Book Preview – The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

I like to think I’m a big science fiction fan but I tend to favor what’s probably better considered to be light science fiction. The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett is precisely the kind of light science fiction that I love. While it delves into the science and philosophy of a potential future for human kind—and how we might easily become almost entirely wiped out as a species—the real focus of the novel is the emotional side, the personal side, the human side that remains and endeavors to survive against all odds.

Jamie, like the entire human population scattered across the inhabited planets, has been at the mercy of a devastating virus that spreads quickly and leaves nothing but dust in its wake… except for those zero point zero zero zero zero one percent who somehow manage to survive and recover. The planet where she’s been living and working for a few months to hide from some personal (relationship) troubles is on the outskirts though and didn’t have a large population to begin with. Jamie’s panic lasts a few days as she makes her way to a port town and tries to send a signal to see if there are any other survivors out there. She doesn’t have to wait long and soon she has joined several others on their way to the capital planets and eventually back to Earth itself. But as survivors gather in larger and larger numbers, the underlying issues of the society that’s been wiped out prove to have survived the virus along with them. Continue reading

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Book Review – 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, 1001 Books to Read Before You Die #170

2001 a space odyssey - book coverI’ve been working my way through some of the “classic” science fiction books to see and understand more of the genre’s origins and how it’s evolved. The science fiction titles on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list feel like a good way to kill two birds with one stone. What I knew about Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey before reading it was mostly just two things strongly connected to the film—the music from Strauss’ Thus Spake Zarathustra and the bit of dialogue referencing the pod bay doors—and neither of which turns out to have given much of anything away from the story at hand.

Beginning with the early education of mankind as he evolved from man-apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey follows a rather disjointed structure that makes pinning down the main plot a bit difficult. Some sort of extra-terrestrial force arrive in the African plains and study and educate those early ancestors of mankind in part one. By part two, man had already established working colonies on the Moon and made an unexpected discovery while exploring and excavating the Moon’s surface—a monolith that dates back to the days before mankind had fully evolved. A clear indication that intelligent life has or continues to exist in the greater universe, the rest of the book is much more focused on the mission to make contact—though who knows about the discovery and the true nature of the mission is kept pretty quiet. Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole are the two active crew-members as the ship Discovery—with the assistance of a supercomputer, HAL—embark for Jupiter while their three companions wait in suspension to be reawakened upon arrival when they will conduct their experiments. Before they can reach Jupiter, however, the secrets of the “true mission” begin to cause problems with the HAL computer system. Continue reading

Book Review – The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

9780345391810_p0_v1_s260x420Many times profound statements and observations are buried within the serious and the dramatic; the comedic and the lighthearted get dismissed as simple entertainment with not much substance. But with a writer like Douglas Adams, the slightly absurd nature of the story and the lighthearted delivery don’t mean there aren’t deep observations being presented. The second novel in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe continues to point out the absurdities of life with profound eloquence.

As the Vogons attempt to destroy the ship carrying Arthur, Trillian, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ford Prefect, and Marvin, some last minute maneuvering and assistance sets the quintet on a mission to meet the man who controls the universe. Zaphod had the plan laid out before having his memory wiped so he and his companions are at the mercy of those whom he no longer remembers agreed to help him. They’re also still trying to get Arthur to generate the Question to which forty-two was the answer in the great experiment that was Earth (a carry-over from the first novel). But as they learn when they find themselves at Milliways (the titular Restaurant at the End of the Universe), you don’t always get to where you want to go the way you thought you would get there, and when you get there, it may not be what you expected. Continue reading

Book Review – Cinder by Marissa Meyer

9781250007209_p0_v3_s260x420So after a decent break from YA science fiction/dystopic fiction, I finally took the plunge on a new series by reading Cinder by Marissa Meyer (it took a lot to resist the urge to just reread the Hunger Games especially with the first Mockingjay movie coming out later this week). But I found Cinder to be a promising start to the Lunar Chronicles series and will definitely put the second and third installments on my To Read list. More science fiction than most of the YA series I’ve read in recent years, it appeals to another of my favorite trends: twists on fairy tales.

Cinder is the best mechanic in New Beijing in the Eastern Commonwealth. She’s also a cyborg and, even if cyborgs weren’t looked down upon, her stepmother/guardian would be sure to make her feel that way. Cinder is understandably shocked when the crown prince, Kai, shows up to ask her to fix his personal android. But she doesn’t have long to enjoy the moment because her younger stepsister falls ill with the same plague that threatens the lives of everyone on earth including New Beijing’s dying emperor. Cinder is thrust into the mission to find a cure for the disease as the loathed and lethal Queen Levana from the colonized moon, Luna, holds the Commonwealth and all of Earth on the edge of war, threatening to enslave them as she has her own people, the Lunars.

