Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Book Review: Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben

Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben

Hardcover, 224 pages

Published November 7th 2017 by Blue Rider Press

It will be really easy for me to talk myself out of this book. I enjoyed it enough when I was reading it. Read it very quickly over two days of commuting to work, but the more I think about it something has be giving me pause. Look I respect author Bill McKibbean who is one of the most important global climate change activists on the planet. He has for decades written with passion and knowledge about environmental issues in non-fiction. He is very good at that.

In his first novel McKibben reacted to the election of Donald Trump by resisting in the form of fiction. I love the idea, enough that when I saw it on the shelf at the library I wanted to get it. I had heard the author promoting the book on the Geek's guide to the Galaxy podcast and of course was very interested. Environmental resistance has a long history with books like Free The Animals and Edward Abbey's Monkeywrench Gang being the most famous. In genre circles we have classic like Skipp and Spector's The Bridge and John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up.

Radio Free Vermont is a story told mostly through the words of Vern Barclay, a long time local radio talk show host in Vermont. He does everything from news to high school Hockey scores. He is not the only character several other Vermonters play a role, a computer whiz named Perry, a former Olympic athlete and my personal favorite Barlclay's mother in her 90's. Fed up with the way things are Barclay uses a pirate signal to release podcasts promoting the idea of a Vermont separate from the United States. Once the signal goes out it inspires acts of resistance around the state.

Barclay and Perry carefully lay their ideas while remaining hidden. They call for a town-hall meetings around the state to vote on the idea of staying apart of the country. While this doesn't make members of the government happy, the FBI and local sheriffs try to find them. I found it odd that a huge story-line in the novel is these activists being painted as terrorists and wanted fugitives. They really are just suggesting meetings, and a vote.

One of the blurbs from Naomi Klein says it is James Bond meets Prairie Home Companion. Which is the opposite of selling the book to me. It also has me wondering if Klein has ever seen a Bond movie? Because there is nothing remotely James Bond here, and the story has got to be the most vanilla revolution ever. I don't remember the James Bond movie where he organized town hall meetings. The stakes are low, the tension as light while nothing seems that dangerous. It is promoted as a fable and it reads like a hippie's daydream for change. It is hard for me to take it too seriously. Bill McKidden is an important voice but I personally think I would prefer to read his non-fiction.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Book Review: Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Hardcover, 304 pages

Published July 2015 by Saga Press (first published April 2014)

British Science Fiction Association Award Nominee for Best Novel (2014)

The Kitschies Nominee for Red Tentacle (Novel)(2014)

James Tiptree Jr. Award Honor List (2014)

I love a good story, no matter how they are told, and most novels feel like novels. One of the most impressive things about the work of Nnedi Okorafor is that her stories, short or full length novels have more of a folklore feel than a trope laden genre novel. As corny as this might sound they feel like they are being told on a porch or around a campfire. This is true of her Benti books despite being space opera, I mean that is a literary magic trick.

In the last week the world of this author and the wider one of Afro-futurism has exploded with the release of Black Panther. I have seen dozens of posts of people looking for novels in this marketplace. Nnedi Okorafor is no doubt the most exciting active voice in this world. I have read her novel Who Fears Death which is in development at HBO with George RR Martin as a executive producer. My favorite work of hers is the Binti Trilogy. (NOTE:I have not quite gotten to book three yet- soon)

This novel is somewhat of a alien invasion story but more of a first contact tale set in Lagos, Nigeria. The setting is one NO understands as it is a city she often visited. My first interest in this book came when I heard the author on the excellent now defunct podcast Midnight in Karachi. The idea of setting the traditional contact and arrival sci-fi story in this setting with non-American characters sounded awesome. The change in setting often can help a story in a well explored sub-genre shine. It is clear that happened in this case.

The story starts as our point of view characters witness the arrival of the extra-terrestrial beings who are living below the water off the coast of Nigeria. This alien takes a human form and as the waters rise flooding the city the characters have to learn to communicate with the alien and take it's message to their president. These visitors came with a offer that is hard to refuse.

This is not a shoot-em up alien invasion story so if that is what you are looking for you might want to pass. This is an inventive science fiction novel but accessible. There are so many elements of this novel that defy expectations. One by one the characters strengthen the book from Adaora, the marine biologist who has a complicated and richly told conflict with her husband. The novel finds moments to confront patriarchy. Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa presents a type of African character most American readers have not been exposed too. He is famous in Africa, home grown star. Agu, the soldier opens the book to the internal conflicts of Nigeria.

