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:

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Book Review: After the Flare (Nigerians in Space #2) by Deji Bryce Olukotun

After the Flare (Nigerians in Space #2) by Deji Bryce Olukotun

Paperback, 301 pages

Published September 2017 by The Unnamed Press

Philip K. Dick Award Nominee (2017)

I picked this book up after it won a special mention in this year's PKD awards of which it was nominated for.

This is a strange book that apparently is a sequel to the author's first novel Nigerians in Space. Well it is marketed that way although I read that the author intended for this book to stand alone. I don't know if I missing something but it worked for me as a singular reading experience. Had I know it was book two I would not have started here but it ended up in my TBR so here we are. Combining a few plot elements and a strange sci-fi mystery this is a really great example of afrocentric genre even if personally I did not connect to it as much as some other books in this subgenre.

The premise sets up nicely for a post Apocalypse novel, but strangely enough that is not what we are talking about here. The book starts in orbit when a space station gets a front row seat for solar flare that wipes out power/technology for much of the globe. There is a small zone along the equator that is unaffected, and this is the reason why Kwesi Brackett our main point of view character has to go Nigeria. As a engineer he is needed to join the effort to rescue the lone astronaut who didn't escape the space station and has been stranded in orbit for a year while quickly losing her life support and sanity. Once in Africa the story weaves a couple plot strands that involve terrorist groups like Boko Haram, ancient artifacts and the discovery of an advanced civilization buried in Nigeria's past.

Brackett is in charge of the water tanks where the future astronauts practice space walks. He is overseeing the final stages of building this massive pool with a artifact is found and quickly stolen. In the process of trying to track down the stolen items Brackett is witness to a separatist terrorist attack. These elements were some of the books most interesting moments. The glimpse into the near future Nigeria was not the focus, but to me it was the most compelling part.

The various plot threads seem very different but they weave together really through the the story. Deji Bryce Olukotun's writing is well thought out, he has excellent command of plot, structure and characters. For me the biggest weakness of the book was found in it's subplot about the origins of the artifact. I am sorry for most readers this will be the most interesting part, but how Nigeria reacts to it's suddenly important global role intrigued me more that was not Olukotun's focus.

I respect this book, even if I didn't totally love it. Olukotun is a good writer and I will read more of his work in the future. This is good thoughtful science fiction and in a time when we are trying to find more diverse voices this is a good one.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Book Review Corpse Paint by David Peak (audio review w/ Anthony Trevino)

Corpse Paint by David Peak

Paperback, 240 pages

Published April 2018 by Word Horde

I am a tough customer when it comes to metal related fiction. It is rare that movies or books fictionalize metal in an authentic way. It is tough because it is a very specific world. I am a punk and hardcore person, as far the scene I am a part of that is the world I prefer. However when I am finding music to listen to just as I am working I am a metal dude. My relationship with black metal goes back to the late 90's. John the singer of my favorite vegan death metal/core crossover band at the time was Day of Suffering gave me my first black metal records. He gave me a tape that had Emperor, Cradle of Filth and Mayhem on it.

I have been a death metal guy for awhile but the raw crazy-ness of Black metal appealed to me. I actually like Cradle best (Dusk and her Embrace was the most recent album at the time) even though I was told they were posers. What did I care I thought the true black metal lifestyle was weird and silly. I mean these guys took being "evil" a bit too seriously right?

So that is the thing about this novel, I think this novel is GREAT. That said I am not sure if this novel will work for anyone who is not familiar with black metal. The title is a good way to judge if it is for you. Do I need to explain what the title is a reference to?

In the audio review posted with this review my writing partner and Dickheads podcast co-host Anthony Trevino disagrees with me. You'll just have to listen. The review in the form of a discussion is here...

