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.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Book Review: How to Set Yourself On Fire by Julia Dixon Evans

How to Set Yourself On Fire by Julia Dixon Evans
Paperback, 312 pages Published May 8th 2018 by Dzanc Books

I have to admit something right off the bat. On paper, reading the back cover description of this book there is no way I would normally have chosen to read this book. I would have shaken off the idea as just not for me. The old saying about judging books by their cover can be extended to many aspects of books which are complete experiences. I read this book because frankly I like Julia. She is a San Diego writer and yeah I naturally root for San Diego writers. I have read a few of her stories and they have all been great. More importantly for me I have seen Julia read/ perform her fiction before and I started this book knowing absolute zero about the plot. I got it and read it purely on the strength of the author.

Now that said I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to see her tackle a horror novel, I mean she has written some great horror short stories but I have to admit to you loyal blog readers this is NOT a horror novel. It has some dark humor, but HTSYOF is a excellently written character focused novel.

Set here in San Diego this novel is the story of Sheila who struggles with life a little. She is temp who hates working and is reeling from the death of her Grandmother. Her life is thrown upside down when she finds a box of extra martial love letters in her Grandmother's shoe box. Before these letters the most exciting thing in her life was masturbating to PBS and ease dropping on her neighbor Vinnie's skype calls with his daughter on the east coast. For hilarious reasons Vinnie's daughter ends up moving out west to live with her father. She and Shelia strike up a friendship over the love letters and finding her Grandmother's long lost love Harold C. Carr.

I want to note that for some reason I pictured the Character of Vinnie, as Vinnie Paul of Pantera which made some turns with the character hard for me to take but that is a me problem.

OK back to How to Set Yourself on Fire. So yes Sheila is not exactly what I would call a winner, but she is such a excellently written character as are all the side characters in the piece. Vinnie, his daughter Torrey and Sheila's cringe inducing mother all make this book a page turning experience. I think the weird thing is that this is somewhat of a coming of age novel even though the main character is an adult. Shelia has alot of growing to do.

The most effective moments of writing are found in the moments of parallels, found between Shelia and the letters. Shelia wanted to believe in the romance as much as Harold Carr did. It is not her love story on the surface but it doesn't make it any less heart-breaking. There is a love story here, not a romantic one but Sheila, Vinnie and Torrey come together in a way that is heartwarming. A less talented writer would have spelled out this happy ending, but Julia Dixon Evans is to good a storyteller for that.

Five stars, big thumbs up. Another woman coming out of the San Diego writing scene this a first novel we should all salute. She might not have the sales of Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone, but Evans wrote the better novel in my opinion. Read this excellent novel!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Book Review: Now That You're Here by Amy K. Nichols

Now That You're Here by Amy K. Nichols
Hardcover, 304 pages

Published December 9th 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

This is not a typical read for me. It is not that I have not read the occasional YA novel that I thought was interesting, either in concept or an author who interested me. In this case I met the author Amy Nichols briefly at a comic-con party. I was impressed by her knowledge of Science Fiction and clearly obvious attention to science in her work. When she explained what this novel was about I knew I would want to check it out.

Now That You're Here is not written with an audience like me in mind. This YA sci-fi novel has a sub-title 'When Worlds Collide Hearts Break.' I think the target audience is nerdy hopeless romantic teenage women. I am a nerdy hopeless romantic so that was more than enough for me. Some of the romance was syrupy sweet, but I kept in mind the target audience and was enough to enjoy the story telling craft of the romantic elements.

So keep in mind these romantic moments are woven into a ultra-nerdy tale of multiverses, alternate realities, chaos theory and super sciencey science fiction. The story follows Danny Ogden who is fighting for survival in a dystopic Phoenix Arizona when suddenly he is thrust into a reality - Maybe our reality. He wakes up in English class, and things are different. His parents are dead, he lives in a foster home, there is still a functioning democracy in america and the outsider artist he had a crush on Evee Solomon is a straight A student. Evee becomes his one hope, she is the one who believes him.

Together two souls born in separate realities come to together to solve the mystery and seek a solution for Danny. Will he go home? If he does can he ever see Evee again?

None of this works without excellently written characters I liked all the characters I was meant to like, and was annoyed and hated the ones I wasn't supposed to like. Nichols does lots of things well, she weaves a story that handles, character plot and complex science very well. The most impressive trick is doing all these things in a story that manages to make it appealing to a young reader. I was super entertained and flew through this book in three commutes. I am looking forward to reading book two!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Book Review: Burning Sky by Weston Ochse + Update with a interview

Burning Sky by Weston Ochse

Paperback, 420 pages

Expected publication: September 25th 2018 by Solaris

There is a long and storied tradition of military science fiction. One author Weston Ochse knows well. His last trilogy of novels were firmly in the vein of that sub-genre best known for classics like Forever War and Starship Troopers. As for military horror there are random novels here and there but the undisputed master of this sub-genre is Weston without a doubt. Starting with the Seal Team 666 trilogy that were like a special forces take on the X-files. This sub-genre was inevitable and in less capable hands it could have been very hard to handle.

Weston has experience, he has served in Afghanistan and over 55 countries that brings us to Burning Sky. There is one human being with that much military experience who also teaches English and creative writing. Who else could write such a heavy novel set is Afghanistan that combines experience, horror, fantasy and has a thoughtful message. On top of that Burning Sky is well written and explores the very nature of violence and war that plagues our species. Yeah that sounds heavy because it is.

This is also a fun novel at times, with entertaining action, monsters, ancient gods and Philip K Dick worthy time shifts and alternate realities that will remind readers in all the right ways of Jacob's Ladder. There is a What the hell is real twist that is so well executed I was shocked when Weston told me in a e-mail that he has not read much PKD. That is a round about way to say this is a mind expanding cross genre read that I can't recommend enough.

Much like his last Grunt trilogy 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. As a writer, reader and fan of Weston I honestly pumped my fist in the air at one of these moments.

I enjoyed the Seal Team books, I like Grunt Life and respected the heck out of it. Burning Sky is masterpiece that I am more impressed by the longer I think about it. If you like your horror, political and thoughtful I would say you should pre-order this novel. It will be on my best of the year list for sure.

