Category Archives: Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Reading

This week I finished Abaddon’s Gate, the third novel in James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series. This series just keeps getting better and better. Based on my past reading experiences, it’s kind of amazing to me that a space opera that doesn’t even have FTL can be so interesting and exciting. There are space ships and plenty of explosions and shooting for those who like that sort of thing and I do but what really impresses me is the real depth of the characters’ personalities.

And of course the writing itself is fantastic. I want to say it’s very intelligent. Here are two quotes that I particularly liked. These are just one page apart from one another.

If humanity were capable of being satisfied, then they’d all still be living in trees and eating bugs out of one another’s fur.

“Heroism is a label most people get for doing shit they’d never do if they were really thinking about it.”

Tempting as it is to binge on the whole series (six books total, I think) I am going to stick to my plan to take a break from it and read something completely different, a novel set in the real world but a part of it that is so far from the part that I’m familiar with that it might as well be another planet. That’s the greatest thing about books – they can take you anywhere, anytime.

The Book Was Better

We finished watching the SyFy series The Expanse, based on the books by James S.A. Corey. I had read Leviathan Wakes, the first book in the series a couple of years ago. In the middle of watching the series I decided to read the book again. At first this seemed like it might have been not such a good idea. The TV show doesn’t follow the book exactly and it was a little confusing to try to keep up with both at the same time but after a while I started to think of the show and the book as two different things. And I enjoyed both. Don’t be fooled by the title; it’s at least partially tongue-in-cheek. Of course books are almost always better but the series was excellent and I’m looking forward to next season.

After reading Leviathan Wakes I ordered the next two books in the series. Caliban’s War continues to follow the adventures of James Holden and crew. Holden is a really good guy who manages to annoy almost everyone in the solar system including some powerful people. The alien bio-weapon that caused so much grief in the first book is still around and evolving. And a bunch of new characters are introduced. It was a great read and I think I might have liked it better than the first book but I’m not entirely sure about that.

I just started the 3rd book in the series, Abaddon’s Gate, a couple of days ago. Thanks to these books I’m getting hardly anything done that I need to do or want to do, including taking time to write a decent review.

Discovering Simak

Last month one of the Kindle monthly specials was Way Station by Clifford D. Simak. I loved this book about a former Civil War soldier who hasn’t aged in 100 years and runs a secret way station, located in a remote rural area on Earth, for interstellar travelers. Not only is it an interesting story, it is beautifully written. The Wikipedia page says that his work is ” usually described as gentle and pastoral.” I would say that this is a perfect description. It’s very different from most of the science fiction I read and I like it. Not necessarily “better”; I just like variety.

And I can’t resist one brief quote from the story. (Deciding which one was difficult.)

“…it don’t matter much what any of us are, just so we get along with one another. If some of the nations would only take a lesson from some small neighborhood like ours – a lesson in how to get along – the world would be a whole lot better.”

I’m definitely going to look for more Simak.

Oh Yeah… That Book

If anyone out there is actually paying attention and hanging on my every word (which I doubt) you might remember that a while back I mentioned a book I wanted to post something about and wonder why I haven’t yet. Well, that was, or at least seems like, quite some time ago and I have moved on and really don’t want to go back to it but since I did mention it…

The book was Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany. Do you ever quit reading a book in the middle? I used to never do that. It feels like giving up and I have read books that didn’t get really good until a third of the way or even halfway into the book. But more recently I have started to think that there are too many books out there to waste time on one that I’m not enjoying. And yet, I still find it really hard to quit. Dhalgren is long, weird, and gross and I thought about quitting many times, even when I was 80% of the way through it but I didn’t. I read the whole damned thing.

Why? Because even though it was weird and gross it was just interesting enough that I wanted to keep going to see what happened next and to see a couple of little mysteries solved but in the end (SPOILER ALERT) nothing was resolved. No mysteries solved, no questions answered. Nothing. It just ended. And yet, I still don’t feel like it was a complete waste of time. Or maybe I’m just telling myself that.

The setting is a mostly abandoned city where a few hundred people still live, in a sort of hippie or hoodlum existence, spending their time looting, fornicating, and sometimes having deep, philosophical conversations. There were a few lines that I’m sort of glad I didn’t miss even though I’m not sure it was worth reading the whole book to get these little tidbits of wisdom.

The strange machinery by which a reputation precedes its source we all know is faulty. Yet how much faith we put in it!

* * *

Never condemn a man in the living room for any indiscretion he has put on paper.

* * *

If people are busy living out myths you don’t like, leave them to it.

* * *

The problem isn’t to learn to love humanity, but to learn to love those members of it who happen to be at hand.