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Book Review – The Guns of Napoleon by Peter Lean

UnknownPeter Lean’s time-travel novel, The Guns of Napoleon is a self-published novel that, with a little bit of work, could easily have been published through a specialty-publishing house. Unfortunately, finding such small, niche publishers can be challenging but the self-publishing medium can help such writers and publishers find each other. Here’s hoping that my little blog can help Lean and a publisher find one another for his second book as I continue to try and give promising self-publishing writers some of the attention their efforts deserve. Though The Guns of Napoleon has some tightening up and editing to do, the premise, plot, and writing itself show that Lean has what it takes to write a good story.

Victor Sirkov is a history professor in modern Russia whose field of specialty and passion are for Napoleon and his failed Russian campaign. One Friday evening, two men appear on his doorstep asking that he accompany them to a state-of-the-art facility for a mysterious consulting job. When Victor arrives, he learns that the institute’s director, Martin Roche, wants Victor to be part of an experiment centered on a wormhole that the institute was built around. From all their tests, they have determined that the wormhole will deposit anyone or anything into Russia in 1812 and they want Victor to be one of the first human test subjects. Jumping at the opportunity, Victor does not go through the wormhole alone but what awaits him on the other side is more than the simple mission he signed on for and could forever alter the course of world history. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

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I’ve been lucky to start working my way from simply reviewing books that have already hit bookstore shelves into the realm of previewing books. The first of these is from an author I enjoyed years ago: Ann Brashares. I found her Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series to be sentimental but in the best way, examining the importance of friendship and having people to support you through your teen years, whoever they may be. Having the opportunity to preview her upcoming The Here and Now was doubly exciting because it delves into the realm of science fiction (which I’ve come to really enjoy in recent years). Tackling the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey issues that go hand in hand with time travel, The Here and Now is a huge departure from the Sisterhood books and while I’m all for writers branching out and trying new things, there are some elements from the Sisterhood books that could have helped The Here and Now fulfill its potential.

Seventeen-year-old Prenna James lives with some pretty strict rules but they’re not the same rules that most teenagers have to deal with. As a time immigrant from an apocalyptic future, the rules of Prenna’s community are designed to protect the unsuspecting people around her. Or at least, that’s what she’s been told in the years since arriving four years earlier in 2010. Limiting interaction with anyone not a fellow time traveler proves difficult for Prenna for several reasons, not the least of which is persistent classmate, Ethan. Aside from the fact that Prenna is attracted to him, he refuses to be deterred when she does try to brush him off. She can’t help but feel he understands more about her than he should and when an apparently crazy, homeless man confronts Prenna and challenges her belief in the rules and the system, the reasons for breaking them multiply.

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Book Review – The Rise of Nine by Pittacus Lore

9780061974601_p0_v1_s260x420I had some serious reservations after finishing The Power of Six a while back so it’s taken me a while to talk myself into picking up The Rise of Nine. Ultimately, after having to read so much Literature (yes, with a capital “L”), I was ready to dive back into the world of YA science fiction/fantasy. I remember moderately enjoying the first book of the series and I don’t like leaving things unfinished so I though it was time to give the Lorien Legacies another chance. I found out I’m glad I waited because I’m still undecided.

Picking up right where the last book left off, The Rise of Nine brings more members of the Garde together with more and bigger battles than before. There’s a lot of action but not a lot of chemistry as the cast of characters gets a little out of hand. The absence of former favorite characters tried this reader’s patience and much of the plot felt like filler, designed to stall things for character development that didn’t go beyond a superficial level.

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Living With Myself Now on Juke Pop Serials!

book_cover_4889545d_20130729212810PM“The most useful form of time travel would be to go back a year or two and rectify the mistakes we made.” – Matt Lucas

My serialized story Living With Myself has been accepted for publication online on the Juke Pop Serials website! So I’m published, sort of.

It is the same story that I had started serializing here on this blog so the first few chapters will seem familiar to anyone who already read some on here (it is also why I have removed them from this blog at least for the time being). I have made some changes to the story and will be adding to it, so long as it is read and up-voted enough to keep it going.

Juke Pop Serials is actually a fascinating little community that I stumbled upon a few weeks ago and it is definitely something I recommend everyone check out. So many genres, so many aspiring writers, such a cool concept. I’ll be trying to post chapters once a week (though it might wind up closer to every two weeks depending on my workload and deadlines for jobs).

Here’s the summary for the story overall:

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to meet yourself ten years down the line, you might want to think again. Anastasia finds that out when she bumps into Stacy, herself from ten years into the future. Anastasia must figure out a way to get Stacy home and must learn how to live with her in the mean time.

And here’s a little teaser about the first chapter:

Anastasia and Stacy meet and Stacy begs for Anastasia’s help.

