Posted in Male Author, Novel, Other Media

Miscellanea, 11/21/22

Read

Cover: Neom by Lavie Tidhar

Neom by Lavie Tidhar

(A copy of Neom was provided to me by Tachyon Publications in exchange for an honest review.)

Compelling world building is a scale with details on one side and ambiguities on the other. A real world needs details: politics, religions, economies, arts, even sciences. The trick is knowing when to not explain these things. Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station is one of my favorite settings because, as a reader, I’m simply dropped into the world and maybe a reference is explained, maybe it isn’t.

The city of Neom is near Central Station. The story is (mostly) Earthbound, but it’s still a mash-up of space opera and fable, where an old robot takes a rose into the desert and digs up a buried automaton messiah. Neom is situated between Mecca and Bethlehem, so I’m sure there are allegories to be had here, but biblical comparisons feel too mundane and not mythical enough.

The characters in Neom are somewhat coincidental to the plot, but that plays into the feeling of predestination. Of course Miriam, with her half a dozen part-time jobs, is always where the story is taking place and of course Nasir and Saleh have items that are needed. The robot characters are more interesting and I’m glad a few of them might live on in other stories.

Short Stories

Deal Me In, Week 46: 10❤️ “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” by Fran Wilde
Hearts are for Eugie Award winners and Nominees. “Clearly Lettered . . .” won in 2018. A sly story that reminds me of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), at least a little.

Yuletide Spirit

Yuletide Spirit Challenge & Readathon image

I’ll admit that this year I’ve been keener than usual to jump into the “holiday” season right after Halloween. (Though feeling that and hearing “All I Want for Christmas” at the mall last week are two different things . . .) When I saw Michelle’s announcement about the Yuletide Spirit Challenge and Readathon, starting on Nov. 21st, I thought, “Perfect! An excuse to have a November start time for celebrating!”

I’m going to shoot for the Mistletoe level (2–4 Christmas books) with a side of Fa La La La Films. And I’m going start my decorating process!

Watched

Nope (2022)

  • I’m kind of amazed that I managed to go into Nope without knowing very much about the movie. This probably says more about my lack of interaction with media than the popularity of the film.
  • I liked Nope better than Us (2019) and maybe more than Get Out (2017) too.
  • As a kid, I found Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) a bit scary. On second watch, I noticed a few things in Nope that strike me as a bit Spielbergian.
  • I miss Fry’s Electronics.
  • I’ve also missed Michael Wincott.
Posted in Male Author, Novel

Book ~ Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

I love cover songs. I find that there are several sorts of covers. The low hanging fruit is the cover that is faithful to the original, but probably not done quite as well, often due to the talents of the vocalist. An example: Miley Cyrus’s cover of “Heart of Glass.” It’s fine, but Cyrus is not Debbie Harry. My favorite type of cover is when an artist brings their own signature style to a familiar song. Marilyn Manson is particularly good at this sort of cover. He does not try to be Annie Lennox; he makes “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” a Marilyn Manson song, while still keeping faithful to the original song’s mood and structure.

What does this have to do with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Because there is the rare cover that takes an original song, reworks it in a different style, and the new version become what is thought of as the standard. The most notable example of this is the song “Tainted Love.” Pretty much everyone knows the Soft Cell 1981 cover, but fewer people are familiar with the 1964 song (released as a B-side) by Gloria Jones.

Blade Runner, the 1982 film, is the Soft Cell cover: well-known enough to have spawned sequel novels, a sequel film, short films, comics, an animated series, and an upcoming limited series. Far fewer people have read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the 1968 novel by Philip K. Dick. And the two are more different than versions of “Tainted Love.”

Blade Runner. The term is never used in the novel. In fact (according to Wikipedia), The Bladerunner is a novel by Alan E. Nourse (about a dystopian society in which comprehensive health care is provided under eugenics laws). That novel was adapted into a screenplay by William S. Burroughs. The eventual screenwriter for Do Androids Dream . . ., Hampton Fancher, had a copy of the Burroughs treatment and thought the title was a good one.

