Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Book Review: After Party by Daryl Gregory

Pros: complicated & diverse characters, interesting plot

Cons: some far fetched action

Several years ago Lyda was part of a scientific company looking for a drug to cure schizophrenia.  But on the night of their success, the team was drugged, and the resultant overdose left one of them dead and the others seeing god.  Now in a mental hospital for delusions, Lyda encounters a young woman who’s symptoms resemble those of the drug her team created, NME 110, numenous.  In order to stop the drug from spreading in this new world where designer drugs can be printed onto paper and drug parties are de rigueur, Lyda gets herself released to hunt down the remaining members of the team and find out who’s behind it.

Be prepared to reread sections of this book in order to figure out what’s going on.  The author cleverly leaves out information that forces you - when you finally realize what’s missing - to reevaluate what’s happening.  The first one of these comes at the end of chapter one.

One aspect of the plot was easy to figure out, but other aspects kept me guessing until the very end.

I loved the diversity of the characters and how they each deal with their own… issues.  Most of the main characters have a mental problem of some sort, and these get exacerbated by the use - and abuse - of drugs.  Lyda, a middle aged black lesbian, is the point of view character for the majority of the book, and has a guardian angel thanks to NME 110.  As an atheist and scientist she knows the angel is part of her own psyche, but has to constantly remind herself that it’s not real.  Ollie is an ex-intelligence officer, whose abuse of drugs made her paranoid.  To counter those effects she must stay on different drugs, ones that dull her senses making it difficult for her to see as well as think analytically.  I loved Sasha as a character who overcomes the challenges she faces - both physical and mental - using technology.

With the exception of Sasha, who only comes in towards the end, and perhaps Dr. Gloria, the characters weren’t particularly likeable.  They were people dealing with difficult circumstances in realistic ways.  Lyda is often angry and demanding, not willing to listen to her conscience if it gets in the way of what she feels she needs to do.  At the same time, I didn’t dislike anyone, though Rovil is a bit irritating in how much of a pushover he is when faced with Lyda’s demands.

While I enjoyed watching Lyda get around her medical implant and deal with the Millies, I didn’t believe how things worked out with her getting into the US.  It seemed far fetched and over the top.  Though, I’m left wondering if Lyda was meant to be an unreliable narrator, and if so, whether her version of events is wilder than what actually happened.  I’ve got an example of why I think this might be the case in the spoiler section below.

This is an interesting book that looks into drug use, mental disorders, extreme belief systems and more.

*** Spoilers ***

The reason I suspect Lyda is an unreliable narrator is because there are major discrepancies between her description of what happened the night of the overdose and Rovil’s.  Rovil states that they all drank directly from the bottle and worried about how much of the drug would be lost due to the bubbling over of the champagne.  Lyda meanwhile pointed states that the bottle was open when Mikala arrived and that she poured it into glasses.  Psychology is a huge aspect of this book with regards to memory, hallucinations and free will.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Shout-Out: The Freezer by Timothy S. Johnston

2402 AD
CCF homicide investigator Kyle Tanner and his girlfriend are on their way to Pluto, en route to a new life together. Just one little death to check out in the asteroid belt first. But when you’re as tangled up in conspiracy as Tanner is, a few hours on a case can change your life. Or end it.
The mystery is a strange one—one man dead, a cryptic message his dying breath. Still, Tanner’s ready to wrap it up until another gruesome murder shakes him to his core. The discovery of a microscopic bomb near his own heart offers the first faint clue, but the clock is ticking. He has four days….

A desperate search for answers takes Tanner to The Freezer, an isolated facility on one of Jupiter’s moons. With anti-CCF dissidents targeting the facility, a team of scientists conducting experiments the military would rather remain hidden, and a mysterious man in white hunting him on the ice, Tanner will have to choose his allies carefully. Putting his faith in the wrong person will leave him bleeding out in seconds.

