Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Book Review: An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim

An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim

Hardcover, 309 pages

Published July 10th 2018 by Touchstone

Look I really thought this sounded cool at first. I was rooting for this book. I am going to keep this kinda short.

Ocean of Minutes is a sappy time-travel romance that was going for Time Travel's Wife vibe but it was such a confusing and flat mess I just couldn't get into it. I'll try to explain the plot to you but in doing so I think I found the key problem. The plot is all over the place and doesn't make much sense. The main point of view character is Polly she falls in love with Frank, but wait they are already married. The romance was highlighted in well written but poorly placed flashbacks. Oh yeah there is a pandemic killing almost everyone. Don't worry about the details This novel is not super interested in that aspect of the story. By the way the romance during the end of the world was kinda what hooked me when I was browsing the book at Mysterious Galaxy.

Don't worry about the end of the world in 1991, because humans have invented Time Travel. You can only go back 12 years, and there are airports for time Travel. Only people with valuable skills like our main character's ability to uh... restore furniture give you the pass to travel to the post plague future. So the idea is we are supposed to learn why Polly is so devoted Frank and why after they get sent to separate futures why they would look for each other.

I think this is a sci-fi book that would work better for non-sci-fi readers. The world building is terrible, and worse it seems inorganically driven by the needs of the plot. Many round pegs are forced into square holes. I could have forgiven this if the characters worked for me better. There were moments, like when Frank got her furniture back from an asshole ex-boyfriend. Mostly I felt totally uninterested or invested in the world, the characters and had very little desire to finish reading.

I think Non sci-fi readers could probably over look many of these elements. A less critical eye might be able to just let this story go on it's merits. Not for me. Lim certainly has talent. I just not sure sci-fi is the best use of her talents. I know I was hard on this book but I would actually give her second novel or short stories a shot.

That said for time travel romance I say stick with Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Book Review (Podcast) Dr. Futurity by Philip K. Dick

Dr. Futurity by Philip K. Dick

Paperback, 169 pages

Published August 9th 2005 by Vintage (first published February 1960)

What happens when a mild-mannered doctor is thrust into a whacky future devoid of white people? This 1960 novel started as the impossible to find novelette Time Pawn written way back in '53. Join us in exploring Dr. Futurity. Plus: The Bronchitis Ward. Danzig. And The Big Bang Theory guy murders the rapper Sir William S. Drake.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Book Review: Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller

Hardcover, 328 pages

Published April 2018 by Ecco

If you have read my blog or reviews at all you will know I am a big believer in the Cli-Fi literary movement and consider myself apart of it as both an author and critic. In my role as critic I feel a great responsibility to promote works of Cli-fi because I consider these novels to be as valid a form of social commentary like the novels On The Beach and Alas Babylon were at the height of the the arms race. We are at a crossroads where every look into the horrors that climate change unchecked is likely to bring are important. I hope that one day we will get a classic that reaches the mainstream. I am trying to read as many of the major works of Cli-fi that I can and boost the signal for the great ones.

That leads me to this novel Blackfish City and the author Sam Miller. I was first turned on to this novel by hearing Miller as a guest on one of my favorite podcasts Geek's Guide to the Galaxy. If you are paying attention, being a guest on Geek's Guide is common way I find authors. Indeed one of my other favorite reads of the year Freeze Frame Revolution by Peter Watts was found that way. Your take way at this point is you should be listening to Geek's guide...back to the book.

This novel takes place in a the near future after the majority of the world is in full ecological collapse. The city is Qaanaaq built in the arctic circle by various multi-national corporations. I picture Manhattan floating in the middle of the fog drenched northern sea. Tall buildings and over populated the people are spread between the eight arms of the city. They have had to adapt to a crazy lifestyle that is divided by class and skill, some are the rich who bought their way out of the mainland and the Refugees turned workers who do the dirty work. A disease called "The Breaks" is spreading among the poor,and the frayed edges of the this society are starting to show.

When the novel kicks off we meet a woman riding a killer whale who is known as a "Orcamancer." When this happened in the opening chapter I thought I was reading the wrong book. I was expecting cli-fi neo-noir and Cyberpunk influence. Don't worry we get there quickly. It belongs in the tradition of speculative fiction novels that explore the nature of the urban landscape. The tradition has a great history with some of my favorites being Simak's City from the fifties, John Shirley's City Come A-Walkin to the more modern like China Mieville's Perdido Street Station.

This novel has a diverse set of characters and bounces between multiple points of view with good rhythm. You gotta pay close attention to details for example. Soq for example is a non-binary character I think some of the older more traditional sci-fi readers might get lost. There are excellent characters throughout some we grow to like such as Soq and Fill, some like Podlove who challenge us. My favorite was Kaev a professional fighter who has taken a few more hits than he probably ever should have.

