Don’t get stepped on

34954246My first experience with what could be called Kaiju was the Godzilla cartoon (and Godzuuuuuuki… ignore the cries of horror) when I was a kid. My second was the Power Rangers series when I was in my twenties. The most recent was the latest Godzilla movie and Pacific Rim. I always thought they were fun, but not much more than that.

Giant Creatures in the World takes a long look at the Kaiju genre, and uses it as a reflection of the culture of the various times. While I doubt that producers were quite as deliberate as the essays might make it seem, they do make a good argument for a reflection between the movies and attitudes of the various times towards women, foreigners, the military, government and other subjects.

The essays in the collection were intriguing, covering from the era of the first Godzilla movie (and before by bringing in movies like King Kong as a predecesor) through to the far more recent Pacific Rim.

Unfortunately, there were a few quirks that brought down my enjoyment of the book. First of all, I think there was only one essay that didn’t include a variation on ‘this essay will discuss’, which made it feel a little like they all were written based on the college instructions on how to write an essay. The author bios make it clear that these aren’t college students, so couldn’t they have let the essays communicate on their own, without telling me explicitely what they intend to do?

There are also a few bad word choices scattered around. For example, an object does not revision something. Revision is a nown, not a verb. It might reinvision something, though. As well, there was one of my pet peeve homonym issues in that you ‘rein’ something in, not ‘reign’. A little more editing (and certainly copy-editing) would have helped a lot.


What I’m reading this weekend

Ah, weekends. Aren’t they wonderful things

I finally finished listening to George Saunder’s Lincoln in the Bardo, after working my way back to the top of the library wait list, a month and a half later. I’d been a little iffy about wanting to finish it, but the last 20% turned the whole book around for me. I have to say, though, the audiobook works much better than print for this story. Flipping through the paper book in the store, the jumping from voice to voice didn’t work as well in print as it does when dealing with a full-cast recording. I definitely recommend the audiobook for the story, which ended up completely different from what I expected.

So, my new audiobook is Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat by Giles Milton. I’ve listened to the first chapter, and I’m looking forward to the rest. After all, I’ve really enjoyed other books about the stories of WWII that you don’t hear every day.

My current bathtub reading is another Executioner novel, 430: Deadly Salvage. This one includes Russian nukes and a sadistic billionaire with plans. Cheesy fun.

I’m about to finish a book of essays from NetGalley. Giant Creatures in Our World: Essays on Kaiju and American Popular Culture tackles a trope that has been around for more than a half-century, if not a century: the Kaiju. Giant creatures that can be bad guys or good, depending on the story. And like Zombies, Kaiju movies can cover a multitude of commentaries on modern society, and the essays in this volume cover the gamut. I do have some problems with the writings, but I am enjoying the book as a whole.

And the other NetGalley book I’m reading is Girls Made of Glass and Snow by Melissa Bashardoust. It’s a fantasy novel with a new twist on Snow White.

And on the horizon from NetGalley are The Emerald Circus (short stories by Jane Yolen), Paradox Bound (a new novel from Peter Clines, a fantastic writer) and the book that made me do a happy dance when I was accepted, Artemis, the second novel from Andy Weir, author of The Martian.

47 years and counting…

28010373In recent months, I’ve got through a whole bunch of books in the Mack Bolan universe, which make for great bathtub reading due to pace and length. I figured I might as well do a post on the multiple series and their histories.

Mack Bolan has a long and bizarre history. The first novel was published in 1969 (!) by Pinnacle Books, written by Don Pendleton. In the series, Mack Bolan is a soldier in Vietnam who gets called home after his family is destroyed. It turns out that his father owed a loan shark a lot of money, and since he couldn’t pay for it, his daughter (Mack’s sister) was forced into prostitution. In shame, the father shoots his entire family and then committed suicide. The only survivor was the youngest, Johnny. When Mack finds out, he goes on a crusade to wipe out the Mafia, acquiring allies and enemies along the way.

People who read Marvel Comics are probably going ‘wait a second, that sounds an awful lot like The Punisher’. Well, the Punisher first appeared in 1974, five years after the Executioner. There have also been interviews that indicates that the creator of the Punisher was influenced by Don Pendleton’s books. Today, they probably would be sued for plagiarism.

