For the longest time, I had no idea what to say about Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. Not only does it defy description, but the descriptionFor the longest time, I had no idea what to say about Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. Not only does it defy description, but the description it does get is pretty accurate ...and yet, so wrong.
Here, for example, from the last paragraph of the Amazon description:
"Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it."
So, yes. All that is there. Station Eleven is, sort of, a post-apocalyptic tale, heavily interlaced with flashbacks to before and during the apocalypse. Mandel does a really excellent job of weaving the stories of a cast of individuals together over time and space, and the complex endeavor works well. It's no wonder that no other than George R.R. Martin thought that it should have gotten the nomination for best novel on the Hugo ballot. He loves a complex plot and Station Eleven has got all sorts of complex stuff going on. As Martin says, it really shouldn't work, but it does, and the story ends up being a satisfying read (with one caveat, which I'll mention in a minute).
In any other year, Station Eleven might even have garnered a nomination for the Hugo (if just on the weight of Martin's nod?). I don't know that I would have given it the award, but it's definitely good enough, artsy enough, and different enough to attract the typical Hugo voter's attention. This year, however, with Sad Puppies going on and all sorts of anti-Sad Puppies pushing against Sad Puppy nominations, the typical voter is not typical. For better or worse, Station Eleven just isn't the sort of scifi to catch the attention of the mainstream science fiction reader.
That said, Station Eleven has received all sorts of other awards. These include the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel (2015), PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction Nominee (2015), The Rooster - The Morning News Tournament of Books (2015), Women's Prize for Fiction Nominee for Longlist (2015), and National Book Award Finalist for Fiction (2014). You can see that, with the exception of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, none of these are science fiction awards and, frankly, that fits. The book is good, but it's hard to find much about it that is science fiction--well, other than the virus that wipes nearly everyone out. It feels less science fiction and most character study, with a twist of pandemic slipped in for good measure.
Which actually leads me to that caveat I mentioned earlier and why I only give Station Eleven four stars. In as much as it is good writing, there's something that isn't quite fulfilling about it for me. In as much as Mandel focuses the story around a single character--who is dead by the time the apocalypse starts--I found it difficult to know who to cheer for and, perhaps as a corollary to that, what to care about. I was never quite clear where the story was going and what the point was. It was almost like life, moving on and along in spite of tragedy's starring role. History is just one thing after another, and humans will sometimes survive, and sometimes not, will sometimes be good, and sometimes not. If there is anything that is consistent, it's that Mandel is relying on coincidence to fuel the mystery of Station Eleven to continually bring her characters together, over and over, despite all improbability, and after a certain point it seems to belie the seemingly random nature of her story. There just isn't a large enough connection for me in the things that tie her characters together over time and over space to fully suspend disbelief.
Station Eleven pulls in the reader and mystery keeps the reader close. But what remains after finishing is less clear, maybe even forgettable, and perhaps that is why for me Station Eleven is, ultimately, just a good read....more
Ansible 15715 is going to be hard to review without spoilers, but it so worth the read. Okay, let's see if we can give it a go...
If you've reWowsers.
Ansible 15715 is going to be hard to review without spoilers, but it so worth the read. Okay, let's see if we can give it a go...
If you've read Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game series, Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep, or Dan Simmons Hyperion Cantos, you've run into the concept of an ansible before. For the rest of you, an ansible is a fictional device that allows authors overcome the light speed barrier with instantaneous communication from point A to point B.
In Stant Litore's formulation, a person is merged with the power of an ansible to travel across space and, eventually, time. That journey leads to a world that is both dark and despairing, and more so because there is almost no one there to be aware of the sad imprisonment of its inhabitants, with exception of Ansible 15715.
Ansible 15715 should be classified as science fiction, but Litore reminds us why science fiction has as much in common with horror as it does with the literature of wonder. He takes in loops of darkness, creating a sense of impossible terror limited only by the bounds of human comprehension. Indeed, it is perhaps because of Lovecraftian nature of his tale that it is chilling. Compared to what we know, the horror is incomprehensible.
Ansible 15715 is the first in a series of tales, The Ansible Stories. I wanted to give it four stars, but wasn't quite satisfied enough to bump it up a notch. However, the tale was short (I read it while waiting for an appointment) and I was intrigued, so I'm game to try the sequel, Ansible 15716. ...more
V-Wars, edited by Jonathan Maberry, is a collection of stories set in the same world but written by a bevy of talented authors.
