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

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!

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.



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 . . .



Short Fiction Review: Mountain Dead

Truth be told, I’m a little surprised by the fact that I haven’t yet reviewed a piece from Apex Publications on this blog. From what I can tell, they are deeply immersed in the realm of Speculative Fiction. They publish Horror, Sci Fi, and Fantasy but also any mix and mash of those genres that make a great story. Their blog posts are insightful, timely and relevant to my tastes and interests. And of course their twitter account is updated frequently  with useful insights about specials and promotions as well as a good dose of seemingly unrelated banter which is often quite amusing. Also zombies.



I first heard about Mountain Dead, a short (4 stories), short fiction anthology released as a supplement (sounds almost scholarly) to a much larger anthology (20 stories) called Appalachian Undead.  I saw the ad in the newsletter some time ago (maybe July?) and proceeded to read some post on the blog about zombies. I’m a sucker for anything zombies, but as I mentioned before, these posts were well written and insightful. Tipped me off to the whole Haitian zombie trope which I ended up researching a little further on my own and to great satisfaction. Then?

Sadly nothing. Sort of fell off my radar although I continued to follow their twitter feed, blogs, and other projects (looking at you War Stories Anthology). Then, Halloween came and with it, a free copy of Mountain Dead! Also, a good many kicks in the rear for not having ordered it sooner. So without further ado, please allow me an attempt at redemption for not reviewing an Apex short sooner . . . by reviewing the four shorts of Mountain Dead here.

The First Short: Deep Underground (Sara M. Harvey)

Alright. Here we go. The first of four. At this point, I don’t really know what to expect. I know that I’m expecting zombies, but that is pretty much it. Also, the zombies on the cover are playing banjos and violins respectively, so that’s a clue to . . . something? I’m not sure. So I start reading Deep Underground by Sara M. Harvey and . . . ?

I’m liking it!

The story starts explaining this little ‘oops’ that happened with the preacher’s daughter and goes on to tell of these two families that, for all intents and purposes, started a town. Now the town is named after one of the families and not the other, so obviously there is some conflict there, but you don’t realize just how deep the conflict (and the symbolism) is until the story approaches the end. I won’t say what happens because I want you to read it; however, I will say what I think my favorite part of this story was. I really believe that this story gets the reader set up for what these stories are supposed to be like. It sets up the small-town feel. The feeling that you’ve known all these characters since the day you were born (even though you’re just meeting them) because you grew up together. It makes it all so much more horrifying to see little Johnny climb from his grave and take a bite out of little Susie when you can ‘remember’ going to both of their christenings. That’s the type of feeling you get while reading Deep Underground. It’s hard to do, but here, it seems easy.

The Next Short: Unto the Lord A New Song (Geoffrey Girard)

For me, Unto the Lord A New Song, provides a different feeling from the first short piece, but an equally relevant one. There is a certain desensitization in this story that seems frankly appalling (although I’m sure it’s meant to). I’ve read a few zombie stories (both short fiction and novels) that are ‘post-outbreak’ (or I suppose post-‘apocalypse’) and therefore don’t focus too much on what caused this frightening turn of events, or how people are responding to it. These stories skip over all that and place you in the aftermath. You’ve survived the initial onslaught but how you continue to do so is up to you.

These are fun stories because the author gets to let his imagination run wild and think of new and inventive ways for his survivors to dispatch zombies, rebuild etc. Some authors also use this setting to invent new challenges for the survivors to face and overcome, or perhaps tragically fail to overcome. In the case of of Unto the Lord A New Song, I feel the author uses the ‘post-outbreak’ setting to demonstrate just how strange things will be after a zombie apocalypse . . . as in let’s tie vacuum tubes to a zombie’s vocal chords and make em sing during the next sermon strange. Yea. I think the horror here comes from the fact that people will have been forced to accept so much after an event like a zombie apocalypse that they won’t think twice (and they don’t in the story) about hiking all day to see a horrifying spectacle like this and when they do, they’ll see the work of God in it and call it Church. Not sure if that’s where the author was going with this story, but that’s where I went with it and it was definitely an eye opener. Well played sir, well played.

Another good looking anthology from Apex

Another good looking anthology from Apex

The Short After That: Let Me Come In (Lesley Conner)

I can’t profess to have any sort of deep analysis on any moral or thematic issues at play in Lesley Conner’s Let Me Come In. It’s not that I don’t think they are there, they might be. It’s just that I was having too much fun to look. Let Me Come In is something of a re-imagining of the Big Bad Wolf and Three Little Pigs fairy tale that we are all familiar with. I won’t say more except that I really enjoyed this piece. Very clever. Probably my favorite of the four. A must read.

The FINAL Short: And It’ll Haunt Me (For Long Days to Come)  K. Allen Wood

 This final short was another hard hitter. Very good. Very enjoyable. You’re put across the table from a suspected criminal as he goes to make his confession. He weaves his tale like a spider’s web and you can’t help but become hopelessly engaged in what he has to say. Is what he says real? Could these horrible things really have happened? He seems to believe it himself.

I go on about Denny (the convict) like he wrote the story.  I think that is a tribute to the author’s subtlety. You don’t notice the author’s presence. You’re Jack (the detective) and Denny is telling you a story. It’s that simple. I liked that a lot about the story. Some things I read these days feel like the words are just barely holding back the author’s ‘message’, which is so overpowering that you don’t even want to hear it. This short doesn’t seem to bother with any of that. Just a good story.

No I do not like your hat! Goodbye. Goodbye.

Apologies for the P.D. Eastmen reference in that last header but I couldn’t think of a clever way to end the review section and the post without an abrupt pause so . . . that is what you get. Also, definitely thought that was from Dr. Suess, but apparently it’s Eastmen (so glad I looked it up). Anyway, Mountain Dead appears to still be free on Amazon so definitely give it a look if you liked any of what you’ve just read. Until next week.

Goodbye . . .

Goodbye . . .

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. 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.


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!

Short Fiction Review: The Way of Cross & Dragon!

Oh man. Another doozy from George R. R. Martin. This week’s short fiction review is about his The Way of Cross & Dragon. At least this one wasn’t completely revolting (I found Meathouse Man pretty disgusting but still worth reading). However, it was certainly another ‘Thinker’. I suppose that is good. Why read if you don’t want to think?

So what did this story make me think about?  A couple things really:

1) People really shit on the Catholic Church

In my mind I want Damien to look like one of these guys!

In my mind I want Damien to look like one of these guys!

I suppose I’m just tired of this motif. There is no doubt in my mind that the One True Interstellar Catholic Church is supposed to revert us back to a period in the Catholic Church’s history, probably the late 1100’s and early 1200’s (really it’s the Inquisitors that give it away). And even though this story is supposed to take place in the future, it feels like we are in the past. It also feels like any form of organized religion is fake or inauthentic, and that belief is for fools. That it is simply constructed to distract us from the harsh and terrible world we live in, or to control the dimwitted masses. I’m kind of over that twist. I’d like to see the Church catch a break once in a while.

Of course I could be misinterpreting the setting. I’m open to suggestions. AKA please comment.

2) Entropy: Really interesting way to look at the world

Entropy is 100% my favorite theme in Sci-Fi and Fantasy literature. Not so much from the everything breaks down and nothing lasts perspective. That’s pretty depressing and not a whole lot of fun. More from the perspective that things must be torn down to be built up. That the universe is constantly changing and from the ruins of something that once was, something else will be. Pretty dramatic stuff right?

The Way of Cross & Dragon seems to frame entropy as a contradiction. After listening to a huge speech about how everything eventually breaks down, the main character seems to be stuck in a seemingly everlasting cycle which will continue on forever. Pursuit of truth is the only true constant.

Is it possible that she's better looking as a brunette?

Is it possible that she’s better looking as a brunette?

3) This story has to be the precursor to GoT

Also, this Judas Iscariot fellow (at least the way he is constructed in The Way of Cross & Dragon) seems to resemble Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones an awful lot. Actually, the only difference I can see is that Judas is a dude. Anyway, I haven’t been reading GoT but I’ve been trying to keep up with the HBO series. Obviously, now I’m going to start looking for any type of biblical references in her character (although at present they are eluding me) as the story progresses. Maybe I’ll find something, maybe not.

Again, if you already know of some of these please comment.

And finally:

4) I think this is as happy as an ending gets for George R.R. Martin

I’m really starting to feel like George R.R. Martin just doesn’t do happy. I sincerely hope that he’s more cheerful in person than some of his writing. This is the second short fiction piece I’ve read by this author and for the second time I’ve need to put it down and go do something else to distract myself. He gets heavy and he does it quickly too.

Anyway, reading back over this post again, it would seem that I didn’t enjoy The Way of Cross & Dragon. That isn’t true. I did enjoy it and would certainly recommend it to anyone reading this post. I really liked the juxtaposition of elements in the story which were supposed to represent Entropy, with those elements which were supposed to represent Immortality. Order from chaos, chaos from order, etc. I think he could have pushed a little harder on in the setting. The inauthentic church motive seems a little tired to me, but this story was written back in the 80’s so maybe it was a fresher idea in that time. I think that’s all for now. If I find any good GoT tidbits relating to this story I’ll be sure to add them. Or maybe just do another post.



New Short Fiction Post – Ross Rocklynne: Oh the 50’s

It’s Sunday. Which means you get to hear me blather on about some piece of short fiction I read this week.  If it’s any consolation, this week’s pick is free . . . and old school Science Fiction. So if you’re into either of those two things, I’d keep reading.

What? It's sci-fi gotta have a saucer.

What? It’s sci-fi gotta have a saucer.

The story this week is Ross Louis Rocklin’s (pen name: Ross Rocklynne) Sorry: Wrong Dimension. In terms of plot, this story didn’t have a huge amount of anything going on, so I don’t know how much I’ll actually be spoiling by telling you what happens (I think this was supposed to be more a piece that made you think. It does to varying degrees/definitions of thinking. Mostly it was cute). So here’s a basic outline:

— The narrator, Mrs. Weaver, and her neighbor/friend (not sure which of these is a better way to describe her) are sitting out on the front porch getting some much needed R&R. Mrs. Weaver is commenting, if not bragging, about how her child (called Baby throughout the story. Weird?) has been quite all day. She’s had time to do the ironing, clean, even catch up on three episodes of some detective serial that she enjoys. No small feat in the life of your 1950’s housewife.

–That’s when it hits her. Maybe something is wrong with Baby! And that’s why he’s been so good! Stranger things have happened . . . well not yet they haven’t.

–Mrs. Weaver and Mabel (the neighbor/friend) go inside to check on baby and find that he’s playing happily by himself with not a care in the world. Slowly they realize he’s not playing by himself. Baby tugs on his pacifier and something tugs back. Monster? An invisible monster? . . . Yes and yes. Call Harry right away! He’ll know what to do. No wait don’t call Harry, his boss will be pissed. Screw it call Harry!

–Mrs. Weaver picks up the phone and asks for Harry’s work and gets quite a strange reply: “Sorry. You must have the wrong dimension.” And then click. Well that’s the end of that. Only of course it isn’t. Mrs. Weaver (who I’m now remembering is named Stella) calls back, explains the situation and two gents show up at the door. Apparently, they were only ten years away. I suppose that’s no time at all.

–These guys agree to take the monster away from the house and proposition the two ladies (did I mention it was the 50’s). Stella gets wise and tells them to leave, that she’s decided to keep Baby’s Monster (called a Drinko). Finally the real cops show up, well the real inter-dimensional cops but the two gents (now proven crooks) are long gone. However, Stella is able to provide the dimension police enough information that they the crooks are caught and the day is saved. As a reward, Stella gets to keep the Drinko for Baby, and Mabel made it home with enough time to get dinner in the oven for her hubby. If that’s not a victory, I’m not sure what is.

Of course I imagine all housewives from the 50’s to look like this!

Anyway, what I find so fascinating about all of this is the way it depicts the 50’s and more specifically, housewives in the 50’s. For some reason I’m just obsessed with their plight. How terrible it must have been to live in a suburban neighborhood during this time. All of the juggling of responsibility. The managing and micro-managing but without any real say. And of course, the times were changing. Old ways of thinking about women in the household are making less and less sense. New technology is making things easier and more efficient, but also more uncertain and frightening. Mabel reacts to discovering the monster:

“Stella,” she said, with a quiver of that good-looking short upper lip of hers, “we’re trapped in. We’re in the middle of some kind of fantasy. It’s a crazy world we’re living in, Stella. A-bombs and H-bombs and flying saucers and space-flight–it’s all the fiction stuff coming true. Now we’re lost in some other dimension and I have to get dinner in the oven.

I’m not sure what to think is silly in all of this. Part of me thinks it is appropriate to point out that Rocklin (I found a list of his published works and a bio from wikipedia) is a male writer and if the general press about this time period is to be believed, than it’s possible that he’s quite mysoginistc and displaying women in what he feels is a comical and subversive light. Or he could be in on it and satirizing the time. Poking fun at the stereotype of women during that time. Or he could be trying to reflect what he feels is a genuine problem. That these women are trapped in a world they don’t understand and there only solace is to think about the things they understand like cooking and what’s best for Harry Jr.

There is another story, The Heat Death of the Universe, by Pamela Zoline which reflects a similar melt down. It’s more dramatic, and the tie-ins with actual science really elevate the emotion you feel at the end. Of course, Science Fiction isn’t the only mode of story telling that tells this story. We see it in Mad Men (I mean really. I already gave you January Jones’ picture) and it’s again reflected in music as well (check out the Rolling Stones link below).

Just seems to keep coming up. Anyway, if you haven’t read Sorry: Wrong Dimension you can pick it up free on Project Gutenberg here. I’d definitely also check out Pamela Zoline’s The Heat Death of the Universe which is here. I think it definitely helps get to what I’m trying to say, even if I can’t get there. Oh and here’s The Rolling Stones:


A Culture Novel . . . What does that mean?

Just finished Ian Banks’ latest work The Hydrogen Sonata. It was . . . interesting to say the least. Banks certainly has quite the imagination and I found myself continually intrigued with the scenarios and worlds which I discovered alongside of Vyr Cossont, our favorite four armed musician, and a seemingly ever expanding crew of spaceships. However, I feel like something was missing. (Spoilers to come. If you don’t want to hear them I guess stop reading?)

What originally peaked my interest in the The Hydrogen Sonata was its title. I came to Ian Banks completely by accident and with absolutely no knowledge of his previous writing endeavors. But the title had the word ‘Sonata’ in it and I sometimes fancy myself something of a musician. I read the back cover blurb and was like “Sweet. A sci-fi novel about a musician. Let’s see where this goes.” And boy did it go. Dragged me all over the universe with the requisite number of explosions and whit (not sure those two belong together but I’m making it work) and finally I get to the end and still something was missing.

What was missing?

For me, I felt the sonata was missing. I know! Shocking right? I mean, it’s in there. Sorta. But I was really just more confused as to its importance than anything else. What I did appreciate was Banks’ general treatment of sound/music in a novel. What makes something music as opposed to just sound? Is sound also music? It’s a tough question and really on the tip of everyone’s tongue the higher up you get in academic music. (I say academic because the type of music in which people push the aforementioned sound/music barrier tends to be studied and created at universities, and generally doesn’t get enjoyed by many in the popular culture. A point Banks seems well aware of and references within the novel.) Those were the types of questions with which I felt most at home. It was that type of imagination which I was most intrigued by. That was the Culture I was a part of.

The mountains on Cethyd, which create music/sound as the wind passes over giant pipes carved into the mountain side. A type of sound/music that you can’t really hear so much as you feel as it rattles your bones and makes your teeth chatter. There are several of these type of environments within The Hydrogen Sonata which would truly be something to experience. I’ve read that a gold fish can listen to a symphony, in some ways, better than we can because of the way it ‘Hears’ with its whole body. However, it lacks the brain capacity to understand what it is hearing. What would that be like? In some ways, The Hydrogen Sonata seems to attempt to address experiences like that.

Having some trouble with Beethovens 5th?

Having some trouble with Beethovens 5th?

Another aspect which I found quite amusing was the description of how the actual sonata was created. Created as a joke, to display the simplicity of a certain type of composing that has more to do with science and math, perhaps, than emotion and feeling. I know there are many composers who attempted this form of art in our own history. Bartok, Debussy and even one of my favorites, Chopin, composed pieces according to the Golden Ratio (Approximately 2/3). I never had an Ear for Bartok but I believe Debussy and Chopin turned out quite lovely pieces. But I feel the Sonata in Banks’ novel was supposed to represent something closer to Bartok’s work. Discordant and unpleasureable to listen to in the traditional sense. He mentions it as part of a series of pieces which would follow each element in the periodic table (An interesting idea. I hope Banks isn’t attempting to achieve this with Culture novels). He also talks about how the composer is most known for the ‘hydrogen sonata’ even though it wasn’t the work he was most proud of. I can only imagine the amount of composers stirring in their graves, upset by what they are remembered for.

Pretty Right? Pow 2/3 ratio!

Pretty Right? Pow 2/3 ratio!

But, seeing as this novel was an intimidating 500 pgs (Yes after almost two decades of reading things, 500 pgs still seems like a lot), it wasn’t only about the music (and as I mentioned before, it was perhaps too little about music for my tastes). It was also about religion and space travel and Subliming and the Culture. I think why I was really frustrated by was the Culture aspect of the novel. It seemed that there was a lot we were already supposed to know and understand. The sciency parts were like that to. A lot of knowledge taken for granted. I thought I had read my fair share of Sci-fi novels but apparently still not enough. But I’ve resolved to read a few more Culture novels and see if it helps.

The notion of Subliming was interesting. I do not believe that word is commonly used as a verb. However, in using it as such I feel it kind of took away from, and gave a new meaning to the word. It seemed to imply (somewhat satirically I might add) that to ‘Sublime’ was to transfer to into a sort of state where you are essentially in a type of Heaven, or Nirvana, or whatever. The point being is you leave your body behind a join up with everyone else before you in a type of eternal bliss. I suppose the ineffable/uncomprehending part of all that is correct. However, when we talk about the Sublime, we are talking about some sort of state which is either so entirely massive that we cannot comprehend, or so entirely perfect/beautiful that we cannot comprehend. The perfect/beautiful part seems to lend itself to all that math and science like we discussed before. The massive part mostly lends itself to horror. However, I was quite horrified in a uncomprehending sort of way when we finally meet up with RiQia on Cethyd and his eyes are replaced by ears. Talk about the uncanny.

Anyway, if you suffered through all that, and still want to know what I thought of the book . . . just go on and read it. Google the sublime and Bartok, maybe the Golden rule, and anything else I mentioned and I think you will find there is a lot of things to appreciate in this book but that somehow it all felt a little pointless at the end. I suppose this is warranted as there is quite a long section in the book discussing the meaning of everything ever and how you can never find the meaning you’re looking for. Perhaps that is all that happened to me. I wanted the Sonata to mean more to the story. It didn’t. Still a good book though.