Category Archives: SpeculativeFiction

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

Pantheon Books, New York, 2010

Borrowed from the library.

What an interesting, wild, crazed book this is.  Charles Yu has taken the ideas of time travel and parallel universes and turned them into a story of a son’s search for his father.  At times it feels like genius, at others it just feels so frenetic it made me nauseous.  But that’s how I feel about the little I know of quantum physics.  I am fascinated and totally confused.

How to Live has a time machine technician, Charles Yu, living he life stuck in a dead-end job.  He travels around rescuing other people who get stuck in time.  The technology behind the time machines is based on verb tense, an idea I find just brilliant.

People rent time machines.

The think they can change the past.

Then they get there and find out causality doesn’t work the way they thought it did.  The y get stuck, stuck in places they didn’t mean to go, in places they shouldn’t have tried to go.  The get into trouble.  Logical, metaphysical, etc.

That’s where I come in.  I go and get them out…

But the reason I have job security is that people have no idea how to make themselves happy.  Even with a time machine… From pages 16/17.

Charles’ father left when he was young.  Charles doesn’t really understand why he left or know where he went and his biggest desire is to find him.  Along with his “nonexistent but ontologically valid dog”, Ed and his operating system TAMMY he goes in search of his dad and get into serious trouble, caught in a time loop.

This is a sweet, very geeky, strangely beautiful story.  I think Charles Yu, the author, loves science fiction, cutting edge physics and language.

…..The path of a man’s life is straight, straight, straight, until the moment when it isn’t anymore, and after that it begins to wander aimlessly, and then get tangled, and then at some point the path gets so confusing that the man’s ability to move around in time, his device for conveyance, his memory of what he loves, the engine that moves him forward, it can break, and he can get permanently stuck in his own history.  From page 232.

Yu also has a deep understanding of family, love and memory.  It shows.

Other reviews:

The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf

7 Comments

Filed under ContemporaryFiction, Review, SpeculativeFiction

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

Chaos Walking: Book Three

Candlewick Press, Somerville, 2010

603 pages. Borrowed from the library.

“War” says Mayor Prentiss, his eyes glinting . “At last.”

That is the opening line of the third book in the Chaos Walking series.   Monsters of Men starts just were The Ask and The Answer left off.  The first pages throw the reader into a violent battle and it is upsetting and exhausting enough that I almost had to put the book down.  It went on and on and on.   Fast and furious.  Thinking about it now, I can only imagine that it is just a hint of what being in war is like.

Patrick Ness has, for me, lived up to the expectations created by The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and The Answer.  He delves into the darkest parts of the human spirit, into the lust for power and control, the desire to annihilate the enemy, never really even bothering to find out who the enemy is.  What is this murderous quality that lives inside our souls?

We find our two main characters, Todd and Viola, separated from each other, almost seeming to be fighting on different sides, but always struggling to make the right choices.  They are bound by their own beliefs, learning as they go, trying to find each other.  Viola’s fellow travelers have reached her, adding multiple layers of intrigue and technology to the battle.  And we are finally introduced to the Spackle. What an amazing culture they turn out to be.  I am amazed at how Ness allows us into each of his characters thoughts.  We are in their heads,  following the stressful and manic thoughts in this violent world of war.

I am afraid to write any more about the story or about the characters for fear of giving too much away, the way I felt about  The Ask and The Answer.   Just know that this is an exceptional series for young adults and that it deals with big issues, terrorism, racism, love, war and the impact of making  choices.  I highly recommend the entire Chaos Walking series.

Patrick Ness has a wonderful website that can be found here.

Other reviews:

Jenny’s Books

Regular Rumination

Stuff As Dreams Is Made On

Things mean a lot

12 Comments

Filed under 42SciFiChallenge, SpeculativeFiction, Young Adult

The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage by Justin Cronin

Ballantine Books, New York, 2010

Borrowed from the library.

First off, with all the hype around The Passage I was hesitant, but the blog posts I read had me curious.  Then there was the blurb by Stephen King which I found a bit off-putting.  An epic fantasy?  Come on.

I picked the book up from the library, brought it home and set it beside the books I was reading.  I tried to ignore it, but it was like something alive,  it was whispering at me.  I picked it up, opened the cover and fell in.

