Friday 26 February 2010

The Day of the Triffids, Book Review

By John Wyndham
First published: 1951

Pros: classic status, interesting ideas (including some feminist ones), fleshed out protagonist, novel documenting the collapse of civilization (as opposed to being straight post-apocalyptic)

Cons: slow narrative style, lots of exposition, minor characters get little if any development

This is the third novel by Wyndham I've read and the Chrysalids remains my favourite. The Day of the Triffids is written as a story narrated by Bill Masen, a survivor of the sudden demise of civilization as he knew it. The day before the bandages are removed from his eyes (due to an injury), a meteor shower robs the sight of everyone who watched the spectacle.

The world he, and a few other lucky souls, can see is much different from the one he was blinded in. People are scared, dead and dying everywhere. He happens on a young woman, Josella Playton, and for the rest of the book, both together and apart, Bill must face the realities of this new world.

A real threat to the blinded humans and well placed to take advantage of their weakness, come the triffids. The probably ends of a Russian experiment to produce better oils, triffids are meat eaters with 10 foot long stingers that lash out.

The book has some interesting ideas about how society would break down (with regards to speed and morality). His main characters are well fleshed out and some of their viewpoints are surprising given when the book was written. Lesser characters come and go so quickly I found myself forgetting who people were when they showed up again.

And the book is boring. The narrative is dry with a lot of exposition and back story told upfront, making it a hard read. Even when things start happening, it's so haphazard (on purpose given the events) that it's difficult to stay interested. Had it not been a classic I probably would have looked for something else to read rather than finish it.

Thursday 25 February 2010

How the Magic Garden Grows

Every half hour or so yesterday I took pictures of my Magic Garden to track it's growth. Here are a few pics to show you what it looked like. The last picture is from this morning.

The trees started blooming first, with the flowers barely growing and a ring of snow on top of the mountain. As the trees puffed out the flowers became more numerous and the snow began to creep down the sides of the mountain until it was pretty well covered.

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Magic Garden

My husband bought me a Magic Garden for Christmas. I'd planned on 'growing' it on a day when I'd be in my office for quite some time which, with the kitties meowing outside my door and all the chores that need to get done never seemed to happen. So, today I got the kit out and decided to make time for it.

The kit comes with a base, 5 grass sections, a mountain, two trees and 4 packets of liquid to make the garden bloom.

The kit is not designed for kids under 10. Given how much trouble I had getting the grass pieces to stay in their slots I can only imagine how quickly a child would lose patience with it. For the trees you're supposed to push the branches apart. Apparently you have to be firm with that, because when I poured the liquid over the trees they went back to their default positions.

I also found that the liquid packet for the mountain didn't come close to covering it. There's enough left over from the trees to make up the lack so it wasn't a problem. I also realized that the liquid would crawl up from the bottom covering any areas I missed.

I assumed it would take several hours before anything happened (the package says 3 hours for the trees to bloom and 10 for everything to be done). But less than half an hour after pouring the liquid on, I turned around and the cherry trees were already starting to bloom! The tiny blossoms are beautiful.

Watching this grow, it's like something out of a science fiction story.

Friday 19 February 2010

Adobe Photoshop Cook

A cool video, though part of the fun of baking is getting your hands dirty. :) I know a lot of people who'd love to be able to cook/bake this way.

psiXel states on her youtube site that this is, "A video made in stopmotion for competition AdobeYouGC. The simulation of a tutorial which shows how to make the lovely butter cookies with the new Adobe Photoshop Cook! Whole set was made with cardboard and with kitchen utensils."

Thursday 18 February 2010

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Book Review

by N. K. Jemisin
ISBN: 9780316043915
Release Date: February 25, 2010

Pros: a lot of good interpersonal relationships, unique mythology, excellent worldbuilding, interesting characters (particularly Sieh), some romance

Cons: the political maneuverings of the potential heirs takes a back seat to other affairs (which is only a con in that I was expecting the book to deal more with the politics of the Kingdoms)

The Hundred Thousands Kingdoms is a fantasy novel that grabbed my interest from page one and didn't let it go. Yeine Darr is narrating 2 very interesting weeks of her life. At times she interrupts her own story to mention something she forgot to say earlier or something about the world and its people she thinks you should know. This makes for an engaging read as it's almost like being around a camp fire and hearing a live storyteller (in the way that dialogue feels real even though people don't speak the way dialogue is presented).

