Review ~ Wicked Wonders

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

Cover via Goodreads

Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

The Scott O’Dell award-winning author of The Green Glass Sea returns with her second collection: a new decade of lyrical stories with vintage flair.

Inside of these critically-acclaimed tales are memorable characters who are smart, subversive, and singular. A rebellious child identifies with wicked Maleficent instead of Sleeping Beauty. Best friends Anna and Corry share a last melancholy morning before emigration to another planet. A prep-school girl requires more than mere luck to win at dice with a faerie. Ladies who lunch keeping dividing that one last bite of dessert in the paradox of female politeness.

Whether on a habitat on Mars or in a boardinghouse in London, discover Ellen Klages’ wicked, wondrous adventures full of brazenness, wit, empathy, and courage. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I almost didn’t read this book.

I saw it on offer at NetGalley from Tachyon Publications (the only publisher that I’m auto-approved with—why they put up with my grumpy reviews, I don’t know) and I was interested. But then I remembered that I had just purchased a Glen Hirshberg anthology, and I didn’t really need another short story anthology, and I have a never-ending TBR pile mostly because I request too many ARCs and…I let Wicker Wonders pass by.

But then I got an email from Tachyon about widgets or something, and I guess I clicked a request link, and BAM! Wicked Wonders was ready for download. So, I read it, as one does when books show up.

And I’m glad I did.

What Worked
Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite authors. I especially love his tales of childhood: adventures on bicycles to dark carnivals in the midst of summer thunderstorms. Great stuff, but it occurred to me sometime  in my 30s that all of Bradbury’s protagonists were boys. Makes sense since that’s his experience of the world, but I kind of wished that there were some of those kinds of stories with girl protagonists. Because, why not? Girls have adventures too.

Enter Ellen Klages and Wicked Wonders:

She intends to be a good girl, but shrubs and sheds and unlocked cupboards beckon.

Yep, Klages hooked me right there with that line.

The stories range across the spectrum of speculative fiction. “Singing on a Star” and “Friday Night at St. Cecilia’s” are strongly fantastical and “Goodnight Moons” is a straight-up sci-fi tale. On the other end, “The Education of a Witch” is only fantasy tinged and “Amicae Aeternum” is more of a bitter-sweet best-friends(who are girls!)-on-bikes story than space opera. There are even a couple of stories with no fantastic elements what-so-ever, including my favorite “Hey, Presto!” Had I known there was going to be a well-done historical fiction story with magicians I would have never hesitated to request this book!

What Didn’t Work
I am really picky about science fiction. For me, the most science fictiony story of Wicked Wonders, “Goodnight Moons,” was also the least successful. Happily, for me, science fiction is in the minority on this anthology.

Overall
I’m fairly sure that I haven’t read any Ellen Klages in the past. Coincidentally, I had also almost requested her latest novel Passing Strange from NetGalley when it was available, but had decided against it as well on the grounds that my TBR pile was too high. After reading Wicked Wonders…well, that TBR stack is just going to have to get stratospheric. Ms. Klages, you have a new fan.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle/Adobe Digital Edition, Tachyon Publications, May 23, 2017
Acquired: NetGalley, 3/13/2017
Genre: speculative fiction

Review ~ The Island of Dr. Moreau

Cover via Goodreads

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells

A shipwreck in the South Seas, a palm-tree paradise where a mad doctor conducts vile experiments, animals that become human and then “beastly” in ways they never were before — it’s the stuff of high adventure. It’s also a parable about Darwinian theory, a social satire in the vein of Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), and a bloody tale of horror.

As H. G. Wells himself wrote about this story, The Island of Dr. Moreau is an exercise in youthful blasphemy. “Now and then, though I rarely admit it, the universe projects itself towards me in a hideous grimace. It grimaced that time, and I did my best to express my vision of the aimless torture in creation.” (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I’ve been reading my way through H. G. Wells oeuvre. I was going to read The Invisible Man next, but The Island of Dr. Moreau has a more horror reputation and I wanted an extra title for Spring into Horror.

What Didn’t Work
The science is, of course, dated. Changing the gross physiology of an animal cannot make it into a more man-like creature. Likewise, the practice of vivisection was very controversial at the time of the novella’s original publication (1896), but the depictions are perhaps less shocking in our era of PETA disseminated photos of animals in labs. So, what does science fiction with outdated science hold for a modern audience?

What Worked
Wells did believe, on some level, that the novel’s premise might be possible, though probably not in the way the novel depicts. The novel is a spinning what-if that begins in science and tumbles into philosophy. The story is more interested in how beasts might gain humanity (through fear of the law) and how human might lose humanity (through giving in to baser nature). Alas, when the Law is chanted, the refrain is “no escape.”

