Category Archives: SFFH

Spectral Cafe: Books! Science Fiction I Have Read

While my blogging has been sporadic, doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading stuff. Here are three different but related visions of the future:

 

PERSONA by Genevieve Valentine 

I became a big fan of Valentine because of her first published novel Mechanique, an absolutely beautifully written book that skillfully blended violent action, steampunk and suspense with meditations on art, love, loss and death. Persona has that Valentine touch but it’s a different type of story with a style that is more straightforward, less poetic, more brainy spy thriller. The novel is set in the near future when technology has advanced in various areas, notably surveillance, and global issues dominate. Countries, including some new ones on the scene, negotiate it out in a fishbowl of diplomats who are mostly just used as celebrities in the world reality show, called Faces. There are official journalists and black market journalists (snaps.) The novel centers on Suyana Sapaki, a third rate Face for the newer United Amazon Rainforest Confederation angling for a better deal for her struggling young country, and secondly on Daniel Park, a former journalist on the run, trying to become a snap, who happens to interrupt a mysterious assassination attempt on Sapaki. Everybody is hiding lots of secrets that are likely to get them killed by one group or another. The paranoia is ramped up to eleven, and it’s wonderful. It’s a crisp, punchy novel about a future that, while a few things might not fully hold up, has some scary parallels to what’s going on today and how they could be worse. I enjoyed it a lot and am looking forward to reading the sequel that came out this year, Icon.

ZEROES by Chuck Wendig

I’ve also been a fan of Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series, which are contemporary fantasy thrillers. (He is better known now as the guy who is doing the funky new Star Wars tie-in bestsellers.) In Zeroes he turns to science fiction in the contemporary to near future time range. In the novel, the tech involved is of the cyber variety and also has a lot of stuff about surveillance. Wendig sets up the classic hackers story: five disparate types of criminal hackers are grabbed by the U.S. government and forced to work at a secret complex as cyber spies to avoid federal prison for the rest of their lives. And of course there are conspiracies within conspiracies that the thrown together group are forced to deal with in order to survive. But from there, things get weirder and weirder, because that’s how Wendig rolls. He also has a brilliant ability to take a stereotype frame and play with it, turning them into buyable and fleshed out characters, and has interesting side characters as well. While I didn’t enjoy the novel as much as the Miriam Black books, I did very much like the combo of extrapolating where cybernetics might go with Dirty Dozen face-offs and chases. There is a sequel/spin-off that involves ants just out called Invasive. I don’t even want to think what Wendig might do with ants.

TERMS OF ENLISTMENT by Marko Kloos

Everybody started talking about newcomer Marko Kloos and so I got around to reading his first novel, the start of the Frontline series. The novel is set in a farther away future that is bleakly dystopian. The Earth is overpopulated, trashed and food shorted, with tons of poor folk kept trapped in giant city camps — pretty much a standard scenario. Some try to escape it by joining the military, with the hopes that if you survive service, you’ll get a pension and maybe the ability to settle on more breathable colonies out on other planets. That’s what the novel’s protagonist, Andrew Grayson, decides to do. The tech here is military, also involves methods of surveillance, and some of it is interesting. The novel is really two stories together. The first involves Grayson’s training and service on Earth where they put down “threats” both foreign and domestic as hated enforcers. The second part has Grayson going up into space on a military patrol vessel that encounters a totally new threat to humans. Kloos makes a bit of a first-timers mistake in the first part, for me, of believing that detailed descriptions of military training and procedures are both fascinating and totally unfamiliar to his reading audience. So the first part doesn’t move along quite as well as the second part, though it gets more exciting as it goes. The second part of the novel offers us more of a new world, better pacing and Kloos’ aliens are neat. Overall, it’s a bit of an uneven book that is nonetheless free of bombast, has lots of action and knows its military hardware. And has a protagonist who isn’t a total saint but does have a strong emotional core. So I’m interested to read the next one in the series and see what Kloos does with his wider landscape.

 

 

 

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A Passel of Web Series

Greetings new followers! I’ll try to have actual content for you.

Recently I got introduced to some web series work by actress, writer and producer Joanne Gaskell that I believe one could call geekerrific. (Don’t hurt me.)

