Station Eleven is a literary, level-headed look at life after the apocalypse. It’s not a comet, nor a zombie plaStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven is a literary, level-headed look at life after the apocalypse. It’s not a comet, nor a zombie plague, but a simple especially-lethal influenza. Imagine 1918, but far, far worse. St. John Mandel tells the story of several people, all united by their common acquaintance with one man who dies at the beginning of the novel. It’s a solid character study with a compelling through-line and expertly-crafted people. Reminds me of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake or Colson Whitehead’s Year One. It’s literary apocalypse, and very compelling.
A few thoughts:
The novel imagines the apocalypse in much less horrific terms than many of the books that I read, but it’s all the more chilling for that. The common struggle for survival puts us way back into the dark ages, at least for a time, and people find both the good and the bad in themselves. The mix of present-day and future storylines also works well, giving depth to the future with excursions into the past. St. John Mandel even works out an effective way to tie the younger characters (born after the flu) into the older storylines. My only complaint is that the novel gets a bit too cleanly tied up in the end. It’s fair to say that the story is being told in a way designed to wrap up when the narrative demands it, but it feels like there’s an awful lot of coincidence at work in the final shakedown. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (Dickens did it, after all), but it feels a little too on-the-nose.
Also, I’d like to read the (fictional) comic book from which the novel’s title is taken....more
When Siggy gets a job at an interplanetary supermax prison, she doesn't know she's going to become a conversational pal with a pair of serial killers.When Siggy gets a job at an interplanetary supermax prison, she doesn't know she's going to become a conversational pal with a pair of serial killers. Or that this relationship will hinge on the fact that she's one of the few people who has encountered time pockets more than once. Also, ballroom dancing.
Broken Time is an odd book, with lots of interesting ideas but not tight enough to work well. A few thoughts:
- There are a bunch of great ideas and sketches of great ideas that the book doesn't follow through on. Among the ideas we don't learn enough about: a Lost Fleet that is trapped in time, showing up occasionally to attack a planet long after the war is over and an interstellar economy that's brutal and punishing but we only hear about a little bit at the beginning of the novel. The book also features an alien species, the speedies, who move far more quickly than we do. It's a cool premise that could also have had more attention. - I like the novel's focus on Siggy's interest in ballroom dancing, and it has a nice payoff later. The novel also takes some solid narrative steps to give Siggy the skills and ideas she will need later. - The references to differences in planets gives the book the feel of grandeur, but in practice the planets don't get enough descriptions to really show how they're different. Siggy might just as well have been in two different cities or countries on Earth. - I like the insight that in times of war, we will do whatever it takes, including science that destroys the people it aims to help. - Last, it's a little off-putting how much Siggy's job in the supermax prison feels like The Silence of the Lambs. From the hallway she has to walk down (passing rude and awful prisoners to get to the most horrible one) to his temperamental interest in her to his habit of standing very still, one can't help but see that famous film. Adding just a few touches to make it feel different would have helped this part of the book a lot for me.
Overall, this wasn't my favorite. It took a long time to capture my interest (I actually said "If I don't like it a lot more tonight, I will put it down"), but the main character is nicely developed and the book focuses more on her character than on techno-wizardry....more
Shea’s novel is a light romp through a dark future where most of the Earth has been ravaged by economic and environmental collapse. Many people live iShea’s novel is a light romp through a dark future where most of the Earth has been ravaged by economic and environmental collapse. Many people live in floating cities high above the Earth, and a few others vie for the limited slots among the global elite. Just making her way in the world is our titular vicious mercenary, who has been working as the owner of a brothel for the last few years. Alas, her past comes back to haunt her and she must make a run for it.
