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[personal profile] ed_rex2012-10-07 03:46 pm

The Chaos: Nalo Hopkinson's nightmare of Blackness

Drawing on myths from Jamaica to Russia, on folk tales of Coyote and Brer Rabbit, and maybe from sources as disparate as Chuck Jones, J.R.R. Tolkien and Mervyn Peake (not to mention Lewis Carroll), Nalo Hopkinson's "Young Adult" debut is as singular a creation as it has been my pleasure to read in a very long time.

All at once a surreal adventure, a subtle exploration of privilege in caste-ridden society and a daring push against the walls of narrative fiction itself, The Chaos has no villain and its (black, Canadian) heroine never wields a blade nor fires a gun.

Though questions of race and identify form organic parts of how the novel's characters view and interact with the world (none of the book's major characters is white), race is not what the book is about. Hopkinson is telling a story, she is not preaching.

Narrated by probably the most fully-realized teenager I have come across in fiction, The Chaos is always surprising, a thoroughly unconventional page-turner you owe it to yourself to read — to pass on to any literate young person you know.

For my full review, click, "When I cried, the tears were black."

 

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[personal profile] ed_rex2012-05-09 02:24 am

Review: Stargazer, Volume Two - by Von Allan

The girls, the monster and the Artifact!

More than a year ago I reviewed the first half of what I thought then was a "gentle" children's adventure, Stargazer, by Ottawa indie cartoonist Von Allan. I bought the concluding sequel back in December if memory serves, but circumstances didn't see me get to it until now.

A black and white comic book featuring three pre-pubescent girls in the role of unlikely heroines, Stargazer features a Magic Doorway in the tradition of Alice's rabbit-hole and Narnia's wardrobe (and the Starship Enterprise's warp drive, for that matter).

But what seemed a "gentle adventure" in its first half, proves to be a considerably more spicy brew in its second. What seemed to be turning into an exercise of that hoary old "And then she woke up!" cliché becomes something very different — and very memorable — by the time the story is over.

A little rough-hewn, Stargazer nevertheless has considerable virtues. This story of friendship and loss just might be a gateway drug to comics for that young boy or (especially) girl in your life — but keep a kleenex handy. My full review lives on my site, ed-rex.com/reviews/books/stargazer_volume_two.

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[personal profile] marny_h962012-02-02 01:32 pm

R. Austin Freeman: The Red Thumb Mark

7. The Red Thumb Mark
Author: R. Austin Freeman
Publisher: n/a
Number of Pages: Kindle e-book (print length: 172 pages)
My Rating: 4/5
Reading Challenge: Vintage Mystery Challenge

Review: The Red Thumb Mark introduces Dr. John Thorndyke and his friend Christopher Jervis to the reader. If you immediately think 'Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson', you're not totally wrong as Mr. Freeman explains in Meet Dr. Thorndyke. I have to admit, though, that I prefer Dr. Thorndyke. He is more, I don't know, accessible.

Read more... )
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[personal profile] ed_rex2011-08-10 06:28 pm

Review - Crysis: Legion, by Peter Watts

 

As you might know, I've been serially reviewing the latest Torchwood series, a work that (I presume) is as much the product of Russell T Davies' personal vision as is possible in an inherently collaborative medium.

So it is rather difficult to ignore the irony, that there is more credible social commentary, more humour and more excitement in Peter Watts' 300 page adaptation of a first-person-shooter video game, which (again, I presume) was written strictly for the money, than there has been in the first five hours of Davies' brain-child.

Watts' story, about a an accidental cybernetic soldier's brief campaign on a ruined island of Manhattan a scant 12 years in our future is also fairly rigorous science fiction, as one might expect from the "reformed marine biologist", but probably not from a novel about a super-soldier and his mysterious battle-armour.

If Crysis: Legion is not quite the follow-up to his 2006 hard-SF masterpiece, Blindsight one might have wished for, it's a better book than one has any reason to expect of a media tie-in.

Click here for "Strange bed-fellows". Some spoilers may occur.

