Friday 7 November 2008

Beggars in Spain, Higher Education and In Fury Born: Three science fiction book reviews

The Random Quote: There is a theory which states that if anybody ever discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened. DOUGLAS ADAMS - THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY

Three random reviews of Science fiction books

Nancy Kress*'s Beggars in Spain: futuristic, US, some people are modified not to need sleep, and therefore become brighter and smarter and excel. this leads to the usual xenophobia, hate and fear, and most of the sleepless separate from society. It has a longish timeframe and deals with cultural values and conflicting philosophies.

Also Higher Education (J. Pournelle and SM Stirling*) which resembles a semi-predictable Ender's Game or one of the new ones by James Patterson (Wings, with the corporate-mutated induced winged children - it read like that in style and substance) and had a scarily similar US based-future-complacent-hardly anyone is able, or needs, to, read setting to Beggars in Spain. The protagonist (teenage boy) is expelled and recruited into a secret mining organization. Tough love, intriguing space maths and real education ensues. Opinions of the company - as revealed by the narrative - swing dramatically through: They are good, they are bad, they are okay... (*Note, both books/authors looked up through the Bending the Landscape: Science Fiction anthology ).

Had a lot of difficulty trying to get through David Weber's In Fury Born. I made the fatal mistake of leaving it for a few days. It is huge, and he is very fond of the self-evident exposition, irrelevant back history and detailed technology. Some of it is interesting, or even required but the rest... repeatedly and obviously explaining someone's motives, usually through a character thinking for two pages about the physical stance, or fleeting impression, or back history:
the adjective way they verb simply to point out something that was obvious. For example "they knew their job, he disliked her, they had no choice but ..."
So it is very hard to jump back into. Which is annoying, as there is good story in there, it just takes several pages to find it again.

Thursday 6 November 2008

George RR Martin - Master of Genres, Winner of Practically Everything

The Random Quote: If you would take a man's life, you owe it to him to look him into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die. GEORGE RR MARTIN - A CLASH OF KINGS

Most people know GRRM for his Epic Fantasy-historical-warring kingdoms-politics-and-prophecy Saga A Song Of Ice and Fire.

Firstly, let me state that this is a brilliant series - it. is. EPIC, the politics are internecine and yet believable and trackable, the characters are... incredibly unique, even the switching viewpoints and internal voices are consistent. This is A Wheel of Time done properly.

Also, Tyrion Lannister (not Lancaster, however reminiscient of Richard III the story gets XD) is a clever, crazy little hunchback.... not hunchback, sorry, mixing fictions again, dwarf strongly dominated by his father and family who reminded me increasingly of Miles Vorkosigan. This bugged me all the way through the first book and made me laugh all the way through the second (...and then I suddenly became mature. Honest).

Also, very, very much worth picking up are his short stories - recently brought out for me to seize upon in a ravenous howling of delight - Dreamsongs. In this book (or books, if you buy the parts separately) is a collection of short stories - most of which have won awards - in practically every fantastical genre, from Horror to Science Fiction, Historical to Erotic, Urban to traditional Fantasy... Go. Read them. Buy them. Give them to your friends. There is something in there that EVERYONE will love.

George RR Martin Recommended Reading:

A Game of Thrones - First book in A Song of Ice and Fire

The first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, A Game of Thrones is a brilliant introduction to one of the most gripping fantasy sagas around. I would recommend this to any fantasy reader without shame.

Dreamsongs: the short stories of GRRM

Dreamsongs part one.
I'd recommend buying Parts Two and Three as well, but let's start small, shall we?
Not only is almost every story in this award winning, not only do they display mastery in several different genres - bound to appeal to everyone - but even the nonfiction is enthralling. GRRM has written a introductory narrative about his literary history and progress in writing and publishing, as well as the stories around the stories in each section.

Urban fantasy, Horror, medieval fantasy, science fiction, auto-biographical, philosophical, futuristic, historical, humourous, thoughtful and plain terrifying... Epic fantay is rarely possible within the short story medium - but here, George RR Martin has created it.

Image copyright to Flynn the Cat

Zazzle: Today's Best Awards

The Random Quote: Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic. DUNE

Today's Best Awards
- or TBAs - are picked from the products submitted on Zazzle each day. They're not common, but they aren't exactly rare, either.
Still, it's always lovely to get one!

So far, these have recieved TBAs:

Which I was delighted with, as it was one of the first 'real' art posters I submitted, and I had never heard of the TBAs.

