"I can't believe you just quoted a Steve Miller tune to the leader of an alien race."
Scalzi says, in his Author's Note, that Agent to the Stars was hi"I can't believe you just quoted a Steve Miller tune to the leader of an alien race."
Scalzi says, in his Author's Note, that Agent to the Stars was his "practice novel," a revelation that makes me squirm with jealousy. Rarely is a first novel so well fleshed out, or a first contact story so goofily appealing. AttS, while not a deep work of literature, is full of snappy dialogue and memorable characters and is the perfect choice for a a breezy, quirky summer read. I honestly laughed, even snorted, out loud. Couldn't ask for more....more
As far as I can tell, Lindqvist's work just keeps stronger, and Harbor is his best novel yet. More psychologically subtle than Let the Right One In, aAs far as I can tell, Lindqvist's work just keeps stronger, and Harbor is his best novel yet. More psychologically subtle than Let the Right One In, and more exciting than Handling the Undead, this tale of a father's grief, his family's fascinating secret history, and a tiny island's ancient hunger is long, but never feels that way. It's also spooky without being grotesque, moving without being cloying, and chock full of that cosmic dread I like so very much. I had a very hard time putting it down at night.
(And, just as an aside, I really don't get all the lazy blurb comparisons to Stephen King, or Neil Gaiman, for Pete's sake. I love both of those guys, and Lindqvist just might be in the same league, but he's his own, original animal.)...more
This is the second Christianity-themed book by Michael Faber I've read this year. (The other was The Fire Gospel, which was far more cynical). I am baThis is the second Christianity-themed book by Michael Faber I've read this year. (The other was The Fire Gospel, which was far more cynical). I am basically a devout agnostic, because it's as arrogant to assume you know there's nothing as it is to assume you know there's something. So why do these tales fascinate me? In the case of The Book of Strange New Things, maybe it's because Faber's story gives the reader access to the mind of a true believer -- not a blathering fundamentalist, mind you, just a decent man who has found real joy in religion after an early life of excess. Sometimes I envy the ease and succor genuine faith seems to give . . . but Faber deftly shows how that comfort and safety can sometimes be woefully misleading.
When Peter, a minister happily married to Bea, the woman who "saved" him, agrees to take on the open-ended position of chaplain for a corporation settlement and the nearby indigenous beings on the distant planet Oasis, he and his wife are both thrilled and terrified: thrilled he will be spreading God's word to new worlds, terrified of the months-long separation ahead. Arriving on Oasis, Peter is astonished and excited by the devout nature of the local, "alien," populace. Already prepared by the previous chaplain (now AWOL), many have rechristened themselves "Jesus Lover," followed by a number. (For example Peter's first interaction is with Jesus Lover One. Jesus Lover Five becomes a good friend. Etc.) So ecstatic are these "Oasans" to learn more of what they call "The Book of Strange New Things," they welcome him warmly and begin building him a church, which Peter makes his home between short visits to the base. He feels blessed to be granted such a perfect opportunity to do God's work. He's also more comfortable with the small, peaceful locals than most of the cynical humans back at base.
But there are deeper issues hiding under his blithe good works. Does Peter's new flock truly understand the teachings of Christ? How can he know what they make of his sermons, try as he does to make the metaphors clear for them? And will his email-only relationship with Bea, who is unexpectedly pregnant and sending alarming news of chaos on planet Earth daily, survive this mission? Less gut-punchingly painful than The Sparrow, another good-intentions-gone-wrong tale you should read if you haven't, The Book of Strange New Things is most concerned with the things we take for granted, and the small misunderstandings in communication that can easily grow into gulfs.
I hope I haven't given the impression this book is a downer -- it's really not. The indigenous culture Faber imagines is genuinely compelling and wonderful, as is his depiction of a faith not imperious or crazed, but warm and accepting. Not exactly action-packed, but truly thoughtful speculative fiction.
I really liked this book. I wanted to really love it. It had all the hallmarks of the sort of philoso-satire I tend to enjoy. The idea of an earnest,I really liked this book. I wanted to really love it. It had all the hallmarks of the sort of philoso-satire I tend to enjoy. The idea of an earnest, if a little duplicitous, academic causing a history-exploding breach in the world's major (and most troublesome) faiths is awesome. "The Fifth Gospel," the newly-discovered and translated Aramaic book-within-the-book that starts all the hubbub is both funny and humane. The satiric skewering of fanatics (of both the religious and Dan-Brown-loving variety) is snort-aloud funny.