[community profile] ladiesbigbang 2011: now accepting reviews as a big bang entry

ladiesbigbang: a female-centric panfanwork big bang challenge
[community profile] ladiesbigbang: a female-centric panfanwork big bang challenge.
Optional sign-ups open June 1-30th, final drafts due October 1st.
sign-ups: creators | cheerleaders | betas
info: minimums | rules & guidelines | pinch hitting


One of the categories of creation accepted at the challenge is reviews, with a minimum of 2,500 words that can be split across multiple reviews. You can find out more at the reviews section of the rules & guidelines. All participants are eligible to receive complementary fanwork for their submissions; for reviewers, that may mean receiving a graphic/banner for your reviews, a picspam inspired by your commentary on the fandom(s)/character(s)/pairing(s), etc.
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[personal profile] ed_rex2011-05-28 12:55 pm

Review: All the Lives He Led, by Frederik Pohl

All the covers I ruined

I have a confession. Back in the lonely days of my early adolescence, I spent a lot of my free time haunting bookstores and there developed a peculiar and unsavoury habit. Not shop-lifting, but vandalism.

I had it in for Fred Pohl's brilliant novel of missing aliens and absent lovers, Gateway. Y'see, the Del Rey paperback (pictured at right) was, to put it bluntly, crap. Usually, simply opening the book wide enough to scan the middle pages was enough to detach the cover from the book's spine.

At a buck-ninety-five a copy I thought Del Rey owed its readers something better, and so made it my mission to open every copy in every bookstore I entered. I was, I self-justified, protecting my fellow readers from shoddy merchandise and, maybe, encouraging the publisher to try again. It must have worked, as I don't think Gateway has ever been out of print.

Little did I know that some years later circumstances would see me become friends with Pohl's former wife Judy Merril, or that she would one day introduce me to him at a conference she had been involved in organizing in Toronto.

That meeting didn't go so well. Though we huddled together in a doorway while sharing a smoke, I didn't want to bore him by telling him how much I'd enjoyed Gateway and Man Plus and Jem and The Space Merchants and that I had the advantage of him because I had also read his autobiography, The Way the Future Was. Worse, I was even worse with small-talk than I am now, and Pohl didn't seem to think it necessary either.

We grunted about the lousy weather and that was about it. But I digress.

In 1979, Pohl had been a professional for 40 years. When I met him in person he had been at it for about 50 and seemed to me, if not quite ancient, then certainly old. He was tall but stooped, his body showing signs of that inevitable surrender to entropy and gravity that faces all who live long enough to endure it.

In 2011, Pohl has been a pro for more than 70 years and is not only regularly writing a Hugo-winning blog, he is still writing fiction.

And so I recently scrounged up the coin to pick up his latest book — in hard-cover, no less. And frankly, given my recent experiences with paying good money for one lousy book or another I put down my money kind of nervously.

So I am doubly-pleased to be able to say that All the Lives He Led is one of the best SF novels — best novels — I've read in a while and with nary a rocket ship or time machine in sight.

The full review is at Edifice Rex Online, with very little in the way of spoilers.

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[personal profile] ed_rex2011-05-25 11:08 pm

Review: Paying For It, by Chester Brown

You're a dirty whore-monger, Chester Brown

Autobiography is a risky endeavour at the best of times; not only will the memoirist's craft be scrutinized and judged, but so too will his or her character. So it is probably a good thing for Chester Brown that he is one of the best cartoonists of his generation, because he really does have sex with prostitutes.

In fact, his latest book, Paying For It, is all about his decision to give up on romantic love in favour of sex for money.

It has become almost trendy to dabble in the sex-trade. Bookshelves groan beneath mounds of tell-all memoirs and fictions, and even relatively mainstream television has gotten into act, with no less than one-time Doctor Who companion Billie Piper disrobing on a regular business as Belle du Jour. But memoirs and fictions glamorizing the life of johns?

Maybe not so much

It is one thing to admit to taking money for sex; to confess paying for sex, on the other hand, remains quite outside the bounds of polite society.

If Brown doesn't make an explicit analogy between his "coming-out" as a john and the struggles of gay men and lesbians who braved arrest and assault when they refused to any longer closet their sexual natures, Paying For It certainly implicitly invites the comparison, if only by Brown's refusal to be ashamed.

As Brown's friend (and ex-girlfriend) Kris tells him, to most people, johns are "... creeps. Who knows what they're capable of? If I had a daughter I'd be worried about what would happen if she was in the same elevator as one of those guys."

So would you want to read a comic book by and about one?

Click here for my full review, with inevitable spoilers — not safe for work.

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[personal profile] othercat2011-04-20 10:16 am

Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks

I tend to dislike the plotline of “band of patriots versus the evil invaders,” so one of the things I like about Fire Logic is that it does not really use that trope. I have also gotten slightly tired of the “lost heir” trope. Instead, we have “non-evil but slightly stupidly desperate refugee soldiers versus equally desperate patriots who are slowly alienating themselves from their own people because their own people are deeply sick of the fighting.” There is also a “lost heir,” but the aforementioned desperate patriots judge the lost heir unfit to be the heir.