Monday, May 14, 2018

Book Review: Star Wars The Last Jedi by Jason Fry

Star Wars The Last Jedi by Jason Fry

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published March 6th 2018 by Del Rey

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

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

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

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

Some highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Book Review: Austral by Paul McAuley

Austral by Paul McAuley

Paperback, 276 pages

Published October 19th 2017 by Gollancz

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson

Where the Dead Sit Talking

by Brandon Hobson

Hardcover, 288 pages

Published February 20th 2018 by Soho Press

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 6, 2018

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

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

Hardcover, 176 pages

Published May 16th 2012 by Oni Press

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

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Book Review: Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn

Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn

Paperback, 274 pages

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

Winner of the 2017 Philip K. Dick Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

While very worthy of the Philip K Dick award the author's work that Bannerless reminds me more of in tone and subject matter is Ursula Leguin. While Vaughn has her own voice I mean this with the upmost respect. The coast road is a future post end of the world novel and there is a fine tradition of novels like this set in California from Leguin's Always Coming Home, Gene O'Neil's Cal Wild books and Kim Stanley Robinson's Three California trilogy. Bannerless is a strong entry in this sub-genre.

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

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

Dickheads interview on Youtube:

The Dickheads interview on Soundcloud:

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

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

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

Hardcover, 240 pages

Published July 11th 2017 by Random House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Book Review: The Night Masquerade (Binti #3) by Nnedi Okorafor

The Night Masquerade (Binti #3) by Nnedi Okorafor

Paperback, 208 pages

Published January 16th 2018 by Tor.com

Nnedi Okorafor is one of the best and strongest voices working in Science Fiction today. Her story telling skill is top notch that perfectly balances world building,characters and plotting, all those elements are woven through her work with great attention to detail. She writes African themed Science Fiction, Horror, Fantasy and Magical Realism for both adults and YA readers. I am excited to finally read the third and final book in the Binti trilogy. This series is Afrofuturistic sotra space opera slightly with some elements of hard sci-fi. Together the three books could function as one book and those of you coming to the story now are lucky you can read it that way. I suspect it will be a better experience done all at once.

The world building is certainly the strongest aspect of all three Binti books but the Characters are given strength and moments to shine. This series is a great place for readers to go if they saw Black Panther and wanted more African themed speculative fiction. Binti is a very African science fiction tale and for that alone it is a neat and pretty singular experience. How many Sci-fi stories can say that in the Twentieth Century.

The story of Binti is told first person through her eyes. She leaves her native Africa for a university on another world. Deeply spiritually minded Binti paints her skin with the red soil of her homeland to remain connected. Shortly after leaving earth she is the lone human survivor of an attack on the living starship she is a passenger on. She is able to survive thanks to melding with a member of attacking species known as Medusa. Suddenly her long dredlocks come to life with Alien DNA and she ressurected as a hybrid.

In book two she returns to earth and book three resolves that conflict. The ending was not one I expected and comes with a powerful twist. To pull off that twist the narrative that to leave the first person narrative for a few chapters. This could have been jarring but it worked well.

I know this is a short review but these books are also short. That said they are overflowing with ideas and are some of the best sci-fi of this century so far.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book Review: The Listener by Robert R. McCammon

The Listener by Robert R. McCammon

Hardcover, 332 pages

Published February 2018 by Cemetery Dance Publications

Anyone that follows my reviews knows that Robert R. McCammon is one of my favorite living writers. His ability to tell a story effectively in the novel format is pretty much unmatched. I am not sure it is possible for him to write a bad book. Gone South, Mine and of course Swan Song are some of my favorite books of all time. When I heard about this book coming out from Cemetery Dance I was beyond thrilled. While I am not as big of a fan of his Matthew Corbett historical mysteries recent novels like The Five and I Travel by Night have hit my sweet spot. Those were both returns to earlier styles of McCammon novels of the 80's and 90's. The Five was an action driven suspense novel about a Rock and roll band that mixed the music world with something like the Hitcher. It was a hell of a read Stephen King even called it McCammon's best.