- Koko is an enjoyable adventure, if a bit light on the plot arc. The main character is empathetic in as much as someone who used to be a mercenary can be, but the future Shea describes is so bleak that we need not worry too much about particular bleakness facing individuals in the world. Yikes. - One of the plagues of the floating cities is a kind of suicidal depression that’s diagnosed as an incurable disease. There’s an implication in the book that this sort of depression is just in one’s mind, which could imply some deeper readings of Shea’s view of modern mental health issues, or it could just be the view that the overlords of the future might employ a cynical terminal diagnosis to control population growth. (And thus, I just realize, I build a link between this novel and the under-rated Tom Hanks / Meg Ryan film Joe vs. the Volcano.) - Shea seems to have an equally dark view of corporations of the future — global capital has not been all that good for people in the world. That said, there’s an implication that the world collapses under some other malady and it’s only global capitalism that gets us going again, so maybe these vicious corporations are good? I would love to read another book written with a Margaret Atwood-ian seriousness in this particular world. (Actually, without too much tweaking, you could see this as a version of the Oryx and Crake world.)
This book comes as close as I’ve found to the edge of the nickel. It doesn’t offer enough, to me, to push it onto the recommended pile, but it has a few enjoyable facets that make it hard to recommend against. It’s a fine beach read, but that’s about it....more
This remarkable, entertaining horror novel has a simple premise: a haunted IKEA. It's not actually the Swedish flat-pack behemoth, of course, but an aThis remarkable, entertaining horror novel has a simple premise: a haunted IKEA. It's not actually the Swedish flat-pack behemoth, of course, but an also-ran called ORSK, a fictional store designed, the narrator asserts, to copy IKEA as closely as possible. The tale follows Amy, her supervisor Basil, and a couple other employees as they stay late at the store one night to catch the vandals who have been sneaking in at night, breaking merchandise and messing up the place. Of course, it turns out to be something more horrible.
A few thoughts:
The novel builds on the way familiar places can seem frightening when they're shifted out of their usual place in our minds. When Amy and friends stay late, the massive store becomes otherworldly, and the gleaming expanse of the showroom shifts into a frightening wasteland of modest furniture. The novel's design is its most compelling feature -- the cover looks like an IKEA catalog, and each chapter starts with a blueprint drawing of an ORSK product with a name like Brooka or Kjërring, and a description consistent with IKEA's rhetoric. As the story grows darker, the chapter drawings do too. The supernatural element that arises is pretty well-crafted and thoroughly creepy, and will certainly show up in my subconscious next time we wander out to IKEA. It's not the scariest book I've ever read, but it's got a good eerie factor, and solid characters.
Overall, Horrorstör is a solid creepy novel with an innovative design that fits the novel perfectly. Worth a read....more
I’ve read my fair share of old science fiction. (By old here, I generally mean things written before 1980.) I acknowledge this line is relatively arbiI’ve read my fair share of old science fiction. (By old here, I generally mean things written before 1980.) I acknowledge this line is relatively arbitrary, but so am I. Some old sf gets dated pretty quickly, and feels foreign and a little weird. The Cosmic Computer comes to mind. Some old sf holds together pretty well, remaining both entertaining and illuminating its age well–The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, for instance. And then there are sf books that age badly–they don’t comment on their own era except by accident and their storytelling style stales. Just putting this out there.
Fritz Leiber’s The Wanderer disappoints in far more ways than it pleases. It’s got a killer hook — what if a hyperspace-traveling planet showed up on our doorstep, closer to the moon than we are? Chaos would rule on the Earth, where tidal forces would go bonkers, earthquakes would wrack the land, and people would die in droves. The Wanderer uses multiple plots to follow the experience of people all over the Earth over the course of the first three days after the mysterious planet shows up next to ours. Awesome premise, terrible execution. I don’t know how this book won the Hugo.
A few thoughts:
- As an end-of-the-world tale, The Kraken Wakes is far better, using many of the same tropes a decade earlier and doing a better job of it. - The casual misogyny famously part of the SF boys’ club is on a rampage in this book, with women being either flighty or harlots, but always being condescended to. Despite the book’s setting in the future, Leiber fails to imagine any change in cultural norms about, say, race or gender. - The cat person is amusing, but petulant and childish too. Oh, and it’s the only representative we have of the alien race. It was pretty hard to distinguish the character’s flaws from Leiber’s sense of how women act. - The people in this novel have sex at the strangest times. And often it’s in the vein of women who don’t want to have sex being convinced by an eager man. - All the casual misogyny and racism aside, the book is boring. It’s too long for the tale it tells, and several of the storylines don’t change or grow at all.
