Friday, July 27, 2012

Testing the waters

Hello ....

I just wanted to inform everyone I'm testing the waters for linking my reviews to a couple online book sellers, namely Powells and Amazon in case people want to order from there. It is an attempt to monetize things a little. I'd prefer to have you go to a small local shop and spent the money where you live but if your ordering from online shops....

Anyhow the links will be at the end of the review with all the other links I tend to throw around... Let me know if this bugs you at all...

Short Fiction is so not dead.....

I love short fiction collections of all kinds and with all the original anthologies coming out now you can'c help but miss some here and there. This is even more true of authors like Jeffrey Ford who's fiction falls well into numerous genre's. I'e read a bit of his work here and there and getting a collection like is a treat. I got my ARC copy from the author himself a couple weeks back.

Crackpot palace is collected from the last 4 years covering a wide range of fiction; noir, steampunk, Sword and sorcery, memoir , almost all weird and some hard to pigeon hole all is his enigmatic and appealing style. He follows up the the stories with an easter egg essay about the creation or inspiration for the story. His stories remind me of the best of staying up late to watch Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Creature Features they all take you along on a trip that is exiting and touched with danger and mystery. I have not yet read his novels but this is a taste of something I want more of.

He opens the collection with an introduction which is equal parts hallucination, daydream and welcome. It is in itself a little piece of weird storytelling that strikes me as a bit of how he gets his ideas. The are several shorter pieces in the the book that are great pastiches Polkadots and Moonbeams is the first tale and it sticks with you with its 60's americana setting and noir hip jazzy story. After Moreau takes you to an all together different interpretation of the Wells story from the animal angle that familiar is very new and creepy. In his story Ganesha he explores the folklore of India and I think may be my favorite tale for its take or creativity and respect for the other. Dr. Lash Remembers is a unique steampunk story that goes to places that are uncommon for the genre and need to be more explored.

I have to admit to being a bit of a horror fan and that is the appeal of many of the other stories in the collection; they hit that sweet spot between weird and shocking that did give me just the bit of a chill I look for. This was even true of the stories that had no mystical or weird element to them including his memoir tale. I could hit the titles that gave me these feelings but in some ways I do think that would be telling and since it was cool to find which stories were factual in some ways was great too. A few of the easter egg essays clued me into my ignorance of the folklore of our own country particularly New Jersey and its great to learn something new to look into for a source of mythology.

Jeffrey in a couple of the stories toys with some of the popular mythologies I grew up with. A couple of the stories take a mad scientist tale and run with it. Daltharee is a story that has a miniature bottled city in it that is reminiscent of Kandor and gets to one of those creepy skin crawly endings. I could easily say that the story The Coral Heart, the sword and sorcery tale, struck me as a take of the Michael Moorcock Elric stories feeling familiar but filled with genuine creativity and love for the tradition it comes from. So many of the characters we meet through Jeffrey are quite clearly doomed to make bad choices or even have a bad end but reading their stories is a joy none the less.

I know I have said it several time but the strength of the stories in this collection is their initial familiarity to genre tales we may know in one way or another. He takes what we think we know and adds twists and turns to the familiar hallways of the stories much like the Crackpot Palace in his opening finding new treasures among rooms that seem like ones we know. Short stories are much overlooked by many genre fiction readers who tend towards the doorstops lining the shelves; these short weird tales (and one was in Weird Tales magazine) show the strength of the medium.

He wrote one story for the collection called The Wish Head that tickled the police procedural/crime scene fan in me. Saying much more would give the great bits away as would saying more then a little about his vampire tale or his inclusion of Native mythology in one of his noir pieces. I really just want to wet the appetites for this many course meal of dark weird fiction with bits of reality and wonder thrown in for good measure...

Jeffery Fords website can be found here Crackpot Palace is out on August from Morrow/HarperCollins

Crackpot Palace: Stories
by Jeffrey Ford

.....if wishes were fishes.....

Fair Coin is yet another great addition to the YA shelf of books from PYR. EC Myers novel is filled with emotional tension, moral questions and highly believable characters and situations; it is another novel that I think works on multiple audiences because adolescence is something pretty much was turbulent for everyone. Myers hits right away with the turmoil in Ephraim's life as he gets home to find his alcoholic mother having attempted suicide; his already shaky life clicks down another couple notches. The troubles he is in and the magical coin that seems to get him out resonated with me and though readers might figure there is more going on then mysterious items and notes lead the hero to think the reveals and repercussions hit on the emotional issues.

