Showing posts with label SF. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SF. Show all posts

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Short Stories: M.R. Carey, John Chu, Justin Torres

I read countless short stories yearly but I rarely feature them on their own. Today I'm highlighting three single shorts that are not only excellent reads, but also free downloads. Check it out.

"Melanie was new herself, once, but that's hard to remember because it was a long time ago. It was before there were any words; there were just things without names, and things without names don't stay in your mind. They fall out, and then they're gone.

Now she's ten years old, and she has skin like a princess in a fairy tale; skin as white as snow. So she knows that when she grows up she'll be beautiful, with princes falling over themselves to climb her tower and rescue her.

Assuming, of course, that she has a tower."
I read the extended free preview of "The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey" (9 chapters!), and it turned out to be an absolutely fabulous speculative fiction read! I'm not saying much more about the story at this point because I believe it should be approached from a fresh perspective, but know this: if you give this book a try the main narrator and central character, a ten-year old whose name is Melanie, will snare you into reading the whole thing.

I am salivating to continue reading but have to wait until the whole novel releases on June 10th! I have high expectations for the rest of the book. As a teaser this preview is the perfect hook, but it also works really well as a short story. It gets an A- from me ONLY because I know there's more to come. Highly recommended.

In the near future water falls from the sky whenever someone lies (either a mist or a torrential flood depending on the intensity of the lie). This makes life difficult for Matt as he maneuvers the marriage question with his lover and how best to "come out" to his traditional Chinese parents.

I strongly recommend John Chu's The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere, a short piece nominated this year for a Hugo Award. I think what needs to be said about this piece has already been said. But personally what I like most about the story is how effectively, albeit sparingly, Chu uses the falling water. I like how this device affects the characters and plot which main focus is on family, love, and relationships. The writing style is both beautiful and concise, making this SF short story a personal favorite.

This story is also included in Some of the Best From, 2013 Edition: A Tor.Com Original. Also available as a free download.

Reverting to the Wild State by Justin Torres was published in The New Yorker Magazine, August 1, 2011, but I just read it this past week.

Justin Torres is a fabulous writer whose 2011 novel We the Animals was acknowledged widely and garnered positive attention and reviews. This short piece gives the reader a taste of his writing style and a different sort of story.

Reverting to the Wild State is not much more than a broad sketch of a relationship that is related in reverse by the author. That first step as the story goes back in time is confusing but quickly becomes clear. This piece is unique, sad, and rather haunting, and leaves the reader wanting more. Free online read

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Mini-Reviews: Tenth of December by George Saunders & The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

During December 2013 I was on vacation for half the month, so I didn't review most of the books I read -- some of them excellent and others highly enjoyable. I would like to share them with you. To begin, following are my impressions of two mainstream contemporary fiction books, one of them with science fiction elements.

Tenth of December by George Saunders (2013, Random House)

Tenth of December is a collection of ten short stories by George Saunders. He effectively uses a fusion of contemporary fiction with science fiction elements to develop a few of the stories, while firmly concentrating on contemporary issues throughout the entire book. The whole collection is notable for its sharp, modern literary writing style.

I enjoyed all the stories in this collection, including the first one "Victory Lap," a rather humorous account in which two teenagers ultimately confront a dangerous situation and make momentous decisions. However, there are a few short stories that really stand out as memorable among the rest. Set in a futuristic experimental lab where juvenile criminals are used as ginny pigs to develop new drugs, "Escape from Spiderhead" is a fantastic sci-fi based piece with a slow build up to an unexpectedly devastating climax. The execution in this story is flawless and, frankly, I couldn't stop thinking about it for a long time."The Semplica Girl Diaries" follows as another outstanding sci-fi based short that is slow to build but is grandly developed with slow, morally questionable revelations. This story is written in diary format by a husband and father competing with his neighbors and struggling to give his daughters the best future, but is he making the right decisions? Most memorable, for me, among the contemporary pieces are "Home," a tale of a soldier's homecoming, where Saunders mixes serious issues with sad irony -- "Thank you for your service!" And, in "Tenth of December" Saunders combines the sad realities of aging and terminal illness with the humorous fantasizing of the very young. Life experienced from both sides of the spectrum.

The stories in this collection are relevant to contemporary times and issues, and they flow in a way that makes this a quick, excellent read. I personally love Saunders' sharp writing style and human approach to the subject at hand. It is unfortunate that this is one of those books that lingered in my Kindle for most of 2013, and that I decided to read it during my end-of-year vacation because Tenth of December is an excellent book and highly recommended.

Category: SF/Contemporary Fiction
Grade: A-

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout (2013, Random House)

In December, I also read The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout, another contemporary fiction book that lingered in my Kindle for much of 2013. In The Burgess Boys, Elizabeth Strout tightly weaves factual, controversial events that occurred in Lewinston, Maine in or around 2006 involving the sudden influx of Somali and Buntu immigrants to the area, with her fictional story about the three Maine-born Burgess siblings and the dysfunctional relationship that has existed between them since childhood. The two stories are tightly woven and, although Strout utilizes multiple perspectives to develop her story, -- intimate family and individual struggles, and community controversy -- the ultimate focus remains the same.

Of course the fictional story about the Burgess siblings is the core of the book and the one that immediately grabs the reader's attention. There's Jim, the eldest sibling who seems to live a charmed life as a famous criminal defense attorney in New York City, with his wife Helen acting as the perfect foil for such a man both at home and in social situations. In sharp contrast to his brother, Bob, an attorney working in the appellate division of Legal Aid in New York City, leads the lonely, sad, and rather pathetic life of a divorced man who can't seem to move on, and whose dependency on his brother's presence and approval is constant and obsessive. They both hate Shirley Falls for different reasons, but find themselves heading back when their divorced sister Susan asks for help with her teenage son Zach who is in big trouble. He threw a pig's head into a mosque where the local Somali community worships, supposedly as "a joke," and the situation is rapidly getting out of hand.

