Tag Archives: SF/F

Review: Metatropolis

Metatropolis
edited by John Scalzi

Title: Metatropolis
Author: edited by John Scalzi
Published: 2009
ISBN-13: 978076532710-9
Publisher:Tor
Twitter: @Scalzi

What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

Tor.com’s blurb:

Five original tales set in a shared urban future—from some of the hottest young writers in modern SF

More than an anthology, Metatropolis is the brainchild of five of science fiction’s hottest writers—Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell, Jay Lake, Karl Schroeder, and project editor John Scalzi—-who combined their talents to build a new urban future, and then wrote their own stories in this collectively-constructed world. The results are individual glimpses of a shared vision, and a reading experience unlike any you’ve had before.

A strange man comes to an even stranger encampment…a bouncer becomes the linchpin of an unexpected urban movement…a courier on the run has to decide who to trust in a dangerous city…a slacker in a “zero-footprint” town gets a most unusual new job…and a weapons investigator uses his skills to discover a metropolis hidden right in front of his eyes.

Welcome to the future of cities. Welcome to Metatropolis.

The reason I don’t read book reviews, or listen to book podcasts, etc. is simple.  They lead to adding to my already never ending want to read list.  And, as I get older I realize, I have enough books to last the rest of my life on hand.  I have this same squeamishness with anthologies.

And yup, as often happens, two more authors go on to the list.  It should go without saying, by now, that John Scalzi is one of my favorite authors.  His name is the reason I read the book.  And his story is my favorite, having to do with pigs and pig shit and politics, and a slightly lighter take on the dystopian themes that run through the book.

Elizabeth Bear‘s story “The Red in the Sky is Our Blood” about a counterculture which offers its protagonist, Cadie, a safer life caught my attention almost immediately.  Then the words Ukrainian mob got me.  I need more please.

I also need more Tobias Buckell.  “Stochasti-city” features a bouncer who becomes a military strategist for a group of people aiming to build a better community right under the existing power structure’s nose.

My fondness for subversive protagonists and complex emotional situations was satisfied by the stories in this anthology.  And, in my mind, it’s never wrong to want more.

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Review: The Blind Assassin

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
The Blind Assassin
by Mararet Atwood

Title: The Blind Assassin
Author: Margaret Atwood
Published: 2000
ISBN-13: 9780385720847
Publisher: Anchor Books

[My bones] ache like history:  things long done with.

An elderly lady writes her memoirs, revealing dark family secrets.  Within those secrets is the book The Blind Assassin, a science fiction novel.  Surrounding this novel within a novel is that tale of two lovers who meet surreptitiously and spin yarns.

Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors.  I often feel like there’s something just skimming below the surface in her stories, but if I look too hard it will skitter away.  And the sheer perversity of this outlandish science fiction tale in the middle of a story of two mystery lovers wrapped in the memoirs of an elderly lady looking back can be fascinating at times.

This was my second read, and found it didn’t hold as well as the first.

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Review: Blackbirds / Mockingbird

Blackbird
Chuck Wendig

Mockingbird
Chuck Wendig
Title: Blackbirds
Author: Chuck Wendig
Published: 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0-85766-230-9
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Title: Mockingbird
Author: Chuck Wendig
Published: 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1-4814-4867-3
Publisher: Saga Press

I like my protagonists dark and flawed, and Miriam Black is as flawed as they come.  I wouldn’t want to be me if my super power was being able to know how the person whose skin I’m touching is going to die and when.  That’s agony.

In Blackbird Miriam earns her living by hitching rides and ripping off the drivers.  Until she gets saved by Louis, a truck driver who rescues her from four college boys bent on having the good time they think Miriam is offering.

She’s convinced there’s no way to change what she sees, and that makes her even more bitter.  What’s the point of knowing if you can’t do anything about it?  She’s tried before.  But now that she’s met Louis and knows he’s going to die in 30 days saying her name, she has to try again.

And wow, get ready for a tough ride.  Blackbirds is rough, coarse and thrilling.  Wendig pulls no punches in setting this world up.  Miriam isn’t likeable, but she is understandable.  And the questions brought up by having a power like hers is fascinating..  Then there’s the question of who is worth trying to save, and who gets to make that decision.  There’s some true existential stuff going on in this book.

If Blackbird is about changing the destiny of one man, Mockingbird is about changing the destiny of many.  It’s about catching the serial killer preying on the girls who go to school in what is essentially a private, upscale juvenile detention center.  And the truly dark secret of this school is shocking, yet unsurprising.

Just as dark as Blackbirds, and possibly even more terrifying, Mockingbird has Miriam confronting her power, her past and the lives of others more deeply than before.  How does one come to grips with all the destruction she’s had wreaked upon her and has caused?