Continue reading “47 years and counting…”

Mice are really important, you know

31702736Note: This review includes minor spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Beggars in Spain has been my favorite Nancy Kress novel since back when it first came out, and one of my favorite social science fiction novels by any writer. Tomorrow’s Kin may have taken over for it. Mind you, the two novels have some elements in common, including the fact that both started as shorter pieces.

Tomorrow’s Kin takes a previous novella, Yesterday’s Kin, and spins it out. Basically, aliens come to Earth, but before to the start of the book, no one actually gets to see them. But now, an older geneticist (and how many books have a protagonist that is a grandmother?) is chosen to actually meet the aliens about the reason they came to Earth, which is a cloud of spores that will kill everyone on the planet. It turns out that the aliens are humans removed from Earth in the distant past for unknown reasons by unknown aliens, and the reason they came to Earth is that their world is in the path of the spores, but not until after Earth encounters it, so if a cure can be found, it will save them as well. Also, they want Dr. Marianne Jenner to find people who have their genome, since they want to meet their distant relatives (for reasons). It also turns out that her adopted son is one of those relative. (she has three children: a border patrol member who gets irate because the aliens are foreigners, and an environmentalist who is irate because of invasive species, and the youngest, a drug addict who is absorbed into the alien society).

This only covers the first third of the book, and then things get interesting. Turns out that the spores aren’t going to kill (many) people on Earth. However, when it comes, it wipes out most mice in the world, because they are vulnerable. This leads to a well thought out environmental disaster, followed by the innevitable economic disaster. Also, children after the spore cloud are born with either no hearing, or hypersensitive hearing.

The aliens left behind plans for space ships so that once they are built, Earth can come to their home, World. Only thing is, people think (in typical human prejudice) that if the aliens hadn’t shown up, all the bad wouldn’t happen. As a result, ships are being built, but the builders are planning to go attack World for revenge, because people seem to assume that the human aliens knew exactly what would happen and didn’t warn them about the other results of the spores. Personally, I think that attitude is asinine, but I can see it happening in the real world. Just look at the current political climate to see examples of this sort of thinking on both sides of the political divide.

But let’s avoid political debates, since they never turn out well.

The parts that fascinated me the most was the parts about the far-reaching effects of mice disappearing (kind of like the real world problems that could come from colony collapse among bees). And the whole business of the children with hyper hearing reminded me of the kids who don’t need to sleep in Beggars in Spain.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and I look forward to the other (forthcoming) two books in the trilogy.

Walking out on Civilization

34956706One of my goals over the last two years was to expand my reading into areas that I might not have gone looking for before. And while I have read books on climate change, they have been primarily in the science field, by writers like Elizabeth Kolbert (The Sixth Extinction)

But Walking on Lava is not a science book about climate change. Instead, it is a more literary look at the world, climate change, and destruction of the environment. Artwork, poetry, stories, memoirs, and essays collected from the Dark Mountain Project magazine (which I had never heard of before

Honestly, I may not have been the ideal target for this book. On the one hand, I admired the writing as I was reading, but I also wasn’t really buying the message. There was a lot of talking about the dangers of civilization, and how it is destroying the world, over and over again. Instead, we should go back to living in harmony with the world, like our ancestors. But no one mentions the elephant in the room: to make that workable, you would probably have to get rid of as much as 3/4 of the world population. There’s just too many people to live local and on subsistence farming. And even if we did reduce the population, humans tend to breed at a growth rate, especially if you are trying to grow enough food for the local area (someone has to work the fields, after all). From all the history I’ve read, overpopulation isn’t the fault of civilization, it that civilization came about due to overpopulation to deal with the friction that resulted.

Still, the writing was (for the most part) lovely, and did make me think in places, even when I disagreed. ‘Shikataganai’ in particular, near the end of the book, affected me deeply.

War of the Worlds I and II

33269113I recently got the chance to read The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter, from NetGalley. It is written as a direct sequel to HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds, using the very same characters, but setting it in 1920, when the second Martian invasion arrives.

To really get the feel for this, I got the audiobook of the original novel from the Library and listened to it in between reading the new book, and I am impressed at just how well Baxter echoes the writing style of the original. The original only fleshes out the character of the narrator, who is a rather unlikeable type. Other than a brief switch over to a different character, the narrator is the only point of view character in the whole (short) novel, and only a handful of other characters (and only a couple of the survivors) even get names. One of those few named secondary characters is the primary character in The Massacre of Mankind (a title that also comes from a line in the original novel).

