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.

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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.

Weekend Reading – the last weekend of May

Heading into another weekend (and remotely cheering for my niece who is competing at the Destination Imagination Global Finals in Tennessee). Since my sister is with the Isobel in Tennessee, my brother-in-law is taking the other kid to Niagara Falls for the weekend, so it will be a quiet weekend. So, what am I reading?

My audiobook for walks and knitting: The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston. It’s non-fiction, and sounded really interesting, so I reserved it from the library/overdrive. Conveniently enough, it hit my account the same day that I finished The Geek Feminist Revolution audiobook (I plan to write a review this weekend)

My paper book for the bath: Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse edited by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia. I read a previous anthology in the line, Dead North, which was Zombie stories. I definitely plan to read another anthology from the line, Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories. There are plenty of excellent short story writers in Canada.

My ebook of the moment: The Ship from Antonia Honeywell. This is a YA novel that was originally published two years ago, and is now get publication in the US. Dystopia on a ship after the world collapses under (not very defined) climactic and economic disasters. I got this from Netgalley,

Waiting in the wings: From Netgalley I have The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter, a sequel to War of the Worlds. I’m also waiting to see if I’ll get the go-ahead from Netgalley for The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch, which sounds like a time travel horror thriller. It’s coming out next winter, and I am crossing fingers, since it sounds really intriguing.

I’ve also got some new ebook purchases (gotta love ebook sales): The Burial Hour by Jeffrey Deaver (mystery), Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar (literary sf), Reenu-You by Michele Tracy Berger (an sf novella around issues for women of colour), and a bunch of Agatha Christie mysteries.

James Patterson BookShots

James Patterson is a writer I am very conflicted on. I read — and enjoyed — a number of his early Alex Cross books (before they were even turned into movies), but over time, I lost interest in him, mainly when he went to becoming an industry instead of a person. The majority of his books these days are written by other authors with some input from him. After all, how else can one man be approaching 200 books with his name on them (unless, of course, your name is Isaac Asimov)

Last year he came up with BookShots, yet another go at novella publishing. Novellas have been printed in the past, and with ebooks there’s been a resurgence of novellas. I did find the press a little over the top, like it was some new concept, printing short novels that are faster paced and shorter. The only difference from similar lines that have been published in Britain and Australia is that they are being billed as for readers with little free time instead of books for reluctant readers. Oh, and those other stories didn’t plaster a single author’s name all over them.

So, recently I read/listened to four books in this line. What did I think of them?

29852424Zoo 2 is sequel to a very bad novel, of course called Zoo. I read the first book, thinking that the concept sounded interesting, only to want to throw the book at the wall (I didn’t, since it was a library book), mainly due to the portrayal of the female character. It also ended on a ‘the world as we know it is over’ note.

So, when the sequel came out, I was reluctant, but decided what the heck, it’s short, and it’s a different writer. Unfortunately, the problems with the first book were just amplified in the seconds. I made it through the book, but only just, and the ending implied that there will be a Zoo 3 someday.

Strangely, the television show based on the first book is actually quite enjoyable. They took the concept, and went in a completely different direction, which is good thing.

29858367Then we have Killer Chef, a murder mystery set in New Orleans. The detective is a cop who moonlights as a food truck chef. Or maybe it’s the other way around, since it always seems like he’s leaving the food truck he runs with his ex-wife to go to a crime scene, this time being a series of murders at high end restaurants. There’s only one scene in the entire story where he is at the police station. Doesn’t the man have to do any paperwork?

Between that, and the fact that he sleeps with two different women during the investigation (both of whom are part of the case), I was inclined to toss the book. Plus, while he identifies how the poison got to the restaurants, he never does figure out how the poison is delivered to the right diners and only them. It’s a fatal flaw in the book as a mystery.

31423215Then we have Taking the Titanic, an historical caper novel set on the Titanic. Two thieves team up, getting on the ill-fated Titanic in first class in order to hustle their fellow passengers, while accidentally falling in love (of course). There are secrets that come up to bite them, and I’m not sure I believed the ending. I also wasn’t crazy about any of the characters, including the child in danger. In the end, it was better written than Killer Chef, but less enjoyable.

31345269The last book I listened to (hey, the audiobooks are available from my library, and they are all only 2-3 hours) is The Royals, a novella set in the book line of Private, about a high-end detective agency. The scandal-causing member of the extended royal family in England is kidnapped, and her death is threatened as a ruining of one of the Queen’s official appearances. The members of Private are hired to rescue her quickly. Some elements of the story were obvious, but at least one plot twist managed to surprise me. I may actually have to try some of the full-length novels in this series.

