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Cross-Stitch #2: Avengers Logo

December 28, 2013 4 comments

I’ve been working most of the year on a very difficult cross-stitch pattern, which is why I haven’t posted a completed one since last December.  But I decided to make a few simpler ones as presents for various folks for the holidays.

One of my friends is a big fan of the Avengers (and comics in general), so when I saw this pattern available for free on The Happy Hooker’s blog, I knew I had to make it for her.

Avengers logo cross-stitched in black and framed in a wooden hoop.The thread I used was silky, so it ended up having a subtle, almost silk-screened effect.  I was really happy with the result!

Book Review: Succubus Heat by Richelle Mead (Series, #4) (Audiobook narrated by Elisabeth Rodgers)

December 25, 2013 4 comments

Read-headed pale woman standing seductively against a purplish-red backdrop.  The book title and author name are over her.Summary:
Georgina Kincaid, Seattle’s best succubus, has been a foul mood ever since her break-up with author mortal, Seth Mortensen.  Her demon boss, Jerome, has had enough of it and decides to outsource her to Vancouver for a job investigating a group of Canadian Satanists who are drawing the wrong type of attention to Hell.  But when Jerome is kidnapped and all the Seattle area hellions lose their powers at the same time as the Satanists do a stunt in Seattle, Georgina starts to wonder if the Satanist group are more than just an annoyance. Maybe they’re part of some bigger plot.  Oh, and also, she can now have sex with mortals without stealing any of their life force.  Very interesting indeed.

Review:
A tight, intricate plot that links back to the previous books, steamy sex scenes, and an ever-expanding cast of diversely entertaining characters make this entry in the Georgina Kincaid series a delight.

Georgina’s whinyness after her break-up with Seth could get on the reader’s nerves if it wasn’t for the fact that her own friends and colleagues eventually call her out on it.  Georgina is a well-rounded character with flaws, and being bad at break-ups is one of them.  This book sees her go through the stages of a break-up in an interesting way, from rebounding to whining to anger to finally trying to come to terms with it and remain friends with Seth.  The fact that Georgina then gets the ability to have sex with Seth without stealing his life force is a serious temptation.  How she and Seth respond might rub some readers the wrong way, but Mead presents it in a very I understand how this could happen way.  What happens makes sense within the context both of the story and of who Georgina and Seth are as characters.  How they go on to deal with the consequences is also realistic.  People don’t get away with things without consequences in Mead’s world, but they also aren’t perfect.  Mead strikes the balance well.

The plot is complex and yet is a different problem from the previous books.  Taking away powers and having the most powerful demon in Seattle gives the characters an interesting problem to address.  Additionally, having Georgina travel to close-by Canada provides some great scenery changes, as well as some good laughs at the expense of the inept Satanist group.

The sex scenes range from brief one-offs with random men for feeding to unfulfilling sex with her bad-hearted rebound boyfriend to guilt-inducing passionate love-making with Seth.  Some of the sex scenes are steamy, others a bit dull, and others heart-wrenching.  It’s a realistic variety, although the reader does have to wait a while for the most passionate scenes.

One thing that bothered me a bit is that Georgina gets slut-shamed some for one of her brief hook-up choices.  Yes, she makes the choice out of her heartbreak, but it’s her body her choice, and I don’t like that even a succubus, apparently, can get slut shamed.  I also have to admit that I had figured out the final plot twist long before it happened, so although the plot is a bit complex, the big bad is predictable.

The overarching plot of the whole series, however, continues to grow in unexpected ways.  I finished the book intrigued to continue on immediately to the next entry.

The audiobook narrator brings Georgina to life quite willingly, although she does pronounce a couple words, such as “panang,” rather oddly.  However, she brings a perfect flow to the story.  She also reads the sex scenes beautifully.

Overall, this is an engaging and rewarding entry in the series.  Fans will welcome the new plot, variety of sex scenes, and growth of the overarching series plot.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series:
Succubus Blues, review
Succubus On Top, review
Succubus Dreams, review

Counts For:
Finishing the Series Reading Challenge 2013 Badge

Series Review: The MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood

December 21, 2013 2 comments

Introduction:
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books.  It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole.  These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another.  Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.

