Should ‘Raybearer’ win a Lodestar Award?

Phew. It feels good to be doing a Hugo related post after so many posts about Narmer and the God Beast. I’m sure there will be more of those to come, but let’s break for a little while and talk about Jordan Ifueko’s incredible debut, Raybearer.

This book is amazing. I hesitate to say a masterpiece because I don’t feel like I’m qualified to make such distinctions (although honestly who cares lol), but it was definitely one of the most exciting books I’ve read in recent memory.

To me, it’s strengths lie in its consistent pacing, unique setting and the sheer power of this book’s main character.

Tarisai is quite literally a sympathy magnet. From page one, it is impossible not to connect with this lonely girl who’s been completely isolated from people her own age and a traditional family. That conflict is built right into the most basic aspect of her identity, her Hollow (unique magical power), which allows her to see other’s memories. This should allow Tarisai to build even closer connections with those around her since she can literally share their experience. Instead, it means that she cannot even be held when she’s sad, for her servants believe that she might accidently steal their memories.

Every conflict in Raybearer seems to stack against Tarisai in this similar manner. At the beginning of the story, her only purpose is to fulfill the last wish of her absent mother (who calls Tarisai ‘Made of Me’ yuck) who wishes that she befriend the crown prince of Aritsar (so he’ll invite her into his council), and then kill him. A purpose for which she must truly love this prince before being able to act out her orders (which of course she doesn’t want to do).

Of course, heroes do hard things, it’s what makes them heroes, but as I was reading the story, I found myself admiring how inventive each new conflict became as the script was flipped again and again on poor Tarisai.

And she truly just keeps doing the damn thing.

I don’t mean to mean to imply that she simply skips through each new challenge (quite the opposite), but the way she is able to continue onward despite everything is truly inspirational. This, perhaps more than anything else is what makes the book such a compelling read.

However, the setting also played a huge roll in my enjoyment of this book. Ifueko creates a rich (sorry just watch this youtuber say how rich the book is real quick) world which seems to draw from many African cultures (though I believe the author mentioned it was mainly Yoruba) yet still presents as unique and immersive.

Some of the more unique aspects of the world for me (which I think could have been explored a little more perhaps) where the magical creatures. We meet sprites, and albagato (a kind of genie type figure), shape shifters and large mythical cats. An entire underworld of spirits which we only just hear a small portion of.

But this is a small gripe, easily overlooked when considering one of my favorite aspects of the world. Its music. Song and rhythm seem to underpin our very understanding of this culture’s history and legacy. Aritsar’s myths and legends (the main one about a story telling Pelican which is weird and fun just on it’s own) are mostly passed on through children’s songs. But one of the key instruments featured in the novel are various drums. Perhaps this is not surprising as drums are important to many African cultures, however, Ifueko took the time to describe their sound — literally write out the noises they made — and the meanings behind each beat.

As a drummer myself, I was simply loving these passages. They felt so true to how the instruments can sound and the passion they can have when played. I’m not sure if Ifueko has any percussion in her background, but she was certainly convincing enough for me (I would also like to note that I listened to this book on audio, and so the voice actor also did an amazing job with these portions and I think really heightened the experience in a way that reading on the page may not have been able to accomplish).

Finally, I think it’s important to note, that this book never seemed to drag. Because of my work schedule picking up, I didn’t have as much time to listen as I have in the past (due to Covid), and so I had to give this book up several times and then wait for it to return. Each time I was as excited as the last to get started again.

This is all the more impressive considering all of the elements packed into this story. Themes such as uniqueness and diversity over homogeny (in culture), colonialism too but it was interesting because it wasn’t like a foreign power coming in that the MC’s need to fight, but instead more like just one group that kept expanding. Perhaps less like the British Empire and more like the expansion of the Mongols.

Anyway, I can feel myself beginning to ramble so I think it’s time to ask that all important question which is the reason we’re here . . .

Lodestar Award?

