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Archive for the ‘Books & Literature’ Category

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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1A team of four women are are set out to explore a mysterious region known as Area X. By all accounts, they are the twelfth group to journey into the bizarre amazon-like territory.  All of the previous expeditions have ended badly, marked by murders, suicides, disappearances, and, in the case of the eleventh, the inexplicable return of its members, sickened and psychologically broken by their experience.  Our narrator, a biologist, apprises us of her team’s progress as they venture deep into Area X, making strange discoveries and unearthing hidden agendas, all the while dogged by a creeping suspicion that all is not right…

This book is admittedly weird but, surprisingly, actually the most grounded of author Jeff VanderMeer’s considerably weirder body of work.  It’s a seemingly straightforward tale rooted in science and exploration that, slowly but surely, veers into the dreaded unknown.  No mushroom people or squid-like creatures plague the pages of this book which, nevertheless, possesses an undercurrent of simmering horror reminiscent of Lovecraft.  It also reminded me of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves with its slow burn mounting sense of foreboding.  Or, for more t.v.-centered readers, it feels like a deeper, more nuanced, intellectually-provocative version of Lost.

As we bounce back and forth between the present and the past, gaining insight through our protagonist’s journal entries – a narrative device that, unlike most first person accounts, offers no assurances regarding the fate of our narrator – the secrets of Area X open up to us, offering glimpses but no real answers.  Though if the answers ultimately do come, one can’t help but wonder:  Will we be able to understand them or will we, like our narrator in one of the book’s most brilliant passages, be so overcome by its otherworldly nature that we’ll be incapable of processing the truth?

Regardless of where we end up, Annihilation is a hell of a ride.  VanderMeer does a masterful job of gradually immersing us in this uncanny environment, every eerie encounter and bewildering find drawing us in ever further until, by the time our protagonist makes her final descent into “the tower”, we find ourselves equally ensnared, unable to turn back and unsee what we have witnessed, unlearn what we’ve been told.  With the reminder that the tiny microcosms that thrive under our noses, taken for granted and largely ignored, may hold the key to some vaster enigma far beyond our imaginings, can we ever look at them the same way again? Our reality is teeming with potential alien incursions and the Devil may well be in the details.

I’m a big fan of Jeff VanderMeer and liked this book a lot.  What kept me from loving this book is the fact that, despite being a self-contained chapter of a larger work, it’s incomplete.   Granted, the second and third volumes of the Southern Reach Trilogy will follow in fairly quick succession (book #2 comes out in May and book #3 in September), but I don’t understand why all three weren’t simply released as a single volume.  Okay, scratch that.  I understand why.  It’s more lucrative for the publisher.  Still, it’s annoying, especially given that I’m in the process of reading another book, The Weird, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, that clocks in at a hefty 1100 pages.  And those oversized pages hold twice the print of a regular page so the final tally is closer to 2200!   And yet HarperCollins felt the need to make this a trilogy?

Overall, an engaging and enjoyable read.   I look forward to the second book, Authority, with equal measures eagerness, curiosity, and annoyance.

Let the discussion begin!

1Continuing our Stargate: Atlantis re-watch with…Broken Ties.

Yes, this one was mine and, upon review, I think it takes a while to get going.  But, once they’re in the wraith lab – What fun!

Akemi liked the episode – less for the story itself and more for the surprise highlights like…the shocking reveal of actor Mark Dacascos in the tease: “Wha!  Chairman!” And she was downright delighted with his performance: “I’ve never heard the Chairman talk so much.”  In truth, Mark is a lot more soft-spoken the chatty Tyre. Also a lot more laid-back.  And much less likely to ambush you in deserted forest.

Another highlight for Akemi was dog-related = Woolsey’s emotional reflection on his beloved yorkie, lost in the divorce.

And, of course, the sword fight at episode’s end (compliments of longtime Atlantis stunt coordinator James “Bam Bam” Bamford) mightily impressed.