Chuck Wendig has joined Richard Kadry in my list of favorite urban fantasy writers.  They’re as terrific as their characters are bleak.

 

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Review: Lock In

Lock In by John Scalzi
Lock In
by John Scalzi

Title: Lock In
Author: John Scalzi
Published: 2014
ISBN-10: 978-0-7653-7586-5
Publisher: Tor

Lock in is what happens when a flu pandemic turns weird.  Some lucky survivors become carriers.  Even more lucky survivors have a paralyzed central nervous system, keeping their minds alive but unable to move.  Millions die from Haden’s Syndrome.

FBI agent Chris Shane is a Haden.  He’s also rich enough to be able to afford top of the line “threeps,” an outer shell which connects to a neural network in the brain and allows for movement.  A Haden’s body remains in a sling being taken care of.  Hadens don’t actually move their bodies, their brains move the threep, and can do other high tech wizardry.

This is a murder mystery, police procedural, sci-fi thriller.  With over tones of inequality (on several levels) and political maneuvering to give non-Haden sufferers access to the same high tech.  Then people can make even more money.

I have a running debate with a friend who does not read science fiction.  In this debate, she thinks things like threeps are just too weird.  She can’t relate.  And that’s okay.  My side of the debate is that none of this, of course, is weird.  It’s just different.  Neither of us can decide if it’s because I’ve read a lot of science fiction/fantasy, or if it’s just my easy-going nature.

Either way, John Scalzi’s world-building always seem real and credible to me.  Even if the bodies of old people are genetically re-engineered to be younger and more powerful (Old Man’s War), or it’s people adapting to being locked in to a body with no functioning central nervous system.

I wouldn’t mind if there was a series featuring agents Chris Shane and Leslie Vann.  It would be very interesting to see what happens in this world created by John Scalzi as it evolves and adapts to new laws, and new attitudes.

Apparently, there was a big kerfuffle over something in the book I didn’t even notice until I read about it.  And when I thought about it, I spend more time thinking about the automatic assumption I had made, rather than the thing being kerfuffled.  But you’ll have to figure that out on your own.

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Review: Butcher Bird

Butcher Bird by Richard Kadrey
Butcher Bird
Richard Kadrey

Title: Butcher Bird
Author: Richard Kadrey
Published: 2007
ISBN-13:  978-1-59780-086-0
Publisher:   Night Shade Books

Be quiet.  It’s not necessary to fill every moment with your own voice.  Silence terrifies you.  You see your own existence as so tenuous that you’re afraid you’ll pop like a bubble if, at every opportunity, you don’t remind the world that you’re alive.  But wisdom begins in silence.  In learning to listen.  To words and to the world.  Trust me.  You won’t disappear.  And, in time, you might find that you’re grown into something unexpected.  (p. 126)

In Butcher Bird I read many of the themes which make the Sandman Slim series so interesting.

It’s more than “what is real”.  It’s about what happens when reality shifts and the way through is to accept things are scary different from our expectations.

One of the things I consistently enjoy in Kadrey’s work is the way he reconfigures religious myths.

in Butcher Bird, tattoo artist Spyder Lee lives a life he enjoys.  He hangs out with his best friend and tattoo partner at their favorite bar, getting drunk and being raucous.  He has a solid reputation for his tattoos and shop.  But one night, Spyder steps outside to relieve himself and a demon tries to bite his head off.

Yes, literally bite his head off.  And then a blind woman steps in and saves his life.  Now Spyder can see the demons and monsters humans aren’t supposed to notice.

The key to this particular fight is one of Spyder’s tattoos.  It’s a symbol he thought looked cool and didn’t know the meaning of, which calls the demon to him.

Then Spyder discovers that his best friend, Lulu, isn’t what she appears to be and he is really screwed.  And in order to put everything back into some semblance of order, Spyder goes on a quest with Shrike, the woman who saved him.

I love a good quest story, and this one has great payoffs.  Quests, on the surface, are about going from here to there in order to solve a problem, usually saving the world.  Quests are also about confronting ourselves, our beliefs and what we thought we knew about everything.

Butcher Bird has everything a good quest story should have; unexpected blessings and obstacles, fights (sword play or something similar), evil (in this case in the shape of demons and monsters), tricksters, love, and a drive to put things right.

Reading Butcher Bird while in the midst of the Sandman Slim series, gave me a richer experience, because I already knew what Kadrey was up to.  That appeals to the historian in me.

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Review: Dead Set

Dead Set
Richard Kadrey

Title: Dead Set
Author: Richard Kadrey
Published: 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-228301-6
Publisher:  Harper Voyager

When I think of horror, I think of Freddy Krueger or Nightmare on Elm Street or Stephen King, even.