Couple of notes on this review:

1) We have a already recorded a long form audio interview with Weston Ochse for the Dickheads podcast that will be posting in a few weeks. The first half is spoiler free. The second half is a serious deep dive into the craft of the novel. I recommend reading the book and listening to the whole thing. Weston has alot to teach us.UPDATED WITH THE INTERVIEW:

2)I have to say off the bat that I was torn. When Weston Ochse offered me a chance to read his as yet unreleased new novel I was excited but he didn't have physical books yet. I am not much of an e-reader and trying to upload this PDF to my kindle taught me that it didn't work anymore. Thus this was my first experience reading an entire novel on my phone. That was not easy for me. So my process for tagging pages and taking notes was a little off.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Ring of Fire book signing at the Verbatim table during the San Diego Festival of Books

Press Release for the signing!

San Diego Author’s Novel Addresses Climate Change and The Horror of California Wildfires!

Long before the publication of his sixth novel, Ring of Fire, San Diego author David Agranoff had been in the trenches fighting for environmental causes. With two decades of environmental and animal rights activism in his wake, Agranoff believes that the timing of this novel’s subject matter is unsettling.

“I’ve been working on this novel since I first had the idea during the Cedar fire in 2003. It seems that now, in 2018, our entire world is on fire, and the time for action is running out. I honestly hate the feeling of being right.”

In the August 2nd issue of The Economist, the magazine stated it well: "EARTH is smoldering. From Seattle to Siberia this summer, flames have consumed swathes of the northern hemisphere. One of 18 wildfires sweeping through California, among the worst in the state’s history, is generating such heat that it created its own weather. Fires that raged through a coastal area near Athens last week killed 91. Elsewhere people are suffocating in the heat. Roughly 125 have died in Japan as the result of a heat wave that pushed temperatures in Tokyo above 40°C for the first time."

With a local setting and a global perspective, Agranoff released Ring of Fire through the world’s largest cult horror publisher Deadite Press. “Ring of Fire is both a horror novel and a warning about global climate change. It takes place in San Diego, surrounded by massive wildfires. Inside the fires, our city becomes ground zero for a storm of environmental disasters, from cancer clusters, to polluted drinking water. It is a horror novel, with some sci-fi elements at work.”

Agranoff considers himself a part of a new literary movement called Cli-fi, using speculative fiction to address the issues related to global climate change.

“There is a history of addressing environmental issues in sci-fi dating back to the 60’s, but the stakes have never been higher. I wrote Ring of Fire to be a scary and entertaining horror novel. I think San Diego readers will be enthralled when reading about the end of the world right here. I hope the message gets out too.”

David Agranoff will be signing copies of Ring of Fire at the San Diego Festival of Books at Liberty Station on August 25th. The Ring of Fire signing will take place at the Verbatim Books table from 11 am until noon.

Friday, August 10, 2018

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

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

Hardcover, 383 pages

Published November 2016 by Tor Books

Science Fiction should be a universal language, in many ways it translates better than comedy, which is much more dependent on delivery. I have always loved to read Sci-fi and horror translated from other cultures, the Russian Nightwatch books, the many novels of Stanislaw Lem and various Japanese authors have been favorites.

I have long been a fan of Chinese story-telling, besides having a shelf of Wuxia (kungfu high fantasy) movie DVD's I followed that passion to the hard to find translations of those classic novels. In research for my Chinese Vampire novel Hunting the Moon Tribe I read the classics of Chinese fantasy like the bizarro collection Tales From a Chinese Studio and the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. So in that respect I am not a totally averege American genre readers coming to this work, not to mention that I also read few years back the Ken Liu translated The epic Chinese novel Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin'

I reviewed here on my Blog and said: "a really interesting novel, and not just for the fact that it is a rare that a Chinese science Fiction novel published here. That is very significant. The story can't take place in an American setting with the main character losing parents to a Chinese work camp. It is hilarious that the novel is marketed as having "The scope of Dune and the commercial action of Independence Day," anyone reading this novel hoping for that will be disappointed. It has more in common with Asimov's "The Gods Themselves."

So I don't know how I missed that this book existed but until a recent tweet by local San Diegan and bestselling author David Brin mentioned this collection. Glad he did because I am really enjoyed this collection. I enjoyed the variety of voices and styles and feel like I have learned alot about Chinese sci-fi and I want MORE!

The book has four essays, one as introduction from the translator and three in the caboose. Liu smartly reminds the american audience that Chinsese sci-fi can not be stereotyped with one voice or style anymore than American sci-fi can.

The collection starts off with a super weird horror tale called Year of the Rat by Chen Quifan. This story of soldiers in a battle with genetically enhanced neo-rats was a bonkers and a great kick off to the book. The story was imaginative, dark and gritty. The City of Silence while being a homage to 1984 also feels just as Black Mirror or Twilight Zone influenced. The very modern concept of society that takes internet censorship down to the very words we use and this story extends the blurred line between internet and real life. That balance is clearly a huge part of our lives.

Each story is good, all the authors have wonderful voices but it was the neo-noir PKD like stories that hit me perfect. My favorites included the neo-noir "The Flower of Shazui" by Chen Quifan, the high concept story about class "Folding Beijing"by Hao Jingfang and the techo-dsytopia of "The City of Silence" by Ma Boyong. As dark and gritty as they were "Tongtong's Summer" by Xia Jia was equally sweet. Many of the stories have a Black Mirror vibe to them, and it had me thinking that a season of Black Mirror directed by Asian filmmakers set in China, Korea and Japan would be amazing and many of these stories would be perfect. Liu Cixin the hugo award winner ends the collection with a weird and powerful story "Taking Care of God" This story about an advanced civilization that seeded our species and have returned. There are several amazing deep crazy space and physics ideas in this story.

Despite being translated by the same person the stories had a different feel, although Liu has a way with words and in that sense it feels unified. It might seem like hyperbole to say this, but this was a totally amazing experience. I liked every story in this book and I loved three of them. I think this is an important read. Not only will you get mind expanding and interesting Sci-fi but you'll learn about another culture. Can't say enough good things about this book.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Book Review: It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

Paperback, 380 pages

Published October 2005 by NAL Trade (first published 1935)

When talking about this novel (in 2018) it is pretty much impossible to escape the connection to Donald Trump. I mean the NY times published an essay by Beverly Gage three days before Donald Trump was inaugurated as president with the headline was "Reading the classic novel that predicted Trump..." I admit that was my primary motivation in reading this novel. My father was reading a different classic by Sinclair Lewis I knew that he had written this novel that I had remembered reading about it maybe in college. Talking about that other book I asked my father about it and he said he had not read it. So one of us had to read it right?

I knew that it would be interesting to read it in light of the new president, I no idea others had the same thought, and in fact many had.