I empathized with Ephraim from the beginning; he is in a much worse situation then I was so many years ago but i can imagine taking care of an alcoholic mother and relate to his being bullied in school and being attracted to someone but feeling hopeless about it. He is a geeky guy as is is buddy Nathan and though its more in fashion now he is still not gregarious or a hit at parties. His situation goes from bad to worse with his mom in the hospital from a suicide attempt because of his apparent death. This twilight zone situation lands him with a bizarre quarter that should not exists showing Puerto Rico as a state in 1998 and according to a note fulfills wishes. His life changes as does the subtle relationships in his life as he wishes for this or that and odd sighting haunt him throughout. I related to the feeling that if only I could change "X" my life would be great and the prospect of wish fulfillment without the work sadly still appeals to me. As a reader its easy to suspect there is much more going on plot wise and, oh , there are but the emotional center of the story and his relationships play the major roles.

Of the aspects of the main characters that makes them real are their foibles. E.C. 's heroes are the geeks in the school, they are the ones bullies and belittled or used by the popular kids. This is something that is sadly universal and I was one of those people who had been bullied and my life has been affected by it ever since. I enjoyed Fair Coin because Ephraim has courage I never had and well wish I did have. Wishes are a big part of the novel and I think a big part of peoples lives. Ephraim and his cohort of buddies have to live with the consequences of wish fulfilment and they do a much better job then you'd expect.
No matter how Ephraim might think his social circle is small just him and his buddy and fellow geek Nathan as a observer in his life I saw that his circle was bigger then he knew. Before all the wishes and the twists and turns that those cause good and bad he has a connection to the girl of his wishes Jena and her friends Mary and Shelly. There are numerous geek culture winks like that appearing through the novel; EC must have grown up like I did on 50's 60's sci fi reruns on TV and his world though much younger then I am right now really feels of home. I wish I had encountered this story as a teen; I may have missed it being a depressive but its pretty clear Ephraim has more friends then he knows before the first wish. As the world changes around him he gets good with bad and more bad and the creepy. He reveals things to Nathan and well its a interesting ride to say the least.

To be honest though I know blowing the story from there on is so tempting, blowing what is happening if you got clued into it by the story or not; its all to cool to read it for yourself I think. The beauty of the story from the realization of the truth on is the moral implications of what happened and the implications for the future. The friends he has once the third act starts are in much more danger then the bullies and concerns of a teenager. The adventure from there on in is more a caper story and its a real great twist on things; still emotionally charged but grown out of the teen angst to something more adult. E.C. Myers does not opt out of the implications of his story and take the easy way out.

In the end of the story Ephraim though changed in his desire for instant gratification is changed by his experience. The knowledge he gained through his trial and his decisions have made a more fully realized person and again I would love to have read this at much less then more then twice the protagonists age. His supporting cast of geeks, freaks and above all friends are all as vibrant as he. The many changed Jena's, Mary's Shelly's and Nathan's are all as unique was you'd want from a novel that shows multiple views of the same people. I do not want to say more. I got what might be the reveal early on and it ruined nothing. I loved this book and felt for the characters. One of the nicest part of the setting and familiar to me was the mix of people in the core group there was not a self conscious mix of races or mixed race characters but the multi national mix of players was so much like my groups of friends; I wish I appreciated them more then I did.

Really saying more would be giving things away. The end delivers on all the promises E.C. made in the opening and I can not wait for more from the author. Ultimately the characters make the hard choices taking the paths they can live with, again it's moral and emotionally loaded in ways some spec fiction does not get near. Strong characters and strong storytelling make this a must read novel no matter your age; Myers hits where we live and sometimes not where we still live at times. I wish I had another chance yonder it right so often but one chance is all we get really.

EC Myers bio and website can be found here

Lest I forget I received my copy from Pyr for review and am very happy they sent one.....

Fair Coin
by E C Myers

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mr. Scalzi, your with us on this away party....

John Scalzi's satire about a classic episodic science fiction shows is something I have looked forward to since his reading of the first chapter at Borderlands last year; I was in the audience of people he made swear they would tell no one about it not even it's title other then the fact it was great, inspired and really funny. It was and I actually told no one, that's me I keep my promises, well mostly. I've been looking forward to getting my hands on a copy since the reading; the book is out now and I was lucky enough to get a review copy from Tor Books.