In the original classic, a series of explosions are seen on Mars. Sometime later, metal cylinders land on Earth in the area immediately around London. When they open, Martians emerge and starting building machines that allow them to move around in the higher gravity of Earth, and defeat all attempts to resist them. The narrator is trapped inside the invasion zone, and meets a number of other survivors, and spends a period later in the book trapped with a curate in a half-destroyed house right next to the pit where a later cylinder landed, unable to escape. When the increasingly deranged curate endangers them both, he has little choice but to kill the man to save himself. Finally, when the noises of the Martians disappear, he emerges from the house and heads into London, where he finds the Martians dead or dying, killed by Earth bacteria. He then covers a little of the start of recovery, including the fact that the narrator is clearly suffering from PTSD, which surprised me, since I thought awareness of this only began with the first World War, and this novel was published more than a decade before that war.

The Massacre of Mankind begins more than a decade later, when the Miss Elphinstone who appears in the original novel, is a reporter in the US. She is summoned by her former brother-in-law Walter (the narrator of the original novel) to Berlin. History has much changed as a result of the original invasion. WWI did not happen, since when Germany started invading their neighbours, including France, the rest of the world was not inclined to fight back after rebuilding from the Martian war.

The reason for the summons is that a new fleet has been launched from Mars. Instead of one canon shooting cylinders, now there are ten, shooting even more of their vessels. And the Martians learned from their previous failed invasion, so while the military expects the same timeline as the previous invasion, they are quickly overwhelmed by the new tactics. The Martians are able to set up a foothold in England, with people trapped inside the zone of control, making do with their situation, while the people outside work on coming up with a new biological weapon. This is followed by a second wave that spreads out from England, with snippets about the invaders hitting the US, South Africa, Germany, and other parts of the world. The new, female, narrator becomes an integral part of the attempt to stop the Martians from taking over the entire world.

While the original novel feels rather dated, the new novel was fantastic, while preserving the feel of the original (including the ridiculous ideas about the evolution of the solar system). The change to a female narrator gives a different slant on the story, since sexism. Beyond her, there are other strong women, heroic characters, characters that are anything but. And the ending wraps things up, while leaving everything on a note of uncertainty that means that if there is room for a follow-up, but if none appears, we have a satisfying ending.

When Security Fails

25810610Security, by Gina Wohlsdorf, is one of the better first novels that I’ve read in a while, despite a few annoying minor flaws, and I would definitely recommend it to suspense fans.

Manderly Resort is a new operation, about to open. Tessa is the manager driving the project for her rich boss. She’s the product of the foster system, and her foster brother/crush, an extreme biker star, has shown up to see her for the first time since the death of his twin brother. She doesn’t really have time to deal with him, since she’s trying to wrangle a temperamental chef, married staffers having a rough patch, a cleaner who has issues with men, and a lover who is chief of security, up on the twentieth floor where no one except security even knows how to get to.

Oh, and there is a pair of killers lurking in the building, killing people off, one by one, but no one knows that they are there, other than the narrator of the book.

I did find the apparently omniscient narrator to get a handle on at the start of the book, but when you reach the point where you find out the truth about the narrator, I went ‘ooooohh, now I get it. That’s clever.’

There were some characters that I really wanted to survive (the previously mentioned cleaner who turns out to be tougher than expected was top of my list, not Tessa or her foster brother/crush). There were other characters who I would have cheerfully killed myself (the married pair were top of the list).

But as much as I enjoyed the book, there were some sloppy parts that had me gritting my teeth. The worst was the point where there is a smell that has a character investigation, opening door after door, only to be called away before opening the door where he would have seen a dead body, giving away the game. He never bothered to go back, which made me want to smack him.

There’s also the danced around conversation between Tessa and her brother that keeps being put off, which made me want to knock their heads together.

And seriously, a glamorous resort, but members of the staff are using the penthouses as their homes away from home? That seems a little iffy.

SPOILER. Finally, who were the damn killers? Since the narrator turns out to be very limited, we never find out more than his speculation of who they are or why they are doing this. As well, if they are planning on killing everyone, why did they let all the sous-chefs and kitchen staff leave to go home, even after the killing has (quietly) started. Plus, the security staff were pretty damned ineffective, considering they were killed with little to no effort./SPOILER

The final action sequence definitely saved the book for me. At the end, despite unanswered questions, I was very satisfied with the book. I will say, though, it feels like instead of a book, it should have been a kick-ass summer thriller movie. I look forward to seeing what the author does next.