Our protagonists are three “fire blood” elementals who are at varying points completely bonkers by anyone else’s standards. One is a woman of a border tribe that was wiped out by the Sainnite invaders, one is a Shaftali Paladin, and the third is a half-Sainnite seer. People with “fire logic” tend to be wildly intuitive, subject to dreams and visions and spend a lot of time seeming to talk to themselves a lot. They approach everything as a metaphor for something else. (The air element is described as extremely sharp and analytical. Air and fire do not get along too well because air talents are driven completely bonkers by fire talents and their seemingly random intuitive leaps.)

Fire Logic
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[personal profile] othercat2011-04-09 09:51 am

Ariel by Steven R. Boyett

Finding out that Ace had done a reprint of Ariel was a gleeful sort of shock. It’s a very, very hard book to find used copies of, and has always been a long time favorite. I was in fifth grade when I first read it. Those of you familiar with the sex and violence in the book may gasp in horror now. I’ll give you a minute. (No, my parents never knew that some of the books I was reading at that age tended to have a lot of sex and violence in them. To mom and dad, it was fantasy and therefore freakish, but harmless, and in Ariel’s case, the book had a unicorn on the cover.)

A quick and flippant synopsis of the book is “A Boy and His Unicorn Meet a Man and His Dog: Things Happen.” The setting is a relative rarity; the post-apocalyptic fantasy, and the characters are a combination of complicated, interesting and annoying. (They are very “human” characters that way. No real heroes in this book, not even the protagonists and the survivalist samurai type, Malachi Lee.)

Our Hero is one Pete Garey, a young man with a bad combination of survivor’s defensiveness and poor social skills. A former college student who has spent the past five years living by his wits, his life changes for--well actually, it pretty much doesn’t change at all, except for having a Familiar in the form of Our Heroine, a unicorn named Ariel. She’s one of a multitude of magical creatures that came to life in the wake of a mysterious event known only as The Change. Together, they fight evil necromancers. Badly.

Ariel
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[personal profile] ed_rex2010-11-20 01:43 pm

Review: Stargazer, by Von Allan

Looking at the stars in black and white

 

Once a mainstay of popular culture, truly family-friendly or all-ages entertainment has become a rarity in North American media nowadays (with the notable exception of animated films).

That sort of inclusive work seems particularly rare in what ought to be as all-ages-friendly a medium as animation, its close artistic relative, the humble comic-book. But in North America, for a variety of commercial-historical reasons, "comic" has become almost synonymous with "super-hero", with a small (and happily, a growing) sub-set of "alternative" books addressing a broader audience than teenagers who love fight scenes.

So it was a great pleasure to discover Von Allan's Stargazer, an adventure story meant to entertain anyone "from eight to eighty", in glorious black and white, no less.

Read my review at Edifice Rex Online.

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[personal profile] hatman2010-06-12 10:54 am

Clarence Darrow, The Story of My Life

Title: The Story Of My Life
Author: Clarence Darrow
Amazon link

Clarance Darrow was an American lawyer best known for his involvement in the 1925 Scopes "monkey trial" in which he (unsuccessfully) defended the teaching of evolution in a Tennessee high school (a story told in the play and movies entitled Inherit The Wind).

I'm reading his autobiography, entitled "The Story Of My Life" (available free in HTML format at Project Gutenberg Australia and in Kindle-friendly prc format at MobileRead).

I've only read the first four chapters so far, but it's already clear that it's a fascinating book in many respects. Darrow writes with a clear, flowing voice, telling a coherent narrative while being completely unafraid of natural digressions. It is exactly what the title claims it to be - an old man telling his life story. It was published in 1932 (and thus may not technically be in the public domain in the US), about six years before his death.

The early chapters draw a vivid sketch of life in a small town in late 19th century Ohio. Of childhood and baseball and public school and family. A real slice of Americana, as they say. How he became a lawyer, and what it was like serving in that capacity in rural America. But it's also seeded with Darrow's opinions on religion and politics and the school system and so much more. Interesting in themselves. All the more so when you consider the source.

I don't agree with everything he says, but I'm so swept up in how he says it, and in the opportunity to see the world as it was through his eyes.

