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This book is the equivalent of that lamb kebab I ate one hot summer back when I was living in Montreal.  Like the Pendergast series to date, I quite enjoyed Indian food – until that wretched kebab.  It was bad.  So bad that I couldn’t eat Indian food against for years.  And, I suspect, it’ll probably be that long before I pick up another book in the Pendergast series.

White Fire starts off promisingly enough with a mystery set in a Colorado town. Pendergast’s protege, a young idiot named Corrie Swanson, gets into trouble while researching and studying (and breaking and entering) the bodies of some 19th century miners.  She is facing serious jail time until Pendergast shows up and turns the table on the community in spectacularly convenient fashion (locating a descendant of the dead who objects to plans to dig up a local graveyard, something the community failed to do even though, as Pendergast points out, she was remarkably easy to find).  Also coincidentally, wealthy locals start getting knocked off in grisly fashion, their multi-million dollar homes burned to the ground.  Why is this suddenly happening now when Pendergast comes to town?  Good question.  And one that’s never answered.  Who is responsible?  Er, if you guessed the character who doesn’t serve any real purpose in the story, you’d be correct!

As the town is gripped by the murders, someone begins to stalk Corrie: creeping around her place at night, killing her dog, taking a shot at her.  Corrie reacts like any level-headed person in her position would: by not reporting the incidents to the authorities and not telling her mentor (who is an FBI agent by the way) Aloysius Pendergast.  In fact, she seems more annoyed at Pendergast’s concerns for her safety than she is about her dead dog and almost getting shot.  While Corrie runs around town making one dubious decision after another, effectively moving the plot forward, Aloysius looks into the existence of an unpublished Sherlock Holmes story that may shed some light on the mysterious 19th century killings of a group of miners.  Fans of Sherlock scholars and fans have sought this rumoured manuscript for close to a century.  Enter Pendergast who locates it in a matter of days.

Blind luck, coincidences, and convenient developments abound to help a listless and uninspired Pendergast solve the case.  Yes, okay, he’s depressed due to the events in a previous book, but that doesn’t excuse the lazy way by which he works the case.  At one point, he attempts to blackmail an elderly woman to gain access to a property.  At another, he gains access to sensitive documents by barging into a house and setting a fire (which he later puts out with some gravy), causing everyone to conveniently clear out so that he can search.  At still another, he time travels through the power of his mind to listen in on a conversation between Oscar Wilde and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Yes, I know, this means of magical mental transport was set up in Still Life With Crows, but that doesn’t excuse it’s lameness. I hated it then and hated it here.

Ultimately, we learn that the murderer was rendered insane by mercury poisoning, something he was exposed to in the womb.  Oddly enough, we are told about one character who is exposed to the mercury while working the mines and it turned him into a babbling, deranged psycho.  Our murderer, who has been exposed since birth is, in contrast, a calculating serial killer possessed of the intelligence and rationale to hide his crimes.

And, uh, again, why does he just happen to start killing people when Pendergast comes to town?

Oh, almost forgot.  The book almost scored points for me late when it seems Pendergast is too late to save Corrie from being burned alive.  BUT, in yet another ridiculous twist, it is revealed that the charred remains don’t belong to Corrie but some other woman who the serial killer/arsonist happened to burn alive in approximately the save spot a little earlier.

A long way from Relic, the first instalment in the Pendergast series, this book was one bad lamb kebab.

This blog entry is (ironically) dedicated to Birthday Gal Das!

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Capsule reviews of all the books I read in May…and there were more than a few:

1ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes

An individual with no caregiving experience is hired to look after a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic who has all but given up on life.  Eventually, the two overcome their mutual uncertainty to form a bond, experiencing happiness, adventure, and, ultimately, love.  This, by the way, is the premise of Intouchables, a great French movie that came out in 2011.  It’s also the premise for this maudlin novel released in 2012. 

1I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER by Dan Wells

15 year old John Wayne Cleaver is obsessed with serial killers.  He is so obsessed, in fact, that he studies them religiously in order to figure out how to avoid becoming one.  But when a body turns up and it looks like a serial killer has struck close to him, things become a lot more complicated for John.  I LOVED the first 100 pages of this book.  It was darkly humorous and set up a great premise that…crashed and burned with the revelation that the murderer is actually a supernatural entity.  Huh??  This book had the makings of a ghoulishly clever crime novel and character study but, for some reason, morphs into a silly monster hunt.  Hugely disappointing.

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THE INVERTED WORLD by Christopher Priest

A city moves along a railroad track in constant, laborious progress, attempting to keep up with something called “the optimum” – or risk losing pace and falling victim to a gravitational field that has warped space and time.  This is a truly bizarre work of science fiction that jumps between multiple narrative styles in telling a story that is both grounded in its characters yet intellectually and creatively provocative in its conceit.  At times, I felt like I was reading Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow - on acid.

1A FALL OF MOONDUST by Arthur C. Clarke

A cruiser traveling on the lunar surface is lost in The Sea of Thirst, buried deep in the dust.  The cruiser’s occupants try to maintain their spirits as a rescue mission is mounted and life support systems begin to fail.  A hard SF version of those Irwin Allen disaster features from the 70’s.  Classic but staid and, at times, dated and silly.

1THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern

Against the backdrop of a mysterious circus, two young magicians must square off in an age-old duel fueled by the rivalry of their respective fathers.  But matters are complicated by romantic entanglements.  A good book certain to appeal to fans of the genre, but I inevitably find magic-themed stories incredibly frustrating. Unlike, say, SF that sets down technological parameters as to what can and cannot be achieved, in magic-based narratives all bets are off.  Shits happens, people die and then, ultimately, it’s all upended because…magic!  Ho hum.

1THE LIONS OF AL-RASSANby Guy Gavriel Kay

Moorish Spain (or a fictional version thereof) is the backdrop of this sweeping historical fantasy involving sieges, warfare, diabolical plots, courtly intrigue, crosses, double-crosses, friendship, and romance.  At heart of it all are three protagonists whose backgrounds and alliances lead them on intersecting paths both heroic and tragic.  Brilliant world-building and wonderfully nuanced characters.  My introduction to the works of author Guy Gavriel Kay novel.  Highly recommended.

1THE BRIEF AND FRIGHTENING REIGN OF PHIL by George Saunders

A nonsense novella about the fictitious principalities of Inner and Outer Horner.  It’s a silly and ultimately unsatisfying political and social satire that feels like it was written over the course of a drink-fueled evening.

1THE WALL OF THE SKY, THE WALL OF THE EYE by Jonathan Lethem

I was looking forward to this one but was left disappointed by a collection of SF-themed stories containing some interesting ideas but not much in the way of cohesive, self-contained narratives.

1THE SHINING GIRLS by Lauren Beukes

A serial killer travels through time, dispatching of his victims: young women he refers to as “shining girls”.  Finally, a time travel novel that makes sense.  Sort of. An interesting premise and no real faults in time travel logic – but no real answers either.  Why is this house a time machine?  What motivates the serial killer to murder these women?  What makes them “shine”?  They’re developing this book for television so maybe the t.v. series will have the answers.  But probably not.

1THE ROAD TO RECKONING by Robert Lautner

You can almost smell the gun smoke, sweat, and campfire in this gritty Western character piece about a young boy, orphaned after his father’s murder, who enlists the help of an ornery bastard to get him home.  Smart and surprisingly absorbing. A great read.