I Travel by Night was a neat little monster/horror/western that I enjoyed. I would personally consider the Listener a novel or horror, released by a horror publisher in Cemetery Dance, I am not sure exactly why it was labeled on the cover as a "Novel of Suspense." I mean it is a novel of Suspense sure, but it is a novel filled with genuine moments of horror, and even supernatural elements. So I am confused by this tag line. While we are talking about the cover it is as boring of a design as I can remember which is too bad because it is an expensive book.

I went into this novel entirely cold on the plot, knowing nothing at all and reading it based on McCammon's strength of work in the past. This is an excellent way to approach this story as it has a few twists that benefit from having no preconceptions.

Is it a favorite of mine? Compared to McCammon's past work I would say - not even close. Don't get me wrong his worst novel is probably 100 times better than most. It is interesting because some of this review is going to sound negative but that has to do with the super high bar RRM has set for himself. For each element I didn't like there were elements I loved. Over all I had a great reading experience and consider it a four out of five star book despite major issues.

My favorite thing about the Listener is how many "rules" McCammon breaks in telling this story and it doesn't suffer for it. in a 3rd person narrative like this most editors never want you to change the point of view in chapters, even with clear breaks. Some want you to pick one POV for a whole book and never change it. There are times in this book when the POV shifts mid paragraph and even one sentence to the next. I personally consider that a huge No-no, but RRM somehow pulls it off.

The novel spends the first 84 pages establishing the character who turns out to be a villain, a interesting choice because it makes him sympathetic before he does awful stuff. John Partlow who goes by several names in the book is a con man. The opening con where he sells bibles to illiterate widows does a good job of setting up the depression era setting in the south. We then follow along as he meets Ginger a conwoman with a plan. After the first chapters we get a change in setting. The character of Curtis Mayhew is a red cap at the train station a young black-man who has always had a special talent. He hears voices They are people across the miles he hears like a telepathic phone call he talks to the other rare people with his talent.

One of those people is a young child We eventually learn that she is the child of a rich businessman. of course these stories weave together when we discover that Crutis is listening in on the young child's kidnapping. This sets up a cat and mouse game that creates plenty of scary moments. Those most frightening moments however come from the race issues inherit to the era it takes place in. Imagine you are a young black man in 1934 claiming to have knowledge of a kidnapping in the south? Yeah it gets ugly.

Over all I liked the novel but one thing really bugged me. McCammon often gets compared to Stephen King, it doesn't help when novels like Swan Song appear to be very, very much like The Stand. I would argue that Swan Song is a better book, but still that criticism had dogged McCammon for years. In this novel RRM not only uses an overused Stephen King trop he uses the most cringe worthy one I can think of. King has this problem with using characters who are what Spike Lee called the "magical negro." The Shining, The Stand, Green Mile and even last year in Sleeping Beauties. This didn't ruin my enjoyment of the novel it just made me uncomfortable.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Book Review: The Unnoticeables by Robert Brockway

The Unnoticeables by Robert Brockway
Hardcover, 288 pages Published July 7th 2015 by Tor Books

On the surface this book should be something I am into. It is a dark urban fantasy with punk and horror elements. Written by an author from a city I used live in. I am told we have mutual friends. Everything seemed to be lining up. As a story to cuts back and forth from two settings one in the late 70's New York Punk scene the other more modern day Hollywood. I found the the 70's setting a tad more interesting.

The biggest problem I had this novel is that I could not connect to the characters. I had trouble telling them apart,and the story just didn't connect with me. By the time the two storylines began to connect I was over it. I found myself distracted constantly. My mind was wondering.

Brockway is a good writer I can tell but this story didn't connect with me. I know this is a short review and this author deserves more attention from his readers. This is a "it's not you it's me" review. I just couldn't get into this book I had to skip pages to get to ending. I think the concept is good and I think many will enjoy this blend of punk and fantasy.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Book Review: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Leguin

The Dispossessed by Ursla K. Leguin

Paperback, 387 pages

Published October 20th 1994 by Harper Voyager (first published May 1974)

Hugo Award for Best Novel (1975)

Nebula Award for Best Novel (1974)

Prometheus Hall of Fame Award (1993)

Locus Award for Best Novel (1975)