What I’m reading (the summer doldrums)

It’s summer time, and my reading has slowed down a fair bit. And this week I was on vacation, which leads to even less reading. I know this goes against the usual wisdom, but that’s the way it is in my world. Well, with one exception. When my brain is looking for fluff, I read fanfiction.

Still, I am reading.

I am currently *nearly* finished The Massacre of Mankind. At over 500 pages, it has taken me a while, but I’ve been really enjoying it. Certainly, in the last 150 pages, it has really cranked into high gear as the Martians move on the rest of the world, not just England.

I didn’t finish Lincoln in the Bardo before it went back to the library, but I’ve reserved the audiobook again to find out how the last 15% of the story ends. I’m still not sure I enjoyed it, but I want to know what happens in the end. Instead, I am now listening to an audiobook version of The War of the Worlds as a companion to The Massacre of Mankind. I’m two thirds of the way through, and it’s interesting seeing some of the characters from the Baxter sequel turning up.

I’m about halfway through Walking on Lava from the Dark Mountain Project, via NetGalley. It’s interesting, but I do find elements of it annoyingly intent on ‘technology bad, back to the land good’. The old ways were just as damaging to the world as modern ways, plus the fact that the population would have to drop drastically to make it work hasn’t been addressed.

I did finish the Stony Man book, so my new paper book for the bathtub is Run by Blake Crouch. He is the author of the trilogy that became the TV series Wayward Pines. Crouch started out as a self-published author before being picked up as part of Amazon’s publishing wing, focusing on mostly sort of SF horror thrillers.

But I have to get cracking, because I have a huge lineup of NetGalley books to tackle. I certainly can’t request any more until I get through them. Besides the two I am currently reading, I’ve got Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust (coming out in September), Tomorrow’s Kin by Nancy Kress (coming out next week), The Emerald Circus collection by Jane Yolen (coming out in November), Giant Creatures in our World (a non-fiction book about Kaiju coming out in November) and Pardox Bound by an old favorite Peter Clines (coming out in September).

I also have a few blog posts/reviews to actually write. I should have one out tomorrow, with any luck.

What I’m reading this Weekend

This is going to be a quiet weekend for once. In the last three weeks, I cheered for my younger niece to do well at Destination Imagination Global finals, then went to my older niece’s dance recital, and then last weekend the younger niece got her black belt (juvenile version). Being a spinster aunt can be busy!

My audiobook for walks and knitting: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, with a full cast. This is a weird one, in that the production is well done, the idea is interesting, but for some reason it isn’t entirely working for me. I’m about 1/3 through.

My paper book for the bath: Stony Man 104: Extinction Crisis by Douglas P Wojtowicz. The Stony Man/Executioner universe is my go-to for a bath book when I don’t have anything else. This one involves an enemy using robots to sabotage nuclear plants in Isreal, Egypt, France and the US for as yet unknown reasons.

Current ebook: The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter. This is a sequel to War of the Worlds, including some of the characters from the original. After an alternate version of WWI that came after the first Martian War (Germany ended up taking over because no one was interested in fighting them, really), the Martians come again, and they’ve learned from the last time. I got this one from NetGalley, since it won’t be out until late August. I’m about 1/3 through, and enjoying it greatly.

On the horizon: I’ve got two more books from NetGalley: Walking on Lava from the Dark Mountain Project (releasing in July), and Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust (releasing in September).

Mythical and not so mythical Lost Cities

34314633Lost cities are a popular myth throughout the world. Shangri-La and El Dorado are two well known ones. The idea of a place unknown, and hidden civilisations is tempting, and usually reflect what the people telling the story want most. Shangri-La is a land of peace in the middle of war. El Dorado is a source of endless supplies of gold.

A few years ago, I read David Grann’s The Lost City of Z, which was recently turned into a movie. This was more typical of the ‘searching for a lost city’ stories, in that it was set in 1925, where an intrepid British explorer, Percy Fawcett, disappeared into the jungles of the Amazon, along with his son and another companion, and none were ever heard from again, despite follow-up expeditions trying to find them.

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston, however, is set in the last decade. Instead of striking out into the jungle based on legends, they used Lidar, a plane mounted laser system, to search for the lost city of Ciudad Blanca through technological methods, and when not one, but *two* unknown sets of ruins were found, an expedition was sent in by helicopter to find out just what the Lidar had seen.

