Monday, May 14, 2018

Book Review: Star Wars The Last Jedi by Jason Fry

Star Wars The Last Jedi by Jason Fry

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published March 6th 2018 by Del Rey

For all their faults the Prequels got a few things right. Obi-wan was perfect, the Darth Maul light saber battle and without crappy direction all three novelizations were better than the movies. During those years I looked forward to those novels, they always gave deeper insight into the SW universe and often had depth the movies lacked. So I read The Force Awakens and now the Last Jedi novelizations.

These last two were very basic, in fact almost flatly following the scripts. It is not to say that the new canon has not added to the universe in the novels, it has. It has done so in books like the Aftermath trilogy by Chuck Windig or Bloodline by Claudia Gray. This novel was a little bit of a disappointment for me. Don't worry it didn't ruin my childhood, I am not going to make videos crying about how upset I am.

First off I LOVED the movie. I think Last Jedi is the second best film in the Skywalker saga and my third favorite SW film behind Rogue One which hit my military sci-fi sweet spot. I think the majority of haters are silly fan-boys who felt crushed after two years of making "who is Snoke?" theory videos. I know some of you just didn't like the humor or the story. I know some of you wanted Luke Skywalker to go Rambo on the first order.

I am sorry you got the grown-up Star Wars film that was heartfelt, smart and beautiful looking. Honestly you haters don't deserve Rian Johnson's film. So you see I LOVED Last Jedi. in fact it is one of the reasons I think this novel is lacking. It doesn't touch the power of the film for me. It transcribes the events sure, but it adds very little. It doesn't capture the scope, it doesn't add to the story. I had hope since they made sure to say on the dust jacket that it had input from Rian Johnson. I learned far more about the story from RJ's empire magazine spoiler special interview.

Some highlights:

> Luke's first conversation with Rey he explains himself just slightly better. I suspect Johnson and Hamill gave the viewer too much credit and trimmed the dialogue.

> Luke tells Rey "This is my nightmare. A thousand wannabe younglings showing up on my doorstep hoping they are the chosenwhoevers, wanting to know how to lift rocks." (was this in the script and cut from the film because it made me laugh)

>Luke opening himself up to the force triggers Leia coming out of her coma.

>Rey in the cave with the various versions of herself in the cave was well done and cemented the idea that she comes from nothing but is indeed the chosen hero still.

>Snoke gets a little fleshed out but not much. His methods are called improvisational compared to Palpatine. Snoke felt the Skwalker family had to dealt with before he could unleash his powers. That he centralized his power on his massive ship instead of a capital.

The Last Jedi was great for many reasons but if you think of Luke's journey and how it plays into the saga going back to his father's childhood it is a beautiful ending. Luke becomes the most powerful Jedi of all not by facing down the First order like a one man army. He defeated them by using their evil against them. he refused to compromise and that is awesome.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Book Review: Austral by Paul McAuley

Austral by Paul McAuley

Paperback, 276 pages

Published October 19th 2017 by Gollancz

A couple months back my father surprised me for asking for some recommendations for Science Fiction novels. You see my father is extremely well read in non-fiction, but he is not a novel guy at all. He has read three novels as long as I have know him. He is a retired professor of political science and his school is known for environmental affairs so it was not so weird that he was interested in Cli-fi. It was a term I taught him when he said he wanted to read some novels that dealt with the future of climate change issues. He had picked up this novel Austral that he read about in the economist. I told him I thought he should check out Kim Stanley Robinson's Green Revolution trilogy, in many respects I think that was more what he was looking for.

He couldn't get into this book in large part for the same reason I liked it. This is a weird entry in the subgenre of climate change speculative fiction, that may have been a little too out there for my father. I on the other hand thought this novel balanced concept, character and world building really well.

The setting of this novel is the Antarctic peninsula at sometime probably 100 years or more in the future. Not much is said about the outside world, but we get lots to chew on in this setting. Austral has live her whole life in Antarctica, genetically edited to survive in this cold climate she is part of a group of experimental humans nicknamed Husky. Our main character Austral is a troubled person a former criminal who is trying to get her life back by working as a corrections officer at a labor camp.