Yes. It seems I keep having to add this caveat, but as of 10/6/2021, I’m feeling that the Lodestar award should go to Raybearer. This was a hard decision for me, as I’ve already enjoyed two previous Lodestar contenders (Cemetery Boys and A Deadly Education), which were both amazing reads. I really thought Cemetery Boys was going to be my ride or die, but I think the deciding factor ended up coming down Raybearer’s unique setting.

For each of the other reasons I’ve outlined above — great pacing, and an incredibly powerful main character — Raybearer is an excellently written piece of art, but the thing I’m most excited about for the sequel, is simply being able to explore this world a little longer. Cemetery Boys showed us a unique setting as well, and I loved learning more and more about the Brujx. It was fun to think that their world existed just beneath our own. But the sense of immersion you experience into Raybearer’s secondary world shined a bit brighter. I guess I’m just a sucker for Secondary World fantasy . . .

Anyway, what are your thoughts? Should Raybearer win the Lodestar? What were your favorite elements of the story? The world (the answer is the drums! Lol)? Let me know in the comments, I’m excited to see what you all think.

Death Dogs: The Jackal Gods of Ancient Egypt (review)

Hi all. We’re just 13 days out from the release of my short story, Narmer and the God Beast, so I’m here with another Ancient Egypt themed post. I’ve been doing a series of posts about my influences for the story (to which this one will be added), so please check those out if you’re interested.

Now, what is Death Dogs: The Jackal Gods of Ancient Egypt by T.G. Wilfong, and how has it influenced my writing so far?

Well, in some respects, the answer to that question is is somewhat misleading.

Artwork from the Age of Mythology Wiki

When writing Narmer and The God Beast, my knowledge of jackal-headed gods was quite limited. I had heard of the god Anubis before and was vaguely aware of him from movies like The Mummy Returns, or games like Age of Mythology. He seemed a fierce thing, more brutish warrior than anything else. Any contact he had with the living seemed a brutal punishment and a promise of suffering in the afterlife.

In my own story, Narmer must retrieve linen from the ‘House of Anubis’, and my research focused on the things he might find within an embalmer’s workshop. Things like natron salt, linen wrappings, ointments made from frankincense, myrrh and ox fat. I focused on the implements of mummification, such as chisels, knives, and spoons.

But eventually I found that there was so much more involved in the ritual and service provided for the dead, that my opinion of this god began to change. The embalmer’s workshop might also contain stone sarcophagi, faience ushabti (for a great story about shabti, I highly recommend Robert Sharp’s The Good Shabti), gilded silver masks with calcite, obsidian, and onyx eyes! I also read that the bones of the gods were made of silver and their flesh was made of gold . . .

There was much more here than I had ever imagined.

My search took me to Cynopolis next. A city from the Ptolemaic times dedicated to Anubis and his followers, the ‘cult of the dog’ (Cynopolis means ‘City of the Dog’). I go into further depth about this amazing city in my post Ancient Egyptian Doggos! (I even try to imagine what such a place would be like) but needless to say, I was awestruck a second time. Cynopolis ended up becoming one of the many locations my (unreleased) novel’s protagonists visit during their adventures.

But still, there was still more to learn: enter Death Dogs.

I genuinely feel, this book will be a fascinating read for anyone interested in ANY of the jackal-headed gods which Ancient Egyptians worshipped. Yes, MANY jackal-headed gods.

The book opens with the one we’ve already talked about, Anubis, but its understanding of this deity is much more nuanced than anything I’d yet come across.

It explains that sometimes Anubis is depicted as a man with a jackal’s head, but is more often shown as a sitting/laying jackal with jet-black fur and starkly pointed ears. He’s a mysterious figure, who’s name and visage invoke as many meanings as there are grains of sand in the Sahara. For some, he is a grim reaper like figure, coming to collect the dead and show them to the afterlife. For others, a protector of the dead, standing watch over their graves. Anubis alone knows the secrets of the embalmer’s hut and guards them with unbridled ferocity.

It was information read in Death Dogs which inspired a second (and more recent) short story which I wrote as a newsletter exclusive called Master of Secrets.

And of course there is still more!