So was it worth reading the whole book to get a few good quotes? I still don’t know. But anyway, maybe it’s good to read an awful book once in a while. (not too often; maybe once every 10 years or so) Why? I don’t know that either but it just feels true somehow.

Thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I’m going to talk about Star Wars, as you might have guessed from the title. First of all, I loved it! I do not intend to post any huge spoilers but I’m going to do an extended entry for this, or at least I’m going to try to. I’ve never done one before so if you don’t want to read anything about the new Star Wars movie stop reading now.

Continue reading

Living in the Future

It seems a lot of people are excited about today being Back to the Future Day. It is cool that a specific date, not just a year, in science fiction has arrived in real life, but, to be honest, I have never been a huge fan of the Back to the Future movies and don’t remember them in much detail. I’m not even sure I saw BTTF II. Now I do definitely want to see it.

I wish I did remember the movies well, and that I was a fan, so I could feel like I’m in on the fun. It is a very cool day and cool to be here, in “the future.” Aside from these silly movies, I actually do feel like I’m living in the future every day. Computers, smartphones, e-book readers, the Internet, GPS, and yes, even flat screen TVs – these are all things from science fiction and here they are right now, a part of our everyday lives.

There are things that are not so great about this future, mainly that so few people appreciate what we have and so many people make it their life’s mission to try to make everyone feel either guilty or afraid all the time. Sometimes, I swear, I just want to slap some people! (I don’t ever slap people for real. If I did they would just laugh. Not much power in these noodle arms.) I want to send some people to their rooms and tell them not to come out until they learn to stop bothering people about nonsense. There’s a lot more, of course. I could go on and on but I’m not going to, at least not today.

It’s the future, people, and it’s fantastic. Stop rushing around and worrying and just enjoy it.

Reading

Partial Spoiler, Vessel by Andrew J. Morgan

First of all, I want to say that Vessel is a very good story – interesting, original, fast paced, good character development. A mysterious object appears near the International Space Station. The astronauts on board are unable to transmit any pictures or video of the object and eventually communications are cut off completely, then the astronauts begin to suffer mental breakdowns. Meanwhile on the ground, a journalist tries to find out what the government is covering up.

My only complaint about the book – and it’s a big one – is the ending. To be honest, I suppose it’s not a bad ending; it’s just not the kind of ending I like. The big question is never answered.

Books

I just finished reading Neal Asher’s Owner trilogy: Zero Point, The Departure, and Jupiter War. I have mentioned before that Asher’s novels are weird, extremely violent, and have an extraordinarily high body count but they’re fun, which might make you wonder what kind of person I am to enjoy them but don’t worry, I wonder that myself sometimes so I’m probably okay.

The Owner trilogy is set in a different universe from Asher’s popular Polity series of novels. In this trilogy a future Earth is ruled by a ruthless, corrupt, and inhumane “Committee”. Brilliant scientist Alan Saul is in a crate on his way to the incinerators after having been tortured to the point where he barely remembers who he is. He is rescued by an AI that merges with his mind, thanks to some experimental hardware installed in his brain, and manages to escape, leave Earth, take over a large space station, and kill most of the Committee. He then begins converting the space station into a starship. Meanwhile one of the few surviving Committee members, a psychotic woman who makes Hitler look like a boy scout, takes over as dictator of Earth.

At first I thought I wasn’t going to like this story but I quickly got into it. It’s really a very interesting and complex story with well developed characters. If you lean “Green” politically you will likely be offended, as Earth’s psychotic dictator is clearly a parody of Green politics. She loves the Earth and wants to restore it to its natural state and people are just in the way. On the other hand if you have Libertarian sympathies you will love it. Me? I tend not to care much about the author’s politics as long as it’s a good story and this one definitely is.

I recently bought my own copy of Brass Man. I had read a borrowed copy of it before but I wanted my own. I am thrilled, by the way, that it is what Amazon calls a “mass market paperback,” what I call a standard paperback, which, tragically, seems to be a rapidly disappearing breed. I hate those heavy, oversize paperbacks. I have actually had to start wearing a wrist brace because of them.

Anyway, I was going to start reading Brass Man but the husband is almost finished with the book he’s reading so I thought I’d let him read it first if he wants, since I’ve read it before. Instead I started Vessel by Andrew Morgan, a book I found in the Kindle specials a month or two back. So far, two chapters in, I’m not really excited about it yet but it’s looking like it could be interesting. Sometimes it takes a while to orient oneself when going from one universe to another.

Rules? What Rules?