Unicorn Postage Stamp stamp

Unicorn Postage Stamp

Which amused me - everyone likes unicorns! This is actually the only one I have painted since I started using ArtRage (over a year and a half now) - in fact, for a long time before that.
And the one thing I love most about Zazzle - and grieve the most over it being US-restricted* - are the customisable design your own postage stamps

*Because Zazzle only sells US stamps - anyone can buy them, but they'll only do you good if you're visiting the USA or need to send soemone a present!

Nicola Griffith: *Good* Feminism, science fiction, and self defence

Nicola Griffith is a fantastic science fiction and detective story writer. Most of her stories centre around very strong feminist characters (this is a plus - she pulls it all off without rubbing your nose in). 
This review is ancient, but was rewritten 12th January, 2010. 

I first discovered Nicola Griffith via the Bending the Landscape: Original Gay and Lesbian Writing: Science Fiction (she coedited this book with Stephen Pagel). Which I am now going to fan about a bit.

 I thought it would just be another rag-tag collection of Sci-Fi but it is REALLY REALLY good.This is one of those must-reads. It has a few let downs - especially near the beginning - where they belabour the 'gay' issue at the expense of much story. But the rest of it? Amazing. One of those multi-genre award winning masterpieces that one hopes for with every Anthology and rarely gets. It won the Lambda Literary Award, Lesbian and Gay Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror; Gaylactic Spectrum Award and Stonewall Book Award: Literature (finalist))

 I didn't expect to be 'good', just 'gay themed' so I was blown away (did I mention that?)  to find the actual stories were up with all the other amazing fantasy stories I've ever read.

I would rate this book up there with George RR Martin's Dreamsongs. It is mostly science fiction - time travel, robots, alternate realities, virtual worlds, space ships and the future - although it wavers over past the semi-illusionary edge of Fantasy, on occasion.

The Bending the Landscape: Fantasy  volume is good, but not as mindblowing; it also won two awards - Lambda Literary Award, Lesbian and Gay Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror and the World Fantasy Award, Best Anthology. I can't get the Horror anthology in New Zealand, but it did win a Gaylactic Spectrum Award .

The only downside of these anthologies is that while they all have gay themes, lesbians (or bisexual women) tend not to appear as often (one of the reasons I started compiling this list!).

I grew up with the notion that 'escapist' reading was intellectually inferior to coolly analytical text, but now I'm on the side of Tolkien: those most likely to be upset by the notion of escape are the jailers. Now I'll read anything, as long as it's good, as long as it gives me that sense of multiplication, of time travel and life extension.

What else of hers have I read? Well, there's Ammonite, Slow River and Always.

Ammonite is very, very good - and very interesting... Sci-fi - woman going to study a planet that has been cut off for centuries; a virus killed off all the men (and some women) so many non-tech different cultures have sprung up; the women can self-induce diploid conceptions; the 'Company' has a base of soldiers/security but will probably kill them off (as it's cheaper) if the vaccine they're testing doesn't protect against the virus. It reminded me a bit of 'Brother's Price' by Wen Spencer - it's all women, they *assume* it's going to be a woman, and sometimes it isn't even mentioned that it is a woman, so you don't realize until later; and the interactions are fascinating. In a way, those stories are a lot simpler, because they don't have to include or adjust for or explain gender interactions - it's one less variable, unfortunately a significant one. The other side of this - the evolutionary issues of male and female roles and dual pregnancies, and the apparent uniform biological attraction of all women to other women is not addressed. This has been written up far better by Danielle L Parker in a previous Ammonite review.

Always is quite late in a series (after The Blue Place and Stay, which I can't find in NZ), and is running a dual timeline (flashbacks every other chapter) between the past - character running a self defence class for women, leading up to some drama, which is really interesting and includes a lot of real information (the best way to... injure, think, act. Characterisation, attitudes and how people can manipulate you... as well as ways to pop someone's eyeball, the old 'everything is a weapon' drill). The other timeline is sort-of a detective story, the character is both very intelligent, paranoid, and tough. Some kind of current or ex- police/detective (is late in series, as mentioned, so I don't quite know the backstory).

Slow River is a stand alone science fiction book. About a futuristic, decaying society, it has interesting realistic characters, dysfunctional families, and jumps about a lot - a real pain to start with but fascinating by the end, with the various timelines in the girl's life unfolding in parallel, and others - think Sheri S. Tepper-style/quality/philosophical level.

I'm annoyed because she's not very commonly found here in NZ, I only own Ammonite - actually, that is partly because I lean towards the sci-fi or fantasy when buying books I haven't read, and a lot of her books aren't.