This Law they were ever repeating, I found, and ever breaking.

In a weird way, The Island of Dr. Moreau reminds me of a twisted version of The Tempest: a castaway ruins the tenuous calm of a genius’s retreat from the world. That work too muses on the nature of humanity.

But, also, The Island of Dr. Moreau has some pretty tense moments. Like many classics, the adaptations really aren’t spoilers for the original. I know I’ve seen the 1996 movie with Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer and probably the 1977 version with Burt Lancaster too*, but I really didn’t know what was going to happen next. I know from the literary frame that Prendick will make it off the island, but like the tagline to another horror classic, what will be left of him? What I enjoy most about Wells is that, yes, he’s presenting a lot of his views of the world in his fiction, but, unlike Swift (see the blurb), he also writes a good story. Preach at me if you want, but entertain me too.

* My running playlist includes House of Pain. Two of the tracks on their first album sample the 1977 movie. “Commercial 2” has been the projected 1.5 mile mark on many of my 3K playlists

Overall
I am three for three with Mr. Wells. Looking forward to The Invisible Man.

Publishing info, my copy: ebook – HTML & Kindle, October 14, 2004 [EBook #159]
Acquired: Project Gutenberg
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction

Standout Stories from the Fantasy & Science Fiction, Mar-Apr 2017

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, January-February 2017

I set up a schedule to actually get an issue read in the two months before the next issue comes out. Genius! *cough*

There were two stories that I particularly enjoyed in this issue:

“The Man Who Put the Bomp” by Richard Chwedyk
According to the introduction to this novella, this is Richard Chwedyk’s fifth “saurs” story. I haven’t read the first four, but here’s what I gather to be the situation thus far: Saurs were genetically engineered to be playthings. Imagine if the plastic dinosaurs you played with as a kid moved around and could be your “Teddy Ruxpin”/”Furby”-like companions. But the saurs turn out to be more than just toys. They are alive. They have intelligence and autonomy. After a era of struggle, they have a kind of freedom, living in small enclaves, watched over by a few caretakers, and besieged by bio-tech corporations that wish to learn their secrets.

This story revolves around one such safe house. The cast of saur characters is confusingly large (really the only neagtive criticism I have about the story). Among them is Axel (an inventor theropod with a traumatic past*), Agnes (a stegosaur who wants to protect the community to a xenophobic degree), Tibor (who believes himself to be the ruler of Tiborea), Bronte (who has recently hatched an egg, even though saurs weren’t supposed to be able to procreate), Preston (author of bestselling thrillers), and the mysterious, mad-scientist sauropod, Geraldine. Geraldine may or may not be behind the appearance of the VOOM!, a bright pink kid-sized car.

“No good ever came from anything pink!”

Ambition is at the heart of this story. Scientists Nicholas Danner, who worked on the saur’s original genetic code, and an up-and-comer Christine Haig are sent to investigate the happens at the saur safe house. Danner must come to terms with what he helped create and Christine must decide whether the saurs are what they say they are. And in the meantime, Axel and Tibor endeavor to go on a tour of Tiborea in the VOOM!

There are shenanigans, hijinks, and a lot of humor.

* Have you seen the videos of things people do to Furbies?

“Daisy” by Eleanor Arnason

“I’m doing a job for Art.”
“He’s a nasty man, Emily. Don’t get mixed up wit him.”
“I’m trying to track down his pet octopus. Someone stole it.”
“His what?”
“His octopus.”

Art Pancakes is a mobster. Emily Olson is a private eye. And Daisy is a missing octopus.

Octopuses are weird critters. They seem to be more intelligent than most animals and they are quite alien, alien in the sense of otherness. This story is very lightly science fiction and probably just fantasy. I’ll be honest, I saw a few of the plot points from far out, but that didn’t make this story any less good.

Review ~ The Time Machine

Cover via Goodreads

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

The Time Machine tells the story of the Time Traveler, an inventor living in Victorian England. Traveling into the distant future using his time machine he encounters the descendants of humans and witnesses the end of life on earth. Wells’ first published book, The Time Machine, popularized the concept of human time travel and has influenced countless works of fiction. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
After reading The War of the Worlds in December and Melville’s Moby-Dick in February, I’ve become intrigued by the amount science and natural history that is included in these 100+ year old novels and by the genre called scientific romance. (No, Moby-Dick doesn’t quite fit that genre, but it does include an enthusiasm for scientific fact that I feel is missing from a lot of modern literature, even modern science fiction.) So, there’s probably going to be quite a bit of Wells, Jules Verne, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s adventures in this blog in the near future.