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. (Working on getting this author on Dickheads in the next few months)

My favorite quote of the book was "Money is a mind, the oldest artificial intelligence. Its prime directives are simple, it's programming endlessly creative. Humans obey it unthinkingly, with cheerful alacrity. Like a virus it doesn't care if it kills its host. It will simply flow on to someone new."

So yeah I really loved this novel. Was there any weakness? The spiritual meets technological aspect of the psychic polar bear and Orcamancer was probably my least favorite part. That being said it still worked fine for me. It connected this very modern cyberpunk noir tale to the spiritual traditions and natural wildlife of the region of the world it takes place in.

I suspect this novel will be on my best of list at the end of the year. I think it should be essential reading for it's Cli-fi nature alone, but as a work of sci-fi aside from the message it is a must read. It will be compared to Kim Stanley Robinson's 2140, I am surprised as anyone to say this, but this novel tackles similar themes but is a better novel with the message more clearly stated. High praise but Blackfish City earned it.

David Agranoff is the Wonderland award nominated author of 5 novels including his latest the Cli-Fi horror novel Ring of Fire out from cult horror publisher Deadite Press.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Book Review: The People’s Republic of Everything by Nick Mamatas

The People’s Republic of Everything by Nick Mamatas

Paperback, 336 pages

Published August 2018 by Tachyon Publications

This collection is mostly weird fiction that doesn't fit exactly into any genre but the connective tissue is smart well thought out stories. Mamatas is a politically savvy hard to define writer. I have read three novels of his my favorite being Love is the Law released by Dark Horse.

This collection is not the author's first but it is his first in some time. Best part is it comes with a re-edited early short novel. My favorites of the short stories were the ones when Mamatas explored the nature and thinking of the pulp writers he is descended from. I have feeling this author knows that if he lived in the golden age he would have been one of them.

The best example of this was the stories Tom Silex, Spirit Smasher which explored the legacy of the lost pulp writers and the role that women played in the golden age. Some male writers of the era had unsung women helping them and in the case of James Tiptree (her real name was Alice Sheldon) were not even men. Certainly Andre Norton was a writer many never knew was a woman. It is a fun story but I like that it made a subtle point about pulps and gender.

The more political stories like the Diesel punk (That should be copyrighted) story We Never Sleep and The Great Armored Train about Trotsky show Mamatas as both a radical thinker but a historian of theory. I like the title story's brief but fun look at modern Berkley counter culture. I would like a Mamatas novel set with this backdrop.

The novel Under My Roof is the highlight for me. This story or a smart kid whose father declares their home a free state and builds a DIY nuke is funny as it is thought provoking. I liked the straight-forward but witty prose.

There is only one weakness for me in this collection. Some of the stories like Lab Rat and espically North Shore Friday got a little too cute for me. I understand and respect Mamatas trying to experiment with form. I generally understood what he was trying to do but both stories kinda lost me.

Forgive me but I would like go on a little tangent about the author Nick Mamatas the personality. I am not sure he would find this as the compliment I intend it to be when I say he is Internet age Harlan Ellison. What I mean by that is he is a sharp smart writer who flirts with genre but is hard to pin down because he doesn't write typical inside the box fiction. At the same time he developed a following with his razor sharp live journal entries, blog posts and social media presence. Ellison grew into a creepy old man troll with scary gender politics but there was a time when Ellison was the genre writer with sharpest political points of view. (Note Mamatas wrote two excellent online pieces about Harlan, search "Don't let Harlan Ellison Hear This, and Rest in Anger if you don't believe me.)

I would never want to be on the bad side of a writer who is clearly intelligent and a wit ninja. but for some reason a few have picked online fights with him. I like to think I get along with everyone, well almost everyone in the genre community. The only person I don't get along with is a self published author and editor who I shall just refer to here as Captain Pajama Pants (AKA Asparagus Head). This person for some reason has picked many fights with Nick. This is hilarious to me because their place in the genre community are opposites.

Nick is everything this ego manic thinks he is. The problem is Captain PJ pants thinks he is god's gift to genre. He has not been able to publish hardly anything he didn't do himself. While Nick is widely published and has blurbs from some of the most respected authors in the field, has received praise from Publisher's weekly and NPR. Watching Nick tear about said self-published blow-hard was fun enough but watching him satirize him in his novel I Am Providence, and also get a dig in on him in the story notes of the Great Armored Train is beyond satisfying.

On that note, as a writer I enjoyed the story notes probably most of all in this book. This is a great collection worthy of your time. Mamatas as person might come off as abrasive online, but his talent cannot be denied. As a persona in the genre, I think he is needed. I don't always agreewith him, but I always pay attention. You should too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Audio Book Review: A World Of Horror edited by Eric J Guignard

A World Of Horror edited by Eric J Guignard

Paperback, 330 pages

Published September 10th 2018 by Dark Moon Books

So this review is on youtube give it a listen...

