Eventually, there might be a Swanwick/Link interview

Wood type

…and it’s sort of my fault.

It start­ed with a request for book sug­ges­tions: Nik­ki was look­ing for books that “cap­tured [my] soul”.

I made a sug­ges­tion, nam­ing a cou­ple of my favourite short-sto­ry authors. (FYI, Kel­ly Link goes by @haszombiesinit on The Twit­ters.)

Michael Swan­wick, as is his wont, replied.

I offered up my 2-year-old review of Get in Trou­ble.

Mr. Swan­wick agreed with me.

Kel­ly Link chimed in.

And then it all kind of snow­balled.

So I’ve got that to look for­ward to. I hope it comes to pass; I think it’d be a fas­ci­nat­ing inter­view.

The Themis Files review

Only Human image (from thethemisfiles.com)

Thanks to my local library, I read Syl­vain Neu­v­el’s The Themis Files tril­o­gy:

  • Sleep­ing Giants
  • Wak­ing Gods
  • Only Human

As a young girl, Rose Franklin falls into a hole and dis­cov­ers a giant mechan­i­cal hand. As an adult, she goes to work on what has now been named Themis: a giant robot of alien ori­gin, which, for unknown rea­sons, trav­eled to Earth some­time in the dis­tant past, only to be dis­as­sem­bled and scat­tered around the globe.

Along the way she teams up with a cou­ple of mil­i­tary pilots, a man who claims he’s descend­ed more or less direct­ly from aliens, a rogue geneti­cist, and a mys­te­ri­ous stranger who wields more pow­er than lit­er­al­ly any­one else on Earth.

But no one’s ready for what hap­pens when the robot builders show up. Or what hap­pens when a hand­ful of peo­ple are trans­port­ed to the builders’ home­world.

Turns out an invul­ner­a­ble giant robot can have a pro­found effect on the geopo­lit­i­cal land­scape.


The nov­els are epis­to­lary, told in the form of tran­script­ed inter­views, news broad­casts, per­son­al jour­nals, let­ters, and the like. Syl­vain Neu­v­el is a mas­ter of propul­sive storytelling—I read books 2 and 3 in a cou­ple of days apiece (nor­mal­ly it takes me between a week and a month to read a book), and the sto­ry itself had me laugh­ing more than once. I espe­cial­ly enjoyed the tone of the Mys­te­ri­ous Stranger’s dia­logue, even though he was some­times not a very nice per­son. (There are no short­age of not very nice peo­ple here, and everyone’s flawed, just like the real world.)

The sto­ry exam­ines the con­se­quences of dis­cov­er­ing that, not only are we not alone in the uni­verse, but there exist aliens quite capa­ble of wip­ing out the entire human race with­out break­ing a sweat. How do you fight against a threat like that? And what hap­pens when flawed human beings get access to that tech­nol­o­gy?

Well, you’ll have to read the tril­o­gy to find out. Trust me, it’s worth it.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed, espe­cial­ly if you’re into first-con­tact yarns, sar­don­ic humour, giant robots, or geopol­i­tics. Oh, and lin­guis­tics.

Tomorrowland

Still from Tomorrowland

On the week­end I final­ly watched Disney’s Tomor­row­land. I sort-of remem­bered its the­atre run, which was under­whelm­ing (appar­ent­ly it lost over $100 mil­lion dol­lars, based on its pro­duc­tion and mar­ket­ing costs vs. its box-office take).

The sto­ry in a nut­shell: As a boy, Frank Walk­er goes to live in a retro-future par­adise, till he’s boot­ed out for some crime that remains unspec­i­fied until near­ly the end of the movie. He grows up into a bit­ter, bit­ter man (played by George Clooney). Mean­while, Casey (Britt Robert­son) might be the key to Frank’s return to Tomor­row­land, and also the key to, you know, staving off the seem­ing­ly inevitable end of the world. Fac­ing off against them is Nix (Hugh Lau­rie) and his army of skin­jobs Audio-Ani­ma­tron­ic robots.

I thought it was a decent movie, worth a watch, even if it was unsub­tle. The scene in the Texas col­lectibles store (Blast From the Past), where Casey squares off against evil AA ’bots Hugo* and Ursu­la, was chock­ablock with reminders that Dis­ney bought Star Wars. Some of the AAs were pret­ty creepy, espe­cial­ly the man­i­cal­ly-grin­ning leader of the Men-in-Black–styled “Secret Ser­vice” squad.

In a world that seems to pre­fer its enter­tain­ment on the grim & grit­ty side, opti­mistic SF is a hard sell. It has a ten­den­cy to come off preachy or heavy-hand­ed, and this movie didn’t man­age to evade those pit­falls. I’m still glad I watched it, though.