The story is spread between multiple points of view and the narrative is expertly woven, building to perfect effect. I read this book quickly and could have read a longer version. I rarely feel that way. As an author NO is also so creative that you feel like you are stepping into a world of it. The city is the ultimate character. You can feel the deep feelings she has for the place. I highly recommend this for all sci-fi fans, and anyone interested in African fiction.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Book Review: Another Way to Fall by Brian Evenson and Paul Tremblay

Another Way to Fall by Brian Evenson and Paul Tremblay

Paperback, 215 pages

Published January 1st 2018 by Concord Free Press

The idea behind this press/ book is super cool. The book is free, you just have to take the time to request a copy. Each one is numbered, my copy is 236, the idea is instead of paying for the book you make a equal donation to a charity and then pass the book on. As a huge believer in the book-a-shpere I love everything about it. So in this review you'll get a short take of the novels and a little piece about the non-profit that I donated to.

So this book has two short novels including Evenson’s Baby Leg and Tremblay’s The Harlequin and the Train. I am a fan of both but Evenson is one of of my top ten authors so I was a little more motivated to get into his piece. Both short novels are super weird and surreal horror. There is no doubt you are getting more than you paid for because both authors are super talented and two of the best writers working in genre fiction today.

Brian Evenson writes with very odd structure and some of the most inventive prose I have ever read. Baby Leg is a fantastic work of paranoia that is very dreamlike. The plot is hard to describe but becomes more nightmarish as it goes. A man named Kraus wakes up in a cabin missing a hand and is unsure who he is. He is tortured the image of the woman with a baby leg, and if that was not disturbing enough we have just started. The short novel builds on the creepy dread of the man starving but unwilling to get food, all of this was gut wrenching in delivery. There is a great moment when Kraus goes to a shop to and gets identified.

This short novel has more moments of terror and surreal paranoia than many Philip K. Dick novels. Another great example of Evenson at his best. Weird and genius.

Tremblay's novel The Harlequin and the Train appears on the surface to be a more straight forward story of cause and effect. Starting with a train wreck and featuring the conductor I was under the impression we were heading toward a Crash style story. The movie not the amazing JG Ballard novel. This piece is about chance, choice and destiny with some gruesome more hardcore elements that come into play.

I felt a little lost at times. I was OK with this because Tremblay's writing is engaging and he is skilled. I certainly felt like some things were going over my head. As weird as Baby Leg was I was with it from start to finish. I admit I was ready to be done with the second novel probably 20 pages before it ended.

That said I think the publishing concept is great and looking at the board members I hope this series continues. So below the pictures of the book I have details on the non-profit I supported.

Beltane Holistic Animal Massage is a 501c3 non-profit here in San Diego. BHAM provides massage in the county animal shelter for abused and needy animals. This helps animals who might not be able to be adopted feel more comfortable in several cases BHAM helped animals find homes. The SD county shelter is a kill shelter so this is life-saving work. BHAM also helps foster dogs adopted by rescues in their studio. You can get details at:



Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Book Review: Mean Business on North Ganson Street by S. Craig Zahler

Mean Business on North Ganson Street by S. Craig Zahler

Hardcover, 293 pages

Published September 30th 2014 by Thomas Dunne Books

This violent Midwestern noir was written by S. Craig Zahler the writer director of cult films Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99. If you have seen those movies you will know that he is a writer known for brutal unflinching stories with great dialogue. Bone Tomahawk is probably his best known work, the horror-western hybrid film stars Kurt Russell and is one part western and one part Hills Have Eyes. This novel has more in common with his most recent release BICB99 starring Vince Vaughan.

Mean Business on North Granson Street is a cop drama and crime noir with a heartland setting of the fictional city of Victory Missouri. The hero of the story is an Arizona detective Jules Bettinger a African American officer who was involved in a incident that cost him his job. He explains the reality of a case to a man caught cheating on his wife and business, faced with the reality he turns around and kills himself. This business man was important enough to force him out of the department. The only department willing to hire him is one in Victory, and you get the idea that no one wants to work or live in this city.

Dead in the middle of winter the kind he has never experienced Bettinger ends up working in a city where the ratio of cops to population is far below average. The city is an out of control ghetto with filled massive crime and apathetic at best police. Bettinger arrives there in the wake of a nationally covered brutality case. His first case the death of a hooker,connected to several murdered women and there is evidence of Necrophila. This dark story line is most to carry most novels but it is just the tip of the iceberg. Bettinger can tell know one wanted to the solve this case before him.