I also have a guilty pleasure to admit to. Back at the beginning of March, ABC premiered Time After Time. It’s based Karl Alexander’s novel of the same name (and a subsequent 1979 movie). The premise? A young H. G. Wells pursues Jack the Ripper to the modern era and falls in love with Jane, a historian (in the TV series). The science in the show is terrible. Actually, much of the writing is pretty bad and occasionally cliched. But H. G. and Jane are so cute together.* It’s enough to melt even my cold unromantic heart. But if you haven’t watched, don’t invest your time; it’s already been cancelled.

* I’m guessing that the series wasn’t going to bring too much of the historical Wells into the story. His views on sex were, uh, progressive.

What Worked
I enjoy Wells’ writing style. He adeptly mixes science with his social and psychological views. The Time Machine is a fairly simple story. Our narrator tells of the Time Traveller and recounts the Traveller’s tale after he returns from journeying to the far future.

The Traveller’s first jump takes him to a future in which humanity has split into two species: the Eloi and the Morlocks. Both are the products of a society in which one class valued ease of life and the other class has been forced to be the laborers. Taken to the extreme, the Eloi no longer know how to do anything, while the Morlocks only thrive underground, taking care of the machinery that keeps both societies going. Since agriculture is no longer supported, the Eloi live on plants and the Morlocks…live on Eloi. In both cases, intellectualism has fallen by the wayside. The Traveller’s second jump takes him to the end of the world.

In both cases, the imagery Wells uses is unlike anything I’ve read. I’ve watched the 1960 film ages ago and I don’t remember it doing justice to the text in this regard. It’s far enough into the future to be alien. And, while the novel (novella) might have spawned an entire science fiction genre, it doesn’t deal with the usual time travel paradox problems.

What Didn’t Work
It was way too short. I was reading an ebook version released in conjunction with Felix Palma’s The Map of Time. The last half of the file was a preview of that book! Curse you, ebooks!

Also, I part of my brain cries out, “But Katherine, didn’t you just complain about three guys creating a world-altering technology basically in their basement. Isn’t Wells doing the same thing here?” And, well, yes. Perhaps the Victorian scientific romance is the basis for the now very annoying trope of the lone mad scientist. (Or maybe it’s Mary Shelley’s fault. I haven’t done enough reading…) But, I’ll give hundred year old novels a bit of a pass on this one.

Likewise, I’ll give it a pass on the only female in the book being Weena, a helpless Eloi who continually needs to be saved and/or protected. For a while, Wells doesn’t describe the Eloi in terms of having gender. They seem to be a rather dim bunch, with a simple language, living in structures that they have not built themselves. Kind of reminded me of villagers in Minecraft…

Overall
I enjoyed The Time Machine. It wasn’t on my March TBR list, but it might have broke my reading slump.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle ebook, Atria Books, May 31, 2011
Acquired: March 10, 2017, Amazon
Genre: science fiction, scientific romance

Standout Stories from the Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan-Feb 2017

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, January-February 2017 edited by C. C. Finlay

I reviewed the Nov-Dec issue on January 27th. Here it is only March 22rd and I’ve finished the Jan-Feb issue. Progress! These are the standouts from the issue. Note: I didn’t say favorites.

“Vinegar and Cinnamon” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

I could lead a comfortable rat-wizard life.

Maura is the golden child of the family; she has some ability with magic and is being taught how to use it. Sam is the good child of the family; he does his chores and then some to help the family get by. One day, by mistake, Maura turns Sam into a rat. And as a rat, Sam could have a very different life… Lovely story full of fairy tale and sibling rivalry.

“Alexandria” by Monica Byrne
This only slightly a science fiction story. Beth is a widower. A native of Kansas, she married a man, Keiji, from Japan. On their honeymoon, they went to Egypt to see the Lighthouse of Alexandria, not realizing it no longer existed. After that, they both “traveled” through their mutual love of books and maps. But now that Keiji is gone, Beth is left with farm land and very little to remember her husband by. So she builds a monument. The sci-fi elements are the sectional epigraphs from the future describing the confusing archaeological artifact found in what was once Kansas. It’s only March, but this might make it to my year end “best of.”

“Wetherfell’s Reef Runics” by Marc Laidlaw
According to the introduction, Marc Laidlaw lives on the island of Kauai. Therefore, I’m going to take his use of Hawaiian culture and slang as genuine and well-intentioned. I hope so, because it’s that Hawaiian flair that gives this light Lovecraftian story some extra omph.

