Archive for the Book Reviews Category

Steampunk Holmes: Legacy of the Nautilus, by P.C. Martin (Enhanced eBook for iPad)

Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Mystery & Detective, Noble Beast, Steampunk with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

SteamHolmes1Title: Steampunk Holmes: Legacy of the Nautilus, Enhanced eBook Application for iPad

Author: P.C. Martin

Publisher: Noble Beast, 2013*

Length: 8 Chapters*

Price: $14.99

Available on iTunes

 

Beloved consulting detective Sherlock Holmes has gone steam in Steampunk Holmes: Legacy of the Nautilus. In this play between two classic tales, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Bruce-Partington Plans and Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, author P.C. Martin takes all the fun and innovation of steampunk, and puts it at the disposal of Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Watson, and … in the interest of not spoiling the story, we’ll just say others.

P.C. Martin does a wonderful job of stylistically keeping with the feel and flow of the Sherlock Holmes stories we’ve come to know and love. Her characters are generally true to their historical personality traits, with a little give and take here and there, as dictated by modern convention and the fact that she has, delightfully, made Mycroft Holmes ‘sister Mycroft’ rather than ‘brother Mycroft.’ Sister Mycroft is considerably slimmer than brother Mycroft, so she is somewhat more active, perhaps in part to explain away what would otherwise be a remarkable metabolism, but sister Mycroft is no more pleased at disturbances in her preferred routine than brother Mycroft has ever been. Given Doyle’s original description of Mycroft Holmes** in The Bruce-Partington Plans, it would seem the author’s compromise (when choosing between keeping true and pleasing current fans, or changing and perhaps getting angry letters accusing her of being indelicate, from those who had never read the original stories) was very well done.

Steampunk Holmes will be a series extending beyond Legacy of the Nautilus. The series as a whole will bring in other classic tales besides that of Jules Verne to mash up with those of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Legacy of the Nautilus is only the beginning; but oh, what a beginning. The enhanced eBook app for iPad was funded on Kickstarter in May of 2012. The Kickstarter page lists future mash-up possibilities including “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, H.G. Wells’ Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man,” and more. Follow @SteamHolmes on Twitter for updates.

With art by Daniel Cortes, music by Abney Park, and voice acting by Gerald Price, Shash Hira, and Nicky Barber, the enhanced eBook app for iPad is exquisitely rendered in every way. Illustrations include pencil sketches and paintings throughout the book. There are subtle hyperlinks in the text and a toolbar overhead which the reader can also use to view many of the illustrations at any time they choose. When the illustrations are opened for closer examination, they become even more interactive, as the portraits blink their eyes or blow smoke. Diagrams for mechanicals are also included, right down to that of our dear Doctor Watson’s arm. Further examination of these diagrams, by tapping each part of the diagram, show working parts, and burst-views slide together to show how everything fits one piece into the next.

Readers can choose, by virtue of a toggle, whether or not to have musical accompaniment, as well as whether or not they’d like to have the narrative read aloud to them. There is also an option to have the page turn automatically when the narrative is read aloud, so the reader may either read along and explore the interactive nature of the visuals, or simply listen, as with an audiobook.

The page-turn itself, though, with this app, is a bit of an experience. This is no ordinary eBook in that respect, and those particular people, like myself, who hold a strong preference for paper books over eBooks will be especially appreciative of the attention to detail given here. Playing at the edge of the page, the app acts more like paper than anything I’ve ever seen: fluid, rolling, and realistic. As you can probably tell, once I noted the difference, I got distracted playing with it for far longer than I’m willing to admit.

The only drawback to the app that I noted was that although text could be copied or defined, there is no way (currently) to highlight or underline favorite passages, nor is there any way to take notes within the app, as there is in most eBooks.

All in all, the Steampunk Holmes: Legacy of the Nautilus enhanced eBook app for iPad is a fascinating and fun experience that is truly interactive. Noble Beast has brought eBooks to an entirely new level.

 

 

*Other versions of this work were made available in 2012, including print and eBooks which have only a few illustrations. These versions contain 144 pages. An audiobook version is also available.

**”A moment later the tall and portly form of Mycroft Holmes was ushered into the room. Heavily built and massive, there was a suggestion of uncouth physical inertia in the figure, but above this unwieldy frame there was perched a head so masterful in its brow, so alert in its steel-grey, deep-set eyes, so firm in its lips, and so subtle in its play of expression, that after the first glance one forgot the gross body and remembered only the dominant mind.”