If I were to categorize Richard Kadrey’s books, they would be urban fantasy, which also have a dark twisted underbelly to them.

But many have categorized Kadrey as horror, and since I’m not big on quibbling about labels, I’ll just say “‘Kay.”  Because what it all comes down to is story.  What is the story and how is the story told?  That’s what makes a great read for me.

Dead Set is the story of Zoe and how her teenaged life got derailed after her father dies.  The only thing good she can count on is visits with her dream brother, Valentine, when she goes to sleep.  But then, (good stories always have a but then) …

But then, a black dog starts appearing in her dreams.  And she meets a guy at a record shop storing records with souls captured on them.  For a seemingly small price, he’ll let Zoe commune with her father.

And then, Zoe actually goes to her father and nothing is even close to how she imagined it might be.

Kadrey’s stories are creepy, that’s for damned sure.  But they’re also interesting, well-thought out and entertaining.  In Zoe’s story, he captures that heart-ache of a teenage girl trying to fit into her own life, and make sense of the changes that have happened.  It’s the story of a girl longing to re-connect with the love she once felt from both her parents, and to use her teenage rebellion for something other than just being a rebel.

I love the Sandman Slim series.  Love it.  In Dead Set, we have a quieter protagonist whose world is almost as dangerous as Slim’s.  And I loved it just as much.

Review: Devil Said Bang

Devil Said Bang
Richard Kadrey

Title: Devil Said Bang
Author: Richard Kadrey
Series: Sandman Slim #4
Published: 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-209457-5
Publisher: HarperCollins

Satanists make junior high school Goths look like NASA.  (p. 143)

I’ve been taken with Sandman Slim from the very beginning.  Not only is he a mostly unrepentant badass who embraces that part of him.  He uses it to try to make life better for those he loves, and the world in general, although were the world to be aware of Slim, they wouldn’t thank him for his efforts.

At the end of Devil Said Bang, Slim is the only person to have escaped Hell twice.  This is quite an accomplishment, given that no one is supposed to escape ever, especially if you’re a gladiator expected to fight to the death the first time you’re there.

Kadrey shakes the notions of Heaven and Hell, God and Satan, around a lot in his Sandman Slim books.  His notions match mine that all is not so cut and dried as Christians would have us believe, there’s a lot of grey area.  And to shake that notion even more, it’s revealed in the first book, Sandman Slim, that Slim, aka Stark, is a nephilim.  This part angel, part human thing makes just about every supernatural being mad.  To say Slim’s home life was screwed up wouldn’t even begin to cover it.

It is also the conjunction of many celestial mythologies which make the Sandman Slim books so interesting.  Along with other supernatural beings you might not expect to mix with creation and destruction myths.

Devil Said Bang suffers from mid-series dementia.  Something often found in other series by other authors.  There’s just something about the fourth or so book which is messy.  Kevin Hearne’s fifth book in the Iron Druid series, Trapped, suffered from this.

And I will say the same thing about Devil Said Bang as I did about Trapped, there’s too much information being thrown at us.  Too many characters and too many machinations.  I couldn’t keep up.

With that out of the way, what I like about this book was the continued battle Slim has with himself.  He knows that maybe he could do better, but there are times when he just wants to break stuff.  It’s what he knows best.

Nice people are fucking weird.  (p. 244)

There are always interesting characters with “interesting” hobbies, which turn out to be some sort of key to the plot.  In Devil Said Bang, it’s Teddy Osterberg and his collection of cemeteries.  Yes, collection.

For generations, Teddy’s family has been moving cemeteries from their original plot of land to the family land outside Los Angeles.  There’s a lot of detail about the supernatural aspects of the cemeteries, but it comes down to Osterberg as caretaker of the more “special” cemeteries.  It is from this the scary little girl with the curved knife, who is running around killing people, comes.

Did I mention Sandman Slim is dark?

Not only am I fascinated by the mythology Kadrey uses, the machinations and politicking also fascinate me.  How do people think like that?  How do they know how to find that piece of information which will allow them to manipulate others?  How do they think three, four, five steps ahead of the others?  Reading Slim play off the others who think they have one up on him in Hell is fascinating.  As are all the new and inventive tools used to kill the nasties for whom a shotgun isn’t enough.

Richard Kadrey’s books are not for the squeamish, or for those who hold their mythology dear.  I find them very entertaining, if sometimes gross, and I always learn something new about mythology; especially Christian mythology.  Kadrey sends me scurrying into the stacks to look up information, and gives me things to think on deeply which allows me space to reframe what I think I already know.

 

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