Category Archives: SpeculativeFiction

Ivyland by Miles Klee

ivyIvyland by Miles Klee

OR Books, New York, 2012

From my TBR pile, given to me by a friend.  I think this one fits into the 2013 Sci-Fi experience, but it leans towards the Speculative Fiction end of things.  I also just discovered it is in The 2013 Tournament of Books, along with several books I have read and several on my TBR list!

Holy crap..what a strange ride this is.

Based in Ivyland, New Jersey, a town taken over by Endless, a Big-Bio-Pharma company and dotted with MexiLickin’SurfHog fastest food joints, this reads like a nightmare shared by Philip K Dick and Thomas Pynchon with some Kurt Vonnegut thrown in for good measure.  Ads run 24/7 on any surface available and through any sound system..The Van Vetchen procedure, a minimally invasive surgery that has saved untold millions of American lives, is now available through mobile immunization centers crisscrossing the country…  Sounds scary, doesn’t it?

Traffic that doesn’t move, pharmaceutically- enhanced beverages, cops hired by corporations, a possible American near-future or maybe it is the present?

The chapters jump between characters and time periods so you never quite know where you are,  an addictive adrenaline rush that made it hard to put down even though I wondered exactly what was I getting from this book.  Klee’s writing was the reward.

He broods on this alternative, steepling his index fingers as glittering eyes sink into the grass.  Anastasio shuffles his feet.  The narcotic drone of cicadas strings the night like a handful of beads….Henry and Grady have moved on.  They walk, weaving back and forth in the road to avoid roadkill and potholes, through another four intersections.  I watch.  Until they fade from sight, I let the flawed film unreel…Moonlight follows the same path, still touching them when I wipe my eyes and squint, wrapping their bodies like another skin when they finally meet the ink-blotted distance, Henri turning around, one arm still across Grady’s back, and examining the horizon to see if I’m there…

In the end this weird, unsettling novel is about friendship and about love.  A strange mix, parts totally out of hand and parts wonderfully lyrical.  I don’t know anything about Miles Klee, but think he is an author I need to watch.

6 Comments

Filed under 2013 Science Fiction Experience, 2013 TBR Double Dog Dare, Books, SciFi, SpeculativeFiction, Thoughts

Osiris by E.J. Swift

osirisOsiris: Book One of the Osiris Project

by E. J. Swift

Night Shade Books, San Fransisco, 2012

Borrowed from my library.  This is the first book I finished for the TBR Double Dog Dare and the 2013 Sci-Fi Experience. The cover is stunning.

I wanted to love this one.  The premise of a great city built in the ocean being the last refuge of the human race after some world-wide ecological catastrophe, is a great one.   Osiris itself, giant towers and pyramids rising from the sea on the one side and the ruins that shelter the poor on the other, is a marvel of world building.  The basic theme of inequality that runs through Osiris and the idea of the rebellion of the poor and oppressed,  is something taken directly from recent news, from the Arab spring to the massive protests in Spain.  Moving this into some apocalyptic future is an intriguing idea.  This is what speculative fiction is made of.

The main characters, a wild girl rebelling from a wealthy ruling family on the one hand and an ex-convict turned political activist on the other, find themselves in a you help me – I’ll help you situation that could have developed into something engaging, but for me the relationship fell into a sadly typical scenario.  They end up in bed together and end up hurting each other, something I found distracting and disappointing. I’m sure Swift means this to be the beginning of so much more, but it just didn’t work for me. Osiris also felt like it could have used some graceful editing, I found myself skimming quite a bit.

Night Shade has been publishing some wonderfully wild and exciting books over the past few years, including collections edited by Ellen Datlow and John Joseph Adams and a couple by favorite authors Kameron Hurley,  Iain M Banks, and Paolo Bacigalupi.  Osiris just didn’t click for me.  Sad, but it happens.

2 Comments

Filed under 2013 Challenges, 2013 Science Fiction Experience, Books, SciFi, SpeculativeFiction, Thoughts

Brown Girl In The Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Brown Girl In The Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Aspect Fiction, New York, 1998

From my TBR pile.  My second read for R.I.P. VII.  Winner of the Locus Award and the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer in 1999.