-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Bruce-Partington Plans

Book Review: The Deaths of Tao, by Wesley Chu

Posted in Angry Robot Army, Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fiction, Spy, Thriller, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

TheDeathsOfTao-144dpiTitle: The Deaths of Tao (Tao #2)

Author: Wesley Chu

Publisher: Angry Robot, 2013

Length: 464 pages

Price: $7.99 US/ $8.99 CA

ISBN: 978-0-85766-332-0

An alien race known as the Quasing have been inhabiting the earth since their ship crashed here long before the dawn of humankind. They have survived by inhabiting the bodies of native forms of life, from dinosaurs, to sharks, to humans. Throughout prehistory, the goal of the Quasing has always been to find a way to return to their home planet, but over time, disagreements arose as to how best to go about achieving this goal, and two factions were formed. The Genjix are completely willing to sacrifice humankind to return home. The Prophus have charged themselves with the dual task of keeping that from happening, and finding a better way.

The Deaths of Tao is the second book in the Tao series. A number of years have passed since the end of The Lives of Tao. Roen Tan and his Quasing, Tao, have been in hiding, playing from the sidelines for years after uncovering a global conspiracy so brazen not even senior Prophus officers want to believe it. But now, there’s proof, and it’s going to take some bold moves to save the human race.

Wesley Chu is an Associate Vice President at a bank by day, and a husband/writer/dog owner/Kung Fu master/gymnast/actor/gamer/former stunt man by night.  He is a contributor to the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland.

As the second book in the Tao series, The Deaths of Tao is also Chu’s sophomore novel. The second book always comes with a bit of fear surrounding the tale of sophomore slump, both on the part of the reader and the part of the author. Go back and read that bit of bio in the previous paragraph. Back? Okay. Then believe me when I tell you, Chu stared the possibility of a slump in the face, summoned his inner stunt man, then Kung Fu mastered it to a bloody pulp on the mat.

Whereas The Lives of Tao is often referred to as a humorous sci-fi spy novel, The Deaths of Tao is so much more. The Deaths of Tao is a solid sci-fi spy thriller, this time with more political maneuvering and human drama. Characters and situations show greater depth in this book, and the humor has taken on a subtler, somewhat more realistic tone. That doesn’t mean Chu has thrown out the ridiculous scenarios Roen and Tao find themselves in or talking about, by any means – after all, life is often silly and ridiculous – but the story has taken a slight turn away from the parody it might have been, in favor of exploring the stories of the people populating it to a greater degree. Here is where the author took one of his largest gambles. Much of what has made The Lives of Tao so successful is how ridiculously funny it is. Adding so much real tension and human drama (but, you know … with aliens) in a series known for its comedic value. But Chu does it, and he does it well.

The Deaths of Tao is, simply put, such a fun read. Jam-packed with espionage and intrigue, intense action and fighting scenes punctuated by humor at just the right moments, and characters that are well worth becoming emotionally invested in, it never seems to falter in pace or flow. Joy, hope, humor, fear, sadness, are all expertly conveyed, sometimes even within a single paragraph.

And the things many readers love most of all? Huge plot twists – some you’ll see, some you may not, all perfect for the story. And one hell of a cliffhanger ending…

Book Review: Glitter & Mayhem, by John Klima, Lynne M. Thomas, & Michael Damian Thomas, ed.

Posted in Apex Book Company, Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Occult & Supernatural, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

glittermayhemTitle: Glitter & Mayhem

Author: John Klima, Lynne M. Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, ed.

Publisher: Apex Book Company, 2013

Length: 346 pages

Price: $16.95

ISBN: 978-1-937009-19-9

 

You may recall me mentioning the Kickstarter for Glitter & Mayhem some time ago. The book is now out and about in the world, finding its way to bookshelves and e-readers everywhere. If you do not remember me talking about the Kickstarter, or if you’re new to the site or just got here through a search engine, let me catch you up to speed.

Glitter & Mayhem is a speculative fiction anthology based on the “secret history of 20th Century nightlife/party culture,” and contributors were given the prompt, “Roller Derby,  nightclubs, glam aliens, (literal) party monsters, drugs, sex, glitter, debauchery, etc.” (quotes taken from the Kickstarter project page) And does it ever deliver.

In ‘Apex Jump,’ David J. Schwartz introduces us to Huggernaut, a jammer for the Douglas County Rollergirls. When Huggernaut and her team accept an invitation to an away bout in a place they’ve never heard of, they’re in for a few surprises. Schwartz delivers a story that is highly imaginative and gloriously fun. It is also sad at times, adding elements of realism and gravity. The story manages to tackle some important gender issues while being entertaining and compelling.

