Sunday, May 21, 2017

Book Review: Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

by Octavia E. Butler, John Jennings (Illustrations), Damian Duffy (Adapted by)

Hardcover, 240 pages

Published January 2017 by Abrams Books

OK this read was the library version of a impulse buy. I saw it sitting on the new release shelf and grabbed it. I am an Octivia Butler fan in general, in particular I love her Parable books. Like many readers I feel cheated by the universe that Butler was never able to finish in that series. I don't know how, in the 35 years since her masterpiece Kindred has been out that I never got around to reading it.

Half way through this book I became upset with myself that I have not read the novel first, but the graphic novel was in front of me so I kept reading. I can't compare it to the novel, but I can only state how this book made me feel. It looks amazing in a slick hardcover with fantastic art by John Jennings and A short but sweet introduction by the great Nnedi Okorator. The story of the two authors personal communications added depth to the artist whose story we were about to read. A perfect introduction to Butler the woman, and Kindred is a great example of Butler the story teller.

The story starts in the 70's - even in liberal southern California Dana and Kevin experience racism. The couple are both writers Kevin a White man and Dana a black woman. The story starts when Dana is suddenly transported through time to the early 19th century in the old south. There she saves the life of a young boy named Rufus. She is not in the past for long, when she returns to the 70's she discovers that Rufus was her Great great grandfather and also the slave owner of her descendants.

The means of the time travel is never explained but Dana quickly figures out she is tied to Rufus, being brough back and forth in time to key moments his life is in danger. Dana believes that she is being brought back in time to save her family line and in a sense her own life.

Eventually her husband come with her. holding on to her as she is pulled through time. Kindred is a neat example of Science Fiction horror using the strength of genre to explore and understand one of the most brutal aspects of our history. The most intense parts of the novel come from Dana's experience of going from a free liberated woman to a a part of the slave system. It is not as cut and dry as she gets there and leads a rebellion. That might seem like a path for the story but realistically that makes no sense story wise.

Dana has to keep Rufus alive and she has to accept some painful actions on his part if her life/ family are ever to happen. This novel has moral dilemmas one after another that drive the story. The plantation, is a abusive and awful place, but if they kill the slaver master the family will be sold and broken up. Time travel is less important to the story than the mountain sized moral dilemmas that drive the novel.

The art is fantastic, but it is the hardcover presentation that is most impressive thing about this project outside of the story itself. I would love to see more Butler novels get this treatment. Big thumbs up.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Book Review: Lost Girl by Adam Nevill

Lost Girl by Adam Nevill
Paperback, 448 pages Published October 2016 by Pan Macmillan

This looks like the last in my ecological horror/ Climate change Dystopia-a-thon. Not a bad way to finish off. Adam Nevill is a British horror author who was first suggested to me by my local Bookseller Mysterious Galaxy and their horror expert Rob Crowther. He suggested the book House of Small Shadows which I read and reviewed here on the blog last year. I was not a big fan of that novel, despite acknowledging that it was a good and well written book that just didn't work for me in part because I don't find dolls creepy and that is a huge part of the tone-setter.

What do I find creepy? Two things that creep me out big time are unchecked environmental destruction and child molesters, in that sense Lost Girl worked as horror novel. Because it is set in the near future (2053) it can be viewed as both Science fiction and horror, much like the classic I just reviewed last time - The Sheep Look Up. Lost Girl is in one sense a full blown climate-dystopia, but on the other hand one thing I was impressed by is Nevill never let this backdrop overwhelm the story.

Yes it is climate change novel, and that is important for setting up the lawless- and hopeless-ness of this near future Britain. This story could not exist in our world today. The main plot of the story is about a man named "The Father." This very Cormac Macarthy-like trick had the potential to drive me nuts over 437 pages. Thankfully it worked alright here. The Father is driven mad when his four year old daughter is taken from his back yard. After two years of nothing The Father decides he has to use any means to find his Daughter.