This drove me crazy.  The book is good but not that good.  There are parts that move along nicely, and others that bog down.  It’s kind of a rehash/mismash of The Stand, The Road, 28 Days Later and every vampire novel that’s been released in the last five years.  I tried to pick up the other books I was reading but could not stay focused.  I had to get back to The Passage.

The premise, a well-meaning scientist visits the jungle of Bolivia, searching for some virus, some medical miracle.  Much to the scientist’s surprise the military has signed on, giving him plenty of financial backing. They move deeper into the jungle.   People die.  Time passes.  Then you have FBI agents traveling to prisons recruiting death row inmates. Can you see what’s coming?  Experiment gone bad, savage test subjects escape, thirsting for blood and destroying most of the population of North America.  Small group of survivors struggle on.  This goes on for a while.  The book is 766 pages long.

The thing is, Cronin is a decent writer, and the characters he has created, both good and bad, are interesting and intriguing.  I found myself wanting to know what happens to them.  There are many and the story shifts between them all, giving the reader different perspectives.  Sometimes I had to go back and revisit a scene, just to be sure I was following things correctly.

We are given glimpses of a character’s struggles through bits of journals presented at the Third Global Conference on the North American Quarantine Period.  The conference takes place at the University of New South Wales in the year 1003 A.V. – After Virus.  I found this bit quite fun, had an interesting time imagining this conference, it’s participants.

Some parts of The Passage work better than others but over a period of 4 days I found it hard to put this book down.  By the end, a cliffhanger if there ever was one, I wanted to know what happens to everyone.  I was distraught, upset.  I didn’t know this chunkster is the first part of a trilogy!

Anyway, I liked The Passage even though a nasty, judgemental part of me said I shouldn’t.  If you are drawn to apocalyptic dystopia fiction you might like it, too.  Here are some samples of Cronin’s writing.

Carter lifts his free hand to the side of the glass and brushed the tips of his fingers against it.  The glass was cool, and sweating with moisture; Carter drew his hand away and rubbed the beads of water between his thumb and fingers, slowly, his eyes focused on this gesture with complete attention.  So intense was his concentration that Wolgast could feel the man’s whole mind opening up to it, taking it in.  It was as if the sensation of cool water on his fingertips was the key to every mystery of his life.   Pages 51-52.

They followed the river, into the afternoon.  They were in the foothills now, leaving the plateau behind.  The land began to rise and thicken with trees-naked, twiglike aspens and huge ancient pines, their trunks wide as houses, towering over their heads.  Beneath their vast canopies, the gound was open and shaded, pillowed with needles.  The air was cold with the dampness of the river.  They moved, as always, without speaking, scanning the trees.  All eyes.
There was no Placerville; it was easy to see what had occurred.  The narrow valley, the river carving through it.  In spring, when the snowpack melted, it would be a raging current.  Like Moab, the town had washed away.  Page 627

There really are some interesting similarities with The Stand, particularly the action that takes place in and around Las Vegas.  Now I feel like I should read King’s novel again, just to compare.  Here are some other reviews of The Passage:

Books and Movies

Boston Bibliophile

Devourer of Books

Fyrefly’s Book Blog

Rhapsody In Books

S. Krishna’s Books

4 Comments

Filed under 42SciFiChallenge, Review, SciFi, SpeculativeFiction

Animals by Don LePan

Animals by Don LePan

Soft Skull Press, New York, 2010

Borrowed from the library.

Sam is deaf and lives during a time when people with disabilities are being abandoned by society.  There is no effort to help the blind and deaf, no system for children born with a chronic  illness.  No one tries to find out what is wrong, Sam is just different, and he is eventually classified as “mongrel”.  His mother, left in dire financial straits, is forced to abandon him, hoping the family she leaves him with will adopt him as a pet.  A pet?

I am not cute.   I  am not a pet.  I am not a mongrel.  I am a child, that’s all.