Out tomorrow.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Blast From the Past: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Before I started reviewing books online I loved rereading my favourite SF/Fantasy books.  Since I don’t have time to do that anymore, this column is a trip down memory lane, where I’ll rave about books I love to read.  And then read again.  These aren’t reviews, as I won’t necessarily mention criticisms, they’re my chance to fan girl about books I love and hopefully garner some interest in some older titles.

Ella Enchanted is a retelling of Cinderella wherein a fairy curses Ella with the need to follow all orders she receives. She's advised early on to not let others learn of her affliction, because unscrupulous people could use it against her in devastating ways.  People like her father and new step-family.

I read this book because of the movie that came out in 2004 starring Anne Hathaway.  The book shares the same basic plot, but there are some major deviations, especially the ending and the amount of slapstick humour the movie relied upon.  

This is a kids book that's smart in all the right ways.  Ella is clever and funny, a good friend and kind person.  Watching her fall for the prince is a joy but the complications that arise from it are heart-wrenching.  It's also a book that will have you laughing out loud at some parts and crying softly at others.  But mostly laughing.  

It's s short book and a quick read, but one that will stay with you long after you close it.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Shout-Out: And Death Will Seize the Doctor, Too by Jeremiah Swanson

Christian Thompson has the power to heal with the touch of his hands, but for every person he cures he must first kill someone else.
Now as he wrestles with not only having such a power but whether or not to use it, he faces the ultimate test and discovers he may not have any real choice. The road this battle leads him down will change not only his life, but perhaps the entire world forever.

You can find it - and read a sample - on Amazon.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Video: If Michael Bay Directed 'Up'

This is a hilarious video that adds all sorts of explosions to the Pixar film Up.  Be sure to watch to the very end.  Courtesy of MrStratman7.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Reminder that the Aurora Award Voting Period is Ending Soon

Just a reminder that September 6th is the last day to vote on the Prix Aurora Award.  Once again, here are the nominees from the Aurora website:

Best English Novel
A Turn of Light by Julie E. Czerneda, DAW Books
Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer, Penguin Canada
River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay, Viking Canada
The Tattooed Witch by Susan MacGregor, Five Rivers Publishing
Tombstone Blues by Chadwick Ginther, Ravenstone Books
Best English YA (Young Adult) Novel
The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles: Demon Gate by Marty Chan, Fitzhenry & Whiteside
Ink by Amanda Sun, Harlequin Teen
The Lake and the Library by S.M. Beiko, ECW Press
Out of Time by D.G. Laderoute, Five Rivers Publishing
Resolve by Neil Godbout, Bundoran Press
The Rising by Kelley Armstrong, Doubleday Canada
Best English Short Fiction
“A Bunny Hug for Karl” by Mike Rimar, Masked Mosaic, Canadian Super Stories, Tyche Books
“Angela and Her Three Wishes” by Eileen Bell, The Puzzle Box, EDGE
“The Awakening of Master March” by Randy McCharles, The Puzzle Box, EDGE
“Ghost in the Machine” by Ryan McFadden, The Puzzle Box, EDGE
“The Gift” by Susan Forest, Urban Green Man, EDGE
“Green Man She Restless” by Billie Milholland, Urban Green Man, EDGE
“Living Bargains” by Suzanne Church, When the Hero Comes Home 2, Dragon Moon Press
Best English Poem/Song
“A City of Buried Rivers” by Clink, David, The Literary Review of Canada, vol. 21, no. 9, November
“Awake” by Peter Storey, Urban Green Man, EDGE
“The Collected Postcards of Billy the Kid” by Helen Marshall, Postscripts to Darkness, Issue 4, October
“Lost” by Amal El-Mohtar, Strange Horizons, February
“Night Journey: West Coast” by Kernaghan, Eileen, Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast to Coast, EDGE
“Turning the Leaves” by Amal El-Mohtar, Apex Magazine, Issue 55, December
Best English Graphic Novel
Looking for Group by Ryan Sohmer and Lar DeSouza, webcomic
Rock, Paper, Cynic by Peter Chiykowski, webcomic
Weregeek by Alina Pete, webcomic
Wild Game: Sweet Tooth Vol. 6 by Jeff Lemire, Vertigo
Best English Related Work
The Puzzle Box by The Apocalyptic Four, EDGE
Urban Green Man edited by Adria Laycraft and Janice Blaine EDGE
On Spec published by the Copper Pig Writers’ Society
Suzenyms by Susan MacGregor, blog suzenyms.blogspot.ca
Imaginarium 2013: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing edited by Sandra Kasturi and Samantha Beiko, ChiZine Publications
Best Artist
Erik Mohr, cover art for ChiZine Publications
Melissa Mary Duncan, illustrations and cover art
Dan O’Driscoll, covers for Bundoran Press and the SF Aurora banner
Apis Teicher, body of work
Tanya Montini, cover design for The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles: Demon Gate
Best Fan Publications
No award will be given out in this category in 2014 due to insufficient eligible nominees
Best Fan Music
Brooke Abbey for writing and publishing 12 songs
Debs & Errol for CTRL+ALT+DUETS, EP
Chris Hadfield for his performance of Space Oddity
Kari Maaren for Beowulf Pulled My Arm Off, CD
Devin Melanson, Leslie Hudson and, Kari Maaren for Pirate Elves in Space, CD
Best Fan Organizational
Evelyn Baker and Alana Otis-Wood, co-chairs Ad Astra, Toronto
S.M. Beiko and Chadwick Ginther, co-chairs Chiaroscuro Reading Series, ChiSeries Winnipeg
Sandra Kasturi and James Bambury, co-chairs Chiaroscuro Reading Series, ChiSeries Toronto
Randy McCharles, chair When Words Collide, Calgary
Matt Moore, chair Chiaroscuro Reading Series, ChiSeries Ottawa
Rose Wilson, Art Show Director, VCON 38, Vancouver
Best Fan Related Work
R. Graeme Cameron, weekly column in Amazing Stories Magazine
Steve Fahnestalk, weekly column in Amazing Stories Magazine
Robert Runté, ”Why I Read Canadian Speculative Fiction: The Social Dimension of Reading”, Scholar Keynote Address at ACCSFF ’13, Toronto