But then, it kind of just . . . ended. The story was complete, I suppose, but the denouement came all in a rush and I was like "wait, that's it?" Maybe I wanted it to be longer because I was enjoying beleaguered (and bewildered) Aramaic scholar Theo's nutty adventures in publishing enormously. But it felt more novella than novel, and I felt a bit cheated of potential deeper content. Leave 'em wanting more doesn't always leave 'em entirely pleased....more
I'm always swearing I'm not going to start any new series, but when I read the first chapter of this book, "The Red Empress," included as bonus materiI'm always swearing I'm not going to start any new series, but when I read the first chapter of this book, "The Red Empress," included as bonus material in Unseaming, I was instantly hooked. (Proof: I haven't reviewed Unseaming yet.)
Dark, disturbing, and inventively disgusting, The Black Fire Concerto envisions a post-apocalyptic America where The Storms, otherworldly and deadly, have mutated the land and its people. They also brought magic, new and powerful and sometimes very black. Here there be ghouls -- and worse than ghouls: cannibal cultists and megalomaniac magicians who aren't afraid to harness the horrors the Storms left for their own ends.
This book really is unflinchingly gory and body-horror heavy, but there's also something that is bright and refreshing about The Black Fire Concerto: its two protagonists. Erzelle, a young harpist in servitude as house musician at a gruesome gastronome's club, and Olyssa, the imposing, mysterious traveler that rescues her -- are both women. So rarely do we see women cast as epic heroes that Allen's tale took me by surprise.
And it certainly is something different. When Erzelle joins the majestic Olyssa (think King's Gunslinger crossed with the goddess Athena in a bad mood) on a quest to find Olyssa's missing sister, they face events and obstacles by turns magical and utterly nightmarish. But it's their master-and-apprentice pairing that makes the story pure gold. I don't usually get exerted over lack of adequate female representation in fantasy, but I guess it must be pretty bad for me to react so strongly to seeing it done right.
Not for everybody, and definitely not for the squeamish, The Black Fire Concerto is luxuriously nightmarish dark fantasy, and I'm going to be tapping my foot impatiently for the next book in "The Stormblight Symphony." Now, please, Mr. Allen....more
I have a long and devout love affair with hungry, haunted house stories, from classics like The Turn of the Screw to Ki Longfellow's pomo weird-out HoI have a long and devout love affair with hungry, haunted house stories, from classics like The Turn of the Screw to Ki Longfellow's pomo weird-out Houdini Heart. I love them (almost) all. But these kinds of tales have evolved a great deal since Burnt Offerings was written in the early Seventies, which makes it seem stylistically dated in certain key points. That's such a backward view, though, because it's also immediately obvious how much influence this book had on tales yet to come.
On the plus side, the narrative is fast-paced -- I was surprised at how short the book felt -- and the dread builds, steady and sneaky, until you almost don't want to see what, literally, is behind that door. In the minus column, I don't feel like I got to know the characters particularly well. I see symbolic echoes of Hill House's Eleanor in Marian (though the acquisitive weakness is all Mrs. Rolfe), and seeds of Jack and Danny Torrance in Ben and David. But, unlike the more contemplative pace of The Shining, Burnt Offerings doesn't allow a lot of time to get to know, or build sympathy for, the Rolfes before things conspire to turn them into different people. (Though I feel like I know the house pretty well, which is something.)
Ultimately, though, it's a lush, creepy tale, and it stands the test of time and literary hindsight far better than Richard Matheson's Hell House, which I found quite disappointing. ...more
High-concept sci-fi done right, in The City & the City China Mieville shows off yet another facet of his apparently infinite imagination. I'd callHigh-concept sci-fi done right, in The City & the City China Mieville shows off yet another facet of his apparently infinite imagination. I'd call this one a "quantum spy thriller," in which murder, espionage and conspiracy converge on the "topolganger" cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma.
Mieville's clever coinage (I really *did* LOL when the pun hit me) summarizes the key problem of the novel: the titular cities, one a dreary grey Eastern European analogue, the other a vibrant quasi-Middle Eastern confection, exist concurrently in the same time and physical space. Unfortunately, they are also in completely separate countries, and the citizens of both labor under a metaphysical edict to "unsee" anything that carries even a hint of the other. Any noticable slip-up or more purposeful interaction is instantly countered by a mysterious omniscient agency simply called "Breach." Great pains must be taken to officially cross the border, to do so otherwise without alerting Breach virtually impossible. So when the body of an archaeology student working on a dig in Ul Qoma is found brutally murdered and dumped in Beszel with no trace of how she got there, the authorities are at a loss.