Written in 1935 Sinclair Lewis wrote this novel over the summer in a clear and obvious attempt to make a point before the 36 election 82 years ago. In that election the democrats were in a primary battle between FDR and a candidate who was a very Trump like rich populist who was the governor of Louisiana Huey Long.

Lewis was very worried about Long bringing fascism into power if he defeated Roosevelt in that election. He had some far left views about redistributing wealth but he was also extremely racist. Lewis saw this democrat as being America's answer to fascism. The on the nose title makes the point and the 300 plus pages are are like a hammer pounding away at the idea.

What makes this novel interesting is that when it was released it was a dystopian work of speculative fiction. 82 years ago it is still dystopian sci-fi but it has become an alternate history novel not unlike Philip K Dick's Hugo award winning classic Man in the High Castle. I say that in that it re-writes history to explore a nightmare past that never happened. The comparisons to Trump ended up being far less interesting to me than thinking about how the novel is totally different based on when it was written verses when I was reading it.

It is important to note that Lewis was warning his readers about Hitler more than three years before the Germans invaded Poland. So I was surprised by the mentions of concentration camps as I was not sure that anyone in the U.S. knew about them at the time.

Sinclair Lewis paints a grim vision and it is one worth reading but I think the comparisons to Trump are over blown. For one thing the dictator in the book Senator Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip is a far leftie who wants to redistribute wealth. On the other hand he is driven to power by a Steve Bannon-like figure who was his campaign manager turned Secretary of State, Lee Sarason. In It Can't Happen Here Sarason writes his candidate's book, and forms his ideas about crushing his opposition. It is not long before they are shutting down papers (Fake news!), Opening camps (see the border crisis) and centralizing power (see how Trump has destroyed agencies like the EPA) so there are similarities.

While Trump was manipulated into sacking Bannon, Buzz was over thrown by Sarason. I think the comparisons are interesting considering the book was written in 1935 but it is not that close. I mean close enough to be impressive. I think this is an important novel but i think the most interesting thing to discuss is how it as a work of political fiction exists then and how it exists now.

The story is OK, the characters are pretty dry, and the events are interesting enough but without the historical aspect I am not sure how interested I would have been. It should also be noted that the former newspaper man Jessup in the book leads a revolution in the end while most in America are putting their hopes in the former director of the FBI to save them from Trump.

It Can't Happen here? I am sure some pointed to this book as commenting on LBJ, Regan, GW Bush and now Trump. It does talk about all those leaders and it will continue to comment on future leaders, that is until we get a better system. It is a classic for a reason. It has happened here, not as bad as europe but we have let little forms of fascism take hold and novels like this are important reminders what we need to do to keep liberty a thing.

Podcast Book Review: The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick

The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick

Paperback, 150 pages

Published November 11th 2003 by Vintage Books USA (first published 1957)

The Cosmic Puppets is the 4th novel published by PKD. For the first time there is consensus among these three dickheads. See if you agree with our assessment of Dick's combination of Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka. Plus: A weird intergalactic mariachi nazi. Psychological fantasy of the dream type. And, unfortunately, boob mountains.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Book Review: The Soldier by Neal Asher.

The Soldier by Neal Asher

Hardcover, 375 pages

Published May 15th 2018 by Night Shade Books

Neal Asher wrote one of my favorite sci-fi novels, that happens to take place in this larger universe. That novel The Skinner is to me an absolute classic. I am not even close to having read all the books by Asher or in this series but when I saw this book had just come out and was the start of a new trilogy I was excited to give it a shot.

While this is a new trilogy it takes place in the larger canon of Asher's work. The Polity, is the far future civilization of humanity, who are controlled by a central AI. Most humans are at least partly enhanced, so this novel is dominated by trans-human cyborgs and AI. In the Polity, this civilization has long been at war with crab creatures known as the Prador. Having read several novels and stories set in the Polity I can't say how this book stands alone.

This is space opera, but it is really intensely weird space opera with not really any characters that look or act like people in a recognizable sense. This is a very different barely human race, machines and crab like creatures.I can say even though I have read books in this universe before I constantly flipping back to the glossary that is REALLY NEEDED for this book. It is not just the characters and cultures, but some of the weird technology I would forget what something was and would flip forward.

This was not a turn-off to me but I could see how some readers would not like to have to do that. I am sure Asher's books could be confusing to some readers. I for one enjoy how bananas alot of it is. I think the Skinner besides being the his best novel is the one that blends in the world building details into the story the best.

As for the Solider this novel was fun for me but not a quick or easy read. It took a little while for Asher to weave the elements together but I liked the effect in the end. the story is mostly pew pew space battles. A bunch of different forces are summoned to this large object in space that appears to be hiding a artifacts that are basically weapons of this long dead advanced civilization The Jain. That old culture was mentioned through the books. So the Jain are like this lost mythical species. The story centers around one of this long dead species being brough back life after centuries and the various forces fight over it.

One of the coolest moments is when I realized that the soldier was able to return basically transmitted by the Splatterjay virus (from The Skinner). A soldier basically resurrected after five million years by the virus. Those are some of the just insane ideas that are commonplace in a Asher book.

One of the coolest things of the book was when the sub-mind of the Jain soldier in the final stages sets up and for shadows the rest of the trilogy.

"You cannot stop The Soldier,"the fading submind told her.

"What weapons can stop it?" She asked.

"You do not have them. It will destroy your defense sphere and detonate the sun."

I think you should read Asher and the polity which is similar to Ian Banks Culture universe in the vast scope of it all. I personally would say Gridlinked or The Skinner are better places to start. If you were thinking you wanted space opera but way weirder space opera Neal Asher is always your guy.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Book Review: Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Hardcover, 263 pages

Published November 2017 by Harper

I know I first heard about this book while listening to a podcast and I want to say it was NPR's Fresh Air but I could be wrong about that. Broken into three narrative parts, each feels a little different from the other but not enough that you'll feel like you are reading a new book.

Louise Erdrich is an award winning writer, and I could tell that she is amazing. I certainly who am I to give a bad review to an author who won the national book award and was a finalist for the Pulitizer. I mean she is clearly a great author, but sometimes writer and idea don't mesh well together. I just think this sub-genre benefits from certain skills and abilities that are honed by writing and reading genre fiction. It is like the difference from being a native and tourist. I think Erdrich is a dystopia tourist.

I enjoyed the first act best, when the author was using a little more humor and weirdness in the prose. once the story got into the societal effects that drive the plot is when the book lost me. This is a case of a very talented literary author trying her hand at genre, and in my opinion not really doing it justice. It felt like it was an attempt to be a Climate Change themed re-telling of The Handmaid's Tale. While Atwood doesn't really consider herself science fiction or speculative fiction she really is. She understands one basic thing that Erdrich didn't. You have do at least some world building in a dystopia, this book has almost ZERO world building.