The biggest, best known one is Standard Action, a satirical fantasy series that takes place in a world that is D&D-ish, down to characters talking about experience points and charisma scores, makes fun of its own low budget by using light-based special effectgs and puppets with remarkable effectiveness, and throws in reference points from everything from The Princess Bride to Doctor Who. The first season follows the formation of an adventuring party of outcasts that set about on a rescue effort. The second season involves what happens when the adventurers meet the entity behind what happened in the first season, and the last, third season (so far,) ventures into a multi-verse. There may also be an online comic attached to the series. Here’s the first episode of the first season:

 

The second web series is One Hit Die. It is similar to Standard Action, and can be said to take place in the same universe, but the style is a little different as the series breaks the fourth wall and has the characters periodically talk to the camera about their thoughts, like a reality show or fake documentary shows like The Office. One Hit Die has a short, introductory first season, an additional two part short called Crushmas and then a longer second season entitled One Hit Die: Legend of the Lich Lord. Here’s the first episode of season one:

And lastly, Gaskell was part of producing a three-part short story for The Gamers web series, a series which has been going on for some time now. The short entry is called The Gamers: Natural One, and involves a non-gamer put to the test by his girlfriend’s family. Here’s the first episode:

Not every joke is a hit or a great choice, but they are creative, fun, with enjoyable characters and a good attitude. Enjoy!

 

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Various Geek Article Links

Some interesting bits and news from the Internet:

 

Mindy at Skepchick ponders the science of Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ Starkiller base

And speaking of Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ Starkiller base, blogger Matty Granger fisks and debunks a really obnoxious article in the Huffington Post about plot holes in the movie. Not that there weren’t any plot holes in the movie, but I agree with Granger that there’s a big difference between inattention and actual plot holes.  Plus, it’s just a fun piece if you’re a Star Wars fan.

An announcement that Vanessa Hudgens will headline a new DC Comics sitcom. Which sounds like an interesting experiment.

The New York Times digs out a business piece from 1985 expressing that laptops and mobile computers is going to be a limited market, just to show that tech prediction is frequently not very predictive about how we’ll use tech.

Author Kevin Hearne gets author Ursula Vernon to do her rant about the potato apocalypse on Twitter.

An interesting experiment based on the Harry Potter world, though she seems to have cheated a good bit.

A rundown on everything you need to know about upcoming Disney movies. (The Mouse will not be stopped!)

 

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Nebula Awards Announcements

The Nebula Awards, including the Ray Bradbury Award for Dramatic Presentation and the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult SFF, announced their short list nominees today:

Best Novel (Long Form): 

Raising Caine, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu (Saga)
Uprooted, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, Lawrence M. Schoen (Tor)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)

Best Novella:

Wings of Sorrow and Bone, Beth Cato (Harper Voyager Impulse)
“The Bone Swans of Amandale,” C.S.E. Cooney (Bone Swans)
“The New Mother,” Eugene Fischer (Asimov’s 4-5/15)
“The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn,” Usman T. Malik (Tor.com 4/22/15)
Binti, Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
“Waters of Versailles,” Kelly Robson (Tor.com 6/10/15)

Best Novelette:

“Rattlesnakes and Men,” Michael Bishop (Asimov’s 2/15)
“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead,” Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed 2/15)
“Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds,” Rose Lemberg (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 6/11/15)
“The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society,” Henry Lien (Asimov’s 6/15)
“The Deepwater Bride,” Tamsyn Muir (F&SF 7-8/15)
“Our Lady of the Open Road,” Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s 6/15)

Best Short Story:

“Madeleine,” Amal El-Mohtar (Lightspeed 6/15)
“Cat Pictures Please,” Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld 1/15)
“Damage,” David D. Levine (Tor.com 1/21/15)
“When Your Child Strays From God,” Sam J. Miller (Clarkesworld 7/15)
“Today I Am Paul,” Martin L. Shoemaker (Clarkesworld 8/15)
“Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers,” Alyssa Wong (Nightmare 10/15)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation:

Ex Machina, Written by Alex Garland
Inside Out, Screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley; Original Story by Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
Jessica Jones: AKA Smile, Teleplay by Scott Reynolds & Melissa Rosenberg; Story by Jamie King & Scott Reynolds
Mad Max: Fury Road, Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
The Martian, Screenplay by Drew Goddard
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Written by Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy:

Seriously Wicked, Tina Connolly (Tor Teen)
Court of Fives, Kate Elliott (Little, Brown)
Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge (Macmillan UK 5/14; Amulet)
Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace (Big Mouth House)
Zeroboxer, Fonda Lee (Flux)
Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older (Levine)
Bone Gap, Laura Ruby (Balzer + Bray)
Nimona, Noelle Stevenson (HarperTeen)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)

And the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award is being given this year to C.J. Cherryh, which is highly pleasing and well deserved.