Rick Deckard, Roy Baty, Pris, Rachel. These characters exist in both, but are fairly different. In general only the bare-bones of the plot make it to the movie: Deckard is a cop whose job it is to hunt down androids (never called replicants in the book) who have come to Earth and “retire” them. In the book, the pressures of wanting a better life for his wife—in the form of class status—overwhelms Deckard’s growing doubts about whether androids are people too (or whether he’s no better than an android). In the movie, Roy becomes the voice for these thoughts. In the book, Roy’s the mastermind, but is never given much to do. The female androids are a much bigger deal, mainly because Deckard’s attractions to them get in the way. Pris and Rachel are, in the book, duplicates of the same model.

Mercerism. Mercerism is absent from the films. Empathy is a big deal in the novel and Mercerism is this sort of new tech religion based on connecting with Mercer, a man who toils continually up a hill while being pelted with rocks. The whole human race can seemingly come together via communing with Mercer and his plight. Androids, of course, feel no empathy (maybe?) and cannot partake of the religion.

Electric Sheep. Faux animals provide a plot clue the 1982 Blade Runner and there are several comments in passing about the cost of real animals. In the book, there is a very middle class, keep-up-with-the-Jonses kind of pressure to own a real animal, which honestly give the novel too much of a 60s feel for me. On the plus side, real animals are given an almost religiously protected status, which makes the empathy test questions make sense .

Voigt-Kampff test. One of the few things that is lifted nearly word for word from the book are the Voigt-Kampff questions (Voight-Kampff in the movie). In the context of the book when presented with the scenario of “you’re given a calf-skin wallet” and the response is “I’d report them,” it’s because making something so frivolous as a wallet from an animal is illegal and immoral. In the movie, the questions serve as a slightly confusing bit of world building. Which is fine, not everything needs to be explained.

In general, though, I found the novel to be a product of its time. It’s big on ideas, fuzzy on details, and lacking in characterization. It is nice to know that Dick, who was dubious of Hollywood, was fairly positive about the movie adaptation. I can’t say I felt as immersed in Dick’s world as I have in Blade Runner or Blade Runner 2049 (2017), which is a shame for book. It’s certainly a case of liking the cover better than the original.

Posted in Mixed Anthology, Novel

Anthology ~ In Our Own Worlds

Cover for In Our Own Worlds, an anthology of LGBTQ+ novella published by Tor.

In Our Own Worlds is a four novella anthology featuring LGBTQ+ characters. It was a freebie I picked up from the publisher, Tor, in late 2019.

The first novella is The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy. Welcome to Freedom, IA, where the peace is kept by a demonic deer! Not everyone in town thinks a demon who brings retribution on “predators” is a good idea. I like the play on philosophy here, but the story seemed dependent on the reader just going along with character actions when those actions don’t have much reasoning behind them. It wasn’t that characters did outlandish things, but there was the occasional leap of logic that seemed to come out of nowhere.

I had high hopes for the second novella, Passing Strange by Ellen Klages. I have read and enjoyed Klages’s short stories in the past. In fact, this novella is why I picked up the anthology: Klages’s magical realism in 1940s San Francisco seemed like a slam dunk. Alas, as with Nebraska basketball, Passing Strange didn’t do as well as I hoped. I’ve become a bit aware of how authors present exposition and there were a lot of As You Know, Bob going on. Also, the use of magic in the story was very minimal. It almost felt like an overlay on straight (no pun intended) historical fiction.

The third novella was A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson. I enjoyed this novella the most*. Okay, I’m not sure I entirely followed chronology, but that’s fine. Aqib and Lucrio are compelling main characters and I was in it for their story/stories. I also enjoy world-building that isn’t spelled out for me; I don’t need every thing explained. In a way, this is an interesting contrast to Passing Strange. Both could tell straight-up stories of forbidden romances, but use magic to solve problems for their lovers (though with consequences). A Taste of Honey just infuses the whole narrative with that magic/science.

* I decided not to read The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon Yang. It really didn’t seem like my kind of story. Political machinations =/= A book for Katherine.

Posted in History, Male Author, Novel

Reading Notes, 8/12/21

Finished Reading

Cover: Heretics of Dune

Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert

After making it through God Emperor of Dune, I have to say, Heretics is where Herbert lost me. The plot is my least favorite kind: factions scheming against each other. That can work, but I need some characters that are compelling enough to me to be hooks. And I’ve lost interest in the setting/world building. I had enjoyed the interplay between “female” knowledge and “male” knowledge (and how those two things were embodied in the Kwisatz Haderach), but now it just comes down to using seduction and sex as power? Maybe that’s the natural continuation of things post-Leto II, but that doesn’t mean I like it.

