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.