It’s an inter­est­ing com­pan­ion to Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays, which I read a few months ago, in that both explore the idea of alter­nate futures, espe­cial­ly the sorts of futures we seemed to expect in the 1950s (fly­ing cars! shin­ing tow­ers! per­son­al jet­packs!).


* Hugo Gerns­back, because of course.

Review: The Collapsing Empire

Cover Art

Cross-post­ed on Goodreads, sans foot­notes.

Every time I read a John Scalzi nov­el, I’m remind­ed what a good writer he is.* This one’s no excep­tion. He han­dles the big pic­ture and the small, per­son­al details with equal deft­ness.

After I fin­ished the epi­logue, I jumped back to the pro­logue. With the knowl­edge of every­thing else that hap­pens in the book, it was fun to see how this lit­tle piece of the sto­ry — large­ly uncon­nect­ed to the events in the remain­der of the nov­el, fea­tur­ing char­ac­ters we wouldn’t see again — still added to the whole.**

When I start­ed read­ing the book, I wasn’t sure if it was a stand-alone nov­el or the launch of a new series. When I got to the end, it was pret­ty plain­ly the open­ing vol­ume in a mul­ti-vol­ume set. (Don’t get me wrong — the nov­el is com­plete in itself, but the end­ing indi­cates there’s more to come.) Under nor­mal cir­cum­stances, I’d have felt a twinge of irri­ta­tion at this, but in this case I was relieved. I want more time with these char­ac­ters, and I want to know just how they’re going to deal with an empire in col­lapse.

The Col­laps­ing Empire, by John Scalzi

One final note: Peer review is impor­tant. Read the nov­el and you’ll see what I mean.


* In a lot of ways, John Scalzi’s writ­ing reminds me of Joe Halde­man, who is one of my favourite writ­ers.

** A note on pro­logues: Elmore Leonard famous­ly want­ed writ­ers to avoid them, and gen­er­al­ly speak­ing he’s right (IMHO). But any list of “rules” of writ­ing are real­ly guide­lines, and usu­al­ly reflect what works best for the author writ­ing the list of rules. I’ve read a lot of Elmore Leonard’s detec­tive nov­els, and I can’t recall ever run­ning into a pro­logue there.

I don’t skip pro­logues when I read, but I do notice when they real­ly don’t con­nect at all to the sto­ry. When that hap­pens, I agree, it would have been bet­ter to excise the pro­logue entire­ly.

The Col­laps­ing Empire’s pro­logue was fun enough — and con­nect­ed enough to the over­all sto­ry — that I read it twice.

Review: Fragment, by Craig Russell

Fragment, by Craig Russell

Fel­low Bran­don author Craig Rus­sell recent­ly had a new nov­el pub­lished, titled Frag­ment. I went to the book launch at McNal­ly Robin­son Book­sellers and bought myself a copy.

I fin­ished read­ing it last night, and I must say, I enjoyed it. It’s a short novel—not much over 200 pages—but it packs a lot into that space.

The Story

Thou­sands per­ish as ice over­runs a research/tourism base at the south end of the world. A mas­sive sheet of Antarc­tic ice—the Fragment—breaks free of the con­ti­nen­tal ice shelf and drifts into the ocean. Three sci­en­tists, sur­vivors from the destroyed base, must try to get the mes­sage out: This is a dis­as­ter. The Frag­ment threat­ens thou­sands, pos­si­bly mil­lions, of lives.

Stand­ing in their way is the cap­tain of the nuclear sub­ma­rine that res­cued them, under orders to run silent, run deep. Also, the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States isn’t thrilled about the sit­u­a­tion, since it looks like it’ll be bad for his polls in the run-up to re-elec­tion.

And Ring, a blue whale, tries to warn his peo­ple of the dan­gers pre­sent­ed by the Frag­ment. But he’s only one voice in the vast ocean.

The Good

The sto­ry is cap­ti­vat­ing. Rus­sell1 does a good job of flesh­ing out his cast of char­ac­ters, espe­cial­ly the ones we’re going to spend a lot of time with. Ring in par­tic­u­lar felt like a well-devel­oped per­son, who just hap­pened to be a whale.

The stakes start out high and get high­er all the time. I couldn’t stop turn­ing pages, espe­cial­ly in the last half of the book, which I read in a sin­gle sit­ting.

The “Needs Improvement”

The end­ing, while com­pelling, felt like it could be fleshed out some­what. Sev­er­al dis­as­ters involv­ing the Fragment’s unstop­pable force vs. an island’s immov­able object were deliv­ered in a few para­graphs, and it felt rushed.

The Verdict

Buy it. Read it. It’s an eco-dis­as­ter nov­el with polit­i­cal over­tones, and it’s a first-con­tact nov­el, all in 200-and-a-bit effi­cient pages.

