Saturday, September 22, 2018

Book Review: Ball Lightning by Liu Cixin, Joel Martinsen (Translation)

Ball Lightning by Liu Cixin, Joel Martinsen (Translation)

Hardcover, 384 pages

Published August 2018 by Tor Books (first published 2005)

A few years ago Cixin Liu's Three Body Problem became a surprise bestseller. At this point very little Asian science fiction had been translated into English. Not only was it a commercial success but the first novel won the Hugo. It is not Hyperbole to say that the Three body trilogy is a series filled with Astonishing ideas. Liu Cixin is an author of fantastic ideas that is what makes his work special.

I enjoyed the first Three body Problem novel, and really liked his novella in Invisible Planets. When I saw that his pre-Three body novel was getting a translation I was excited to check it out and went in totally cold. Ball Lightning is a more grounded story in the sense that it doesn't leave earth but the imagination involved is still epic in scope.

The best moments of the novel come when the author explores the quantum universe. What if we discovered electrons the size of our heads? What if we found atoms that operate the same way but fill but exist in a macro style beyond our comprehension. What kind of weapons could be made? What impact would it have on science?

If you notice I talking about the ideas off the bat and not the character and plot which are thin. Not non-existent but very thin indeed. The main characters whose name I don't even remember witness a natural phenomena that reduces his parents to ash in front of him. This act of ball lightning is rare but he makes it his mission to learn the science.Over four hundred pages the novel follows his research and the various forces that want to harness his discoveries.

I gotta be honest I found this story just interesting enough with it's weird science concepts to keep reading but I really didn't enjoy this book. One other interesting note in the translation happens after China ends up in a war towards the end of this near future novel. The translator/editor went to great lengths not name the enemy in this war. At one point when they are setting up to attack enemy and the aircraft carriers are named. They are three U.S. aircraft carriers named including the Carl Vinson which is often docked here in San Diego. I understand why they were afraid to just say it. We are the enemy in the novel and I was OK with that.

Overall I think readers should stick to the story in Invisible Planets and The Three Body Problem. There are a few interesting and thought provoking ideas but not enough. This could've been and should've been a short story or novella in my opinion. Just not enough story or characters to justify the number of pages involved.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

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

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

by Eric J. Guignard (Editor),

Kaaron Warren(Contributor)

Michael A. Arnzen (Contributor)

Michelle Prebich (Illustrator)

Paperback, 204 pages

Published May 2018 by Dark Moon Books

Last year when the first Exploring Dark Short Fiction Primer book was released featuring a tribute to Steve R Tem I was excited about the potential of these. Before I get into the content let me tell about the series. These are beautiful books, they look amazing and the quality of the production is some of the best I have seen by a independent publisher. When you add the commentary by PH.D Michael Arnzen, everything from the lay-out, to the art is top notch. When you add it to the amazing fictional content you have incredible value at $13.95. Each book comes with six stories, commentary, interviews, artwork and more.

So this book is dedicated to the work of the Australian Author Kaaron Warren who I had only read once before. I gave her debut novel Slights 5/5 in 2010. At the time I said "Slights is disturbing and the most original psychological horror novel I read in years. It seems very Chuck Palahniuk influenced." So I was way overdue to read more work by the author and excited to check out her short fiction. One of the exciting aspects of this series is you get a chance to meet the author.

Reading this book you get to know Kaaron Warren comes just as much from her story as her introduction as you do the interview. I didn't know that this author grew up around Hare Khrisnas. This lead to an author who thinks out of the mainstream. Warren's tales are not predictable and are hard to pin as traditional even though she often picks one of the oldest tropes in horror the ghost tale. This book alone has several interesting and thoughtful takes on ghosts.

The collection kicks off with a really strong fantasy "Guarding the Mound" that has a epic scope that plays with the eternity of the after-life and manages to make a subtle statement about patriarchy. Other highlights for me includes "the Wrong Seat" and "Crisis Apparition."