For more  (good) lesbian books and films click here

Terry Pratchett Recommended Reading: Nation

 Nation by Terry Pratchett


The first non-Discworld Novel in many, many years*.

Nation was very recently released, and I have to put it here. Nation is NOT a Discworld book, it's sadder and more serious and more sensible and far more openly philosophical. Nation is the perfect introduction to Pratchett, and while it catches a Discworld veteran off-guard with it's lack of black humour and slower, soberer pace, it makes up for it in depth. And the few moments of crazed Pratchett wickedness stand out even more strongly.
It's also a big book - the hardback has a beautiful cover, one that doesn't scream 'garish fantasy novel', the writing is quite large (as is typical in larger hardbacks) and it is long enough to be well worth the money.

What is it about? Well, think an alternate Victorian age, plague and a lost heir, as well as disasters on tiny equatorial islands... and the slow coming to terms with other ways of life, and thought, and piecing yourself back together. Think of dolphins. And gods, and traditions, and the sudden loss of everything.
Those who have read the Nomes stories will recognise the confusion of a tiny world suddenly exposed to the outside and learning that actually, they are so small they don't even appear on any maps.

If you need a book to give for Christmas, it is this one. But be warned, you may need to buy more than family's already fighting over our copy.

*By Pratchett, that is. All those hundreds of thousands of other so-called books don't count

Author Reviews: Terry Pratchett

The Random Quote: The Fremen were supreme in that quality the ancients called "spannungsbogen" — which is the self-imposed delay between desire for a thing and the act of reaching out to grasp that thing.from The Wisdom of Muad'Dib by the Princess Irulan

I recently tried to set up a Squidoo lens reviewing some of my favourite authors - well, I first knew I was in trouble when I tried to quickly sum up Terry Pratchett. I knew I was doomed when I started on George RR Martin.

That... degenerated into an over ambitious morasse, so I am relocating the writeups over here.
However, it does still contain a lot of links to relevant sites for each of the authors, so it is still worth looking over.

The Random Quote: All witches are very conscious of stories. They can feel stories, in the same way that a bather in a little pool can feel the unexpected trout. Knowing how stories work is almost all the battle. For example, when an obvious innocent sits down with three experienced card sharpers and says 'How do you play this game, then?', someone is about to be shaken down until their teeth fall out. TERRY PRATCHETT - WITCHES ABROAD

Terry Pratchett, writer extraordinaire, creator of the Discworld.

*icon author unknown.

One of the most well known and prolific authors around, this British writer is best known for his (30 books plus) Discworld series (well... sort of series. There's a kind of 'do it yourself' order).

He writes in a pun-filled, flow of thought style* - no chapters being a main trademark, until recently - as well as continual little themes that popped up throughout certain books (frogs... nougat... Death... YES? I wasn't talking to you. OH. FINE THEN, I'LL JUST GO OVER HERE AND WAIT SHALL I? Wait for...wha- nevermind. SUIT YOURSELF)

He lampshades, satirizes and lampoons almost every established cliche and accepted fantasy or social aspect under the sun - and rephrases the most serious and philosophical matters into obvious, and even highly amusing, phrases.

For new readers, I would definitely recommend trying his Bromeliad series (the little Nomes, who live under the floorboards in a Store - sorry, THE Store - that was clearly created for them by Arnold Bros.), the Maurice and His Amazing Educated Rodents or his Tiffany Aching series. These are... written for childrens to young adults, which means he's tried to stay on track and taken the sex jokes out (Yes, Mrs Rosy Palm, we ARE looking at you). They are Good Books - and introduce you to his writing style. Most people who end up picking up the Colour of Magic (his first - and arguably worst written - Discworld novel) don't really enjoy it...

His darker works - such as Thud, Nightwatch - are definitely among my favourites (revolution, murder and politics galore). For Neil Gaiman fans... there is of course: Good Omens. This books was cowritten by Pratchett and Gaiman and is probably one of the most quoted and widest read. It's good.

And the point of this IS of course to indoctrinate more mindless addicts into his army.

Go forth. And beware the pattering of little feet.

*Also is probably singlehandedly responsible for the common usage of little footnotes to add humourous and completely irrelevant text**
**This... being relevant text, of course***
**this isn't, though****
****I CAN'T STOP*****
^There. Knew I'd get the exclamation marks in somewhere. No Terry Pratchett reference is complete with out an abuse of exclamation marks - because it is self evident that all Teryy Pratchett referencers are touched, stirred and baked with insanity (...little insanity raisins in the toasted figgins of our brains)

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The Random Quote: To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting. SUN TZU - THE ART OF WAR

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