A few pages of excerpts, with some commentary )

That's more than enough, I'm sure. And just from the first four chapters. But I had to share. I go from admiring his clever turns of phrase to soaking in his wisdom to gasping at his boldly opinionated philosophy to sitting back in wonder as a world gone by comes to life before me. I'm not sure if reading it in bits and pieces has the same effect, but hopefully the highlighted passages speak for themselves. I find it fascinating and enthralling, and I hope at least some of you will give it a chance.
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[personal profile] marny_h962010-06-08 02:19 pm

Dreamwidth Points

Thank you to everyone who participated in my "Points for Posts" thingy which ended on June 5th. I have just bought the points so if you see a note that [personal profile] marny_h96 gave you points, this would be why :D
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[personal profile] yifu2010-05-30 05:00 pm

Brothers - Da Chen

Title: Brothers
Author: Da Chen
Publisher/Year: Shaye Areheart Books, 2006
Amazon link

Brothers is set in China during the second half of the twentieth century. It follows the story of Shento and Tan, two sons of the same father. Shento is born and raised in a remote village, until his foster parents are killed and he is stranded in an orphanage. Meanwhile, Tan, the legitimate child, grows up in a house of power and privilege. The end of Mao Zedong's reign brings about tremendous changes in their lives and leads to the crossing of their paths.

As a story it's not terribly original but still makes for an engaging journey. I like how the point of view switches back and forth between Shento and Tan without confusing the reader (this reader, at least). The details, both physical and emotional, are described clearly and sometimes lyrically.

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[personal profile] tanaqui2010-05-28 05:22 pm

Two book series with a focus on place and history

[personal profile] bewize's post about some much-loved children's books put me in mind of two series of books I enjoyed when I was in ten or twelve. Thinking about them, I realized these are connected by the fact that both evoke a strong sense of place and history – in one case invented; in the other, based on reality – which I suspect is something I enjoy a lot in my reading. I think they were also appealing because the protagonists were that little bit older than me that I could aspire to be them.

The first book, by Jenny Overton, is Creed Country, a mix of slice-of-family-life and a kind of historical mystery/thriller set in the period around the English Reformation. Anglican vicar's son Stephen is transcribing a series of letters from the early sixteenth century between members of a prominent local family. He shares the secret with Sarah, the middle child in a large Catholic family newly moved to the area. The book does a nice job of exploring the impact of the English Reformation on individuals, and some fairly deep theological questions in the present day, and serves up some very vivid and memorable characters.

I could have sworn this was the first in a series of maybe two or three books – and that I borrowed the subsequent one(s) from the library – but I can find no evidence of the others online! I do remember liking them less, as the main protagonists and point of view characters were two of Sarah's younger sisters, who just weren't as interesting.

The other series is a little less obscure and seems to have had something of a revival of interest recently: Malcolm Saville's "Lone Pine" books. I haven't read all of the series, but I do remember very much enjoying the settings and how they were used to develop and drive the plucky-kid-detectives plots. The two books that I remember most clearly are "Seven White Gates", which introduced one of my favorite characters, Jenny Harman (probably the character I identified with most) and "The Gay Dolphin Adventure", which had terrific descriptions of Rye and the surrounding area.
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The House in the High Wood, by Jeffrey E. Barlough

No more spoilers than the back cover, and probably less.

I'm not sure how little-known this book is, but I was unaware of its existence until I encountered it in the back of a used book store. It's the second book in a loosely-connected series; as far as I can tell the setting is the only connection between the books.

The House in the High Wood takes place in a 'verse I can best describe as "19th century meets Pleistocene." Coaches pass mastodon trains, there's a short-faced bear living in the woods, and a teratorn (one of my favorite extinct animals) plays a small but important part. I've never encountered a setting quite like it.

Plot summary: a new family moves into the ill-reputed old house above the village of Shilston Upcot. Strange and unpleasant things begin to happen. Mark Trench, the local squire, wants to know what's happening, no matter how horrible it may turn out to be. I love reading different authors' variations on old tropes, and The House in the High Wood is one of the best new-people-bring-stuff-what-ain't-good books I have ever read.

Barlough gets into the meat of the story almost immediately, which is delightfully refreshing after reading books that take forever to get to the events promised on the back cover (Tad Williams, I'm looking at you), and the pacing is overall very well handled. There's no sense of the author jamming things together to make the story go the right way.

One of the most delightful things about this book is the retro 19th century narrative style. Barlough writes in distant third person with a lot of straight-faced snarkiness about the setting and the characters, and yet it is still a horror story, not a comedy. I haven't read any modern horror, sci-fi, or fantasy that pulls off this style as well as Barlough does here.