1SALVATION OF A SAINT by Keigo Higashino

I went in expecting a page-turning crime thriller but ended up with an awkward and plodding mystery that isn’t really a mystery at all because we know whodunit from the start.  The body of the book is just an extended conversation of deduction.  Unlike the author’s previous novel, The Devotion of Suspect X, there’s little in the way of actual suspense or narrative build.  In the end, when all is revealed, the details of the murder are so implausible they’re almost laughable.  I suspect that this novel may have also suffered from the quality of its translation.

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PERFUME by Patrick Susskind

In 18th century France, a child is born without scent.  Because of this strange, physiological trait, he grows up a social pariah.  But, eventually, he finds his calling – first as a brilliant perfumer, and later as a diabolical serial killer who uses scent to manipulate those around him.  This book has all the makings of a unique, engaging novel but its promise is undone by a thoroughly detestable protagonist.  I’m not saying that our serial-killing main character must necessarily possess traits that make him sympathetic to the reader (a la Dexter or Hannibal Lecter), but it would be nice to get inside his head at some point and learn a little about him.  Instead, it’s all surface.  The corpses pile up.  Our a creepy freak of a protagonist bemoans his scentless genitals.    And it all culminates in one of the stupidest endings ever committed to print.

Would have made a fine short story.

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SCHRODER by Amity Gaige

In the heat of a custody battle, a desperate father takes his daughter on an ill-advised extended road trip.  It’s one of several big errors in judgement that lead our protagonist down an inevitably heartbreaking path.  The fairly straightforward premise belies a surprising complexity in this touching and tragic tale.  On the surface, not “the type of book” I’d enjoy – but I was thoroughly engrossed.

1THE SLAP by Christos Tsiolkas

At a family gathering, a guest slaps a child not his own.  A lawsuit and strained relationships ensue in this comprehensive look at the ties that bind one extended family.  This book certainly does a masterful job of pushing the reader’s buttons. I’ve heard that many mothers who read the book were outraged and extremely sympathetic to the child and his mother.  I, on the other hand, had no sympathy for the spoiled brat and his loopy, smothering mom.  In fact, I had little to no sympathy for any of the multitudinous characters who people this novel.  They’re all beyond flawed and well into “reprehensible” territory.  I should have seen it coming when, only one page in, I was already annoyed with a character who takes advantage of his wife being away by: “not washing or brushing his teeth all weekend.”  Come on.  Regardless of company kept, what kind of neanderthal doesn’t brush their teeth all weekend?  A consistently irritating read.

1AUTHORITY Jeff VanderMeer

The second book in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy picks up where things left off in Annihilation – sort of.  The focus has shifted to the shadowy government agency that has been overseeing the various expeditions into Area X.  Our protagonist, John Rodrigues (nicknamed “Control”), assumes command of the operation and attempts to make sense of the baffling leads in the ongoing investigation: secret notes, a bizarre video, and an uncooperative witness (the biologist from the first book).  He begins to suspect that Area X has broken containment and gained a foothold in our reality, the realization dawning on the reader in a simultaneous slow, creeping burn of a narrative.  The subversive terror of the first book is ratcheted up, building to a disquieting climax that left me in great anticipation for the final instalment.

1GREAT NORTH ROAD by Peter F. Hamilton

The murder of a member of the powerful North “family of clones” triggers an investigation that peels the onion on a dark conspiracy, ancestral secrets, covert weaponry, and a desperate alien sentience.  More masterful world-building in this epic narrative that jumps around different points of view, some (the military hunt for an otherworldly predator) more interesting than others (the official police investigation).  It’s an interesting, though at times overwrought ride that culminates in a resolution that will please fans of scifi, fans of clever thrillers less so.

1NEBULA AWARDS SHOWCASE 2014 edited by Kij Johnson

A selection of this past year’s Nebula award winners and nominees showcases a varied mix of stories and excerpts.  My favorites were the more character-oriented entries: “After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall”,a Nancy Kress eco-thriller about a group of post-apocalypstic survivors who travel back in time, kidnapping children to help ensure humanity’s survival, and “Christmas Inn” by Gene Wolf, a deceptive, deep and textured tale about a struggling family hosting some strange guests on Christmas Eve.  Some big, provocative ideas.

1FROSTBORN by Lou Anders

Award-winning editor Lou Anders first novel is a Norse-inspired, adventure-fueled tale for young fantasy enthusiasts.  Karn, a young farmer-to-be, strikes up an unlikely friendship with Thianna, a half-giantess, to take on undead forces, an ancient dragon, troublesome trolls, an opportunistic uncle, and more!  If you’re looking to inspire your child to follow in your Martin/Eddings/Jordan-loving footsteps, then this book is a great place to start.

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FUTURE BABBLE by Dan Gardner

Author Dan Gardner looks at our innate desire for order and how it drives us to seek pattern in a chaotic universe.  Experts, it turns out, are no more accurate than the flip of a coin, and their popularity has less to do with their predicive successes (or lack thereof) than showmanship.  An interesting if not altogether unsurprising read.

1THE TROOP by Nick Cutter

A field trip on an isolated island takes a horrific turn for a group of young boys when their scout leader welcomes an emaciated stranger into their camp.  It’s a horror version of Lord of Flies that is at turns harrowing, humorous, and thoroughly engaging.  Wonderfully written.  It’s heads and shoulders above most novels in the genre.

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SWORDS AND DEVILTRY by Fritz Leiber

The first book in one of my very favorite fantasy series starts off with a more of a determined whimper than a bang, offering an interesting, dark, at times surprisingly somber account of the early lives of our two heroes and their eventual meeting.  There are flashes of fun throughout, especially in the dynamic between Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, initially as strangers crossing paths, then as fast friends over drinks and, finally, as allies united in revenge.  Not as strong as the ensuing instalments, but solid storytelling nevertheless, holding the promise of greatness to come.

1WALKING IN CIRCLES BEFORE LYING DOWN by Merrill Markoe

Our protagonist is a romantic loser whose increasingly pathetic existence is dealt a curveball the day her dog begins to talk to her.  And not just her dog.  She soon realizes she can hold conversations with other dogs as well.  And what do all these dogs have to say?  Oh, you know, pretty much what you’d expect a dog to say if you’ve read any of those anthromorphic animal comic strips.  They offer “hilarious” insights into relationships and life, are able to recognize and identify an Oasis song but, on the other hand, mysteriously have no understanding of tears or death. The opportunity for “funny” dialogue trumps reason – but, hey, it’s a book about talking dogs so I suppose I shouldn’t expect internal logic to prevail.  The writing style reads like David Sedaris lite.

Enjoyed the Look Who’s Talking movies?  Well, you may enjoy this book as well.

1A DANCE WITH DRAGONS by George R. R. Martin

The first three books rank among my Top 10 Fantasy Reads, so it’s been incredibly disappointing to see the wheels fall off this once great series.  Back in the day, it used to be a true page turner, building suspense from chapter to chapter, offering unexpected twists and shocking turns.   Now, the individual stories drag out as more and more characters are added to the increasingly complex mix.  Two-thirds of the way through this book, all those characters reached critical mass and I began to lose my patience as well as interest.

1BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman

A suspenseful horror thriller that is undermined by some minor inconsistencies in logic.  A series of bizarre murder-suicides in Russia pique the media’s interest, but when these horrific incidents begin to proliferate and start striking closer to home, the world descends into a blind panic.  Rumour spreads that people are being driven insane by the sight of some mysterious otherworldly entities and, soon, people have retreated into their homes, covering up their windows, refusing to open their eyes if they venture outdoors.  The novel opens on our protagonist, Malorie, as she attempts to safeguard the lives of two young children, then jumps back in time to, five years earlier, when a pregnant Malorie seeks refuge with a group of survivors.  We hop back and forth, between the past and present, and the twin stories unfold in spellbinding fashion. Still, issues arise when you stop to reflect.  People seem to connect these strange murders to a visual cue way too quickly and with little evidence to support this theory.  Animals (dogs, wolves) are seemingly unaffected by the sight of these creatures and yet, later in the novel, ARE affected.  Perhaps oddest of all is Malorie’s decision to name the children Boy and Girl rather than giving them proper names.  Minor quibbles aside, however, it’s a helluva page-turner.

