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review 2017-06-10 07:38
Complex Patterning: "Alfred Bester" by Jad Smith
Alfred Bester (Modern Masters of Science Fiction) - Jad Smith

“These stories not only show Bester’s writable approach in the making but also reveal that his aesthetic had its roots in bricolage, or the practice of drawing on heterogeneous sources and writing styles to create unexpected narrative tensions and unities. Bricolage works by a logic of excess and encompasses more local strategies such as extra-coding, pastiche, intertextuality, and allusion. By definition, it re-orders reading protocols, requiring the reader to switch codes and synthetize incongruities.”

 

In “Alfred Bester” by Jad Smith

 

 

Alfred Bester was the first postmodernist SF writer. I won’t dwell on it again. If you’re interested, you can find additional information here.

 

I haven't been an adolescent for quite some time, but I still remember sitting in stone stairs in the side yard of my mother’s rural home in Alfaiates. I had just seen Star Wars and so my eyes were devouring a twilight sky waiting for the stars and planets to appear. This was my gateway to the imagination. In my unsophisticated mind, once so consumed by simple mysteries written by adults about girls not much older than myself, something unfurled. I began to see a world so much bigger than my own, and not just the universe laid open before me. SF made me think beyond myself, perhaps for the first time, and I became alive with ideas, possibilities. In this world, I could spiral deep into my own psyche or travel out to infinity. It was a spark of light in the night and I followed it.

 

 

If you're into literary criticism of the SF kind, read on.

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review 2016-07-04 20:21
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Liu, Ken (March 8, 2016) Hardcover - Ken Liu

This is my first adventure in Ken Liu’s works and it does not disappoint! Liu really shows off his diversity in this collection. From historical fiction to fantasy to science fiction to murder mystery to contemporary literature – Liu does it all well.

Below is my summary and thoughts on each story. I do my best to avoid spoilers. Most of the stories have a pretty serious ending, though there are few that use humor here and there. This is a thought provoking collection of stories. Several cultures are represented and many of the stories carry culture clash themes.

“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary”

Evan and his wife Ming Ping discover an atomic particle that lets humans view a snapshot of history. As their discovery is put into use, lots and lots of questions are raised. The initial focus is given to an atrocity carried out by a Japanese experimental science group (Unit 731) during WWII. This story was chilling and thought provoking. Should the past be laid to rest so that future generations can move forward? Or should we bear witness to every atrocity of the past, keeping them close in memory? 5/5

“Mono No Aware”

Hiroto lives on a space ship, the Hopeful. The story moves back and forth in time as our main character has flash backs to his time as a kid. His family packed up and went with all their neighbors to a tent city awaiting to board a space ship. However, not enough were available. Yet kid Hiroto gets a seat on an American space ship that launches in time to avoid the asteroids that slam into Earth. His past weighs heavily on him as he makes decisions in the present. While this story was interesting, it didn’t hit me as hard as several of the others. 4/5

“The Waves”

Earth has become polluted and the Sea Foam carries humanity outward to another habitable planet. In Earth’s last transmission to the ship, they send the specs on how to build a microscopic virus that allows one to become immortal. The ship occupants decide to let each person decide for themselves. However, because of how things are on the ship, for every immortal, there must be someone who chooses to age and die. Since the ship is traveling for generations, this was common sense. Maggie is the main character we follow through the story. When Sea Foam does arrive at their destination, there’s a surprise waiting for them and folks have yet another choice to make. There were several creation myths woven into the story quite cleverly, bringing up the question of whether they could be true. 5/5

“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”

This story explores the vast ways the peoples of the universe write and read books. Some use a proboscis to both write and read books, like a record player. Some do so through scents and flavors. Another species are large strung out wisps that float through the universe reading planets and black holes. There’s a few others, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. This story was a big info dump, but a very interesting info dump, like an encyclopedia entry. I really enjoyed this one! 5/5

“All the Flavors”

Set in the gold rush era of 1860s in Idaho, Lily Seaver and her dad Jack make friends with the local Chinamen. Lao Guan (or Logan to his American friends) tells Lily Chinese stories of Guan Yu, a glorified or perhaps mystical warrior of old. However, the Chinamen butt heads with some locals, Obie and Crick. Eventually, Obie brings charges against Logan. I really thought I would enjoy this story more, as I typically like Old West tales. I found the pace slow and my mind kept wandering.  3/5

“The Litigation Master and the Monkey King”

The litigator Tian is considered lazy but when a widow comes to him for aid, he stands up for her at the local court. He succeeds only to have the widow come to him again for assistance on another matter. The entire time he chats away with the Monkey King in his head. The story starts off a little comical as Tian was dreaming of enjoying a big feast with the Monkey King. Then the story gets serious and then it gets a little brutal. Still, I liked it. Tian has some idea of what his good deed will cost him and even though he has a quick tongue and a quicker wit, he doesn’t make it out of this story unscathed. 5/5

“The Paper Menagerie” 