For instance, who are the other jackal gods I mentioned earlier? What could their role be in this intricate and intriguing mythology. For instance, what role could the jackal-headed Wepwawet — The Opener of the Ways — play in the future adventures in this setting? Who was Duamutef? What does it mean to be the son of Horus the Elder . . . ?

Seems like that could be our Jackal headed friend standing next to St Christopher . . .

I’m pretty much brimming with ideas for stories I could tell after reading this book.

Finally, the book also talks about how the jackal headed gods of Ancient Egypt were perceived throughout the ages and in the modern day. We’re pretty familiar with the imagery I described above, but it was interesting to learn that, until the Anubis Shrine was found inside the Tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun in November of 1922, there were not many images of Anubis which had survived.

The idea of Anubis, and various myths and stories of Ancient Egyptians had morphed and changed through incorporation into Greek (see Hermanubis) and then Roman ideologies, falling victim to millennia-long games of telephone.

I could continue writing this post for seemingly forever, but I think it’s probably better just to recommend you read the book. I’m anxious to research deeper into the topics discussed within, and maybe visit the Kelsey Museum someday to see if I might glean anything new from seeing the artifacts shown in this book in person.

Anyway, that is all for now. What’s your favorite fact about jackal-headed gods? Your first exposure to Anubis? Let me know in the comments.


Still here? Awesome. I hope you enjoyed Death Dogs: The Jackal Gods of Ancient Egypt (review). As mentioned at the beginning of this post, this was a major influence on my own story, Narmer and the God Beast. I revealed the story’s amazing cover art and blurb a few weeks ago, illustrated for me by Lee Eschliman and I’ll continue to be putting out posts about my influences for this story all month until the story’s official launch on October 4th. If you like anything you’ve seen so far, you can head over to Amazon and preorder it now.

If you want more of my writing, please check out my fiction page, or consider signing up for my newsletter at https://jdweber.news/EgyptAndDinos. It will give you access to exclusive fiction, special offers, and just my general life and nonsense (here’s a sample newsletter). Just for signing up I’ll send you an email with the very first story I ever wrote about a Warlock Doctor.

Thanks for your time, and I hope to see you around here more!

Jade City: A Rare Gem of a Novel

This could probably be a pretty short review. I’m half tempted to simply write ‘go read this book’ and call it a day. But I suppose I should work a little harder than that, and actually explain why I feel this way about the book. After all, it is clear while reading Jade City that it was a project of passion and painstaking craft; the end result deserves more than a sentence in review.

I think it makes sense to start with the premise. As described by the author, Fonda Lee, Jade City is essentially The Godfather with magic and kung fu” and honestly, that description hits the nail pretty well on the head (and for me basically sells the whole thing right from the start).

Add in a sort of post World War II modern, vaguely Asian setting, and you pretty much have all the ingredients for the novel’s success listed and defined. Each of these ingredients serve as excellent hooks, and any one of them draw the reader in, but as with all good recipes, I think it’s how these things are mixed together, which really causes the book to shine.

The two main things that immediately stood out to me upon reading Jade City was just how tightly plotted the novel is, and how deep the world building goes. From the very first scene, we’re exposed to the undercurrents of political unrest which will shape the main intrigue plot, a systematic but not overly (faux) scientific magic system, and some pretty exciting and harrowing action from the point of view of a seemingly minor character (who just keeps happening bumble into more and more important plot points). This could have been an absolute disaster of a first chapter in its ambition, but remarkably gets everything across to the reader in a way that draws us in, sets up the basic information that we need to continue forward, and leaves us with enough (and the right) questions to encourage us to continue reading. It really sets the tone perfectly for the novel, as the scenes which follow may not be as action packed, but they rely on the building blocks laid out here to keep the tension building throughout in a way that (to me) never felt slow or dragging.

I mentioned the worldbuilding before, and I’d like to circle back to it as it was certainly a main component of the book which really stood out. In a lot of fantasy novels, I feel like “Worldbuilding” with a capital W is often actually myth building. The author builds the setting and explains current conflicts through legends and history of the world. In a lot of fantasy, these histories are ancient, and there is often a remove of hundreds or even thousands of years between the events of the myths/legends, and the plot we experience. They are related, but there is something of a remove.