Jupiter Award for Best Novel (1975)

John W. Campbell Memorial Award Nominee for Best Science Fiction Novel (1975)

Ditmar Award Nominee for Best International Long Fiction (1975)

Of all the artists we have lost in the last year no one hit me as hard as Ursula Leguin, now I know she lived into her 80's and yes that is a pretty good run but her voice and work remained strong. Right after her death I decided to re-read this classic that I first read nineteen years ago. It took me a few weeks to get to it, but I chose to read it on a trip home to Indiana because I knew I would read the majority of it in one sitting that way. This book is rightfully promoted as one of the best and first real attempts in a science fiction novel to depict an anarchist society. In that sense it is a little overblown as the majority of the takes place Urras which is a culture much like ours.

In the 2017 edition she wrote :"So, when I realized that nobody had yet written an anarchist utopia, I finally began to see what my book might be. And I found that its principal character, whom I’d first glimpsed in the original misbegotten story, was alive and well—my guide to Anarres."

We certainly get scenes on Anarres but if this is Leguin looking at anarchism it is important to think of it as Anarchism 101 and her later novel Always Coming Home as a master class. You have to give Leguin credit for exploring these issues forty years ago, but much like gender issues in Left Hand of Darkness the age of the book shows a little bit. Don't get me wrong it is a masterpiece and a absolutely essential classic of radical Science Fiction.

This novel is the story of Shevek a scientist who studies physics at a university on Anarres. He is trying to finalize a general theory which he believes can lead to faster than light travel, in time he realizes that he cannot get the full support he needs for his research on his home world of Anarres. Most in his anarchist culture are fine living on their desert world, get getting supply ships. With out the need for conquest science and resources are fewer and far between. The setting of the novel is one of the highlights. Set in the far future when humanity has mostly moved on from a nearly dead earth. Most humans live on two worlds in the near by star system of Tau Ceti. (The setting of Kim Stanley Robinson's amazing Aurora). Most humans lived on Urras and life is not that different from ours. There are countries at war and the one called A-Io is certainly a stand in for modern America.

Shevek is a Odoion, the followers of a woman named Odo had started an Anarchist syndicalist rebellion. To end the conflict Odo and her followers were given the twin world, and promise of peace to develop their own utopia. For two-hundred years they had lived by anarchist principles. Leguin has said she was inspired by anarchist writers such as Peter Kropotkin and Paul Goodman. This utopia has many features seen in collectives through-out the anarcho-punk movements the lack of hierarchy,sexual equality and they don't eat animals. This is one of many other elements that have made this novel popular with the radical left. It is not your average sci-fi book that has a character give a speech and say "We have no law but the single principle of mutual aid between individuals." (page 300)

This is not an action oriented story, it is a slow burn mood piece that paints a picture of contrast between two ways of life. Leguin could have made this super heavy handed, but doesn't. The action comes mostly in the final act when Shevek is shocked to learn that his research into faster than light travel is owned by the government on Urras that funded his research and he decides to take it back to his world. This leads him being a fugitive from the capitalist government and a minor hero to the new protest movement inspired by Odo's beliefs on Urras.

It is the ideas and the exploration of anarchism that make this novel special. I mean there is a good story here and UKL never loses sight of that. If there is a weakness of the novel is that despite the non-linear plot it takes till page 294 for the driving event of the narrative to happen. Shevek realizes the state wants to own his ideas. In one sense that is OK because it is the IDEA of Odo and her followers that are the value of this book.

Leguin has interesting way of making sure the collective nature sticks on the planet. Anarres is a harsh desert world, that requires cooperation, they cannot survive without it. It also keeps their young society from growing to fast. The Odoian beliefs are first laid on on page 94(of the Harper paperback I read)but through-out the story those anarchist ideals are laid out. The action is secondary, and even though it is subtle the narrative drive comes from the fish out of water tale. It is not done in a humorous or over the top way.

