan’s Dinosaur Lords and honestly just love dinos. Unfortunately, this book did not really deliver as advertised (or at least not how I imagined it should have / what I thought I would be reading).

There are dinosaurs in the book but that is kind of the only engagement with the theme of the anthology. I think the story that most exemplified what I felt the anthology should have been composed of was Harry Manners’ “Szcar’s Trial”. It’s POV of an actual dinosaur that comes into contact with some alien technology. While the tech is important to the plot, it is really Szcar’s battle for acceptance within the pack that composes “the story”. Very well done.

The other stories seem to just be little asides from the different authors’ other projects that they just threw dinos in to bring awareness of their other works. Didn’t feel like there were many stories written specifically for the theme of the anthology even though it is obvious that all the stories were basically commissioned

Even Milan’s story “A Spear for Allosaur” can kinda be thought of in this way, but I enjoyed it much more as I was already familiar with the Dino Lords “universe”. For anyone who is familiar with that series, we get to see a young Karyl and the story really shows how much the character has changed and developed into the Karyl we know now.

In all, I’ll be looking out for stuff from Harry Manners and will continue being a fan of Victor Milan, but otherwise, was not super impressed by this anthology. This is my first ‘Future Chronicles’ anthology so hopefully the others will prove better 🙂

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.

Stay Crazy: A New POV on Mental Illness

Well, I’d like to start this review by saying, I ACTUALLY FINISHED THIS BOOK!!

Honestly, this is a bit of an accomplishment for me considering the last book I actually finished was Easy Go back in the beginning of July (and before that? a guide to freelancing back in May!!). I guess that doesn’t seem like a long time but I think I’ve started about a book a week since then and haven’t made it through a single one of em. I suppose that’s another post altogether.

StayCrazyCoverAnyway . . . Stay Crazy. Erica Satifka’s debut novel is really something different. Narrated from the point of view of a Schizophrenic protagonist, there is a lot that we could expect from just the premise alone. We’re used to reading Gothic tales of large houses and doppelgangers which we use as metaphors to explore the psyche and glean inferences of what it might be like to have such an affliction. Those stories never leave us feeling anything good towards whatever condition they’re attempting to expound upon. Stay Crazy is much more practical . . . and much more modern.

We don’t have castles or crypts but instead a big-box discount store. We don’t have nameless horrors (although we kind of do), but we do have a detective calling the shots from another dimension (basically aliens). And we also have a snarky college dropout who knows that a frozen dinner couldn’t really be talking to her, but that doesn’t matter as she can still hear what it’s saying and it sounds pretty important.

What I liked about the book is that the take feels so genuine. Satifka isn’t trying to reach some fundamental of mental illness that we have to tease out or extrapolate. She’s writing about one condition that she has clearly done her homework on, and has built a character and story around. And once things start moving, it becomes a nail-biter pretty quickly.

My only problem with the story is that we don’t have any other points of view. We are in a constant state of: “Is this really happening?” or “Ok but what’s really going on?”. I suppose the answer to that question isn’t super important and actually, it was probably a shrewd move on the author’s part not to give us closure as I expect people living with a mental illness of this type never get a definitive answer either.

My last criticism of the story relates to what I said above. There are a few scenes that I could’t really place in the overall narrative other than just general craziness which would perhaps be a symptom (side effect?) of the character’s struggle with mental illness. I suppose these sequences helped get across the point of “this is what it’s like” but I never did figure out if they served some other purpose as well.

In all, this is definitely a book I would talk to my friends about (and have already done so) if for nothing more than it seems unique. I’ve not yet read a book that attempts to make someone with Schizophrenia the focus point of a novel. And if I have, I’ve not yet read one that does so in a way that doesn’t paint them as some kind of freak or villain, but as someone who struggling towards a better life, and happens to have some extra obstacles thrown in their way.

Until next time . . . Stay Crazy 😉

 

Easy Go: A Different Crichton

Easy Go - CoverMichael Crichton’s Easy Go was both a pleasure and a let down to read. The book was originally published under a pseudonym John Lange, and with the title The Last Tomb. I first became aware of “Easy Go” (and John Lange) through a Humble Bundle mystery bundle in which it was included. Though none of the other books in the bundle seemed remotely interesting, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that Michael Crichton had a pseudonym . . .

