Tag Archives: SciFi

Among Others by Jo Walton

Among Others by Jo Walton

Tor Books, New York, 2010

Borrowed from my library.  I have to thank Nymeth for bringing this one to my attention.

Jo Walton’s epigraph for Among Others:

This is for all the libraries in the world, and the librarians who sit there day after day lending books to people.

Among Others is story of Morwenna, a girl caught between the everyday world and the world of magic.  Having lost her twin sister, suffering multiple injuries in an accident running away from her half-crazed mother, and meeting her father and his family for the first time, Mori finds herself in a private school, an outsider with no desire to be anything else.

Told in a series of diary entries, this is one of the best presentations of a certain time in adolescence, of feeling “alien” amidst “normality”, and of learning to navigate peer-pressure, relationships and social connection that I have read.  


I don’t think I’m like other people.  I mean on some deep fundamental level.  It’s not just being half  a twin and reading a lot and seeing fairies.  It’s not just being outside when their all inside.  I used to be inside.  I think there’s a way I stand aside and look backwards at things when they are happening which isn’t normal.  It’s a thing you need to do for doing magic.  From page 169.

One of the most interesting things about Among Others is the understated part that magic plays.  The reader can choose to believe that magic occurs in Mori’s life or that Mori uses the idea of magic to explain all the chaos and sadness in her life, to protect herself from ugly reality.  Walton pulls this off very subtly.  I was left a bit unbalanced, as if shifting from on foot to the other, not an unpleasant experience.

This novel is a love letter to the outsider, to books,  reading,  science fiction and fantasy.   All I can say is read it.

Other reviews:

Jenny’s Books

Rhapsody in Books

Stainless Steel Droppings

things mean a lot

21 Comments

Filed under Fantasy, Review, SciFi, Young Adult

The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer

The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer

St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2010

Read for the Sci-Fi Experience.  Borrowed from the library.

This is one of those books that I am not sure how to write about. I enjoyed it but had some problems with it.

Harold Winslow, held prisoner in a  zeppelin propelled by a perpetual motion machine, is trying to tell a story.  His only companions aboard the Chrysalis,  the cryogenically frozen corpse of one Prospero Taligent and the disembodied voice of Prospero’s daughter Miranda.  The direct references to The Tempest are only the beginning of literary connections made in this multi-layered novel that many reviews have labeled steampunk.

I am going to tell a story now, and though I’ve made a life out of writing words, this is the first time I have told a story.  There are no new stories in the world anymore, and no more storytellers.  There is nothing left but the fragments of phrases that signal their telling: once upon a time; why; and then; the end…  From page 3

Through Harold’s written memories we learn of his childhood, his family and his connections to Prospero and Miranda.  We are introduced to place where they all live,  Xeroville, a city of an alternate twentieth century, filled with amazing machines and mechanical men that, according to Harold’s father, is moving quickly from the miraculous to the disastrous.

“When I was your age,” Harry Winslow’s father says, “miracles were commonplace.  To me my childhood and adolescence seem as if they happened just a little time ago, just on the other side of  the line dividing centuries.  But you, who cannot remember a world that was not filled with machines, will never be able to imagine the drastic differences between your youth and mine.  When I was young people could fly without the need of jerry-rigged contraptions that were just as likely to explode as not.  When I was young angels and demons walked the city streets.  And they were fearless.”   From page 32.

Allen Winslow looks up from his desk and squints at Harold through the jeweler’s loupe clenched in his eyesocket, his eyebrows asymmetrically arched.  “But words are not enough to give shape to miracles – there’s nothing left that’s miraculous anymore, and that’s your loss for being born too late.   Of course, this fellow Prospero Taligent, who’s always on the radio shilling some new device or other – many of the things his company sells are called miraculous, like the high-speed egg-hatching machines and the mechanical men.  But that’s nothing but advertising.”  From page 35

Moving back and forth in time and following several points of view, including  Harold’s sister Astrid, Prospero and Miranda,  I was drawn into this mystery.  Harold is trying to unravel the mystery of Miranda’s voice, to find her if he can and rescue her from this flying prison created by her father. Palmer’s writing is rich and brilliant in places, in others there seems to be too much crammed in, too many thoughts and ideas, and I found myself bogged down and loosing interest in the story, but I kept going.

There is so much stuffed into this novel that it felt like an exploding clockwork at times,  crazed and filled with chaotic energy.   Maybe that is the author’s way of showing us the world we have entered, one filled with noise and empty of miracles.  In the end the thing that may save us is love.

In the middle of all the world’s incessant noise, her message was music, and music was the thing that I had mostly lived my live without.  In the ten years since I’d seen Miranda she’d somehow come to stand for all the things I didn’t have in life that were thought to make us human, all the absent music and touch and sympathy; in my mind she lived a separate life apart from her real one, and there she grew more pure and perfect with each passing day.  Silly, prehaps, given what’s passed and what’s to come, but if you know the kind of man I am, then you cannot blame me for this, no more than I could blame my father for his addled daily rewrites of my mother’s life before he passed away.  In my mind Miranda had become a miracle.  From page 259.

The Dream of Perpetual Motion feels like it was written by some combination of  Jules Verne and Thomas Pynchon with a dash of Phillip K. Dick thrown in for good measure.   There are parts of the novel that are frightening and parts that are very funny.  As I was reading I kept visualizing scenes out of films by Terry Gilliam or Jean-Pierre Jeunet .   In the hands of either it would make an amazing film.  Dexter Palmer is a brilliant writer with an absolutely wild imagination, I am curious to know if he has another book in the works, this one took him over ten years to finish.

Other reviews:

Fantasy Book Critic

Stuff As Dreams Are Made On

3 Comments

Filed under Review, Sci-Fi Experience, SciFi, Steampunk, Steampunk Challnge

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

The SciFi Experience 2011

This year I decided to stay away from most challenges in order to free up my reading, but I am making an exception for seasonal and short events.  I missed out on Carl V’s SciFi Experience last year and am glad to be joining in now.   Carl calls this event a non-challenge. From his website:

The purpose of The Sci Fi Experience is two-fold:

1. To spend the winter months (my favorite time of year to read science fiction) sharing my love of science fiction with others who love the genre as well.

2. To gently encourage those who have either never read science fiction, only rarely read science fiction, or have read science fiction and had a bad experience to give it a chance.

The Sci Fi Experience 2011 takes place from January 1st, 2011 through February 28th, 2011. There is a review site for those who want to post links to any science fiction novel/short story/film/television reviews that take place during the Experience. It can be found by clicking here, or on the review site image on my sidebar.

I have read science fiction for most of my life .  As a young person it was one of the ways that I learned I could expand my world, quite literally, through reading.  I return to it over and over again, both for sheer entertainment and for the ideas that it holds.  Ideas about possibility and the human experience.

How about you?  Is science fiction something you love?  Are you willing to give it a try?

4 Comments

Filed under Events, SciFi

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

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

The City & The City by China Mieville

The City & The City by China Mieville

Del Rey,  New York, 2009

I own this one (thanks to students, parents and the blessed gift card).

A Publisher’s Weekly, Los Angeles Times and Seattle Times Best Book of 2009.  The City & The City just won the 2010 Locus Award for best fantasy novel and won the 2010 Arthur C. Clark award in April.

Ever since reading Perdido Street Station and Iron Council I have admired China Mieville’s writing.  When I first heard he’d written a noirish, murder mystery I wasn’t quite sure what that could mean.  I hesitated, finally putting the book on hold at the library.  I waited and waited.   The paperback came out,  I was given a gift card.  I waited no longer.

Wow, this is one of those books I have difficulty writing about…

The story starts with the finding of a body on grounds of an estate in the city of Beszel.  Beszel  feels like an old city somewhere in Eastern Europe.  Inspector Tyador Borlu is called to the scene and finds that to fully investigate this murder, he must travel to Beszel’s neighboring city, Ul Qoma.  But these cities are not just neighbors.  They are intertwined, on top of and crosshatched with each other, and each city’s residents must learn to unsee what they see day-to-day.  There are nationalists and anarchists, politicians, students and archeologists, all wound up in a story that is fast-paced and well written.

There is not much more I can say except to suggest that you read this book.  I don’t really want to tell you more, or maybe I just can’t think of how to write about it.   Even finding bits to quote is difficult.   One thing, it is not an easy book to read,  sometimes the language itself seem to flicker in and out of perception, giving me a kind of vertigo.  Or maybe it was reading it at 2 am that had me dizzy.  In the acknowledgments Mieville offers his gratitude to several authors including Raymond Chandler, Franz Kafka and Bruno Schultz.  He is wise and gracious to do so.   This is one of the smartest and most entertaining books I have read in quite a while.

20 Comments

Filed under Arthur C Clarke Award, Mystery, Notable Books, SciFi

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Night Shade Books, San Francisco, 2009

Borrowed from the library.

I’m not sure how to describe this book.  Speculative fiction?  Science fiction literature? Genre lines are beginning to blur all over the place.  I stand up and cheer.  Maybe it is because I have read science fiction since I got my first library card and have always been angered by the very high walls separating “genre” fiction from “true” literature.

The Windup Girl takes place in a future very easy to imagine.  Paolo Bacigalupi has a deep understanding of present-day agricultural, biological and genetic science, mixed  with knowledge of corporate greed, peak oil and climate change.  He has created a world humans could  inhabit within the next few centuries.  It is a brutal, plague ridden world,  devastating and frightening in its possibility.  The writing is beautiful.

As they ease around the bare branches of the tree, the khlong taxi’s passengers all make deep wais of respect to the fallen trunk, pressing their palms together and touching them to their foreheads.