So, if I was going to rank these four on my enjoyment of the stories, it would be:

  1. The Royals
  2. Killer Chef
  3. Taking the Titanic
  4. Zoo 2

Will I try any of the other Bookshots available? Maybe, if I get the urge. A number of the other audiobook versions are available from my library, and as I said, at 2-3 hours (less if you listen at 1.5x speed)

The Wayfarer Returns – Feudal Japanese Steampunk

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Steampunk is a subgenre that has had quite the boom in recent years, although it is starting to die down somewhat. Most fall in to the standard ‘Victorian England with versions of modern technology powered by steam’ plotlines. I’ve read, and enjoyed, a number of these (such as The Ministry of Peculiar Occurences series by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris).

But while the standard Victorian England Steampunk stories have to work to get my attention, I’m a little more drawn to the steampunk stories set elsewhere in the world and in different cultures. For example, there is Cherie Priest’s series that started with Boneshaker, set in Civil War-era US, and there are multiple writers who tackled steampunk in Asia.

Toru is one of the later. It’s set around the historical event of Admiral Perry forcing feudal Japan to open up to the world, and incorporates historical persons, either as themselves or transformed into fictional persons. Toru, himself, is loosely based on a real person, but in this story he is the son of a fisherman who was rescued by an American ship from a sinking fishing boat. He travelled to America, learned English and travelled the country, collecting books and technology, before being cheerfully returned to his homeland by his very friendly American acquaintances (which seems a little silly, considering the prejudices of the time).

Once home, he talks his way out of being executed (as required by the isolationist laws of the time), and goes on to convice local lords that the US will be coming to force an end to the laws constricting contact with the outside world, and that they would use force if need be. To resist, he brought back steam technology, and convinces people to rapidly industrialise.

I have to admit, the fact that he is so convincing is hard to believe, and the fact that they develop steam trains, telegraph, dirigible, Babadge machines, and mini submarines all in a single year is ridiculous. However, I was willing to ignore this based on how likeable the characters were, and how enjoyable the plot line. I did appreciate the fact that there are references to things like just how depressing the landscape was in places because all the trees had to be cut down in the work.

But despite plot quibbles, I thoroughly enjoyed the story, and I very much look forward to the second book when it comes out.

What am I reading this weekend?

After good weather for several days this week (oh blessed sunshine), we are heading back to rain this weekend (boo, hiss). Seriously, there were a couple of days this week where people who live on the other side of the Ottawa river were told not to come to work (I work at a government office) because of the number of roads closed due to flooding in Gatineau. Seriously, the last thing we need is more rain.

So, with more rain coming, I’ve got my reading lined up.

My eread right now: The Executioner 447: Missile Intercept. Yep, this is a ‘men’s adventure’ novel published by Harlequin Books. The series started up in the late sixties, and has been going since then, although after Harlequin bought the rights, it went to being written by other people (to see who wrote a book, check the copyright page. The line near the top where they thank someone for their contributions, that’s the author). Basically, these are the book equivalent of an action movie (and there have been efforts by various parties, including Vin Deisel, and the most recent is Warner Bros, with Bradley Cooper planned to play the lead), and on a rainy day, that’s right up my alley.

My paper/bathtub read right now: The Librarians and the Lost Lamp by Greg Cox. As mentioned before, I thoroughly enjoyed The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase, which I got through NetGalley. As a result, I got the first book from the library, and I am enjoying it greatly so far. This time it’s a chase for Aladdin’s Lamp, going up against the Forty Thieves.

My audiobook listen right now: I just got to the top of the list at my library for Kameron Hurley’s The Geek Feminist Revolution. Essays are great for audiobooks, since they are more digestible bites. As a result, I returned the audiobook I had been listening to unfinished (It was an omnibus audiobook of the first two Hamish Macbeth mysteries by MC Beaton. I’d listened to the first book, but I’d put off the second one, since I found the character unlikeable in unlikeable ways. This was push I needed to write it off). This will be great for listening while knitting.

Superheroes can be a lot of fun

32718087When your reading time is limited (for any number of reasons), short story collections are a wonderful way to go. Short stories are, well, short. You don’t have to keep track of complicated plots if you are reading a book over an extended period of time.Instead, a story can be read in a day, and due to length, the plot lines and characters are simpler.