Spoiler alert: There is one aspect of this particular tale that deserves a bit more discussion — it turns out that the traveling planet is part of a huge coalition of space entities that have a set of rules about what you can and can’t do as an interstellar space faring race. The people on the Wanderer don’t like the rules, so they’re on the run from the agency. I’m not sure if Leiber was criticizing a rising nanny state idea (it feels like he was), but the society they’re running from reminds me a lot of The Culture from Iain F. Banks novels, in a good way.
The dark and shadowy world of Empire State is kind of like New York in the late 20s, but not quite. This tale of adventure, mystery, weird technology,The dark and shadowy world of Empire State is kind of like New York in the late 20s, but not quite. This tale of adventure, mystery, weird technology, and haunting atmosphere will have you running in circles, marveling at the buildings, and peering into the fog. A few thoughts:
- The first half of the novel is fantastic. I mean that both literally — as in: it includes fantastical science-fiction elements and a complicated plot set in an alternate New York called The Empire State — and figuratively, in that it’s quite enjoyable. The second half, for me, was not quite as good. The novel explains more than I wanted it to, and the mysteriousness of the first half overwhelmed the result of the second half. - In mood, Empire State resonates with dystopian city sci-fi scapes like Brazil, The Manual of Detection, and Kafka. It also injects noir tropes and pulp science heroes into the mix. The result is a world that draws on many of the same tropes in vogue throughout speculative fiction right now, but does so with verve and gusto. - Most impressive about the first half of the novel are Christopher’s casual world-building moments. He excels in writing sentences that open new doors on the world, shifting the whole nature of what you see as you read. I enjoyed these moments so much that I’ve excised a lot of references from this review so that these syntactical gems can remain inviolate. To explain what I mean, though, consider the classic example from Heinlein: “The door dilated.” With the simple use of a word in a new context, Heinlein downloads a whole new set of expectations and ideas about the world. Christopher does this several times (at least three that I can think of), and it’s a delight. - At the same time, some of these reveals are cheats of narrative convenience. For instance, at least one “big reveal” from fairly late in the novel depends on visual information that, had we been watching this as a film, we would have understood from the beginning. Thus, the value of carefully excluding details. - I like that Christopher includes a playlist and an invitation to fan contributions at the end of the book.
All in all, very enjoyable. Phil Gigante does a good job handling different voices in the story, particularly given the complex relationships between some of the characters....more
Two gentlemen with big manors face off in a legendary fat pig growing contest, and right in the middle is the brother of one of the men, Gally ThreepwTwo gentlemen with big manors face off in a legendary fat pig growing contest, and right in the middle is the brother of one of the men, Gally Threepwood. Of course, there’s some confusion with mis-matched lovers, a farce involving an uptight butler and stolen pigs, and an awful lot of bally great language. A few thoughts:
- I don’t like these quite as much as the Jeeves and Wooster novels. Gally Threepwood isn’t quite as goofy or dopey as Bertie Wooster, and Beach is no Wooster. Of course, I should probably read more before I pronounce judgment, but there it is. - Vocab: pre-phylloxera – wine from before the great French wine blight. “Beach helped himself to a third glass of port. It was pre-phylloxera, and should have had him dancing about the room, strewing roses from his hat, but it not so much as bring a glow to his eye.” (194) Apparently wine made after the plague was less heady or something. - Favorite phrase from the book: “Penny seemed listless… It may have been merely maiden meditation but it looked to Gally more like the pip.” I love the phrase “the pip,” which means “to be angry, or depressed.”
