**spoiler alert** While William Campbell Powell's debut novel may be shelved in the young adult section of your local bookstore or library, Expiration...more**spoiler alert** While William Campbell Powell's debut novel may be shelved in the young adult section of your local bookstore or library, Expiration Day is one of those books that can and should get a wider audience from brave readers who are willing to overlook shelf placement in making their reading selections.
In the near future, humanity is on the brink of extinction. As the birth rate drops, couples desperate for a child are turning to androids that look and act like children. Couples can raise the android as their child until his or her eighteenth birthday (androids are sent in each year for an "upgrade" which is disguised in their memories as going on vacation) to help ensure the android doesn't become aware that he or she isn't a "real" human child.
As Expiration Day begins, Tania Deely believes she is the daughter of a small town minister and his wife. Journaling to future alien visitors to our planet, Tania relates details of her every day life and her struggles to become a normal teenager. She also discovers that she's not a human being as she originally thought, but that she is also an android as well.
This throws Tania for a loop because there's a catch to the androids. Each one has an Expiration Date on their eighteenth birthday. At that time, each android is returned to the robot corporation, its memory wiped and the body recycled as a lower model service droid. Androids develop emotionally and intellectually as a human teenage would though there are certain drives that are suppressed (for example, while androids enjoy kissing, they don't necessarily have any interest in becoming more physically intimate).
Tania's developing interest and talent for music as well as other factors begin to make her question whether or not the self-imposed expiration day is right, fair or if there is anything she can do about it. She has to keep her interest and questions on the downlow though -- the state closely monitors her Internet searches and certain searches bring swift, harsh consequences.
Expiration Day draws on the influences of other, sci-fi works including the robot novels of Issac Asimov and Logan's Run. But it's the voice of Tania and her relating of her life's events and her growing up that set this novel apart and make it something special. In most ways, Tania is a normal teenager -- questioning authority, having crushes and conflicting with her parents. She's just a teenager who has a date looming when she'll be turned off and lose all of what make up who she is.
Told in journal entries, the novel allows the reader to really get to know and relate to Tania.
Simply put, this is one of the more enjoyable, thought provoking and compelling books I've read -- not only this year, but in a long time. Powell as a gem of a first novel and one that will linger with you long after you've read it.
Pick it up, give it a try. I think you'll love it. (less)
If you're expecting D.C. Pierson's novel The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To to address and resolve all the issues related to the title charac...moreIf you're expecting D.C. Pierson's novel The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To to address and resolve all the issues related to the title character and his sleeping disorder, you're going to be sorely disappointed by this book.
However, if you approach this book and view the title as a hook to get you interested in the story of the friendship to two young, geeky teenage boys and their trials, tribulations and first loves, then you're probably going to love this book. I know I did.
Darren Bennett is a bit of a loner, constantly doodling in his notebooks, textbooks and anything else he can find. One day, Eric Lederer notices the drawings and the two begin their friendship -- one that includes developing the outline for an epic franchise of space fantasy films. It also involves avoiding Darren's older brother and his bullying friends, falling for the same girl (though dating her at different times) and, oh yeah, the secret that Eric doesn't sleep and never has.
Despite having a sci-fi element to it, Pierson keeps his novels and characters ground, interesting and utterly relatable. This is one of those books that had me losing sleep just wanting to spend a few more minutes in the world of Darren and Eric. Of course, it's the girl who comes between our two heroes that leads Darren leaking Eric's secret and the inevitable complications that arise from it.
Pierson's writing is enveloping and this entertaining, charming story has earned a spot on my favorites shelf and it will likely remain there for a long time. I picked up this one in the hopes of scratching a book off my to-be-read pile and discovered a real gem. (less)
If you’ve ever watched an episode of classic Star Trek, you’re probably familiar with the old adage, “Don’t wear a red shirt.” Odds are you won’t surv...moreIf you’ve ever watched an episode of classic Star Trek, you’re probably familiar with the old adage, “Don’t wear a red shirt.” Odds are you won’t survive until the first commercial break.
John Scalzi’s latest novel Redshirts delves into that old adage as well as several other tropes from not only classic Trek but many of our favorite genre series. On board the flag ship of the Universal Union the Intrepid, odds are that if you aren’t one of the five members of the command crew, your life expectancy can be measured in months, if not days or weeks. Crew members go out of their away to avoid any contact with the big five and has developed an elaborate system to disappear when any one of them comes looking for away team members.