In the world Maberry cV-Wars, edited by Jonathan Maberry, is a collection of stories set in the same world but written by a bevy of talented authors.
In the world Maberry creates in V-Wars, a prehistoric virus has been released from polar ice, awakening recessive genes in the human genome. The virus triggers changes in some humans, awakening physical changes that are varied and dramatic. Before long, vampires walk among us. Some are benign; many are not.
Maberry's collection of tales does well and more credibly what X-Men (at least the movies--I'm not familiar with the comics) tries to do: it portrays a genetic mutation that changes a portion of humanity, causing ostracization, fear, violence, and, of course, government action. I've always been dubious about what the reaction to the X-Men. After all, the powers they have seem to be magical and useful. On the other hand, the mutations in V Wars result in a change that seems to drive its mutants to, well, suck blood.
That seems a bit more against the public interest than the power to start fires, freeze objects, levitate, or any of the other number of changes that Stan Lee's X-Men undergo.
Maberry does an excellent job tying the stories together with a common story that intersperses the tales. While the majority of the stories seem to take place in and around the American northeast, especially New York City, V-Wars treats readers to a semi-global perspective, with stories from the American southern border with Mexico, in the shadows of the Appalachian Mountains, and one that crisscrosses the globe, starting in Antarctica, jetting off to Romania, and stopping through France, too. Some times we read from the vampire's perspective; other times, from the humans. Maberry breaks up the stories, too, giving the collection something of novel-like feeling.
As interesting as the collection is, the stories are not all created equal, and it's part of the reason I had a hard time settling on just three stars. I wanted badly to give the book four stars--but several of the stories disappointed, even bored me.
They were few, however, and generally the stories were creative and enjoyable, if occasionally not for the faint of heart. Here are a few of my favorites:
"Stalking Anna Lei" by James A. Moore brings together legends of vampires from East Asia, as John Lei searches for his sister while navigating the dangerous world of Asian gangs amid reports of a monstrous creature that seems to be haunting his every step. Told from John's perspective, Moore has a great voice that makes his story one of the most enjoyable, and his plotting makes the final twist satisfying and unexpected.
"Vulpes" by Gregory Frost begins in Antarctica and trails Ruksana back to her home in Romania. Beware, though: when the change comes to her, the results are anything but vampiric.
Yvonne Navarro's "Epiphany" asks what happens when society's most weak go through the vampiric change, trading vulnerabilities for superhuman power. Red Moon is the orphaned daughter of Native Americans, raped, pregnant, and infected by the virus. Beset by changes she cannot explain, she finds herself on the edge of motherhood in a world that threatens to destroy her for the changes that have come over her.
V-Wars deserves a second installment. It is, in many ways, only the opening chapter in the new world that emerges as vampire and human eye each other and wonder if they will live together or in conflict. ...more
Finding an interesting, new author is a fantastic experience, like discovering a new favorite restaurant or traveling to a place you’ve never been befFinding an interesting, new author is a fantastic experience, like discovering a new favorite restaurant or traveling to a place you’ve never been before. It is full of exploration, of discovery, and the refreshing feel of something new and fresh.
Imagine, then, what it’s like to find one book with 12 interesting new authors, all at once. It’s exactly what you get with Writers of the Future Volume 29. As a collection of the fiction, it’s a cornucopia of clever tales and excellent writing, and you won’t even need to buy 12 different books to enjoy each author.
Perhaps only slightly hyperbolically, the cover says that the stories “show us who we are, what we may become, and how far we can go.” Indeed, the stories may be more imaginative than predictive, but it does nothing to diminish their ability to convey the reader away from the ordinary and to lands and worlds unbounded by time or physics. And, eschewing the cliches even as it embraces them, the stories prove that science fiction and its close cousin fantasy are just as much about people and relationships as spaceships and magic.
The Writers of the Future contest is unique among collections of short stories. Where others focus on a topic, share a single author, or even share the same imaginary world, the commonality between tales in Writers of the Future Volume 29 is in their selection by a panel of judges comprised of the who’s who of science fiction and fantasy authors and headed by Dave Wolverton. Authors submit their work to the panel and their submissions are reviewed blind.