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1“In the far future, a young man stands on a barren asteroid. His ship has been stolen, his family kidnapped or worse, and all he has on his side is a semi-intelligent spacesuit. The only member of the crew to escape, Hari has barely been off his ship before. It was his birthplace, his home and his future. He’s going to get it back. “

It certainly sounds like a focused, revenge-fueled romp but, in reality, Evening’s Empires is actually a sweeping, cerebral tale of betrayal, vengeance, and, surprisingly, family.  It’s an ambitious and intelligent novel that is  both hard SF and space opera although, to be perfectly honest, it took a while for the story to really capture my interest.  For the first fifty pages or so, I was utterly baffled, even frustrated, by the overwhelming denseness of the shifting social landscapes and political and religious paradigms.

The book is incredibly rich in its grand scope world galaxy-building and much of the background history, established and developed in the author’s previous books, can be incredibly confusing for the uninitiated.  I had to double (and triple) check that Evening’s Empires was, in fact, a standalone novel that didn’t require any knowledge of McAuley’s other works.  The various backstory elements are eventually explained, a little too often in the form of mass conversational info dumps but, once I finally had a better understanding of its foundations, the novel became a far more enjoyable read.  Still, partway through, when I came across the line “It’s a maze he lost himself in.” I couldn’t help think “There but for the Grace of God went I”.

At the heart of this book is the mystery of “the bright moment”, a simultaneously shared vision, glimpsed by everyone in the solar system, of a man on a bicycle. Our hero, Hari, is raised on a spaceship where his family plays host to a scientist studying “the bright moment”.  Then, one day, their ship is hijacked and Hari is forced to flee – with the scientist’s head and the valuable data it contains.  Hari plots to retake his ship but, to do so, he must connect with people from his past and peel the onion on a multi-layered mystery involving religious fanatics, shifting alliances, and dangerous clones.

It all makes for a head-spinning tour-de-force that, I suspect, will leave many readers thoroughly amazed by the novel’s depth and breadth while, simultaneously, leaving just as many thoroughly bewildered.

As an added bonus for the well-read SF fan, the book is divided into six parts titled: Childhood’s End, Marooned Off Vespa, The Caves of Steel, Pirates of the Asteroids, The Cold Equations, and Downward to the Earth.  I’m not sure if there was more to it than a simple tip of the hat to the golden age classics, but there’s no denying Evening’s Empire has far more in common with the narratively expansive and challenging works of Alastair Reynolds and Iain M. Banks than it does the works of Clarke, Asimov, and Silverberg.

Let’s get the conversation started.  What did you all think of Evening’s Empires?

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Capsule reviews of my April reads…

1CHEW (vol. 8: Family Recipes) by John Layman and Rob Guillory

The eighth instalment in the ongoing series about detective Anthony Chu, a chibopath capable of receiving psychic impressions from whatever he tastes, be it inorganic matter or fresh(ly deceased) flesh and blood.  It’s been a wonderfully bizarre, over-the-top series but I feel the darkly humorous fun has took a turn for the darkly unhumorous a couple of volumes back with the gruesome murder of one of our main characters.  That surprising development left a, er, bad taste in my mouth and has cast a pall over the ensuing madcap proceedings.  It’s going to be tough to recover from that one, methinks.

1THE DINNER by Herman Koch

About 50 pages into this novel comes this passage: “You do everything in your power to make the narrator shut up, but nothing helps.  They’re too far gone to notice the signals.  Above all, they’re addicted to themselves and their own crap about film.”  And that pretty much mirrored my feelings about this book in the early going except that, instead of focusing on film, our narrator goes on and on about the different dishes he is served.   Even the foodie in me found it incredibly tiresome.  But stick it out and, about a third of the way through, things pick up in this suspenseful tale of murder and the lengths people will go to protect those they love.

1A CALCULATED LIFE By Anne Charnock

In the late 21st century, society has stratified into the haves (genetically-enhanced individuals who live comfortable lives free of addiction and crime) and the have-nots (drudge workers who live in segregated, crime-ridden communities). Our protagonist, Jayna, is a hot up-and-comer at a corporation that track global trends.  She has the perfect job, the perfect life and yet, she can’t help but feel that something is…off.  Perfection aint all it’s cracked up to be and when Jayna decides to inject a little unpredictability into her ordered existence, things take a turn for the dangerous.  A very smart book.  My favorite fiction read of April.

1THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG by Muriel Barbery

50-something Parisian concierge Renee is a closet intellectual who keeps her interests and intelligence a secret from the upper class tenants of her building because she doesn’t want them judging her.  Ironically, she spends most of this novel generalizing and judging the upper class tenants of her building – when she’s not going on philosophical tangents. Paloma is a young Parisian teen who has evidently read Mersault’s L’Etranger one too many times and is overcome by a pervading sense of ennui.  She is so brilliant she doesn’t want to draw attention to herself and plans to commit suicide. Tsk, Parisian kids these days.  These two insufferably annoying characters are the dual protagonists of this pretentious bore of a novel. If this books was someone you met at a party, two minutes into a conversation with her and you’d be heading for the door.

1MAN IN THE EMPTY SUIT by Sean Ferrell

I love a good time travel story – but, alas, this one isn’t.  A tale of a man who travels to an abandoned New York in 2071 to celebrate his birthday with past and present versions of himself.  But, on his 39th fete, he discovers the corpse of his 40 year old self.  A lengthy, meandering, convoluted investigation ensues.

1BLOOD AND IRON by Jon Sprunk

Horace is a ship-wrecked soldier on enemy land.  Soon after being sold into service as a house slave, he discovers that he is possessed of powerful magical abilities. With the help of two unlikely allies – a gladiator named Jirom and spy named Alyra – he must circumvent courtly intrigues and dangerous external conspiracies to win the freedom of the empire’s slaves.  A rip-rousing opener to an ongoing series that offers great fun and adventure, but a little too much magic for my taste.

1HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG by Andre Dubus III

A clerical error sparks a property dispute between a former Iranian Air Force Colonel and a recovering addict, a conflict fueled by desperation and pride that eventually leads to tragic consequences.  Dubus does a masterful job of presenting us with the very real and very sympathetic people on both sides of the issue.  This one will stay with you.

1VILLAIN by Shuichi Yoshida

I was expecting a crime thriller in the vein of Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X but, instead, got a plodding and unengaging mystery that wasn’t really a mystery at all because we know whodunit from the get-go .  Ultimately, more of a character study of some very bleak personalities, the whole hampered by an awkward, at times stilted, translation.

1THE WEIRDNESS by Jeremy Bushnell

Satan appears to struggling writer Billy Ridgeway one day and offers to make him a success IF he will do one thing for him: steal a cat statue with magical powers from a warlock hiding out in New York City.  It’s a fun premise but this book is a good example of how over-the-top silliness can undermine any real sense of jeopardy. The loopier the narrative developments, the weaker the emotional investment so that, by the time you finish reading the novel, it’s already forgotten.