John plays fast and loose with both narrative and science in this loving send up of the convention of throwing a recent addition to the crew under the bus to display the gravity of the situation in the opening minutes of the episode before the commercial break. He introduces the premise right away he read this chapter at Borderlands Books last year and honestly then it was hysterical. So its out now and is getting a lot of attention..... so if your on the fence about it let me tell you how I feel about it now.

I'm honestly conflicted because there are moments I really loved and was either moved to chuckle or to tear up but on the whole i have to question the cost of admission to this show. I know I say I will only talk about novels and stories I like and to be honest I do like this book, but I really wanted to love it. I was turned onto Scalzi because someone mentioned hearing about Old Mans War on Nancy Pearl's show on KUOW (plug plug) years back. I gave her first crack at Redshirts when TOR graciously providid a review copy. Its one of the few books I saw her actually frustrated with and one she ultimately did not finish. I liked it more then her, that is mainly what I will cover, but we have spoken a lot more about it then most books we have both read.

The Good or the reasons to buy this book. I teared up in the ending scene of the last of the codas, which my partner may never have gotten to. I empathised with the feelings of the background characters brought to greater life by the codas and particularly the last; itreminded me of the feelings I had for the XO in Battlestar Galactica (the remake) in the opening episodes of the third season in dealing with his wife it was not at all the same but it was that strong for me. Scalzi effectively played with the formula of episodic TV working faithfully withing the framework and the rules of the game he set up. He maintained tension in scenes that well knowing his title youcould write them endings. I found lots of geeky injokes and dropped names funny along the way particularly thatof the..... oh well that would be telling. I also enjoyed the fact that I reallyfelt like I got what he was doing..... ok so I was wrong along the way butI'd have been sad to have predicted the whole thing. Lastly I did like his protagonists, they were in an unenviable positionof being background in someone elses story but sometimes aren't we all.

TheBad: or why I am conflicted about Redshirts. I have been a sci fi TV watcher since i was a child... Original Star Trek(reruns Im not thatold) STTNG, STDS9, Space 1999 (original run sadly I'm that old) Galactica (both new and old), Buffy, Angel, Farscape(yeah), Babalon 5, Sanctuary... you get the picture not counting comics and reading and gaming (yes I'm thatkind of geek). Ok bad run on sentences aside I am versed in geekdom (long before it was cool) and though all that allowed me to really get what he was well getting at it may have been an issue too. He sort of breaks the fourth wall but not having a history with the characters like when they did it on Farscape or Buffy/Angel/Firefly the impact was more along the lines of "well that was a little funny but (fill in the blank did it better) and that was from more history with the characters. John also appealed to the game theorist in me but it was too much in the narriative for my taste, the storywas maybe too conscious it was a story. I enjoyed reading his exposition of the theory and his cracking of jokes directly to me much in the way Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Grant Morrisson does but maybe he got there a little to late for me.

The Ugly: though I realy really want to love this book because of the emotion I felt for it's end I can't say its worth the ticket price right now. At this time with the economic straits I and other fans may find themselves in paying 26 plus dollars for this is just too much my tearing up not withstanding. I enjoyed the book much more then my partner; I still would love to see John Scalzi get a dumptruck of money backed up to his house. I hope I'm wrong and that I'm in the minority about how funny the novel is and from the other reviews I read it seems that way. I loved it for what I got from it and if you are along term sci fi comic and pen and paper role playing geek you may get as many or more laughs then me but I can't say its worth the ticket price.

Had John posted this as a lark on his Whatever blog it would have been an amazing easteregg for his fans. I enjoyed the book; I just did not think it that funny overall..... It did lead me to several thoughts about what I may write for NANOWRIMO this year and what I'd like to post for people to read....

As an aside for everone out there....

Tor and John Scalzi recently posted here that beginning this winter he will be returning to the Old Mans War universe and that is something to be exited for even if this light satire is not your cup of jo. It will be published initially electronicly in episodic instalments to be followed by a print version. I am looking forward to this a lot.... I love episodic stories and short fiction is so under rated. Me I'm still wanting to love all of Redshirts and will be bringing it to a signing since I'm a sucker for those and maybe I'll find it pee myself funny after my next stab at NANOWRIMO this winter when I try to do a bit of satire myself.