Yeine is a leader among her 'barbarian' people. She is also the half-blood granddaughter of the current ruler of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. And he has called her to Sky for reasons she does not know.

While there, she plans to force her grandfather to admit to her mother's murder.

But once in Sky Yeine meets Nahadoth, Sieh, Kurue and Zhakkarn, one of the Three Gods and his children. They were defeated by Bright Itempas and made slaves to and weapons for the Kingdoms' Arameri rulers. And they have their own plans for Yeine.

Jemisin has developed a distinctive voice, which was a pleasure to read. Her characters are engaging and sympathetic - even when they're doing things you otherwise wouldn't agree with. The plot is deceptively simple, gaining in complexity as the story progresses. You'll think you know what the ending is going to be. You don't.

The contest between Yeine and her cousins to see who will become the heir to the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was more of a backdrop to other events than the main plot, which surprised me. I would have liked to see more of the conflict - backbiting, political maneuvering, etc.

The Gods and their history are fascinating. From their various births, their jealousy, hatred and love, to the war that rips them apart, you can't wait to learn more about them.

It's a great book and the sequel promises to show more of the world Jemisin has created.

Japanese Monsters do Thriller

I love Japan! ^_^

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Karl Schroeder, Writer-in-Residence

For those of you in Toronto who'd like to meet Karl Schroeder, get one-on-one help with a manuscript (based on 5000 words), or attend a workshop on writing, here's your chance! And here's his third post, Which kind of writer are you - part 1.

From the Toronto Public Library's website explaining the details of the program:

Writer-in-Residence Karl Schroeder
February 1 - May 31, 2010

Submit your manuscript for an opportunity to have a one-on-one evaluation with Karl Schroeder, attend the writer-in-residence readings and workshops, or read Karl's blog.

Karl Schroeder

Karl Schroeder's first science fiction novel Ventus was declared a New York Times Notable book in 2001, and his second novel, Permanence, won the 2003 Aurora Award for best Canadian Science Fiction Novel. Karl is best known for the Virga series: Sun of Suns, Queen of Candesce, Pirate Sun, The Sunless Countries, and Ashes of Candesce.

Karl has taught courses on writing science fiction at both the University of Toronto and George Brown College. Together with co-author Cory Doctorow, he wrote The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Science Fiction, practical marketing advice for aspiring authors.

Manuscript Submissions

  • Manuscripts should be sent via email to Karl Schroeder, writer in residence at the Merril Collection.
  • All manuscripts should include your name, address, phone number and e-mail address.
  • Manuscripts should be 5,000 words in length. Karl will read only the first 5,000 words of longer submissions and base his comments on that word length.
  • After your manuscript has been read, the Merril Collection staff will contact you and book an appointment for you to discuss your writing with Karl.
  • Karl will need 1 –2 weeks lead time in order to read submissions before an appointment is booked.
  • The library reserves the right to limit the number of manuscripts accepted.
  • Toronto Public Library is not responsible for returning manuscripts. Please submit a COPY of your work.

Karl Schroeder's Library Blog

Karl is blogging for the library. Read the blog and get great tips on writing science fiction.