1SUPER GRAPHIC by Tim Leong

This visual guide to the comic book universe uses pie charts, venn diagrams, bar graphs, maps, and trajectories to highlight some fun facts.  Whether it’s a rundown of DC’s alternate Earths, the pizza particulars of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the alliances and connections of the denizens of Sin City, a Walking Dead kill counter, a map of Tintin’s travels, or a taxonomy of animal-named characters, there’s something here for most every fan to geek-out over.  LOVED it!

120TH CENTURY GHOSTS by Joe Hill

An early collection of short horror tales by Joe Hill, this one is a mixed bag. Standouts for me included “Pop Art”, about a boy and his inflatable best buddy, “The Cape”, in which a boy discovers he can fly – kind of, and “Voluntary Committal” that tells the tale of a young savant’s ability to build complex cardboard mazes to other worlds.  These three alone are worth the cover price.  For those who aren’t fanS of short fiction but would like to check out Hill’s work, I would strongly recommend his latest novel, N0S4A2.

1THE DRAGON BUSINESS by Kevin J. Anderson

A king tries to toughen his young son up by telling him a tale from his days running a dragon-protection scam, a con that was going very well – until things were complicated by the appearance of an actual dragon.  Not quite Pratchett but it has its funny moments.  Still, as mentioned in a previous review, after a while silliness robs the narrative of any real stakes.  Light, popcorn fun.

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1Time travel fiction is notoriously difficult to write, fraught as it is with complicated theoretical rules related to grandfather paradoxes and butterfly effects.  It is, on the other hand, relatively simple to write if you merely pay lip service to said rules and then proceed to either ignore or violate them over the course of your narrative. And that’s what we have here: a time travel novel for non time-travel-savvy readers.  It’s like sitting down to watch the 1978 Dr. Strange t.v. movie and being dazzled by the visual effects.  Most viewers are a little more knowledgeable but, hey, I’m sure there a few under-rock-dwelling neophytes who might actually consider it a singular achievement.

Truth be told, the time travel conceit at the very heart of this book is one of several problems with The Rich and the Dead.   So, let’s start at the top…

Former Miami police detective Lila Day is haunted by the case she was never able to solve, the mass murder of twelve of the city’s wealthiest.  They were all found, shot to death in a mansion on Star Island.  It was a massacre that sent shockwaves throughout the world when it was discovered inferred that the deceased made up the roster of the famed Janus Society.  Yes, THE Janus Society, the secret group that would annually bestow hundreds of millions of dollars on a single charity.  When the Star Island murders happened to coincide with the abrupt cessation of the gargantuan contributions, people put two and two together and realized: Hey, all those rich dead people were probably the Janus Society!  Because Miami’s rich are much more altruistic and generous than the average city’s wealthy denizens.

A two year investigation went nowhere.  “How is this possible?”you may ask. “What elaborately brilliant plan did the murderer execute that allowed him/her to kill twelve powerful individuals and get away with it?”  Well, prepare to be amazed by the answer!

Lila is given a second chance at solving the murders by wealthy billionaire Teddy Hawkins and his personal time machine.  Yes, it’s true!  He has a time machine! And he proves it to Lila by sending her a copy of the next day’s paper.  Lila is understandably dubious until she sees the lottery results.  And then, in classic cartoon timing, immediately turns on the television and gets that night’s lottery numbers…the exact same numbers!  Thus proving that wealthy billionaire Teddy Hawkins has the resources to rig a lottery draw build himself a time machine!

Teddy offers to send Lila back in time where she will go undercover as wealthy socialite Camilla Dayton, infiltrate the Janus Society, and catch the killer. Unfortunately, she can’t save the victims because, of course, doing so would alter “the present in unimaginable ways”.  The rules of time travel are inviolable!  So – to reiterate – she can’t alter the past by trying to save its victims.  Or interact with her past self. But it’s perfectly fine for her to spend three months interacting with the past environment and finagling her way into a secret society she wasn’t originally a part of.  So much for “the butterfly effect”.  I guess some time travel rules are more inviolable than others.

Before she travels back into the past, we are treated to the following exchange that caused me to throw the book across the room (after which I picked it up and resumed reading because it was our book of the month club pick and you were all expecting a review):

Lila: “Will I lose those months of my life here?” (Stupid question, right?  It’s a freakin’ time travel machine not a trip to Hawaii!  You can come right back to the point at which you left.  Hell, you can come back five minutes earlier if you like!)

Teddy: “Wormholes don’t work the same in both directions.  It’ll be a few days here, not a few months.” (Wait!  WHAT?!  A few days?!  Wormholes?  WTF?!)

Lila travels back in time where she befriends one of the members of the Janus Society, a young Paris Hilton-like socialite named Effie who becomes her “in” to Miami high society, a group made up of incredibly shallow and stupid individuals who, incongruously, are also intelligent and magnanimous enough to create the Janus Society and help the world.

Lila begins her investigation.  She uncovers shocking details about suspects that, for some reason, she was unable to discover the first time around – and rather obvious information at that.  I guess this explains why the murders went unsolved for two years.  Her incompetence AND the murderer’s brilliant plan (Wait for it!). For instance, she discovers that Scott, husband of one of the murder victims, probably isn’t responsible because he’d signed a prenup and wouldn’t have financially benefited from his wife’s demise.  Seriously.  This ISN’T something that happened to cross her desk in those two years?

The investigation deepens!  Preposterous developments abound!

Shockingly, she ends up meeting the past version of her benefactor, Teddy.  I say “shockingly” because, despite the fact that Teddy obviously runs in the same social circles, he never thought to prepare Lila for the possibility and she never thought to ask.

One of her suspects, a gay art dealer, brings her to a meeting with a corrupt Mexican custom official and pretends she’s his girlfriend.  Why would he do this? Why doesn’t he just ask her to play along BEFORE the meeting if it’s that important to him?  To quote Cookie Monster: “Shhhh.  Shhhh.  Shhhh.”.

She spends time with a repulsive Russian gangster who is such an over-the-top misogynistic buffoon that you want to scream: “Yeah, okay!  I get it!  He’s BAD!”.  Subtle this aint.

She also allows herself to fall in love with some guy (Always a great idea when you travel back in time).

Ultimately, her three month investigation comes to naught so he has to scramble over to Star Island in time for the murders.  Yes, that’s right.  The entire three month investigation was a complete waste of time.  Teddy could have just sent her back to the murder scene five minutes before the killings took place and it would have amounted to the same thing.  All she has to do is park herself out front and catch the killer in the act.

And she can’t even do that!  Instead, she ends up in a locked room and doesn’t find her way out until seconds after the murder takes place.

So, Lila travels back to the present (which, for some bizarre reason, is actually a few days into her future) and tells Teddy she failed.  Now they’ll never find out who the murderer was. :(

(Well, hang on.  Isn’t that time travel machine still working?  Couldn’t you just go back to five minutes before the murder and, instead of crawling in through the basement window and ending up in a locked room, position yourself elsewhere? Say in the bushes outside the front gate so you can see who leaves seconds after the murder is committed?  In fact, instead of going through the whole rigamarole of this ridiculous three month investigation, wouldn’t that have been the easiest way to go since there was nothing she could have done to save those victims in the first place?  No?  Anybody?  Hello?).

But wait!  Lila looks up her long lost love and, in a twist that nobody everybody saw coming, it turns out that HE is the murderer!  But how?  And why?

At which point we are treated to a long implausible info dump that details the inane workings of the Janus Society which, we discover, also happens to be a sort of murder club.  Because that’s, I guess, what philanthropists do.  Help AND kill people.  That’s why it’s called The JANUS Society.  Get it?!

But wait!  What was the elaborate plot that allowed him to kill twelve of Miami’s wealthiest and get away with it?

Are you ready?