Newly assigned to the Intrepid is Ensign Andrew Dahl. Dahl is part of the latest round of replacements for those crew members previously killed in action and it appears he and his friends are also doomed to a short life expectancy. But the life expectancy of the crew isn’t the only odd thing going on. There’s the miraculous ability of one of the senior staff to heal from virtually any injury or disease thrown his way in a matter of hours, if not days and then there’s the mysterious box that will give you the almost the right answer to any problem, provided there’s a ticking clock and you show the near answer to the senior show so they can show off their genius and/or technical prowess.
Dahl and his friends slowly discover there’s something more at work on board the Intrepid and they’re determined to put a stop to it.
As a satire of popular genre television series, Redshirts is a dead-on delight. The novel will have you smiling at times and laughing out loud at others. And if all Redshirts wanted to be was a parody of the tropes of classic Star Trek, it would be enough. But instead Scalzi goes for something more—a look at how character deaths can impact a novel, series or other form of popular entertainment. Between the moments of great satire and laughter, Scalzi will make you think and re-assess many of your favorite genre shows and look at the importance of getting the science right in science fiction.
Scalzi’s novel is one I’ve looked forward to since he first announced its title and premise on his blog last year. My anticipation reached a zenith point when I was able to get my grubby paws on an advanced reader copy and I could only hope that the novel would at least live up to the lofty expectations I had for it. The good news is not only did it live up to them, but it exceeded them.
Scalzi has shown in the past that he can write a funny novel. Last year’s Fuzzy Nation showed flashes of the funnier side of Scalzi and his The Android’s Dream starts off with a war between worlds started by flatulence. Redshirts is better than both of those (and they’re my two favorite works by Scalzi so far).
And that’s all before you get to the three codas Scalzi includes after the main story is concluded. Each one adds a unique twist to the Redshirts universe and while they’re not essential to the main story, they’ll add a lot to your enjoyment of the Redshirts universe.(less)
George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" is everything epic fantasy should be--a richly crafted world, fascinating characters and no abandon when...moreGeorge R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" is everything epic fantasy should be--a richly crafted world, fascinating characters and no abandon when it comes to inflicting horrible fates upon the cast of what seems like thousands.
The third installment in the epic series is the longest, so far, and the best of the series. Building on everything set up in the first two books, "A Storm of Swords" delivers from the first page, grabbing you by the collar and never letting go. The story is an epic one and if you've heard that you shouldn't become attached to any character or set of characters, you've heard correctly. Bad things happen to a lot of the characters in this novel and Martin doesn't pause much to allow you to catch your breath as he moves from one revelation to the next.
There's not much more I can say about this book and series that hasn't already been said. It's epic, it's compelling and it's fantasy done exactly right. It'd be a shame to let one more second go by without reading it, if you haven't already done so. (Assuming you've read the first two installments, of course!) (less)
I should preface this by saying I've never read the original novel that Fuzzy Nation pays homage to, but...moreLeave it to John Scalzi to do a reboot right.
I should preface this by saying I've never read the original novel that Fuzzy Nation pays homage to, but after reading/listening to Fuzzy Nation the book will probably make its way onto my to-be-read pile in the near future.
Jack Holloway is a disbarred lawyer, working as a prospector on the distant planet Zarathustra. While surveying a local mountain with his companion Carl, a dog who can set off explosives, Jack discovers a rich vein of sunstones, the most valuable gem in the universe. Suddenly Jack is going to be rich beyond his wildest dreams, as will ZaraCorp, who own the mining rights to the planet.
That is until Jack comes home to find a new creature has broken into his jungle dwellings. Dubbed a "fuzzy" by Jack, the creature is highly intelligent and adaptive, which could be a huge problem for ZaraCorp. If the creatures are proved to be sentient, then ZaraCorp must give up all rights to exploit the new found mineral wealth of the planet and pack up shop.
Jack turns to his ex-girlfriend and ZaraCorp biologist, Isabel to help him look into the matter and to determine if the fuzzies are sentient.
Written in the vein of Scalzi's The Androids Dream, Fuzzy Nation is a masterpiece by one of the genre's best working authors. If you're only familiar with Scalzi from his military SF "Old Man's War" series, leave those expectations at the door. Fuzzy features the same kind of addictive, compelling writing but there's a lot of humor, fun and serious thought-provoking stuff at work here. In fact, I may even go so far as to declare this my favorite work by Scalzi to date.