So, the question for a reader is what type of collection they want to read. I divide collections into three categories: Single author; themed; and ‘Best of’ collections.

Behind the Mask falls into the category of themed collection in that all the stories are variations on superheroes, or at least people with abilities beyond the normal. Most are about characters that could be called superheroes or supervillains (right down to the mad scientist with a hideout in a volcano), but there are also aliens (or the child of aliens), cyborgs, and even some magic realism. I requested this book from NetGalley mainly because I am a fan of Seanan McGuire, but I was pleased to find that the majority of the stories worked well for me.

Among my favorite stories were:
Ms Liberty Gets a Haircut by Cat Rambo, which was a look at a female superhero who was created as a sex object, trying to take control of her life.
Destroy the City With Me Tonight by Kate Marshall, where random people become city guardians when maps of the city appears etched literally on their bones, and everyone who knew them as individuals forget they ever existed.
Pedestal by Seanan McGuire, where a heroine tries to have a private life in an era of internet stalkers. Set in the world of her short story series about a different heroine named Velveteen
As I Fall Asleep by Aimee Ogden speculates about what if an aging superhero develops dementia
The Fall of the Jade Sword by Stephanie Lai is a steampunk story in Australia with an Asian heroine dealing with prejudice and family expectations.
Eggshells by Ziggy Schutz uses superheroes to look at post-concussion syndrome.
The Beard of Truth by Matt Mikalatos made me laugh in his story of a world where people are randomly developing powers, and a young man learns that if he grows a beard, everyone around him is forced to tell the truth.
Over an Embattled City by Adam R Shannon has the interesting idea of a comic book writer who makes superheroes and villains disappear by finding out their origins and writing them into comic book characters.

By the end of the collection, there were only three stories out of the twenty that didn’t work for me, and for a multi-author collection, that is an excellent ratio.

Behind the Mask is scheduled for release next week, and I highly recommend tracking down a copy.

Modern Poetry

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Poetry is a category of writing that bored me as a student (high school does a great job of sucking all of the life out of a lot of reading). But now I have decided to give poetry another go. I started with more traditional poetry, with The Essential Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks), and A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver (Goodreads Choice 2012 winner).

Then I saw The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory available of NetGalley, and decided that it sounded intriguing, so I put in a request.

The poems in this book were interesting. Very definitely free verse, with no rhyming, or even the sort of formatting I would have expected. And yet, the poems resonated with me. There was a lot of focus on the modern world, and technology (which was a pleasant change from most poetry) and a sort of whistful look backwards.

If there was anything negative about the collection, it was that there is little emotional variation. Pretty much every poem left me somewhere between melancholy and depression. In general this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it made it difficult to read more than a handful of poems at a time. I know that poets aren’t going to take orders, but still, the occasional poem that was more upbeat would have helped the reader.

Did I enjoy the book? Yes.
Am I going to rush out to find the author’s other collections? Maybe not.
Would I recommend it to other people? Only if I was sure they had no tendancy towards depression, since I think it would make things a lot worse.

Readathon tallies

Well, the Readathon is over is over for this spring, and it was my first go at it.

My tallies are:

Behind the Mask, a short story collection on a theme of superheroes. 108 pages to complete the read in progress

The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory, a poetry collection. 49 pages to complete the read in progress.

Taking the Titanic, one of the Bookshots books from James Patterson and Scott Slaven. I listened to just over an hour of the audiobook, with less than an hour to go.

Toru: The Wayfarer Returns by Stephanie R Sorenson. It’s a steampunk novel set in 1850s Japan, before the rest of the world forced Japan out of it’s Shogun imposed isolationism. I started this one after finishing off the two books I was already reading, and I hit page 176.

As well, I have a pulp novel that I read in the bathtub (a favorite relaxer), and I read about 30 page of it.

So, just over 360 pages, and 1/3 of a short audiobook. Not bad, considering I did get a good night’s sleep in the second half of the 24 hours.

24-Hour Readathon, anyone?

Tomorrow is the twice annual Dewey’s 24 hour readathon, which is something I’ve never tried doing before.  We’ll see how far I can get. For my location (Ottawa, Canada), it goes from 8am Saturday to 8am Sunday. Thankfully, they give the option of taking breaks for food and sleep. I don’t know that I’ll make it a full 24 hours, but it gives me a chance to catch up on some reading.

As the day goes on, I’ll be adding updates here.

8am: And we are off. I am starting the day with two books in progress: A book of poetry and a book of superhero themed short stories, both through Netgalley.