He killed the lights and then used his night vision goggles to find everyone and shoot them.  Then he drove away.  Brilliant, huh?

But wait!  Even though the murderer admitted everything to Lila, there is no actual evidence to convict him.  UNLESS – he admits everything in court.  But why would he do that?  Well…because…LOVE.

THE END

A tremendous achievement in mediocrity.

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Today, we went to the nearby Cookworks kitchenware shop where Akemi browsed while I offered the woman at the cash some book recommendations for her upcoming vacation (John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War and Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle).  Moments earlier, we had been at our local chain bookstore where Akemi hunted for a cookbook for dogs (cooking for dogs as opposed to cooking dogs or a book for dogs who cook) while I called out an employee on one of his “recommended” reads.  I’d been checking out the back wall when I happened to notice Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life among the Staff Picks.  A fine book but, as I pointed out in my capsule review, nowhere near the brilliant work the critics would have us believe.  Unless, of course, said critics could explain the nonsensical ending or what, exactly, was so fiercely original about a conceit and structure that has been used in almost every scifi series ever produced .

“Hey, you’re Mike,”I said, stepping up to the employee.

“I am,”he said, smiling down at his name badge.

“You recommended Kate Atkins’s Life After Life.”.  

“I did,”he said, suddenly awkward and unsure of himself, looking like someone whose deep, dark secret had just been exposed.

“Really?

Glancing about anxiously: “What do you mean?”

“The ending didn’t make any sense.”

“Well…”

“Also, everyone talks about how original it is but if the fact is the going-back-repeatedly-in-time-to-fix-things story is as old as science fiction itself.”

“Well, yes…but I saw it as more a collection of short stories….”

“But they’re not short stories.  They’re a novel with a single storyline…that ultimately doesn’t make sense.”

Lowering his voice and levelling with me: “I didn’t even think it was that great but I had to come up with a book to recommend.”  Beat.  “I didn’t even finish it.”

Aha!  I knew it!  A week earlier, I’d gone to a rival book shop and questioned another employee’s recommendation of Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places, a book that concludes with one of the most ridiculously coincidental reveals in crime thriller history.  She too admitted that, in retrospect, she may have been rather hasty in suggesting that one.

Don’t get me wrong.  Both books are well-written.  But they’re flawed – in ways other equally well-written but lesser known books are not.

Which is why I try to read A LOT, everything from well known writers to first-time authors, fiction and non-fiction alike, lauded or not, so that when I recommend a book, I can do so with confidence.  Sure, much of it comes down to subjective personal taste, but there are objective failings of certain books that are impossible to excuse.  Although some readers will try.

Last week, my sister sent me a text, asking me to recommend her some non-genre books.  After some consideration, these were the titles I suggested:

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

We Are Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

City of Thieves by David Benioff

Misery by Stephen King

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon (I’d argue its SF classification)

Camp Concentration (like SoD, it’s classified as SF but it straddles the line)

Fool by Christopher Moore

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

The Man Who Ate Everything, and It Must Have Been Something I Ate by Jeffrey Steingarten

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (the entire series)

Thoughts?  Agree?  Disagree?

What are YOUR top recommended reads (including genre fiction).  Let’s debate.  I’m in a feisty mood!

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I’m enjoying reading your comments on yesterday’s entry (My Top 5 Never-Before-Visited Vacation Destinations!) both for the travel recommendations AND critiques. Don’t be shy or fearful of offending.  I’d love to learn about your those negative experiences as well.  After all, not every city is for everyone.  For instance, I’ve only been to New Orleans, San Francisco, and Hawaii once, but had a tremendous time on all three occasions and would go back to any of them in a heartbeat.  Paris, on the other hand, probably not.  I’ve visited twice for business and, while it’s architecturally beautiful and home to some marvelous restaurants, I found its locals somewhat…let’s go with “rude” and leave it at that.  It’s bizarre because I’ve met French nationals on my travels, even here in Vancouver, and they’ve all been nothing short of wonderful: friendly, spirited, helpful.  Interestingly enough, when they hear about my Paris experience, they invariably inform me that Paris is very different from the rest of the country and then insist that, the next time, I should visit southern France .

So, do tell.  What are some of the places you WOULDN’T pay a return visit? Details, please.

Alright all you voracious readers.  It’s that time again.   Time to vote for the July Book of the Month.  The nominees are…

1December Park by Ronald Malfi

In the quiet suburb of Harting Farms, the weekly crime blotter usually consists of graffiti or the occasional bout of mailbox baseball. But in the fall of 1993, children begin vanishing and one is found dead. Newspapers call him the Piper because he has come to take the children away. But there are darker names for him, too . . .

Vowing to stop the Piper’s reign of terror, five boys take up the search. Their teenage pledge turns into a journey of self-discovery . . . and a journey into the darkness of their own hometown. On the twilit streets of Harting Farms, everyone is a suspect. And any of the boys might be the Piper’s next victim.

1Defenders by Will McIntosh

The invaders came to claim earth as their own, overwhelming us with superior weapons and the ability to read our minds like open books.

Our only chance for survival was to engineer a new race of perfect soldiers to combat them. Seventeen feet tall, knowing and loving nothing but war, their minds closed to the aliens.

But these saviors could never be our servants. And what is down cannot be undone.

1American Woman by Robert Pobi

New York City is experiencing a seemingly interminable heat wave. NYPD homicide detective Alexandra “Hemi” Hemingway has just learned she’s pregnant when she catches a disturbing case: the murder of a child. No suspects emerge. Then another child is killed. He looks amazingly like the first child, and his parents, like the first pair, are profoundly wealthy. Then another, same parameters. In the midst of the carnage, Hemi questions the wisdom of bringing a child into such a world. The detectives stumble on a thin lead: the mothers of the murdered children all used an exclusive, extraordinarily expensive fertility clinic.

1White Fire by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Special Agent Pendergast arrives at an exclusive Colorado ski resort to rescue his protégée, Corrie Swanson, from serious trouble with the law. His sudden appearance coincides with the first attack of a murderous arsonist who–with brutal precision–begins burning down multimillion-dollar mansions with the families locked inside. After springing Corrie from jail, Pendergast learns she made a discovery while examining the bones of several miners who were killed 150 years earlier by a rogue grizzly bear. Her finding is so astonishing that it, even more than the arsonist, threatens the resort’s very existence.

Drawn deeper into the investigation, Pendergast uncovers a mysterious connection between the dead miners and a fabled, long-lost Sherlock Holmes story–one that might just offer the key to the modern day killings as well.

Now, with the ski resort snowed in and under savage attack–and Corrie’s life suddenly in grave danger–Pendergast must solve the enigma of the past before the town of the present goes up in flames.

1

Nebula Awards Showcase 2014 edited by Kij Johnson

This year’s Nebula winners, and expected contributors, are Kim Stanley Robinson, Nancy Kress, Andy Duncan, and Aliette de Bodard, with E.C. Myers winning the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book.

***

Putting together this list was a lot tougher than you’d think.  I went through the several hundred titles released in May, eliminated hardcovers, crappy/cheesy covers, continuing instalments in an ongoing series, tie-ins, reprints, vampires, werewolves, zombies and, in the end, those books that failed to capture my interest and, in the end, came up with less than a dozen potential reads (!).  But some very interesting candidates.

By the way, publishers take note.  It’s not necessary to tell us it’s a novel (ie. Bloodgrave: A Novel or Goldfish of the Blue Apocalypse: A Novel).  I know it’s a novel.  If it was a collection of short stories, it would say so.  Alternately, if it was packaged food or a bicycle or hiking boots, chances are still pretty good I’d be able to tell the difference.