Animals is told in two parts.  The first part is a manuscript telling Sam’s story, the story of his birth family and his adoptive family, written by Naomi Okun, the girl whose family does take him in.  The second part is an explanation, with abundant footnotes, by someone named Broderick Clark, of this autobiographical manuscript.  LePan has used an interesting structure to deal with a difficult subject, one many of us would just as soon ignore.

This is speculative fiction, fiction that, given the present circumstances, points towards a possible future.  It reminds me of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”.

There is no easy way to write about this.  We are in the future.  Due to factory farming and over use of antibiotics there has been a “great extinction”.  All of our domestic animals and pets have died.  There is a lack of protein and people are struggling.  There is a campaign stressing the dangers of soy.  The gap between rich and poor has widened exponentially. The world is edging towards chaos.

As more and more “sub-normal” people are marginalized and de-humanized, some are adopted as  “pets” and some are classified as chattel.  Eventually the chattel are gathered together, their labor is utilized and they become a food source.  Like I said, there is no easy way to write about this.

LaPan claims his main argument is against factory-farming and for the humane treatment of our food animals but I was left with a much broader sense of let’s stop eating meat(and fish), period.  This is a difficult and challenging book.  I feel like I need to put some distance between my first reading and then read it again.

I need to say that over the past few years I have grown closer and closer to becoming a true vegetarian.  There are occasions when I eat chicken or fish, and I am not vegan by any means, but something in me has me turning away from eating flesh.  Maybe it’s my knowledge of factory farms, or my awareness of the growing understanding of animal behavior and animal “consciousness”.  Maybe it’s the Buddhist idea of Ahimsa –  do no harm.  I buy organic when I can.  I eat tofu, legumes and lots of vegetables.  Animals, a deeply disturbing book, only reinforces my thoughts about food, about how we raise and slaughter what we eat.

Now I want to read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.

9 Comments

Filed under 42SciFiChallenge, Animals, CanadianBookChallenge4, Culture, New Authors 2010, Review, SpeculativeFiction

The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh

The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery

By Amitav Ghosh

Perennial, New York, 2001

Borrowed from the library.

I am an admirer of Amitav Ghosh, but when I learned he had written some kind of sci-fi, speculative fiction novel I wasn’t all that interested.  Until I learned that The Calcutta Chromosome had won the 1997 Arthur C. Clarke Award.

This book is a wild ride between the past and the future.  Antar, a researcher for the giant International Water Council, works from home using their AVA computer system.  His job?  To sit in front of a monitor and look at every item entered into the IWC inventory from all over the world.  Why?  Just in case there might be something unusual. It’s like sifting through sand on an archeological dig, you never know what you might find.  His identification of an object leads him to India, the impact of  British colonialism and the study of malaria.

Antar uncovers the stories of people from his past, the struggle between India’s ancient wisdom and Western science  and a vast medical conspiracy.  The novel flashes back and forth in time and between characters.  At times it feels like the shards of a broken mirror.  Ghosh’s characteristic use of detail, myth and storytelling hold it all together.

It was mid-July.  The monsoons had set in and the whole of eastern India was awash in rain.  Several of the famously restless rivers of the region had burst their banks and swept across the broad, flat plains.  Those waters, so full of menace to those they nourished, presented and entirely different aspect to a casual spectator in a train, watching from the safety of a tall embankment.  The still waters, lying in great silver sheets under the lowering monsoon skies, presented an enchanting, bewitching spectacle.  Phulboni, raised amidst the hills and forests of Orissa, had never seen anything like this before: this majestic, endless plain mirroring the turbulent heavens.  From page 257.

Just the fact that Antar works for something called the International Water Council is intriguing, fresh water being a finite resource that we are running out of, much like oil.  This alone drew me into reading the book. It is interesting and challenging,  I very much enjoyed it.

I admit it, I love Amitav Ghosh’s writing and his story-telling.  I can not wait for the follow-up to A Sea of Poppies.

12 Comments

Filed under 42SciFiChallenge, Arthur C Clarke Award, Fiction, SpeculativeFiction

Far North by Marcel Theroux

Far North by Marcel Theroux

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2009

Borrowed from the library.

Marcel Theroux is a novelist, TV broadcaster and the oldest son of travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux.  This is his fourth novel.