Kat Howard‘s contribution ‘With Her Hundred Miles to Hell’ tells the tale of a woman named Morain. You might think your workplace is Hell, but Morain, she works at the real deal. Every day, she goes to Hades, where people are willing to die a little bit to live the dreams she dreams. As always, Kat Howard‘s writing is strong, clear, poetic, vivid, and dreamlike. Rich red velvet and diamonds scattered across a black-mirror table. And as always, those words seem to fall so very short of describing her writing. Imagine, then, my surprise, when the narrative’s description of the allure of the nightclub describes exactly what it is I always wish I could say about the author’s own storytelling:

“That was the other reason to come to Hades. To live, temporarily, in a dream. Here, you could dream whatever you wanted. They were made for you. Little faceted jewels that you swallowed like Alice drinking and eating in Wonderland. And for that space of time, here in these walls, the dream was real. Tangible. Yours.”

-Kat Howard

Uncanny.

In ‘Such & Such Said to So & So,’ Maria Dahvana Headley strikes a hot, sultry tone in a wonderfully written story sure to tug at the heartstrings as she blows away the glitter and takes a look at what’s underneath. Jimmy’s a nice guy. Gloria’s a bad girl. He likes his Old Fashioneds.  She likes her Gin Martinis – neat. For awhile. Headley makes excellent use of fantastical imagery, and the sadder elements of the story are balanced by the author’s delightfully charming imagination.

Tim Pratt‘s ‘Revels in the Land of Ice’ is another worth a brief mention. Just a great story in every way: characters, setting, tone, pacing … everything fit together perfectly, making for a highly absorbing story that was fun to read.

And that’s really what Glitter & Mayhem is all about. From the very first pages, even Amber Benson‘s short introduction glitters and entices, luring readers in. From cover to cover, this anthology is loaded with sex, drugs, and rockin’ roller rinks. Glitter & Mayhem really is a party in a book, and I found myself continually surprised that it didn’t burp puffs of glitter at me every time I opened it like some trick party favor.

All of the stories were well-written and true to the general theme. There was roller derby and night clubs, as promised. There were aliens, ghosts, and more cryptids than you can shake a feather boa at. At the same time, there were stories of living, and of dying, and stories of love, and of friendship in the truest sense. While the most overt themes and tones are the fun of the party and club scenes, it never quite lets you forget the dark undercurrent waiting to suck you below the surface, where things are more mayhem than glitter. And that’s a good thing. Because as much as we might like to pretend some things are all glamour all the time, that’s when the real mayhem begins.

Book Review: About Time 7: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who, Series 1 & 2, 2005-2006, by Tat Wood

Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Mad Norwegian, Nonfiction with tags , , , , , on September 9, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

About-Time-7-Midpoint-204x300Title: About Time 7: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who Series 1 & 2 2005-2006

Author: Tat Wood

Publisher: Mad Norwegian Press, September 10, 2013

Length: 464 pages

Price: $34.95

ISBN: 978-193523415-9

 

About Time: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who is a series of books devoted to dissecting Doctor Who. The series began in 2004 with the very first seasons of the Doctor Who series, and is a work in progress that will presumably continue for the duration of the show. Although the books are also mentioned from time to time, the About Time series concentrates most heavily on the televised series and movies. This review focuses on the seventh volume, Series 1 & 2, aired in 2005 and 2006.

Tat Wood has worked on the About Time series since its inception, formerly as a co-author but currently as its sole author, although Dorothy Ail has made “contributions” as well. Wood has previously written for Doctor Who Magazine, and has been editor for fanzines Spectrox, Yak Butter Sandwich, and Spaceball Ricochet.

About Time 7 is an encyclopedic work containing an entry for each episode of Doctor Who Series 1 & 2, 2005-2006. Each entry delivers a wealth of information, including overviews, continuity factors, cast, monsters/aliens, setting notes, analysis, things that don’t make sense, episode reviews, essays on various related topics, and trivia, trivia, trivia.

Overviews are extremely brief, containing just enough information to remind the reader which episode is about to be discussed. Setting notes include historical and/or planetary information and the like, and analysis is packed full of notes and tidbits for new viewers and things of importance in the UK which US and other viewers may not catch the significance of. The sections on things that don’t make sense – often my favorite section – covers bad science, character amnesia, and plot problems. It is noted that every attempt has been made to ensure facts are accurate and trustworthy, however the continuity sections do admittedly include some speculation when necessary, although such instances are clearly marked by brackets. No stone is left unturned when it comes to picking episodes apart. Wood gives every episode an enormous amount of attention and space.