Based on that, you might think that the excitement wouldn’t be there, but you would be wrong. All of the excitement of discovery is there.

The book covers a lot of territory, beyond just the expedition. We get the history of the various searches for Ciudad Blanca (aka the lost city) through the last century in the Mosquitia Coast of Honduras (a very unsafe area). Then we get the Lidar expedition that found the evidence of the city. There’s Honduran politics, the ground expedition, colonial history, academic controversy, and medical fallout from the expedition.

Preston’s return to the site at the very end of the book made me a little melancholy, and it was clear that it was the same for him. The valley where the ruins were found is no longer the same pristine condition as when they first went in, and it’s kind of a shame, even though it wouldn’t have stayed that way much longer.

I did wonder if Lidar would be able to find the Lost City of Z that Fawcett disappeared while hunting for, though.

Jonestown on water

32197111Dystopic fiction has been a trend in YA fictions, since well before The Hunger Games. For example, when I was younger I read a lot John Christopher, including the Tripod series (post-alien invasion) and The Sword of the Spirits trilogy (post-ecological disaster), or John Whyndham’s The Chrysalids (set in Canada with fundamentalists targeting mutations) and The Day of the Triffids (alien plants wiping out the world).

No, Dystopias and post-apocalyptic worlds have been very popular through the years. The current trend had been on a bit of a down-swing, but we’ll see if the current state of the world makes it swing back up again.

The Ship is a British book (they do like their dystopias), set after economic/ecological collapse. Lalla’s father helped set up the dystopia (without an identity card and ‘screen’, you really don’t have a hope), but in secret he is setting up an escape for a carefully selected 500. Some are selected for the knowledge, and others because he approves of their actions (although sometimes the actions weren’t what he assumed them to be). Finally, he takes his wife and daughter to a waiting ship that he has loaded with those select, and enough supplies to last them for decades, although his wife is shot in the trip, and dies soon after they reach the ship.

The book focuses on the daughter, Lalla, who has her doubts. She bounces between sensible (supplies don’t last forever, and what about when things start to break down?) and teenaged naivetie (she wants to take the ship’s supplies back to London to help the people there… for a week at the most). She is obsessed with fruit that can’t be grown anymore in poisoned soil. When her mother was dying, she turned off the pain drugs because she was certain her mother would want to know she was there, and her mother dies in agony as a result.

To be honest, I really had trouble identifying with Lalla who has managed to get through the collapse, including actually seeing people killed, and yet is so naive that she thinks a ship’s supplies could save everyone in London.

I was more interested in the other passengers, and even her father. Not the love interest, though, who barely go any development. It was more the mother who refused to simply declare Lalla’s father, Michael, her son’s new father like everyone else on the ship, insisting on teaching him about his dead father. Or the woman in the laundry whose own daughter had turned away from her because of optimism (in a story much like Lalla’s the woman’s farm in Africa was sealed off from the suffering around it, but the daughter insisted on cutting down the wires to let in refugees, resulting in her father’s death at her own hands).

Over time, Michael started to remind me more and more of Jim Jones, and the ship as Jonestown, where the innevitable end will be death for everyone. The ship is going in circles in the ocean, with no plans to ever find land, but with no weapons, how would they fight off pirates.

The ending is appropriately ambiguous, but I figure it could be summed up as ‘Lalla starves in her rowboat, and eventually everyone else died, and nothing was saved’.

Thanks to NetGalley for a copy of this book.

Don’t piss off a Feminist writer

26114478Kameron Hurley is an interesting person. I’ve read a couple of her novels, and found them interesting, if not completely to my tastes, but her blog is even more engrossing. She is an out and proud feminist, and her blog reflects a lot of those views. She is a favorite target of the ultra right-wing blogger Vox Day, and I really don’t recommend taking a look at his blog if you have blood pressure issues. She also writes a periodic Commentary essay for Locus Magazine, alternating with Cory Doctorow.

The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of her blog posts, as well as guest posts written for other websites. the book divides it into sections about her life, the craft of writing, and fandom. The reprints are mixed with new essays written for this volume

One of the best known of these posts is ‘We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative‘, which can still be read online. Reading this essay will give you a pretty good feel for the book as a whole. It also explains the cover (she uses Llamas as a metaphor for women in fiction).

I bought this in paper, but listened to it as an audiobook from the library. The narrator was in danger of coming across as a little shrill in places, but she does a good job. Listening to a couple essays a day on my commute home was a great way to consume this book.