Saturday, January 19, 2019

Book Review: The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

Hardcover, 485 pages

Published June 2018 by William Morrow

At one point while reading this book I was sitting on the bus during my morning commute and the strong California sun was beaming in the window. I stopped reading to hold my hand over the book and cast my shadow on the pages. It was probably the coolest moment I had reading this book. I was reading a part of the book when Max the main POV character realized the person she was talking to had no shadow. You see the concept behind Book of M starts with a very Bird Box-ish weird apocalypse where people lose their shadows and their memories.

This concept may have been more powerful to me if I had not already read the amazing Wonderland award-winning surreal horror novel Sip by Brian Allan Carr. In that novel, the end of the world comes with a plague driven by a growing addiction people develop for "drinking" people's Shadows. That novel was more horror and this novel is more fantasy in a King The Stand kinda of way.

I was first interested in reading this novel after hearing the author interviewed on an episode of "This is Horror." I enjoyed her interview and was excited to dive into this book. There is a lot to enjoy in this novel. First and for most, the two lead Ory and Max are well developed and their love story works. It propels the story forward giving the strong reason to be hooked. Early in the book the two are separated when Max loses her shadow and thus her memories. Worried that she will cause suffering to her husband Max takes off and Ory is desperate to find her. Thus begins parallel road stories across the devastation of a world post forgetting.

The Characters were the majority of my motivation in following the story and that is saying in a high concept story like this.

It is not to say that Shepherd doesn't sell the concept, the hook of how this starts on Zero shadow day in India to how the cities collapse is very done. The story has some excellent set-ups and payoffs that included a twist or two I was not looking for. The last one was pretty smart and one that wouldn't work on TV or a movie. My point is despite all that story I was invested in Ory and Max. Will they find each other.

The story is told in two different formats most of the story is told in 3rd person and those chapters worked better for me than Max's first narrative that was "recorded on tape." I am sure most readers won't even notice but writer's brain kicked in and it took me a bit out of the story. For example, why would she use speech tags? I know just roll with it. Shepherd paid it off and I understand why it was there.

I would say for me the first two acts of the novel felt more horror and it wasn't until the third act that it got to feel way more fantasy. I didn't enjoy the third act as much as the first two despite finding the final reveal effective. The book is excellently written and the best compliment I can give is that I will read her next novel in a heartbeat. I think if the fantasy elements had been established a little earlier it would not have seemed like such a tonal shift.

Shepherd is strong new voice and this is strong debut. It certainly bodes well for the future.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Book Review: Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson

Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson

Hardcover, 446 pages

Published October 2018 by Orbit

KSR has been on a tear the last couple of years. I was not a huge fan of New York 2140, I believe 2312 and Aurora to be two of the best 21st-century sci-fi novels. No matter what it is important to check in with Robinson and see what ideas were getting him going this year.

Red Moon will probably not be as popular as the last couple books but I think there are a lot of important ideas being touched upon in this seemingly straight forward space adventure. The Setting is a Chinese moon colony in the year 2047, our main point of view comes from Fred Fredricks an American engineer working for a Swiss company. Things get messy with governments and jurisdiction when he is accused of poisoning a Chinese official.

Fred escapes the moon with the help of poet and celebrity travel reporter Ta Shu in the process he meets another renegade named Qi. She is the daughter of a famous Chinese political figure who illegally got pregnant on the moon. (for real that would be really dangerous - we have no idea how that would work) What Fred learns is that Qi is a political revolutionary working to change to the political system in China. The political ideas are central to the final act but certainly one of the shortcomings of the novel was that these ideas didn't come to the forefront until 370 pages in.

Certainly, KSR suggests some interesting ideas for how technology could help move democracy forward into a more effective space. As character points out "I think the idea that everyone's got a wrist pad and a connection to the cloud, everyone could participate in some kind of global governance."

Red Moon is a really thoughtful book and I didn't enjoy it as much as some of the last few books but it was not for the lack of ideas. I think it is a little bit more action orientated than most KSR books are. It has an international thriller feel like movies Like Syriana but updated to reflect China as an insurgent super-power and increased space presence.

It is a big deal that the Chinese were the first to solve the issue it would take to put a rover on the far side of the moon. This novel is less about moon issues as it is current political realities being explored into the future. How Chinese politics and economy will affect the future is the spine of this narrative. You might over look it with the back and forth to the moon and the first lunar pregnancy.