9am: I read 5 poems (don’t want to read too many at a time)  and 2 short stories in hour one.

10am: 6 more poems and 3 short stories. I’ll definitely finish these two books today.

11 am: more poems, and 2 more short stories. There’s only 20 pages left in each book. Time to take a break for food, and maybe a walk with an audio book.

12pm: Well, I got the food, but took a shower instead of a walk. But I have finished the book of short stories  (Behind The Mask). Now to finish the poetry book.

1pm: The poetry book is now finished (putting me over 150 pages so far) and I have started a steam punk novel set in Japan.

2pm: 20 pages into the new book, and I am at Broadway Bar and Grill for lunch. Chicken Quesadilla with fries, followed by ‘monkey tails’ for desert

3pm: Stopped at the library on the way home to pick up a book on reserve. Now the hockey game is on, which makes great background to reading.

4pm: I am now 25% through the steam punk novel. I did take a break to read a little fanfiction. But I’m getting rather bleary eyed and the hockey game is tied (go Senators!), so it time for a short nap of an hour or so.

6pm: okay, I needed that nap. And when I got up, the game was still tied, and about to go into overtime. 

7pm: The steam punk novel is at 35%, and I have also listened to an hour of an audiobook  (one of James Patterson Bookshots.com,  so it’s only 3 hours long, and much shorter when listened to at 2x speed)

8pm: It’s been 12 hours, and I have read 250 pages, as well as listened to an hour of an audiobook.  The current book is now at 40%. I doubt I’ll make it up til midnight,  let alone 8am tomorrow,  but it’s been a hell of a ride so far.

9pm: A nice little break for a soak in a hot tub, and a little fanfiction reading as a palate cleanser (like a bowl of ice cream or potato chips) 

10pm: I am at 50% of the current book, and I am losing steam. Still 300 pages, nearly half an audiobook and some fanfiction is pretty darn good for a day, and there is still time in the morning, when I get up.

Bed time…

7am: I’m up and doing one last push.

8am: I read another 50 pages in the novel, hitting the 71% mark. Not bad.

Tie-ins don’t all suck

30139665When I was teenager, I read a lot of tv/movie tie-ins, mainly in the Star Trek universe. It was the heyday of the tie-in. Then they went through a period of time where they were churned out by writers who didn’t have the chops that I expected. They read like they were just produced to cash in on fandom. Even a lot of the Star Wars books (which were at the higher end of the tie-in novels, since for the longest time they were the replacement for the third trilogy, before Disney bought the franchise.

And I guess that over time I just lost interest in them. That may need to change. The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase is the second novel based on the very fun tv series The Librarians (spun off from a series of tv movies that I have not had the chance to see).

The concept of the series is of a secret organization that protects the world from magical artifacts by collecting them and storing them away in The Library (think a magic version of the series Warehouse 13). The series is a lot of fun, mainly because it never takes itself too seriously. You have Flynn, the rather manic Librarian, and his Guardian Eve, who used to work in anti-terrrorism. Then there are the three new Librarians, still in training: Jacob Stone (a rough type who publishes scholarly papers under a variety of pseudonyms), Cassandra Cillian (a mathematician with a brain tumour that is killing her), and Ezekial Stone (a rather sardonic young master thief). In the first season, the villains unleashed wild magic on the world, and it is continuing to have a wide-ranging effect (including the Librarian becoming the Librarians)

One of those effects has now impacted the Mother Goose treaty. It’s been safely stored away, but now it has been stolen, and three descendants of the original Mother Goose have been targeted. They also have a connection to the three parts of the original book of Mother Goose rhymes, which is really a book of spells, and the villain wants to use it to destroy the universe and create a new one (I was never quite sure why this was the goal, but oh wall). Oh, and Flynn has disappeared. Again.

Needless to say, each of the trainees teams up with one of the descendants (Ezekiel with a non-nonsense farmer’s wife/children’s librarian, Stone with the hot university professor, Cassandra with a tree-trimmer/aspiring rapper), while Eve goes after the central threat, and they all come together in the end.

This would have made an excellent episode of the series, and the writing pulls the reader along in a light and breezy way. It even managed to surprise me in a couple of places. As near as I can tell, Greg Cox writes only tie-ins, and while I am tempted to read some of his other tie-in novels, I would also love to see something completely original from him.

Still, by the time I was half-way through the book, I had put a reserve on the first book at the library and should be getting it next week. Beyond that, I look forward to the third book of this trilogy.