Austral finds out she is pregnant, a result of an affair she was having with a dangerous criminal. When she decides that she has to get away from the Peninsula before she is exposed she gets pulled into a kidnapping plot. One of the richest men in the world and his daughter are coming for a visit, to check out their investment. Austral thinks kidnapping this man's daughter might be her key to escaping. The problem is she is more connected to this man, then she first thought, and he is involved in more nasty business than she is prepared for. When she kidnaps the teenager they have to avoid gangs and various dangers traveling across the Antarctic landscape.

This set-up and setting makes for a really cool adventure tale that McAuley strengthens with a cool structure that weaves in the world-building and character back story. One of the strengths of the novel is Austral. She is a really well written character, a female lead that is layered and complex. She is not a male fantasy while driving the story as a flawed hero. She is one of the strongest elements of the novel.

The novel has a lot to offer from gangsters, Ecopoets (environmental radicals), the harsh almost alien landscape, and weird crime. There is alot going on and for the most part I really enjoyed it. In a strange way I enjoyed it more when I was thinking about after it was over. I respect the hell out any other who tackles this issue and tackles it well.

Book Review: Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson

Where the Dead Sit Talking

by Brandon Hobson

Hardcover, 288 pages

Published February 20th 2018 by Soho Press

This is a dark and subtle book, that really tugs at your heart strings. I thought this was a very well written book that appreciate despite it not really being my thing. I picked it up at the library because I remembered Duncan Barlow talking about it and I respect his opinion. So that reminds me, keep talking about books on social media people it helps authors. More importantly it gets people talking about reading and the joy of reading.

This novel is the story of Sequoyah, a fifteen-year-old Cherokee boy who travels through the circles of hell in the foster care system after his mother is thrown in jail. We are with him when he ends up at new schools, and new homes. A great deal of the novel centers on the relationships that Sequoyah makes and how they effect his life.

Brandon Hobson is a writer I have not read before so I don't know how this novel matches his overall style but the first thing I noticed was the slow-burn and detailed style of the prose. Sequoyah doesn't have a charmed life and this novel feels at times like we are being given a window into moments we shouldn't see. He is a character I had never seen or read before, so I was interested through out to see how he navigated this world. I wanted to help this character out and sometimes the narrative gives the reader a helpless feeling.

It is a coming of age novel, but not in a typical by the numbers way. It doesn't tick off plot points. Sequoyah doesn't come of age into a better situation but his scars and pain are kind of the point. A powerful debut.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

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

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

Hardcover, 176 pages

Published May 16th 2012 by Oni Press

After hearing the author of this graphic novel on an episode of This is horror" I decided I wanted to read this book and re-watch the movie. I am super glad I did. This is a good example of the same story told in two different ways that both work. I think over all I like the movie a little better than the source material and as rare as that it is clear. The graphic novel is black and white and the simple art works well for this story. The non-linear story telling was used to perfect effect. I think the story might come off a little too slow for some readers looking for an action story. but if you know the era and get into the characters the tension is thick. I want read more more of Johnston's comic work. The movie is Atomic Blonde a super stupid title but I admit The Coldest City works better for the book than a Charlize Theron action movie. While the movie is a cross between Tinker Tailor Solider Spy and a Bourne movie, the book is pure spy story. It has the same framing device of the after action interrogation scene. But the book is all about the verbal and story telling cat and mouse. The action is all a creation of the film makers. That is not to say it is the only difference between the two, just the most obvious. The action scenes are brutal and top notch, they also don't shy away from the aftermath. Theron's beaten and bruised as the movie continues. That was interesting and something more action movies should do. The other amazing thing about the movie was the 80's soundtrack that included Ministry and Siouxsie and the Banshees. The music was not perfect but pretty great.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Book Review: Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn

Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn

Paperback, 274 pages

Published July 11th 2017 by John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books

Winner of the 2017 Philip K. Dick Award

I feel a little ashamed to have never read a Carrie Vaughn book. Her Mars Abroard book seems up my alley and she has been doing it long enough that I was surprised she slipped my notice. This novel got on my radar because it won the 2017 Philip K. Dick award. In my new role as co-host of a PKD podcast I felt I should check it out. I am glad I did because this novel hits many of my sweet spots. Post-apocalyptic,political, and thoughtful plot-driven speculative fiction. Yep.