Wood goes into great detail on how the Russell T. Davies re-launch (in particular, episode 1: “Rose”) broke a lot of new ground, not just where Doctor Who is concerned, but for the BBC as well. From where it was made to how it was made, there are so many firsts I couldn’t begin to keep track, and the fact that so many are recorded here in one place is a bit dizzying. Readers can learn much about Doctor Who past and present, as well as about UK television history and cultural facts. Sure to be a delight to Anglophiles especially is the section on “English Lessons,” which explains words and phrases those of us outside the UK may not be familiar with, even going so far as to distinguish how chips and fries are not quite as similar as generalizations may lead us to believe. The author takes great pains to spell out a lot of things for those of us from outside the UK, but ironically starts off a number of things assuming all school children know this or that or the other thing, which is frustrating at times, because no, we did not all learn the same things at the same time. This leads to a slight feeling of condescension at times, but it is usually followed by whatever it is he assumes all school children know, so the information is supplied and anyone who didn’t, in fact, know it isn’t usually left to be lost or confused.

About Time 7 is an expertly written reference book which also manages to be both fascinating and highly entertaining, in turns. It is definitely a slower read, given its academic nature, but would make a worthwhile read for Whovians inclined to make their fandom an academic pursuit; hardcore fans will lap up the detail, while more casual fans get a crash-course in the new Whoverse. Each episode entry has within it one Who-related essay. Essays cover a range of topics, such as the influence real-world technological advances and changing human behaviors have on the show and its timeliness, as well as how those things tend to mess with continuity factors. Essays are referenced often in episode entries, so readers may find it helpful to read them first – reading each essay before the entry it is included in, or reading all essays before starting the entries at all, depending upon your current levels of Who knowledge and personal inclinations.

Perhaps About Time‘s greatest accomplishment is putting each episode in the political, cultural, and historical context in which it was written and aired. This brings  much more depth to each episode, highlighting meanings and significant facts that may have otherwise been lost on viewers, particularly those outside the UK or coming late to the show’s fandom. It also succeeds at making this reviewer want the first six books and all those that will follow, wondering what uncountable number of facts and tidbits I’ve been missing all this time. This book, too, I will need to re-read more studiously than reading for review in a timely manner allows – now, that’s high praise.

 

Book Review: Plow the Bones, by Douglas F. Warrick

Posted in Apex Book Company, Apex Magazine, Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Weird Fiction with tags , , , , , , , on August 9, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

198x300xplowthebones1.jpg.pagespeed.ic.8JaXv1f1y2Title: Plow the Bones

Author: Douglas F. Warrick

Publisher: Apex Book Company, 2013

Length: 228 pages

Price: $15.95

ISBN: 978-1-937009-15-1

 

Plow the Bones is a work of Weird Fiction by author Douglas F. Warrick. It is a collection of 14 stories, with an introduction by Bram Stoker Award Winner Gary A. Braunbeck. It is also the first book in the new’ Apex Voices‘ series, highlighting new or underappreciated writers with unique voices, and Warrick certainly qualifies.

Douglas Warrick is a teacher and (per his blog) a “reluctant occasional punk-rocker.” His short stories have been published in Daily Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, Pseudopod, and the anthologies Dark Faith and Dark Faith: Invocations.

It would be easy to tell readers the stories in this collection are about ventriloquist dummies, or girls with hot air balloons for heads, because on the surface, that is just what they are. But none of these stories are surface stories. This book, though cloaked in a dark whimsy, has at its center tales of life, of death, of the impermanent nature of things. Although each tale sets itself up as ‘just a little story to entertain for a moment,’ each and every one is filled with those things humankind most struggles with: life, love, faith, pain, loss, meaning, death.

In ‘Behindeye: A History,’ Warrick delivers a delightfully captivating treatise on the dangers of an overactive imagination.

‘Come to My Arms, My Beamish Boy’ tells the story of a man named Cotton Lee, whose memories are being leeched away by the horrors of Alzheimer’s Disease. The tangible fear and sense of loss in this story is likely to bring readers to tears.

‘Ballad of a Hot Air Balloon-Headed Girl’ is a beautifully crafted story about a young soldier and the girl he loved. The writing in this story wonderfully illustrates what fills each of them with wonder, with despair, with hope.