The novel is a pretty good experience over-all and I like the third act best. That said it ends really abruptly. I kinda felt like my library copy was missing ten pages.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Book Review: The Orphanarium by S.T. Cartledge

The Orphanarium by S.T. Cartledge

Paperback, 226 pages

Published February 2017 by Eraserhead Press

There is weird sci-fi like Your Leguins and your PKD and then there is otherworldly sci-fi that almost transcends the genre because it is more surreal than anything. That is what we have here.

It would be easy to miss what is happening in a book written this pretty with so much going on. This is not a traditional narrative feeling like a prose version of an abstract painting. The story is a dystopia where the people are trapped in a box city floating in a surreal landscape. The story includes a revolution that includes Robotic orphans and elemental spirits.

I like weird science fiction but generally, I like them grounded in science with weird jumping off from that point. So this is not exactly my favorite kind of story. This is the kinda weird that often loses me. I am generally not a surrealist, but the only writers who can pull this off are the ones who are super talented and SC is an excellent wordsmith.

I know this is a short review but this is a really good book, like a dystopic prose poem that is filled inventive-ness on every page. Big Thumbs up.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Book review: Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta

Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta

Paperback, 263 pages

Published June 10th 2014 by Harper Voyager (first published January 24th 2012)

Arthur C. Clarke Award Nominee for Best Novel (2015)

Philip K. Dick Award Nominee (2014)

Kalevi Jäntin palkinto (2012)

Nuori Aleksis -palkinto (2013)

Tähtivaeltaja Award Nominee (2013)

The Kitschies Nominee for Golden Tentacle (Debut) (2014)

James Tiptree Jr. Award Honor List (2014)

Memory of Water is a beautiful and tragic book that is one of the most lyrical and beautiful works of fiction I have read in some time. While this novel is clearly speculative fiction and inspired by deep fears of climate change I suspect it will be one of those books shelved in literature. There is plenty of beautiful prose in the genre but it is books like this that cause marketing headaches like Mary Dorian Russell's the Sparrow or the many works of Brian Evenson. It is OK for copies the book to shelved in both the genre sections and high literature.

The most impressive thing about this novel is the fact that author Emmi Itaranta wrote the book in both her native Finnish and in English. That in itself is quite an accomplishment to be celebrated. The prose is, in fact, gorgeous, so pretty in fact that it flirts with poetry while setting the stage for the story. “We are children of water, and water is death’s close companion. The two cannot be separated from us, for we are made of the versatility of water and the closeness of death. They go together always, in the world and in us, and the time will come when our water runs dry.”

I know many readers will find this work to be a pretty picture lacking depth, thin on story. I knew this would be the judgment of many readers but I don't agree. The book is short and the story is sparse. In a longer work this would have been a problem but at 266 pages I enjoyed it quite a bit. Set in a future Scandanavia ruled by China the global power of the time. Noria is a Tea Master a job she learned from her father, one she is able to do because of a secret. A water spring deep in a cave. This is super Illegal in this water-strapped future.

This book is very similar in many ways to my top read of the last year Carrie Vaughn's brilliant Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel Bannerless. Vaughn brings to that novel more knowledgeable of Genre and skill for world-building that makes it a more commercial novel. In this case I think it makes for a better read. Overall I would suggest Bannerless first, but I think both books are amazing and worth reading.

Memory of water is a powerful piece of work. An important work of Cli-Fi that uses the power of lyrical prose to express the deep sorrow of a world that is quickly losing the foundation of life. It is not for everyone, this is not a commercial easy-breezy read but it is one of the best works of Climate Change fiction you'll find.

Book Review: Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

Paperback, 650 pages

Published February 1983 by Del Rey Books (first published September 1968)

Hugo Award for Best Novel (1969)

Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (1968)

British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel (1969)

Prix Tour-Apollo Award for Best Novel (1973)

John Brunner was a leading voice of the 60's new wave of Science Fiction. I have wondered why other authors of the new wave like Leguin, Ellison and of course Philip K Dick are better remembered or respected. Ellison, it was his insane personality and with Dick, it was the films made after his death. John Brunner like PKD has a career that balances corny pulp novels in Brunner cases he did man books about space slavers and laser guns. For every one of those Brunner had as many works of pure genius as any of the giants. Novels like Shockwave Rider (proto- Cyberpunk), The Sheep Look Up (eco-horror), and Crucible of Time (A truly weird novel about alien civilization)to name a few.