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The Complete Marvel Dubsmash Conflict

So this is a compilation video of all the Dubsmash videos of the friendly competition between the cast of Marvel’s Agent Carter and Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that began as innocent fun during the 2015 San Diego ComicCon and blossomed into a voting competition for charity with prominent guest stars, that ended up raising over $125,000. It’s the power of the Internet, when it’s doing good and providing time-wasting entertainment where actors act like your old high school buddies. Enjoy!

 

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Musings on Some of my T.V. Shows (May Contain Spoilers)

Having risen from my gasping sick-bed, I can now comment on all the t.v. I watched while recovering:

Grimm: Juliet may not be dead! That would be cool, if so. Because Juliet is a great character, but the writers only occasionally write anything interesting for her. Otherwise, she tends to be in a coma or possessed/going crazy or warning Nick to be careful. And the way she seemed to go out was poorly done. I still love you show, but bring her back from the refrigeration and I’ll be a lot happier. In any case, the new players in the over-arch plots seem interesting.

UPDATE: Juliet is alive! And Trouble is back! Way to go into the mid-season break, people.

Walking Dead: Sorry, folks, but the only way that Glenn is actually alive is if that fall off the dumpster was a dream/concussion sequence. Which is possible, but with these writers, I suspect unlikely. Walkers were biting him on the shoulders. My progression with this show has been 1) found myself not able to watch it much despite some quality acting because the characters were too clueless to live; 2) decided I could watch it if I rooted for the walkers to kill them; 3) came to like some of the characters, who also had gotten (and their writers had gotten) a bit smarter and hoped they didn’t die maybe. And Glenn was one of those last, and the only Asian they have of course. Everybody knew eventually he’d go out (because comic books,) but I agree that wasn’t the perfect way for him to go out. But it was very much a Walking Dead way to go out — killed by stupidity.

UPDATE: Glenn is actually alive because Walking Dead just outright cheated on their camerawork and hoped we didn’t notice. But that’s okay. Everybody else is going to die soon, though.

Z Nation: George R.R. Martin as a zombie is one of my new favorite things.

UPDATE: Still one of my favorite new things.

Supernatural: You know I love you, show, but I’m calling it for this season: The Darkness is boring. Still a lot of fun writing in the individual episodes, but the problem with the super-ancient, super powerful big bads is that the writers then have to stall the whole season to get into battle with them. Sometimes that works for Supernatural (angels, yellow-eyed demon,) or sort of works (leviathans,) but this one is not working for me. You’re in your old age, show, could you not come up with something better?

UPDATE: The Darkness has gone from boring to deeply annoying. But Lucifer is back! And they gave him great lines! Had to make Sam as clueless as a post to do it, but such a relief.

Arrow: Nice use of Constantine, folks! That show had a number of problems before it was cancelled, but Matt Ryan playing John Constantine was not one of them. And so the folks at Arrow brought him back to reprise the character into Arrow’s universe. And he stole the show of course. He almost made the undercover in the island poppy fields flashback plot bearable. (Let’s wrap that flashback up, pretty please, Arrow?)

UPDATE: Seriously, we’ll pay you to end that island flashback. Lovely crossover with The Flash though.

Sleepy Hollow: A crossover two-parter with the cast of non-speculative, forensic mystery show Bones? A hot mess, though the actors clearly had fun. We used to watch Bones but gradually stopped when they became obsessed with having different sorts of serial killers trying to constantly kill the main characters. Went back to see the wedding episode and it looked like they were winding down. But they’ve stayed on and more power to them. But having Bones puncture mysteries, as she does, and having her universe actually be full of magic she’s missing was painful to watch. And what would have been a decent Sleepy Hollow Halloween episode with British soldier zombies just got awkward. So please don’t do that again. Otherwise, SH’s new season seems to be going fairly well, though at this point, I think we could do with less Betsy Ross flashbacks. It doesn’t make sense with the Crane going over to the rebels in part because of Katrina thing they already had. Also, I’m kind of hoping Crane’s new flame turns out to be evil, as she otherwise seems too much like the costume maker who had a crush on Crane and got killed for it.