Frankly, I was a little surprised by this list of 10 “Rules” We Wish More Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Would Break because I read science fiction all the time that does not follow these rules. I guess I’m just reading the right books. But let’s go through them anyway, just for fun.

1. No third-person omniscient – I don’t have a very strong preference among third person, omniscient or limited, or first person. Each can be a good way of telling a story, but I do enjoy when the author gives me a look inside all the characters heads so I suppose I have a slight preference for third person omniscient.

2. No prologues – Seriously? No prologues? I like prologues. But having no prologue is fine too. Sometimes a story needs one and sometimes it doesn’t.

3. Avoid infodumps – It depends. I actually like straight infodumps that are not too long, no more than two or three pages. I dislike excessively technical infodumps and I hate awkward, contrived infodumps – the kind where the author tries to fit it into the story by having one of the characters explain things in a pages long lecture or presenting it as conversation between characters in a way that seems unrealistic that the characters would be having this kind of conversation.

4. Fantasy novels have to be series instead of standalones – I am always reluctant to start reading a series of more than three books. Any number of standalone novels set in the same universe and with the same characters is okay and trilogies are awesome but I hate those long series that go on and on with each book ending in a cliffhanger. They make me feel trapped.

5. No portal fantasy – I don’t read a lot of fantasy so I don’t really have a strong opinion about this but I think portals are okay. If the story needs a portal then it needs a portal. What’s the problem?

6. No FTL – Oh, yes! I’ve heard this “rule” and I hate it. I don’t care if the science works for someone who has a PhD in physics. I don’t have a degree in physics or any other science so just tell me a freaking story and make it good.

7. Women can’t write “hard” science fiction – I am a woman. I am not a feminist. I am not particularly offended when someone points out the differences between men and women, but this just seems silly to me. We’re talking about writing here, not weightlifting. Of course women can write any kind of fiction they like.

8. Magic has to be just a minor part of a fantasy world – Again, not really much of a fantasy reader, especially of the traditional magic and wizards and hero’s quest sort of fantasy but if your book is all about a magical world then, sure, fill it with as much magic as you like.

9. No present tense – I think I have read just one book written in the present tense, which felt odd, and therefore annoying, until I got into it, which took some time. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what book it was, which is also annoying but, unfortunately, not all that odd for me.

10. No “unsympathetic” characters – This is the strangest “rule” on the list and I’m not even sure what it means. Certainly the villain can be “unsympathetic”. I do hate when there’s no one in the story that I can identify with so please don’t make all of the characters unsympathetic.

The Kiss

This article about Nichelle Nichols has details about that famous First Interracial Kiss that I had not known before. NBC had wanted them to re-shoot the scene without the kiss but the two actors, bless them, kept “messing up”. I also did not know that several states in the south did not show Star Trek because they couldn’t stand the idea of a black woman being anything but a maid.

I was nine or ten years old at the time and certainly aware of what was going on in the world – civil rights marches, protests, riots – and most of the people I knew were racist, to some degree, but I thought nothing of this ground-breaking scene and didn’t realize that anyone had an issue with it. It was just science fiction after all, not reality. And things would be different in the future. With Americans and Russians and a green-blooded alien all working together in harmony, a silly little kiss that wasn’t even by choice of the two characters was not a big deal.

Plato’s Stepchildren was never one of my favorite episodes. I preferred the episodes in which most or all of the action took place on board the Enterprise. Besides, those telekinetic little bastards were seriously annoying.

Finally Getting Around to Scalzi

It has been in my mind for years that I want to read something by John Scalzi. I used to read his blog occasionally. As to why only “occasionally” and why “used to” I have no idea other than the fact that there are just too many blogs. Perhaps someday I will try to analyze the reasons why I read or don’t read particular blogs. Anyway, I also don’t know why I never got around to reading one of his books other than the fact that there are so many good books, but recently I saw Agent to the Stars in the Kindle $3.99 or less books (either that or my Recommendations; I can’t remember which) and I thought it would be a good opportunity to finally read Scalzi.

Agent to the Stars is different, weird, and amusing. Not what I generally consider “my thing” but I’m glad I read it. It was a fun little diversion and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys humorous science fiction. I was a little surprised when I got to the end and read the author’s afterword and found that this was what he considered a “practice novel”. How appropriate that the first book I read by John Scalzi was the first one he wrote. I will definitely read more. Any suggestions as to where I should go next?

Lots of Books

Oh, it’s been such a long time since I blogged about what I’m reading so I’ll just do one massive (or maybe not so massive) post about the last five or six. I feel that I’m not very good at reviewing books so I procrastinate.