Far North is a dystopian novel set in the not-to-distant future.   The narrator, Makepeace, is the last surviving member of a community of Quakers who originally came from the United States and settled in the Siberian taiga.

My parents never spoke of the past, and me, I never took much interest in it.  The past had nothing to teach me.  The beginning of the world and my birth seemed like the same event.  For me the world began with water dripping off wet sheets in the sunlight.  I was the creator, blinking my eyes to make night and day.  And I was Noah, arranging my chipped hardwood animals in the dust of the arctic summer.  I taught my family language, and I was the first human to set foot in the wilderness at the bottom of our vegetable patch.  From page 105.

Makepeace finds evidence that other communities  may exist, and even thrive, out beyond the city’s ruins.  A refugee emerges from the forest, inspiring Makepeace to open up to human connection  and  to travel from the city to search for others in  the Far North.  It is a empty and eerie place.

I lay down to sleep thinking that as much as I missed what was gone, maybe this was the best thing: for the world to lie fallow for a couple hundred years or more, for the rain to was her clean.  We’d become another layer of her history, a little higher in the soil  than the Romans, and the people that built the pyramids.  Yes Makepeace, I thought, one day your mandible will show up under glass in a museum…
In the long run, the waters recede, the sun rises, and the plants grow.  I’ve never doubted that something will survive of us.  Of course, I won’t make it.  And all those books I’ve saved will end up mulch and bird’s nest, I suppose.  From pages 198/199.

This beautiful, spare novel is filled with surprises.  The story twists and turns like a braided river, and  Makepeace travels on with humor and rugged strength to find a kind of redemption.  The world is wild and desolate and yet filled with quiet beauty.  Theroux is a master storyteller.  I plan on reading his other novels.

Other reviews:

Book Club Classics

A Bookworm’s World

Follow The Thread

Novels Now

6 Comments

Filed under New Authors 2010, Notable Books, SpeculativeFiction

Filter House by Nisi Shawl

Filter House by Nisi Shawl

Aqueduct Press, Seattle, 2008

Borrowed from the library.

I don’t really know how to describe this collection, other than to say that it is a gentle magical blend of fantasy and science fiction.  Gentle because the stories often have a child at the center, magical because they are woven from past and future using folklore, science and “good medicine”.

The stories range from an urban tale of discovery with a very grown-up 10-year-old as its protagonist to a world building saga with genetically engineered apes used as terra-formers.  There is an African folktale and a story that uses John C. Lilly’s Programming and Metaprogramming  in the Human Biocomputer: Theory and Experiments as a possible explanation for Voudon trance states.

In her stories Shawl touches on things a child faces as she grows up.  Themes include independence, identity, self worth, sexuality and gender issues.   All of these stories use their magic to  reveal who we are as humans, right here,  right now.  For  a first collection this book is  a wonder.

From Wallamelon:

Like the lace of a giantess, leaves covered the front of the house front in a pattern of repeating hearts.  Elsewhere in the neighborhood sibling plants, self-sown from those she’d first planted around the perimeter, arched from phone pole to lamp post, encircling her home.  Keeping it safe. So Mercy could return. (Page 45)

From Maggies:

Tata always made it a point, on her return, to give me some treasure found on her excursions.  Something interesting, something different, with a story behind it.  This must have been hard for her.  Far off, over invisible horizons, maggies spread corals around other stations as ours did here.  Aside from this the Nassea was empty of life, void of history .  There were the sludges, various excretory masses of bacteria that accumulated in the presence of certain chemicals.  There were fossilized sludges and other mineral formations.  That was it.  (Page 99)

Nisi Shawl is a Seattle author who writes reviews and columns for The Seattle Times and is on the board of the Clarion West Writers Workshop.  I will keep my eyes open for a reading.  It would be lovely to hear her read one of these stories in person.  Her web site is here.

1 Comment

Filed under 42SciFiChallenge, Fantasy, PoC, SciFi, SciFi Challenge, SpeculativeFiction

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

Other Press, New York, 2009

Won in a give-away.

Dorrit Weger has turned 50.  She finds herself in a small, lovely apartment, where every corner, every space, even inside the closet, is in in range of a closed circuit camera.  This is the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material.  As a “dispensable”, unloved and un-needed, Dorrit will live out her final days with others, free of financial worry,  as long as she is willing to undergo certain tests and give up vital organs.