Related Events

Meet the Author
There will be a Meet the Author Tea at the Toronto Reference Library.
Monday, February 1, 1:30-4 pm
Toronto Reference Library
Beeton East Auditorium

Karl Schroeder reads from his forthcoming science fiction novel Ashes of Candesce, fifth in the Virga series, and answers questions about writing and researching science fiction.
Saturday, February 6, 7-8:15 pm
Toronto Reference Library
Beeton Auditorium

Science Fiction and Foresight: Is it true that science fiction is about predicting the future? Karl Schroeder discusses when science fiction and foresight are the same and when they are different.
Saturday, March 6, 7-8:15 pm
Toronto Reference Library
Beeton Auditorium

Live Online Chat
Chat online with Karl Schroeder - a Book Buzz event.
Wednesday, March 24, 7-8 pm


Integrating Idea and Story
Everyone has ideas for a story, but very few people actually get a story completely written. This workshop will assist aspiring science fiction writers by clarifying the process of developing the story from the idea.
Thursday, March 25, 5:30–8:15 pm
Lillian H. Smith Branch
Lower Level

Short Story Structure and Plot
Attendees will learn how to identify and correct story weaknesses and sharpen their writing skills, while writing short science fiction and fantasy stories.
Thursday, April 15, 5:30-8:15 pm
Lillian H. Smith Branch
Lower Level

Wrangling Your Novel Into Shape
This workshop deals with the process of creating science fiction, how writers can identify and correct their mistakes, when to rewrite and when to stop.
Thursday, May 20, 5:30–8:15 pm
Lillian H. Smith Branch
Lower Level

Tuesday 16 February 2010

State of Decay, Book Review

by James Knapp
ISBN: 9780451463104

Pros: well imagined world with a 3 tier citizenship system, interesting characters, extremely complex plot, lots of plot twists, keeps you on your toes and guessing about what will happen next

Pro/Con (depending on your point of view): everything that happens is important, so pay close attention when you read

Cons: redundant repetition

If you don't like the think when you read, you won't like State of Decay. So much happens all at once, and all of it is important. It took me about a hundred pages or so to really get into the story. There are 4 character POVs, and each one requires figuring out their place in society, their current actions and trying to understand how they'll fit into the main story. Around the hundred page mark the stories start to converge, and you're well into an awesome science fiction ride.

The main story focuses on Nico Wachalowski. When we meet him, the FBI agent is busting a revivor smuggling ring. Revivors are people reanimated after their deaths to serve in the military in return for second class citizenship while alive. Wachalowski quickly realizes that smuggling is only the most visible aspect of a deeper conspiracy.

Faye Dasalia is a detective investigating the murders of first class citizens who somehow managed to reach that status without serving in the military, the condition for that level of citizenship.

Zoe Ott is a clairvoyant. She has trouble distinguishing reality from her visions. While being an alcoholic doesn't bring the relief she's looking for, she keeps trying. She also has a peculiar way of getting people to do what she asks.

Calliope Flax is a boxer. She's brutal in the ring with a foul mouth and no expectations of a better life. She's third class, meaning she hasn't served in the military during her life and doesn't intend to dead.

Of the storylines, Cal's was the least interesting to me. Her story barely intersects the others, while theirs carry the plot forward. She does, however, mature the most, becoming, not a stronger person - she begins pretty strong - but one who can see a future for herself that didn't exist before the events of the book.

Knapp manages to keep the tension high throughout the story, with occasional down time. He made one 'newbie' writing mistake (which I probably only noticed because I read several books on writing recently and so am looking for this in my own work). He has the tendency to mention things twice. In some cases this is necessary (as when Dasalia talks to herself and then asks something out loud - which becomes an important plot point). Other times he's just belaboring the obvious. It's an 'error' that experience will fix.

He introduces some pretty cool technological advances, most notably the implant wired into Wachalowski's skull that allows him to record video feed of what he sees as well as communicate via thought patterns with his superiors.

The plot has twists you won't see coming, with an ending to match. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Friday 12 February 2010

Starship Troopers, Book Review

Starship Troopers
by Robert A. Heinlein
published: 1959

Pros: interesting technological ideas, lots of adventure, realistic portrayal of military life

Cons: preachy at times, there are several digressions from the story that are unnecessary (too technical with regards to the science)

I read Stranger in a Strange Land a few years back and hated it with a ferocity that recurs every time I think of the book. So I was hesitant picking up this science fiction classic. Still, it's hard to read classics and ignore such a huge name in the genre, and I'd been told that this book is one of his better ones.