FHFTLG is very rightly getting dinged by some for being a little too much like the Handmaid's tale. I could have lived with it if it was at least an advancement over the influence. A good case in point is Robert McCammon's Swan Song that owes an awful lot to King's classic The Stand. The thing is I can live with that because honestly I think Swan Song is better.

Unlike the Atwood classic that examines the whole culture of the story we get a few random paragraphs that just left me thinking that we are missing the point. I like character driven stories but in this genre you have to balance that impulse with giving the reader a understanding of what is happening to them. Cedar Songmaker is a GREAT character in a empty shell of book that fails explore it's own plot.

In this case it is future heavily effected by the effects of global climate change. I am very passionate about stories addressing these issues. I am always on the look out for authors who are tackling climate issues. I wanted to like this but just can't give it a thumbs up. I have been seeing this on a few lists of must read climate change influenced fiction and I have to say that there are lots of better entries in that canon.

Erdrich is a great writer, far better than many of us who are writing cli-fi, but just can't see this as a a great example of climate change in speculative fiction.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Book Review: Blood Standard (Isaiah Coleridge #1) by Laird Barron

Blood Standard (Isaiah Coleridge #1) by Laird Barron

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published May 29th 2018 by G.P. Putnam's Sons

Laird Barron is not a surprise or a revelation to those of us who read horror and dark fiction, I have read short stories in various collections and reviewed The his collection Imago Sequence in 2012. I was a big fan of the reality bending novella The Hallucigenia. It is a strange family drama that twists through the lens of an horrific injury and hallucinogenic episodes. Barron is known for weird, sometimes surreal stories that highlight the darkest notions of horror with a cosmic sense of dread. It is not light or breezy reads. His weird fiction simply is not for the mainstream.

The one brush with the mainstream the works of Laird Barron enjoyed was being one of the many works of new weird that influenced the wildly popular first season of True Detective. As a dark fiction fan I really enjoyed Barron's work but just didn't see how something so weird could get wider appeal. It was close with lots of attention and being name dropped in several True Detective articles didn't hurt, but as good of a writer as Barron is it just is not mainstream accessible. That is praise as far as I am concerned but that doesn't help Laird Barron pay the bills.

On the surface the idea of LB turning to a work of mainstream Hammett,Leonard, Chandler, or Ellroy-like crime might seem commercially motivated. My response to that is Yeah, so what? No one can read the 336 pages of this novel and not feel the authors passion for the genre of crime. Honestly I am five times into Laird Barron the crime writer as I am the horror writer.

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.

I'll admit if his name was not on the cover Laird Barron is not the first name that would have come to mind reading this. It is a change of pace. It is the story of Isiah Coldridge a massive man who worked as a mafia enforcer up in Alaska. After attacking a gang leader up north he is beaten badly, his life is saved because of the respect that the gang leaders have for his father. His Dad is ex-military and a hunting buddy. I suspect later in the series we will more about his father's ties to crime.

Isiah is a big ugly and oddly smart tough guy. He is a great lead character. To heal from his almost fatal experience he is sent back to New York near his estranged father to heal. Living on a farm life seems back to normal until the granddaughter of his hosts goes missing and he is positive it is tied to several crime families, nazi skinheads and a truckload of trouble.

It also has a fight scene that rivals the Oldboy hallway fight. I loved this:

"I charged. Everything happened fast after that.

Behold the essence of violence. It's not martial arts or slick John Woo gunplay. Those things don't function under the pressure that violence exerts upon its participants. Hand-to-hand combat is decided by velocity and initiative. Ferocity,tenacity, mass and a reckless negligence toward one's own continued existence - that's what wins the battle. Except on this occasion I had no interest in winning.

I wanted to annihilate the world."

I laughed and cringed a bunch. and there were lines through-out that I dog eared because they were funny. Favorites include:

"I've done many dark deeds in my misbegotten life, but until today I've never beaten to death the president of a white supremacist gang. As you might guess from my swarthy complexion and unsightly scarring, it has been near the top of my to-do list."

Or...

"Disobey me and I won't report you to the cops, I'll come to your house and put a hurt on you. Four out of five doctors agree, it's tough to wipe your ass with a hook."

For fans of Barron, this might be too dramatic a change, but I hope not. I don't think it fair to characterize this novel as retrained, because it is badass and crazy at times. Barron is in the zone and I personally prefer it and am more excited for the crime stuff from him in the future.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

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

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

Paperback, 368 pages

Published April 2018 by Del Rey

I read plenty of EU Star Wars books back in the day. I know many of the fans felt burned when Lucasfilm reset the canon and ejected the EU. I was OK with it even though I spent a lot time reading them. One of the things I like about how it is being re-done at this time is the strength of authors is much higher.

Take this Han and Lando Last shot. Daniel Jose Older is a author I respect. I have a couple books on my shelf I have meant to read, I admit I have yet, but I have listened to a few interviews with him and I have read several short stories of his. I knew he was a excellent and thoughtful story-teller so I was excited to dig into this one.

I was rewarded with a solidly plotted non-linear time jumping adventure story with larger stakes than the average SW novel. What is most impressive about this novel as a Star Wars tie-in is how the story uses seeds from the the latest film (SOLO). This would not be that special of a thing except that it takes place in the narrative into events between episodes 6 and 7. It is hard to discuss with out spoilers, and I was happy I went into the book pretty much blind. I mean this is for hardcore SW nerds but if you were just wondering about the writing and storytelling I would say it is great. Even better is DJO does a wonderful just of bringing the humor and weird aspects of the SW to the forefront. He does this while telling a twisting and exciting story.

So that said I will talk spoilers from here on out. Last Shot is pretty well split from it's focus on both Han and Lando, and certainly jumps from different eras. I am not sure what it means in Star Wars when it says Now, 15 years ago or 10 years ago. What is a year in a society spread across many worlds? I know don't over think it. ( I understand in the new republic time is based a year on the capital but whatever) The events pre-Solo are said to be 15 years before the events when Ben Solo is a toddler. my only confusion with the was math and timelines. That said I eventually just forgot about the numbers and rode with it.

The stakes in this novel are bigger than a ever for a Han Solo novel, sure there is a smuggling run to kick off the story and in a well plotted twist they end up facing a galaxy spanning threat. This all ties back El3 and a droid rebellion she helped to start before being uploaded to the falcon. How awesome is that?