The audio version is a delight as well. Read by Wil Wheaton, the story comes alive though Wheaton's delivery. In his introduction, Scalzi says he can think of no one better than Wheaton to read the audio version of his book. And having heard it, I heartily agree.
If you're looking for a thought-provoking, stand-alone sci-fi novel that shows the genre can still be fun, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Fuzzy Nation. (less)
There’s been a lot of buzz for Greg Iles’ latest novel “Turning Angel” and after reading it, all I can say is that it deserves every bit of it.
Dr Drew...moreThere’s been a lot of buzz for Greg Iles’ latest novel “Turning Angel” and after reading it, all I can say is that it deserves every bit of it.
Dr Drew Elliot seems to have it all-he’s the trusted doctor in the small town of Nachez, Mississippi. He’s successful professionally, he’s married with a family, he’s got the big house and all the trappings. But he has a dark secret-he’s been carrying on an affair with a 17-year old cheerleader and tennis phenom, who is bound for Harvard. When the girl’s body turns up in the river, Elliott’s love for her comes to light and he’s the prime suspect in the killing.
Elliot asks his good friend (whose life he saved), Penn Cage for help in representing him and finding the real killer.
But what could have been a simple who-done-it thriller becomes something more. Iles not only documents the mystery of who killed the girl but rips off the innocent veneer of the town of Nachez. We come to understand how Elliott could fall for the girl, carry on an affair with her and even plan to give up his life to be with her. There are no heroes or villians here, just real, breathing characters painted in shades of gray.
The case is pushed through by oportunistic politicians, one of whom wants to use the case as a springboard to the mayor’s office and beyond. Along the way, we find out about the underbelly of a small town and the frightening implications of the death of one girl.
Iles pulls no punches in his harsh, frank examination of the murder and the consequences and fallout from it. The book is close to 500 pages but it feels shorter than that becuase Iles prose is compelling and his characters fascinating. This is an absolute must read and it’s made me into a huge fan of Greg Iles.(less)
I can't quite recall how I first heard about the books of Donald Miller--whether it was through a friend or a web site recommendation. However, I do k...moreI can't quite recall how I first heard about the books of Donald Miller--whether it was through a friend or a web site recommendation. However, I do know that I read his book, "Searching for God Knows What" before the book for which he is best-known, "Blue Like Jazz." And while I like "Jazz" a great deal, it's always been "Searching" that has stuck with me and been my favorite book that Miller has written.
"A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" may have replaced "Searching" as my favorite book by Miller. It's certainly jumped up to the top of my list for one of the best books I've read all year.
"Million Miles" begins with Miller sitting down with two other guys to write a screenplay based on one his best-selling memoirs. In the course of writing, Miller realizes that he wishes his life could tell a better story and begins a journey into discovering how to do that. He learns about the elements of what makes up a story and relates those to his daily life and his response to God.
Miller utilizes a conversational style to his books so it feels less like you're reading words on a page and more like you're sitting across from him, sharing a beverage or meal and talking about things. Miller's books is one that will challenge, that will tug at your emotions and one that get you to make a serious evaluation of where you are in your life. It made me sit back and ask how I was telling my story and examine the vital scenes within my own life, wondering if I'm truly living the story I want to live and the one that I should be living.
Miller does this by bringing in examples from his own life. At several points, Miller talks about how writing can be hard for him, but it never seems that way reading his work. He peppers in stories, giving us the details of the story as needed to make his points. He weaves together a tapestry of stories, showing how one decision led to another and those went into a completely and totally unanticipated direction. For example, Miller decides to go hiking in South America to impress and spend time with a girl, which leads to his decision to get in better shape and leads to his meeting with the father he never really knew. It's a series of events that you'd have a hard time putting together in fictional novel, but told in the context of Miller's life and journey, it's a fascinating look at the points he's trying to make and challenge of making sure the story we're telling is the right one.