Still, I’m sure it happens.  Be honest now.  Who hasn’t, at some point in their lives, made the embarrassing mistake of visiting their local bookstore to pick up this:

1But brought home this instead:

1

Come on.  Let’s see a show of hands.

Yeah, that’s what I thought.  So, in hindsight, maybe it’s a good thing that publishers are taking the time to point out the seemingly obvious.  I mean, thank goodness they did otherwise a simple trip to your local bookshop may well result in an embarrassingly erroneous purchase, criminal charges, or worse!  Please, take note.

This:

1NOT this:

1

And this:

1NOT this guy:

1Whereas February was a great reading month, full of surprises, April was peppered with disappointments.  But I’ll elaborate on those in a dedicated entry.

Oh, and that reminds me: Finish up reading The Rich and the Dead, our May Book of the Month Club pick, and get ready for Monday’s discussion.

I’m going to have plenty to say on this one.

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Wow.  This has been all over the news here:

1http://www.petsearcherscanada.com/stolen-french-bulldog-in-vancouver-do-you-recognize-this-woman2/

If you live in the Vancouver area, check out the video and maybe help identify this sorry excuse for a human being.

Capsule reviews of all the books I read last month…

1

Blood Kin by Steve Rasnic Tem

A southern gothic tale that alternates between the 1930’s and the present day.  It tells the parallel stories of a women and her grandson and their respective battles against supernatural forces in the southern Appalachians, all related to a mysterious crate buried deep in the kudzu-infested grounds of their family property.  Moody and effectively atmospheric but, at times, slow-moving and disjointed.  It starts strong, lags in the middle, and then culminates in an explosion of frenzied horror.

1In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami

A young man who specializes in guiding foreigners on red light tours of Tokyo begins to suspect that there may be more to his latest client than meets the eye. Is this strange American merely eccentric, or could he be the serial killer responsible for some recent gruesome murders?  As the mystery builds and our protagonist is drawn inexorably deeper, things begin to take a turn for the bizarre. Incredibly engaging and unnerving – until the sudden and inexplicable supernatural twist late in the hitherto grounded book.  That’s when the wheels come off.

1The Barrow by Mark Smythe

A rousing fantasy actioner in the spirit of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series. Violence, humor, and colourful characters abound in this tale of a group of unlikely heroes on a quest for a fabled sword.  It’s a gritty, lively adventure and a hell of a fun read, but my enjoyment was seriously hampered by some explicit sex scenes that, quite frankly, read like submissions to Letters to Penthouse.

1Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

As is often the case with collections, this one is a mixed bag – but there’s no denying the inventiveness of the strange stories contained herein.  Like the tale of the reformed vampires who have retired to the Italian countryside where the juice of fresh lemons slakes their thirst for blood.  Or the one about about the exploited mutant female workers of a Japanese silk factory.  Or the one about the young boys who discover a scarecrow that eerily resembles someone they used to bully…  Recommended for those who appreciate inspired, slice-of-life narratives (and, FYI, “slice-of-life” is writer code for “doesn’t have an ending”).

1The Walking Dead (volume 20) by Robert Kirkman

“All Out War”, Part 1.  Well, “Preamble to All Out War” would probably be more accurate.  Rick and co. and their newfound allies take the fight to Negan’s doorstep.  And things get ugly – with the promise of still uglier things to come. Darker, deeper, and, frankly, better than the television series.

1Harbour by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Two years after the mysterious disappearance of his six year old daughter, a man returns to his family home on a remote island – and discovers the community hides a dark secret.  Chilling, at times unnerving, the novel is somewhat reminiscent of Stephen King’s grounded small-town horror.  Unique in certain respects but, overall, not quite enough to set it apart in a very crowded field.  Still, an above-average horror read.

1The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

The book opens with our narrator, Jeannette, on her way to a New York City function, when her cab stops beside a homeless women rooting through the trash. Upon closer scrutiny, Jeannette realizes that homeless woman is, in fact, her mother.  And so begins one of the most amazing books I’ve read in recent memory. The blurb on the back of the jacket does it an enormous disservice, painting it as a bleak autobiographical account of woman growing up in an abusive family.  It’s actually quite touching, uplifting – and incredibly funny, reminiscent of David Sedaris at his very darkest.  One of my Top 10 books of all time.  Go read it!

1Peter Panzerfaust (volume 1) by Kurtis J. Wiebe

It’s Peter Pan in WWII as Peter leads a group of young orphans from Calais to Paris.  Complicating matters for them = nazis!  No magic but certain aspects of the story stretch credulity.

1The Circle by David Eggers

Our young heroine lands a job working for The Circle, a cutting edge internet company that is Google, Facebook, and Yahoo rolled into one.  Before she knows it, she is at the forefront of a wave of technological advancements that will revolutionize social interaction.  But at what price?  A smart, scary book that explores the potentially insidious consequences of our increasingly “connected” lives.  It takes a while to get going and the big “surprise reveal” at book’s end isn’t all that surprising at all, but it nevertheless delivers a powerful message on our increasing willingness to relinquish privacy and freedom in exchange for convenience.

1We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Inspired by an experiment in the 1930’s in which a husband and wife research team raised a baby chimp in their home as a member of their family, this novel offers a fictional account of a similar experiment run some sixty years later – and its heartbreaking effects on those involved.  Our narrator is Rosemary, a woman who reflects back on her childhood, growing up with a human brother and chimpanzee sister – until the dark day her sister, Fern, was taken away.  The loss of their beloved family members has far-reaching consequences for all of them. Some fifteen years later, Rosemary reflects back on her time with Fern and tries to learn the truth about her sister’s fate.  It’s rare I read a truly great book, even rarer for me to read two back to back, but that’s exactly what happened.  Right after reading Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, I picked up this book – and was equally bowled over.  Humorous and poignant.  A wonderful book.

1Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth Powell

A monkey of another kind is the titular hero of this alt history romp that features a royal conspiracy, nuclear-powered airships, VR ninja nazis, and poachable portable souls.  It’s silly fast-paced fun, but the sloppy villains and a maudlin love story really throw a wrench into the works.

Continuing our Stargate: Atlantis re-watch with…Remnants!

1I approached the re-watch of this episode with some trepidation, not because I was worried that Akemi wouldn’t like it but because I feared that I wouldn’t.  After all, I’d been reviewing my episodes in particular with very critical eyes and, to be honest, I’m a lot less happy with the results now than I was years ago.  Back in the day, this one had been a personal favorites, so I was curious as to how it would survive the test of time.  As it turned out – quite well.  Of all of the episodes I wrote for the last two Stargate incarnations (SGA and SGU), this one ranks as one of my faves.  It still holds up.  And it was especially satisfying watching this with Akemi who, despite English being her second language, greatly enjoyed it.  In fact, she declared it: “My favorite of your episodes. ”  High praise indeed.  She loved the humor, the quick pacing, and was delighted by the unexpected twists – especially the final one in which it is revealed that McKay had been fooled all along as well…

Ever-appreciative of the trademark Stargate humor – and a certain Robert Picardo: “I find many funny scenes.  Especially with Bob.”

On the admittedly talky reveal: “That scene was difficult but cool.  I like it.”

On when her suspicions were first raised that maybe something was up – and Kolya’s punching prowess: “I was wondering.  Bad guy punching him thirty times and he’s still alive.  Just scratches.  Not losing teeth.  Guy is not good at punching people.”

On another red flag: “I thought too expensive for Sheppard without hand for rest of series.  Not like old man on Walking Dead.  Major character.  DingDingding!  Price go so high.”

Overall: “I like it.  Funny.   Not too scary.”

