Author Archive

Review: The Book of Strange New Things

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Review: The Book of Strange New Things

The last book of Michel Faber’s that I read was his Victorian-era novel that people either enjoyed or wanted to kill with fire. I fell into the “enjoyed” category, so I was surprised and delighted to discover that late last year Faber released an actual science-fiction novel. Although since we’re talking about a Michel Faber novel here, the science-fiction genre is just the jumping off point to something a lot more complicated.

You wouldn’t think that a multinational company would spend a lot of money to send a priest to another planet, but that’s exactly what USCI did when they hired Peter Leigh to be a missionary to the natives of Oasis, a planet several galaxies away from Earth.

Expecting to run into all kinds of problems while trying to spread the Word of God to another species, Peter instead finds friendly natives who have demanded a Christian priest, who have all re-named themselves as “Jesus Lovers” (Jesus Lover One, Jesus Lover Five, Jesus Lover Seventy-two), and who’s only desire is to have Peter teach them all about the Bible, or as they refer to it, “The Book of Strange New Things”. No missionary has ever had an easier time evangelizing to a new race, much less a whole new species, and Peter would be a lot more comfortable if he could stop wondering about USCI’s motivations, or about his oddly placid coworkers, or why no one seems to know what happened to the Oasan’s previous priest.

Meanwhile, the letters from Peter’s wife grow more and more desperate as the Earth is suddenly hit with floods, erupting volcanoes, massive storms, and what looks like the collapse of civilization as the human race slowly loses its mind. And Peter is helpless to do anything about it other than to offer Christian words of wisdom as Bea’s life turns into a literal hell.

The Book of Strange New Things is about as different as you can get from his previous book, The Crimson Petal and the White. And unfortunately I think it’s going to tick people off for the exact same reasons.

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Review: Changing Planes

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Review: Changing Planes

The book I’d picked to review this week is taking a lot longer to read than planned. And the one-two punch of gloomy weather and the complete inability of anyone in North Carolina to deal with winter storms (anyone including me) (and storms in this case meaning even the rumor of ice) has meant a lot of days stuck inside. I’ll need to switch over to come comfort-food reading if I’m going to keep my sanity. Another short-story collection? Don’t mind if I do.

There are a lot of ways to travel to another plane of existence, from magic or demonic pacts, to the TARDIS and the Bifrost. The method that Ursula Le Guin created for Changing Planes has to be the most unusual; it’s super fast (you can take an entire vacation in another dimension and come back to this one a few seconds after you left), elegantly simple, and available to just about anyone. All you have to do is relax into the apocalyptic boredom that comes from waiting though yet another delayed connector flight at the airport and boom, you’re in another world with a whole new civilization and a brand new set of rules.

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Review: The Secret Books of Paradys I and II

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Review: The Secret Books of Paradys I and II

I have to admit that I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, or any of the sequels, or the Twilight books that apparently inspired E.L. James to write the Fifty Shades fanfiction series in the first place. Not taking a stand against them or anything, they’re just not my thing. There’s been a lot of  backlash against the series and the “unhealthy” relationship between the main characters, but it’s been hard for me to judge the books because, approve or disapprove of them, it’s obvious that they make millions of people happy. Every one of us has something we like in spite of (or maybe because of) it being a little off the beaten track. For me, that something would be Tanith Lee’s stories.

Lee’s Secret Books of Paradys series are all set in the Gothic, alternate-world version of Paris: Paradys. The Secret Books of Paradys I and II collects together The Book of the Damned (three short stories), and The Book of the Beast (short novel). The stories jump backwards and forwards in time, sometimes containing the same elements or history, but mostly they’re only linked by similar themes and the setting of the city itself. Since it’s Tanith Lee, the stories are all decadent, violent, lush, dark, and unfortunately in this case, a little hard to understand.

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Review: Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea

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Review: Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea

I picked up this one thinking that it was going to be one of those adapted-classics-with-a-twist, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Android Karenina.

It isn’t.

In 1958, the submarine Plongeur had just begun its maiden voyage when the ballast tanks, steering, and engine all experienced catastrophic failure at the same time. The vessel and its entire crew sank and kept on sinking, past the point where the pressure should have crushed the submarine, past the point where it should have hit the ocean floor, continuing on its unstoppable dive while the depth gauge insisted they’d gone thousands of miles deeper than the diameter of the planet.

Adam Roberts’s Twenty Trillion Leagues Under The Sea by Adam Roberts is a sci-fi disaster adventure and a horror story with touches of Lovecraft. Other than the title and the setting it has next to nothing to do with Jules Verne, until suddenly it does, and then the madness of the crew and a decades old story and conflicting political alliances all meet in an impossible setting created by a godlike being who is either trying to destroy Earth or conquer it. And the ending is equal parts hypothetical science and poetry, so I’m still not quite sure what the heck it was all about.

The book is hard to describe, is what I’m saying. “Weird” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

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Review: Trigger Warning – Short Fictions and Disturbances

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Review: Trigger Warning – Short Fictions and Disturbances

I remember Icarus. He flew too close to the sun. In the stories, though, it’s worth it. Always worth it to have tried, even if you fail, even if you fall like a meteor forever. Better to have flamed in the darkness, to have inspired others, to have lived, than to have sat in the darkness, cursing the people who borrowed, but did not return, your candle.

Elizabeth and Kathryn bought this same book on the same day – to the surprise of absolutely no one – so we’ll be doing a joint review this week. It’s a twin thing.