On the flipside, she was saddened by Tyre’s death (“Very sad because I liked the chairman”), found some of the dim lighting in certain scenes annoying (“I couldn’t see very well the getting old getting young parts!”), and had a difficult time understanding what was going on at first (“Chotto confusing because I skipped so many episodes.  My fault.”).

Ultimately, Tyre reminded Akemi of another character in another Stargate series: “Chairman remind me of Chef’s [Lou Diamond Phillip's] character a bit.  Gets brainwashed, now clear but pretending to be brainwashed.  Chef stole idea from Chairman.”  Doubtful, but an interesting take nevertheless.

Plug in your top-loading VCR’s and put your video cassette on standby.  Tonight, we watch: The Daedalus Variations!

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Cast your vote for our June Book of the Month Club pick!  We’ve got a nice, wide-ranging selection this month:

1COLDBROOK by Tim Lebbon

Coldbrook is a secret laboratory located deep in Appalachian Mountains. Its scientists had achieved the impossible: a gateway to a new world. Theirs was to be the greatest discovery in the history of mankind, but they had no idea what they were about to unleash.

With their breakthrough comes disease and now it is out and ravaging the human population. The only hope is a cure and the only cure is genetic resistance: an uninfected person amongst the billions dead.

In the chaos of destruction there is only one person that can save the human race.  But will they find her in time?

1THE DRAGON BUSINESS by Kevin J. Anderson

King Cullin may be known as “the Dragon Slayer,” but he fears his son’s legacy will be as “King Maurice Who Speaks with Proper Grammar.” The boy keeps his nose buried in parchments, starry-eyed at the idea of noble knights and eager to hand royal gold to any con man hawking a unicorn horn. Tonight, though, Cullin will educate the prince in the truth behind minstrels’ silly songs of glory…
Long ago, in a kingdom, well, not that far from here really, young Cullin traveled the countryside as squire to brave Sir Dalbry, along with Dalbry’s trusted sidekick Reeger, selling dragon-protection services to every kingdom with a coffer. There were no dragons, of course, but with a collection of severed alligator heads and a willingness to play dirty, the trio of con men was crushing the competition. Then along came Princess Affonyl.

Tomboyish and with a head for alchemy, Affonyl faked a dragon of her own, escaped her arranged marriage, and threw in with Cullin and company. But with her father sending a crew of do-gooder knights to find her, the dragon business just got cutthroat.

1EVENING’S EMPIRES by Paul McAuley

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.

1LAGOON by Nnedi Okrafor

When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself. Lagoon expertly juggles multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives with prose that is at once propulsive and poetic, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself.

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SCHRODER by Amity Gaige (paperback release in the U.K.)

Attending a New England summer camp, young Eric Schroder-a first-generation East German immigrant-adopts the last name Kennedy to more easily fit in, a fateful white lie that will set him on an improbable and ultimately tragic course.

SCHRODER relates the story of Eric’s urgent escape years later to Lake Champlain, Vermont, with his six-year-old daughter, Meadow, in an attempt to outrun the authorities amid a heated custody battle with his wife, who will soon discover that her husband is not who he says he is. From a correctional facility, Eric surveys the course of his life to understand-and maybe even explain-his behavior: the painful separation from his mother in childhood; a harrowing escape to America with his taciturn father; a romance that withered under a shadow of lies; and his proudest moments and greatest regrets as a flawed but loving father.

Finish up Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation!  Our discussion begins tomorrow!

Continuing our Stargate: Atlantis rewatch…

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Akemi is right back at it, into the franchise and enjoying the series.  Although SGU still ranks as her favorite, she has a greater appreciation for Stargate: Atlantis and its much-improved visual effects.  Also, I think she kind of missed McKay.

Of course, as always there was much praise for the job of VFX Supervisor Mark Savela and his team.  Whenever we an establisher of Atlantis, especially at night, it’s always: “Wow!” or “Beautiful!” or “Two moons!”.

She didn’t get caught up in the whole Beckett vs. Keller debate because, by this point in the series, they’re both present and acting members of the expedition.  She likes them both but offered the following comment on Keller: “Everybody would love to have such a beautiful doctor.” Maybe.  “Too bad she doesn’t have a doctor’s outfit.”  I guess.