A little heads up...I am interviewing Vaughn to be the first guest interview on the Dickheads podcast. When that happens I will add it back into this post. (of course you can follow Dickheads on Facebook/soundcloud/twitter/instagram to get right away)

Bannerless takes place a few generations after a economic and environmental collapse along the California coast. Our main character Enid lives in a utopian village known as Haven. Her aunt who had recently died was the last to remember the time before. Enid is a investigator, the closest thing these villages have to law enforcement. The villages operate from an almost anarchist ideal of mutual aid, so the investigators are not often needed. They are mostly called to settle disputes.

The most important law is the one that balances the ecology. The right to reproduce is tightly restricted by a implant that all women are given. Families are structured beyond what we think of is a nuclear family and once a they can prove they have the ability to support a child they are given a Banner to hang outside their house. That banner is the permission. One of the biggest crimes in this world is having a Bannerless child.

The main story however is not directly about a Bannerless child, Enid and her mentor Tomas are set to a smaller village to investigate a accidental death with a suspicious nature. Vaughn applies a structure that goes back and forth between the current events of the investigation and a young Enid who traveled the west coast with a guitar playing busker named Dak. The flashbacks are used perfectly to do the bulk of the world building, and set up some key parallels and reversals.

I went in cold and I think the less you know the better.

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.

The world building is subtle but well done, the political nature of the story is so softly delivered and well woven into the story that Vaughn could not be accused of being heavy handed. Since this is a book 1 I suspect that future installments will be less subtle with the message. CV did an excellent job setting up the Bannerless child concept and then only slightly uses it. I suspect it will come into play next time at the forefront. We have a template for a story that can express issues related to reproductive rights, ecological and social justice issues.

Bannerless is a top notch read. 5/5 stars and I hope everyone check it out.

Dickheads interview on Youtube:

The Dickheads interview on Soundcloud:

Book Review: Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8: A Young Man's Voice from the Silence of Autism by Naoki Higashida, K.A. Yoshida (Translation) , David Mitchell (Translation)

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

K.A. Yoshida (Translation) , David Mitchell (Translation)

Hardcover, 240 pages

Published July 11th 2017 by Random House

My experience with autism is mostly professional but anyone who has worked in the field of Autism support or education as I have for a long time knows - it always becomes personal. A few years back famous bestselling author David Mitchell (I reviewed his Bone Clocks on this blog)brought attention to a Japanese book called The Reason I Jump. This became a english language bestseller as it was the first persona narrative of a non-verbal young man from Japan with autism. Mitchell and his wife KA Yoshida translated the book because it was important for understanding their relationship with their son who has autism.

In his second book Higashida is now a young adult and despite the success of his first book is still struggling to exist without speaking in talking culture. While it includes all the same personal stories that the first book did, this one comes with a very helpful interview with the author that appeared in a Japanese newspaper and a dream-like short story the author's first attempt at first. The story is a highlight of the book.

The thing that makes this book special is how it gives voice to thoughts and ideas that can help those of us who live around but not with autism every day. Let me give you a personal example. I work at a private school for special needs in Ocean Beach a neighborhood of San Diego. I have a hour long bus commute to work each morning. I could bike to work but I choose the bus to have a hour of reading time in the morning after going to the gym. As you can see from the book reviews on this blog most of my reading is in the genres I write in. Science Fiction, horror, bizarro and sometimes crime.

I had seen this on the self at my parents house. My step-mother Susan is a retired professor who taught special educators at Indiana University. I had the idea that this book could help me. So on the morning I started this book I read about 100 pages of it. It was very eye opening but most of it pushed me to think deeper about my non-verbal students.

That morning I assigned to work with a primarily non-verbal student who uses touchchat on the Ipad to speak. I had only worked with him a few times. In the afternoons He would say I WANT and then hold down the BUS buttons so it would say it 50 times. We normally tell him that we hear him, or point to the timer that shows how long he has left in his day. Some days he will ask for Oreo cookie a dozen times in a row. We ask him to finish his thought, respond best we can. Lets face it hearing the same thing that many times is annoying.

What reading this book did for me remind me to slow down and consider why he was doing it. This student understands language but all his life he had no one to respond. Now that he has the Ipad and we have taught him to talk with it, it is like screaming to get out. He is bursting at the seems to express himself. The damn has broken. It was what I needed to calm my mind in those moments.

I recommend this book to all parents, aunts and uncles of kids and adults with autism. Educators in this field cannot go wrong. It is an eye opening book. Super entertaining as well.