science fiction

Reviews ~ Spore & Whom the Gods Would Destroy (dual review)

(Whom the Gods Would Destroy was provided to me by DarkFuse via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Dual review for these two novellas.

Spore by Alex Scarrow

Cover via Goodreads

In a small town in the Nevada desert, an alien pathogen has reduced the entire population to a seething mass of black slime. When the Eighth Doctor arrives, he realises this latest threat to humanity is horrifyingly familiar – it is a virus which almost annihilated his entire race, the Time Lords…

Eleven Doctors, eleven months, eleven stories: a year-long celebration of Doctor Who! The most exciting names in children’s fiction each create their own unique adventure about the time-travelling Time Lord.(via Goodreads)

Whom the Gods Would Destroy by Brian Hodge

Cover via Goodreads

“Any sufficiently advanced intelligence is indistinguishable from godhood.”

For Damien, growing up was all about being an outsider in his own home. His mother and brother shared an unfathomable bond that left him excluded from their lives. Yet his earliest, fragmentary memory of them was so nightmarish, their lives were something he ran from as soon as he could.

Now an astronomy graduate student in Seattle, Damien is happy with his place as a speck in a cosmos vast beyond comprehension. Until his brother turns up after 13 years, to make amends and seek his expertise on a discovery that may not be of this Earth. The more the world expands to admit the possibilities of a universe stranger than even Damien has imagined, the greater is his urgency to resist being reclaimed by a past that never seemed to want him…until now.

Like a collision of galaxies between H.P. Lovecraft and Carl Sagan, Whom the Gods Would Destroy looks to the night skies as the source of our greatest wonder, and finds them swarming with our worst fears. (via NetGalley)

I wouldn’t have suspected that a short novella for young people and longer, darker novella meant for an adult audience had much in common. Sure, both are science fiction of a sort, but one is Doctor Who and the other invokes Lovecraft. They are surprising bedfellows.

While Spore is part of the 50th Anniversary collection of short works written presumably for young people,  its characters are adults and it pulls no punches. One of my favorite aspects of Doctor Who is that, while it purports to be science fiction and is commonly fantasy, it’s also quite often horror. As reputation dictates, kids don’t hide behind the couch while watching Doctor Who for no reason. Thrills should be part of childhood and Spore delivers. The spore, as it liquifies people and gathers itself into more complex forms, is pretty squicky. Its impetus is to test the intelligence of the foremost native species on a planet and, if the species is found wanting, wipe the planet clean for its own colonization. I haven’t read much Doctor Who fiction, but this is the best written of the lot thus far.

Whom the Gods Would Destroy is also a story of colonization. In both cases, von Neumann probes are referenced, but with a twist. In both cases, the self-replicating “spaceship” is of biological nature. Whom the Gods… is an incredibly dark tale. There is no Doctor to rescue the world, only a graduate student whose own family history can shed light on what’s occurring, but can not stop it. It’s a more personal tale and it *is* a more unsettling tale. Hodge plays with the notion of evil versus amorality. If an advanced enough intelligence seems like a god to us humans, what do we seem like to it? Not a pleasant concept to contemplate. Hodge’s writing is tight and suspenseful with the right amount of jolts.

Whom the Gods Would Destroy will be available from DarkFuse on December 10, 2013.

2014 Sci-Fi Experience

Review ~ The Eight Doctors

Doctor Who: The Eight Doctors by Terrance Dicks

Cover via Goodreads

Newly-regenerated and travelling through the universe in his TARDIS, the eighth Doctor is suddenly hit by a mind-shattering blast of malignant psychic energy – a final booby trap left by the Master. (via Goodreads)

My entire reading plan for the week went out the window when I decided to skew toward celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. After the surprise of “The Night of the Doctor” webisode last week, I again wanted more of the eighth Doctor. The Eight Doctors picks up where the 1996 TV movie leaves off and provides an adventure akin to the 20th anniversary The Five Doctors.

“Let’s just say I’m a Doctor…Clearly, I’m not the one you were expecting.”

The premise is simple. The eighth Doctor must meet his previous incarnations to regain his memories. Of course, the Doctor being the Doctor, there’s always trouble. Some of these visits work considerably better than others. Dicks’ writing shines when describing about Four’s adventures with vampires and the events of The Five Doctors; Raston Warrior Robot included. If there had been more Sontarans, so much the better. In contrast, the political intrigue portion was rather dull and the framing story set in 90s London was somewhat cringe-worthy.

Still, it was fun. Many of the iconic episodes referenced are ones I had just watched or read about in Who’s 50. It’s a nice bridge between big, multi-Doctor adventures, which this weekend’s “The Day of the Doctor” promises to be.

Genre: Sci-Fi
Why did I choose to read this book? Wanted some Doctor Who fun.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes. It was a quick read.

Peril of the Short Story 2013

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I didn’t get as many short stories read during R.I.P. as I intended. Strangely, my attention span has been craving longer works.

Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray BradburyI really meant to finish Shadow Show. I’ve been reading this anthology on and off since last year. R.I.P. 2012 included Shadow Show stories! I think I burnt out on anthologies earlier in the year and once again Shadow Show has become a box of very rich chocolates.

“The Page” by Ramsey Campbell – Long, idyllic set up to a sort of an air conditioned ending. I can see this story in my head as an episode of an 80s anthology show, like The Ray Bradbury Theatre though maybe not the best episode of such a show. The middle-aged couple trying to enjoy their time on the beach, the sort of spooky mystery of the wind-blown page, the powerful woman at the end that I can only imagine in a shoulder-padded power suit.

“Light” by Mort Castle – Reminds me of Bradbury’s California mysteries, especially the last one, Let’s All Kill Constance. Bradbury had a love affair with Hollywood. Hollywood consumes dreams and then spits them back to become other people’s dreams.

“Conjure” by Alice Hoffman – Girls. Do you find them in Bradbury stories? Not often, but this might be what it would look like if there were girl characters in Bradbury’s world. It’s perhaps a more perilous world for them than for boys. (This story reminds me a little of Dennis Leheane’s Mystic River, a Bradbury story terribly inverted.)

“Backward in Seville” by Audrey Niffenegger & “Earth (a Gift Shop)” by Charles Yu – Both were short responses to specific Ray Bradbury stories “The Playground” and “There Will Come Soft Rain.” Both solid and more sci-fi aspected than the other three stories.

Casting the Runes and Other Ghost StoriesAfter watching Night of the Demon, I was interested in M. R. James “Casting the Runes.” It is a bit different from the movie. The plot is simpler, but it’s also more subtle in its telling. And as a writer who often hates writing transitions between scenes, I rather loved this:

It is not necessary to tell in further detail the steps by which Henry Harrison and Dunning were brought together.

Well played, Mr. James.

Review ~ Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time Volume 1

This book was provided to me by IDW Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time Volume 1 by Scott Tipton, David Tipton, Simon Fraser (Illustrations), Lee Sullivan (Illustrations)

Cover via Goodreads

November 23, 1963: A day that changed the world forever.

That day saw the broadcast debut of Doctor Who, which was to become the longest-running science fiction series on television.

And now, 50 years later, we pay tribute to one of the greatest pop-culture heroes of all time with this special series, which tells an epic adventure featuring all 11 incarnations of the intrepid traveler through time and space known simply as… the Doctor. (via IDW  Publishing)

The volume I received for review contained the first three issues of IDW’s Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time series. Each issue features one of the previous incarnations of the Doctor quickly solving a problem. The overarching plot involves a cowled figure “stealing” each Doctor’s companions with the help of a vortex manipulator. As a fan of the television show since its continuous rerunning on my local PBS station in the 80s, I’m familiar with all the Doctors, companions, and villains. The mini stories give each Doctor an opportunity to be the Doctor they are: One is the grandfatherly teacher, Two is the mischief-maker with a twinkle in his eye, and Three is the debonaire man-of-action. I found the art to be very good and especially enjoyed Three kicking butt back-to-back with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. This is fun series for a veteran of Doctor Who, but I’m not sure that newer fans will get much out of it unless later issues bring in more contemporary faces.

This compilation is scheduled to be published by IDW on June 4, 2013

Genre: Speculative fiction
Why did I choose to read this book? Doctor Who fan, getting a little excited about the anniversary.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes
Format: Highly watermarked Adobe Digital Edition
Procurement: NetGalley

Nebula Nominated Short Stories 2013

Nebula Awards Badge

I haven’t been in much of a science fiction/fantasy mood lately so I only got through the Nebula nominated short stories this year. The winners will be announced May 18th at SFWA’s annual banquet.

SHORT STORY Nominees

  • Robot“, Helena Bell (Clarkesworld 9/12) – I may be at an age when I don’t want to read YA fiction, but I don’t want to read Old People fiction either. Or having recently lost my grandparents, this hit a little close to the bone.
  • Immersion“, Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld 6/12) – Had a hard time getting into this story, but it was worth the work.
  • Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes“, Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 4/12) – This is very much a “middle age” fiction, and I’m happy to have some of those issues being addressed in speculative works.
  • Nanny’s Day“, Leah Cypess (Asimov’s 3/12) – I found the sci-fi technology elements distracting. Would it have been better without them?
  • Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream“, Maria Dahvana Headley (Lightspeed 7/12) – Best line I’ve read in a while: “He looks at the crow’s feet around her eyes. Side effect of smiling. Crows walk on those who laugh in their sleep. He tried to tell her, but she did it anyway.”
  • The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species“, Ken Liu (Lightspeed 8/12) – Read this one back in August of 2012. Enjoyed it quite a bit, especially interesting in this age of books vs. ebooks. “Everyone makes books.”
  • Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain“, Cat Rambo (Near + Far) – “Were there any sorrows, any passions that might lead her thoughts along the same groove till it gave, eroded into madness?” Cat Rambo is also becoming one of my favorite authors.