Bettinger hates the city, the job, his wife and children don't seem happy about the move but five years and he will have his pension. As much as he doesn't like the cops in this city, and they don't like him. His new partner doesn't hide his habit of brutality or his racist ideas. The story really kicks into gear when two officers are killed execution style and Bettinger is pulled into the dark history of the department. Is it the work of a serial killer or a conspiracy that is much wider?

MBNGS is no joke, it is a excellent plotted, paced story with characters so sharp they are the source for most of the humor and tension. Some of the strengths include Bettinger's decsion to protect his family he moves them into a city more than an hour's drive away. This creates a tired under slept lead who becomes less reliable as the story reaches the end. The highlight of the book for me was the dialogue, often hilarious versions of standard trope cop talk, one of my favorite scenes was when a perp asked "isn't one of you supposed to be the good cop?" "He got fired in the seventies."

As funny as those moments were the violence is not comic-bookishly over the top like Zahler's films. This book has a brutal twist or two and violence is used to beautiful story-telling effect. I don't know why I was surprised at the level of the darkness that Bettinger was dragged into by the end of this story. The novel works as a crime thriller, but have moments that skirt horror. Less so than Bone Tomahawk but certainly I think fans of his films will not be bummed out to read this one.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Book Review: Aftermath by Levar Burton

Aftermath by Levar Burton

Hardcover, 288 pages

Published January 1st 1997 by Aspect

I read this book when it came out but was motivated for two reasons to re-read this dystopian sci-fi novel again. I'll get to those in a bit. First let's talk about the origins of the book. In the 90's many of the actors working in the Star Trek franchises from William Shatner, James Doohan to Jonathan Frankes were releasing co-written sci-fi novels. I am sure they came up with the concepts but they were clearly all mostly written by the hired co-authors. Aftermath however written by actor, director and producer Levar Burton who is most known for playing Geordi Laforge on The Next Generation was different.

Aftermath felt like a book that he clearly wrote himself. I mean it has some signs of being written by a first time novelist, but I actually respect the book even more for that reason. Lavar Burton is a gifted director and anyone who listens to his excellent new podcast 'Levar Burton reads' understands that he knows a thing or two about story. His monologues talking about the stories at the end are a clear highlight of the podcast.

That was the first reason I wanted to re-read this book. I have often told my writing partner on a series of TV scripts we are turning into a novel that Burton would be my dream director for the project's pilot.

The second reason was when I saw that the date of the future this book was set in was one year away. I was interested to see how different it was from our world. When I picked up a copy of the book Trump was elected and racial protests were erupting in Virginia. It is clear that the election of Donald Trump signaled the racists to come out in the clear so a race war doesn't seem so impossible. As far as a story goes Aftermath is a breezy tale set after major collapse has resulted in an American conflict based on race and economic classism.

In this novel the race war is set up by the election of a black president in 2012. That happened by the way, and while the full-on race war has not happened the hatred stirred up by Obama being elected happened is hard to deny. Slower, more subtle than in the events of this novel. In the end it was a racist president getting elected in response that really has stirred the pot. The rise of hate groups emboldened by Trump is a interesting comparison. Burton saw it as a reaction to the election and reality has been more of slow burn. I am sure Levar Burton feels like Ray Bradbury who famously said "I wasn't predicting the future I was trying to prevent it."

Burton tells the story through the lens of multiple characters connected by a psychic link. The main Point of view is a homeless black man Leon Crane who was academic. The story kicks off when the Maguffin in the form of computer disks are given to woman he sees kidnapped. He and few other people scattered around the country with connects to the woman are by the link to follow her to Chicago. The travels of the characters practically Leon on the train are fun and suspenseful.

This feels like The Stand without the epic scope. The setting and the world building is epic, the characters are all really realized. It is impressive much much story is crammed into the short page count. That is a bit of a double edged sword.In fact one of the biggest problems with the book is that it could have been two hundred pages longer. That is something I rarely say. The events of this book come together very fast and if anything too fast. A little more room to develop the characters would have added to an already interesting story and setting. Burton is a good writer and I wanted more.

If there is any other weakness is the story is light on the darkness. I certainly understand why Burton would do so, alot of his readers followed him from Star Trek and Reading Rainbow, but we also know him from Roots. A little more unflinching look at the world would have gone a long way. That is not to say there are not rough moments. The scene where Amy is attacked in St. Louis was effectively done horror.