Kathryn here. Remember last April, when I posted a review of Fragile Things and complained about the fact that it had been over eight years since Neil Gaiman (one of my favorite authors) had released a collection of short stories (one of my favorite literary formats)? You can imagine how happy I was last week to get my copy of Trigger Warning – Short Fictions and Disturbances. Neil went for a slightly grimmer tone for this book: twenty-five dark little stories of murders and obsessions, forbidden knowledge and technologies, and twisted fairy tales.

(Hey, Universe? As long as you’re granting wishes, I’d also like a pony.)

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Review: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea

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Review: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea

I’ve decided that, as a fan of the steampunk genre, it’s a shame and a crime that I haven’t read more Jules Verne. As a fan of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, not reading the original tale of Captain Nemo is just unacceptable.

A classic science fiction story along the lines of Journey To The Center of the Earth, Verne’s novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea tells the story of three castaways – Professor Pierre Aronnax, his manservant Conseil, and the whaling shipman Ned Land – as they’re swept up in the travels of the mysterious Captain Nemo in his submersible, the Nautilus. It works as a character study, as an adventure story, and as a treasure for anyone who’s even a little bit curious about the sea and everything it contains (or at least everything that Victorian scientists thought it might contain.)

And of course the Nautilus is a straight-out steampunk fantasy. It’s a submarine. With a library. How can you not love that?

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Review: Agatha H and the Airship City

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Review: Agatha H and the Airship City

Phil and Kaja Foglio’s gaslamp fantasy series Girl Genius is set in a world of automatons and dirigibles, tyrants and heroes, and stories of the famous adventurers, The Heterodyne Boys. It’s a world where a small portion of the population are Sparks, geniuses born with the ability to invent death rays and revenants and robots capable of leveling cities, but usually without the common sense to determine when building something like that is a fantastically bad idea. 

Into all this comes Agatha Clay, a bumbling college student with a lot of big ideas, and a track record of creating things that either fall to pieces or explode. Sometimes both. Nothing she makes ever works, at least until the day the locket she’s been told to never take off is stolen. Suddenly Agatha finds herself a hostage aboard a tyrant’s city-sized dirigible, Castle Wulfenbach, surrounded by the brightest and maddest of the Empire, and building actual working inventions in her sleep. And all that’s before she finds out that she is somehow the long-lost heir to the Heterodyne Family.

The ongoing Girl Genius comic series first started in 2001, and has since won the Hugo Award three times for Best Graphic Story; it most likely would have kept on winning if the Foglios hadn’t withdrawn the series from the competition so they could give other artists a chance. In 2011 the Foglios released the first of the novelized versions of the ongoing story, Agatha H and the Airship City. The book retells the story from the graphic novel, with some interesting additions that can give readers a little more back story about the characters and world that the original version may have missed.

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Review: The End is Now

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Review: The End is Now

John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey’s The Apocalypse Triptych is a trilogy of short-story collections, each one set at a different stage of the end of the world. In the second book in the series, The End is Now, we take you to Doomsday already in progress. Twenty stories telling all the different ways that everything is coming to an end.

The quarantine measures have failed, the asteroids are leveling Earth’s cities as we speak, the zombie horde is just shambling into view, and the aliens have already started shooting. The apocalypse is in full swing. Let’s do this.

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Review: The Habitation of the Blessed – A Dirge For Prester John

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Review: The Habitation of the Blessed – A Dirge For Prester John

The legend of Prester John is one of the first documented cases of a hoax going viral. In 1165 a letter was discovered, supposedly sent to the Byzantine Emperor from a mysterious king in  the far east, telling of a Christian land filled with riches and monsters. The letter inspired stories and explorations and crusades for four centuries before everyone finally decided the whole thing had been made up.

But what if it was all real?

In The Habitation of the Blessed, Catherynne Valente tells a small part of the story of Prester John as it appears in three books plucked from a tree where they’d been growing like fruit. The viewpoints alternate from Prester John’s own tale, to his history as written by his fantastical wife many years later, to the nursery stories told to a trio of royal children long before John ever came to the country of Pentexore. And all of this is read by two humble priests who frantically try to finish transcribing the story before the books they’ve harvested can finish rotting and going to seed.

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Review: Revival

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Review: Revival

                  …something happened…

A lot of Stephen King’s older works revolve around younger (or at least simpler) themes: little boy versus the haunted hotel, aliens from outer space, teenagers fighting a demon-possessed car. His more recent books seem to be taking a gloomier tone, and involve a lot more soul-searching. The main characters are all getting older, and having to come to terms with their eventual mortality. Books like Revival feature all of the mundane nastiness that can come from real life, like cancer, and substance abuse, and domestic homicide. And, of course, stupid and pointless accidents.

Jamie Morton is six years old when he meets Reverend Charles Jacobs, the cheerful, intelligent young minister who moves to Harlow in 1962 to become the town’s new preacher. Three years later Jacobs responds to tragedy by throwing away his faith and his career in one blistering sermon that alienates most of the town and kills whatever faith nine-year-old Jamie might have had left.

In 1992 Jamie stumbles across Charles Jacobs again. Jacobs has turned a passion for the study of electricity into something much more. It starts with impossible photographs taken at an amusement park; by 2008 he’s using his “secret electricity” to heal cancer and paralysis and congenital handicaps, curing people by the thousands. And Jamie gets more and more wary every time Pastor Jacobs comes back into his life. It’s not just that Jacobs obviously doesn’t believe a word of what he’s preaching during his tent-revivals; the cures are real even if the testimonials aren’t. It’s that the former minister-turned-carnival-barker-turned-revival-preacher is looking for something he won’t explain, and he isn’t even concerned that a small number of the people he’s cured have had some weird side-effects.

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