Book Review: Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov

Based on the screenplay by Harry Keliner, which was made from David Duncan’s adaptation of the story by Otto Klement and Jay Lewis Bixby.

Pros: more plot explanation and characterization than the film, ending retains scientific integrity, interesting plot

Cons: sexist treatment of female protagonist

Benes, a scientist fleeing a nameless enemy world power, arrives safely in the US but is injured in an attack.  In order to save his life and gain the secrets he brings, a submarine and crew of experts must be shrunk to microscopic size in order to operate on a brain clot.

This is a fairly close novelization of the film of the same name.  The biggest changes come in the form of a prolonged introduction where the patient is more thoroughly introduced and the necessity of saving him better explained.  The ending, too, was adjusted so that the scientific principles of the story retained their integrity.

The characters are better drawn in the book as well, as there’s more time to get to know them.  Cora Peterson is portrayed as a competent technician, even though the men around her - with the exception of Dr. Duval, whom she works for - see her beauty, not her brains.  Something she comments on with irritation,

“Her mirror told her, plainly enough, that she was not plain.  Quite otherwise.  Her dark eyes were ingenuously wide-set; her lips reflected quick humor when she let them do so - which wasn’t often; and her figure annoyed her for its apparent propensity for interfering with the proper understanding of her professional competence.  It was for her ability she wanted wolf-whistles (or their intellectual equivalent) and not for the sinuosity she couldn’t help.” 

And predictably, the leading man of the film, a secret agent, Grant, has trouble seeing her as anything but an object of flirtation, even when she - at the beginning at least - constantly rebuffs him.  I do give Asimov props though, for explaining the reason for her coldness towards Grant and his attentions, in a way that shows what an ass he is at times.  Grant is, of course, not the only one who objects to having a ‘girl’ on the mission or treating her as somehow feebleminded despite her abilities. 

The descriptions of the workings of the inner body that the characters pass are interesting, and are broken up well by the variety of problems the crew face.  There are a lot of tense scenes, and some action before the climax.

It’s a quick and interesting read.