Dorrit misses her boyfriend, she missed her house and her dog, but she has no choice in this decision.  The laws and procedures for how she will live out her life after the age of 50 are part of the social structure.

Holmqvist’s novel, skillfully translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy, is a mirror of our possible future.  Cool and calm in language, nothing is overwrought, it all feels like a stroll down the antiseptic white hallways that lead from one space to another in this self-contained community.

The Unit is a subtle, scary book.  With a bit of digging you find  that some  of the “testing” that goes on in the novel  is already happening.  Patients are willing to put themselves in mortal danger for the fees they earn.  It is not hard to imagine a future where those who do not fill societal needs could be put in such situations.   This is speculative fiction at its best.

Other reviews:

1 More Chapter

At Home With Books

My Friend Amy

Prairie Progressive

Did I miss your review?

10 Comments

Filed under 42SciFiChallenge, New Authors 2010, Random Reading, SciFi Challenge, SpeculativeFiction

42 Challenge for 2010!

The answer is 42.

01.01.2010 – 12.03.2010

Your mission–if you choose to accept it–is to read, watch, listen, and (possibly) review 42 sci-fi related items.
What counts? Short stories, novellas, novels, radio show episodes, television show episodes, movies, graphic novels, comic books, audio books, essays about science fiction, biographies about sci-fi authors, etc. Adapted or abridged works are okay as well.

Even though I failed to review and write about all the sci-fi and speculative fiction I read, the videos I watched and the movies I saw in2009 I am joining this challenge again.  This year I will keep a  list!

The challenge goes along perfectly with this one.

2 Comments

Filed under 42SciFiChallenge, Challenges2010, SciFi, SpeculativeFiction

Two Young Adult Novels

I finished two young adult novels this week and enjoyed both of them.  As I mentioned in a previous post I believe that the boundaries between “genres” are being blurred.  I think this is being driven to some extent by authors of novels for middle school and young adult readers.  I hope this will have a good impact on what these young people read as adults and that more books labeled “Science Fiction” and “Fantasy” will be considered as literature and read and critiqued as such.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2008

Borrowed from my library.

Seventeen year old Jenna Fox has woken from a year-long coma.  She is having to learn basic things like smiling and walking.  She suffers from blinding flashes of memory that are so complete they shouldn’t be possible.  Her mother doesn’t want her to leave the house and her Grandmother doesn’t want much to do with her at all.

This is the basic premise of the novel and it moves forward to touch on identity, family and  ethical dilemmas that we face now and in the future.  It is well-written, fast paced and a wonderful  introduction to some of the pressing questions we will have to answer about what it means to be human.   It has been glowingly reviewed on many blogs and there are rumors of a movie.

Is this a young adult thriller, a science fiction novel, speculative fiction?  This is one of the books that will blur the lines between genres.

Other reviews:

Book Addiction

Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?

My Friend Amy

Ash by Malinda Lo

Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2009

Borrowed from my library.

Ash is a richly detailed retelling of “Cinderella”  with added depth from old folktales and some very interesting twists.

As Aisling sleeps after the loss of her mother she has dreams of white horses and tall, wraith-like riders. Ash’s father remarries and dies.  She is forced to leave her small town and move to the city, living her life in servitude.

Ash has  lived in a place that is very close to the old magic.  Her only comfort comes from reading the old tales in a book left by her mother.  She believes her only salvation will come when she is taken away by the fairies.   In the deep woods she meets a man as pale as a ghost, more handsome then any she had ever seen.  Here is her prince, but he is of Fairy, and dangerous.  The story takes different turn when Ash meets the King’s huntress, Kaisa.  Through Kaisa’s kindness and caring Ash’s heart begins to heal and her desire to live returns.

This is a dark and lovely tale, rich in fantasy, with a new kind of romance  that make an old favorite new again.

Other reviews:

Presenting Lenore

Pop Culture Junkie

Read This Book!

The Story Siren





5 Comments

Filed under Fantasy, Review, SpeculativeFiction, Young Adult