Woman's body mirror imaged.Summary:
In the not-too-distant future, the heavily populated world is run by corporations instead of governments. The corps keep their workers and people in Compounds where they’ll be safe from the rampant crime in the rest of the world. Supposedly.  Those who can’t get jobs at a corp must live in the pleeblands, essentially ghettoes.  The pleeblands are haunted by painballers–people who fought their way out of prison in a gladiator-style competition and who are usually now addicted to drugs.

The world isn’t entirely humans and corps, though. There are also a whole slew of new GMO plants and animals, such as rakunks and pigoons.  Children can buy bracelets with live fish inside them as wearable pets.

Jimmy works in a corp with Crake.  Crake is a genius who the corp allows to create basically whatever he wants.  They share a love interest in Oryx, who works with them, caring for the creations Crake makes.  Toby lives in the pleeblands, working in fast food restaurants.  She is being pursued by a violent stalker, who she is sure will kill her one day.  Then she discovers God’s Gardeners, a vegetarian cult that lives on the rooftops of the city gardening, learning all the species of the planet, and preparing for the impending End Times.  And the End Times come in the form of a virus released by Crake to destroy humanity and make room for the new breed of humans he has created in his lab–Crakers.  Crakers are herbivorous, polyamorous, and turn blue when they are in heat.  The pandemic wipes out almost everyone, but not quite.  Jimmy is left to care for the Crakers, and Toby survives, reminiscing about how her life has gone.  And there are some that Crake gave an immunity drug to.  They gather together and attempt to survive, guide the Crakers, and ponder on how things turned out this way.

covertheyearofthefloodReview:
The future world Atwood creates in this series is inventive and engrossing.  Unfortunately, many of the characters and some of the plot fail to fully engage the reader.

The future world, prior to the virus outbreak that destroys most human life, is incredibly imaginative and simultaneously realistic.  It is by far the strength of the series.  Atwood takes real modern day science and intelligently extrapolates how that combined with our evolving culture would affect life on Earth.  The change from politicians and nations controlling the world to corporations doing so makes excellent sense.  The types of animals those corps create are also logical both within that context and from a scientific perspective.  For instance, the mo’hairs are sheep who have had their genetics modified so that their wool is instead human hair to makes wigs out of.  How the world works makes sense and is slightly frightening at the same time.  It’s a subtle dystopia.

The post-apocalyptic setting is slightly less creative.  Only a few humans survive and quickly leave the cities to live in the countryside.  Conveniently, at least half of the group of survivors are from the vegetarian cult, God’s Gardeners, who predicted the end times, and so are well prepared for living in the wild.  This setting is much staler compared to the pre-apocalypse dystopia.  It feels as if the characters are just sitting in a clearing in the woods chatting at each other.  This would not be a problem if the characters were rich enough to sustain the plot when the creative world has disappeared.  But most of them are not.

Atwood is known for writing richly imagined female characters in scifi settings.  Unfortunately, this series is dominated by men, with the women mostly relegated to secondary roles, with the exception of Toby.  Toby starts out strong, and the book focusing on her story (The Year of the Flood) is the strongest of the series as well.  But in the post-apocalyptic setting, Toby loses all of her vim and three-dimensionality.  She becomes a woman obsessed with a man and pining for things she can’t have.  The male characters who dominate the story lack anything compelling.  Crake reads precisely as a slightly creepy genius.  Jimmy is difficult to get to know since he spends most of the series narrating when he is out of his mind from the effects of the apocalypse.  And Zeb reads as a muscled thug who comes to his senses when it best suits him.  None of these male characters show real breadth or true humanity.  They could have carried the story well, although I would still have missed the strong female presence Atwood brings to scifi.  However, these men seem more like caricatures of types of men we meet throughout our lives.