Still not feeling the love for Sheppard 22 episodes in.  She finds his loose cannon attitude annoying (“Why Sheppard is always so arrogant?  He should listen to older people.”) and, I suspect, very unJapanese.  After Beckett informs Sheppard that the shoot could kill him: “This is second chance for him to die so that handsome guy can become leader.”   Alas, another missed opportunity.

On the other hand, when Ronon gets choked out by the tendrils and collapses, she was genuinely concerned: “Oh, I hope he’s alright?”

“What about Sheppard?”I asked.  “He got skewered by a tendril.  Do you hope he’s alright.”

Grudgingly: “Okay.”

Later, she bumped on his amazing healing abilities: “Why sometimes he recovering very magically quickly and sometimes very slow?  Because he is typical superhero?”

Another favorite character of Akemi’s is none other than Radek Zelenka.  She practically squealed with excitement when he came onscreen like he was an adorable puppy doing something unbelievably cute.  She finds him very convincing: “I can’t believe he is actor.  Looks like real authentic geek!”  Ah, the magic of television.

Overall, a solid episode in her estimation but: “I liked yesterday’s episode more.”

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Ooh, it was a nail biter.  Our May Book of the Month Club pick came down to the very last vote.  The results:

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 4.35.03 PM

The winner: The Rich and the Dead by Liv Sepctor.

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Welcome to Star Island, where Miami’s wealthiest residents lead private lives behind the tall gates of their sprawling mansions. It’s a blissful escape from the hot and dirty city—or it was, until New Year’s Day 2015, when twelve of the most powerful people in the world were found murdered in the basement of a Star Island mansion.

The massacre shocked the nation and destroyed the life of investigator Lila Day. Her hunt for the Star Island killer consumed her. But the case went unsolved, resulting in her dismissal from the Miami PD.

Now, three years later, life hands Lila an unexpected second chance: reclusive billionaire Teddy Hawkins approaches Lila and asks her to solve the case. But how do you investigate a crime when all the leads have long ago gone cold? The answer, Teddy tells her, is to solve the case before it happens. He’s going to send Lila back in time.

With nothing left to lose, an incredulous Lila travels back to 2014, determined to find the Star Island killer once and for all. But as she goes undercover among the members of Miami’s high society, she finds herself caring for—and falling for—people who are destined to die that fateful night. Now she must either say good-bye or risk altering the future forever.

Intriguing, no?  But they all sounded intriguing and I’m sure you’ll all be joining me in reading all the nominees.

Discussion on The Rich and the Dead kicks off Monday, May 5th!

Meanwhile, in other interesting-only-to-me news, the results of the ultimate Personality Quiz are in and they yielded the following results…

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 4.41.01 PMScreen Shot 2014-03-17 at 4.43.40 PMI usually don’t put much stock in these things, but this one was eerily accurate, identifying me – as of all things – Mario Batali’s Apron.  NOT turnip or Christmas ornament or Maureen’s Office Chair, but Mario Batali’s Apron.  Uncanny!

And the search for a new dog-sitter resumes!  Our Vegas trip is still two months away, but it would be nice to have someone on board sooner than later.  My dogs are low-maintenance, my liquor cabinet is fully stocked, and it pays well.  So why is finding someone so tough?

Started reading Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle last night.  50 pages in and so far, so great.  And, given how annoyingly picky I am when it comes to books, that saying A LOT.

A special shout-out today to The Walking Dead which, with last night’s episode, demonstrated why it’s kicking ass in the ratings – offering up the type of provocative storytelling that you’ll never find on network television.

I somehow ended up spending an hour on youtube last night, watching videos of bullies getting pwned.  There are, admittedly, more productive ways to spend my time – but, I have to say, it was pretty damn satisfying.

Sunny day.  Lulu soaks it up!

Today’s blog entry is dedicated to birthday gal and blog regular PBMom!

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Books I read last month…

1Star Road - Matthew Costello and Rick Hautala

A former rebel leader, now working for the World Council, is tasked with traveling to a distant world and offering his former cohorts clemency and, hopefully, an end to their protracted rebellion.  To get there, however, he must ride the mysterious Star Road.