Book Review: Halcyon by Rio Youers

Halcyon by Rio Youers

Hardcover, 377 pages

Published July 10th 2018 by St. Martin's Press

It is really hard to for us to rationally deal with the massive acts of domestic terrorism and killings that have plagued america in recent years. It is natural that horror novels are starting to deal with such issues. That is at the heart of this novel, but it doesn't dominate the story. At the heart of this novel is Martin Lovegrove and his two daughters who appear to be random victims after a school shooting at a near-by school. Out of this crisis Martin moves his family to a beautiful isolated island between the the borders of Canada and New York.

The Forgotten Girl was one of my favorite reads of last year. Rio Youers is a very talented writer who has recently had some mainstream success. the last novel was a very Firestarter like psychic road thriller. Through strong characters and intense moments that book just really hit for me. The last moment of the school shooting is exetremly powerful. There is also a moment of pure tension that happens out at the middle of a lake that showed the authors skill at creating suspense.

This new novel is being marketed as a thriller but come on now, it is a pure horror novel. Once again Youers plays with psychic characters, although it is more subtle in this novel than the last. However when Youers brings the terror it is as strong of a horror novel as you could hope for. This cult that separates itself from society may appear peaceful and serene but of course they are up to something darker and more deadly.

I read this book based on the strength of the author's last novel and went in totally cold on the plot. I feel the first one hundred pages were setting up a totally different book. The second half was better than I expected. As far as a horror novel about a cult I personally preferred Nick Cutter's Little Heaven that had a more supernatural McCammon/Barker feel to it. If you are a fan of modern horror Rio youers is certainly a writer that you need to follow. I think His novels Westlake Soul and The Forgotten Girl worked a little better for me, but this is certainly a strong entry.

As a piece about Trauma it is a good companion to another 2018 release Burning Sky by Weston Ochse. Read both if you ask me.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Book Review: That Which Grows Wild by Eric J. Guignard

That Which Grows Wild by Eric J. Guignard
Paperback, 296 pages

Published July 17th 2018 by Harper Day Books

I was excited to dive into this book because I have read many books edited by Eric Guignard but this was my first time reading his own fiction at length. This is a thick well put together collection with 16 tales of dark and horror fiction. As a editor EJG has shown a great eye for horror fiction that are strong in theme and meaning.

My favorite thing about this collection was how traditional it was. This is a great example of old school horror fiction. EJG shows that he is a student of the genre, and in several cases he uses tried and true tactics of the genre to create stories that hang around after you close the book. If I am being honest there was nothing that really broke new ground. That is OK, because this is a very comforting exercise in a writer delivering exactly what I expected with great skill.

The opening story "A Case Study in Natural Selection and How It applies to Love" was a interesting opener. At first I thought the idea seemed similar to Joe Hill's novel the Fireman. When I looked at the copyright I realized that this story was published earlier. Both take place during a end of the world where people randomly catch on fire. That is pretty much all they have in common, the thing was I was disappointed in Joe Hill's novel and thought this story did more with the idea in 20 pages. More importantly EJG ties in some important social issues to this story.

This one is a Cli-Fi story and very much addresses global climate change. Since I personally think this is an important subgenre at the moment I loved this aspect. "The temperature rose another degree, bringing the weekly average to one hundred nineteen. Used to be, Late-November was a time to pull out those light sweaters from the back of the closet. Now every breath is a gasp, like choking on a blanket of dust. Your lungs burn, your eyes dry out, your head aches all day, you feel dizzy."

That is powerful stuff and it should freak us all out.

My favorites include Certain "Sights of an Afflicted Woman," "Last Days of the Gunslinger, John Amos" and tops for me was a short one called "Footprints Fading in the Desert."

The gunslinger story was a weird western that had monsters and a flood. The idea was not exactly mind bending but it was just really well composed.

"Sights of an Afflicted Woman" was the best concept in the collection with the creepy idea of a woman who can see germs. This one was executed with such skill that I think most readers will feel their skin crawl as they read this. The plague setting of the story was also very effective world building.

"Footprints Fading in the Desert" is a very straight forward old school horror story. It felt to me like a Twilight Zone episode. It is a simple concept but executed perfectly. This was such a perfect horror story I thought of it like a a long form perfectly drawn out math problem. The story needed perfect atmosphere and timing of it's reveals and it is textbook. this is the time of story that should be taught to young writers.

Lovers of well written short horror fiction cannot go wrong with this collection. I am looking forward to reading more of Guignard's fiction. I would love to read a novel. I think fans of traditional horror should not miss it.