I think in a lot of stories that feature this kind of worldbuilding, the remove is (more or less) necessary in order to establish the magnitude of the stakes being set up. The epics we know in the real world are set thousands of years in our past, and so that kind of remove in a fantasy story will naturally give a kind of epic quality to the events we see in the story.

By comparison, the events of Jade City feel very young. We get a few interludes which give three parts of an old myth, but most of the history makers in this world are still alive, aging badly, and worse, are failing to live up to the myth and legend which has come up around them. To me, this was a nice contrast from more traditional fantasy, and I think only served to bring the drama of the story closer to its main actors, the No Peak clan, and specifically the Kaul family.

The next thing that stood out to me about the worldbuilding, I said in a tweet so I’ll just post that here:

“I’m not sure what I was expecting but I’m pretty much digging it. For such a deep setting it’s pretty quickly paced and (at least to me) there doesn’t seem to be much filler. I also really think the setting would make a fun board game or RTS. There so many definitions of winning.”@jamesweber16

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I got about 75% of the way through this book and realized: “If so-and-so does this, that would be a satisfying ending to the story, but also if so-and-so does this, so would that.”

And of course, the ending was completely different from either of those things and still (to me) completely satisfying.

I attribute this to Lee’s story telling, but also must acknowledge that it was the depth of the world which provided the scaffolding for her to accomplish this. Each of the main characters seemed to have their own aspect of the world in which they were striving to create change, but all interlocked, and no one plot seemed to take the backseat to any other.

Finally, despite all that I’ve been going on about the worldbuilding and the setting, this story is primarily a family drama. The interpersonal relationships were what really drove so much of the tension in the story, but I was never frustrated by this. In a lot of family conflicts, issues that effect the character’s motivations can sometimes amount to very little more than shallow squabbles which any reasonable person would ‘suck it up’ and move forward from, especially when faced with world defining problems, and it can be very frustrating to see them fail to make these changes.

This was not the case in Jade City. The family conflicts seem deeply rooted in past history, and given the lives these characters have had to lead, seems completely reasonable. But Lee takes it one step further and also shows how they are still a family, and despite everything, seem to have a real familial love (or at least respect) for each other. I pretty much ate these scenes up (as well as all the others if I’m honest) and they were some of the scenes that stuck out to me the most.

TLDR

Anyway, please give this one a shot. There is so much more I could have written about but honestly, it would probably take more words than the book has in it already, so I think any readers still here should just go forth and read it. I’m really looking forward to the sequel, Jade War, and can’t wait to gush more about that here later.

If you’ve read Jade City, please let me know your thoughts in the comments. What did you love? Was there anything you hated? I’m excited to talk about this one.

Thanks again for reading! See you next time.

Should ‘Network Effect’ get a Hugo?

A beautiful day for some Murderbot 🙂

Hello. We’re back with another exciting episode of “Do I think this book I read would/should get a Hugo”.

Martha Wells is another author I’ve become a big fan of over the last several years (although one I’ve apparently never posted about on this blog). I first came across All Systems Red, the first installment in what has become The Murderbot Diaries, back in 2017 and according to Goodreads, actually read the darn thing in April of 2018.

By this point, it had already won an Alex Award, and was on the list of Verge’s Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Novels of 2017, which I suppose is a tad confusing, since it is in fact, a novella. By the end of 2018, Murderbot had won a Hugo, a Nebula, and the Locus Award for best novella.

The hype was real . . .

And completely warranted. Murderbot was a fresh take. We have all seen, read, and built up a healthy fear of autonomous robots. In nearly all instances, they are designed to kill people, or they “go bad” and figure out how to kill people on their own. At their most heroic, they still kill a bunch of people, but not the ones we’re rooting for so that’s good even though we’re still kinda worried that whatever black-box logic has kept them from killing us, will suddenly change, and they’ll start doing what they do best, killing all the humans (also us).

I suppose Murderbot falls into this last category, as it uses all its super advanced equipment, methods, and strategy to save a couple of researchers (mostly by killing things that are trying to kill those researchers), but the book makes the killing machine its protagonist. We get to look inside the black box. As we read, we learn why this particular killing machine is on our side.