I don't have much else to say other than the characters are recognizable and that is important for a tie-in. DJO is clearly a talented writer and even if I was not already interested I would be now. Shadowshaper was already on my to read list but I am going to bump it up now.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Book Review: The Hematophages by Stephen Kozeniewski

The Hematophages by Stephen Kozeniewski

Paperback, 326 pages

Published April 2017 by Sinister Grin Press

They say in marketing that you have to hear a pitch a couple times before it hooks you. That I am afraid is why we talk so often about our books. This is a classic example. I first heard of this novel and Kozeniewski on The Horror Show with Brian Keene. When Kozeniewski was on the podcast the second time he talked about this book and I thought the novel sounded right up my alley. I requested it at the library as I do many books. (By the way if you can get a library to to get an author's book that is better than just buying a copy)

I checked the library website a few times but every time Brian Keene mentioned Kozeniewski on the podcast which is often I would think about The Hematophages. So a few months back I bought a copy and saved it for an airplane read. Yesterday thanks to a delayed flight and long lay-over I read this book in about 4 hours during a trip from Indiana back to San Diego.

The Hematophages is a blend of horror and science fiction. Kozeniewski is most well known for his zombie detective bizarro novel Brain-eater Jones. I hope this novel signals a blending of genre he will continue. The story of Paige Ambroziek a young woman who has lived the majority of her life on a space station. Paige's history makes her a perfect narrator, because she has no experience out in the ink(cool slang for space) or being on worlds. This fish out of water aspect is thankfully not used for comedy but is subtly applied to help world-build in the narrative.

Paige is a student who has expertise on ship salvage and is given a mission by a mega-corporation to find the wreck of a famous spaceship lost for hundreds of years. The major problem with this operation is the ship is on a fleshworld with oceans of blood. I enjoyed the universe of this novel that involved nasty corporations, wormy blood drinking monsters, cancer-ridden zero-g Mutant pirates (the Skin-wrappers) and a planet with bat-shit crazy ecologically that was more surreal than hard sci-fi.

It is clear that Kozeniewski was inspired by Aliens and the Thing and working from that sense he came up with a cool hook for this kind of Sci-fi tale. Once he got to the insanity of the Fleshworld I was sold. If it seems like I am harsh or critical of the book it is important to that I am doing that because I really really LOVED it. There were just a few things that kept it from being a masterpiece for me. That is no slight, I loved it and I think you should read it. It is 1,000 better than most attempts to marry sci-fi and horror.

Let us start with what is great about this novel. I liked that Kozeniewski didn't bother trying to explain the science of deep space travel. He assumes in this first person narrative Paige would expect understanding from her readers. When writing about a coast to coast car trip do modern writers feel the need to explain the science of cars? I suspect that will turn off a few sci-fi readers stuck in their ways, but I found it was refreshing. My mind filled in the gaps.

The world(universe)building is effective, with enough clever and sometimes funny elements like the opening interview and the skin-tight airlocks. The Skinwrapper pirates who lived in zero-G for so long they barely looked human were so well realized that Nia was one of my favorite characters. The paranoia in the second half is well done, never going overboard but just enough to give us a sense of distrust the survivors at the end felt. The planet is soaked in blood before the over the top gore comes in but it is done in smart was, including a fantastic chapter break in the last act that got a "Oh shit" out of me.This universe that Kozeniewski has built is rich and deserves more stories set in it.

That said I had a few minor problems. I have seen the society in this book described as Matriarchal. It is true that in this future men are extinct and referred to as the dead gender. This is a cool set up, and certainly enjoyed this aspect of the novel. I might be nitpicking without men or patriarchy the society is not matriarchy it just is. I felt like this culture just seemed like any other corporate structure in our world. There was not enough of what makes a a woman's society for me. There was some ball-busting and macho behavior that I think undermined the potential of a different looking future with-out us men.

Sci-fi has played with those gender roles as far back Leguin's Left Hand of Darkness and bit more subtle in Carrie Vaughn's Coast Roads books. I loved the idea of a all-woman culture but thought that was weakest part of the execution. If Kozeniewski returns to this universe needs some attention to that aspect.

Also one aspect that this novel is rightly getting lots of praise for is world-building. The Fleshworld is a crazy and cool place that this novel visits. The problem for me is that it is very similar to the world of Splatterjay from the Neal Asher novel The Skinner. I suspect Kozeniewski has not read the Skinner, but the eco-system of the Flesh world is very close. The Skinner is my favorite Sci-fi novel of the 21st century so it was a little hard for me to ignore. In the end they are different enough that I am glad both exist.

The Hematophages is one of the best books I have read so far this year. It is bold and weird science fiction that feels old school and insane at the same time. It is bizarro, dark sci-fi and horror in equal measure. A super neat book that I am glad I picked up. It is a little bit a parallel of Aliens, A reversal of Carpenter's The Thing (paranoia with all women) and with a world-building that reminded me of Neal Asher's The Skinner. That is a good mix.

Podcast Book Review: The Man Who Japed by Philip K. Dick

The Man Who Japed by Philip K. Dick

Paperback, 168 pages

Published November 2002 by Vintage (first published 1956)

PKD's third released novel is sci-fi take on communist China with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. The world building, characters and sci-fi humor are all top notch in this novel. PKD was coming into his own here. The ending was panned for being a rip-off of Swift's Modest Proposal and it sounds like rightly so. I didn't write a full review because we broke it down on the Dickheads podcast. For a full and detailed review listen here:

My Dickheads interview of UCSD Physics professor Brian Keating

Professor Brian Keating is an astrophysicist with UC San Diego’s Department of Physics. He and his team develop telescopes to study the Big Bang. He is the author of over 100 scientific publications and holds two U.S.Patents. He received the 2007 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers at the White House from President Bush for a telescope he invented and deployed at the U.S. South Pole Research Station called “BICEP". Professor Keating became a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2016 and is the author of Losing the Nobel Prize: A Story of Cosmology, Ambition, and the Perils of Science's Highest Honor, selected as one of Amazon.com’s Ten Best Nonfiction Books of the Month and one of Nature Magazine’s Six Best Books of the Season.