Plow the Bones had me caught up in terrible wonder from the very first pages. Stories of dark beauty and liquid chaos, stories that float dream-like from one thing to the next, populate every page. Warrick’s brilliant, vivid imagery is always perfectly in tune with the mesmerizingly surreal flow of the stories. Warrick has a rare voice, as its inclusion in the Apex Voices series would suggest. It contains a perfect balance of chastity and corruption, virtue and guilt, innocence and deviance.  His writing is strong and clear; his prose is poetic and moving, with an uncommon feeling of emotional purity that shines through even in scenes of horrible depravity.

Plow the Bones is a stellar debut. I can’t wait to read more by Douglas F. Warrick.

 

 

***Personal Note: I usually prefer the reviews I write to be of a certain minimum length. Unfortunately, sometimes, the best books are the most difficult to review. This is one of those instances. Please forgive the brevity, as I thought it best to stop before the temptation to “EEK!” and  “SQUEE!” and “You must read THIS story in particular” became too much to bear. See there? I tried so hard, and they got out anyway. I’m a terrible professional.

 

Book Review: Crux (Nexus #2), by Ramez Naam

Posted in Angry Robot Army, Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

Crux-144dpiTitle: Crux (Nexus #2)

Author: Ramez Naam

Publisher: Angry Robot, August 27, 2013

Length: 560 pages

Price: $14.99 US/ $16.99 CA

ISBN: 978-0-85766-297-2

The year is 2040. It’s been three months since the nanodrug Nexus 5 became open source, and the world has become a different place. Nexus has the power to link minds, increase learning ability, and to bring people together. It has the potential to help humankind achieve great things. It also has the potential for abuse, if in the hands of a select few. Under pressure from the governments of the United States and China, among others, Kaden Lane saw few other choices but to release the source code to the world at large, putting his faith in the basic goodness of most people.

“He’d seen incredible science done, published carefully on anonymous message boards. With Nexus 5 they were getting glimpses of paths to reversing Alzheimer’s and senile dementia, making incredible progress in connecting autistic children to neurotypical adults. They were suddenly moving forward again in deciphering memory and attention, in seeing ways to boost intelligence. This was a tool that would change everything about the study of the mind …”

The uses of Nexus are myriad, from joining the minds of musicians and making the orchestra one living thing to being used to coerce others for personal gain. To help avoid abuses and stop coercion, Kade built back doors into the Nexus source code before releasing it. Now, the governments of the United States and China want those codes, and they’ll stop at nothing to get them.

As Kade struggles to keep order and stop abuses, a new terror cell has cropped up, calling itself the Posthuman Liberation Front. The more the US government rallies against human enhancements, the harder the PLF strikes back. The harder the PLF strikes, the more public opinion sways against its goals and toward the control the government publicly wishes to exercise. One step too far, and the war against trans- and posthumans is on.

Crux is the second book in Ramez Naam‘s Nexus series. Nonfiction works by Naam include More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement and The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet. He has worked with Microsoft and been involved in nanotechnology research, and his work has won him the HG Wells Award for Contributions to Transhumanism, given by the World Transhumanist Association.

In this brutal, honest sequel to Nexus, Naam explores humankind’s ability to always justify our actions and motivations, as well as how we do or do not learn to exercise restraint and self-control when given immense power – both ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ alike. He delivers smart, concise social and scientific commentary through the use of well-developed, complex characters, full of loves and hurts, scars and hopes, realistic motivations, and pasts that explain them all.

Readers will gain a complete understanding of every character, allowing them to form their own opinions after exploring the various points of view on transhumanist technology, all while being pulled through a well-formed story sure to entertain readers of science fiction, or anyone with an interest in future technologies. Stories of hope and fear, of power and helplessness, of inner demons at war with the better angels of our nature intertwine from cover to cover, making for a compelling read that’s hard to put down.

Naam’s writing is always strong, fluid and sure. Realistic, wholly believable plot twists follow one after another, puzzle pieces falling neatly into place, building suspense and mystery before satisfying conclusions. With gripping, heart-pounding action scenes and muscle-binding tension normally reserved for horror stories, Crux is a book you don’t want to miss (though I should note, it may not stand alone well. Readers will be well-served by reading Nexus first.)

Book Review: Queers Dig Time Lords, by Sigrid Ellis and Michael Damian Thomas, ed.

Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Mad Norwegian, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 1, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

Queers-Cover-webTitle: Queers Dig Time Lords

Author: Sigrid Ellis & Michael Damian Thomas, ed.