 


  1. Craig is a friend of mine, and it feels weird to call him by his last name, but that’s the way things are done. Right? 

Review: Kelly Link’s Get in Trouble

Get in Trouble

Get in Trou­ble by Kel­ly Link
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Kel­ly Link writes sto­ries like no oth­er. Every one is dif­fer­ent, but they’re all linked by a curi­ous mag­ic and a sense that you have no idea where you’re going, but it’s going to be worth the ride.

View all my reviews


OK, that’s the short ver­sion. I’ve had time to digest, and so here’s a bit more.

I sus­pect that Ms. Link is a pantser, like, say, Stephen King. (Edit: She evi­dent­ly is not.) She invents ful­ly-formed char­ac­ters, then sets them loose in set­tings as var­ied as the hollers of the south­ern US, a sleep­er ship on its way to Prox­i­ma Cen­tau­ri, a hotel host­ing two con­ven­tions, and an island wed­ding. Then she sits back—in a man­ner of speaking—to see what hap­pens.

The open­ing sto­ry, “The Sum­mer Peo­ple”, was a beau­ti­ful thing. I’ve been work­ing my way through the last sea­son of Jus­ti­fied, and I kept imag­in­ing actors from the show in the roles of the two girls in the sto­ry.

Secret Iden­ti­ty” is a long email writ­ten by a young woman (almost six­teen!) who almost got involved with a man near­ly twen­ty years her senior. It takes place at a hotel host­ing two con­ven­tions, one for den­tists, the oth­ers for super­heroes.

The Les­son” felt trag­ic and beau­ti­ful and creepy.

Two Hous­es”, a col­lec­tion of ghost sto­ries on board a space­ship, was every bit as spooky and space­suit-y as you think, and it had echoes, as you’d expect, of Ray Brad­bury.

Every sto­ry in this col­lec­tion is worth your time. Every sto­ry dumps you into a sit­u­a­tion that you don’t under­stand, that you can’t yet under­stand, and then feeds you the infor­ma­tion you need to make sense of what’s hap­pen­ing. (It took me quite some time, for exam­ple, to decide if the super­hero con­ven­tion was a cos­play con­ven­tion, or a gath­er­ing of hon­est-to-God super­be­ings. I’ll let you read it so you can decide for your­self.) Every sto­ry is a lay­ered trea­sure, unfold­ing slow­ly or quick­ly, till the gem at its heart is revealed.

Anomalisa

I went last night to the Evans The­atre to check out Anom­al­isa, which was an Oscar nom­i­nee in the Ani­mat­ed Fea­ture cat­e­go­ry.

anomalisa2

I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t expect what I got. The sto­ry is pret­ty sim­ple, in a way, but trip­pi­ly com­plex in anoth­er way. The way it’s told leaves it up to the view­er to fig­ure out cer­tain things, which I pre­fer to hand-hold­ing and spoon-feed­ing. The pup­petry / ani­ma­tion was amaz­ing; some­times it was solid­ly in the uncan­ny val­ley, oth­er times it was so life­like that I for­got these were pup­pets.

If you’re look­ing for a movie that makes you think, that makes you won­der, check it out. If you’re look­ing for the feel-good hit of the sum­mer, this may not be for you. (I’ve seen it called “hilar­i­ous” and “laugh-out-loud fun­ny”; I don’t agree. I did find some amuse­ment in it, but most­ly in the small details (“Try the chili!”, for instance), not in the broad­er sto­ry.)

 

Library haul

Went down to the pub­lic library tonight, since my copies of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and John Scalzi’s  The End of All Things were due back.

(Reviews: The Ocean at the End of the Lane was a spooky com­ing-of-age/mem­oir tale from a mas­ter of eerie fan­ta­sy; The End of All Things fur­ther solid­i­fied my view of John Scalzi as my generation’s Joe Halde­man (though it might have been smart of me to read The Human Divi­sion first).)

So I went in with­out any plans as to what I want­ed to check out. I did check the cat­a­logue for the sta­tus of Emi­ly St. John Mandel’s Sta­tion Eleven, which has been checked out every time I’ve gone look­ing for it. Tonight was no excep­tion. One day (shakes fist at the sky).

But by and large I had no agen­da. I checked the New Releas­es sec­tion, and snagged Chuck Wendig’s After­math. Then I wan­dered over to the SF/F sec­tion, which is where I usu­al­ly end up. Grabbed anoth­er vol­ume there — a four-nov­el omnibus of Philip K. Dick nov­els, which either a) has fan­tas­ti­cal­ly small print or b) serves as a reminder of how short nov­els could be back in the 60s. And then I took a gan­der at the graph­ic nov­els, where I grabbed my third and final vol­ume: Scott McCloud’s Sculp­tor.

I’m look­ing for­ward to all of these. I just can’t decide which should be first.

Help?