Jaidee makes his own wai, then reaches out to touch the wood, letting his fingers slide over the riddled surface as they pass.  Small bore holes speckle it.  If he were to peel away the bark, a fine net of grooves would describe the trees death.  A bo tree.  Sacred. The tree under which  the Buddha attained enlightenment.  And yet they could do nothing to save it.  Not a single varietal of fig survived, despite their best efforts.  The ivory beetles were too much for them.  When the scientists failed, they prayed to Phra Seub Nakhasathien, a last desperate effort, but even the martyr couldn’t save them in the end.  From pages 79/80.

In Bangkok, a city surrounded by huge walls built to keep out the raising sea,  governmental and economic power  is split between two agencies, with bribes and graft rampant and violent confrontations a daily occurrence.  The world has been through expansion and collapse and Thailand is fighting to protect itself from deadly plagues, agricultural devastation and corporate “calorie” men bent on controlling every food source on the planet.  It is hot, there is no oil and the Japanese have perfected genetic engineering.

The story is told from many points of view by characters that are deeply flawed.  Anderson Lake, a corporate calorie man searching for a hidden seed bank.  Jaidee, the Tiger of Bangkok, top inspector for the Ministry of the Environment.  Emiko, a New Person, dumped by her master when he heads back to Japan.

A women selling Environment Ministry-certified sticks of slice papaya watches her suspiciously.  Emiko forces herself not to panic. She continues down the street with her mincing steps, trying to convince herself that she appears eccentric, rather than genetically transgressive.  Her heart pounds against her ribs.

Too fast.  Slow down.  You have time.  Not so much as you would like, but still, enough to ask questions.  Slowly.  Patiently.  Do not betray yourself.  Do not overheat. From page 103.

And then there is the generipper, Gibbon.

“Everyone dies.”  The doctor waves a dismissal.  “But you die now because you cling to the past.  We should all be windups by now.  It’s easier to build a person impervious to blister rust than to protect an earlier version of the human creature.  A generation from now, we could be well-suited for our new environment.  Your children could be the beneficiaries.  Yet you people refuse to adapt.  You cling to some idea of a humanity that evolved in concert with your environment over millenia, and which you now, perversely, refuse to remain in lockstep with.

“Blister rust is our environment.  Cibiscosis.  Genehack weevil.  Cheshires.  They have adapted.  Quibble as you like about whether they evolved naturally or not.  Our environment has changed…”  From page 243.

Bacigalupi’s writing  is intricate and rich,  full of cultural and political detail.  He knows where we are as a species and can envision our possible future.  I am reminded of William Gibson and Ian McDonald.  I am reminded of  Pris in  Bladerunner.

I must warn you, there are terrible scenes of violence and sexual assault in this novel, but none of them are gratuitous. As I struggled through them I understood the reasons why Bacigalupi wrote them.  In the end he offers his readers new possibilities.  I think The Windup Girl is a fantastic book, and that it deserves a Hugo or a Nebula, maybe even both.

11 Comments

Filed under SciFi, SciFi Challenge, SpeculativeFiction

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

kin5c9746fddc976b25938673955514141414c3441 Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Beacon Press, Boston,  1988

A young black women, Dana Franklin is living in California in 1976. Suddenly, after a bout of dizzyness, she finds herself in Maryland sometime in the early 1880’s.  She is  dragged through time by Rufus, a white man, son of a slave owner.  Anytime he is in danger of dying Dana is drawn sickeningly to his side.   There is a deep connection between these two and an intense love hate relationship.  Dana is thrown into a slave owning household and must contend with everything that entails.  Why?

Dana eventually realizes that Rufus is her great great grandfather and that she must help him, at least until the birth of his daughter, Hagar, whose mother is a slave in Rufus household.  Hagar will start Dana’s family line.  As Dana travels through time again and again,  Rufus grows older and becomes more hostile and abusive.  Dana and those around her suffer the back-breaking work, verbal battering and physical cruelty that is slavery.  What a realization, that your ancestor was a slave owner who raped women, sold children and beat  people for the slightest miss-step. What a horror, knowing that you must keep him alive.

An intensely researched and well-written book, Octavia Butler argued that Kindred was not science fiction, the time travel element is never explained.  Kindred is more like horror and Dana’s dilemma left a sickening  feeling in the pit of my stomach.  This book is a striking presentation of the mix of power, race and gender that was slavery in the United States.

From an interview with Octavia E. Butler found at the Writers&Books web site:

W&B: You said that Kindred was the first novel that you knew of that tried to make readers understand what it felt like to be a slave.

Butler:Not so much make a person understand, but confront a modern person with that reality of history. It’s one thing to read about it and cringe that something horrible is happening. I sent somebody into it who is a person of now, of today, and that means I kind of take the reader along and expose them in a way that the average historic novel doesn’t intend to, can’t.

Other reviews:

Adventures In Reading

Jenny’s Books

Kittling:Books

RhapsodyInBooks

9 Comments

Filed under Challenges, ColorMeBrown