"The Wrong Seat" is very short but powerful story about a ghost that haunts the bus she was murdered on. "Crisis Apparition" is a story that Warren talks about in the interview. Reading about the inspiration and seeing how she wove it into a story is really great way for young authors to learn about short story construction.

That is the thing, this is a entertaining book, the stories are great. You will learn about the author but as much as it is primer for the author it is also a great education tool for short fiction in general. Editor Eric Guignard is doing exciting stuff with this series and Dark Moon Books in general. He is one of the hardest working folks in the indie horror scene and it is paying off. His name on a book is a mark of quality. This series is just starting but in a few years I suspect these books will help a new generation of authors learn the ropes.

Either way Dark Moon books is raising the bar, good news for all horror fans.

Book Review: All Hail the House Gods by Andrew James Stone

All Hail the House Gods by Andrew James Stone

Paperback, 134 pages

Published July 2018 by StrangeHouse Books

All Hail the House gods is the second book by bizarro newcomer Andrew J Stone. I enjoyed his darkly humorous debut Mortuary Monster when it came out last year. I enjoyed that novel enough though it was a little out of my wheelhouse. It was a weird enough of a book I am not sure it was directly in anyone's normal reading pattern. That is a good thing. It was like a surrealist hammer novel with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

There is a certain sarcasm that comes with AJS's work but in All Hail it is a much darker vision with a few funny turn of phrases. Stone is a word smith and the tightly composed prose is what sets this super bizarre dystopia apart from other works of Bizarro fiction. The plot is about a society where people are forced to breed and sacrifice their children to the House gods. This is a not so thinly veiled totalitarian state and makes this novel almost a surrealist take on the Handmaid's tale.

It certainly seems timely as the supreme court is in the balance with the swing vote that might crush Roe V Wade happening any day now.

The book comes to a head when the two parents at the center of the story decide they have had enough. What I liked about All Hail The House Gods is that it is a political and revolutionary story told in a surrealist way. Responding to the times much in the way Deadite has intended to do this year with releases like the school shooting themed novel Crisis Boy by Garrett Cook and My climate change novel Ring of Fire.

This is a good time for topical bizarro and if you like your weird thoughtful and with a message you can't go wrong with Andrew Stone's second book. It was a slow start for me but once I got into the themes I was to ready to hail the house gods.

Dickheads Podcast: Human Is Story Vs Film

Which do you prefer? The Dickheads podcast takes on our first episode of the acclaimed series Electric Dreams. Plus: Angsty Dick Theories. Alien parasite adultery. And a possible ass for Bryan Cranston.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Book Review: The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts
Paperback, 192 pages Published June 2018 by Tachyon Publications

I am not sure how I never read Peter Watts before but somehow I missed out. This book first got on my radar when Luke Barrage and Juliana of the Science Fiction Book Review podcast did an episode about a few months back. After listening to fifteen minutes of that episode I paused it and went to reserve a copy. I am glad I did and thank you Tachyon publications for sending Luke a copy because that is how it entered my books-a-sphere.

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.

Watts is a scientist and the book comes off as hard science but in the afterword he admits to what he calls "handwavium." I think to the layman it all sounds convincing down to the black hole drive built into the center of the hollowed out Asteroid turned generation ship. When the story starts the main character Sunday Ahzmundin explains that they the mission is in its 66th million year since they left earth. If they had gone backwards instead of forward they would be in the time of Dinosaurs.

Sunday remembers earth because she only wakes and/or is brought back to life really for six days at time every few thousand years. The Mission is run by Chimp a HAL-9000 like AI, and the humans take turns waking when needed to build the Gates. Their purpose is to travel around the galaxy building wormhole gateways that will be a travel system for humans. The problem after millions of years building he gateways no humans have followed them.