Strout's main theme poses many questions about "understanding." Do you really understand your parents, siblings, spouses, children? How about your community? Do you really know who they are?
"The key to contentment is never to ask why; she had learned that long ago." Helen
Strout delves on the consequences that arise from not understanding, or knowing. She does so by first presenting the characters as they appear to each other, slowly deconstructing them for the reader by digging into their relationships and struggles for truth and understanding and finally revealing the results. The main characters, Jim, Bob and Susan Burgess carry burdensome guilt due to a family tragedy that occurred in their childhood, and their families are unknowingly affected by this burden. Jim and Helen, Bob, Susan and Zach struggle with the consequences of not understanding, not knowing, as do the Somalis, the Buntu and the rest of the community in Shirley Falls. The story flows with little down time and excellent characterization. As far as sympathetic characters go, there are a couple, but most are portrayed as terribly human with flaws and faults -- worts and all.

The Burgess Boys is a book I really wanted to read last year, and I'm glad I did. It asks some excellent questions of the reader, and the story is good from beginning to end with tight writing, great revelations, and deeply explored characters -- some likable and others that I truly loathed. Recommended.

Category: Contemporary Fiction
Grade: B+

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Review: Heart of Obsidian (Psy/Changeling #12) by Nalini Singh

Heart of Obsidian may well be Nalini Singh's best Psy/Changeling book yet. It was quite unexpected, but I actually fell in love with a sociopath.
"[. . .]the ugly irony of Silence: in creating a society that rewards lack of emotion, the Psy have created fertile ground for the rise of psychopathic personalities to the leadership of their race.

An individual who feels nothing is, after all, the perfect graduate of Silence.

Ruthless. Cold-blooded. Without mercy. . . without conscience."
Traditionally, Singh writes a brief prologue or introduction to each one of her stories. The above quote is from that prologue, titled "Darkest Part of Night," and as always it gets to the heart of the story that follows.

The Net mind is split and getting darker by the day, the PsyNet is corrupted and dying, the Psy Council has been disbanded, and the Psy as a people are about to engage in a civil war between those who want absolute Silence, the Pure Psy, and those who believe it is time for change. Caught in the middle, are the rest of the people who just want to be, including changelings and humans. Someone has to take charge, but is that someone trustworthy?

Well, no. Not really. The male protagonist in Heart of Obsidian is a sociopath getting ready to go full-blown psycho. His obsession with saving a woman has driven him throughout the years, and he is ready to end it all (and I'm not talking about his life, I'm talking about the world) if he cannot save her. This man has perpetrated horrible acts in his past. He is Silent, cold, and as it turns out, he's one of those "ruthless, cold-blooded Psys without mercy and conscience" that Singh refers to in the quote above. So of course I was flabbergasted at the beginning of the story that this was our "hero." Soon, however, Singh changed my mind as I found myself going along with the heroine and falling in love with this man. How did Singh do it? By peeling back the layers of his past which allowed me to feel empathy for a man who initially feels none for anyone except for his woman -- an impressive feat. Indeed.
"You have it." All his secrets, anything she wanted. Even his scarred, maimed heart. "I love you."

Eyes of deep, deep blue locking with his, a single tear rolling down her face. "I know," (She) said, her heart breaking that he's said the words for her. Hurt and brutalized beyond belief, shown not even an ounce of love until they met, it wouldn't have surprised her if he'd believed himself incapable of the emotion.
As always, that feat has a lot to do with the heroine of the piece. She is also Psy but not Silent, and the contrast of her emotions to his coldness and repression help carry this romance. She is the one whose warmth, love, and relentless belief redeem this man. By balancing the protagonists, (cold/warmth, protectiveness/trust, obsession/love, possessiveness/possessiveness), Singh makes this romance work in a deeply emotional and passionate way that I did not expect, particularly from two Psy protagonists! Additionally, the all-important balance of power between this couple is pretty well matched. Why? His Psy powers are immense, but hers are unique and tailor-made to counteract his. This is a key aspect to the relationship between this man and this woman. Again, balance.

Singh wraps up the Psy civil war with exciting action and minute care to detail. This section of the book is satisfying and then some. The Ghost's identity is finally revealed, and although it did not come as a real surprise, it more than makes sense. Popular secondary characters, both changelings and Psy, make appearances and contribute to the overall story arc, however, the focus is firmly kept on the romance as Singh builds her story around the main couple.

So yes, the male protagonist in Heart of Obsidian is a sociopath with psychopath tendencies. He falls in love and those tendencies are tamed, and yes, by the end I fell in love with him too. The happy ever after for our couple ended up being heartwarming, passionate, earth-shattering, and world-changing. This is an excellent SFF/R installment in Singh's Psy/Changeling series, people! If you don't know yet, read the book to find out the names of the main characters and the identity of the Ghost!

Category: Science Fiction Fantasy/Romance (or PNR)
Series: Psy/Changeling
Publisher/Release Date: Berkley/June 4, 2013
Grade: A

Visit Nalini Singh here.

My reviews of Psy/Changeling series:
Mine to Possess, Book 4
Branded by Fire, Book 6
Bonds of Justice, Book 8
Kiss of Snow, Book 10
Tangle of Need, Book 11