Namely that is because it doesn’t want to fail its contract. It doesn’t want to fail its contract because this will make it harder for it to sit around in its repair cube (or really anywhere) and watch its favorite TV show.

This is — not necessarily surprisingly; but refreshingly — incredibly relatable.

Who here has not undertaken extreme measures in the pursuit of laziness? I thought so. And then there are the themes. Trust, free will, what it means to be human (and in later installments: trauma, friendship, recovery and consent) . . . All the important stuff. But all of it through the lens (camera footage?) of our incredibly likeable protagonist.

So you liked the first one, what about the others?

Oh yes. There are three other novellas within the series before we reach the topic of this post (which I will also reach any moment now). All of them are excellent reads which I devoured one after the other, until I was anxiously awaiting the most recent addition.

Lovely Murderbot Covers

And this most recent one?

A great read as well, if not quite as good as the others. As this was the first ‘novel length’ Murderbot adventure, I felt myself missing the quick pace of the novellas. Not to say that this book dragged necessarily, but I think the smaller scope of the previous adventures were a key factor in their success. If you have not yet read this book, definitely go ahead and jump it to the top of the TBR pile.

So Hugo then?

Sadly no. Murderbot is by far one of my favorite characters in fiction right now and I will gladly pay whatever money they charge for the next installment (and any after that!), but I think its chances are suffering a bit from the same thing that I mentioned in my Rhythm of War post last week, it’s no longer new. Network Effect is the fifth installment of a series that seems to be showing little signs of slowing down. I believe at least one more novel is going to come out soon, and who knows how many more after that.

Plus, as a novella, Murderbot has already taken home a Hugo. It’s time to share Murderbot . . . SHARE!

I’m just kidding. I don’t think that’s how the Hugo’s should work. If you write several excellent novels, whether one after the other, or in different years, you should not have to relinquish your chances based on past performance.

Murderbot has come a long way since All Systems Red, and has managed to keep all of what won it so many awards back in 2018, and perhaps even tread territory in subsequent installments that would have made it worthy in 2019. But for 2020, for Network Effect, it just didn’t quite get there.

Thanks all! Please leave any comments or insights in the comment section. Looking forward to hearing y’all’s thoughts. Until next time . . .

Should ‘Rhythm of War’ Get a Hugo?

Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Last week, I wrote about my plan to review books that might get nominated for a Hugo award, and so here’s my first entry into that endeavor.

Now anyone who knows me, will know that Brandon Sanderson is by far and away my favorite author. A casual look at my goodreads account will show you that I’ve read well over 30 titles by the man, and when it comes to obsessing over his books, I am pretty much as nerdy, and rabid, as they come. If a new Cosmere book drops, I drop whatever I’m reading at the moment, and usually whatever I am doing to go read it. Even if what I’m doing is traffic.

On this bloggo, I’ve talked about his “short stories” Dreamer, and Snapshot, as well as his YA novel The Rithmatist.

Needless to say, I’m a Fanderson.

Which is why I am utterly shocked to say that Rhythm of War will not be the title I will be nominating for the Hugo come March 19th.

I know! Weird right? I suppose I should explain . . .

Did I enjoy the book?

Oh yes. Immensely. There is no shortage of things to love in Rhythm of War. Without spoiling too much, there are rhythms, and there is war. There is magic (so much magic), and adventure. The characters are flawed and have expertly crafted change arcs. Characters you want to hate, you end up liking, and characters you’ve loved for years, you find maybe aren’t as perfect as you thought. And of course, that awesome moment where everything comes together, and the thing we’ve been building towards for about 1,000 pages, finally happens! And uses up the entirety of the special effects budget (if it were a movie which hopefully someday it will be!).

And as with all of his books, Rhythm of War gives you that sprinkle of answers that only lead to more questions. Worldbuilding on top of worldbuilding until your simply stunned with the complexity of it all.

If you have not read the book yet, please drop traffic and go do so. It is wonderful. I mean that times ten for anyone interested in Cosmere books, or even just the Stormlight Archive in general.