In other words, the only commonality is the genre and the high level of writing. Only the best selections win, and it shows. Each tale is carefully crafted, from “cut to the chase” openings that thrust the reader right in the middle of the action, to heart breaking conclusions that both satisfy and leave you wanting more. In addition to the tales, the contest features art from the parallel contest for art, as well as essays on writing by L.Ron Hubbard, Dave Wolverton, and others.
One of my favorite s was “Planetary Scouts” by Stephen Sottong. In the far future, he writes, technology has taken humanity to the stars, but only to confront the harsh reality that many of the planets we might colonize are already occupied, often by forms of life not welcoming to our exploration.
Another exciting tale by Brian Trent is “Hero,” a fast paced story about a young man who must face his nemesis not once, but twice, in a revolution that sweeps the peaks of Mars.
“Dreameater” by Andrea Stewart is a clever and horrifying story about a girl coming to grip with the terrible legacy that may become her future.
And there are more. Writers of the Future Volume 29 is replete with great writing and good stories. If you want a bead on tomorrows great writers, this is the place to start reading.
Review first published as "Book Review: ‘Writers of the Future Volume 29′ edited by Dave Wolverton" on Blogcritics.org....more
I have no idea where I found Killer of Enemies. Something about the title caught my attention, I think, but by the time I had picked it up (from the lI have no idea where I found Killer of Enemies. Something about the title caught my attention, I think, but by the time I had picked it up (from the library) I had already forgotten why.
Somehow, though, I decided to read it, anyway. Despite a title that probably should have died in marketing (as one commentor already noted), the description promised a little bit of everything: dystopia, magic, Apache prophecies, monsters...
Also, it's YA. How much time commitment could it require? I'll take a gamble.
I'm glad I did.
Lozen is a seventeen year old survivor after the end of the world. Poor even before a cosmic cloud obliterated all electronics worldwide, Lozen is an Apache, a gifted hunter, and she is utilized as a tool to kill the enemies of the elites who rule on this side of the end of civilization. She is, however, not a consenting tool, and as she hunts the strange mutant monsters that roam the Earth, she is scheming and planning to free her family, held as hostages to control Lozen. Meanwhile, with the Earth held in a permanent technological dead-end, psychic powers begin to awaken in Lozen.
Let me just pause here and note that despite a pretty strange premise--not mention some concerns about the book not really knowing what it wants to be--Joseph Bruchac seems to do a great job telling a story. It starts at a run, and it never really slows down. And that makes it worth the read. It's fast, it paces well, and it's fun to read.
But it doesn't know what it is. There are mutant monsters, vampires, giant eagles, high tech electronics that are genetically integrated with humans (at least until the Cloud arrives and ends anything electronic), psychic powers, Big Foot, and old Apache myths and prophecies...
Yes. The book is all over the place. I couldn't tell if Bruchac has been watching too many horror movies or if he was trying to channel his inner Larry Correia, but aimed at a younger audience than Monster Hunter International. There's really no cohesive mythology or explanation tying it all together, though, and though there is a plausible explanation each time a new creature or plot twist pops in--whether its vampires (some plague that escaped) or Big Foot (preexisting human civilization) or psychic powers (they had been repressed during the electronic era)--in the sum, it gives me the impression that Bruchac was winging it, pulling little slips of paper out of hat to figure out what was going to be the next "miniboss" or obstacle.
But don't let that deter you from reading. It's a fun read, clean, and with good character development. Lozen is sympathetic, and it's easy to feel her emotions for her family, the Ones who control her, for the gardener boy, and her desire for freedom. If you're looking for a wild ride, The Killer of Enemies is good to go. Just don't look too closely at the scenery on your ride....more
Thomas is a blank slate. He remembers nothing but his name. Awakening in a pitch black room to the background noise of machinery and the smell of oil,Thomas is a blank slate. He remembers nothing but his name. Awakening in a pitch black room to the background noise of machinery and the smell of oil, he soon finds himself the newest in a "Lord of the Flies" like community of boys who live in what they call the "Glade" at the center of a giant maze.
Each day, when giant doors to the maze open, runners go out into the maze to explore, looking for a way back to a world that none of them remember. At night, monsters stalk the maze, hunting the boys who do not return in time.
With Thomas' arrival in the Glade, things begin to change, and when a girl arrives the next day--the first girl--things begin to look scary in earnest.
