Tag Archives: science fiction

Lexicon by Max Barry

Lexicon by Max Barry: Words are powerful. Wil is kidnapped in an airport bathroom for surviving something he can’t remember a year before in the remote Australian town of Broken Hill. He and his kidnappers are then pursued by murderous people who seem to be acting through some will not their own. Meanwhile, a young woman named Emily is taken in to a secret school where she learns the power of certain syllables to control people. There’s a lot of suspense, a lot of uncertainty as to who can be trusted. I really enjoyed it, even if “deadly words” premise felt a little unbelievable. I’ve already read Jennifer Government; now I think I’ll have to pick up some of Barry’s other works.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (unabridged audiobook read by Peter Ganim; 9 hrs on 8 discs): An unidentified celestial object, dubbed Rama by astronomers, is thought to be a comet as it approaches the solar system. When it is discovered that the object is cylindrical and very clearly artificial, a crew is dispatched to check it out. Like much hard SF, this book is more about ideas than story or characters. Some of the “future morality” – polygamy, shared spouses – felt kind of thrown in, whether for shock value or just “hey look how different society is now” I don’t know. It didn’t add anything to the story, but it didn’t really detract either. It just seemed extraneous. Still, the focus of the novel remained on Rama, as it should. I had a very difficult time wrapping my head around the geography of Rama, but I found much of the science – the gravity, the strange weather systems, the critters – quite compelling. If you like hard SF, well, you’ve probably already read this one. I’m not sure why it took me so long to get to it, but I’m glad I did. It’s certainly quite the thought experiment.

A note on the audio: Despite his often engaging character voices, Ganim’s regular narration was pretty dull.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Solomon the Peacemaker by Hunter Welles

Solomon the Peacemaker by Hunter Welles: The structure of this book is rather unique: it is told as a series of interviews with a prisoner named Vincent as he tells the story of his crime. However, the interviewer’s words have all been struck, leaving only Vincent’s answers. Most of the time you can kind of intuit what the interview had said, but at other times it just feels like a convenient break in the narrative, not a place where someone would naturally speak. But that’s all right. It works far better than I was expecting, actually. Somehow a detailed story gets across even with such sparse dialogue and description. Not that I’m entirely clear on what happened, mind. World peace is controlled by a powerful and intelligent computer known as the Peacemaker. This computer is so complex it must interface with a human mind, so a host is chosen once every seven years. Vincent and his wife become involved with a man known as the Preacher, a kind of revolutionary who believes humanity is enslaved by the Peacemaker. It’s all very strange but my biggest issue is that I want to know what happened after the very last page. Did Vincent’s actions change anything? What exactly was he trying to accomplish, anyway? Was Preacher right after all? What happens to the hosts when they’re connected to the Peacemaker? And given the existence of a drug that erases memories, how much of Vincent’s tale even happened?

In short, I was waiting for an “ah ha” moment that never came. I suspect the author was hoping for this novel to serve as a kind of conversation starter. And indeed, I think I would have really enjoyed reading this alongside a friend and discussing it as we went – assuming, of course, that they picked up on more clues than I did. I feel like I didn’t absorb enough information about the world in which the story was set to truly grasp what happened, but I’m also willing to accept that this might be, like Neal Stephenson’s later works, the sort of book that I don’t understand but other people love. I’d recommend this book to someone who prefers their science fiction esoteric and experimental.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Feed by M.T. Anderson

Feed by M.T. Anderson (unabridged audiobook read by David Aaron Baker; 5 hrs on 5 discs): In a future America where the internet is inside everyone’s head, Titus and his friends are regular teenagers just looking for a good time. At a club on the moon during spring break, they meet Violet, a homeschooled outsider hoping to experience regular teenage life. After their feeds are hacked by dissidents, Violet’s feed begins to malfunction, and Titus must choose between this interesting girl he’s just met and his longtime but shallow friends. I’m not going to lie to you: Titus is not a good or admirable person, but he’s actually pretty realistic. He’s self-absorbed and wishes bad things would just go away and not bother him. I’m sure many of us have wished an inconveniently ill person could just “get over it” but unlike Titus, we readers have a moral compass reminding us that their trauma is not about us. This is a dystopia clearly inspired by the inanity of the internet; most of the characters talk like they’re on Tumblr. I found it an interesting and worthwhile read, but if you need to have some level of fondness for the main character in a book, this story will likely be pretty hard to take. If nothing else, it reminded me of the importance of empathy and kindness.

A note on the audio: I am so glad I listened to this one. The entire thing is written in dialect that would surely have driven me mad in print, but isn’t so bad to hear. (It helps that Baker is an excellent reader.) Also, the feed ads are done just like radio ads, which brings some extra realism to the story. I was kind of confused when they first cut in, because I thought maybe my CD player had switched over to radio accidentally or something, but a lot of the content is actually quite absurd and funny.

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex: I admit it: I judged this book by its cover. With a title like that, how could I not pick it up? And I was not disappointed. A girl named Gratuity and a cat named Pig meet an alien named J.Lo and journey across America to find Gratuity’s mother. It’s a pretty ridiculous story all around. The illustrations are fantastic and the whole thing is really funny. It’s also a not-so-subtle allusion to the story of the Native Americans, a rare work of effective satire that loses neither its humor nor its message. Good stuff.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

The Hand of Osiris by Jim Mastro

The Hand of Osiris by Jim Mastro: This is the second book in the Children of Hathor series, but it’s been long enough since I read the first one that I can safely say that it’s not absolutely essential to read that one to enjoy this one. All you really need to know is that American middle-schooler Jason and his friends Amelia and Kevin were abducted by aliens, and Jason became the holder of a powerful talisman. In this book they are once again spirited away into the realm of galactic politics and long-lost talismans, but as the situation worsens and the galaxy plunges toward war, Jason starts to doubt his so-called allies. Is he being told the truth? Whose side is right? It’s a grand sci-fi adventure, full of memorable aliens and fast-paced action. I look forward to seeing how Jason’s story pans out.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell: Emilio Sandoz, Jesuit priest and only survivor of the first expedition to an inhabited alien planet, is returned to Earth and immediately removed from the public eye while he recovers from grave injuries. His fellow priests desperately want to know what happened on the planet, but he is unwilling to talk, clearly traumatized in ways they don’t understand. The story of the expedition is told in flashbacks, from how the characters first met through the discovery of the alien radio signal to their adventures on the planet Rakhat. Since you know from the start that every other member of the crew eventually dies, much of the book is read with a sense of deep foreboding that only worsens the better you get to know and like them, and the longer they spend on Rakhat.

This book is amazing. It’s about aliens, sure, but it’s also about love and grief and faith and friendship and sex and language. I loved the characters and their relationships with each other, especially Anne as the sort-of matriarch. The alien culture is fascinating and quite new to me, and Emilio’s experiences are often harrowingly real. Like any good drama, it’s sometimes hard to take, and sometimes quite funny, but always engrossing. I needed to know how it all turned out, even though I knew from the beginning that it would be tragic. But it’s also uplifting in some ways, almost cathartic. Either way, I highly recommend this book. I think I may need to seek out the sequel.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Tee Vee

My husband and I have started watching television again. I mean, it’s always on anyway, but we’ve started following specific shows. Now, we don’t watch anything live – the ability to pause and rewind are just too wonderful to give up – but through the magic of Netflix and Hulu we do pretty well.

Once Upon a Time continues to be fun. The relationships between the characters grow ever more tangled. I like that Mulan is finally starting to grow a personality and that Disney did not shy away from the obvious chemistry between her and another female character, heterosexual norms be damned. Rumpelstiltskin remains my favorite character. I rather enjoy alternating between loving, hating, and feeling sorry for him. My husband is rather fond of Captain Hook, and I have to admit that he does have some of the best lines in the show.