Nalo Hopkinson is Jamaican, now living in Canada.  Her novels and stories are filled with Caribbean folklore, history and language.  The title comes from a traditional West Indian ring game song.

This dystopian novel takes place in Toronto.  The city center has collapsed politically and economically, leaving those who can’t afford to leave, mostly people of color, struggling to survive any way they can.    The wealthy population runs to the suburbs and edge cities, areas now protected by barricades and road blocks.

Ti-Jeanne, gifted with visions she does not understand, lives with her new baby and grandmother, Gros-Jeanne.  This is  a  situation she found herself in after running from her lover, Tony, and she is not at all happy with it.  Tony has a bad drug habit and is caught up in the Posse, a mob-like organization run by Rudy, a thug and spiritual practitioner. Rudy is the self-proclaimed boss of the central city, running a gang, terrorizing residents and keeping nasty spirits under his control.

In this dark urban fantasy  Ti-Jeanne finds herself with ancestors she didn’t know she had and powers she does not really want, but it is up to her to face the spirits and protect her family.

I have read newer works by Hopkinson, and now have a better understanding of her style of fantasy based in Caribbean history .  I found some of the patois hard to read, but enjoyed the story.  I am looking forward to reading So Long, Been Dreaming, a collecting of Science Fiction and Fantasy she helped edit in 2004.

8 Comments

Filed under Books, CanadianBookChallenge6, DarkFantasy, Dystopian, R.I.P. VII, SpeculativeFiction

What I’ve been reading…

School is about to start and we’ve been preparing the classroom and getting organized to greet our returning students next week.  That has left little time for this blog and writing about the books I have managed to read.  Here are thoughts on some of them.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2012

Like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, this novel takes place after a devastating loss of life across the planet.  Heller is a poet and it shows.  Deft description, wonderful characters, some even willing to look at the faults of the past and hope for some kind of future.  I do like this genre and am always surprised when an author can bring something new to the end times…

Heft by Liz Moore

W.W. Norton & Co, New York, 2012

An odd and wonderful story that follows two characters whose lives intertwine, although they don’t know it until the final chapters.  When I first heard about this one I wasn’t sure how it well it would work.  I think it does work, quite beautifully.  Moore has created two people, both sad and holding themselves separate from others.  Arthur Opp, a 500 pound failed academic who hasn’t left his house in 10 years, and Kel Keller, eighteen and wildly dreaming of playing professional baseball, his mother suffering, addicted and letting go of life.  I was touched over and over again by Moore’s writing and by the lives of these two people.

Bereft by Chris Womersley

SilverOak, New York, 2012

Gothic, historic fiction set in small town in Australian shortly after WWI.  Quinn Walker, having run from his home town after being accused of a horrible crime, returns to try and set the story straight.  Troubled by war and personal history, he meets a strange wild girl who offers to help him.  Well written and full of tension, this one never really grabbed me the way I hoped it would.  Maybe because I read it after a couple of book that really held my full attention and moved me deeply.

I borrowed all three of these from my local library.  Through the summer I’ve read many mysteries and some great science fiction.  Now  I’m back to work and have plans for my fall reading, including R.I.P. VIIA More Diverse Universe and reading Swann’s Way with a couple of friends.  Have you read anything this summer that really struck a cord?  Do you have reading plans for the fall?

8 Comments

Filed under Books, LiteraryFiction, SpeculativeFiction, Thoughts

Player One: What Is To Become Of Us, A Novel In Five Parts by Douglas Coupland

Player One: What Is to Become of Us: A Novel…Player One: What Is To Become Of Us by Douglas Coupland

House of Anansi Press, Totonto, 2012

From my library.  My final book for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

This book had an interesting beginning.  A novel written for the  CBC 2010 Massey Lecture Series, each chapter was presented in a different Canadian city.  I have read and enjoyed printed versions of these lectures before, including works by Margaret Atwood and Wade Davis.

I’ve never read Douglas Coupland and maybe this was not the book to start with, or maybe I’m over the “coolness factor” displayed by some authors.  The story starts and ends in a typical airport lounge where we meet five characters, one disembodied, all from different backgrounds, all going through some kind of life change.   Enter the apocalypse, in the form of drastically rising oil prices.  There is a self-help guru and a sniper involved, some people get shot, and at the end there is an interest glossary.