The fight to survive the maze, and to escape, is on.
I listened to The Maze Runner (Book 1) with my Better-Half on a road trip, and we are of two minds about what we thought of the book. I don't know if it's because I'm a guy and she's...not, but we both walked away from the car, and the story, with different perspectives. I really enjoyed it, and she, well, almost really enjoyed it.
Right off the bat, I was hooked by James Dashner's opening. It's rarely a good idea to start a book off with no context, but that's exactly what Dashner does, and for his story it works very well. Usually a reader wants to know within just a few paragraphs where and when they are, what's going on. Instead, all Dashner tells us on the opening pages is a name "Thomas" and an elevator (and a pitch black one at that). That's it. Even when Thomas arrives at the Glade, no one seems willing, or even able, to provide information. The questions seem to multiply even faster than the answers, and it pushes the story along from one cliffhanger to the next. I felt lucky that we were trapped in the car for a long, ten hour stretch, because I didn't want to stop listening.
If there is one critique that I might agree with my Better-Half about, it's that Dashner tends to over-describe what's going on in his characters minds. While this could be chalked up to him catering to his audience--teen boys, I think--I wonder if readers could do just as well gleaning from the contextual clues what's going on between the characters. I mean, when one guy is described as yelling with an angry look on his face, we get that he's angry. It's a small critique, though; I only noticed it because my Better-Half pointed it out.
In any respect, I enjoyed the book and the surprise ending both satisfied and whet my appetite for more. It's one of those books where I give it three and a half stars (out of five) overall, but a full five stars for plot intensity. I mean, look: I went out and bought the next book in the series at a bookstore along the route we were driving just because I knew I was going to want to read it.
The Maze Runner is a fast, intense and exciting mystery. I can't wait to find out what Dashner does with Thomas and the others from the Glade in happens next in the sequel, The Scorch Trials....more
Good science fiction does two things well: first, it blows your mind. And second, it's less about the science than it is about the story, about the chGood science fiction does two things well: first, it blows your mind. And second, it's less about the science than it is about the story, about the characters, and the conflict. In other words, it's good literature that just happens to have a scientific element...even if loosely.
Sean Ferrell's Man in the Empty Suit accomplishes both of these and accomplishes them well. The plot starts no earlier than necessary, wastes no time with excess details (including the main character's name), and plows on through to an ending which both answers, and opens, questions in the same breath.
As a work of science fiction, Man in the Empty Suit takes the route of ignoring how time travel works and focuses instead on the consequences of it. The result is a character study that is almost as interesting as the problem the character encounters: how does he solve his own death with the help of no more than clues and hints by a bunch of paranoid versions of his future self?
It's intriguing, and well executed, to boot. I have two reasons I don't like the book more, the first character related and the second more due to pacing. First, I found it difficult to sympathize with the protagonist, someone I can't quite call selfish, but neither is he admirable.
The character of the time traveler aside, the book's pacing lulls in the middle, and picks up again to a breakneck pace at the end, more than compensating for the lull. In retrospect, the slower pacing in the middle makes sense, but as I read I felt like it dragged.
Philip K Dick is one of the more influential of science-fiction writers. This graphic novelization of his story does a decent job of setting images toPhilip K Dick is one of the more influential of science-fiction writers. This graphic novelization of his story does a decent job of setting images to his words, and from all appearances uses every word (though it has been a long time since I read the story, so I'm not positive).
Dick's forte was tricking readers into examining serious questions (like, "What does it mean to be human?") while entertaining with a clever story and empathetic characters. It's one of the reasons so many of his stories have made it to the big screen (including Blade Runner and Minority Report).
On the other hand,this is really a better story than a graphic novel. There are just too many frames of people standing still, talking...and no action. This is just the first section, and I'll be looking at the subsequent installments to see how they finish out the story....more
Truth of the matter is that I want to give this book four stars, but a couple things kept me from giving it the full measure.
First, why I like it. TheTruth of the matter is that I want to give this book four stars, but a couple things kept me from giving it the full measure.
First, why I like it. The concept is intriguing and generally, I like the execution, too: every man and male animal on Earth dies in a single moment, all that is but one, the strangely named Yorick, and his male Capuchin monkey. What follows is the female dystopia as women inherit the Earth and Yorick goes underground to stay alive and find a way to save the species.