Anarres is thought of as a Utopia but Leguin is careful not to make it perfect, the very reason Shevek leaves is not a pretty one. On this anarchist world everyone must do the hard labor at some point. Despite his research being of such importance it is reality that he has to leave it behind and has to work hard labor in the field. Shevek is not opposed to the hard work, and eblieves in the system but also thinks his theories are to important to give up. Certainly it is fair that despite his status as scientist is requirement to work in hard labor is the same as anyone.

This is seen as a result of a society that doesn't have any form of ownership: “A child free from the guilt of ownership and the burden of economic competition will grow up with the will to do what needs doing and the capacity for joy in doing it. It is useless work that darkens the heart. The delight of the nursing mother, of the scholar, of the successful hunter, of the good cook, of the skillful maker, of anyone doing needed work and doing it well, - this durable joy is perhaps the deepest source of human affection and of sociability as a whole.”

Late in the book the characters discuss the lack of freedom that would develop naturally in this utopia. You are are free to do what you want, but if you choose to ignore the pull to mutual aid you could easily become an outcast. Anyone who has been a part of the radical activist community has seen the self sabotage and circular firing squad that can develop if one is not seen as pure enough. At no point is Leguin suggesting this is an argument against anarchism - just a reality. Leguin believed in these ideals and it is clear from this novel, but even more so in Always Coming Home.

This book is a classic of deep thought in a speculative format. A master of science fiction at the top of her game. To say it is a must read is a massive understatement. Everyone interested in Science Fiction or radical political thinking should read this novel.

Speech by Leguin from 1975:

Radio Drama based on the book:

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Book Review UBO by Steve Rasnic Tem

UBO by Steve Rasnic Tem

Paperback, 320 pages

Published February 2017 by Solaris

Literary Awards:

Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Best Novel (2017)

This book is not for everyone but it sure as hell was for me. Steve Rasnic Tem is a veteran of the horror field. He is a past winner of the Bram Stoker, International Horror Guild, British Fantasy, and World Fantasy Awards. There is no doubting his skill. What he produced here is a brutal blackest black of science fiction horror novels that delivers a healthy dose of what the fuck. The first half felt like a bastard hybrid of Dark City and the the early seventies film Punishment Park. The whole book sets up a super dark mystery that once the reveals come will have you delightfully scratching your head.

UBO is an excellent example of a novel that is both science fiction and horror in equal measure. It takes a certain kind of reader but I for one found the haunting darkness of UBO to be beautiful in the level of pitch black tone it achieves. I went into the book blind about the story and was thankful that I did. So if you trust me I suggest you stop here, buy the book (or get it from your library) and come back to this review when you have read it.

OK minor spoiler warning...

UBO is a story seen through the eyes of Daniel a prisoner in Ubo. He and the other prisoners have vague memories of a life before Ubo, his family, but he doesn't know where or when Ubo is. Is it another time or world? he can't say but the prison guards are not human, they are giant cockroaches, and what view they have is of a destroyed landscape. The Roaches are not just holding them in this horrible place feeding them just enough flavorless protein paste to keep them alive, they are also using them for experiments.

These experiments involve mind swapping with some of the most notorious murders through out history. From Charles Whitman, Heinrich Himmler to Jack the Ripper. Daniel and the residents are subjected to live through the memories of the greatest killers some times more than once. The worst part is they are simply passengers. This makes these chapters hard to read in totally different way than the ones than the set-up taking place in Ubo, but the combination provides the story with a context that are bread crumbs leading to the reveal.

Daniel is a excellent point of view character and despite the limited amount of time they appear in the story the other characters are very well written. In the second half of the novel the story took a turn I was not expecting. I think personally I enjoyed the first half a tad more than the second half that seemed to go more hard sci-fi than surreal. There is no doubting that the novel was a masterpiece. I don't say that word lightly.

The first half of the book has a mystery as powerful as the setting, and that is saying something. When you mix the "I want to shoot myself" grim tone of Macarthy's The Road, with the political concepts and sheer "what the fuck is real?" of Philip K Dick you earned the word masterpiece. Read this now.