Sunday and her fellow human travelers begin to wonder if the human race still exists and that leads to the question of what are they doing. They are already on their second trip around the milky way. Chimp doesn't question, he will keep the mission going until the heat death of the galaxy and humans fear they will be stuck with him.

So the question becomes how do you organize a revolution/ mutiny when you are only awake a few days every thousand years and the ship itself is a thinking machine?

I loved Freeze-Frame Revolution in part because of the massive cutting edge mind expanding ideas but also the human core of characters who development is not ignored. Watts has a biting tone and it is clear if you listen to interviews with him he is not in the routine of taking shit. This is a masterpiece of science fiction and has sold me that I need to read all Peter Watts that I can get my hands on.

NOTE: I went back and finished the Science Fiction Book review podcast and discovered that there are a couple of short stories also set in this universe. I'll have to read them at some point.

Here is the link to the SFBRP episode:

http://www.sfbrp.com/archives/1441

I also recommend this interview on Geek's Guide to the Galaxy:

https://geeksguideshow.com/2018/06/20/ggg315-peter-watts/

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Book Review: The Cabin at The End of The World by Paul Tremblay

Cabin at The End of The World by Paul Tremblay

Hardcover, 272 pages

Published June 26th 2018 by William Morrow

When Donald Trump won the election I went to work the next day in a state of disbelief as many of us in California did. It was hard to grasp how the rest of the country saw such a different human being asking for the most powerful job in the world. It was a really interesting time in our country. The system is designed by the framers to focus on two main political parties and the two sides in America rarely see the world the same way.

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.

Sound like hyperbole? I was worried about that. You see my first experience with Tremblay was his break-out hit "A Head Full of Ghosts." I really liked HFOG, but when I read it, but I had heard so much hype it was almost impossible for the book to live up to my expectations. So I am nervous to do the same thing to you reading this review. The problem is Cabin at the End of The World is that good. I don't use the word masterpiece lightly and I have to use here.

The story opens with seven year-old Wen. She is outside her Dad's vacation cabin in New England near the Canadian border. This first chapter is an amazing hook when a stranger walks out of the woods and starts a conversation with the young adopted daughter. This conversation is nerve wracking to read and it perfectly sets the table with all the ingredients for the perfect horror novel. It ended up unfolding a little differently than I expected.

This novel worked on every level for me but I will say I was happy I went into it cold. I didn't know anything about the story so I hope I have sold well enough to go buy/read this novel. Still need to hear more....

This novel is Tremblay's attempt to tackle a horror sub-genre he is not a big fan of. The home invasion story. This one may or may not include a supernatural elements. As the invaders claim that they are here to prevent the end of the world. They didn't know each other but came together because of shared visions. They believe the only way to prevent their visions from coming true if Eric, Andrew or their daughter Wen choose to sacrifice a member of their family.

Is it real? are they crazy? This novel contains tons of gut wrenching suspense, the pages turn quickly and all he while Tremblay tells a story that explores belief and perception. Those questions are asked as a family goes through a brutal terror and thus it makes the novel a harrowing experience.

No horror novel works if you can't put yourself in the shoes of the characters. Eric, Wen and Andrew are a beautiful family. PT writes this family with care, love and attention to detail. It never feels unnatural, gimmicky or exploitative that the leads are a gay couple. They just are great parents, and thus they are the heart of the novel. Certainly in the days after the election when Pence is a heart beat from the presidency and the right-wing controlled all branches of government it was not a stretch to view the LBGT community under assault. It is just another level this novel works on.

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. Eight months into the year it is easily my read of the year so far.

Dickheads Podcast/ Book Review: Eye in the Sky by Philip K Dick

Podcast video for visual learners:

Eye In The Sky is PKD's 5th published book and a Dickhead favorite (so far.) We have a lot to discuss in our longest episode yet. See Dick's world through our eyes. We have also introduced a new section this episode where we answer your questions. Plus: PKD bullied by editors? PKD VR. Jaunty little tunes. And Dick's mom.