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland has only had one episode so far, and it shows promise. My reaction to the ads for it went something like this: “From the creators of Once Upon a Time…” – yay! – “…and the writers of Lost…” – um. Anyway, stylistically I haven’t been too impressed yet. One of the best parts of the original Once Upon a Time is the costuming, so I’m hoping that Alice starts wearing better stuff soon. I also would rather John Lithgow in a rabbit outfit than the painful CG critter they’re using, but whatever. I’ll give it a few more episodes before deciding how I feel about it.

Sleepy Hollow is a remarkably silly show, and we both are really enjoying it. Ichabod Crane is a Revolutionary War soldier brought back to life in modern times. Abbie Mills is a police officer. Together, they fight the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Yes, really. It’s hilarious far more often than I think it means to be. I wonder how many more Famous Stories From Colonial America will be incorporated into this show.

My husband’s started watching Supernatural on Netflix streaming, and his commentary is marvelous. He admits that he finds it entertaining, and he’s pretty impressed with some of the creature effects, but he thinks Sam and Dean are both complete douchebags. He’s right, of course, but I think most of the female audience overlooks that because they’re (1) funny and (2) incredibly hot. I stopped watching after the fifth season, but if my husband gets to that point and wants to keep going, I’ll watch it with him. I’m looking forward to hearing his opinion of the Trickster God episodes, and Ghost Facers.

Hannibal should be showing up from Netflix soon. I’ve read all of Cleolinda’s episode recaps, and I think this is the sort of show my husband will like. You might think it strange that I still want to watch the show even though I know everything that’s going to happen, but to me it’s a little bit like reading a book after seeing the movie: I already know I’m going to enjoy the story, only now I’ll get all of the details I missed.

I’ve heard a lot of buzz over the upcoming Dracula series, but I haven’t decided if I want to watch it or not. I’ll probably catch the pilot and go from there. I’m very excited about the upcoming 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who, and I think the twelfth Doctor will be a good one, but I really wish it could settle into a regular season format. I wouldn’t mind going back to half-hour episodes if it meant more than two months of episodes a year. And don’t even get me started on the Sherlock schedule. Is that ever going to start airing again?

I don’t consider myself much of a TV watcher, but a single 45-minute episode during dinner with my sweetie is kind of a nice ritual. Are you watching anything good these days?

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin: When Joanna and her family move to Stepford, she quickly discovers that the women of the neighborhood are all quite boring: obsessed with housework and uninterested in pretty much anything else. I came into this already knowing the Big Secret, and could predict basically every single step in the plot, but it was still kind of fun. It was written in the 1970s, so the influence of the feminist movement of the time adds an extra dimension to the story. I found Joanna – as a woman, wife, and mother – to be written pretty believably, which is a refreshing change of pace for most male-penned science fiction. It’s not the most original premise, and could have easily been a short story, but as a novella it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It kept me entertained during a long plane ride, and that’s really all I expected of it.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

The Ghost from the Grand Banks by Arthur C. Clarke

The Ghost from the Grand Banks by Arthur C. Clarke: It’s always interesting to read books that take place in a future that is now the past. Granted, this one has a much shorter timeframe – it was written in 1990 and takes place in 2010 – so things aren’t all that far off, but the differences are more noticeable for it. I wonder how the story would have changed had Clarke envisioned smart phones. I was especially amused to read about the couple who made their fortune “sanitizing” old movies by removing all evidence of cigarettes. Anyway, this is about two semi-rival attempts to raise the Titanic using two very different methods. Luckily, they’re each content retrieving a different half of the ship so there isn’t much rivalry aside from who gets it to the surface first. And honestly, it’s really not all that good. The technology is passably interesting but the characters are too thin, the disasters are too convenient, and the Mandelbrot Set theory is jammed in sideways with no apparent connection to anything else in the story. This might appeal to a Clarke or Titanic enthusiast, but if you’re new to either, you’d be better off picking up something else.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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