I get this.  How our reliance of a way of life could be disastrous in the face of sudden change.  How people lead driven and empty lives, and that we really ought to stop and think about this and make different choices.  I guess that’s Coupland’s point, but for someone who enjoys apocalyptic and dystopian fiction,  I found this brief novel too cold and empty.  I could not connect with the story or the characters.

If anyone has read Coupland can you suggest another novel that I might enjoy?

6 Comments

Filed under Canadian, CBC Massey Lectures, SpeculativeFiction

After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh

After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh

Small Beer Press, East Hampton, 2011

From my TBR pile.

Throughout high school, college and into my young adulthood I read science fiction.  Ray Bradbury, Ursula LeGuin, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clark, Anne McCaffery,  Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Harlen Ellison and many other authors held my attention for a decade or more.  I carried beat-up copies of Dune and A Canticle for Leibowitz as I hitch-hiked around New England.  I named my cats Ylla,  Gandalf and Genly (there was, of course, fantasy mixed in).

Then somehow I drifted away.  Once in a while I’d pick up a sci fi book, some I liked, most just didn’t grab me.  Was I growing away from the genre?  Did I feel too “grown-up” to read science fiction?  I don’t really know.

Luckily, in the late eighties, I discovered a bookstore in my neighborhood that was entirely devoted to science fiction and fantasy.  There I found William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Gene Wolfe, Jane Yolen, Emma Bull, Neal Stephenson and many others, including Maureen McHugh.  I have never looked back.

After the Apocalypse is a collection of short stories about, well, life after the apocalypse.   But these stories feel real, they ask what such a world would really feel like.  Disasters have happened somewhere else, a dirty bomb in Philly or a massacre at DisneyWorld.  A mad-cow like disease entering the food system through something as innocuous as chicken nuggets.    These stories are about how American people cope, or fail to cope.  Simple, spare and devastating, sometimes even funny, they are filled with the unexpected and completely mundane.  These things could really happen, maybe even have happened.

McHugh is smart, her stories are smart, and the possibilities they hold are utterly frightening.  If you’re paranoid, you might want to skip this one.

Because I don’t read science fiction magazines this is my first time with McHugh’s shorter works.  I love her novels and have now added her first story collection, Mothers & Other Monsters to my wish list.

9 Comments

Filed under 2012 Speculative Fiction Challenge, Science Book Challenge 2012, SciFi, SpeculativeFiction, Thoughts

Seed by Rob Ziegler

Seed by Rob Zielger

Night Shade Books, San Francisco, 2011

From my library TBR list.  With a recommendation from Paolo Bacigalupi, author of The Windup Girl, I wanted to read this one when I first saw it on the Night Shade Books website.

At the beginning of the 22nd century most of the United States has become a dust bowl, ravaged by violent waves of unpredictable weather.  Migrants, ragged and hungry, travel from place to place, on foot or in rigged-up vehicles,gathering Seed from government depots and hoping to find a place to grow and harvest a crop, enough food to last until the next harvest, never knowing when that will be.  They are swayed by prairie saints and harassed by La Chupacabra, a gang of violent thieves.

Seed is bio-engineered and precious, marked by a tiny barcode.   Made by Satori, a living,  growing animal of a city, controlled by the Designers, and genetically coded to be sterile,  it is the only source of food available, and the Government struggles to control  it.  Satori’s Designers, bio-engineered themselves, have minds of their own and have created modified humans as laborers and security forces.  And there is Tet, a deadly virus slowly spreading through the population.

Ziegler has written a dystopian western, filled with shoot-outs and clipped dialogue.  His use of imminent climate change and terminator technology turns this first novel towards speculative fiction.  It is messy, violent and I found it a quick, disturbing read.

2 Comments

Filed under 2012 Speculative Fiction Challenge, Review, Sci-Fi Experience, SciFi, SpeculativeFiction, TBR Double Dare

The 2012 Science Fiction Experience – Jan 1st to Feb 29th

I am so ready for this.  Thanks to Carl V. for organizing another great reading event.