Really glad to have this on my shelf. Most importantly I would like to say that I want another Levar Burton novel.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Book Review: Origins of Creativity by Edward O. Wilson

Origins of Creativity by Edward O. Wilson
Hardcover, 256 pages Published October 2017 by Liveright

I tend to not review the non-fiction books I read because I skip around, sometimes I don't finish them, or they are for research for my own books. I decided to give this one a review because I read cover to cover. It will be a short review however. The odd thing was I grabbed it off the new release shelf at the library with out really realizing that it was very connected to the novel I would end up reading next. (Well I finished The God Gene first)

So what interested me in this book. Edward O. Wilson is a famous award winning naturalist and I have read bits and pieces of his musings before. I thought a look at how we as a species developed the ability to think creatively might be useful as an author. It is funny looking briefly over the online reviews it is clear that many missed the point of this book.

There is a degree that Wilson is expressing himself in a stream of conciseness that feels unstructured. It is clear he has many thoughts about the how humanity made the leap from instinct to be able to create art. The point of the book is that the humanities like art, fiction, and film need to have a closer relationship with the sciences in what he considers a third enlightenment. Could he have just said that without giving a detailed history of how humans learned to imagine? Maybe but it is important to remember what an amazing gift that is.

It is one thing recount events that happened down the generations, but how amazing is it that stories that exist totally in one person's mind lives on in words, and images. We have a chance to explore the universe, and inner space in way thought impossible as science and science fiction work together. We need creative minds and trained minds to work together to unlock discovery. That was the point.

The history of how story, and human evolution have always been tied together is much of the point here. It is a short book, but lots of interesting insights and I agree with the basic point.

Also I learned was the world's most famous Pulitzers prize winning biologist considers Alien and Carpenter's the Thing to be the two best science fiction films ever. He is smart dude.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Book Review: The God Gene by F.Paul Wilson

The God Gene by F.Paul Wilson

Hardcover, 368 pages

Published January 2018 by Forge

The God Gene is the second book featuring Medical examiner Laura Fanning and mercenary Rick Hayden. Over the majority of F.Paul Wilson's long career he wrote stories in two different series the Adversary cycle and the Repairman Jack books. It eventually became clear that that They were apart of one huge universe that was threaded through 98% of of Wilson's books in a saga he calls the Secret History of the World.

Some novels are completely connected to the history some are connected by one small event or mention. It is easy to get lost in a discussion of how complex this fictional world gets, and how amazing the plotting involved it is. To me the secret history is more intertwined to Wilson's work as the Dark Tower is to King. I spent most 2012 reading the whole history in one year. So honestly I could write all day about it.

That said when the first book in this series came out I was excited for a novel by Wilson out of his saga (his last one that I can think of is the excellent vampire novel Midnight Mass). So I had mix feelings when a twist part way through the first book revealed that yes Panacea is about of the secret history. Look the way it connected was subtle and brilliant, and in this book the connection is even more intense. So yes I have to marvel at Wilson's genius. The thing is that reveal which comes in the third act is what makes the book awesome to me. I am not sure that this story will work at the same level if you are not a diehard FPW reader.

I am a die hard so this novel worked quite well for me.

Laura and Rick are great characters, and their connection to the story comes when Rick's brother Keith a famous zoolist goes missing. The biggest clue this unnatural smart primate he brought back from east Africa. Keith not only killed the primate but has taken huge lengths to erase any sign that the creature existed. Much like the first book we have a globe trotting thriller that involves exotic locales and big action scenes.

Wilson is a master of narrative slight of hand, and that is on display here with characters who have shifting and unreliable Point of views through the course of the book. The story might appear of the surface to be a simple thriller but the title suggest something deeper, and it is a huge part of the story.

What gives humans the ability to be creative and what is the thing that helped us make that leap from other primates. Oddly enough I just happened to pick a book by another Wilson at the library the same day. Unrelated Edward O. Wilson is a famous award winning biologist released a book called Origins of Creativity(my next review)that I picked up off the new releases shelf at the library. Having gone into the God Gene blind I was amused when I realized the novel and non-fiction book were on a similar topic.

The connection to the secret history is key for my enjoyment, but really the crafty thing FPW did here was write thriller about one of the biggest questions in human life. That thing that makes us creative, that gives us the ability to love and rise above instinct. I like to think of it as the reason we must be guided by compassion as it is a gift, but in this story that gene, that god gene is like a live wire. The question at had is can humanity handle the idea that those genes were created by something and not a mere accident.

F.Paul Wilson does it again.