UPDATE: Sleepy Hollow got nicely revved up for the mid-season break. It’s been announced that they will now be exiled to Friday nights. The upside: no more crossovers with Bones.

Doctor Who: Happy with the return of Osgoode, and actually enjoying punk rocker, sunglass wearing Doctor as opposed to the early cranky old doctor routine, but what is with the continual two-part episodes? It’s getting a bit laborious.

UPDATE: Very laborious season though it had its high spots and Clara eventually went out okay (though she had to wear an unattractive grey sweater throughout most of it.) And River returns for the Xmas special!

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: I’m enjoying the season so far, but why are the writers obsessed with keeping FitzSimmons tortured and apart from each other? At this point, if they do any more of it, the two will just curl up into gibbering balls. We could use one romantic relationship that actually works on the show. (And no, Bobbi and Hunter don’t exactly work together.)

UPDATE: I take back my comment that Bobbi and Hunter’s relationship isn’t working well. But torture mostly continues for everybody else.

Also, the other television people: stop making more shows I want to watch. I have a life, you know. When I’m not coughing up a lung.

UPDATE: I’m talking to you, The Expanse!

 

 

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Daniel José Older — Bone Street Rumba series and Shadowshaper

Daniel José Older debuted earlier this year with the first full-out novel in his contemporary fantasy Bone Street Rumba series, Half-Resurrection Blues. (Although he’s been of course editing and publishing short fiction, including some novellas set in the universe of Bone Street Rumba.)

Half-Resurrection Blues is about Carlos Delacruz, an in-betweener — a man who has died and been partially resurrected — who can’t remember his past identity, and who has found himself working for the NYC Council of the Dead as an investigator and hunter of ghosts and supernatural beings who are causing trouble between the realms of the living and the dead. (Think kind of Men in Black with ghosts instead of aliens.)

The complication is when the Council mysteriously sends him after a sorcerer trying to open the portal to the deadlands, and that man turns out to be another in-betweener, who may hold a link to Delacruz’s living past. The ripples from that encounter lead to an invasion of supernatural creatures who threaten Delacruz’s friends and to rip the veil between realms. And while he’s dealing with that, Delacruz has got to figure out the puzzle of his violent first death.

Older has a grand time setting up an interesting, cross-cultural supernatural system in the rapidly changing neighborhood of Brooklyn. His characters are sharp and fun, his dialogue really good and he does action scenes well. A lot of urban fantasy series fall back on the snarky. But while there’s a strong thread of humor running through the novel, like a strain of sugar in something tart, Half-Resurrection Blues is more meditative and bluesy, with tragic notes and elements that are horrific even when they are a bit funny. (Carlos also gets beaten up a lot, leaving him less time for zingers.) Carlos is truly a lost soul who has been treading water since his half-resurrection, and his discovery that he’s not the only in-betweener around wakes him up and makes him start figuring out who he wants to be in the half-life he’s caught in. Plus, he has to save the world and as many as he can, of course.

The main quibble I have is a common one for first novels in mystery thriller fantasy series like this. Namely, that the book has to focus on Carlos dealing with personal stuff in the main crisis and building his team of helpers for future stories. That means a bit less time than I would like on the details of the ghost aspects/system and the Council, and on the Brooklyn neighborhoods. Older does spend some time on the latter, but I used to live in that area, long before its many changes today, so that was a factor I enjoyed.

But I suspect that this is a series that is going to do well as people discover it. Older also launched a separate YA novel this year, called Shadowshaper:

That looks really interesting too. I’m very behind on reading YA titles, but I may check it out. Older is beloved by the cover gods, as you can also see by the cover of the second novel in the Bone Street Rumba series, coming out in January, Midnight Taxi Tango:

That’s a book that’s going to feature young Kia, who is basically going to be one of the favorite characters in the series of everybody, so I’m probably going to be checking that one out too.

You can check out Older’s website here. He’s also the co-editor, with Rose Fox, of the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, which has been getting a lot of raves and features yet another wonderful cover:

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