I did mention A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. Bryson is one of my favorite non-fiction authors. In this book “everything” means the universe in general and the history of scientific discovery. A large portion of it is devoted to the mostly unknown discoverers of things that were later discovered by the more famous scientists we have all heard of. The history of scientific discovery is not as neat as we were taught in school. It is much messier and more interesting.

I have read the first four books in the Scrapyard Ship series by Mark Wayne McGuinnis. These books were a fun read – an old-fashioned space adventure that starts, of all places, in a scrapyard where the protagonist, Jason Reynolds, finds a small alien sneaking around who leads him to a space ship that has been hidden underground for many years. Soon after this he is captain of a ship and in a fight to save Earth and other planets from invasion by an alien species that has already conquered a number of worlds.

I’ll be honest, by the time I got to the 4th book in the series I was getting a little burned out and almost quit in the middle. I did finish it but I decided to take a break before I finish the rest of the series, which continues from book to book. But it is good and I will read the remaining books.

Next, I read something completely different, Running for My Life: One Lost Boy’s Journey From the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games. It is the story of Lopez Lomong who was kidnapped by rebels in Sudan when he was six years old, escaped and ran to a refugee camp in Kenya with three older boys, and eventually came to the United States, became a citizen and ran in the Olympic Games. It is an amazing story and is well worth reading. Part of the profits from the book go to Lomong’s charitable foundation which provides clean water, medicine, and education to villages in South Sudan.

Currently, I am about halfway through a book by John Scalzi, my first by this author and it is great fun. More about this later. I’ll try not to wait six months before I blog about books again.

Summer TV

These are a few of the shows I’ve been watching lately.

Non-Fiction

Of course I’m still watching Mythbusters. Cari, Grant, and Tory, whose segments were my favorite part of the show, are gone and the show is really not the same without them but it’s still interesting.

I often, but not really regularly, watch Mysteries at the Museum. Very interesting short histories surrounding objects in museums. It’s on the Travel Channel.

Reality (or something remotely resembling it)

I generally do not watch competition/elimination type “reality” shows but Number Two Son started watching Face Off (SyFy) and got me hooked too. The contestants are special effects make-up artists, creating various kinds of original creatures, employing live models. All of the contestants have at least some experience doing this kind of make-up, though not in Hollywood. Who gets eliminated is decided by a panel of professional Hollywood make-up artists. The winner gets a job, as well as some other prizes. The thing I really appreciate about this show, compared to others of its type is the lack of interpersonal drama. Even though they are in competition with each other, the contestants are always friendly and sometimes even help the people they are competing against. In past seasons there have been a few contestants who were rather too whiny for my taste but there’s none of the sniping and cattiness you see on some of these types of shows and, at the end, I always feel like the person who won really deserved to win. I have never been disappointed.

I suppose I could have put Cuban Chrome in my “Non-Fiction” category but I think of it as a reality show along the lines of Swamp People, Mountain Men or Ice Road Truckers. We’ve all heard of the classic American cars in Cuba. This show is about mechanics who try to keep them going in spite of a lack of parts. We have only watched one episode so far. I found it interesting and I will watch at least a few more episodes but I’m not sure if we will keep watching long term or not.

Police or Detective Shows

Criminal Minds will be starting its eleventh season this fall but we have only been watching it for the last four or five seasons and, of those, we have missed up to half a season some years because of scheduling conflicts. (Even with DVR you can’t watch everything.) Several networks now show re-runs of it several nights a week so we have been watching a lot of Criminal Minds. I love this show. Considering that the crimes you see on it are of the creepiest and most disturbing kind, I can’t help wondering, just a little bit, if there’s something wrong with me for being so attracted to such a show, but what I really like about it are the characters and seeing them figure out the who and the why. I have to confess that at least 50% of the reason I watch is to see what Garcia will be wearing and the things she will say.

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit is another show that is re-run a lot. We started watching it this summer because, “There’s nothing else on; let’s try this.” So far I can take or leave it. It’s okay but I’m not a huge fan.

We started watching The Mentalist for the same reason: nothing else on; let’s try it. I have only watched three or four episodes but so far I am liking this one. The main character is cute and funny in a “no way would I put up with that in real life” way and the stories are interesting if not exactly plausible.

I have watched even less of the The Closer – two episodes, maybe three. Something about the main character grates on me a little bit but overall it’s not bad.

Science Fiction

And now, finally, we get to the best stuff on TV!