And that I didn’t already know about him!

I mean this was MICHAEL CHRICHTON!!! The author of some of my absolute favorite books! Sphere, Timeline, State of Fear, Next! For god’s sake, he wrote Jurassic Park!! 

JURASSIC F–ing PARK!!

Hell, I even enjoyed Pirate Latitudes although it was a bit of a left turn for Crichton. But this whole time, John Lange has been lurking out there, waiting. And no one bothered to tell me. Le sigh.

Anyway, I looked up the synopsis and Easy Go promised adventure and danger, and romance. Honestly, it all seemed a bit more like one of those old pulpy adventure novels than a true Michael Crichton book. However, Crichton is an amazing author and I figured if anyone could do this right it was him. Plus the story takes place in Egypt and is about digging up a tomb. It’s exactly this setting and premise that I’ve been itching for modern authors to write but alas am unfulfilled.

Zero Cool

No Chill Brah

So how was it? A bit of a let down. While the synopsis had made it seem like one of those old pulpy adventure novels, the actual novel confirmed it. Most of the characters in the novel are hardly characters at all. They fill roles, and exist mostly to get the protagonist to the next portion of the plot. And there is no attempt to hide this from the reader at all. One of the characters, upon meeting another character, is like “Oh. You must be the [enter heist role hear] “.

Also, there were some little things throughout the novel that made it really feel dated. I think the most glaring was the way women were depicted in the novel. Almost every woman in the novel except the main love interest was a prostitute. The pretty much constant innuendo between the male and female lead was bordering on exhausting (although there is a line from the female lead which calls this out. After the male lead makes some mildly suggestive quip she says something like “Wow. You’re so corny.” or some such nonsense).

I really threw in the towel when Lisa (the female lead) lights a cigarette for Pierce (male lead) and it’s noticed how capable she is at this task: “like a man”. Good lord. Kill me now.

However, it wasn’t all bad. Crichton seems to have done his research about ancient Egypt (though his depiction of modern Egypt seemed a bit stereotypical). So far as I can tell, all the pyramids were in the right place (I’ll be honest though I didn’t fact check) and a significant number of pharaohs are mentioned. It was this part of it that made the book feel the most like a Crichton novel. The rest of it was . . . disappointing.

In all I enjoyed the adventure as well as the fact that it had something to do with Ancient Egypt. As for the rest, I can see why he chose to write under a pseudonym though it’s a wonder he chose to write that way at all.

Until next time . . .

The Truth About Dinosaur Lords

Great cover

Great cover

I’ve been looking around and haven’t seen a lot of negative press about Dinosaur Lords. Which honestly, I wouldn’t have expected based on the premise alone. I also haven’t really seen a lot of press at all about The Dinosaur Lords which is very surprising considering how excited it seemed like the zeitgeist was to read it. However, after reading a bit into the book, I’ve decided that something should be said. Here goes:

The Dinosaur Lords has a really cool premise. I can’t believe no one has done this before. Unfortunately, I felt there were some problems with the execution. Mostly, I found the writing style did more to obscure what was happening in each scene than show us. I recommended this book to a friend before reading it and each day we’d meet up and be like “So what happened in here?” Nine times out of ten one of us was like “OH! Now I get it”.

All of that being said, it’s still a good read. I think the sheer coolness of KNIGHTS RIDING DINOS!! will be enough for most people to enjoy it. And honestly, it should be enough.

I’d love it if someone took the time to make a map of Paradise. When I first cracked open the book and saw the Portrait of La Merced I was like “Finally, a fantasy novel that doesn’t have an overbearing map that I won’t look at”. Then as I got into the book further, I realized that is exactly what the book needed.

I guess the the last thing I’ll say is, this book is not yet “… a cross between Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones” as promised by GRRM. It is dark enough in places to be like GoT and has dinos (so Jurassic Park) but it somehow seemed to fall short of that mark. Its obvious to me that this is going to be a series, but I think this opening could have benefited from a little more closure. I feel like I watched the first part of a miniseries which just ended after 450 pages and I’m not sure what larger story each character’s plots are involved in. Or whether or not they relate at all.

I hope there is a sequel to this, but I’d like to see it carefully done. I think that is all. Don’t murder me in the comments.