“One Way” by Rick Norwood
Oh man, this story annoyed me. We start out with Harvey (has-been physicist), Jerry (boy genius), and Sam (uh, does the soldering). Together, just the three of them, build a perpetual energy machine…that just might destroy the world. My first objection to this story is the built-in-a-basement style engineering. That isn’t how things are developed and made. To recuse myself, I’m married to an engineer. The majority of my social circle are engineers. I’m a little protective of the fact that it takes many more people that anyone realizes to create the electronic wonders we use daily. And then there was Deloris, Jerry’s girlfriend. Deloris is an English major. Deloris doesn’t know science. Direct quote from Deloris: “That sounds important. I don’t know any science…” Deloris’s only purpose in the story is to have one of the male characters explain to her (and to us, the readers) what’s going on. It really bothered me that a story in one of the more prominent sci-fi literature magazines had such a poorly depicted female character. To further recuse myself, I have a degree in English literature. I also know some science.

Favorite Stories from Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov-Dec 2016

Cover via ISFDB

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November-December 2016

I purchased a subscription to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction back in Sept. 2016 due to one short story. While the subscription only cost me $5, I decided that if I was going to justify this, I was going to actually read each issue…unlike every other time I’ve had a fiction magazine subscription.

My reviewing of issues might get better as the year goes on, but for Nov/Dec 2016 I’m just going to highlight what I found to be the outstanding stories. All of these authors were new to me.

“The Rhythm Man” by James Beamon – Would you make a deal with the devil? If could, what would you ask for? What is that thing in your heart of hearts that you’d sell your soul for? All that bluesman Horace wants from the Rhythm Man is a song… Great mythology and a marvelous sense of place in the setting.

“Lord Elgin at the Acropolis” by Minsoo Kang – The director of a museum is certain that paintings and sculptures are being replaced by forgeries. Except, there’s no evidence. The art is re-certified as original; the security tapes show no tampering. Is he going insane? Or is technology beyond current comprehension to blame? This is half story, half thought experiment, and all good.

“Special Collections” by Kurt Fawver

We only have two rules at the library. The first is that you don’t go into Special Collections without a partner.

I’m lying when I say I don’t like cosmic horror. My problem, I think, is one of scale. To abruptly see some grand transdimentional horror and claim that it is so incomprehensible that it inspires insanity—that doesn’t work for me. But show me the little things that get under a character’s skin, show me the creeping obsessions that lead to questionable moral choices. Then, I’m all in. “Special Collections” is a deliciously spooky tale.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle (the navigation is really nice!), Spilogale, Inc., Nov. 2016
Acquired: Sept. 2016
Genre: science fiction, fantasy, horror

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Deal Me In, Week 49 ~ “I’m in Marsport Without Hilda”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What is Deal Me In?

“I’m in Marsport Without Hilda” by Isaac Asimov

Card picked: Eight of Clubs
From: Asimov’s Mysteries

Thoughts: In the introduction to “I’m in Marsport…”, Asimov relates being called out by an editor for never including love scenes (or “naughty motifs”) in his stories because the editor believed that Asimov couldn’t write them. Asimov took this as a challenge and wrote this “science-fiction love story.” Asimov was pleased with it and considered it a success. I can’t tell if he’s serious…

Max, a James Bond type (Asimov’s words in the intro), finds himself on a layover in Marsport…for once without his wife Hilda. He wastes no time setting up a date with Flora.

Flora and a body that had been made up out out of heaping handfuls of all that as soft and fragrant and firm; Flora and a low-gravity room and a way about her that made it seem like free fall through a warm, breathable ocean of champagne-flavored meringue—

Uh, yeah. Other than these qualities Flora seems to be an air-headed money-grubber.

Max’s “date” is interrupted before it begins by a matter of galactic significance. Three planetary bigwigs are landing at Marsport. One of them is smuggling a shipment of altered Spaceoline. Spaceoline is a drug that makes space travel possible by countering the space sickness that affects many travelers. While non-addictive, it does leave its users in a relaxed, brain-addled state. The altered form is highly addictive. Of course, one cannot go around accusing planetary bigwigs of wrong-doing. Max needs proof before he can search any of them. He deduces that the smuggler would not risk being impaired by regular Spaceoline. This isn’t as helpful as Max hopes because the smuggler is instead going to pretend to be impaired.

How can Max suss the true smuggler? The solution revolves around a bawdy story about Flora, which thankfully is not related. But can he do it before Flora makes another “date” for the evening? And will his wife find out about Flora (because making up for the delay will be pricey)?

If I could go back in time, I’d advise Asimov to not worry about…ahem…romance. “Stick to robots, Isaac,” I’d say. “They’re your forte.”