I was really looking forward to checking this one out, especially after reading this in the synopsis: “His fellow passengers on Star Road Vehicle-66 are a suspicious group, all with their own hidden reasons for traversing the star road.”  I was expecting an intriguing cast of colorful characters, each with a hidden agenda that would keep me guessing.  Instead, I got some fairly straightforward personalities and not much in the way of engaging  secrets.  Some promising ideas here and a great extended action sequence involving alien reptilian predators, but ultimately undermined by stock characters and an oddly clipped narrative style.

1American Gods - Neil Gaiman

Shadow, our protagonist, is released from prison early so that he can attend his wife’s funeral.  On his way back home, he is approached by the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday who offers him a job working for him.  And so begins Neil Gaiman’s head-spinning masterpiece about life, death, faith, and deific survival.  An epic narrative that twists and turns, confounds and surprises.  To quote my second grade teacher Mrs. Vowels: “It’s time to put your thinking caps on!”

1NOS4A2 - Joe Hill

I’ve read Joe Hill’s work in the past and enjoyed it, but have never really LOVED any of his books- until this one.  With N0S4A2, Hill finally comes into his own with an unsettling story about missing kids, a dark fantasy land, and a creepy yet surprisingly nuanced villain.  A standout read.

1Life After Life - Kate Atkinson

Heralded for being incredibly inventive, this book opens with a scene as hoary as time travel fiction itself (the old “If I could go back in time and kill Hitler” chestnut) and ends with a scene that, quite frankly, doesn’t make a lick of sense.  But, in between, you have a very well-written and engaging book that isn’t quite as clever or original as many critics would have us believe – unless, of course, you never saw Run, Lola, Run which uses the exact same convention.

1The Lives of Tao - Wesley Chu

An ordinary schlub is enlisted by an alien parasite in a civil war against a merciless enemy.

A fun read and one I would have enjoyed a lot more had I not got stuck on one egregious logic lapse early on.  The bad guys are incredibly powerful, yet can’t be bothered to fork over twenty bucks and do a license plate check on our hero’s abandoned car and thereby learn his identity.  Of course, their doing so would have meant their discovering his whereabouts early in the narrative, which would have deep-sixed the majority of the story involving Tao’s secret agent training, his roommate, his job, and love life.  Amusing if you’re not too analytical a reader.

1Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief - Lawrence Wright

A history of scientology and its frighteningly far reach.  Terrifying.

1Hang Wire - Adam Christopher

Our sleepwalking protagonist’s somnambulist sorties appear to coincide with a rash of recent murders.  Is Ted Hall responsible?  Or does the serial killer’s true identity lie within the ranks of the circus rolling through town?  The answer may not surprise you, but it confused and frustrated me.  Very weird – and not necessarily in a good way.  Though fast paced, at times it reads as if it the entire novel was written in one furiously inspired sitting.

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The Echo - Jame Smythe

A sequel to The Explorer, a novel that started strong before devolving into silliness, The Echo offers an equally promising start before essentially covering familiar territory.  It feels more like a re-do than an actual sequel – but, having said that, it IS superior to the original.

1A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki

Interesting discussions of time, life, and death in this novel about  a woman in Canada who finds the diary of a young Japanese girl when it washes ashore one day. My biggest issue with this book is that the writings of the young Nao don’t read like the voice of a 16 year old Japanese girl. They read more like what a 50-something year old North American writer would think a 16 year old Japanese girl would sound like.  Young Nao is impossibly erudite and profound throughout but then, at one point, expresses a desire to visit Tokyo Disneyland so that she can shake hands with Mickey-chan because they are kindred spirits.  Also, the late foray into meta-supernatural territory feels like a misstep.

1Warlock: The Complete Collection - Jim Starlin

Adam Warlock’s swan song is one of my favorite single issue comic books, so when I came across this at my local shop, I had to pick it up.  Jim Starlin’s complete run on the celestial hero has a definite 70′s vibe, at times trippingly delightful, and at times cringingly silly (I’ve got two words for you: Space Shark!).  Recommended if you’re a fan.