Once you process the oblique weirdness of the concept (and Mieville's singular skill at worldbuilding renders it familiar quickly), The City & the City becomes a compelling melange of revolutionaries, red tape, artifact smugglers, hard-boiled cops, threatening conspiracies, and random rips in the membrane separating the cities and their people. It's also kind of a buddy-cop story, as dour Inspector Tyador Borlu from Beszel and his slick Il Qoman counterpart Inspector Qussim Dhatt must play nice in an unprecidented partnership to solve a case that could shatter the fragile balance between the cities for good.
It's true that China Mieville writes ridiculously high-concept books, books that sometimes make your brain hurt. But he wins all the awards for a reason. The City & the City is perhaps the most accessible of his many wonders. If you've never been introduced, this is a good place to start....more
I never want to comment too directly on these, cause spoilers suck. I will say this: (view spoiler)[ nice job on the time jump/reboot. Watching them gI never want to comment too directly on these, cause spoilers suck. I will say this: (view spoiler)[ nice job on the time jump/reboot. Watching them get settled would of course have been dull. Great reintroduction to everyone in their new roles. (hide spoiler)] So good move there. I'm teetering on a 4.5, but there was one moment, one truly terrifying panel, that pushes it to 5 stars. ...more
A lovely genre-defying tale about a brilliant, genre-defying little girl. If you can, imagine a book about the zombie apocalypse that's not really aboA lovely genre-defying tale about a brilliant, genre-defying little girl. If you can, imagine a book about the zombie apocalypse that's not really about the zombies at all, a book both horrible and uplifting at the same time. That's The Girl With All the Gifts. I'm not sure if this novel is classed as YA . . . if it is, don't let it put you off. This is a book for anyone. Anyone who's not afraid of a little flesh-gobbling gore, fast-paced action, and a heartwarming center, that is. An unforgettable read....more
This was my introduction to Neil Gaiman. I have a first edition hardback, thanks to my dad, who, browsing in a bookstore one day in 1990, picked it upThis was my introduction to Neil Gaiman. I have a first edition hardback, thanks to my dad, who, browsing in a bookstore one day in 1990, picked it up and thought: "This is something my daughter would like." He had no idea. He subsequently read it himself, and to this day nurses a crush on War.
This past March 12, the date on which you might remember Sir Terry Pratchett took one last walk with an old friend, I had the improbable good/bad luck to attend an evening of conversation with Neil Gaiman. It was clear Neil was tired, and sad, but he was there. He didn't cancel, and he very gracefully took time to chat and pose for pics at the reception beforehand. He was exactly as charming and approachable as any fan could hope.*
The talk itself, with Gaiman's close friend Michael Chabon acting as interviewer, was meant to support his new story collection Trigger Warning, but we were in for an unscheduled surprise when it turned into a sad, funny, moving eulogy for Sir Terry. Gaiman, as he does so well, told stories. He told us about how, as a young journalist, he met his early mentor and lifelong friend Terry Pratchett. He talked about long phone calls during their pre-Internet collaboration on Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch. He told funny Terry stories. And he spoke proudly about Pratchett's brave struggle with Alzheimer's and his very public campaign for death with dignity. And finally, he read from this book.**
Which is a round-about way of getting to why I decided to reread Good Omens when I have a giant stack of new books waiting for me. This book -- the story of the coming of the Antichrist (a spunky boy called Adam who's maybe a little too rebellious for the position), and of an angel and a demon who team up to thwart the Apocalypse because they kind of like things just as they are, thank you very much -- is just as delightful as it was in 1990. And from here in 2015, it gains unexpected emotional heft as a Bradbury-esque fable of that not-so-long-gone time when kids actually went out to play and make trouble of a summer day. It's still Douglas Adams-level silly, but there's nothing wrong with that, and its influence on the fantasy genre is undeniable. And under the comic veneer is a keen study of human (and angelic and demonic) fallibility, and the joys and responsibilities of exercising our freewill. Upgraded from four to five stars. A classic.
*In case anyone is interested in what happened when I had my chance to chat with Neil-freaking-Gaiman, I have to admit I was a little star-struck. I managed to blurt out how much I loved his screenplay for the Doctor Who episode "The Doctor's Wife." (view spoiler)[ In it, the TARDIS is enabled to manifest in a human body, and for the first time actually "meet" the Doctor. There's a moment, after she's been embodied for a while, she points out how humans are rather like a TARDIS -- much bigger on the inside. (hide spoiler)] Neil's eyes -- I swear -- actually twinkled, and he replied: "Yes . . . that was one of those moments when I thought -- yes, I've done something clever right there." That episode won the 2011 Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation and the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.