An egg with a handprint on it sits in a nest. The title of the book and the author's name are in gold near it.The plot is clearly meant to show us how the world could be destroyed and also how new life begins, complete with religious mythology.  Some of the plot twists that go with this core of the plot work and others don’t.  For the world destroying, the plot approaches it in two ways.  There’s telling how the world ends from an outsider, underprivileged perspective of a woman who happens to survive.  This aspect of the plot had enough twists and differences, such as Toby’s involvement in the God’s Gardeners cult, that it maintained interest.  The plot also tells how the world ends from the perspective of a man caught in a hopeless hetero love triangle with a kind woman and an evil genius.  This common trope takes no different plot twists or turns.  It is entirely predictable and dull.  A bit of a flop.  The twists in the final third of the story, how the world begins and the last of the prior world fades out with a murmur, does nothing truly daring.  Toby’s romance ends essentially as expected.  Loose ends are tied up.  And the Crakers take over with a new mythology given to them by a flawed human being.  I’m sure this is meant to say something radical, and maybe someday to someone it will, but to the reader who has already read many thinly veiled take-downs of religion and where it comes from in scifi, it was rather ho-hum and long-winded.  Particularly when compared to the much shorter and more richly written work by Atwood taking a similar anti-religion stance: The Handmaid’s Tale.

Overall, this is a series with two-thirds of the plot set in a richly imagined and intelligently extrapolated subtle dystopia future.  The basic plot of dystopia to apocalypse to post-apocalypse is told slightly non-linearally with some interesting poetic-style writing inserted in-between chapters.  Most of the characters feel flat against the rich backdrop, although one female character at first stands out then slowly fades.  Recommended to readers interested in a realistic near future dystopia who don’t mind a rather typical plot and two-dimensional characters will enjoy most of the series, although they may enjoy the first two books more than the third.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap, library, and Audible

Books in Series:
Oryx and Crake, review, 3 stars
The Year of the Flood, review, 4 stars
MaddAddam, review, 3 stars

Book Review: A Case of Conscience by James Blish (Series, #4)

December 17, 2013 1 comment

A bald man's head bowed in prayer.Summary:
A new inhabited planet, Lithia, has been discovered, and an exploratory Earth crew of four is sent to determine how Earth will respond to the planet.  Ruiz-Sanchez is a scientist and a member of this crew, but he’s also a Jesuit priest.  Although he admires and respects the reptilian-humanoid inhabitants of Lithia, he soon decides that the socialist, perfectly co-existing society must be an illusion of Satan, so he advises against maintaining ties with the planet.  The vote of the crew is a tie, however, so the UN must ultimately decide the fate.  While they are awaiting the decision, Ruiz-Sanchez and the others must raise and guardian a Lithian child who is sent as a present to Earth.  Soon, Ruiz-Sanchez starts having fears about just who the child might be.

Review:
This is the third book from the collection of 1950s American scifi classics from Netgalley, which I will review as a whole at a future date.  I was surprised that a book that is fourth in its series was included in the collection.  Upon investigation, I discovered that this series isn’t surrounding a certain set of events or characters but instead is multiple books around a similar theme.  The theme for the series is each book deals with some aspect of the price of knowledge.  So each book works as a standalone as well.  There is also some disagreement as to precisely what book is what number in the series.  I have chosen to use the number used by GoodReads.  I had previously read a scifi book with a Jesuit priest scientist visiting a newly found planet (The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, review) and loved it, so I was excited to see a similar idea executed differently.  Unfortunately, I found that this book lacked the nuance and subtlety that made The Sparrow such a lovely read.

Ruiz-Sanchez is a rather two-dimensional character who quickly turns into a bumbling priest trope.  Very little attention is paid to his credentials as a scientist within the story, so instead of coming to know Ruiz-Sanchez the scientist, the man, and the priest, we only know him in his priest role.  This prevents a connection or even a basic understanding of his rather bizarre concerns.  Whereas in The Sparrow, the priest wonders how a new planet can be covered by salvation and has a meaningful crisis of faith, in A Case of Conscience, the priest is just busy seeing demons and Satan and the Anti-Christ everywhere in such a bizarre, unbelievable manner that he may as well be holding an end of the world sign on a street corner.  It’s almost impossible to connect with him on this level unless the reader also has a tendency to see illusions of Satan and the end of the world everywhere they look.