Jack’s mom is a mail order Chinese bride and his dad is American. Jack has to muddle through growing up with all the comments from neighbors and friends about mail order brides. His mom is a paper artist, making him origami animals to play with. As a small kid, he adores these animals. But as he ages, the insults start getting to him. He packs away his animals and demands real toys. He wants American meals and for his mom to speak good English. He starts ignoring her and is ashamed of her and doesn’t want to look anything like her. The story was rather sad but poignant. I think anyone who has struggled with cultural identity can relate to this story, no matter what your heritage is. 5/5

“State Change”

Rina was born with an ice cube for a soul. Her college friend Amy has a pack of cigarettes for a soul. Each character has their soul manifested as an object that must be protected. Rina lives in constant fear that her cube will melt and her soul will be no more and her heart will cease to beat. Going out for anything requires a thermos and a freezer at the destination, which limits her socializing. It was a fun little piece though a bit slow moving.  4/5

“The Perfect Match”

The AI Tilly and the Centillian Corporation control info. They are in nearly everyone’s house via their electronics, monitoring all their wants and needs. Tilly is helpful in making suggestions and in offering up directions and coupons and even playing match maker. However, a small group of people (including Jenny), believe this kind of data gathering to be wrong. Tilly is so pervasive in Sai’s life, he no longer knows if what he wants is truly what he wants. This story held my attention throughout and was a bit relevant to today’s arguments on government monitoring of phone and internet. 5/5

“Good Hunting”

Liang and his father are demon hunters and they start this story off hot on the trail of two hulijing. Yan and her mother can shape shift into foxes. Liang corners Yan but then lets her go, continuing to meet in secret a few times a year. As the railroad progresses into their area, magic begins to fade out. Liang and Yan each have to find a way to reshape themselves or fade away. The story was a bit haunting, a little sad, but with hope at the end. 5/5

“Literomancer”

Lilly Dyer is going to school in Taiwan during the Communist craze. She and her dad are from Texas but she’s constantly teased at school for her Chinese lunches. One day she meets Mr. Kan and his adopted grandson Teddy. Mr. Kan has a bit of magic – literomancy – which means he can tell fortunes from words looking at the hidden meanings in the characters. Lilly inadvertently gets Mr. Kan and teddy into trouble when she shares some innocent stories with her parents over dinner. I did not see that ending coming! It was a sweet story about building friendships despite vast cultural differences and then it ended so harshly. 4/5

“Simulacrum”

This story is told in 3 voices, like written letters. Paul and Erin were traveling a lot for work but then had Anna Larimore, their accident baby. When Anna is a teen, she catches her dad at home having sex with his 4 simulacrum of his past infidelities. Paul helped create the simulacrum and he didn’t see any difference between them and other virtual tech. Anna becomes estranged from him and eventually her mother leaves her a message about how one weak moment shouldn’t define a person for the entirety of their life. It was an interesting story but a bit short. I felt more could have been done with the simulacrum and how their wide-spread use has affected society. 3/5

“The Regular”

The Watcher has killed yet another prostitute in the Boston area. This time, the prostitute’s mom, Sarah Ding, hires PI Ruth Law to find the killer. Ruth used to be law enforcement, but then tragedy struck and she went into the private sector. She has various enhancements, as many folks do in the story. Some strengthen her grip or give her muscles speed. She also has a regulator, which controls her adrenaline spikes and suppresses her sorrow. This was a pretty good murder mystery. Additionally, I like all the tech. I ached for Ruth and her loss and her inability to cope, relying heavily on her regulator to block out emotions. 5/5

“An Advanced Reader’s Picture Book of Comparative Cognition”

This tale starts off talking about aliens who can join together, experiencing each other’s dreams, fears, hopes, memories, feelings, etc., but when they separate, they are basically copies of one another. The story is a bit rambly, kind of broken up, and makes large leaps. There is this bit about a couple and their child, but it doesn’t really anchor the story. There’s lots of talk about what is love and such. This tale didn’t really work for me. 2/5

“A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel”

In this little bit of alternate history, a great tunnel was built in the early 1900s connecting US pacific coast with Japan and China. The story follows a now old, retired tunnel worker Charlie, and Betty, an American woman with grown children (who are off doing their thing). The story flashes back and forth between their blossoming relationship and his memories of digging the tunnel. He has nightmares sometimes about the things he had to do while building the great tunnel. This story made me think of some of the early construction in the US, such as the Hoover dam and some of the big New York buildings. There’s a human cost to such success.  5/5

I received a copy at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration:  Corey Brill did a fine job with all the Japanese words and accents. For some stories, only a few character voices were required but each was distinct. Joy Osmanski also did a nice job. When there were only a few character voices required, I could easily tell the difference between them. Although when singing the Irish wake song, her voice lacked masculinity (in “All the Flavors”). for “Simulacrum”, the two narrators tag teamed it, which was well done.

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review 2016-07-04 19:52
Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman
Seedfolks - Paul Fleischman,Judy Pedersen

Set in Cleveland, Ohio, a vacant, trashed lot is slowly transformed into a community garden. It starts with one young girl, Kim, planting lima beans to remember her dead father. Then an old Romanian lady, Ana, snooping from her apartment window with binoculars, discovers her little secret and decides to add to it. One by one, 13 people are drawn in to the garden and a sense of community is formed for the neighborhood.

This is a great little gem of a book and not very long, which makes it great for folks to pick up and enjoy in an afternoon. I really liked that the story showed how people, one by one, were drawn into the garden and their various reasons for sticking with it. Some truly enjoy gardening. Some want to grow produce to sell. Others are trying to impress some folks. It was very interesting to see how so many people from different walks of life were drawn into this community garden.

The book shows quite a bit of diversity and doesn’t shy away from having various characters comment on it. Sometimes the characters even have the ethnicity of another character wrong, and that shows how ignorance can keep a community divided up. Yet as the garden grows, these barriers start to break down and people get to know one another better.

The garden doesn’t just affect those people gardening. Other folks join in by strolling by and chatting with the gardeners, or simply enjoying the view of the garden through a window. There’s a social services nurse that comes by a few times a week and takes her charge down to the garden for his enjoyment. Another lady gets the city to come by and remove the piled up trash that used to be part of the derelict lot. The garden brings the community together in many ways. Indeed, this is a little feel-good book.

I won a copy of this book from Blackstone Audio with no obligation for a review.

The Narration:  The audio production for this book was great. There was a full cast of narrators to carry out this book. Of course, I loved Barbara Rosenblat’s performance of the grumpy, suspicious Romanian Ana. Hue Edwards did a great job as young Kim with the lima beans, who kicked off the entire community garden thing. Stephanie Diaz was great as a sassy, snotty pregnant teen. Earl Alexander made a great young stud trying to impress the love of his life by growing tomatoes. Michelle Blackman made a very practical Leona. I really liked Nicholas Luksic’s performance as young Gonzalo who learned so much from his grandfather about plants. 

Characters and their narrators (please note I couldn’t find a list anywhere and so I listened to the end of the second disc – I apologize for any name misspellings): Sae Young (performed by Sunni Hit), Kim (performed by Hue Edwards), Ana (performed by Barbara Rosenblat), Sam (performed by Michael Rafkin), Maricela (performed by Stephanie Diaz), Curtis (performed by Earl Alexander), Nora (performed by Sandra Squire), Gonzalo (performed by Nicholas Luksic), Amir (performed by Norian Ahrash), Wendell (performed by Robert Hit), Virgil (performed by Russ Lamore), Florence (performed by Michelle Blackman), and Leona (performed by Michelle Blackman).

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review 2015-10-03 17:45
A mystery worth revealing
The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith

J.K Rowling isn’t an author I’d say I adore. I did, like most people my age, adore Harry Potter growing up, and the novels did play a large part in my childhood. Appropriately, The Deathly Hallows was published the summer before I left for university; so while I do have a place in my heart for Rowling’s writing, I would never add her to my top ten list.

 

I also deeply disliked The Casual Vacancy, so hadn’t considered trying Cuckoo’s Calling, until two people I trust recommended it to me. Combined with seeing it on sale for £2.50, I decided to give it a go. And it’s more than worth it.

 

Characters are her forte. Everyone in this novel is incredibly well-rounded and visual. You don’t necessarily like anyone in this story; Strike being too brash yet easily manipulated, Robin too stuck in her routines and overly excitable. But they are human, and I found myself connecting to their story because their actions seemed plausible.

 

The story is intriguing, and grips you from the start. I wanted to know what happened to Lula, and the reveal was well done. I only guessed who her killer was just before the end, and even then I couldn’t tell you exactly how it was done. She’s an excellent crime writer, it must be said.

 

The second in this series will soon be bought!

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review 2015-09-07 22:32
Good plot, but not my type of story
Dreams and Shadows - C. Robert Cargill

I am torn about this novel. I liked the idea behind it; the folklore plot is always a favourite of mine. This is a dark twist on the often overdone plot line. There’s a lot of the violence and nasty side of the fae, which is often glanced over in well-known stories. I don’t think there are actually any fairy folk in the novel who have nice sides. Most are evil, or will bring humans to a sticky end; whether they mean to or not. I liked this nod to the traditional folklore.

 

I also liked how the children were represented. Both Ewan and Colby were taken, in one way or another, from their normal childhood and brought to the fairy realm. Both suffer greatly as adults. Instead of the story ending with them returning happy or enlightened, both are cursed and haunted by their experiences. It felt real, and I liked that.

 

What I hated, was how the novel tried after a while to become a morality tale. Thinly veiled religious teachings are suddenly flung upon you as you’re immersed in the story.

 

Personally, that’s not what I like and some of doctrine I actually disagree with strongly on a personal level. Which therefore pretty much ruined my enjoyment of the story.

 

I think if you like that aspect, can ignore it or aren’t bothered by it, this is definitely worth reading. But I won’t be picking up the next in the series, which is a shame.

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