Stand on Zanzibar is without a doubt his ultimate masterpiece and even though I have been a Brunner fan for decades I had saved read this book until now. Beyond what it means in this author's catalog this is one of the greatest science fiction novels of the 20th century. There are many elements that make this novel so good and important. The novel is intensely political, and there are so many levels which the story exists on it is a challenge to explain it all. The novel is about environmental issues, colonialism, social-political interactions and more.

The story is told in an experimental format that switches between traditional narrative and various weird sub-chapters. This is done with chapters that are just in world ads, Newspaper articles, speeches, poems and excerpts from fictional textbooks like Hipcrime Vocab by Chad C Mulligan. This style was apparently inspired by (or lifted from) a famous series of books called the USA Trilogy by John Dos Passos. This will turn off easily distracted readers but there is a narrative throughout the novel that follows two main characters. The main POV is a corporate spy and assassin named Donald Hogan and his roommate Norman who is a Muslim businessman. They are forced to live together in an over-populated domed New York part of the future 2010 controlled by a supercomputer. There are mass-shootings everywhere, unending war in this effectively scary dystopia that has lots of elements of the world we live in now.

Donald and Norman find themselves at the center of battle over two small fictional nations of this future. Mass marketed drugs and eugenics are the solution that many feel is the only answer to a better world. That narrative is OK, but it is all the elements of the snapshots combined with the story that makes this novel so amazing and worth the 650 pages.

It was 1968 when John Brunner sat down to write this and it is amazing how was able to predict about our future. Let's get something clear about Science Fiction, the ability to predict the future is not the job of the genre. Telling stories about possible futures is as much about exploring current affairs as anything. Ray Bradbury famously said he didn't write Farrenheit 451 to predict but prevent the future. That is what is amazing about SOZ. Certainly, this weird world is not like ours but goddamn it if many elements mirror our modern world 50 years later.

So New York is not covered in a dome, and the Vietnam war is not in its 50th year in 2010, but the point is not to get things exactly right. There are however mass shootings including schools (p.247). The ghost town that Detroit would become because automation happened much like Brunner predicted (p. 230). That is not all the way young people date, the way cigarettes are viewed, The European Union probably two dozen other things are pretty goddamn close here.

Probably my favorite part of the novel came on page 422 with the transcript of a speech by a lunar colonist entitled "Pros and Cons of Lunatic Society." Brunner here not only doubles on the Lunatic pun PKD made in Second Variety but here he lays out the mission statement of the novel when a person living on the moon basically explains why they are better off on the moon. Speaking of life on the moon "More Important than that, though, you know that you're in an environment where co-operation is essential for survival."

Stand on Zanzibar is Brunner's best and one of the most important novels of the 20th-century science fiction or otherwise. It is not for everyone as the style makes it a challenging read. Too bad because it deserves to be studied and understood.

“The book has one of the scariest mise-en-scènes in all of science fiction: a world that is a smothering, riotous tangle of human arms and limbs. Stand on Zanzibar is an information overload on topics that sensible people would never want to learn about. Even the characters fear what the book’s world is direly telling them: as the brightest among them rather pitifully remarks, “Whatever happens in present circumstances there’s going to be trouble.” Their world is a kaleidoscope of whatever. Its darkly troubled whateverness oozes from its walls with lysergic intensity.” ― John Brunner

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Top Ten Movies of 2018!

M:I Fallout: It is amazing that this movie written as they went, and broken up by it's star busting his ankle. The youtube video of Tom Cruise doing all the stunts is almost as exciting as the movie itself. None the less it was a spectacle on the big screen. Super fun.

Leave no Trace: The story this is based on was big in the news in Portland when it happened and I remembered it being on the news. It was cool to see Forrest Park where we liked to hike back when lived there. The two leads were great, this was a a really moving film at times. Simple but powerful film.

Annihilation: I was a huge fan of the novel coming in, and this might have been at the top of my list if they had cut 10 seconds out of the opening and cut the last two minutes. I am glad I saw this very sacry sci-fi surreal horror film in the theater.

First Man: Powerful movie and well made. I thought this movie did a great job of capturing the insanity of early space travel. I also like the score.

Upgrade: Sci-fi meets dumb 80's style action movie, this is like spiritual cousin to the first Robo-cop or Total Recall.

BlacKKKlansman: Spike Lee's best movie since Malcolm X. Funny at times, heart breaking you could hear a pin drop during the final scene.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: There is a reason it has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes so don't sleep on it. The story is cute, funny and sweet at times. It is a excellent example of fantastic writing that appeals to all ages and the animation itself is worth seeing.