The plot is fascinating, although it does jump around a lot.  Essentially there’s the part on Lithia, which primarily consists of discourse between the scientists.  Then there’s the development of the Lithian child into an adult who doesn’t fit anywhere, since he lacked the social training on Lithia and also is a reptilian humanoid on planet Earth.  He then starts to incite rebellion among the youth.  Meanwhile, Ruiz-Sanchez is told by the Pope that he committed an act of heresy and he must re-win favor by stopping the Anti-Christ aka the Lithian on Earth.  All of the settings are fascinating, and the plot is certainly fast-paced.  However, the plot is so far-fetched that it is difficult to properly suspend disbelief for it.

The settings are the strength of the book.  Lithia is well-imagined, with uniqueness from Earth in everything from technology to how the Lithians handle child-rearing.  The tech involves trees since they lack minerals, and the child-rearing is non-existent.  The Lithians are simply birthed then allowed to develop on the planet, similar to turtles on Earth.  Earth’s setting is interestingly imagined as well.  The fear of nuclear weapons has driven humans to live underground for generations with only the elite living above ground, and the UN working hard to keep it that way.   It’s a fun mix of alternate alien civilization and dystopia.

Essentially, the book has interesting world-building and what could be a promising plot that get derailed by two-dimensional characters and too many bizarre plot-twists and occurrences.  It’s certainly an interesting read, particularly if you are interested in immersing yourself in this odd world Blish has created.  However, readers should not expect to connect with the characters on an emotional level and should be prepared for a bizarre plot.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Previous Books in Series:
Doctor Mirabilis
Black Easter
The Day After Judgement
The Devil’s Day (books 2 and 3 published as one book)

Publication Announcement: Short Story in Dark Fire Fiction

December 12, 2013 Leave a comment

Hello my lovely readers!

Just a quick post to let you know that my dark fantasy short story “Freedom Freerunner” published today in Dark Fire Fiction.  They’re a rolling publication, so there’s no issue or volume numbers.  My story will be on the front page for at least a month.

Here’s the blurb:

The Dark Ones have taken over the city. Come along as a band of freerunners battle them with parkour skills and swords.

Also be sure to click through to Dark Fire Fiction‘s homepage to see the illustration they gave my short story!

To anyone wondering due to the Dark Ones mention, yes this is Lovecraftverse and yes there are tentacles. 🙂

I’ve added the links and information to my Publications page, so you can easily find it again later.

I do hope you all will check it out!

Book Review: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood (Series, #3) (Audiobook narrated by Bernadette Dunne, Bob Walter, and Robbie Daymond)

December 11, 2013 3 comments

An egg with a handprint on it sits in a nest.  The title of the book and the author's name are in gold near it.Summary:
The world has been mostly wiped out by a virus released by Crake, who thinks he’s helping save the earth with a cleansing flood.  The survivors who are left are some of the scientists who worked with him, some people who were following a crunchy granola earth-centric cult known as God’s Gardeners, and Painballers–dangerous drug addicts who survived a gladiator-style fighting ring.  There’s also the Crakers.  Genetically engineered by Crake and the scientists, they’re a new version of humans who are herbivorous and naturally poly.  They also are only attracted to sex when the women are in heat and visibly blue, thus preventing sexual violence amongst themselves.  The God’s Gardeners, scientists, and Crakers comes together to try to survive in this world and defend themselves from the painballers.  Toby, a God’s Gardener, ends up leading and educating the Crakers.  She also rediscovers Zeb, the God’s Gardener leader’s brother who she previously had a crush on.  Zeb tells her the story of how his brother, Adam, came to be mad.

Review:
I was under the impression that this was supposed to be a set of two companion novels, not a trilogy.  So when this book was released, I was surprised and excited.  The prior two books left the reader hanging, not knowing what really happened after the flood, and I was eager to find out what did happen.  I wish this book had lived up to the creativity and excitement of the second one, The Year of the Flood.