Powell's
Barnes & Noble
Amazon

Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers - Lois-Ann Yamanaka

Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers is the story of Lovey Nariyoshi, a Japanese American growing up poor in Hawaii during the 1970s. It's heart-wrenching to see Lovey yearning to be white, and realizing that she's not white and that she never can be--and that this means all the things that are held up in her life to be superior and desirable aren't within her reach. How this plays out in her relationship with her family is also incredibly poignant. The last chapter of the book always makes me bawl, reliably, in a "don't finish this book in public" sort of way.

Yamanaka's novels all focus on working-class Hawaiian life and also the complicated interplay between the different racial and ethnic groups there. They generally feature families who are trying to love each other, in their own way. But they're stumbling because they're full of broken people, who were broken by their own families in turn.

She is one of the few writers whose entire works I want to read. I would also particularly recommend Name Me Nobody, a YA novel about a girl coming to terms both with her weight and with her best friend's queerness, and Behold the Many, about sisters in 1913 Hawaii who are put into an orphanage for children with tuberculosis whose families cannot afford treatment.
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[personal profile] majoline2010-05-15 01:10 pm

A Being of Two Minds | Pamela F. Service

Summary from Amazon.com: A telepathic relationship with the 14-year-old prince of Thulgaria lands a typical American teenager in the thick of adventure when the prince is kidnapped.

Reading level: Young Adult
Mass Market Paperback: 160 pages
ISBN-10: 0449704157
ISBN-13: 978-0449704158

This is an fantastic short read for both adults and kids and has an incredibly imaginative plot-line that I'm not going to spoil. It's too bad that Service's books are all YA because this could really be expanded into quite the engaging read. But it's worth reading just for the spark of creativity from this book - it's the book that first started me into fanfiction just because she left so much unspoken.
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[personal profile] susanreads2010-05-14 10:58 pm

Polar City Blues by Katharine Kerr

I think this is little known. When I nominated it for the Feminist SF blog's "Top 10 Obscure Works" (by or starring people who are not straight white men) poll (this is as far it got), I described it like this:
"Her fantasy is well-known, but this is SF (and a police procedural, and a thriller, and … stuff). Prominent roles for women, a gay man, and Black people. Bobbie Lacey hit a glass ceiling, but not because she’s a woman …"

It also has a variety of aliens with different gender arrangements, intrigue in an alien court, and an alien species that lives in the same ghetto as the lower-class humans and they can eat the same food; some places serve fusion cuisine. It also makes sense of the "desert planet" trope: the planet has climatic zones, but only this one is almost-habitable. And there's another thing, which I'll put under a cut because I can! It's revealed after a chapter or so, but I'd love to read the reactions of anyone who read it without knowing in advance.
Sort-of spoilers, not about the plot )
Has anybody here read it? What did you think?

A nice work of adventure fiction . . .

I first read this a few years after I got out of the US Army (early 1980's) and loved it.  I kind of thought of it as America's version of James Bond.

Title:  Fire Below Zero
Authors:  Barnaby Conrad and Niko Mastorakis

ISBN:  0440125243
Amazon:  www.amazon.com/Fire-Below-Zero-Barnaby-Conrad/dp/0440125243/ref=sr_1_1



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[personal profile] ettegoom2010-05-13 10:21 pm

Beauty: Sheri S. Tepper

I don't know if this book counts or not, but I know very few people who have ever heard of it, and it can be difficult to find.

"Beauty tells the story of Beauty, the daughter of the Duke of Westfaire, and begins in 14th Century England. However, this is an England of an alternate universe, as magic abounds here, and we find out that Beauty is half faerie. Because of a social slight, one of her faerie aunts laid a curse upon her, stating that upon her sixteenth birthday, the daughter of the Duke of Westfaire would prick her finger upon a spindle and die. This sounds like the typical version of Sleeping Beauty that we all heard our parents read to us as children, right? Wrong. Beauty has an illegitimate half-sister who--technically--is also the daughter of the Duke of Westfaire, and was born on the same day as Beauty. The curse comes to fruition, with Beauty's sister, Beloved, pricking her finger and falling into a deep sleep, as do the rest of the occupants of the castle keep.

In a departure from the typical fairy tale or fantasy tale, Beauty herself bravely sets out to attempt to right this wrong. She vows to find her mother in order to learn how to break the enchantment
."

This is an interesting book that I first encountered at the tender age of 14.  I really enjoyed the way the author links a huge number of well known fairy tales to the single character of Beauty.  Rereading it again recently as an adult, I still enjoyed this aspect, but also found the environmental, political and spiritual messages in the book fascinating.  I found the style easy to read, and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy. I also  like the fact that it has a strong female heroine who takes charge of her own destiny, rather than leaving it to fate!