Octavia Butler’s Good Stuff

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” – Octavia Butler

Sometimes we need someone to make a suggestion or a recommendation (or give an assignment) before we will try something different, something we didn’t think we would like. Sometimes that nudge pushes open a door to something amazing that we’d been judging based off of the view through a grimy and distorting window. It’s like the moment Dorothy steps through the door and sees the colorful world of Oz. I have my undergraduate lit studies professor to thank for introducing me to so many writers I’ve come to love. Octavia Butler is one of those writers I’m certain I never would have discovered on my own. Butler’s work, in turn, opened me up to the genre of science fiction, towards which I had largely been indifferent.

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Book Review – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I had heard a lot about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (all of it good) without actually hearing much of what it was actually about. Now, I understand why. Douglas Adams’ classic science-fiction novel is a quick and entertaining read that leaves the reader speechless for two reasons: its imagination and tone inspire pleasant surprise and it is almost impossible to summarize without being drawn into too many of the specifics (though I will do my best).

Arthur Dent is an ordinary human being who, understandably, thinks his biggest problem is that developers are trying to knock his house down to make way for a bypass. Then his friend, Ford Prefect, drags him down to the pub and forces him to drink three beers while he informs Dent that the planet is about to be destroyed to make way for an even bigger bypass, and that, by the way, he (Prefect) is actually an alien who has been stranded on Earth for the last fifteen years.

Prefect drags Dent along for the ride as he catches a ride with the planet’s destroyers and the two make their way on the most improbable journey from one side of the galaxy to the other, with the help or at least the insight of the bestselling, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (though as, Prefect explains, that edition is in the process of being revised and he was traveling for the purpose of rewriting some of the entries when he became stranded). Along the way they fall in with the on-the-run president of the galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox, his current companion, Trillian, and the ultimate in depressed and depressing technology, Marvin “the Paranoid Android.”

It is difficult for me to pin-point which aspect of the book was my favorite, the characters or the tone of the writing. In some ways, the two go hand-in-hand. And both are right in line with my sarcastic, dry, and often dark, sense of humor (books might make me smile or chuckle from time to time, but this one had me laughing loud enough to catch the attention of anyone sitting near me).

The writing style often reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut (not a bad thing since he is one of my favorite writers). Adams’ combination of satire and science fiction is refreshing. It doesn’t take itself or its subject matter too seriously, which so many books tend towards, regardless of genre. The technology mentioned is less technical and more whimsical in both imagery and explication.

The characters carry on the tone with their own selfish and morbid observations. Dent can be both practical and ridiculous as everything he has ever known is turned on its head. Prefect and Zaphod vie for consideration as the most optimistic, or perhaps the most oblivious.

My only wish is that the novel had been longer. The abruptness of the ending fits with the established feel of the novel, but it is still upsetting that it has to end, the consolation being that there are more books to follow. Trillian and Marvin were underused and hopefully there are more of them in the rest of the series as well as answers to those questions raised in this first installment, or questions to the answers given, as the case may be.

Heinde’s Sight – A Short Story

“People only see what they are prepared to see.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

This short story was inspired by a dinner conversation my friends and I had where we tried to come up with the most useless super-hero powers imaginable. I struggled to find the right voice and the right words for this story so that it would be entertaining and the concept would be understandable. I’m still not sure that I’m there so please let me know what you think so that I can continue to improve on it.

Claire has unique visions when she falls asleep at night. Her visions of futures that will never come to pass for the individuals around her can make it difficult to fit in but they also allow her a freedom unknown by those same people.

Excerpt from “Heinde’s Sight”

Everyone at the local pizza place knew about Claire Heinde and her odd ways. Well, all the regulars knew about her. They knew that her closest confidante was the crazy homeless guy who collected cans and used the money from returning them to buy aluminum foil, which he would wrap around streetlights, telephone poles, and parking meters to mess with the signals the aliens were beaming to Earth. They knew that Claire had this way of looking at a person that could make them feel like the biggest failure in the universe or with such blatant admiration that they couldn’t help but blush. They knew that while Claire didn’t have regular days, she’d come into the pizza place twice a week, sit at the counter on the stool meant to be a seat for the elderly customers forced to wait in line, and after ordering a slice of cheese-less, toppings-less pizza and a chocolate milkshake, she would open up a black composition book, scribble furiously, tear the page out, rip it up and let the pieces blow out of her hand as she walked away from the Slice of Seventh Heaven Pizza Parlor.

The old timers would talk about how she’d always been a little daft in the head and that it was a shame since her parents had been bright enough. Every once in a while, a new addition to the regular crowd would ask what had happened to Claire that made her act that way. One would swear she’d been dropped on her head as a small child, a complete accident. Another would claim it was that car accident a while back and why was he the only one who remembered how she’d acted normally before but came in the week after getting out of the hospital and started scraping the cheese from her pizza. A third would call the second nuts and remind him she wasn’t even in the car that crashed, wasn’t even in town when it happened; it was abuse that had put poor Claire out of her mind. Perfect family like that had to be hiding something. There were chemicals in the area where she lived that leeched into the Heide’s vegetable garden. She was on a medication for something and it messed with her ability to interact with others. Too much therapy in her formative years. Not enough.

In truth, none of them knew much about Claire and that should have made them uneasy. It would have made them squirm if they had any idea how much she knew about them without even trying to discover anything (in fact, she tried very hard not to know more about them than they could ever know about themselves).

Book Review – I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

I have to admit that the reason I read Pittacus Lore’s I Am Number Four is because I found the previews for the film (which was released in theaters this past Friday 2/18) intriguing. When I found out it was based on a novel, I added it to the list of books to read before I see the movie. I Am Number Four is a science-fiction novel marketed towards young adults but with an appeal that reaches further.

John Smith was one of nine children from the planet Lorien who escaped ten years before when the Mogadorians attacked in pursuit of Lorien’s natural resources, killing all of the people and destroying the planet in the process. A member of the protective Guarde, John and Henri, his Cepan (teacher/legal guardian) are constantly on the run from Mogadorians who followed them to Earth. Because of a protection spell cast as they were leaving, the children can only be killed in their particular numerical order and John is next on the list.

Hiding in a small town in Ohio, John finally begins to develop his legacies, the powers that will make him an effective Guarde in the fight to defeat the Mogadorians and return to Lorien. For the first time he also makes a friend, Sam Goode, an alien conspiracy-theory enthusiast, and a girlfriend, Sarah Hart. When events have Henri starting to look to run again, John has to stand up for himself now that he has a reason to stay and something he’s willing to fight to keep.

There are many different ways to explain a character’s supernatural powers in fantasy or science fiction novels and alien origins isn’t groundbreaking or new, but in I Am Number Four it doesn’t feel like a tired or overused premise. For the most part, the characters are engaging and there is enough tension to keep an adult reader’s attention even through the passages that are clearly meant to appeal to the intended teen-audience. The romance gets repetitive and is completely predictable but nowhere near as annoying or redundant as other successful teen series (Twilight or Fallen, for instance).

The pacing reminds me a little of The Hunger Games Trilogy in the way that when a chapter ends, there is an internal debate over how important what you should be doing really when compared to getting a few more answers, reading one more chapter. The author doesn’t try to cram too much into the novel either. Even though it is meant to set up the Legacies of Lorien series, it didn’t feel like a throw-away novel with the sole purpose of setting up the premise and introducing the characters but is a novel that can stand alone. In fact, the story being told clearly feels bigger than what would fit in one book. It will be interesting to see if the next book in the series, The Power of Six due out at the end of the summer, can take more risks and reach out to more than just the teen audience.

 

The Power of Six

Kurt Vonnegut: A writer who had plenty to say

“Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?” – Kurt Vonnegut

I’m a fan of The Daily Show and in September 2005, they had a guest who is my favorite to date: Kurt Vonnegut. It’s a fantastic interview that I go back and watch every so often, including four or five times the week he died in 2007, (watch it HERE). In many ways, he was the way I have always imagined Mark Twain would have been if he had been born about a hundred years later.

Vonnegut was one of the greatest satirists with a sense of humor that is hard to find and impossible to replicate. His novels contain a number of my favorites in literature.

Mother Night: My favorite closing line(s). An amazing look at the handling of war crimes justice after World War II, Mother Night is wonderfully poetic in its irony, but in no scene is it more pronounced than the novel’s closing scene.

“Harrison Bergeron”: My favorite short story. There are many great short stories out there and Vonnegut wrote many of my favorites. Welcome to the Monkey House includes most of these stories, including “Harrison Bergeron”, a look at the need to create equality at all costs.

Breakfast of Champions: My favorite instance of playing with narrative perspective and the author. Though Ian McEwan’s Atonement is my favorite examination of perception and perspective, no one plays with them the way Vonnegut does. It’s not something that can easily be explained, but it is amazing to read.

Kilgore Trout: Favorite recurring character. There are writers that generate series around certain characters and then there are writers like Vonnegut. There are few characters in literature like Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout, the science fiction writer who appears in a number of his works including Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse-Five.

Mother Night is my favorite Vonnegut book, and, though I couldn’t think of where in my great list of favorites it fits, Cat’s Cradle comes in at a close second. Oh wait, I thought of one: Favorite “I’ve never thought of it that way before” moment for pointing out the confusion caused in children by naming the game Cat’s Cradle when there are no cats and no cradles involved. It is only the first of many, “I’ve never thought of it that way before” moments that novel and his others possess (and I absolutely love it when books make me do that, make me think about things differently).