At first it appears the sole narrator of the book will be Toby, the woman from The Year of the Flood who flees to God’s Gardeners to escape her dangerous stalker and slowly grows in strength.  Slowly, though, she begins to share narration with Zeb, who tells her his and Adam’s background stories.  Interspersed in this is Toby’s evening bedtime stories to the Crakers, who insist upon this and treat it with respect and ritual.  Eventually, one of the Crakers tells some of the evening stories.  The format isn’t bad, although it’s odd that when Zeb is telling his story to Toby, she’s talking about him telling the story to her in the third person.  So the book will say “Zeb remembered” or “Zeb thought,” instead of just having Zeb take over the narration of the story.  It felt especially odd since the audiobook had the narrator change from the female voice of Toby to the male voice of Zeb who proceeded to refer to himself in the third person.  Similarly, although the bedtime stories to the Crakers were well-written, easily elucidating a bedtime story and letting the reader imagine the questions and comments from the Crakers that we don’t actually hear, a lot of the stories didn’t feel as if they added much to the book.  They felt a bit like page-fillers.  I get it that Atwood is trying to show where religion comes from (blind trust in a fallible person), but it felt a bit heavy-handed and unnecessary to me.

Toby’s character progression from a strong, creative, firecracker of a woman to someone who second-guesses herself, bemoans her inability to properly defend people, and moons after a man obsessively was rather jarring and disappointing.  I’m all for Toby having a love life, and I think her having one as an older woman is something we don’t see enough in literature.  But I don’t feel like her excessive pining and worrying over it was totally within character.  Similarly, she seems to lose all ability to trust in herself and her capability in defending herself and others in bizarre situations.  The one thing that did feel within her character was her taking the Crakers under her wing.  These flaws in the characterization of Toby are kind of a big deal since she’s the only female narrator out of three narrators, and since she was such an amazing main character in The Year of the Flood.  She deserves to have more of the story and more presence of personality than she gets.

That said, Zeb’s backstory is interesting and lends a lot of light to some of the mysteries from the previous two books.  In some ways they were the best parts of the book, since we get to revisit the incredible pre-flood world Atwood created.

In comparison, the post-flood world is dull and lacks creativity.  It’s essentially a bunch of survivors living in a jungle with some genetically engineered humans.  The only extra or special thing added into this basic formula is the Crakers, and they are not that engaging or interesting.  They’re mostly just a little creepy and off-putting.

The main conflict of the plot is rather predictable, although the ending is a bit of a surprise.  The end of Toby’s story moved me the most, and that’s not a surprise since she is by far my favorite character in the series.  The end of the book makes it clear that this is really more about the Crakers and the basis of their society, which I think explains my lukewarm feelings about the book.

The audiobook narrators all did a lovely job emoting the various characters they played.  The choice of having a male narrator speak for Zeb’s story even though Zeb isn’t actually speaking was a bit odd, though.

Overall, those who enjoyed The Year of the Flood the most of the first two books will be a bit disappointed in Toby’s characterization and probably find the post-flood world a bit dull, although they will still enjoy seeing the end of Toby’s story.  Those who preferred Oryx and Crake and have a liking of or interest in the Crakers will likely enjoy this finale to the series the most.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series:
Oryx and Crake, review
The Year of the Flood, review

Book Review: The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

December 6, 2013 4 comments

Man and a redheaded woman standing in close proximity. The man has red marks on his face.Summary:
In the future, men have discovered the ability to jaunte–to teleport from one location to the other.  The only catch is that you can only teleport to a place you have previously been.  This means that jauntes around the world are the domain of the wealthy who can make the journey first.  In this future of teleportation and telepaths, the rich have become a hipster elite, showing off their wealth by using outmoded and and outdated methods of transportation like cars and trains.

Foyle is one of the working poor. A hand on a spaceship that has an accident, leaving him in a closet grasping to the last straws of oxygen.  Another spaceship passes him by, after clearly seeing his flare, and he vows vengeance upon them if he ever escapes alive.  Which he does.  What follows is a tangle of intrigue across time and space.