Chapterhouse: Dune is more a direct continuation than the previous books and that doesn’t bode well. In fact, I think I’m done with the series. I’ve given it go and maybe in the future I’ll read the whole thing again, but for now, I’m just going to wait for the movie to come out and move on with other reading.

Currently Reading

Cover: The Flight of the Eisenstein

Some people might take exception to my eschewing a classic of science fiction for a Warhammer 40K tie-in, but that’s what’s happening here. I plan on finishing The Flight of the Eisenstein before settling into The Mysteries of Udolpho and some shorter works during Bout of Books next week. I have a few short stories/novellas I purchased over the past year that I want to clean up before “fall” reading. Since I’m still doing 80s in August, my BoB updates will be on Twitter.

Posted in Female Author, History, Male Author, Nonfiction, Novella

Reading Notes, 8/2/21

Finished Reading

Cover: All Systems Red by Martha Well

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

I’ll be honest, I was looking for a short science fiction book for #TrekAThon and I’d heard a bit about the Martha Wells “Murderbot Diaries.” All Systems Red was fine. A first person narrative, our main character is the self-dubbed Murderbot, a sentient security droid who hacked his governance programing. Murderbot is taciturn, sarcastic, cynical, and a bit lazy when it can be. Kind of like grumpy teenager. Murderbot has a past, which we don’t find too much about, and the story has a mystery, which isn’t entirely solved. This is the first in a series of novellas, after all. I’m not inclined to read the rest because “Murderbot Diaries” isn’t really my thing. I find I’m pretty picky about science fiction.

Jay’s Journal of Anomalies by Ricky Jay

From 1994–2000, magician Ricky Jay published a quarterly pamphlet entitled Jay’s Journal of Anomalies. This is a soft bound collection of the 16 issues, lovely typeset and lushly illustrated. Subjects include intelligent dog acts, flea circuses, ceiling walkers, the Mechanical Turk, and the odd association between dentists and traveling entertainments. Magic adjacent subjects. Jay is more interested in the history of such things instead of the debunking of them. The illustrations of broadside, advertisements, and poster are from his own collections.

Summer Challenges Check-In

#TrekAThon

#TrekAThon wrapped up on Saturday. I managed to save six crew members! Hey, I’m terrible at prompt-based readathons, so this is totally a win for me.

  1. Commander Scott: Zhiguai: Chinese True Tales of the Paranormal and Glitches in the Matrix, edited and translated by Yi Izzy Yu & John Yu Branscum
  2. Nurse Chapel: The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo by Zen Cho
  3. Captain Kirk: Jay’s Journal of Anomalies by Ricky Jay
  4. Yeoman Rand: Jay’s Journal of Anomalies by Ricky Jay
  5. Commander Spock: All Systems Red by Martha Wells
  6. Lieutenant Uhura: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

20 Books of Summer

My goal for 20 Books of Summer was ten books. And with a month left, I’ve read…ten books! I don’t really have plans to expand my goal to 15 books. I have two books in-progress that would count (started after June 1st), but I also have The Mysteries of Udolpho, planned for August which is 18th century and long. But, Reverse Readathon and Bout of Books are both coming up; I won’t say “impossible” and I’ll continue to keep count.


Posted in History, Male Author, Novel, Novella

Reading Notes, 6/10/21

Finished Reading

God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert

According to my blog archive, I finished my first reading of Children of Dune in 2006. I then tried to read God Emperor of Dune. Eric had warned me that it was a tough read. I don’t know when I gave up on it, but it made a reappearance on my 2011 TBR. I don’t think I ever got to it in 2011. Around the internet, the general advisement for God Emperor was, read the Wikipedia entry and the Fandom article and move on. When I set up my Dune “challenge” for this year, I allotted one month each for the first three books (these were rereads) and two months each for the last three. Which meant that I needed to finish God Emperor around the end of May. I decided that if I didn’t finish it by then, I’d give in and read the summaries. I planned a chapter a day; classic “eating the elephant” strategy. And it worked! So, fifteen years after my first try:

God Emperor of Dune is sort of an awkward book. Without delving into too much research about the matter, it feels like Frank Herbert had a good idea for the first three books, which were marketed as a trilogy at the time. The books were successful and Herbert had more ideas—why not write more Dune books? Well, the next phase of the story really required some set up. More set up than could be handled in exposition. So, God Emperor ends up being this weird bridge book. All the characters that you’ve come to know in the first three books are gone or very changed. Except for Duncan Idaho, who has really been more of a background character until now. Things happen, there are some important events that set up Heretics of Dune, but there is also a lot of philosophy and a lot of people scheming in rooms to not much avail.