Hereditary: It might be a better movie than the two I have listed above it, but I did have some nitpicks. This movie was a a totally amazing theater experience. It was a horror movie anyone who says differently is not thinking clearly. Toni Collette is getting robbed not getting nominated for this movie.

Mute: It is my least favorite Duncan Jones movie of the three I have seen, and I know many people didn't like it. Mute worked for me. It was a weird sci-fi film with lots despicable characters. Jones said the movie was inspired by MASH (the movie not the TV) and it is weird movie, and if you can't tell that is what I like best.

Mandy: I understand why some don't like this movie, some accused it as style over substance, but I personally found it to be a perfect balance of insanity, story and pure weird. The visuals are amazing, Cage and the cast were great and it is the only movie I have ever seen where a character forges a sword that is shapped like the logo of Celetic Frost.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Best Reads of 2018!

Top 10 Reads of 2018!

Best short story: Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang

Best Non-fiction read of the year: The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself by Sean Carrol

Best book read for Dickheads: Eye in the Sky.

Biggest Disappointment: The Outsider by Stephen King

These are just of new releases in 2017-18 that I read. I read 100 books this year if you include the graphic novels which I reviewed on goodreads but not the blog. About half of those were new releases.

10. Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

Cross Her Heart is a masterpiece of parallels and reversals. I should say that this is a twisty turny narrative that is better if you know nothing going in, and that is how I did it. If you like stuff like Girl on the Train and Gone Girl this is in that vein.

9. How to Set Yourself On Fire by Julia Dixon Evans

This novel by San Diego Writer Julia Dixon Evans is an excellent character study tied to together subtle but powerful prose. This is somewhat of a coming of age novel even though the main character is an adult.

8. Dry by Neal Shusterman, and Jarrod Shusterman

Stephen King said he couldn't put it down. Dry is an effective horror novel, YA or not it is an important novel for our time. It deserves to be on the shelf next to eco-horror classics like The Sheep Look Up. I feel it is the orange county cousin to my San Diego based Cli-fi novel Ring of Fire.

7. Blood Standard (Isaiah Coleridge #1) by Laird Barron

This is a masterpiece of tough guy crime, and that has everything to do with an author who clearly is intelligent with the ability to write highly literate prose,a stylist, but also with the experience and bravado to write effective macho-ma-cheese-mo. It is the balance that makes Tarantino great in film and Elmore Leonard great in any format. It is weird at times but there is nothing supernatural. If you didn't think Barron could write a book with a different bag of tricks think again.

6. Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller

This book balances lots of things I love in a novel. Miller has lots of plates spinning from world building, well drawn characters and clear but not heavy handed messaging. If you look at the issues he is able to address from the climate horrors,post-scarcity culture, classism, refugees and at the core the many ills of capitalism. It might seem like he was writing a political paper but it is all subtly slipped into the story naturally. You end up with a super smart politically driven neo-noir novel that reminded me of a urban Snowpiercer with plenty of PKD influence for my Dickheads.

5. UBO by Steve Rasnic Tem

Set in a weird as hell surreal prison maybe in space, maybe out of space time? The first half of the book has a mystery as powerful as the setting, and that is saying something. When you mix the "I want to shoot myself" grim tone of Macarthy's The Road, with the political concepts and sheer "what the fuck is real?" of Philip K Dick you earned the word masterpiece.

4. Cabin at The End of The World by Paul Tremblay

Anyone who thinks of this novel as a simple horror are missing the point. This is a multi-layered novel that packs massive amounts of entertainment and meaning into a book that is less than 300 pages. Written just after the election Cabin at the End of the World is horror novel that builds scares in part from that disconnect. Comedy is often built on a foundation of set-up and punch-line. Effective horror novels are built on a foundation of tension, suspense and placing the reader in fear for the characters. The set-up of CATEOW is genius because it not only sets up those elements but explores the themes that plague our nation every time we watch the news.

3. Burning Sky by Weston Ochse

Burning Sky is masterpiece that I am more impressed by the longer I think about it. Burning Sky is very much about PTSD, but Burning Sky takes that theme and goes beyond. This novel is about what drives war. It explores the deep trauma not just of the warriors but society. The book points to key moments covered by the news in the last few conflicts that lead to Trauma that we felt collectively. The theme is expressed so beautifully in some of this novel's most horrific moments.

I interviewed Weston for Dickheads about this book:

2. The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

The Freeze-Frame Revolution is a mind bending science fiction novel that packs in more ideas and story into it's 192 pages than some novels three times its length. One of the hardest parts of space based hard sci-fi is for the writer to express the scope and size of the universe. When we look into the universe the distance and amount of years are beyond what most stories can contain. We can talk about distances that stretch thousands of light-years and journeys that would last thousands if not millions of years but it is a a different challenge to create a narrative with such scope. That is the cool thing about this novel - it doesn't shy away from this reality.

1. Bannerless/ The Wild Dead by Carrie Vaughn

Winner of the 2017 Philip K. Dick Award and the sequel make my list at number one! While very worthy of the Philip K Dick award the author's work that Bannerless reminds me more of in tone and subject matter is Ursula Leguin. While Vaughn has her own voice I mean this with the upmost respect. The coast road is a future post end of the world novel and there is a fine tradition of novels like this set in California from Leguin's Always Coming Home, Gene O'Neil's Cal Wild books and Kim Stanley Robinson's Three California trilogy. Bannerless is a strong entry in this sub-genre.

This post Climate Change apoclayse novel is a murder mystery that deals with issues related to reproductive rights, ecological and social justice issues. But hey check out my interview with the reigning PKD award winning author herself - the first Dickheads interview.

Books read in 2018:

* New Releases (2017 & 2018)

Defy the Stars (Constellation #1) by Claudia Gray*

Perchance to Dream by Charles Beaumont

Artemis by Andy Weir*

Usurper of the Sun by Housuke Nojiri

Infernal Parade by Clive Barker

Escape From Baghdad by Saad Z. Hossain

The God Gene by F.Paul Wilson*

Origins of Creativity by Edward O. Wilson

Aftermath by Levar Burton

Mean Business on North Ganson Street by S. Craig Zahler

Another Way to Fall by Brian Evenson and Paul Tremblay*

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben*

Shaker by Scott Frank

The Wave by Walter Mosley

Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

The God Problem by Howard Bloom

Solar Lottery by Philip K. Dick

Cobalt Squadron (Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi)by Elizabeth Wein

UBO by Steve Rasnic Tem*

The Dispossessed by Ursla K. Leguin

The Unnoticeables by Robert Brockway

The Listener by Robert R. McCammon*

The Night Masquerade (Binti #3) by Nnedi Okorafor*

Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8: A Young Man's Voice from the Silence of Autism by Naoki Higashida*

Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn*

The Coldest City by Antony Johnston (Goodreads Author), Sam Hart (Illustrator)

Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson*

Austral by Paul McAuley*

Star Wars The Last Jedi by Jason Fry*

Corpse Paint by David Peak* After the Flare (Nigerians in Space #2) by Deji Bryce Olukotun*

The World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick

Han Solo at Star's End by Brian Daley

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi*

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes*

The Outsider by Stephen King*

Chasing New Horizons by Alan Stern & David Grinspoon*

The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett

The Wild Dead (The Coast Road #2) by Carrie Vaughn*

The Man Who Japed by Philip K. Dick

The Hematophages by Stephen Kozeniewski*

Star Wars: Last Shot: (A Han and Lando Novel) by Daniel José Older *

Blood Standard (Isaiah Coleridge #1) by Laird Barron*

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich*

The Soldier by Neal Asher*

The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick

It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation by Ken Liu (Editor, Translator)

Burning Sky by Weston Ochse*

Now That You're Here by Amy K. Nichols

How to Set Yourself On Fire by Julia Dixon Evans*

Eye in the Sky by PKD

Cabin at The End of The World by Paul Tremblay*

The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts*

All Hail the House Gods by Andrew James Stone*

Exploring Dark Short Fiction #2: A Primer to Kaaron Warren*

Ball Lightning by Liu Cixin*

Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough*

Nightflyers by George RR Martin

That Which Grows Wild by Eric J. Guignard*

Halcyon by Rio Youers*

A World Of Horror edited by Eric J Guignard*

The People’s Republic of Everything by Nick Mamatas

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller*

Dr. Futurity by Philip K. Dick

An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim*

The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself by Sean Carrol

Vulcan's Hammer by Philip K Dick

The Overstory by Richard Powers*

Dry by Neal Shusterman, and Jarrod Shusterman*

Elevation by Stephen King*

Florida by Lauren Groff*

The Man In the High Castle by Philip K Dick

Hoosier Hysteria: A Fateful Year in the Crosshairs of Race in America by Meri Henriques Vahl

Someone Like Me by M.R. Carey

Stand on Zanibar by John Brunner

Memory of water by Emmi Itäranta