Brian Keating - briankeating.com/

Brian's Book - amzn.to/2sa5UpA

TEDX - www.youtube.com/watch?v=T22s4jCZ4Ho

I had the chance to interview Dr. Keating for the Dickheads podcast. I am not gonna lie when Dr. Keating said I missed my calling and should work in the Physics lab was a pretty great moment for me.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Book Review + Interview: The Wild Dead (The Coast Road #2) by Carrie Vaughn

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

Paperback, 272 pages

Expected publication: July 17th 2018 by John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books

As the co-host of the recently launched Philip Dick podcast Dickheads I was first clued into this series when the first Coast Road novel Bannerless won the Philip K Dick award for 2017. So a few months back I read and reviewed that novel for the blog, but also interviewed Vaughn for the podcast. (linked below) I was a big fan of the first book. I loved the anarchist and social themes and thought it was excellently woven into a Leguin-like five stars out of five novel.

I was excited during the interview that Carrie said the sequel was almost out and that she would send me a copy. I loved the world of the coast road, a post collapse California coast that has turned to a more just society. Enid is an investigator in this mostly utopia she doesn't get alot of work, and in the wake of the the rare murder that she solved in the first novel she has been able to relax a bit.

Now she is training Teeg a young investigator, and her family is eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child as they were just given their first banner. Enid and Teeg are called to a far off town on the south edge of the coast road to settle a dispute. It seems like a simple task a man wants to maintain the family house that is about to fall down a cliff. The community considers it a hazard and wants the investigators to tell him to let the house go.

It seems like a simple case when the body of a young woman no one can identify washes up on the shore. Now for the second time Enid must solve a murder. Vaughn writes another great mystery, what I really enjoyed about this one was I had no idea how she would ever solve it. There are hundreds of mystery novels put out each year but the thing that makes this one special is the setting.

The post-modern world setting and the social dynamics are really interesting. The victim was from the wildlands beyond the coast road where there is no organized society. One excellent element of world building Vaughn pulls off is the people in the wild lands. She does a great job making them feel almost inhuman, like they are a different species. in fact she actually reminds the reader at one point that they are just human, and it struck me because I did need that reminder.

Before Enid goes to the wild lands I was not even sure how she would identify the victim. Without spoilers this mystery is really well done. Perfectly weaving the fascinating social and political dynamics of this bizarre post-ecological collapse attempt at utopia.

The characters are strong, and the narrative is perfectly structured with surprises and reveals. This is a very worthy sequel to Bannerless. Both novels are masterpieces in my eyes. When this book comes out July 17th Mystery fans, dystopian fans, and political sci-fi fans should have this book ready to go. The Bottomline is this: The Wild Dead is a perfect sequel that ups the ante on all the elements that made Bannerless great. A masterpiece of socially aware world-building and mystery that will entertain as it makes you think.

In case you missed it here is my Dickheads Podcast interview with author Carrie Vaughn:

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Book Review: The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett

The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett

Paperback, SF Masterworks, 240 pages

Published February 2013 by Gollancz (first published 1955)

Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel (1956)

Leigh Brackett may not be a household name to most Sci-fi fans in this day and age but she was a ground breaking writer during the pulp era. At time when Ace was publishing most of their science fiction in doubles Leigh Brackett published dozens of space operas and fantasies ( that took place on Mars and Venus) far enough back that it seemed possible. One thing that made her a trailblazer is she didn’t hide her gender like a several women writing at the time.

She is most often remembered for the screenplay she wrote just before her death for the Empire Strikes Back. She also wrote several classic westerns and noir films like Rio Bravo and The Big Sleep. The word is that her screenplay for Empire was very different from the final product that was greatly over hauled by Lawrence Kasdan. So What? George Lucas thought enough of her space opera to give her the first crack. It is cool that Brackett was one of the first people to sit down with Lucas and has out the story. I think in high school I bought a couple of her books because she wrote Empire I have vague memories of reading them. During the Solar Lottery episode of Dickheads (the PKD podcast I co-host) we talked about that book being a double with Leigh Brackett novel. That book sounded interesting. I looked it up at the library and they didn’t have it. They did however have The Long Tomorrow and It was considered a masterpiece of 50’s post apocalypse fiction. Anyone who has read my blog for anytime knows I love a good end of the world story.

It was a cool surprise for me by the time the book showed up on my library holds and I got around to it, I had forgotten what it was about. Interesting timing as I was about to read Carrie Vaughn’s sequel to Bannerless that is set in a similar world. It is interesting to compare those novels and how they reflect the fears of the times. Brackett’s novel is inspired by the very real nuclear fears of the 50’s while Vaughn’s Bannerless books see the reset of the world being a outcome of environmental waste and climate change.

The Long Tomorrow is one hundred years after a Nuclear war in the Midwest. This is a very different novel from the bulk of Brackett’s but it is a hero’s quest just like many of her books. This quest is more Tom Sawyer than Frodo because the midwest of this future has gone back to the primitive, not by choice they are survivors. That said the beliefs and laws of this society have adapted and despite surviving books the idea of embracing technology and going back is a big no no.

So enter our Hero Len Coulter who is very focused on the journey to find the city where technology and the old world are embraced. Along the way there is a love triangle with his brother, and many adventures. He dreams of this place and the central question of the third act is this dream all he believed it would be. The society that survived is fighting to prevent any of the seeds that destroyed the past world from being planted again.

You may be thinking – I have read or seen this story one thousand times, and this story is cliché. Well this novel was released in the 50’s so this is one of the trailbliazers along with Alas Babylon and On the Beach. It is the reason for the Cliche and is very different.

The Long Tomorrow shows its age at times, but I am glad I read it. It is a classic of the genre and it is important that we don’t lose these classics. I wouldn’t say it is a barn burner, but it has enough important themes and its role in the genre is undeniable. Yeah you should read it.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Book Review: Chasing New Horizons by Alan Stern & David Grinspoon

Chasing New Horizons by Alan Stern & David Grinspoon

Hardcover, 320 pages

Published May 1st 2018 by St. Martin's Press

One the hottest debates in the space nerd community over the last couple years surrounds the little planet Pluto. Out at the far reaches of our solar system Pluto has only been known to our science since the 1930's when Clyde Tombaugh using math and an analog telescope proved that there was another object out beyond Neptune. Eventually this planet was given the name Pluto, and in recent years it was demoted from Planet to Dwarf Planet. Look I am not a planetary scientist but being small in my opinion should not count against Pluto. Dwarf people are still people. Dwarf planets are planets.

We as a species had not been to Pluto, if you are not as into these things you might wondering why neither Voyager went to Pluto despite going deeper into interstellar space. Voyager 2 was supposed to but the mission was altered to do a pass of Saturn's moon Titan, they just couldn't pass up the amazing science at the mission planner's finger tips. Pluto again got the diss.