There are perhaps some class issues to write about with regard to these books, but really, Wodehouse books are just darn fun....more
Posehn has a strong grasp on what makes Deadpool particularly entertaining. The snarky attitude and flexible morality make the tales he’s telling allPosehn has a strong grasp on what makes Deadpool particularly entertaining. The snarky attitude and flexible morality make the tales he’s telling all the funnier, and like Garth Ennis’ Punisher comics, the other heroes in Marvel’s New York become foils for Deadpool’s antics. In this volume, Deadpool has to hunt down and kill some superpowered people who’d made deals with demons. Particularly amusing are the running jokes about people mistaking him for Spider-Man....more
In his afterward, Azzarello says his approach was to try to imagine a sympathetic Luthor, someone who strives to take Superman down not for his own enIn his afterward, Azzarello says his approach was to try to imagine a sympathetic Luthor, someone who strives to take Superman down not for his own ends, but for the altruistic motive of saving the city from a nearly-omnipotent alien who could turn on us at any time. Bermejo does a great job making Superman seem like a villain. When we see him through Luthor’s eyes, Supes is shaded in noir shadows, with burning red eyes that look positively demonic. Yikes....more
On the far side of the moon, a new observatory is building the biggest telescopes ever crafted by Man. These massive instruments, combined with the MoOn the far side of the moon, a new observatory is building the biggest telescopes ever crafted by Man. These massive instruments, combined with the Moon’s airless surface, and the far-side’s shelter from the brightness of the Earth, give its scientists the ability to see things much more clearly than ever we have before. Alas, amid the excitement of the project, trouble is brewing. And in the vacuum of space, even a small problem can become a big problem quickly. A few thoughts:
- This is only the second Bova book I’ve read, and it seems to be in the middle of his “Grand Tour” series. As such, there’s some context I’m missing, but generally it’s readable on its own. The characters are believable, even if they’re drawn a bit quickly, and their emotional lives take a stronger center stage than in most SF novels. - Bova’s hard SF angle works really well here, as the entire structure seems cogent and potential. Of course, it’s infused with current worries, but at least thinks through the potentials of the next century or so. I also didn’t catch any years listed in the dates, which will help keep it relevant longer. - I particularly liked the depth of the characters as the novel progresses. Often, quickly drawn characters prove to be two dimensional, lacking believability or depth that’s part of the human experience. As the novel goes along, the characters become more complex, and more interesting, and it works well. - Aside from thinking through the Moon stuff, the use of Nanotechnology plays a big role in this book. I like the discussion very much, and think it would make a nice entry into the field. A reader who finds this idea interesting should next explore The Diamond Age. - Stephan Rudnicki’s reading is excellent, and his voice is awesomely deep.
A good read – enjoyable and quick, with cool ideas and a strong story....more
Each year, I pick a different anthology of zombie stories to read with my Zombies in Popular Media class. This year’s collection was pretty great. A fEach year, I pick a different anthology of zombie stories to read with my Zombies in Popular Media class. This year’s collection was pretty great. A few highlights:
- “Why Mothers Let Their Babies Watch Television: A Just-so Horror Story” by Chelsea Cain. Written with the feel of a classic folk tale, this story captures some of the drudgery of parenting. - “How We Escaped Our Certain Fate” by Dan Chaon throbs with a dark melancholy of a ho-hum zombie world, where the undead can be dangerous, but they’re more a nuisance like racoons. - Kurt Sutter’s “Tic Boom: A Slice of Love” and John McIlveen’s “A Mother’s Love” play on similar themes with very different writing styles, but both are great twists on the zombie genre. - Amber Benson, of Buffy fame, includes a story only tangentially about zombies, but chock-full of interesting twists on the future-dystopian capitalist nightmare. “Antiparallelogram” isn’t all that great as a zombie story, but as an SF tale, it has some chops. - “Tender as Teeth” by Stephanie Crawford and Duane Swierczynski is the best story in the collection, for my money. It follows a former zombie who has been recovered through a technological intervention of some kind, but who is plagued by the public record of her deeds during her zombie days. ...more