Monday, June 19, 2017

Book Review: Dingo

Charles de Lint's 2008 novella Dingo focuses on two young men who both fall for the same girl, and what they do to try and win her affections.  Of course, being a de Lint story, there ends up being more than a little magic, danger and even a visit to a world separate, but not that different, from our own.

The novel focuses on Miguel, a seventeen-year-old high school student who falls immediately head over heels for the new girl in town, Lainey, an Australian girl with a strange dog.  Things get more confusing when the usually friendly Lainey starts acting like she's never met Miguel and then Johnny, a local bully, seems to take an interest in her as well.

The novel uses Australian folklore and merges it quite nicely with the world de Lint has created in his city of Newford.  None of his regular characters make an appearance in this novella, but as per usual, much of the story focuses on how normal folk deal with a undeniable confrontation with the world of magic.

A fascinating, if short, read.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Book Review: The Boy on the Bridge

M. R. Carey's 2017 follow-up to The Girl with all the Gifts, The Boy on the Bridge works as a prequel, and once again focuses on a small group of soldiers and scientists attempting to exist after an end of the world event.

The novel takes place on a mobile science station (think tank mixed with RV) that plays an important role in the original book.  Just as with the first novel, we are given one character to view this strange new world from, but this time, there are two protagonists, a scientist and a young man named Steven Greaves, who is a quiet, perhaps autistic young man who may be the human race's last, best chance for survival.

The novel works to create an incredibly tense, paranoid situation and plays with issues of consequences and living in a perpetual state of fear.

Well worth the read.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Book Review: The Isle of Stone

Nicolas Nicastro's 2005 novel The Isle of Stone takes a look at Spartan Society nearly sixty years after the battle of Thermopylae, specifically during the battle of Sphacteria (325 BCE).  The novel focuses on two Spartan warriors, Antalcidas and Epitadas, brothers who were raised in two very different, but traditional Spartan styes.

Much like John Gardiner's The Wreckage of Agathon, The Isle of Stone looks at the Spartan Empire with a jaundiced eye.  The empire is portrayed as brutal, and neither brother is drawn in a particularly heroic way.  What I really liked about the novel was the character of the warrior's mother and her rationalization for why she helps one brother and hurts the other.  The ethics of the Spartans, as described by Nicastro, definitely leave a lot to be desired.

The majority of the action of the story takes place with an army of Spartans under siege on a barren island surrounded by the Athenian navy.  The story moves quickly and although I didn't like it as much as Nicastro's other work on the list (Antigone's Wake - which I LOVED!), it does work to give an unflinching look at a culture often celebrated in our modern day.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Book Review: Stranger in a Strange Land

Reading Robert A. Heinlein's 1961 science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land was a curious experience for me; on one hand, the concepts - an examination of humanities strong focus on religion and monogamy from the point of view of an outsider were quite interesting - while on the other hand, Heinlein's views on women were dated to the point of extreme distraction.

The book follows Valentine Michael Smith, the human son of Earth colonists on Mars who was in turn raised by Martians and his visit to Earth as ambassador from Mars. Much of the focus of the book begins with ideas of misinterpretation and communication; at first human authorities hide Smith away and attempt to get him to sign away the rights he has to his own vast fortune as well as potentially the entire planet of Mars. From Smith's point of view this is all irrelevant as the Martians have sent him for an entirely different purpose.

Smith quickly makes friends with a nurse named Gillian and her journalist boyfriend Ben Caxton. A daring escape follows and the majority of the novel focuses on Smith's relationship with Jubal Harshaw, a writer/doctor/lawyer who offers the Martian asylum. Harshaw has three secretaries (a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead) who work in tandem to satisfy his professional needs - the blatant sexism here (perhaps seen as charming when the book was published in the early '60s) definitely pulled me out of the narrative repeatedly, reminding me that when reading any fiction it's important to keep in mind the context in which the story was written.

The book itself was a touchstone for American counter-culture in the sixties and introduced the concept of "Grok" meaning a sort of total understanding of another, and even introduced the waterbed in concept.

A compelling read, but historical context is key to making it through.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Movie Review: Alien Covenant

Here's the thing with prequels: I'm actually pretty hard pressed to think of any that I loved more than the original - in fact, it may be fair to say:

You should see any movie that later had a prequel made, as for the prequel, it's kind of up to you.

Now, as my wife quickly pointed out to me, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly are both technically prequels, as they occur before the earlier film that introduced the main character - so maybe take my earlier statement as a guideline rather than a hard and fast rule.

Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant is both a sequel to the 2012 film Prometheus and a prequel to the Alien Franchise. The film follows the crew of the Covenant, a ship bringing two thousand cryosleeping colonists to a new world who, after a solar flare accident, find a signal coming from a nearby world and decide to investigate it. As with more and more genre films these days, the production company released a number of crew videos and even a short bridging film connecting Alien: Covenant directly to Prometheus ahead of the films release. At this point I haven't seen any of those, preferring to watch and review the film on its own merits.

The action is pretty great, the creatures are terrifying and the crew does a nice job of portraying space truckers. I left the film quite impressed with how it was all put together, but a week later, and I'm feeling a little confused as to my current state. On the one hand, as a fan of the original film, I'm happy to revisit a world I've enjoyed a number of times, on the other hand, much of this film felt either like a retread or giving too much backstory to a creature that should remain mysterious. I will say that I was interested enough to see if there was a novelization (there is) and to add it to my used-bookstore wish list.

After all, an examination of the Alien franchise could be an October theme month some year.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Book Review: Planet of the Apes

For me, the 1968 film Planet of the Apes exists almost as long as my childhood memories of science fiction, along with shows like Mork & Mindy, Star Wars, and Star Trek the story of an astronaut trapped on a planet inhabited by intelligent apes seemed to always exist in my understanding of space-based stories.

Over the years I've seen the original film, the sequels, the remakes and the toys, so when a friend suggested we read the original French novel by Pierre Boulle, I was definitely intrigued. The novel follows a journalist named Ulysse Mérou, who in 2050 joins a spaceships crew to explore planets in the Betelgeuse star system. Here they find a planet inhabited by intelligent great apes, where humans exists, but as a wild animal rather than a dominant species.

There are a couple big changes from the film including the fact that the apes speak their own language, and the protagonist ends up spending much of his time learning it. I can definitely see why the film went with having them speak English, but this made for a much more interesting story. The story ends differently than the film and does have significantly more focus on the loneliness and isolation felt by Ulysse.

A really intriguing read and one I'm glad I got the chance to experience.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Charles de Lint's Little (Grrl) Lost (2007) is a YA novel focusing on a friendship between two teen girls, T.J. and Elizabeth, the first having recently moved from the farm to the suburbs and the second having just run away from home. Although T.J. is more straight-laced and Elizabeth is a little more punk, the big difference between the two of them comes down to size; while T.J. is a pretty normal young woman, T.J. is a Little, and therefore stands at about six inches tall.

The Littles were first introduced in the collection Tapping the Dream Tree, and although this novel does take place near Newford, it's connection to de Lint's regular cast of characters is pretty limited. A fun jumping on point for new readers and a great story about friendship and finding your place in the world as well.