In Carl’s own words:

And so I officially welcome you to The 2012 Science Fiction Experience, which runs from January 1st, 2012 through February 29th, 2012. That’s right, we get an extra day this year! Woo-hoo!

The “rules” of the experience are simple: there are none. Remember, this isn’t a challenge. If you would like to join us in reading and discussing any science fiction reading or television viewing or movie watching you do over that time period, please do.

If you chose to blog about your Sci-Fi experience there is a review site here.  I plan on running this event concurrent with the 2012 Speculative Fiction Challenge but you can do it any way you want!

3 Comments

Filed under Challenges 2012, Events, Sci-Fi Experience, SciFi, SpeculativeFiction

Zero History by William Gibson

Zero History by William Gibson

G.P. Putman’s Sons, New York, 2010

Borrowed from my library.

I have very eclectic taste in books.  I love  Science Fiction.  I have very specific tastes in Science Fiction.  There used to be a book store in Santa Monica, California, called ” A Change of Hobbit”, I would get lost in there for hours.  That is where I first discovered William Gibson, just when his novel “Neuromancer” was published.

According to SciFi geeks, Gibson invented the term “cyberspace”.    His work has evolved over time to include alternative history and speculation about near-future urban environments but Zero History is different.  This is no longer science fiction,  this is the present becoming the future faster than it takes to read a sentence.  And the past just seems to disappear.

Hurbetus Bigend, the head of Blue Ant, a company that finds the next big, big thing and is all over viral marketing, wants to get into the military contracting business.  After all, war is recession proof.  He sends Milgrin, a ex-addict who owes Bigend his life, to steal the design of some street wear from a threatening looking man on the US east coast.   He hires Hollis Henry, former lead singer in the band Curfew, to find the designer of a very secretive line of fashion called Gabriel Hounds.   In the midst of all this Bigend’s activities pisses off another military contractor named Gracie and all hell breaks loose.  There is this and so much more than this, wrapped up in a book that feels like a movie or ten movies on big screens or like sitting in front of a hundred CCTV screens trying to track the latest social menace.

Zero History, along with the other novels in what could be  called the ” Blue Ant” trilogy, crosses barriers and enters the arena of literary fiction.  Evolving technology, street fashion, pop culture and last stage capitalism all play a part in this tightly woven thriller.  I love how William Gibson’s mind works,  he fits things together in ways that are very, very smart,  all the while seeming to spin out of control.  Reading his books makes me happy.  Weird, huh?

11 Comments

Filed under Art, Canadian, CanadianBookChallenge5, LiteraryFiction, SpeculativeFiction

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chaing

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

Subterranean Press, Burton, MI, 2010

Read for the Sci-Fi Experience, borrowed from the library.

Ted Chiang is one of my favorite speculative fiction authors.  I first heard of him on a science fiction blog, I can’t remember which one.  Someone was raving about a novelette called The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate and luckily my library had a copy.  I loved it and went on to find more of his short stories including Exhalation, the 2009 Hugo Award winner.  You can listen to Exhalation at StarShipSofa, or download a PDF at Night Shade Books.  It is amazing piece.

At 150 pages I believe The Lifecycle of Software Objects is Chiang’s longest work and much of our culture and technology is packed into this small book.

In 1950 Alan Turing asked the question “Can machines think?”, opening up the idea of artificial intelligence.  Ted Chiang explores this possibility, by having IT companies create beings using “genetic programming” and giving them lots of training.   These creations, called digients, are first brought to “life” in an online game space like Second Life, then given the ability to jump  into anthropomorphic animal robot bodies.

Lifecycle follows two people who work in computing as they “adopt” and raise digients, much like Tamagotchi pets or characters in an online game.  The story follows Ana and Derek over ten years as the technologies and economics of digients and virtual game space shift around them.  The final question, are these beings truly alive and what is a person’s  responsibility, if any, towards them?

I found this story fascinating, perhaps because I have played online games with avatars, but none of my creations “learned” new skills on their own.  I’m sure there are companies out there using feedback training in robotics, maybe even using robots to train other robots.   I think Ted Chiang’s The Lifecycle of Software Objects are a glance into our future.

3 Comments

Filed under Review, Sci-Fi Experience, SciFi, SpeculativeFiction