In fairness we as a species had not explored Pluto so we didn't know much about it. That was until 2015 and the New Horizons spacecraft. Once human beings sent a space craft called New Horizons we learned a lot so of course it was a no-brainer that we did it right? This book is not just the story of the journey to the planet but the one taken on earth to make it happen.

I know this is not the typical book I review, I mostly review horror novels and science fiction. I was sold to check out this book by the authors when they appeared on one of my favorite podcasts "The Weekly Space Hang-out." That show is linked here:

We learned so much about Pluto and the excitement level from space fans and the general public I assumed it was smooth sailing from earth to the millions of miles away in the deep solar system. This book is a fun read because it not only tells you the story of the planet but the mission and the human beings at the center of it.

I am not sure people understand the joy and excitement that mission planners feel at moments like the "Fly-by" or the Phone-home when a hibernating space craft wakes up after months alone in the void, but that is much of what makes this book special. Of course on the surface those things are cool but when you know the struggles it took to launch it makes it all the more intense.

I don't think most outsiders understand the tension involved in launching the spacecraft for example. You have a limited window when the planets line up. You have to hurdle your space craft at the exact right time 30,000 miles an hour into space. Get it wrong and it is for nothing. You also spent millions and millions of dollars to build 1 functioning machine. Spent years building, testing and loading software. No re-do's and not to mention you are putting it on a rocket. This book got the drama of that moment, the dueling proposals and planning right.

Even though I knew they made it to Pluto I shared in the ups and downs as a reader rooting for them. Once the spacecraft got into space the story of the science was compelling. We learned that Pluto has 5 moons, got video of the amazing dance the planet does with it's moon that is almost the same size. Who knew we had a binary planet in our own Solar system? (check out the video below) The topography on Pluto was so much more interesting than we expected. in the end the mission was beyond NASA and the planners wildest expectations and it is still going with another Kieper Belt object getting a fly-by this upcoming New Year's day.

In the end I suggest this book to people interested in space or science. New Horizons is a spacecraft built by human hands that has gone to the farthest depths of our Solar System. This is an amazing achievement and no matter how craft we send out into the solar system we should not lose sight of that. We need to celebrate the success of the mission but also the heart of human determination at the core of it.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Book Review: The Outsider by Stephen King

The Outsider by Stephen King

Hardcover, 561 pages

Published May 2018 by Scribner

I am no different than many in the horror community, I grew up on Stephen King, he is the biggest and most popular writer of dark fiction in the history of the universe. For better or for worse he is a writing machine with more books published that is hard to even consider. With probably more than a trillion published words it can't all be good can it? Nah I am of the belief that for most of his career I like or love 60 % of his work. 30% is iffy, and 10% is just bad.

I certainly prefer the early novels and stories but I have liked recent books. I loved 11/22/63 and count me in the group that enjoyed Doctor Sleep. For the first 200 pages of the Outsider I was sure this book was going to be in the 60% of positive. None the less we end up in the iffy category.

Look I a firm believer in outlines for novels, King writes without a plan, and often I think the bad habits he gets into are directly a result of not having a clear plan. The first 200 pages really start off with a creepy set-up. Imagine for a minute you are Coach T. Terry Maitland is a respected teacher and youth baseball coach. Everyone in his small town of Flint City knows him.

The novel kicks off when Ralph a cop who becomes our primary POV publicly arrests Terry Maitland during a little league semi-finale. The arrest is for the brutal sexual assault and homicide of a local kid. The thing is Coach T has a rock solid alibi, and at the same time DNA evidence against him. Thus sets up the mystery. How can this man be at two different places at the same time? The strength in the book is the set-up, for 200 hundred pages we have a set-up for a perfect mystery, the only answers possible are impossible. I am trying to stay spoiler free as it is the twist around the two hundred page mark that changes the path of the novel and not for the better. (I will go Spoilers later)

At that point the novel went off the rails for me, most of my enjoyment of the novel was all in the first act. The middle act is devoted to investigating other cases that relate to the main story. Another case entirely that is related in that it is a murder impossibly in two places at once.

There are excellent moments through-out, I was never bored but the book I envisioned when I was 100 pages in was a much better story than the one we ended up with. The characters were good, and I enjoyed the experience enough to give the book 3 out of 5 stars. That may be a little kind. Over-all I can't recommend this book when there are so many horror authors coming up that are doing more exciting things with 0.0000000000001% of the sales.

You just can't spend 250 pages going in the wrong narrative direction, and then recycle a monster from Desperation. No matter how good the set-up or characters the second half has to deliver.

SPOILERS: The problem in The Outsider starts with the second act. SK focuses the story on the investigation, showing and telling us the details of the various cases over 250 or so pages. I understood what was happening 30 pages into this and I wish King trusted his readers. This was being promoted as King returning to scary supernatural horror, the cover was so rad I was looking forward to that. Devoting so many pages to the procedural just zapped the potential for the book to scare.

Who am I to tell the master how to write a scary book but I learned it first from King himself? In the wake of Coach T being killed on the steps Ralph should have been convinced still that he got the right guy. The town should have been relieved, and they should have been heroes. That way when another murder happens, that is when the questions begin. But also the town has to be afraid of another killer. Then Ralph on to the monster/vampire that doubles people situation would have to fear that he could trust no one in town. Anyone could be the active killer still out there. After the first 100 pages that is where I thought the book was going.

There are excellent moments in the Outsider still. The scene where the double with Tattoo's comes to warn Ralph's wife that he has to stop was great, but the missed opportunities were too much.

Side note: Is SK getting paid by Wal-mart? because one characters love for Wal-mart gets mentioned over, and over. It actually becomes a plot point. What up with dat?

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Book Review: Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

206 pages, Hardcover

Published April 2018 by Little, Brown Books Hardcover for Young Readers

I found this book scanning my local library's app for the new Stephen King book in the just ordered page. The title and the cover looked interesting although I had no idea that it was a YA book. I know I am not the target audience but I kept that in mind as I was reading. This is my first experience with Jewell Parker Rhodes, so I do not know how this fits into her wider works but I certainly hope to check out her adult fiction. Don't think for a minute that this being a YA book that it would shy away from issues it does not. This book tackles gun violence school bullies, social injustice, classism and the Black Lives Matter movement. It is amazing that in 2018 that such movement needs to exist but here we are. I recently shared a article on social media that compared the public reaction to two football that took a knee publically in the cases of Colin Kapernick and Tim Teabow. The differences in the reaction was stark.