(Links courtesy SF Signal)

As a general thing, I liked that many of these stories were geared more toward an older age group. I have nothing against YA fiction, but its characters do deal with a certain set of problems that are the problems of young people. This is why Dune, despite the young protagonist, isn’t YA fiction. Paul Atreides deals with problems that aren’t related to his age. The majority of these short stories deal with the problems of middle age (or at least past YA or even past NA): cheating spouses, the decline of parents’ health, custody of children, aging in general. It’s actually sort of refreshing. Despite that, I like Ken Liu’s “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” the best. I’m a sucker for meta fiction about storytelling.

Also, I really hope Looper wins the Ray Bradbury Award for dramatic presentation. I liked Avengers and Cabin in the Woods, but I think Looper may be the best time travel movie out there and a damn nice stab at an interesting SF world.

Saturday Cinema ~ Rian Johnson

Ticket3
Rian Johnson is currently one of my favorite writer/directors. Of course, with only three feature films on his resume, it could be argued that he hasn’t had the chance to let me down. Whatever the case, Johnson’s three films are all a bit on the risky side, but definitely worthwhile. He works with many of the same people across projects which gives the trio consistency. His other directing work includes an episode of Terriers (a TV show I adored) and several episodes of Breaking Bad.

Rian Johnson’s website includes the scripts of his movies.

Brick (2005)

A teenage loner pushes his way into the underworld of a high school crime ring to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend. (via IMDB)

Brick is undeniably noir. The dialogue is sharp and stylishly overwrought. The world is relatively empty; only characters that concern us get time on-screen. Steve Yedlin, the cinematographer on all of Johnson’s movies, can imbue bright a football field with certain menace. While set in a high school, the movie is rated R, which might have made it a hard sell demographic-wise. I’ll admit that I was dubious of the film for that reason, and it requires a certain suspension of disbelief to accept the incongruity of the plot and the setting. After the first time I watched this movie, I wasn’t entirely sure I liked it, but I did want to watch it again.

The Brothers Bloom (2008)

The Brothers Bloom are the best con men in the world, swindling millionaires with complex scenarios of lust and intrigue. Now they’ve decided to take on one last job – showing a beautiful and eccentric heiress the time of her life with a romantic adventure that takes them around the world. (via IMDB)

Honestly, it would have been hard for me to not like this movie. A heist with Rachel Weisz? Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody as con men? Quriky style? Aside from Ghostbusters, there might not be a film more perfectly suited to me. The world of The Brothers Bloom isn’t quite reality. The entire film feels like an elaborate magic trick, skipping  in tone from a 40s familiar pick-a-card  slight-of-hand to 80s slick set-piece illusions and back again. It’s a great looking, slightly absurd movie that I don’t think enough people have seen.

Looper (2012)

In 2074, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past, where a hired gun awaits. Someone like Joe, who one day learns the mob wants to ‘close the loop’ by transporting back Joe’s future self. (via IMDB)

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, this is by far Rian Johnson’s most well-known movie. While its “present” is our future, like BrickLooper has a noir sensibility. Much of the movie’s set-up is given to us in voice-over by Joe. He tells us about blunderbusses, gat men, and how one “closes the loop.” There is a conscious nod to the past. “How can you kids stand to wear those chokers?” asks Abe, a man from the future, referring to the current (future) fashion of wearing ties. “The movies that you’re dressing like are just copying other movies.” Looper itself might borrow from other movies, but Johnson creates a interestingly rendered future and a well put together time travel flick.

Throwback Thursday ~ Dune

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books!

Noting that book blogging often focuses on new releases, here’s how Throwback Thursday works:

  1. Updated! Pick any media (or non-media item) released more than 5 years ago. Remember to keep it book-related!
  2. Write up a short summary of the book (include the title, author, and cover art) and an explanation of why you love it.
  3. Link up your post at The Housework Can Wait or Never Too Fond of Books.
  4. Visit as many blogs as you can, reminisce about books you loved, and discover some “new” books for your TBR list!

Checkout today’s Throwback Thursday link up for details on the TT giveaway!

Dune by Frank Herbert

Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Maud’dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family—and would bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream. (via Goodreads)

This is what I wrote about it on June 30, 2005:

My mother read all the Dune books. I tried reading Dune in 8th grade. I got to page 100 before becoming completely confused. I watched the 80s movie. That didn’t help. In college I watch the movie again and got a little more out of it. I stole my mom’s copy and vowed to read it one day. (That was probably ten years ago. I’ll bring her book back when we visit.) Eric recommended Dune to me. That was probably a good six or seven year ago. I finally read it, and my adult brain gets it. It is good, very good.

It’s been a very influential book for me as a writer. Herbert was a journalist and wrapped subjects he knew in science fiction paper. The novel was different for its time and that’s always encouraging. There have been two major film adaptations. David Lynch’s 1984 movie has a very interesting feel, though is only kinda-sorta based on the book.

The Sy Fy Channel’s 2000 set of mini-series is closer to the books, but still doesn’t quite get a few things right.

Both are good viewing, and the book is excellent.