In many ways they were right. The writing is better, the story exciting and, for the most part, interesting. And yet, it wasn't a book I'd read again.

Juan "Johnnie" Rico tells the story of his military service. It's a society wherein such service is optional, but in order to be a full citizen and have the privilege of voting, one must serve.

His parents are upset when he decides, for fairly ignorant reasons, to sign up. But Johnnie perseveres. He tells of the trials of Camp Currie and training, of making drops to fight the 'bugs' and the different trials of becoming an officer.

Heinlein intersperses a lot of technical details into the story, too much for my taste. It reminded me of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, and all the digressions he made (though Heinlein's are thankfully shorter). I also found his history and moral philosophy classes to be a bit too on the preachy side.

His characterization of Johnnie was good if extremely impersonal, but all other characters are basically cardboard cut outs. When people die (and a LOT of people die) the reader feels no regret, partly because Johnnie doesn't seem to. And I found his father's change of heart towards the military near the end of the book completely improbably given his earlier stance.

In the end, it's a great adventure story and I can see why hoards of boys (and girls) have found their love of science fiction through this book.

Thursday 11 February 2010

Zombie Valentines

Orbit US has been doing some great advertising for and with it's authors. They did the Victorian dress up doll for Gail Carriger's Soulless, and now they've got Zombie Valentines day cards you can send to your friends! These are to advertise Jesse Petersen's new Married With Zombies (out Sept 1) and Flip This Zombie.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Love Among the Stars, a Romantic Sci-Fi Reading List

I know the Martin Grove Public Library just did a similar reading list (which is more comprehensive than mine so check it out). I happened to do my own list around the same time and found several titles they missed. I mixed in some traditional romance authors who did books with a sci-fi slant as well as a few hard core sci-fi books with faint romance elements. I'm only listing one or two books, though many of these authors have several more. The list is in no particular order.

Eve Kenin - Driven, Hidden
Colby Hodge - Twist
C. J. Barry - Unearthed, Unleashed
Susan Kearney - The Quest, Solar Heat
Patricia Waddell - True Deception, True Blood
Susan Grant - Star Prince Julie Czerneda - In the Company of Others
Catherine Asaro - Skyfall
Lois McMaster Bujold - A Civil Campaign
Kate Elliott - Jaran
Frank Herbert - Dune
Sharon Shinn - Heart of Gold
Dave Wolverton - Star Wars: The Courtship of Princess Leia
S. L. Viehl - Stardoc
Anne McCaffrey - Dragonsdawn
Sandra McDonald - Outback Stars
Stainslaw Lem - Solaris
Edgar Rice Burroughs - Princess of Mars
Linnea Sinclair - Down Home Zombie Blues, Hope's Folly
Orson Scott Card - Memory of Earth
Alan Dean Foster - Flinx's Folly

And thanks to reader comments for the following:
Ursula Leguin - Left Hand of Darkness
Dennis Danvers - Curcuit of Heaven

Tuesday 9 February 2010

World War Z, Book Review

by Max Brooks
ISBN: 9780307346612

Pros: clever writing, multiple viewpoints each written in a distinctive tone, Brooks knew his Earth & its history thoroughly

Cons: too short!, the stories are so interesting I could have read twice their number

I resisted reading this when it first came out because I'm not a fan of zombies, and there was too much hype about it (which generally kills my desire to read something).

World War Z deserved the hype. It's a brilliantly written 'oral history'. Basically it's a documentary of personal experiences before, during and after the war.

Brooks's world building is impeccable, he 'interviews' people from all over the world, hearing their accounts of learning about, and dealing with, the infection that reanimated dead bodies.

Each voice is unique, with its own inflections, style of speech, use of profanity, etc. It reads like history, You don't know the full story, there's too much to tell, so you have to fill in a lot of gaps yourself. The interviewer's stated purpose is the put a 'human face' on the crisis, and it is successful.