A couple of weeks ago there was a mini-marathon (four episodes) of Humans so I thought it might be a good opportunity to start watching it. It took me no time at all to get totally into it. In this near future or alternate present show people can buy realistically human-looking androids (called synths) to do housework and such. The problem with this is that a few of these synths are self-aware. One is murdering humans and the others just want to be free and to avoid being recycled. There is a poignant side plot about an old man who has an old, worn out and defective synth (not one of the self-aware ones) that he is trying to protect from mandatory recycling because it contains many of his memories and helps him to remember his past.

Zoo – Just started watching this one two weeks ago. Interesting so far. None of the characters have really clicked for me yet and that’s a pretty big deal to me but I’ll give it time because, as I said, it is interesting.

We have been watching Under the Dome since its beginning. I think it’s in its third season? Very interesting and realistic characters, intriguing story, complex but not so crazy complicated that it’s difficult to follow. Marg Helgenberger, formerly of CSI, has joined the cast this season and I’m liking her much better as the alien bitch than I ever liked her part in CSI.

This will come as no surprise, since I’ve mentioned it several times recently but my absolute favorite show on TV right now, and possibly number two favorite of all time, second only to Firefly, is Defiance.* I LOVE this show! It has fascinating characters and an extremely interesting long-term story arc. About 20 years (?) before the time the series begins aliens invaded and devastated Earth. Now (mid-21st century) humans share Earth with eight alien races in a very uneasy peace. Defiance is a town built in the ruins of St. Louis. If you haven’t seen this show before, start watching at the beginning and give it plenty of time. I didn’t really start to get into it until late in the first season.

*Actually, I feel a little guilty for not saying it’s third after Star Trek because I’ve loved ST for so long, and still do, but this is really a great show.

How Did We Ever Watch TV Without IMBd.com?

Last night we were watching re-runs of The Mentalist. (a series we just recently started watching) I saw a face I recognized so, as I normally do in such situations I went to IMBd on my smartphone. Turned out, the familiar face belonged to Jamie Murray, who plays Stahma Tarr in Defiance. Ah ha! That would explain my failure to immediately realize in what other show I had seen her. Sci-fi make up is always a good excuse for not recognizing someone on TV.

But wait! I kept scrolling to see what else she had been in and I saw it: Warehouse 13, H.G. Wells. (If you don’t understand an actress playing H.G. Wells, then you’re perfectly normal and probably not a science fiction fan.) How could I have not realized that this is the same actress? Frankly, it’s a little bit disturbing.

Of the two roles I much prefer Stahma. I never really liked the “H.G. Wells” character. I didn’t greatly dislike her either but I always sort of groaned a little bit when I realized she was going to be in an episode. I was annoyed with the “H.G. Wells was really a woman,” thing but I think the main thing that turned me off was that they always turned up the drama in the episodes she was in. I always thought of Warehouse 13 as a silly, fun show. The attempts to turn it into a serious drama never worked for me.

I love Defiance and Stahma Tarr is quite an interesting character. Extremely entertaining. I am constantly wondering what she’s going to do next and it’s great fun finding out. Murray plays her brilliantly.

Laziness and a New Obsession

Yesterday was a total waste of time, which is exactly what was great about it. We watched Top Gear (BBC America) for a little while and I thought I might get bored with it after a while and go do something else. I did go out to get milk and bread because we were completely out of the former and almost out of the latter. Came back and Number Two Son was watching The Fifth Element (still BBC A) which we’ve seen at least twice before but I sat down and watched the rest of it anyway because it’s fun. After that there were three (or was it four) episodes of Humans, (still BBC A) which I had not seen before so we watched all of those, and later the new episode on AMC, and now we’re hooked.

Humans is about an alternate present in which there are android servants. (called “synths”) They perform household tasks and can respond when spoken to but they are not sentient. Except, at least some of them are. A human and one of the sentient synths are trying to find two of their synth companions who have been kidnapped. One was bought by a family and the other by a bordello. The latter has escaped and is killing humans. There is a touching sub-plot about an elderly scientist who has a defective android that he loves and is trying to protect from the company that wants to take and recycle it.

So… a lazy Sunday and a new science fiction obsession. Life can’t get much better.

Reading

Yay! Back to space opera for a while! I very much enjoyed Starhold by J. Alan Field. There is a brief description of what the story is about at that link so I will just say that this book has well-developed characters, adventure, mystery, space battles, political intrigue, and a touch of romance – everything I expect in good space opera. I am looking forward to the next book in this series.

(Sorry for such a short post. I guess I’m just not into this whole blogging thing right now.)

All About That Base

So, have you had enough of All About That Bass to last you for the rest of your life? Well, too bad because here’s one more version that you absolutely, positively MUST listen to. I didn’t see it in time for May the Fouth (be with you) but I don’t care. Star Wars isn’t just a one day a year thing.

Thanks