As always, Miller's book is a fascinating, compelling and interesting one. Yes, we did have to wait a bit longer than usual for this release, but it was completely worth it. If you're looking for a book that will offer you wit, wisdom and a challenge for your life, this is one to put at the top of your list. (less)
A blending of the four gospels into one single narrative by a Garrison Keillor and Dan Johnson and then read by Keillor in his own, unique voice and s...moreA blending of the four gospels into one single narrative by a Garrison Keillor and Dan Johnson and then read by Keillor in his own, unique voice and style. If you're looking for a new way to approach reading or experiencing the greatest story ever told, this is one great way to do it. Keillor's delivery is superb (as always) and hearing Jesus' life and events put into a chronological order is fascinating and fun. (less)
When Grace and John meet at a bar on Halloween, the attraction between the two is undeniable. Everything is going well, until the morning after Grace...moreWhen Grace and John meet at a bar on Halloween, the attraction between the two is undeniable. Everything is going well, until the morning after Grace mysteriously vanishes from John's apartment after John confesses he feels responsible for the death of his brother.
That's the hook for Charles De Lint's latest fantasy novel, "The Mystery of Grace." The novel is one part love story, one part fantasy story and one part fairy tale.
The romantic coupling of Grace and John has some problems before it. For one thing, they met two weeks two late. And not just in that typical romantic comedy, oh I'm with someone else now two weeks too late. Two weeks too late because Grace was killed in a convience store robbery two weeks before. She's stuck in a limbo world based around several blocks of the town she lived in before her death. She can revisit our world two times a year--Halloween and another day in early May. Grace has just come back when she meets John. The connection between the two is nearly instantaneous and helps propel the story for the rest of the book.
De Lint focuses on each character separately in alternating sections. De Lint goes back, filling in the details of John and Grace before they met and then moving the story forward after they meet and how the two work to overcome the obstacles before them. Along the way, we meet a wide variety of other, fascinating characters including one man on the ghostly side of things who is obsessed with finding out why he and other spirits are trapped in a couple of blocks of the small town. Why haven't they go on to the "other side" or wherever it is that people go after death. Eventually, Grace begins to question things and figures out what is holding her back from crossing to the next stage in her life.
"The Mystery of Grace" has elements of a lot of different types of stories, all woven together around the central characters of Grace and John. The novel is one that is full of magic, heartache and fascinating characters.
It's interesting to go back and read the first installment of Stephen King's magnum opus now that I know how the series all plays out in the other sev...moreIt's interesting to go back and read the first installment of Stephen King's magnum opus now that I know how the series all plays out in the other seven novels.
I read "The Gunslinger" when it was first released to the mass market in the 80s and recall being a bit perplexed by it. At the time, it was like nothing else King had written. And yet, as I read about the tale of the Gunslinger pursuing the Man in Black across a vast wasteland, I couldn't help but be intrigued and want more.
Little did I know I'd be devoting twenty or so years to the series and that I'd re-read the first installment multiple times. (I think I've re-read it at least once per new installment coming out and that doesn't even count the revised edition King released when he finally got around to finishing the Dark Tower novels a few years ago).
Yes, I'm an admitted Stephen King fan and his "Dark Tower" novels are among my favorite works by the author. And while "The Gunslinger" is a favorite book of mine, this re-read only helped convince me further that this is a strong prologue, but the real meat of the story is to come. In many ways, "The Drawing of the Three" is a better book, but you can't replace the raw edge of "The Gunslinger."
The story is an entry into the world, setting up the character of Roland and giving us a taste of what's to come. Reading the story now, it's fascinating to catch various elements and threads King will pick up on and run with in later installments of the series. And it's easy to forget that while King expands the cast list in later books that the series began with the long figure of Roland on an epic quest.
The novel is a fascinating blend of King's usual elements and yet also stands alone in the King oeuvre. It's a fascinating, compelling character piece that is the entry point into the larger, more complex and ultimately extremely rewarding story of the quest for the Dark Tower. (less)
A recent study indicates that reading literary fiction can help improve your social skills and help you be a better conversationalist.
As I pondered t...moreA recent study indicates that reading literary fiction can help improve your social skills and help you be a better conversationalist.
As I pondered that and glanced over at my (ever-growing) pile of books I want to read, Michael Chabon's The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay began to call to me. So, I decided I'd pick up the book, read a chapter or two and dazzle friends, family and myself with my improved conversational tone.
Whether or not reading this novel has made me a better conversationalist remains to be seen.
But I will say that I'm glad the study serves as a catalyst and finally got me to crack the cover of this book.
Simply put, this is an outstanding novel and one that I wish I'd read before now.
It's the story of the creative team of Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay, Jewish immigrants who create a wide array of comic books and superheroes during the Golden Age of comic books. Early sections of the novel detail how the team comes together and looks at some of the characters they create, including their most popular and enduring creation The Escapist. The book unfolds into something deeper as you turn the pages, detailing Joe's increased frustration that is fame and fortune can't help him get his family out of Nazi occupied Europe and Clay's frustration with his own sexual identity.
The novel delves into how two men who appear to have everything they could want are fundamentally unsatisfied because they each can't have the one thing they most desire. The entire novel is a fascinating, compelling character study of these two men and the various people who come into their circle of influence.
That's not to say that the novel is dry or without humor. Chabon creates some nice asides and witty observations during the close to six hundred pages the novel runs. One running thread involves Joe's on-going and ever escalating feud with a group of anti-Semetics, all leading up to a cartoon bomb being planted in the headquarters of Empire Comics and Joe chained to a desk in his refusal to leave. (You may have to read it in order to fully understand and enjoy the implications of it).
Kavalier and Clay weighs in at close to six-hundred pages, but it's one of those books that is so absorbing and utterly readable that it feels like it's over far too soon. Yes, the novel is satisfying in every sense of the word and it's one that has struck with me in my thoughts long after the final page was turned. But it still felt like it had ended far too soon and I found myself wondering if and how the next book I picked up could live up to the high bar this one had set.
If you're like me and this one is languishing on the TBR pile, pick it up and start reading.
And for the record -- people who ask me for a recommendation of something good to read will be hearing this novel mentioned a lot for a long time to come. Highly recommended. (less)
Years ago, I joined a science-fiction and fantasy discussion group to try and broaden my genre reading beyond media tie-in novels and the giants in th...moreYears ago, I joined a science-fiction and fantasy discussion group to try and broaden my genre reading beyond media tie-in novels and the giants in the field. One of the books we read in the group was Iain M. Bank's "Excession," set in the Culture universe. The story was a dense, complex and fascinating one.
During the course of our discussion of the book, one particular group member kept saying that while "Excession" was good, "Use of Weapons" was better and that it was a damn shame the book had gone out of print in the United States. He kept hinting about the huge twist at the end of the story that took the entire novel to a whole new level.
Intrigued, I set out on a quest to find a copy of the book. I haunted used books stores for weeks and months (this was in the days before the Amazon marketplace and E-Bay was in its infancy), so when I finally found a copy of the book, I'll admit I was overjoyed. I immediately dropped the other books I was reading and began to devour "Use of Weapons."
And I'll admit, early on, I kept wondering why my fellow book discussion participant was so ga-ga over. Don't get me wrong--the book was good, but it wasn't great. But knowing there was something brewing in the novel's final pages, I kept on going. And I'll admit it--I got to the end, read the twist and was pretty much blown away by it. So much so that the novel jumped into my list of favorite books and one that I recommended to people when they wanted something more from their typical genre reading.
Fast forward to today and once again I'm in a reading group devoted to sci-fi and fantasy. I kept pushing for us to give "Use of Weapons" a chance, saying it was a major novel from a science fiction writer we'd neglected until now. I tried to keep my lips sealed that there a) was a twist and b)what it was in the hopes of my uninitiated friends finding out for themselves.
Reading "Weapons" again, I'm surprised at how well it holds up. It's not a novel that I'd call easy to read simply because it has the story unfolding backwards and forwards. Banks asks his reader to pay attention to things and doesn't spoon-feed the readers on what's going on within the story. And I think the novel is a stronger one for that.
In many ways, the Culture comes off a warped version of the Federation from "Star Trek" here but instead of non-interference, they definitely do interfere in things--for their own gain. The morality and implications of this are explored a bit, but during the course of the story Banks doesn't necessarily endorse whether pushing certain cultures in a certain direction is a good or a bad thing. As is the case in the real world, a case can be made for both sides of the equation.
Reading the novel again and recalling the twist in the final pages, it was fascinating to see how Banks sets up the final twist. It also shows how this story could only effectively work in the way Banks chooses to tell it.
It you're curious about the Culture series, this may or may not be the best place to start. The novels are fairly self-contained, meaning you can start at any point. But I'll be honest--this novel sets a pretty high bar for the series and if you start here, you may be disappointed by other entries in the series. (less)