Why has everyone given up looking for her? The country has a refugee problem, Hurricane season is ramping up and crops are failing. Europe is staring down the hottest summer on record and frankly no one gives a shit about his daughter. the trail leads him into a nasty underworld of pedophiles, trafficking gangs and police corruption.

My mind was not blown by this novel, but I really enjoyed it and thought it was a very solid effort. Nevill is clearly a word-smith but never loses sight of the story. Without spoiling the ending the last act of the book didn't work as well as the first two acts. I mean I liked it enough to give it four of five stars. The book lost that fifth star by not providing an answer to the mystery that I found super believable.

I can't discuss it without spoiling the ending, but the person behind the theft of the daughter was something I didn't 100% buy into. That said the ending may work for others, and the novel along the way provides more than the cover price's value of scares. Nevill has a lyrical prose style but knows how to build an uncomfortable but fascinating world on the page.

Thumbs up.

Book Review: The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner

The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner

Paperback, 388 pages

Published May 2003 by BenBella Books (first published August 1972)

Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (1972)

“She recalled him as a forceful and witty speaker with a ready repartee and a penetrating voice. He had once, for example, put down a spokesman for the pesticide industry with a remark that people still quoted at parties: "And I presume on the eighth day God called you and said, 'I changed my mind about insects!” ― John Brunner, The Sheep Look Up

This is my second time reading this novel and it was just as powerful the second time. The Sheep Look Up is a huge influence on the novel I just finished writing. I waited until that was done to give it a re-read. It is of course apart of my eco-horror Dystopia-a-thon. While not as Climate change orientated as the others it is the oldest books in the series of books I am reading on these themes.

It is going to be impossible to talk about this book without giving context for the time in history when I read them. Both were times when the novel seemed to be "more important than ever!" or "Speaking to our times." I mean this novel is almost 50 years old. It would be easy to write it off, and say how much of it could Brunner have gotten correct if the world is still here. We are still breathing, drinking and more safely. For those of you who are not familiar with the works of John Brunner (who died in 1992) the great British Science Fiction I have included interviews with him. I mean he wrote about something that looks very much like the internet in in the early 70's. His Novel Shockwave Rider not only for saw the internet but viruses, and coined the term worm.

He had powers of prediction, and look Brunner wrote pulp sci-fi, but he had three novels considered his masterpieces that rose above the others, Shockwave Rider, Stand on Zanibar and of course The Sheep Look Up. The last two were both ecologically themed.

The Sheep Looks Up predicts everything from reality TV, Fake news, cities that need air filter masks (see China), the use of emergency actions to suspend basic rights, radical environmentalism, The stigma of being anti-capitalism for being ecologically minded,Micro-organism resistance to antibiotics, raging forest fires, Financial bailouts for failing corporations...Take a breath I mean there is more. John Brunner saw the future folks.

The edition I read came out early in the George W. Bush era, it was re-issued at the time and I infact bought my copy from radical environmentalists selling it at a lecture. It would be easy to look back at the time of that release and say we were all scared of what the Bush era would mean for the environment. In hindsight it was bad, but honestly the Clinton years were not a cakewalk for the planet or defenders of it. Obama was hardly better, come on what did he really do? He was not the disaster of the guys before and after him but what did he really do?

Trump is the nightmare of the Sheep Look Up in the making. This novel is a exploration of the consequences of industry unleashed. When our new president puts the EPA under the control of a man who was determined to kill it, then we see the possibility that a novel 50 years could go from a quaint warning to a blueprint. At time the resistance of Trainites seemed corny compared to the real life eco- movements, and yet at others times smart. I wish that the polluters and destroyers of the earth would have to drive around with skull and crossbones on their cars.

The novel itself is amazing well written but it is not a easy-peasy read, it is full of point of views shifts and is more of a series of snapshots that the story of one main character. The back cover makes it sound much more focused on Train and his eco-defense radicals than it actually is. Sheep goes chapter by chapter across one year in the earth of earth choked slowly by environmental destruction. The progression is quick but the novel which constantly switches Point of view takes some patience. In many ways it operates like a short story collection.