Friday 5 February 2010

James Knapp - Author Interview



1. Pitch your novel.

STATE OF DECAY is what I would call a science fiction thriller with a dash of zombie thrown in. It takes place in a future where biotechnology allows for the reanimation of dead bodies into organic machines called 'revivors'. Revivors are primarily used for military purposes, making full body donation an alternative to actually serving, but what exactly a revivor is and how much of the original donor survives the transition is something which is largely kept quiet. Since their inception they've begun to move into the labor and sex trade, becoming more pervasive in civilian life. It's while breaking up one of these rings that it's discovered there may be more to revivors than anyone knew, and the secrets they hold will bring a dark conspiracy to light.

2. What are your favourite three books?

- HELLSTROM'S HIVE by Frank Herbert
- MIND OF MY MIND by Octavia Butler
- GATEWAY by Frederik Pohl

3. What made you want to be a writer?

It may sound cliché but I've just always loved to write. When I was a small boy our class used to write stories and our teacher had us bind them in cardboard covered with wallpaper; it was my favorite part of school hands down. It was all I wanted to do.

4. Who is you favourite character and why?

I have a weakness for the character Calliope Flax in STATE OF DECAY. I like the rawness of her, and I like how she grows throughout the series. She is also fun to write.

5. If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

Given the trials they face I'm not so sure I would want to change places with any of them but I wouldn't mind knowing some of them.

6. When and where do you write?

I write at home on a laptop, and I always write my first draft in notepad (not sure why, just do). I tend to write late at night, and early in the morning...between say 11pm and 3am. I have a full time job, though, so that is partly out of necessity…even if I didn't though I'd still keep late hours. If I had my way, I'd keep a mostly nocturnal schedule.

7. What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

The best thing for me, hands down, is when a reader really gets me. I write knowing that not everything I flavor the story with is going to find its mark, and some might not even get noticed, but when all those little details really resonate with a reader, to me that's the best thing.

The worst thing for me is rereading that first draft. It's just painful.

8. What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

How slowly it moves. The time between my agent selling my first novel, to that novel actually seeing print was a little over a year. There are many rounds of editing to do, cover art to consider, etc. Everything about writing and publishing takes a lot of time. I don't think you could survive in this business without patience.

9. Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Three things:

- Be patient: Everything about writing takes patience. You will write many drafts, you will get a lot of rejection, and even once you get published you will still have a lot of work ahead of you. Develop a ‘long haul’ attitude.

- Make peace with your ego: If you're doing it right, people will criticize you. Sometimes they’re just being snarky but sometimes those people are right. When people cut apart something so close to you it stings, but learn to see your faults as a writer and adjust. Try and find a brutally honest source you trust, and listen to what they tell you even if it’s hard to hear.

- Do it for the love: If you don't love it, and I mean really love it, then you may as well save yourself the pain and do something you *do* love. Writing is a lot of work, it takes a lot of time, and there's no promise of fame, riches, or even recognition at the other end. I can't imagine spending this amount of time (well, voluntarily) doing something I didn't love.

10. How do you discipline yourself to write?

When I'm writing a first draft I set a word count to hit, usually around 2,000 words. When I'm editing I set a page count, usually twenty to forty pages, depending on the draft. I think play is good for the soul and everyone should work in a little every day if they can, but I try not to start until my writing is done.

Thursday 4 February 2010

The People VS George Lucas Movie Trailer

Thanks to Lou Anders at Bowing to the Future for the announcement that The People VS George Lucas will be premiering at South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas this March.

Apparently his interview clip made the final cut. Congrats Lou!

And from the press release on the blog:

"THE PEOPLE vs. GEORGE LUCAS explores the titanic struggle between a Godlike filmmaker and his legions of fans over the most popular franchise in movie history. “At its core, PvsG is the examination of a high-profile, dysfunctional love story”, says Philippe. “George created this humongous and intricate sandbox for us to play in; but is he the sole owner of it, or does it now belong to the ages? And what happens to your role as a creator when your audience claims it owns your art? We basically looked at the conflicted dynamic between George and his fans from a cultural perspective, and asked ourselves those questions."

Cube, Movie Review

Cube is a horror movie that came out in 1997, directed by Vincenzo Natali.