Yes, Brandon Sanderson knows how to give a reader what they want, and Rhythm of War does not disappoint.

So why isn’t it getting your nomination?

Well, to put it simply, it isn’t new.

Still My Fav Stormlight book!

While Rhythm of War is an amazingly written and crafted book, it is amazingly written and crafted in the same way that The Way of Kings (Stormlight Archive 1) was amazingly written and crafted. In the same way as Words of Radiance (Stormlight Archive 2), or Mistborn, or even Elantris or Warbreaker (though those two had some growing pains to be sure).

Rhythm of War seems to be suffering from a problem of scope and time. It is the fourth installment, in what is going to be at least a five books series, and probably a ten-book series, if Brando Sando achieves what he’s set out to do with these books. And at a certain point, it is just an iteration of the premise that Way of Kings began over ten years ago, and (IMHO) Words of Radiance perfected seven years ago.

But the Hugo is supposed to represent the best of Science Fiction and Fantasy right now, in 2021 (or ya know 2020 since that’s when the books were published). Not what was undoubtedly one of the best books of 2011, or 2014.

And so, it’s not my pick this time. I think it belongs on the list for most popular, and it has earned every single reader it has, but I don’t think it quite lines up with what the Hugo is supposed to be and do.

If Brando Sando dropped the first installment of a new series tomorrow, I would absolutely be looking at it for a best of award (if it really was great). But not this time around. Not for Rhythm of War . . .

Anywho, see y’all next time!

The Road to Empire (of Ashes): Review of The Waking Fire

Cover for The Waking Fire

Oooh Dragons

So this post will be a book review, but it will not be about Anthony Ryan’s Empire of Ashes regardless of that book being mentioned in the title of this post.

This post will be about the first book in that series The Waking Fire. Essentially, I was given an ARC of Ryan’s Empire of Ashes, only to realize that it’s the third book in the series . . . and I haven’t read any of the others yet (well I suppose now I’ve read the first one).  So without further ado, the first step in the road . . .

To put it simply, The Waking Fire checks all of the boxes for an epic fantasy and then some. And then some more. Like I kinda imagine the writing process going something like this:

Dragons? Check. Is the fate of the world at stake? Yup! Is there magic? Yes! And it’s color-coded! Good Good. This is very good.

Then it starts to throw in some other elements which are not as ‘stereo typical’ (although I might argue still pretty common) as a tolkeinesque fantasy. Steam punk(ish) time period? Sure let’s do it! Large naval battles? Duh pirates are the best! But do you like spy novels? Uh who doesn’t? And you probably also like adventure stories too? We could throw in a lost civilization . . . Dude The Mummy is like one of my favorite movies.

Ok so we’ve got just a few more things to add. We aren’t done yet? Oh no sir buckle up. Do you like faceless hoards of enemies who’s only purpose is to be mowed down by really big guns? Great! and oh, no it’s not extra, we throw in a planetary alignment with every third trope, it’s destiny after all. Oh oh sorry, how do you like your MacGuffins? Unresolved? We got you fam.

I’ve probably overdone this just a bit. This book really does shine in the depth of its world and the interaction of its characters with each other. No detail about this world was forgotten and each of the characters felt alive and real (except for Clay’s main love interest who doesn’t have a speaking role until the last chapter of the book).

dragon about breathe fire as man watches

I suppose artwork is on the list of things this book does right. I mean just look at this dragon.

I suppose that all books are just a list of their component parts. It’s just unfortunate when the reader can see those parts so explicitly. Joshua S Hill over at Fantasy Book Review addressed this issue as contrivance, noting that all books have parts that are ‘contrived’ but some authors are better at distracting you from it than others. I’m starting to think that Joshua and I have similar tastes and opinions.

Despite all of this, I’ll be reading the second book in the series,  The Legion of Flame, as I am quite curious as to what the next step in our journey will be. I’m not sure whether this will be a trilogy, or longer, but I’m hopeful that book won’t suffer from 2nd book syndrome.

I think that’s all for now.

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 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.

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 😉