1Love Minus Eighty - Will macintosh

After running down and killing a jogger, the guilt-ridden driver takes to visiting his “deceased” victim at a cryogenic dating facility where dead women are kept in stasis for future resurrection, provided a prospective suitor is willing to foot the bill for the pricey process.

Provocative and smart, it’s a novel chalk full of moral and ethical complexity. Eventually, however, the fascinating premise is stretched a little too long and thin.

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I received the following news link from about two dozen sources today: Syfy network shifts away from broad dramas and B-movies to its genre roots as it attempts to find the next “The Walking Dead” or “Game of Thrones.”

Apparently, SyFy is looking to produce a space opera, the SF equivalent of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones.  Presumably, a serialized show with intriguing characters and relationships, twists and turns, surprises galore.  Maybe, oh, off the top of my head, something like…

THIS?

THIS?

Excerpt from the March 13th, 2014 article: “The network shifts away from broad dramas and B-moves to its genre roots as it attempts to find the next “The Walking Dead” or “Game of Thrones”.

Excerpt from the Dark Matter series overview: “What Game of Thrones did for the fantasy genre and The Walking Dead did for the horror genre, we want to do for the scifi genre…”

How perfect!  I’ll have my people call your people (phone calls or names, depending on how things pan out).

2In other SF t.v.-related developments, it looks like Frederik Pohl’s Gateway  maybe be headed to a t.v. (or, knowing many of you, laptop/computer) near you: EOne & De Laurentiis Co. To Adapt Frederik Pohl’s Sci-Fi Classic …  A great book with plenty of t.v. potential – so much so, in fact, that it’s been on my radar for years now.  As recently as December, I was pitching a production company that it would make a great television series.

“A great idea for a series. An asteroid is discovered near Venus that contains thousands of ancient alien ships. Each ship is good for one return trip to a pre-programmed destination, and the crews don’t know where they are going or for how long until they get there. Sometimes they return with amazing stories and new technology, sometimes they return as lumps of molten metal, or don’t return at all.” (http://momentumbooks.com.au/blog/ten-science-fiction-books-that-would-make-great-tv-series/).

1This follows the news that, back in February, FreemantleMedia acquired the film & television rights to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.  This one would be much trickier to adapt but, like Gateway, has enormous potential in the right hands – and with the right creative vision.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 4.26.06 PMAlso this morning, I received this link: http://www.gateworld.net/news/2014/03/stargates-legacy-a-video-introduction/ to an article and first instalment of a Gateworld column by longtime Stargate fan Adam Barnard.  In it, he discusses what the franchise has meant to him and his plans to spotlight three personally meaningful episodes from each of the Stargate shows: SG-1, Atlantis, and Universe.  According to Adam: “ I will examine three episodes from each of the three Stargate series — SG-1Atlantis, and Universe — that I found to be specifically noteworthy. Not because they were the most entertaining or flashiest, but because they were unique, thought provoking, inspiring, or communicative of a theme or idea that resonated with me.” Interesting, no?  So, which three episodes of each series left a lasting impression on you?  How has Stargate influenced your lives?  Head on over to Gateworld and weigh in with your thoughts…

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Speaking of Gateworld, I’ve received oodles of emails (I do like the sound of that. Say it.  “Oodles of emails”!) directing me to this story on Gateworld: BOOM! Unfilmed Stargate: Extinction Movie Script May Be A Comic Series

Alas, nothing much for me to say here outside of: 1. Sounds like a terrific idea, 2. BOOM! Studios produces awesome titles, 3. Ultimately, the decision or whether Stargate continues to live on as the television franchise we all love, or is rebooted for the big screen, is MGM’s to make.