I’m glad I got through it, but I probably didn’t gain a huge amount by reading the book instead of reading the summaries.

All the Flavors by Ken Liu

All the Flavors was a novella originally published by GigaNotoSaurus. I ended up with a copy of it on my Kindle and, while cataloging titles, I decided to impulse read it. I haven’t read much of Ken Liu’s works though The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is very well regarded among people I know.

This story is subtitled “A Tale of Guan Yu, the Chinese God of War, in America.” It’s sort of a take on the Yellow Peril stories that became a thing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America. Based on history, somewhat, it involves Chinese workers in Idaho. Very good; I liked it a lot. Also, my first Book of Summer!

Currently Reading

  • The Hypno-Ripper: Or, Jack the Hypnotically Controlled Ripper; Containing Two Victorian Era Tales Dealing with Jack the Ripper and Hypnotism, edited by Donald K. Hartman – So far, it’s a little slow. To be fair, Hartman warns of this.
  • Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert – I’m reading a chapter a day.
  • Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury – A book I keep mis-titling. Reading an essay or so a day.

Reading Challenge Check-In

The Classics Club
Goal: 10 Books by 12/14/21
Progress: 5/10
✅ Read Mosses from an Old Manse by Nathanial Hawethorn

#ShelfLove
Goal: Abstain from acquiring books; read at least 21 books from my shelves.
Progress: 1 pre-order, 3 free books, 2 very cheap books, 4 ARC/review copies; 5/21+
⭕ On one hand, I’ve read a few of my own books. On the other, I’ve still acquired a few too many ARCs/review copies…

I Read Horror Year-Round
Goal: Read 6 books from 6 categories.
Progress: 2/6
⭕ No progress here at the moment, yet I don’t feel behind.

Nonfiction
Goal: Read at least 30% nonfiction.
Progress: Currently 35%
✅ Back up after The Haunting of Alma Fielding and finishing up some nonfiction “morning” books.


Posted in Other Media

Cinema Saturday, 11/14/20

A look at the movies I watched during the week.

The Penitent Man

Year: 2010
Runtime: 1h 32m
Rated: Not Rated

Director: Nicholas Gyeney

Writers: Nicholas Gyeney, Trevor Tillman

Stars: Lance Henriksen, Lathrop Walker, Andrew Keegan

“Humankind had acquired all the information it could ever desire, and it was maddening.”

Initial: I came across this movie while looking at Lance Henricksen’s credits during my Horror A-to-Z watch-athons; bookmarked it because it wasn’t horror.

Production Notes: According to IMDB, from concept to completion, The Penitent Man took only five months to produce.

What Did I Think: (may contain spoliers)
The Penitent Man is a time travel movie written almost exclusively in dialogues between the characters played by Henriksen/Lathrop or Lathrop/Keegan.

The plot isn’t particularly twisty; if you’re paying attention at all, you know exactly where the movie is going. This means that it’s not a frustrating exercise in obfuscation which is often a trap for time travel movies (*cough* Primer *cough*). The Penitent Man is more like a kinda clever short story concept that writer/director Nicholas Gyeney had the self-control to NOT pad out.

For a movie of people talking, I didn’t find it slow. Part of that is due to the actor’s performances, of course, but credit also needs to go to director Gyeney, cinematographer Michael Boydstun, and editor Jacob Bearchum. The movie keeps moving despite its subjects being stationary.

If you’re in the US, you can watch The Penitent Man for free on Tubi.


That’s if for this week. November is finally slowing down, so maybe a couple movies in the next edition of Cinema Saturday. Oh, and if you want to follow me on Letterboxd, I’m knabity.