Publisher: Mad Norwegian Press, June 2013

Length: 240 pages

Price: $17.95

ISBN: 978-193523414-2

 

Queers Dig Time Lords is a collection of essays by queer writers, on what Doctor Who has meant to them. It has been noted that many of the show’s most passionate and vocal fans are members of the LGBTQ community. This book explores, from a number of (sometimes very) personal perspectives, the prominence the LGBTQ community has had in not only Doctor Who fandom, but creatively, as well – not just since Russell T. Davies (Queer as Folk) brought it back and made it more popular than ever, but historically.

As editors Sigrid Ellis and Michael Damian Thomas note, “There are tales of coming out, discovering your heroes, how a show can inspire careers, transformations, odd friendships, romance, loss, cosplay, and following Doctor Who actors around a car park.” With an introduction by John & Carole E. Barrowman, Queers Dig Time Lords promises to be a Whovian delight from the very beginning.

In his essay ‘The Monster Queer is Camp,’ Paul Magrs talks about how the Doctor is, “An asexual hero … It allows you to identify  or root for a hero who won’t confuse you by having desires of his own.” In this way, Doctor Who granted a reprieve from thinking about those things which are so wont to muck up life for the average teenager (especially queer) – no concrete sexual identity or preference is required.

Emily Asher-Perrin, in ‘Time, Space, Love,’ delivers a moving essay on discovering both self and love, in an arc echoed by Rose and the Doctor over the course of her college years, while John Richards essay ‘The Heterosexual Agenda’ delves into the sense of betrayal he felt when the show made its 2005 comeback.

In ‘Bi, Bye,’ Tanya Huff tells readers about her  joy and excitement as Captain Jack Harkness introduced bi(omni)sexuality as a real, concrete thing … followed by her deep disappointment that all of this basically died with the ninth Doctor; and she’s written it so readers can feel her highs and her lows, and can commiserate absolutely. Many of the other essays also spoke of a love for or fascination with Captain Jack and Torchwood, as well.

The bottom line for many of these essays seems to be that the Doctor and his companions in their many forms instilled confidence in those who admired them, and many dreamt of someday being whisked away in the TARDIS, free to develop and be themselves as they traveled from time to time and place to place, free from worry, fear, doubt and judgment.  These dreams of freedom inevitably grew until eventually, each and every essayist found the courage in themselves that they’d always seen and admired in the Doctor and his companions; Empowerment through admiration and identification.

Maybe that is the larger lesson to be had, here. To identify with and/or admire the Doctor and his companions, to wish to be whisked off with them, maybe it helps to come from a place where one is not (yet) comfortable in one’s own skin, where one needs these role models to draw strength from. Further, maybe Doctor Who’s current mainstream popularity goes toward proving what many of our parents tried to tell us: that those who mocked and teased others as children and adolescents were just as scared and lost as the rest of us – it just took them longer to acknowledge it.

One of the best things about Queers Dig Time Lords is its highly personal nature. Each essay provides a glimpse of some of the things the writer holds most dear. Be it family, friendships, love interests, or their own personal sense of belonging in the wider world, this compilation is filled, from beginning to end, with passion and love. Stories of personal growth and change, of growing up free to be oneself in a world full of labels… the world needs this book.

Book Review: The Lives of Tao, by Wesley Chu

Posted in Angry Robot Army, Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Science Fiction, Spy with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

The Lives of Tao coverTitle: The Lives of Tao

Author: Wesley Chu

Publisher: Angry Robot Books; April 30, 2013

Length: 464 pages

Price: $7.99 US/ $8.99 CAN

ISBN: 978-0-85766-329-0

Tao is a Quasing, one of a race of alien life forms from the planet Quasar whose ship broke up in Earth’s atmosphere millennia ago, stranding its inhabitants on a strange new world completely inhospitable to their gaseous forms. To survive, the Quasing discovered, they must become parasitic, inhabiting the bodies of the native life forms. Throughout prehistory, they inhabited dinosaurs and Neanderthals, until humans showed promise of the ability to evolve in a manner that might someday allow the Quasing to return to their home.

For the last five hundred years, the Quasing have been at war with themselves, split into two factions: the Genjix, who follow the original Quasing idea that humans evolve technologically faster when in a state of conflict, and the Prophus, a splinter sect who has come to appreciate humankind and who believe the same technological advances might be made through peaceful means.

Roen Tan is an IT technician living in Chicago. He spends his days plopped in front of a computer, whiling away the hours at a job he hates. His nights are spent shoving his face full of pizza and gaming or, on occasion, being talked into going to a nightclub and drinking himself into lonely regret. But after one such night, Roen finds he is no longer alone in his own head, and he is given the opportunity to live a life he’s only dreamed about.