Finally, recent releases, and upcoming releases, from some of the authors who have kindly taken the time to come chat with us in the past:

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The Compleat Crow by Brian Lumley 

To many thousands of readers world-wide Titus Crow is the psychic sleuth–the cosmic voyager and investigator–of Brian Lumley’s Cthulhu Mythos novels, from The Burrowers Beneath to Elysia.  But before The Burrowers and Crow’s Transition, his exploits were chronicled in a series of short stories and novellas uncollected in the USA except in limited editions. Now these stories can be told again. From Inception which tells of Crow’s origins, to The Black Recalled, a tale of vengeance from beyond the grave, here in one volume, from the best-selling author of the epic Necroscope series, is The Complete Crow.

The author visited us to discuss his novel, NecroscopeNovember 16, 2008: Author Brian Lumley Answers Your Questions

1The End is Nigh edited by John Joseph Adams

Edited by acclaimed anthologist John Joseph Adams and bestselling author Hugh Howey, THE APOCALYPSE TRIPTYCH is a series of three anthologies of apocalyptic fiction. THE END IS NIGH focuses on life before the apocalypse. THE END IS NOW turns its attention to life during the apocalypse. And THE END HAS COME focuses on life after the apocalypse. 

Visited us to discuss The Living Dead zombie anthology: February 5, 2009: Editor J.J. Adams Answers Your Questions

1The Time Traveler’s Almanac edited by Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer – Available March 18th

The Time Traveler’s Almanac is the largest and most definitive collection of time travel stories ever assembled. Gathered into one volume by intrepid chrononauts and world-renowned anthologists Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, this book compiles more than a century’s worth of literary travels into the past and the future that will serve to reacquaint readers with beloved classics of the time travel genre and introduce them to thrilling contemporary innovations.

Author Jeff VanderMeer visited with us to discuss his novel City of Saints and MadmenJanuary 29, 2009: Author Jeff Vandermeer Sweeps In – Like A Mini-Hurricane!

He also has this novel out:

1Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.  Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.

Which happens to be our April Book of the Month Club pick (as if you didn’t know!).

1Working God’s Mischief (Instrumentalities of the Night) By Glen Cook

Arnhand, Castauriga, and Navaya lost their kings. The Grail Empire lost its empress. The Church lost its Patriarch, though he lives on as a fugitive. The Night lost Kharoulke the Windwalker, an emperor amongst the most primal and terrible gods. The Night goes on, in dread.  The world goes on, in dread.  The ice builds and slides southward. 

New kings come. A new empress will rule. Another rump polishes the Patriarchal Throne.   But there is something new under the sun. The oldest and fiercest of the Instrumentalities has been destroyed–by a mortal. There is no new Windwalker, nor will there ever be.

The world, battered by savage change, limps toward its destiny. And the ice is coming. 

Author Glen Cook visited with us to discuss his novel The Black CompanyOctober 7, 2008: Author Glen Cook Answers Your Questions

 1Labyrinth of Stars (A Hunter Kiss novel) by Marjorie M. Liu

After the Aetar nearly kill Maxine’s unborn child, and a betrayal within her own ranks leaves Maxine’s husband, Grant, poisoned and dying, Maxine is forced to attack a race of beings that possesses almost unlimited power. Doing so will require she make a deal with the devil—the devil that lives inside her—risking both her sanity and her soul as she slowly transforms into something more than human.
 
But even that might not be enough to save Grant, because the very thing that Maxine is becoming is destined to destroy the world.

Author Marjorie M. Liu visited with us to discuss her novel The Iron HuntJanuary 17, 2011: The Iron Hunt, by Marjorie M. Liu

1Her Husband’s Hands and Other Stories by Adam-Troy Castro

A utopia where the most privileged get to do whatever they want to do with their lives, indulging their slightest whims via the bodies whose wombs they occupy; a soldier’s wife tries to love a husband who is little more than backup memory; a society in which the citizens all make merry for nine remarkable days, and on the tenth get a taste of hell; the last ragged survivors of an expedition to a savage backwater world hunt down an infamous war criminal; a divorcing couple confront their myriad troubles to gain resolution, reason, respect – but not without sacrifice. Introducing these stories (and more) from Adam-Troy Castro, whose short fiction has been nominated for two Hugos, three Stokers, and eight Nebulas.

Author Adam Troy-Castro visited with us to discuss his novel Emissaries from the DeadNovember 15, 2009: Author Adam-Troy Castro Answers Your Questions!