Review:
I got this in a collection of 1950s American scifi classics from Netgalley (which I will review as a whole at a future date).  I was surprised to discover that I already had this particular book on my wishlist tagged simply as a scifi classic.  So I went in with an enthusiasm that was definitely well-met.  This book is worth reading for the world-building alone, even if the main plot and point of the novel doesn’t particularly speak to you.

The world Bester built for this book is complex and unique.  Many authors would have left the future building at the jaunting alone.  These people can teleport (and some are telepaths), what more is needed?  But Bester takes it out a step further.  Giving jaunting a limitation allows him to further expand upon how the change impacts people and culture differently based upon their wealth.  On the one hand, since jaunting is only possible if you’ve physically been to the place you want to go, it becomes a bastion of the elite who can afford to travel there first.

They would memorize jaunte stages in widening circles, limited as much by income as ability; for one thing was certain: you had to actually see a place to memorize it, which meant you first had to pay for the transportation to get you there. Even 3D photographs would not do the trick. The Grand Tour had taken on a new significance for the rich. (loc 2465)

On the other hand, the wealthy will show off that they don’t need to jaunte because they can afford outmoded means of transportation like cars and trains.

As men climbed the social ladder, they displayed their position by their refusal to jaunte. (loc 2595)

Jaunting impacts the world further with the wealthy building labyrinths so that people can’t easily jaunt within their estate and home (since you can’t jaunt someplace you can’t see).  In contrast, the working poor jaunte everywhere they possibly can to save their precious time and energy.  On top of all of this, there’s space travel and space colonization, complete with slavery to mine the outer planets.  But even the working poor who aren’t officially slaves are still essentially slaves to the wealthy elite.  It’s a nightmare of a future where a few big corporations, and thus a few families, own the majority of the wealth, power, and luxury, and are unafraid to stomp on the poor to get ever more.

It makes sense that a good plot for this world would be a poor working man out to get vengeance on the corporation that left him to die in space.  But Foyle isn’t a good guy himself.  At first, none of his quest for vengeance is noble or is about anything other than himself.  Plus, Foyle is an animal of a man.  The book clearly believes that this animal state is the fault of the corrupt imbalance of power in the world.  The wealthy elite have made many of the working poor into nothing more than scrabbling animals who will take what they can get violently when they can and live based on the more baser urges.  As Foyle gradually climbs the social ladder in his espionage, he slowly learns what it is to be human and develops a conscience.  I’m not a fan of this idea that the poor are forced into an animal-like state by the elite.  Living without luxury doesn’t make a person animal-like.  A lack of moral education contributes more than anything, and that can occur at any level of wealth.  Thus, although I appreciate the fact that this vengeance plot allows for us to see the entire world from the bottom up, I’m not a fan of how Foyle’s growth and change is presented.

Some readers may be bothered by the fact that Foyle early in the book rapes someone and then later earns redemption, including from the woman he raped.  The rape is described as part of his animal state, and he has now risen above it.  When the rape occurs in the book, it is off-screen and so subtle that I honestly missed it until later in the book when someone calls Foyle a rapist.  I appreciate that Bester does not depict the actual rape, as that would have prevented my enjoyment of the book.  I don’t like the idea of rape being something only done by someone in an “animal state” or the idea that it’s something a person can ever redeem themselves from.  I don’t think that’s the case at all.  However, this is a very minor plot point in an extremely long book.  Most of my issues with it are tied into my issues with the plot overall.  I was able to just roll my eyes and tell the characters that they are wrong.  It’s not that hard to do when most of them are presented as evil or anti-heroes to begin with.  But this plot point might bother some readers more than others.

Overall, the world building is so excellent and gets so much attention from Bester that it overshadows the more average vengeance plot with iffy morals.  Readers who enjoy immersing themselves in various possible futures will revel in the uniqueness and richness of the future presented here.  Those who believe firmly in punishment for crime as opposed to redemption may not be able to get past the plot to enjoy the setting.  Recommended to scifi fans interested in a unique future setting.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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