Where I struggle is with how the author writes nearly every woman in the story (and, but for Yorick, they're ALL women) to carry a hatred for every man that they ever knew, despite them all being dead and gone.
Despite the heavy handed feminism and occasional political message, it's an interesting concept, and I look forward to reading the sequels. ...more
If you're looking for something from Ayn Rand that's a tad bit shorter than "Atlas Shrugged," but can still show you her philosophy in a nutshell, "AnIf you're looking for something from Ayn Rand that's a tad bit shorter than "Atlas Shrugged," but can still show you her philosophy in a nutshell, "Anthem," her novella set in a dystopian world of the future, may be worth the effort. It didn't take me more than a sitting and a half to flip through it.
Objectivism: an extreme philosophy that is to the free market what communism is to liberalism, just in the opposite direction. Instead of glorifying collective action, it glorifies the individual, the ego, denigrating all else–love, charity, God, and any kind of shared effort or brotherhood. I’m all about independence, freedom, and self-reliance, but Rand sees no need for sacrifice, charity, or love, even when no coercion is present.
This last one, love, is perhaps the most difficult piece for her to handle, and she so clumsily. Quite ironically, he only female character, rather than typifying the EGO she emblazons on the last page of the novella, does not exist in her sole woman character, but to give and to serve her male counterpart, Equality 7-2521, our narrator and protagonist. He sees her, and finding no specific qualities but that she returns his affection (a play on the elementary school “eye game” where shy children flirt only by taking turns catching each other’s eyes). From there on, she seems only to live to serve. She gives him water when he thirsts, follows him into the Uncharted Forest when he flees the City, becomes his lover, and tells him that she loves him. In return he names her Gaea, an interesting play on the Greek goddess of the Earth who was mother to other gods and goddesses. In other words, her highest purpose, still, is only to give birth. In contrast, Equality 7-2521 renames himself Prometheus after he who stole fire from the gods and gave it to man, a play on his role in discovering, or rediscovering, electricity. We see a contrast in their roles as Prometheus represents power, gives names to himself and her, and pronounces the dawn of a new age, an age in which EGO rules, not “brotherhood” or the smothering power of “we.”
And Gaea, the once named Liberty 5-3000, will be the mother of that new empire, quite literally.
I don’t mean to denigrate the role of women in bringing children into the world. No man can fully repay the debt he owes his mother, or the mother of his children, for bringing him and future generations to this world. However, women’s purpose and gifts and abilities do not end, or begin, with child-birth.
But I digress. In any respect, Rand places the entire sum of glory on the power of the individual, with no recognition of the powers above or in the shared responsibilities we have to each other. It’s a stark world in which she lives, and I am confident that it is better we live in a world that is neither her’s nor Marx’s,her ideological opposite.
Never the less, “Anthem” is worth the read, if just for it’s thought provocation and the warning that it gives to the results of too much institutional control and too little individual opportunity for growth.
**spoiler alert** I enjoyed Collin's second book in this series. The story is creative, suspenseful, and surprising. Her view of the future is almost**spoiler alert** I enjoyed Collin's second book in this series. The story is creative, suspenseful, and surprising. Her view of the future is almost plausible, and with a little suspension of disbelief, I had a good time reading it.
I have only a few critiques. First, I had a hard time getting into the story. Once I did, I could lose myself in it, but for a long time I felt like I had to keep reminding myself to pick it out of the stack of books by my bed. Second, Katniss, the protagonist, is at times completely implausible as a character. Despite her role as the trigger/figurehead for the entire revolt, she never seems to clue in on what's going on around her. As good as she is with a bow, she never gets the clues which seem to be obvious to the reader. While I think it helps the story and creates a great impact for the ending, it makes her look almost dumb. Literally everyone else seems to be a part of the conspiracy, but Katniss comes across as oblivious, a pawn in the hands of the rebels. Last, the level of detail and the speed with which Collins brushes over whole periods of the plot left me wishing for more. I had to remind myself the age group the book was written for, and I think with that understanding the story is more enjoyable than otherwise.
One of the characters that i did find plausible was Haymitch, the drunken old mentor. Perhaps it's because the reader never gets close enough to really examine him, or maybe he fits the role with just enough obfuscation, but I found him to be the most plausible facet of the conspiracy.