Training to be a secret agent isn’t easy for anyone. But when you start out as an overweight, middle-aged slob, well … things are bound to get interesting.

Wesley Chu is an Associate Vice President at a bank by day, and a writer and martial artist by night. As a writer, he contributes to the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. With past work as an actor and stunt man as well, Chu has a background ripe for writing fun, action-packed stories, and his debut novel, The Lives of Tao, is just that.

The Lives of Tao is a blend of sci-fi and spy as we rarely see it. From the very first pages, the reader is dumped right into the middle of the story of the Quasing civil war, with quick, fluid action scenes that continue throughout the book. As the tension ebbs and flows along, so too does the narrative. Chu evades a lot of detail work, preferring to keep the plot moving and twisting along by pulling the reader from one event or action scene to the next, giving the story a good sense of motion and progress throughout.

After the events at the Chest of the Menagerie, I do not have much to tell that could show you any insight as to who I am. Because from that point on, it has been nothing but mindless war…

As the current situation races ahead at what is often a break-neck pace, each chapter begins with Tao telling Roen the history of the Quasing on Earth.

We used to be two sides playing chess with humanity’s evolution as the prize. Now, we play simply to defeat the other side. In a way, the Prophus fell right into the Genjix’s hands.

The Quasing have done a lot to influence human evolution, for good and for ill, and there are a lot of historical Easter eggs scattered throughout the story, adding to the fun and novelty of it. Tao himself has inhabited Genghis Khan, and other Quasing have had hosts as important to mankind as Voltaire, Shakespeare, Churchill, even Peter the Apostle. At the same time, Chu’s characters are rather simple, but in a good way. Like classic Bond characters, Chu fleshes out the stereotype for the reader to start with, adding small details along the way to flesh them in a bit, but never too much. This story is all about the action.

There are a few minor redundancies and unwieldy sentences throughout the book, but nothing out of the ordinary for a debut novel, and nothing that really upsets the story for more than a moment. All in all, Chu’s writing is strong, and his ability to write tragic, heart-rending scenes into such a fun, easy story is proof that he’s found his calling as a writer.

The Lives of Tao has some good take-away lessons for readers, as well. As comic as Tao’s training of Roen can be, it also contains inspirational advice that is bound to make readers reflect on their own lives. There is much about being the person you want to be and not making excuses to let yourself fail. Much as the practice of Tao is The Way of life, the character of Tao shows Roen the way to live fully. And isn’t that something we could all use a little help with?

Book Review: Ink, by Damien Walters Grintalis

Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Horror, Occult & Supernatural, Samhain Publishing with tags , , , , , , , on April 8, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

InkTitle: Ink

Author: Damien Walters Grintalis

Publisher: Samhain Publishing, 2012

Length: 300 pages

Price: $16.00

ISBN: 978-1-61921-072-1

 

Jason Harford is going through some big life changes. When his wife leaves him for her best friend, he decides it’s time to start living for himself … and figuring out just who that is. Doing all the things Shelley would never have approved of him doing when they were married seems to be helping; first stop, a bar Shelley wouldn’t be caught dead in. Second stop, the shop of the mysterious sailor-turned-tattoo-artist he met at the bar. He’d always wanted a tattoo…

Jason’s life has been turned completely upside down. Suddenly, he’s hearing strange noises in the night. Grisly ‘gifts’ are being left on his doormat. Kids and animals he’s known all their lives are treating him like a stranger. As if all that weren’t bad enough, he’s pretty sure he’s having an allergic reaction to his new ink.

Ink is the debut novel by author Damien Walters Grintalis. Grintalis is an Associate Editor for Electric Velocipede and a staff writer for Booklife Now. Her short stories have been published in Daily Science Fiction, Electric Velocipede, Strange Horizons, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Grintalis writes a good, fluid story, with strong imagery. She never forgets all the minute details most don’t ever realize they notice. Her expertise in ‘show, don’t tell’ is fantastic, giving readers poetic bits like, “The stink of rot and ruin, of old dreams, broken screams and wicked, dirty little things,” and letting our minds fill in what these things mean to us, making the story come to life on a very personal level.

