Tag Archives: science fiction

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.

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.


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.


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.

The Door in the Wall

The Door in the Wall

During my reading of The King in Yellow, I read H. G. Wells story “The Door in the Wall.” Since the collection was on my Classics Club list and I enjoyed the titular story quite a bit, I decided to finish the book before moving on.

The Chambers story “The Demoiselle d’Ys” is said to have anticipated Wells’ “The Door in the Wall.” In both, our protagonist crosses over into some other time or place. In “The Demoiselle d’Ys,” Philip is time-slipped into the past where he has a curious encounter. In “The Door in the Wall,” Lionel Wallace goes through a green door as a child and enters some sort of utopia. Though he promises to return as an adult, he never does, even though he sees the green door several more times throughout his life.

To a certain extent, I think Wells’ “A Dream of Armageddon,” bears resemblance to the Chambers’ story as well. In this case, a man named Cooper relates the “consecutive” dream he’s had. He has lived a whole other life within a dream world—what he purports to be the far future. At first this other world is Idyllic, but it turns dark when war breaks out. Cooper ends up living out his entire life and dying in the dream, similar to Philip’s snake-bitten fate in his time-slipped past.

Wells spends a lot of time in “A Dream of Armageddon” describing the beauty and terribleness of the war machines. This appreciation and dread of industrial machines is revisited often in these stories. In “The Cone,” a fairly basic revenge tale, I personally don’t know enough about smelteries to know when Wells is being fanciful, but his descriptions are vivid and full of grandeur. So also are the descriptions of deaths in “The Cone” and “The Lord of the Dynamos.” The victims meet their demises due to the evils of man rather than the evils of machines—the machines are only the tools—but their deaths are horrible in ways that only technology can seem to facilitate.

Man’s mind doesn’t fare well either in the industrial world. In “The Door in the Wall,” it’s Wallace’s business ambitions that keep him from going through the door again. The life of the protagonist in “The Diamond Maker” is pretty much ruined by his gem fabrication technology. (The story includes a long description of the actual technology.) The protagonist of “A Moonlight Fable” is also driven a little mad when he isn’t let by his mother to wear his very nice, spiffy suit. The suit is a thing of the modern world, which is being curtailed by the past, and the man just can’t take it.

Unfortunately, some of Wells’ 19th century attitudes are on display as well. When Neptune and a rogue celestial body are hurtling toward Earth in “The Star,” the “savages” believe it’s a good portent while the scientist are sure that humanity is screwed. (Neither are exactly correct.) “The Lord of the Dynamos” gives us Azuma-zi, a black assistant from the “mysterious East,” a savage of the sort that “give(s) souls to rocks and trees—and a machine is a thousand times more alive than a rock or tree.” Azuma-zi ends up sacrificing his abusive supervisor to the power plant’s main dynamo…

Wells does subvert colonial notions in a stronger manner in “The Country of the Blind.” Nunez, a sighted English mountain climber, finds a sequestered city where everyone is blind. Believing the adage “In the land of the blind, the one-eye man is king,” he attempts to conquer them. When that doesn’t go well, he tries to fit in, but eventually leaves when the head of the society demands that his eyes be put out. In a way, this is a tale of colonialism repulsed.

Whatever the subject matter, I do like Wells’ style of writing. While many writers might shoot for dry allegory, Wells is always lively enough that I don’t feel entirely preached at. Definitely a bright spot in the early 20th century writings I’ve been reading lately.

{Book} The City on the Edge of Forever Teleplay

The City on the Edge of Forever Teleplay

The City on the Edge of Forever Teleplay by Harlan Ellison

The controversy has raged for almost 30 years–now readers can judge for themselves. Harlan Ellison wrote the original award-winning teleplay for “The City on the Edge of Forever, ” which was rewritten and became the most-loved Star Trek episode of all time. Ellison sued Paramount in protest and won. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
Was wanting an audio book to listen to while playing Minecraft. Saw this on hoopla, checked it out. I actually own this book in paperback form too, but it was nice to hear the teleplay as a full cast recording with Ellison reading the introduction.

What Did I Think?
The differences between the beloved Star Trek episode and the award-winning teleplay are interesting, worth your time if you like to examine different versions/translations of media. There’s also dirt on the beef Ellison had with Gene Roddenberry, which again, if you’re into that kind of thing… Ellison bolsters his arguments with testimonies from many people involved with Star Trek and Star Trek fandom, including original cast members. Including Walter Koenig (Chekov) whom Ellison had a contentious frenemy-ship with.

And I have stories about both Walter Koenig and Harlan Ellison.

In 1989, I went to a science fiction convention with my mom. It was the local Omaha convention, probably smaller than it is now. All of geekdom has become more mainstream. The big media guest was Walter Koenig. He did a short talk and took audience questions. I don’t remember much of the talk, it was pretty standard Trek stuff. Walter Koenig seemed like a pleasant, nice gentleman. After the talk, he hustled from the stage up the side aisle of the auditorium to get to the autograph table at the back. And he passed our row just as I was leaving. And I tripped Walter Koenig. It was pretty much a nonevent, but still…

In 2006, I attended the Nebula Award weekend here in Tempe. The grand master award that year went to Harlan Ellison. As part of the programming, Harlan Ellison gave a talk in ballroom. (He did not take audience questions.) I was sitting in an end chair along the center aisle. I remember it being late in the day, I was tired and I am short so I was sitting sort of crossways, leaning into the aisle. (No, I did not trip Harlan Ellison.) Ellison was introduced and started in on his schitck, then he stopped. “Are you alright?” he asked. “You know, they’re not going to put you in jail if you moved that chair two feet to the right.” I assured him I was fine.

I didn’t get either’s autograph.

Original Publishing info: White Wolf Publishing, 1996
My Copy: audio, Skyboat Media, 2016
Genre: science fiction, nonfiction

Review ~ The Violent Century

This book was provided to me by Tachyon Publications via NetGalley for review consideration.

The Violent Century cover

The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

A bold experiment has mutated a small fraction of humanity. Nations race to harness the gifted, putting them to increasingly dark ends. At the dawn of global war, flashy American superheroes square off against sinister Germans and dissolute Russians. Increasingly depraved scientists conduct despicable research in the name of victory

British agents Fogg and Oblivion, recalled to the Retirement Bureau, have kept a treacherous secret for over forty years. But all heroes must choose when to join the fray, and to whom their allegiance is owed—even for just one perfect summer’s day. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I’ve been a fan of Lavie Tidhar’s writings, especially his Century Station stories. The Violent Century is not one of those…

What Worked
There is a small, poignant human story at the heart of this tale of superheroes and superhero-sized espionage. Unfortunately…

What Didn’t Work
The story was buried under a layer of style and structure that kept the characters at a distance.

Instead of quotation marks, dialog is sometimes set off with em dashes and is sometimes subsumed into the surrounding paragraph. The result made all the characters seem flat, like I was overhearing this story through a bad telephone connection or watching it through a screen door. I was too removed to care about the characters.

The narrative is jumbled through places and times. This could work, giving it a woven together feel, but sometimes the time digressions didn’t lead very far. Chapters felt like prologues and vignettes; it was only in the longer chapters that I ever got into a good rhythm with Fogg and Oblivion.

Overall
I don’t mind doing a little work when I read, especially when the subject matter is something that has been done, like superheroes. But reading The Violent Century was arduous. I kept hoping Tidhar would let the readers into the story, but that never happened.

Original Publishing info: Tachyon Publications, July 23, 2019
My Copy: Kindle and ePub ARCs, NetGalley
Genre: science fiction