1Like a Mighty Army by David Weber

For centuries, the world of Safehold, last redoubt of the human race, lay under the unchallenged rule of the Church of God Awaiting. The Church permitted nothing new—no new inventions, no new understandings of the world.  What no one knew was that the Church was an elaborate fraud—a high-tech system established by a rebel faction of Safehold’s founders, meant to keep humanity hidden from the powerful alien race that had destroyed old Earth.

Then awoke Merlyn Athrawes, cybernetic avatar of a warrior a thousand years dead, felled in the war in which Earth was lost. Monk, warrior, counselor to princes and kings, Merlyn has one purpose: to restart the history of the too-long-hidden human race.

And now the fight is thoroughly underway. The island empire of Charis has declared its independence from the Church, and with Merlyn’s help has vaulted forward into a new age of steam-powered efficiency. Fending off the wounded Church, Charis has drawn more and more of the countries of Safehold to the cause of independence and self-determination. But at a heavy cost in bloodshed and loss—a cost felt by nobody more keenly that Merlyn Athrawes.

The wounded Church is regrouping. Its armies and resources are vast. The fight for humanity’s future isn’t over, and won’t be over soon…

Author David Weber visited with us to discuss his novel On Basilisk StationJanuary 17, 2009: Author David Weber Answers Yours Questions

If there’s anyone I’ve missed, let me know!

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Here are the nominees:

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THE MEMORY OF SKY (Robert Reed) Paperback, 624 pages.

Diamond is an odd little boy, a seemingly fragile child—who proves to be anything but. An epic story begins when he steps into the world his parents have so carefully kept him from, a world where gigantic trees each house thousands of humans and another human species, the papio, rule its far edges. Does Diamond hold the promise to remake one species and, perhaps, change all of the Creation?

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THE INTERESTINGS (Meg Wolitzer) Paperback, 400 pages.

The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.

The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.

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THE WEIRDNESS (Jeremy P. Bushnell) Paperback, 288 pages.

What do you do when you wake up hung over and late for work only to find a stranger on your couch? And what if that stranger turns out to be an Adversarial Manifestation who has already brewed you a fresh cup of fair-trade coffee? If you’re Billy Ridgeway, you take the coffee.
Lucifer explains that Billy must retrieve the Neko of Infinite Equilibrium, a cat-shaped statue with magical powers, before the most powerful warlock in the eastern United States can use it to burn the world to a cinder. In exchange, Billy’s novel will be published for a five-figure advance.
Traffic may be in the way of Billy’s getaway car, he may lose his job at the Greek deli, his girlfriend may break up with him, and it’s likely he’ll have to battle his greatest literary rival with his fists… but one way or another, he is determined to become a published author and save the universe.

Along the way, Billy learns about courage, friendship, and love, while considering some important questions: Why do people have pets? Who would store seafood in a warehouse in Chelsea? And where do those bananas in bodegas come from, anyway?

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THE RICH AND THE DEAD (Liv Spector) Paperback, 320 pages.

Welcome to Star Island, where Miami’s wealthiest residents lead private lives behind the tall gates of their sprawling mansions. It’s a blissful escape from the hot and dirty city—or it was, until New Year’s Day 2015, when twelve of the most powerful people in the world were found murdered in the basement of a Star Island mansion.

The massacre shocked the nation and destroyed the life of investigator Lila Day. Her hunt for the Star Island killer consumed her. But the case went unsolved, resulting in her dismissal from the Miami PD.

Now, three years later, life hands Lila an unexpected second chance: reclusive billionaire Teddy Hawkins approaches Lila and asks her to solve the case. But how do you investigate a crime when all the leads have long ago gone cold? The answer, Teddy tells her, is to solve the case before it happens. He’s going to send Lila back in time.

With nothing left to lose, an incredulous Lila travels back to 2014, determined to find the Star Island killer once and for all. But as she goes undercover among the members of Miami’s high society, she finds herself caring for—and falling for—people who are destined to die that fateful night. Now she must either say good-bye or risk altering the future forever.