A group of people wake up to find themselves in a room. That room has doors on every wall leading to other rooms. The people have no food or water. And some of the rooms are booby trapped.

The movie has two aspects, the escape plans which change and evolve as they learn more about their prison, and how they interact with each other and deal with their own panic and paranoia.

It's a little campy at times, but on the whole it's a wonderful psychological horror movie, with close calls and enough fatalities to keep you on the edge of your seat.

How I Interview Reprise

I did a post a few weeks ago explaining why I interview the way I do, namely with form questions. After thinking about it I can see how authors would find 'questions any author can answer' annoying if enough people ask them. I will still ask them. Why? Because that's the kind of interview that works in store. An interview that's too specific turns off readers who don't understand what you're talking about. I personally don't like interviews that require me to have read everything the author's written in order to understand it or, conversely, which gives spoilers to the point that reading their book is no longer of interest. My interviews are designed to get customers in store to pick up the physical book and buy it. I want the interviews to tease and I want them to be accessible to every single person who walks down that aisle.

On the other hand, since I'm posting the interviews to the internet I can see the advantage of having some questions on my list that pertain to the interviewee specifically. So I'll be changing my questionnaire. I'll be adding a few new questions that focus on the interviewee. I'm not sure how successful I'll be. This type of interview is harder to do well, so don't expect too many changes at once while I get used to it and phase in a few more specific questions at a time. And the questionnaires that have come back to be posted in the next month or so will still be form style.

Also, for anyone who thinks that the questions don't go deep enough, that leave things open ended to the point that you - as a reader here - would like to know more, I'm sure all the authors I've interviewed would be overjoyed if you messaged/emailed them saying you'd read their interview here and would they please elaborate on...

Later this week I'll be posting my interview with James Knapp (debut author of State of Decay - and if you like the zombie idea, he's got a unique take on it). I also have the interview back from N. K. Jemisin (Hundred Thousand Kingdoms) and am working on a few others.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Unwind, Book Review

Neal Shusterman
ISBN - 9781416912057

Pros: excellent characterization, original ideas (unwinding, stoking), complex plot

Cons: written in present tense (jarring to read), simplistic writing (definitely a younger teen novel)

"The Bill of Life states that human life may not be touched from the moment of conception until a child reaches the age of 13. However, between the ages of 13 and 18, a parent may choose to retroactively 'abort' a child... on the condition that the child's life doesn't 'technically' end. The process by which a child is both terminated and yet kept alive is called 'unwinding'”

The Bill of Life is the foundation of Neal Shusterman's novel, Unwind. Three children are about to be unwound for different reasons. Connor has become an unruly child. Risa is a ward of the state and caring for wards is expensive. Lev is a religious tithe.

When Connor runs from the authorities, his path crosses that of other unwinds, all trying to survive until their 18th birthdays.

The book is equal parts social commentary and horror - because everything that happens is perfectly plausible. The body parts harvested from the teens help keep other people alive, and with a higher quality of life. But even that has a cost as these parts have 'memories' of their own.

The characters develop throughout the story, doing things that match their maturity at various points in the book. The climax is stunning, and when you finally learn how unwinding happens... I haven't been so chilled by an idea in quite some time.

My only problem with the book dealt with the fact that it was entirely written in the present tense. I found the transitions between dialogue (which I'm used to reading in present tease) and narrative (which I'm used to reading in past tense) would bump me out of the story. It was especially noticeable when a past event was being narrated. One of my favourite aspects of the novel was storking. I won't explain it as its 'fun' to learn about and it's a highly original idea.

If you want to get a teen boy reading, or want something fun and creepy for yourself, this is a fantastic book.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Shadow Prowler Book Trailer

Thanks to John Ottinger III over at Grasping for the Wind for the trailer link. Looks like February to April are going to be great months for new epic fantasy. Here are a few of the books I'm looking forward to.

Shadow Prowler - Alexey Pehov
Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - N.K. Jemisin
Spellwright - Blake Charlton
Desert Spear - Peter Brett