Grintalis’ strength in writing is proved even further by the people populating Ink. She frames and fleshes her characters out with their wants, their needs, their base desires and resentments. Her characters are so real, so utterly human, complete with faults and the ridiculous circumstances we so often find ourselves getting into in real life; again, it’s those minute details, like falling into a bathtub after being startled into taking a step back, scrabbling at the shower curtain for purchase, and only making matters more ridiculous in the end. These are things readers can relate to, even if we’re too embarrassed to admit it out loud.

When it comes to bringing emotion from the page to the reader, Grintalis keeps all her strengths of detail and fluidity, and where some writers falter, she only gets stronger. She writes heartbreaking scenes of loss and despair with expert clarity. She conveys feelings of fear and helplessness by tapping into common insecurities and feelings of loneliness we all share, turns the screws, and lets the feelings flow out.

If Ink has lessons for readers, the biggest would be to know yourself, to be yourself. It’s never a healthy thing to try to be what someone else wants you to be. Situations like that rarely lead to happiness. In the end, you wind up miserable, and the person you’re trying to please probably isn’t pleased anyway. If they were worth your time, your energy, and your sacrifice, they wouldn’t expect the sacrifice.

Damien Walters Grintalis makes a fine showing with Ink. A good story combined with easy reading makes it a good fit for lovers of King, Koontz, and Hill. I look forward to reading more of Grintalis’ work.

Book Review: NOS4A2, by Joe Hill

Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Horror, Occult & Supernatural, William Morrow with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

15729539Title: NOS4A2

Author: Joe Hill

Publisher: William Morrow

Length: 704 pages

Price: $28.99

ISBN: 978-0-06-220057-0

 

Imagine a place where every morning is Christmas morning, and every night is Christmas eve. In the inscapes of the Colorado Rockies, there exists such a wondrous place, where snow covers the ground, and the laughter of innocent children fills the air.

Victoria McQueen has an uncanny knack for finding things, and a vivid imagination. It takes her anywhere she wants to go, in no time at all. It should come as no surprise, then, that when Vic goes looking for trouble, she finds it faster than anyone.

Vic McQueen has been through a lot. As the only person to ever escape the notorious serial killer Charles Talent Manx III, people understand she’s bound to have a few issues. But when she starts answering phones that aren’t ringing and talking to dead children, ‘issues’ begins to seem like too light a word.

NOS4A2 is the third novel and fourth book by author Joe Hill. Previous works include the short story collection 20th Century Ghosts and the novel Heart-Shaped Box. His novel Horns has been adapted to film, and the movie, starring Daniel Radcliffe, is slated for release in October of this year. He has also authored a successful comic series, Locke & Key.

The commentary on social issues NOS4A2 presents is both timeless and timely. The ways Manx judges whether or not women are fit to parent their kids, or how they might someday ruin them all come from his own personal assumptions based on ignorant and outdated ideals, every one ending in pure and unadulterated misogyny. A woman with tattoos must be an attention-loving whore. A woman in cut-off jean shorts must be a whore. A woman who works in a bar is getting by on her looks, and when her own beauty fades, she will prostitute her daughter. This all shows just how old or traditional ideals aren’t always the best standards to go by. Just because a moral standard is old, doesn’t make it right. Times change, but one thing that doesn’t is that it’s never wise to pass moral judgment on another based on cursory information.

The way the issue of mental illness is treated in NOS4A2 is also noteworthy. We, as a society, are so ready to throw a diagnosis at people, then to medicate them to normalcy, that we don’t always take the time to slow down and listen to what a person is really saying. We get that first glimpse of something unusual, something unexpected, and we just stop listening. We apply a label of mental illness. Then, because of the stigma associated with that label, people become dismissive. No one wants to believe a fantastical-sounding story if it’s told by someone with mental illness, because, after all, they’re crazy. And crazy people can’t be victims, right?

Written with a deft pen and first-rate storytelling, NOS4A2 is Hill’s best work to date.  Hill populates NOS4A2 quickly with familiar characters, then fleshes them out into truly distinct and complex personalities as the story progresses. The underdog protagonist, the antagonist you love to hate, and supporting characters both tragic and heroic fill page after page with people the reader can’t help but form bonds with.

Hill’s use of both foreshadowing and humor is flawless, building and releasing tension at a pace perfect for the arc of the story, right up to the very last page. A few simple formatting tricks add to the disorienting feeling of some scenes, although by the book’s end these start to become predictable, causing them to lose their ability to jar the reader’s nerves and detracting from the story instead of adding to it. The story is so easy to get back into, though, I hardly expect this to be a real problem. With descriptions so pure and poetic the reader can’t help but smell the library or the onion rings, NOS4A2 makes for a truly engrossing read.

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