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BLACK MOON (Kenneth Calhoun) Paperback, 290 pages.

Insomnia has claimed everyone Biggs knows.  Even his beloved wife, Carolyn, has succumbed to the telltale red-rimmed eyes, slurred speech and cloudy mind before disappearing into the quickly collapsing world.  Yet Biggs can still sleep, and dream, so he sets out to find her.

He ventures out into a world ransacked by mass confusion and desperation, where he meets others struggling against the tide of sleeplessness.  Chase and his buddy Jordan are devising a scheme to live off their drug-store lootings; Lila is a high school student wandering the streets in an owl mask, no longer safe with her insomniac parents; Felicia abandons the sanctuary of a sleep research center to try to protect her family and perhaps reunite with Chase, an ex-boyfriend.  All around, sleep has become an infinitely precious commodity. Money can’t buy it, no drug can touch it, and there are those who would kill to have it. However, Biggs persists in his quest for Carolyn, finding a resolve and inner strength that he never knew he had.

Cast your vote!  The poll closes next Saturday.

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This morning, on the drive back home from the farmers market, the conversation turned to eyes.  According to Akemi, one of the instructors at her English language school: “Has eyes like Husky!”.  Clearly, them’s some lovely eyes.  But, apparently, they don’t hold a candle to those of my writing partner.  “Munyu Munyu’s eyes [her nickname for Paul] have more power.”  Yeah, he gets that a lot.  Akemi likes his eyes.  He wins the male category.  When it comes to the female category, Robert Cooper’s wife, Hillary, is the big winner: “She has beautiful eyes.  Like flowers inside!”  Like flowers!

In addition to her unique turns of phrase, Akemi has produced some equally inspired creations in the kitchen.  Check out these Stargate cookies:

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Cacio e pepe…

1Her sage and brown butter sweet potato gnocchi…

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And this homemade eggnog for yours truly:

1Inspired by her inspired creations, check out my oven roasted egg-in-an-avocado-hole…

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And roasted chicken meatballs (hiding melted cheese centers)…

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Akemi flexes her culinary muscles…

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Continuing our Book of the Month Club discussion of Terms of Enlistment

Kathode writes: “And did anyone else get annoyed that we never learn Halley’s first name? WTF? She calls him Andrew, and he refers to her exclusively by her last name, even in his thoughts? That’s kinda fucked up, no?”

Answer: Wait, I thought Halley WAS her first name.  No?  Then that is mighty strange.  We made this a gag in the SG-1 episode 200 when Jack calls Sam “Carter” on their wedding day!

Katholde writes: “I only brought it up because Grayson himself felt the weight of what he’d done when he saw the floors above the grenade impact site pancake one on top of the other. He told us he felt bad that he’d been responsible for the deaths of so many innocent people. If he’d really felt entirely blameless in his actions, he’d have had no problem telling Halley about it via email.”

Answer: Well that’s what I found so strange.  He expresses that initial regret, clearly doesn’t want to discuss it in the email, but we delve no deeper into his conflicted feelings.  Sure, he feels justified for his actions, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t still feel conflicted or somewhat guilty.

Line Noise writes: “Re: Andrew being at the right place at the right time. I think that’s a limitation of first person narrative. Because you only have the point of view of one person in the story the author needs to contrive situations that gets that person to where the next part of the story goes. If the story was third person and following several characters then I think it would have been structured differently (Andrew staying on Earth and Halley encountering the aliens, for example).”

Answer: The need for something to happen is not an acceptable excuse for coincidental or contrived development.  There are other, albeit trickier, ways to get there.  They just require more thought and effort.

Line Noise writes: “Re: soul searching and self- torture. One of my least favourite book series that I read was The Seafort Saga by David Feintuch. The hero starts off as a Midshipman in the space Navy and through a series of events over many books makes lots of hard decisions that kills a lot of people in order to save many, many more. He is so consumed with guilt that I ended up hating him because of his self-pity.”

Answer: I’d argue there’s a fairly wide-ranging middle ground between feeling guiltless and consumed by self-pity

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