 

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And continuing our discussion of our April Book of the Month Club selection: Annihilation:

Jenny Horn writes: “One thing regarding Annihilation I had not yet considered…perhaps Area X is not on Earth.”

Answer: Now that’s an interesting possibility.  It would explain why the region is so much larger than originally mapped out.  Maybe even an area that exists apart from our space time?

whoviantrish writes: “It’s just so bizarre how they have to enter it and how it’s being kept a secret. Even Area 51 has been discovered.”

Answer: True, but it’s suggested early on that entry (and presumably exit) from Area X is a bigger deal than a simple stroll across an imagined boundary.  If I remember correctly, our narrator even states that she doesn’t remember the actual crossing over.

whoviantrish writes: “The biologist had mentioned they had ways of keeping tabs on Area X.. whatever that means. I’m thinking there were far more truths untold than told. Because they certainly didn’t expect her husband to return so it’s not like they’re guarding it really well.”

Answer: Again, this hints at the possibility that this “entrance” to Area X may be more than just a physical boundary.  If that was the case, the fine folk at the Southern Reach would have gotten their hands on her husband the second he stepped through – rather than being surprised by his reappearance well after the fact.

Jenny Horn writes: “It is clear to me that we are not going to get any answers in subsequent books, so I propose that we make up our own answers to our questions. I’m going to begin by naming the lead character Bridget…Bridget the Biologist. And her husband is/was Richard. Ok, now who wants to say what happened to Richard? Did he morph into the dolphin, or is he still roaming Area X as a human?”

Answer: I’m going to guess his consciousness has been incorporated into Area X.  A sliver of Richard resides in the Crawler, in the mysterious moaning creature, even the dolphin.

Jovanna writes: “I enjoyed Annihilation, more for the dreamy atmosphere than anything else. I always wondered if there were books or stories like this that were just steeped in atmosphere and allowed you to watch without feeling too much.”

Answer: There was certainly a dreamlike quality to the narrative and the way the story was told made it difficult for the reader to connect with anyone beside our protagonist, but I was definitely caught up in the mystery and transported by the story.

Line Noise writes: “It’s possible that the Southern Reach authorities have been infected by Area X and their minds are being controlled in order to keep “feeding” Area X with fresh meat.”

Answer: At this point, anything is possible.  An interesting hypothesis I never considered – even though it is strongly hinted that elements of Area X have infiltrated and infected our reality.

Line Noise writes: “Without advanced technology you need people on the ground to gather information. Assuming the Southern Reach authorities aren’t compromised then I’m sure they are worried about the expanding influence of Area X and it’s a priority for them to find a solution.”

Answer: In which case the team we followed was following a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach.  Would love to find out if this is the case.

Line Noise writes: “They’ve sent in a lot of expeditions but is it wise to tell the current expedition about the tens (perhaps hundreds) of expeditions that have failed before them? [...]. If they were told there were 111 previous expeditions that all failed I suspect they’d struggle to find volunteers.”

Answer: A fair point.  But surely, after those 111 previous expeditions had failed, you would think they would arm the new group with some insight into what they were about to face.  For instance, the script in the tower couldn’t have been a surprise.

Line Noise writes: “Is the Area X phenomenon a purely biological one? In which case maybe some sort of hazmat suit and decontamination/positive pressure tent could be employed to ensure no contamination. Or is it some sort of “field” that affects the brain?”

Answer: It certainly seems to affect the brain which begs the question “How is the agent – biological or otherwise – absorbed by the body?”.  It’s not unreasonable to assume that precautions were taken with previous expeditions (ie. hazmat suits) and they failed to protect the team members.

Kathode writes: “I just heard an interview with the author of “Blood Will Out” on the radio a couple days ago, so when I read the “Schroder” description, the parallels were fresh in my mind. Both have a shady German immigrant who goes by a famous, wealthy-family surname (“Kennedy” in “Schroder”; “Rockefeller” in “Blood Will Out”). Both masquerades come unraveled when the shady con man kidnaps his daughter in a custody dispute. Except in the nonfiction tale, the guy is not only a kidnapper, but also wanted for a double murder in California 23 years before his façade came crashing down. I guess that detail would’ve undermined the reader’s ability to empathize with “Stirred” and find some good in him.

“Blood Will Out” is told from the perspective of the author, who was friends with the con man and duped by him for 10 years. From what I can tell, it’s the story of how he was sucked in and missed all the signs that could have tipped him off that the con man’s entire existence was total BS.”

Answer: Interesting.  I didn’t know anything about the book outside of the blurb I posted.  It and the fact that the book seemed to be getting a lot of buzz.  I’ll eventually get around to reading Schroder because it’s already sitting on my to-read pile, but if you read the other book, please give us a report.

Continuing our Stargate: Atlantis re-watch with…Ghost in the Machine.

1Akemi found The Daedalus Variations incredibly confusing so I was thrilled with the first 15 minutes of this episode.  It was straightforward, fast-paced and full of mystery and suspense.  And then, when Weir appears in the flesh (so to speak) the episode takes a turn into an arguably necessary but no-less painful extended exposition sequence.  And, once it was finally complete, it was too late.  We’d lost Akemi.  Still, she recognized that the mythologically-rich backstory was no doubt appreciated by longtime fans: “Bonus episode for the loyal Stargate fan.”

So, sadly, not another favorite, but this episode did have its highlights:

Whenever Woolsey appears on screen: “Bob!”

She continues to note the disparity between McKay and Ronon’s line count: “How many sentences handsome guy had in this episode?”

And she continues to find Zelenka all sorts of adorable.

The reveal that Weir’s digitized consciousness was responsible for all the tech failures took her by surprise (no doubt because she missed seasons 2 through 4 that introduced the Asurans and dealt with Elizabeth’s disappearance).  She suspected another culprit was behind the strange happenings: “At first I thought flying monkey caused the trouble.  Very smart monkey.”

The strongest reaction in this episode came after Woolsey gave the okay for Weir to download her consciousness into  replicator body.  “ENH?!!!”were her exact words.  In retrospect, she had a point.

In the end, a tough episode for her: “Very difficult to follow, especially for someone who skips the episodes.  And Joe seems tired to explain every single thing that happened.”  True dat.

Today’s entry is dedicated to blog regular and birthday gal Erika (poundpuppy29)

 

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Continuing our discussion of our April Book of the Month Club selection – Annihilation:

vanderworld.com writes: “I wouldn’t normally comment, but…the next two novels are about 100,000 words each, which complicates things, and are *completely separate novels* in their own right, that interlock with Annihilation…they do not pick up the story right after the events in Annihilation. Annihilation is itself a self-contained short novel. Among other considerations FSG weighed in their approach to publishing the trilogy that weren’t at all cynical.”

Answer: Well, you’re in a better position to know so I stand corrected.  Still, this first book is surprisingly short and the speedy release of subsequent volumes atypical of any series I’ve ever read.  It will be interesting to see how this experiment fares.

skua writes: “The Arkady and Boris Strugatsky´s Roadside Picnic (Tarkovski´s Stalker) sensation at the first stages let me in.”

Answer: Yes, it certainly was reminiscent of Stalker as well with its foray into an uncharted alien landscape where the rules of physics – and logic – no longer apply. Great movie.  Perhaps time for a re-watch.

JeffW writes: ” I found the pacing in Annihilation to be slow and ultimately unsatisfying.”

Answer: I didn’t mind the pacing.  I was so caught up in the story that the slow build really worked for me.  It was like one of those horror movies of old where the meat of the narrative is in the suspense rather than the visceral payoff.

Duptiang writes: “Was the protagonist her whole self or a replacement like what was often explored in the SG series a DNA replacement, replicator conversion?”

Answer: Interesting question.  She seemed to retain a certain part of herself as evidenced by the introspective passages in her journal.  And yet, there’s the hint that she is losing a part of herself as well.  When her husband mysteriously returns from his expedition, she points out that it’s as if a part of him is missing.  He’s not quite the same person…

Duptiang writes: “How did the files get into the Light house, and why was she succumbing to the brightness?”

Answer: My guesses would be – 1) the lighthouse keeper (human or otherwise) and 2) any human being will succumb to Area X following extended exposure to the environment.  Of course, these are just guesses.  Are the answers to come?

whoviantrish writes: “The protagonist is smart, decent, down-to-earth, flawed and brave. She’s easy to like.”

Answer: I found the narrative approach very interesting.  It allowed us to get to know our protagonist but, on the other hand, never allowed us to know or in any way connect with the other characters.

sparrow_hawk writes: ” The prose is lovely and evocative and conveys the sense of weird other-worldliness quite well.”

Answer: Agreed.  He’s a terrific writer and I’ve greatly enjoyed his previous books.

sparrow_hawk writes: “Why are teams still being sent in? What is done to them before they go in? What is happening to The Biologist and has it happened to others before her? Why the heck is everyone so depersonalized and isolated? “

Answer: In my mind, these first two questions are the ones that really need to be answered.  Don’t get me wrong.  I too would like an answer (or, failing that, some solid hints) regarding the fate  of the biologist and how Area X is influencing its visitors, but I’m willing to cut its enigmatic, alien-centered answers some slack.  In the case of the expeditions, I’m in a less forgiving mood since there are real people behind these seemingly illogical decision.  As someone else already pointed out, if so many teams have already gone missing, why are expeditions still being sent into Area X?  What, if anything, is being gained?

Jenny Horn writes: “The premise reminded me some of Michael Grant’s series and King’s Under the Dome as well as LOST, but had none of the payoff. “

Answer:  I’ll have to reserve judgement on payoffs until I’ve completed the trilogy, but you present some very interesting examples.  I didn’t make it through the entire Lost run but my friends who did were VERY disappointed with the finale.  As for Under the Dome – I read it and, while I thought the premise was great and the narrative fairly engaging, I found the ending hugely disappointing.  Sometimes, payoffs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

astrumprota writes: “I guess the antagonist is whoever sends in the missions with nothing but lies. If they want to be successful understanding Area X or stopping its encroachment, why not give them all the information possible, and dispense with having one person, who becomes insane, use hypnotic suggestion on the others? I don’t see an end to the failures.”

Answer: And that fairly encapsulates my biggest bump with the book.  Given all of the previous failed missions, why not better prepare future teams?  Why not arm them with better resources?  This is hinted at early on (ie. the limits to what they can bring, the fact that much of their equipment is outdated, etc.) but these are questions that need to be answered in time.

cat4444 writes: “Overall, I enjoyed the story, but I didn’t find that I was invested in what happened to the characters due to the detached manner in which the story was told.”

Answer: Yes, I had a problem with that too – and the fact that no one had a name  It was always “the psychologist”, “the anthropologist”, “the surveyor”.  I eventually accepted the conceit – until, at one point, a character is referred to as “the anthropologist” in dialogue.  Surely when speaking to each other, I thought, they would use their first names.  But then, upon further consideration, I realized that this entire narrative is an extended journal entry written by our protagonist, so she is essentially offering a tweaked account of her experience.  It’s a reminder that our narrator is human and, perhaps, not to be trusted.

cat4444 writes: “The psychologist obviously knew more about what was happening than the other members of the expedition and was surreptitiously in control through the hypnotic triggers implanted in the other members’ minds. But how much did she really know?”

Answer: Again, I really hope we get the answers to these types of questions, those related to the Southern Reach organization and the reasoning behind some of their seemingly illogical decisions.

cat4444 writes: “The biologist’s observations suggest that they’re being changed. Some become the mossy pillars, but the diary suggests that others are changed into the very wildlife that Area X is rife with and that they may retain some semblance of who and what they were before they were changed.”

Answer: Yep.  And remember her encounter with the dolphin possessed of an uncomfortably familiar gaze?

cat4444 writes: “Is this the 12th expedition to enter from a particular point, the others having entered from somewhere else?”

Answer: Another interesting point is the suggestion that they must pass through some sort of alien portal to cross the boundary from their reality to Area X.

cat4444 writes: “Who or what is the Crawler and what is the purpose of the words on the “Tower” wall? “

Answer: Are those messages a disordered attempt at communication by the Crawler who perhaps makes use of the jumbled memories of those Area X it has absorbed in order to reach out to new visitors?

Line Noise writes: “Clearly Area X affects the mental and physical state of those who enter it. It modifies a person’s perceptions inducing hallucinations and wild emotions. As a result we can’t even trust the biologist’s record of events.”

Answer: Yes, alluded to this earlier, the fact that we could well be dealing with an untrustworthy narrator, one infected by alien consciousness.

2cats writes: “The writer’s style was lovely in places, highly descriptive and inventive, which I do like. I believe this was my first Vandermeer novel and I would read others in the future, when in a mind-bending mood “

Answer: I highly recommend you do.  Maybe this one?  http://josephmallozzi.wordpress.com/2009/01/26/january-26-2009-city-of-saints-and-madmen-by-jeff-vandermeer/

Quick!  Get cast your votes for June’s Book of the Month Club selection!  It’s a tight race and the polls close this weekend:

And continuing our Stargate: Atlantis re-watch with…1

Well, this one did NOT go over well.  In fact, it probably ranks as Akemi’s least favorite Stargate episode to date – partly because she found it so gosh darn confusing (“So complicated this episode!”), but mainly due to the “everything but the kitchen sink” plot (“A little too much thing going on for me.”).  The word “cliche” also came up quite a few times.

When the countdown clock counts up to 100% in the nick of time: “So cliche.”

On their way back to the jumper, they encounter one more hidden alien to complicate matters: “So cliche.”

When the Daedalus is being attacked by enemy ships and all hope seems lost: “Atlantis will save them.”  And then, when Atlantis does save them: “So cliche.”

For some reason, she really fixated on the team discovering their own dead bodies.  She HATED that shot.  When I asked her why, she explained that unlike the sequence in SGU’s Twin Destinies in which Rush encounters an alternate version of himself, she felt there was no point to their discovery here – outside of the VFX department showing off.  I pointed out that the reason this discovery raises the stakes since alternate versions of themselves were in this exact same predicament and failed.  She grudgingly accepted this explanation and then, seemingly unconvinced: “So not showing off the computer graphic skills?”

This episode’s single highlight: “I like him [Ronon].  Hansamu.”

A potential highlight, quickly quashed, came when the ship finds itself beside the red giant.  “Now they can recharge!”  Uh, sorry.  Wrong Stargate series.

And she continues to be impressed by David Hewlett’s ability to deliver seemingly endless dialogue: “Don’t you think handsome guy’s sentences are very short and McKay’s are very long?   Not fair.  I can’t believe he can remember every single sentence.”

All in all however, Akemi found this episode tiresome despite (because of?) the seemingly endless obstacles the team encounters: “Like after drinking scotch or smoking pot, I have huge ideas and put them all into one script.  I’m a crazy genius and this is chance to write every crazy idea I’ve ever had in this episode!  I need something to make sense to make everything like this happen.  I know – a ship!  Alien attack!  Now very close to sun!  Super hot!”  You get the idea.

Next up: Ghost in the Machine.  Nothing like a Carl Binder joint to get us all back on track!

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