It became clear that some didn't understand why Kapernick was taking a knee. While not sitting as he first did he saw it as a way to respect the flag while still bringing attention to the FACT that unarmed black men(mostly) were being gunned down far too often. It was hilarious when a friend with a straight face tried to tell me what Kapernick was doing "wasn't about race." It is a good racism test to find out if people are more outraged by symbolic acts of patriotism before sports than they are the actual murder of unarmed black men.

It would be awesome if we lived in a post race america, I like many others thought Obama becoming president was a positive sign for that post race future. I didn't see it going the opposite. Lets face it racists are scared.

So Ghost Boys is a scary book. In no way is it written to be horror, although as a horror writer I found myself thinking often about how that would look. It is not myopic or one sided it does not demonize the police officer who shot the main character. That was a interesting trick. The story follows Jerome a 12 year-old boy who is shot while holding a toy gun. He meets other ghosts of violence but mostly he hangs around his family and the family of the officer who shot him. He can only be seen by one person the daughter of the man who shot him.

I thought this was a dark and effective novel but as it was written for middle grade readers it stopped short of some themes it could have hit. One of the best elements of the novel was when Rhodes brought in the cases of real life victims like Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin. It is a good reminder that these kids are NOT just political cards to be played. This debate happens about real life people and families. It is crazy that in 2018 this book and the simple message that black lives matter has to exist. This is a book that should never have been written and I am sure the author agrees.

That said - read it. It is a excellent reminder that humans are at the heart of this issue.

Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Hardcover, 525 pages

Published March 6th 2018 by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers

Hard to believe this is a first time author - the kind of success this book is having is nothing short of a literary Cinderella story. I don't want to take away from Tomi Adeyemi's talent as she is loaded with it. but I have seen some interesting reaction to her quick rise in the local writing scene. I know one local author who was straight up annoyed and angry that several books in he couldn't sell anything and look at this first timer being the bell of the ball. I also talked to one writer who seemed to think this was normal and that all authors had this happen and when her book came out the same would have all the same things happen to her.

First novels don't normally strike like this. For me personally I am so stoked for a local San Diego writer. The good news is the book is worthy. Think Afrocentric Lord of the Rings. High fantasy with plenty of magic, adventure and fully dynamic characters. Adeyemi herself seems charming so it is hard for me to feel anything but joy for this kinda of success. That said lets be clear this is not normal. When I say Cinderella I mean it is not normal to have Stephen King tweet out your unboxing video, or to be on good morning America or sell your film rights before your first novel is even released.

Children of Blood and Bone takes place in an entirely fantastical fantasy world, complete with a detailed map inside the the cover of the hardcover book. We get little idea of when or where in the universe this place is but we can tell that this an Afrocentric world. At this time in this land we are ten years after magic disappeared from the world. This happened when a nasty king named Saran raided the lands killing Maji's and taking Talismans from the people. Our hero Zalie is on the hero's quest and she hopes to restore magic. There is a well done love story with a member of the royal family but the details of the plot are less important to me.

It is a standard fantasy plot, it is the images and world itself that makes the book a fun read. We have seen this plot on a hero with a thousand faces, but not often this face. Not in this world and the journey is fun. The narrative is first person, which anyone who reads my reviews knows I am not a fan of. That said this first person style switches POV from chapter to chapter. Thus we get different view points and thus it subverts the problems I normally have with that style of story telling.

The narrative is paced well balancing the three main points of view with a good rhythm and well placed reveals. You may see some of the twists coming if you have read fantasy novels but that is OK because it is all done with a great and original feeling attention to detail. The customs of this culture and the magic they practice is fresh and new. That breathes life into the classic format.

I really enjoyed this read despite it not being my genre. As for my fellow San Diegans I say read locally.

Book Reviews: Han Solo at Stars End by Brian Daley and Scoundrels by Timothy Zhan

Han Solo at Star's End by Brian Daley
Hardcover, 187 pages Published March 12th 1979 by Del Rey (first published January 1st 1979)

I read these books in an effort to get hyped for the release of Solo, this more than any other book was the one I wanted to read. A Han Solo novel written when only A New Hope existed,even though I read many many years ago. It is cool because when author Brian Daley wrote this he had no rich canon or universe to rely on. He just had this one movie and the Han Solo in that movie was the one who shot first and tipped the bartender for cleaning up Greedio's corpse. I read this book the week before seeing Solo.

The rest of the efforts to write Han Solo in movies, books and comic were writing about General Solo. In the light of the character who rightly was changed by seeing the sacrifice of Luke and Leia. It makes sense that Han Solo is a changed person. Solo as a movie rightly writes a character who is the foundation of both those sides of the character we know now, what makes this book special is the author Brian Daley had only the super rogue Han solo to go off of.

Han and Chewie are a little more simple in this book but it doesn't suffer for it. AC Crispin who was a excellent tie-in writer did books that address the wider EU and I like both series in different ways. I like the artifact nature of the sorta-out of date Star wars book. In this book Han is not afraid to get his hands dirty, a lot of attention is paid to the operation of the Falcon. I got the feeling that the Falcon in this book was slightly more important to Han than Chewie. Then again this is early in their friendship.

This part of the star wars universe is a creation of Daley, as he didn't have much to go on. The corporate authority is never seen again, and neither are the interesting two droids Bollux and Blue Max. I found myself liking them more than I expected. While there for greed of course Han and Chewie end up being reluctant heroes.

As for Scoundrels. I admit I did not really finish this book. I did a lot of skimming. I know Zhan was trying to do Ocean's 11 in the Star Wars universe but it didn't work for me. Then again it is not super fair for me to say much more.

A few thoughts on the film Solo. I know a few have made the point that this film was not needed. I think there is an argument that Solo is a better character with his back story being mythology. That said I think it was fun for fans to see this story realized. I think the first twenty minutes were rough, and I was a bit worried. After Chewie shows up the movie gets better. I think Solo adds a cool window on the Star Wars universe. Did we need it? Nah but I think having a different window on the galaxy far, far away adds depth to it all. Seeing the universe from the underground was cool to me.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Book Review/ Dickheads episode 3: The World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick

The World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick
Paperback, 199 pages

Published June 29th 1993 by Vintage (first published 1956)

So in 1956 in his second novel PKD felt the need to make the point that Hitler was bad. There is also a story about eugenics and bred for Venus test-tube babies, a society based on relativism,a circus with sex-changing performers and lots more. Crazy considering it was released the same year that Elvis had his first hit single. If you want to get my review you'll have to listen to the third episode of Dickheads:

YouTube link: