Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Last Refuge by Roger McCoy

Not being much of a Voyager fan I could still appreciate the story on its own merits.

That said, it was obviously meant to flesh out a previous episode where a plot thread was left dangling. 

I liked the structure, using flashbacks of a crime to expand on the story at hand. 

Part of what makes tie-in fiction so comforting is that the reader already understands the world, how it functions and the main players in it. 

I felt McCoy had a perfect grasp of the characters voices and created a compelling and satisfying expansion of this part of the franchise. 

A lovely way to spend some downtime. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Books for Living by Will Schwalbe - Book Report #253

Nothing better than a book about books and reading.

This is a memoir of books that were important to the author but this is not a stuffy look at an elitist reader.  Many of his selections are modern bestsellers and I simply love how the author's thesis is to illustrate how any book can contribute to understanding the world.

To prove his point I have started asking, "What are you reading?"  when I am with friends or meeting somebody new.  This query can generate a conversation like nothing else.

Another idea I found compelling was from Anne Morrow Lindbergh's book A Gift from the Sea.  To mangle her quote   “Choose whenever possible the unknown over the familiar because it is more enriching."

The author was funny and unafraid to reveal himself.  I felt like I met an interesting person.

Terrific stuff.

Will Schwalbe - http://willschwalbe.com/

Will Schwalbe

Sunday, January 13, 2019

ZeroS by Peter Watts

This was a military SF story set in a dystopian future.

A dying soldier is given a second chance by agreeing to be uploaded where his consciousness can then be installed into combat bodies and sent on mission after mission.

Eventually, he realizes the nature of his work and begins to wonder if he has made a tragic mistake.

While reading this, I kept thinking of how John Scalzi used a similar premise to recruit soldiers in his Old Man's War series.  The trouble is that the older you get the more you come to see the world in your own way and question authority.  It can be difficult to control veterans.

I liked the story enough but part of what frustrated the protagonist frustrated me as the reader.  In battle, he is kept from seeing the whole field of engagement so neither could I.

It was a well-told story written by a skilled author.

Peter Watts' website - https://www.rifters.com/index.htm

Peter Watts

Friday, January 11, 2019

Church of Birds by Micah Dean Hicks

A dark fantasy about a boy who had been cursed to be a swan for six years.

When the curse was lifted he was only partially restored being left with one arm and one wing.

What would life be like for a kid if he had that kind of disfigurement?

The story was well written, I felt for the kid, but dark fantasy is just the kind of story that doesn't work for me.  It's a genre thing.


Micah Dean Hicks website - https://micahdeanhicks.com/


Micah Dean Hicks



Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Don't Press Charges and I Won't Sue by Charlie Jane Anders

This was an interesting, though odd, look at a twisted kind of eugenics.

It was a horrifying story of watching the transfer of life energy and consciousness from a person of "questionable" ethics to the body of a dead person, who had displayed better moral character.

Oh, it was an ugly situation made worse by the desire of the transferred to live.

Startling.

Charlie Jane Anders' website - http://charliejane-anders.tumblr.com/

Charlie Jane Anders

Monday, January 7, 2019

A Flag For Canada by Rick Archbold - Book Report #252

Having lived under the maple leaf flag my entire life I found this book to be fascinating.

Creating a flag independent from Britain stirred up a lot of emotions in the Canadian public at the time. 

Understanding how complex it was to boil a country down into such a simple design made me thankful for the people who dedicated so much energy into the task. 

The photography was lush and the historical significance of each iteration of our flag could not have been conveyed without them. 

I originally purchased the book in a fit of patriotism during the Canada 150 celebration year. 

I am glad I finally read it. 

Here are some real contenders:

The Canadain Red Ensign

The Pearson Pennant

13 pointed maple leaf

There is also a group who is suggesting our current flag be modified to better reflect the English and French duality that was Canada.  I use the word "was" because Canada is more about pluralism than ever before.  The English - French duality is fast becoming blurred.  That said I find the modified version quite attractive.  However, if it came to a vote, I would rather keep our current flag.

Proposed Canadain Unity Flag
Rick Archbold

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Tasting Notes on the Varietals of the Southern Coast by Gwendolyn Clare

Oh my.

A disturbing and grotesque look at the hubris of war.  We follow the journal entries of the Emporer's vintner, who follows behind the battle lines to take stock of the conquered countries' wine offerings.

This story left me breathless and staring out the window.

Stunning work.

Gwendolyn Clare's website - http://www.gwendolynclare.com/


Gwendolyn Clare

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Spider-Man Noir by David Hine with Fabrice Sapolsky - A Graphic Novel Review

I blew the dust off my copy of Spider-Man Noir before going to see the movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Ten years ago I was enjoying the look and tropes of the 1930’s pulp fiction.  Marvel put out a series of Noir books that seemed to lend themselves well to the period.

What they did with Spider-Man was clever in how it was adapted for the 1930's.

I must say,  this is not your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.  Oh no, he is very much a deadly vigilante.

I liked this book very much, from the design of the costume to the nod to that other "Spider" who occupied pulp fiction at the time and to the dark tone of the story.

If you're looking for something different, but still familiar you might want to chase this book down.

I was impressed at how Marvel was unafraid to challenge the cannon of this iconic character.

Well done!

Thwip!

David Hine - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hine

Fabrice Sapolsky - https://fabricesapolsky.com/



Friday, January 4, 2019

The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant by Rachael K Jones

This was quite the entertaining and entirely creepy story about a group of escaped cyborgs looking for freedom.

On one hand, it is an exploration of human ingenuity and obsolescence.  On the other, a look at free will and trying to rise above one’s station.  There is also a poke a social media tied in with machine logic.

It read like something Douglas Adams could have written albeit on one of his darkest, most depressed days.

There was an ick factor here that made me wrinkle my nose but it was darkly funny too.

This story stayed with me for a couple of days.

Rachael K Jones' website - https://rckjones.wordpress.com/

Rachael K Jones

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Big Downtown by Jack McDevitt

Oooh!

Murder and mayhem in the wake of a hurricane make for a compelling mystery.

To be honest, this story barely qualifies as SF, not that it's a bad thing, but if you take away the flying cars and holograms you've simply got a straight-up mystery here.

It was a good mystery too.  The author kept the plot moving along with some complicated relationships and motivations.

I liked this one very much.

Jack McDevitt's website - https://www.jackmcdevitt.com/

Jack McDevitt

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

My Reading Goals for 2019

Slow down.

2018 was a frantic reading year.  142 posts vs my next highest year, 2012 with 89.

Short stories added to the post count because I believe they required individual consideration.  But I felt rushed all year long mostly because I would borrow armloads of books from the library which all had to be returned within a short period of time.

I did not have the chance to relax into stories and books as I was always thinking about the next title.


In 2019 I will try to remove the time limit and concentrate on the books that I own.  I have four bookshelves and a dozen boxes filled with work that is just waiting for me to pick up. I will blow the dust off these books and enjoy them without the urge to push through.

I mean to savour my reading.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Camouflage by Robert Reed

This was a 61-page story, by page 28 I had had enough.

It was a slow-moving affair set on a gigantic ark ship.

The story dragged on with seemingly endless exposition and descriptions of alien species. Every time Reed brought me someplace interesting, like a giant library or scene of a crime, he’d move back into explaining things to me.

I found it tedious so I left the story unfinished.

It’s funny how I find it a personal failing when I give up on a book or story, but life is short, and not every story will connect.

On we go!

Rober Reed's website - https://www.robertreedwriter.com/

Robert Reed

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Resident by Carmen Maria Machado

A writer goes off to a lakeside retreat to work on her novel among other artists in residence.

It was well written but was not my cup of - anything.

This was straight up literary fiction, where a broken person goes off to continue being broken and returns home just as broken as before. Nothing happens to the character, she doesn't grow or learn much.

Which is just fine.  But when I read, I am looking for an adventure, I want to read about a place or situation that is outside my daily life.  I want to be moved by a character overcoming something. To read about somebody’s navel-gazing self-doubt is not inspiring or interesting to me.

We can all get stuck in our own inadequacies and roll around in it to the culmination of nothing.  What good does that do?  Isn’t life better when we are working to a goal?  When we grow?


I hate being so negative about the story, it seems to me that it was a disservice to the author to include it in a Science Fiction and Fantasy anthology when it is nothing of the sort

I felt cheated of my time with this story.

Carmen Maria Machado's website - https://carmenmariamachado.com/

Carmen Maria Machado

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Brightened Star, Ascending Dawn by A. Merc Rustad

Oh, I loved this story.

I have a soft spot for spaceship AI's, I don't know why.  Perhaps it's because I've always felt like the ships are characters too, so when they have a voice, it's pretty special.

In this story, the ship Ascending Dawn discovers a stow-away and decides to keep it secret, even though it goes against her protocols.

We quickly learn that this is a massive Space Opera, the ship and crew are operating in a galactic dictatorship where deviations from expected actions have startling consequences.

This was a terrific tale and I dearly hope there is more, I am hooked.

A highlight of the entire collection.

A. Merc Rustad's website - https://amercrustad.com/

A. Merc Rustad

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Luckless Rodian by Renée Ahdieh

At last!  One of the defining scenes from Star Wars - the cantina shooting.

In this story, we see Greedo’s moments leading up to his encounter with Han Solo.

Greedo is not only after Han for the bounty but has a personal score to settle too.

Fans of a certain age will be happy to have confirmed who shot first.

Lots of fun to be had here.

Renée Ahdieh's website - http://www.reneeahdieh.com/



Renée Ahdieh

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Last Cheng Beng Gift by Jaymee Goh

A rather interesting story about the afterlife.

Mrs. Lim has been dead for years but is still very interested in her children.  Every year gifts are made to the dead and Mrs. Lim is often unhappy with the offering from her daughter, Hong Yin.

An interesting exploration of the afterlife is made and how decisions can be made to influence the world of the living.

It was a charming story where understanding is discovered.

I liked it very much.

Jaymee Goh

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Hermit of Houston by Samuel R. Delany

To use a term from this story, it was a batshit crazy world, in large part because the narrator was an unreliable source.

The future sees humanity returning to a kind of tribalism where countries and borders no longer exist.

Certain parts of our present world remain, Facebook has been replaced by Handbook, the internet is still there, movies too and there is a space program hinted at.

But because society is highly localized, our ability to get a full picture is hindered.  Which is the point, I am sure, but I was continually frustrated by this fact.

I am uncertain about what I got out of it.  A planet without countries is naturally the default setting on Earth, but since I’ve only ever known this kind of political system, I found the concept difficult to accept.

Political entities, such as countries, no matter how incredibly flawed, have served to move humanity forward and to view the world from a higher vantage point.  To return to the microcosm of the tribe would be the bleakest evolution I could imagine.

So I guess it is an apt story for our times.

Writing these reviews sometimes helps me to make sense of what I read.  In The Hermit of Houston, I found the setting much more compelling than the story itself.

Interesting stuff.

Samuel R Delany’s Wiki page - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_R._Delany

Samuel R Delany


Monday, December 17, 2018

The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow by Cory Doctorow - Book Review #251

This is an interesting series of small, digest books from the PM Press Outspoken Authors series.

In them, there is a short fiction and then an interview or two.

At 134 pages I loved the overall look, feel and format of the book.  I certainly enjoyed learning about what is important to the author.  It's always enjoyable to get a glimpse inside the mind of an author whose fiction I enjoy.

The fiction took up most of the book at 106 pages.  In it, we follow Jimmy an adolescent who has been genetically engineered to live centuries.  I guess you could call it a post-apocalypse story but the apocalypse is still in progress where giant machines pass over the land destroying anything man-made and returning it to a natural state, concrete is turned back into dirt.

The thing I like about Doctorow's work is that his stories are about people trying to understand, cope and fit into the world.  All the SF stuff is part of the scenery.  Jimmy struggles with his immortality because he is stuck in the body of an 11-year-old, even though he has been around for over 30 years.

Early in the story the great machines come and destroy his home and kill his father.  We follow him as he tries to find a place in the world for himself.  Years later he finds a "cure" to his longevity and he bumps into a part of his past.

Recommended.

Cory Doctorow - https://craphound.com/

Cory Doctorow

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The City of Cries by Catherine Asaro

I'd describe this as a professional fish out of water situation.  A private investigator is hired anonymously for an exorbitant fee.  The money is so good that she accepts the job and is quickly whisked away to learn that she'd been hired by royalty to track down a missing prince.

The case is on her homeworld, where she grew up on the streets.  She relies on previous relationships to investigate the case.  Old flames are fanned, debts are repaid and new relationships are formed.

I really liked this story, it was gritty and real; the settings lived up to the title of the collection - Dark Spaceways indeed.

I was very happy to learn that there is much, much more to discover in this world.

Her bibliography is here - http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?1911

Catherine Asaro's Wiki page - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_Asaro

Catherine Asaro

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Peepland by Christa Faust, Gary Phillips and Andrea Camerini - A Graphic Novel Review

Goodness me, that was a gritty story.

New York in the 1980s was not a pretty place, it's a wonder how much it has changed in a single generation.  Say what you will about gentrification but I do not believe anybody wants to return to the NYC of those days.

Corrupt wealth, corrupt cops, corrupt bosses in a dirty, uncaring city and you've got a backdrop for a dirty, dangerous story.

The art was amazing, I wanted to wash my hands everytime I picked up the book.  (That's a compliment, really.)

But it was the story, oh my, what a scary world Faust and Phillips created.  In the underbelly of Times Square, a murder is caught on tape (yup VHS baby) and the evidence is hidden in a peep show booth.

Once the tape is found a whole raft of villains work extremely hard to cover up what it reveals.


This was a terrific read.  And the ending - cold, man, cold.

Highly recommended.

PS - Faust and Phillips - Doesn't that sound like a terrific detective agency?

Christa Faust - http://christafaust.com/

Gary Phillips - https://gdphillips.com/

Andrea Camerini - http://www.andreacamerini.com/