It would be easy to write off this 50 year old novel as hyperbole, certainly we have not seen the world it predicts yet. But lets be clear warning novels like Alas Babylon do not lose merit because we never had a nuclear war. The work of Rachel Carson and the landmark Silent spring did alot, and certainly eco-awareness is better than it was. We should be glad that we didn't see this world, but the reality is that Brunner's vision is still possible. With President Trump threatening to end many of the laws keeping corporations in check we may need Austin Train soon enough.

He talks about Sheep Look Up 14 minutes into this video:

“Next, the stalled cars had their windows opaqued with a cheap commercial compound used for etching glass, and slogans were painted on their doors. Some were long: THIS VEHICLE IS A DANGER TO LIFE AND LIMB. Many were short: IT STINKS! But the commonest of all was the universally known catchphrase: STOP, YOU'RE KILLING ME!” ― John Brunner, The Sheep Look Up

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Book Review: New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Hardcover, 613 pages Published March 2017 by Orbit

My favorite read of the year last year was KSR's Aurora and 2312 was a masterpiece to me, so as you can imagine I consider Robinson to be on quite a roll. I just finished a eco-horror novel and decided to go on ecological horror/ Dystopia reading kick. It was cool after the Water Knife to go somewhere totally different farther into the future. The title tells you the setting but lets explain the world a bit deeper.

Robinson is no stranger to ecological themed books...He wrote a trilogy that was recently repacked as a epic single novel called Green Earth, and he explored these issues in his early series The Wild Shore (1984), The Gold Coast (1988) and Pacific Edge (1990). I reviewed the Wild Shore here.

As for this book. The sea levels have risen over that time including two planet wide "pulses" known and the first and second pulse. After the second pulse the sea level has encroached 50 feet from where it is today. That is enough to create what the book calls ten thousand Katrina's. New York City has become a super venice, the sky line growing taller and certain parts of the city are just gone.

The story centers mostly around the inhabitants of a building called the Met. 2,000 or more people live in this co-op building that has investors interested in buying it. All the Characters are connected to this building. There are several characters and POV's that range from two hackers living on the farm roof-top, to the super and a woman who has reality TV flying ina airships rescusing endangered species. There are probably eight characters we follow and their chapters form the basis of the shifting narrative. In Between we have chapters titled Citizen that appear to be a history lesson speaking directly to the reader. The citizen chapters majorly violate one of the so-called rules of writing science fiction by information dumping but here in this novel it was one of the more interesting parts.

Story kicks off with Mutt and Jeff the hackers who have this idea for undermining global finance by hacking the global money networks. KSR uses this story line to shine a light on the failures of Capitalism. This appears to be inspired by the too big to fail bailout that the banks got themselves. I didn't find this story as interesting as I think it was meant to be. Bot we geta full spectrum of stories from a wall street romance, to a look at reality culture via the woman in the airship saving polar bears( to me the most interesting of stories) and the best character in the book the building super Vlade.

For the most part I enjoyed reading this book and seeing how KSR weaved these story lines together. While some may see the concept as alarmist, I think a story that casually takes a look at a future adapting to incredible change is important. So why am I so meh about the book. I think it was two hundred pages too long for one thing. I was really ready for it to be done by the time I closed the book.

The Characters are hit or miss. Some like Vlade were fun, others seem cardboard like Inspector Gen, I didn't even realize was black or a woman until I have read half the book. Her character didn't feel rich enough for me. I was interested in this because of the climate change aspects to the story. Robinson has said in interviews that was not his intention at first. He had told his editor that he wanted to write about global finance and suggested in set in the flooded NYC we got a glimpse of in 2312.

I get it, he wanted to make a statement about capitalism. He could've done that in 300 or 400 pages in my opinion. Did I like it? Yes I did. Did I love it like the last two I read. Not at all.

Kim Stanley Robinson on the topic of Sea level. from 4:00 minutes to 22 minutes in this video, from a lecture here in San Diego: