Showing posts with label The 2014 Science Fiction Experience. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The 2014 Science Fiction Experience. Show all posts

Friday, January 31, 2014

Completing: The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience & The Vintage Sci-Fi Month

The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience

The 2014 Science Fiction Experience hosted by science fiction enthusiast Carl V from Stainless Steel Droppings ends today. As always I had a wonderful time reading fantastic books and discovering a few new-to-me authors, although it seems that every year I end up wishing for just one more month to read all the books in my list.

My main goal this year was to read a couple of books by Ursula K. Le Guin, and although I didn't get to The Dispossessed, I did finish one novel and one large collection of short stories. I'm happy with the results.

Here's a list of all reviews and related posts:

Spotlight: Ursula K. Le Guin & The Hainish Cycle Series
The Kassa Gambit by M.C. Planck
The Birthday of the World: and Other Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin
Favorite Books of 2013 (includes Sci-Fi/Fiction/Urban Fantasy/Speculative Fiction)
Mini-Review: Tenth of December by George Saunders
SF Movies: Elysium & Oblivion
2014 Most Anticipated Books: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1) by Ann Leckie
The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle #4) by Usula K. Le Guin

Read not reviewed:
Fortune's Pawn (Paradox #1) by Rachel Bach -- Late review.
ASIMOV'S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE - February 1, 2014 Edition: Short Stories: "Ball and Chain" by Maggie Shen King, "Last Day at the Ice Man Cafe" by M. Bennardo, "The Transdimensional Horsemaster Rabbis of Mpumalanga Province" by Sarah Pinsker, and "Ask Citizen Etiquette" by Marissa Lingen

The Vintage Science Fiction Month

Also ending today is The Vintage Science Fiction Month hosted by The Little Red Reviewer. 

Unfortunately, as you will see below, my participation this year was pathetic. My reading "mood" shifted at the wrong time toward more recent releases and my stack of oldies but goodies is basically intact. However, as I mention above, my goal this year was to explore works by Ursula K. Le Guin, and the one (yes, one!) review posted is by this author.

Book Review*:
The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle #4) by Usula K. Le Guin

*Related Post (although posted in December, it is related to the author, series & book)
Spotlight: Ursula K. Le Guin & The Hainish Cycle Series

Until next year!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle #4) by Ursula K. Le Guin

First published in 1969, The Left Hand of Darkness is considered a science fiction classic. The best science fiction novel I read in 2013, this is book #4 (also the first full length novel) in Le Guin's Hainish Cycle series. You can read my overview of the Le Guin's Hainish Cycle series, biography, and basis for the author's world-building here.

As mentioned in my previous post, most of the worlds explored by Ekumen are populated by descendants from Terra's (or Earth's) humans, however, in the Left Hand of Darkness the story takes place in the frozen planet Winter or Gethen where it is suspected that the population may have evolved as a result of experimentation conducted on the population when it was first colonized. This complex story begins as a report from Genly Ai, a Terran who as an Ekumen mobile becomes the first envoy to contact Gethenians in their frozen planet, and follows his journey to understanding a radically different people and world.

Genly Ai has resided in Karhide's capital City Erhenrang for two years. Attempting, without success, to accomplish his mission by convincing the king to willingly agree to trade or join Ekumen in their galactic civilization. His attempts to obtain an audience with the king, however, have failed. The powerful Therem Harth rem ir Estraven is his only ally and a man Genly doesn't like or trust. Unfortunately, Estraven falls out of favor with the king and after a rather cryptic conversation flees the city, leaving Genly Ai floundering with conflicted feelings of relief and betrayal.

Besides Winter's frigid weather, Genly Ai has one big problem. After two years, he cannot seem to get over the fact that Gethenians are neither male nor female. They are both, and as such, possess physical and personality traits found in both sexes. Intellectually he knows how it all works. Genly understands the customs and biology. He knows that sexual interaction takes place only during the lunar cycle, what Gethenians call kemmer, and that the rest of the month their sexual drive is dormant. He also knows that there is no separation of gender roles, but psychologically he hasn't been able to come to terms with the differences.
"Though I had been nearly two years in Winter I was still far from being able to see the people of the planet through their own eyes. I tried to, but my efforts took the form of self-consciously seeing a Gethenian first as a man, then as a woman, forcing him into those categories so irrelevant to his nature and so essential to my own."
It is this kind of binary thinking that makes it almost impossible for Genly to understand Gethenians as individuals, so he misunderstands or fails to grasp cultural, social and political cues that are key if he is to achieve his mission's goal. Incapable of understanding the local population, Genly feels deeply isolated.
"A friend. What is a friend, in a world where any friend may be a lover at a new phase of the moon? Not I, locked in my virility; no friend to Therem Harth, or any other of his race. Neither man nor woman, neither and both, cyclic, lunar, metamorphosing under the hand's touch, changelings in the human cradle, they were no flesh of mine, no friends; no love between us."
Genly leaves for other parts of the Gethenian world to try his luck with other governments and meets Estraven under different circumstances. The two embark on a danger-filled adventure through the frozen tundras of Winter, but personally I think of theirs as a journey toward understanding. The result is a science fiction piece where Le Guin brilliantly experiments by integrating gender roles with cultural and sociopolitical issues in detail, but at its core brilliantly explores the subject of duality. Finally, Le Guin's prose makes The Left Hand of Darkness a fluid, fantastic read that I won't soon forget.
"Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light,
Two are one, life and death,
lying together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way."
PERSONAL NOTE: I read this book back in November but decided to post my comments on the book during my participation in the Vintage Science Fiction Month and The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience. It was my first novel by Le Guin and it will not be my last. There are a few reasons behind that decision: one, her science fiction literary writing style is a plus for me. Two, I was surprised not only by the fact that she experimented with this subject matter back in the 1960's, but by the brilliant results. And, three: her exploration of gender roles, culture, sociopolitical issues, and inclusion of racial diversity in a science fiction setting and far away world are all part of what fascinated me about this book. It is what encouraged me to immediately look for the rest of her backlist, including some of her older novellas. Highly recommended.

Related Posts:
Spotlight: Ursula K. Le Guin & The Hainish Cycle
Review: The Birthday of the World: and Other Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1) by Ann Leckie

OVERVIEW: The Radch Empire. Lead by the many-bodied Anaander Mianaai, Lord of the Radch, this is a civilization that conquered the galaxy by annexing and absorbing worlds throughout thousands of years. Their mightiest weapons are starships equipped with an artificial intelligence core that links thousands of "corpse" or ancillary soldiers, allowing the AI to become mobile. As the Radchaai move from one annexed world to another force is used and resistance guarantees death, but once they triumph all inhabitants of that world become civilized citizens worthy of protection. With a class-based society as its core, for thousands of years the wealthy aristocratic Houses of Radch held the power and coveted positions in the military, grabbing first connections for future money-making endeavors when annexing new worlds. That changes when members of small provincial Houses begin to fill some of those positions and the seeds of resentment from the aristocratic Houses are planted and begin to grow.

Ancillary Justice focuses on characterization and an action driven slow-to-reveal plot instead of space battles, however, it is definitely a space opera with all of the romantic, melodramatic action, weaponry and science fiction details that are required of such a piece. The world-building is pure science fiction with alien-like places that provide excellent atmosphere, excellent gadgetry, and a particular focus placed on details pertaining to AI and the workings and evolution of the ancillary soldiers. Another unique aspect of the world-building is that in the Radchaai language only the female pronoun exists to specify gender. Everyone is referred to as "she" or "her," so that it is up to the reader to carefully asses who is male or female.

Although Breq Ghaiad is our main character and the narration is from her perspective, in reality, at times, there is a three-in-one narrative and perspective -- Justice of Toren, One Esk, and Breq. It sounds confusing, but it all becomes crystal clear and works quite well. Justice of Toren, a massive starship, once served the Radch Empire for over two-thousand years. Her artificial intelligence linked thousands of ancillary soldiers, including One Esk, the ancillary segment known for singing and collecting songs from different worlds. But twenty years ago, Justice of Toren was betrayed and destroyed along with her ancillaries. The only surviving segment of her intelligence is Breq, a lone AI soldier looking for revenge against the betrayer. This character's inner evolution and actions carry and drive the novel. She is thoroughly complex, with a hard core, the cold side of an AI soldier accustomed to violence and a sensitivity for music and love of singing that opens up unimagined doors.
My heart is a fish
Hiding in the water grass
In the green, in the green
-- One Esk's favorite song from Ors
Joining Breq in her journey is Captain Seivarden Vendaai. Long ago, the arrogant and aristocratic Captain Seivarden Vendaai had been one of Justice of Toren's lieutenants, although definitely not a favorite one. Later promoted to her own command, she had been thought dead for a thousand years when her ship was lost during a failed annexation. Seivarden was found frozen in a space pod, but unable to adapt to losses and changes that occurred during those thousand years, she finds herself lost and unstable. Breq finds her nearly frozen, bruised, bloody and almost dead in a remote planet, now an addict and a wastrel. Reluctantly, she takes Seirvarden along in her quest for revenge. Seirvarden's relationship with Breq is filled with revelations about both characters and becomes a catalyst as each pushes and pulls. The result is one of the strongest factors in this space opera, character growth. "Sometimes I don't know why I do the things I do." -- Breq

Breq's story shifts between the present and her past, alternating between chapters, as One Esk/Justice of Toren takes the reader back 20 years, narrating events that changed her world and lead to the present, and introducing Esk Decade Lieutenant Awn Elming. During the annexation of the planet Shis'urna, Lieutenant Awn has been in command of the city of Ors for two years at the request of the Devine priest. She has One Esk at her side along with a small twenty Esk ancillary unit from Justice of Toren under her command. Originally from an annexed world and a provincial House, Awn feels vulnerable in her position, but she is honorable, sensitive, brave and to One Esk, she is a favorite worthy of admiration. Her affair with the aristocratic Lieutenant Skaaiat Awer leaves her open to attack and eventually leads to disaster. Like tumbling dominoes, the devastating events that unfold in Ors end with One Esk set on the path to becoming Breq, the avenging soldier.

In the Ors sections, Leckie makes her revelations as the story moves along, divulging secrets at the most unexpected of times and keeping the reader on edge. Additionally, here is also where Leckie uses a multiple-perspective narrative from Justice of Toren and the different Esk segments -- a simultaneous narrative -- that gives the reader the complete scope of what is happening instead of the single point of view narrative. At the beginning, this style can be a bit disconcerting, but overall Leckie handled it beautifully. It is so well tied together that it seems possible.

Last, but not least, we have Anaander Mianaai the feared, all powerful and seemingly all knowing leader. Her actions in this story are questionable and she becomes Breq's bitter enemy. She is a key figure in this novel and a huge mystery. I will leave it at that.

CONCLUSION: If you want to know what surprised me the most about this space opera, it is how high emotions factor into the story, particularly since the narrator is well… artificial intelligence.  I became so immersed and involved with the characters, as well as the action, that I didn't want to stop reading. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie is the first book in the Imperial Radch science fiction space opera. It is unique for its focus on the evolution of its characters as opposed to space battles. What does it mean to be human in a galaxy where artificial intelligence rules, but is also used by humans as a nothing but a weapon to conquer and build an empire? What does it mean to be civilized? What does it mean to be human? With one of the best AI narrative voices I've encountered for a long while, these are the questions that Leckie poses in her stunning sci-fi debut novel. Highly recommended.

Visit Ann Leckie here.

Trilogy (Series) by Orbit Publishers:
Ancillary Justice (2013)
Ancillary Sword (2014)
Ancillary Mercy (2015)

The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience

Monday, January 20, 2014

2014 Most Anticipated Books: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy

This year my list of anticipated reads in the science fiction, fantasy and urban fantasy categories is extensive. A few of the authors I'm gloaming at the moment (see Seanan McGuire and Kelley Armstrong) have more than one book releasing in 2014, either because they already have multiple series published, or because they are launching a new series. Or, as in the case of Jeff VanderMeer, all three volumes of his latest work, a trilogy, are releasing in 2014.

Most of the books I'm looking forward to reading are from already favorite authors, but a few are from new-to-me writers such as David Edison whose book was added to my list because I loved the summary, and Weston Osche who was added immediately because I'm always looking for a good military science fiction series to follow.

JEFF VANDERMEER: Southern Reach Trilogy

Annihilation by (Southern Reach Trilogy #1) -- Releasing February 4, 2014 by FSG Originals
Authority (Southern Reach #2) - Releasing June, 2014
Acceptance (Southern Reach #3) - Releasing September, 2014
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.


The Waking Engine -- Releasing February 11, 2014 by Tor Books
Welcome to the City Unspoken, where Gods and Mortals come to die.

Contrary to popular wisdom, death is not the end, nor is it a passage to some transcendent afterlife. Those who die merely awake as themselves on one of a million worlds, where they are fated to live until they die again, and wake up somewhere new. All are born only once, but die many times . . . until they come at last to the City Unspoken, where the gateway to True Death can be found.

Wayfarers and pilgrims are drawn to the City, which is home to murderous aristocrats, disguised gods and goddesses, a sadistic faerie princess, immortal prostitutes and queens, a captive angel, gangs of feral Death Boys and Charnel Girls . . . and one very confused New Yorker.

Late of Manhattan, Cooper finds himself in a City that is not what it once was. The gateway to True Death is failing, so that the City is becoming overrun by the Dying, who clot its byzantine streets and alleys . . . and a spreading madness threatens to engulf the entire metaverse.


Murder of Crows (The Others #2) -- Releasing March 4, 2014 by Roc
After winning the trust of the terra indigene residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more.

The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murder of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard—Lakeside’s shape-shifting leader—wonders if their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or a future threat.

As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now, the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all.

SEANAN MCGUIRE: InCryptid Series, Ghost Stories Series #1, October Daye Series

Half-Off Raganoff (InCryptid #3) -- Releasing in March 4, 2014 by DAW
When Alex Price agreed to go to Ohio to oversee a basilisk breeding program and assist in the recovery of his psychic cousin, he didn't expect people to start dropping dead. But bodies are cropping up at the zoo where he works, and his girlfriend--Shelby Tanner, an Australian zoologist with a fondness for big cats--is starting to get suspicious.

Worse yet, the bodies have all been turned partially to stone…

The third book in the InCryptid series takes us to a new location and a new member of the family, as Alex tries to balance life, work, and the strong desire not to become a piece of garden statuary. Old friends and new are on the scene, and danger lurks around every corner.

Of course, so do the talking mice.
Also by Seanan McGuire:

Sparrow Hill Road (Ghost Stories #1) -- Releasing in May 6, 2014 by DAW
Rose Marshall died in 1952 in Buckley Township, Michigan, run off the road by a man named Bobby Cross—a man who had sold his soul to live forever, and intended to use her death to pay the price of his immortality. Trouble was, he didn’t ask Rose what she thought of the idea.

It’s been more than sixty years since that night, and she’s still sixteen, and she’s still running.

They have names for her all over the country: the Girl in the Diner. The Phantom Prom Date. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. Mostly she just goes by “Rose,” a hitchhiking ghost girl with her thumb out and her eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to outrace a man who never sleeps, never stops, and never gives up on the idea of claiming what’s his. She’s the angel of the overpass, she’s the darling of the truck stops, and she’s going to figure out a way to win her freedom. After all, it’s not like it can kill her.

You can’t kill what’s already dead.
And, last but not least:

The Winter Long (October Daye #8) -- Releasing in September, 2014 by

The cover and summary are not yet available for the next installment in the Toby Daye series by McGuire. But, I will keep my eye out for it and will definitely read it when it releases in September. :)


The Goblin Emperor -- Releasing April 1, 2014 by Tor Books
A vividly imagined fantasy of court intrigue and dark magics in a steampunk-inflected world, by a brilliant young talent.

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an "accident," he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend... and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.

KELLEY ARMSTRONG: Age of Legends Series #1, Cainsville Series

Sea of Shadows: Age of Legends -- Releasing April 8, 2014 by Harper Collins
Kelley Armstrong, #1 New York Times bestselling author, takes an exciting new direction with this big, breathtaking blend of fantasy, romance, horror, and pulse-pounding action, perfect for fans of Graceling and Game of Thrones.

Twin sisters Moria and Ashyn were marked at birth to become the Keeper and the Seeker of Edgewood, beginning with their sixteenth birthday. Trained in fighting and in the secret rites of the spirits, they lead an annual trip into the Forest of the Dead. There, the veil between the living world and the beyond is thinnest, and the girls pay respect to the spirits who have passed.

But this year, their trip goes dreadfully wrong.

And I cannot wait to read:

Visions (Cainsville #2) -- Releasing August 14, 2014 by Dauton Adult
Omens, the first installment in Kelley Armstrong’s exciting new series, introduced Olivia Taylor-Jones, daughter of notorious serial killers, and Gabriel Walsh, the self-serving, morally ambiguous lawyer who became her unlikely ally. Together, they chased down a devious killer and partially cleared her parents of their horrifying crimes.

Their success, however, is short-lived. While Olivia takes refuge in the old, secluded town of Cainsville, Gabriel’s past mistakes have come to light, creating a rift between the pair just when she needs his help the most.

Olivia finds a dead woman in her car, dressed to look like her, but the body vanishes before anyone else sees it. Olivia’s convinced it’s another omen, a sign of impending danger. But then she learns that a troubled young woman went missing just days ago—the same woman Olivia found dead in her car. Someone has gone to great lengths to kill and leave this young woman as a warning. But why? And what role has her new home played in this disturbing murder?

Olivia’s effort to uncover the truth places her in the crosshairs of old and powerful forces, forces that have their own agenda, and closely guarded secrets they don’t want revealed.

ELIZABETH BEAR: Eternal Sky Trilogy

Steles of the Sky (Eternal Sky Trilogy #3) -- Releasing in April 8, 2014 by Tor Books
Elizabeth Bear concludes her award-winning epic fantasy Eternal Sky trilogy in Steles of the Sky.

Re Temur, legitimate heir to his grandfather’s Khaganate, has finally raised his banner and declared himself at war with his usurping uncle. With his companions—the Wizard Samarkar, the Cho-tse Hrahima, and the silent monk Brother Hsiung—he must make his way to Dragon Lake to gather in his army of followers. But Temur’s enemies are not idle; the leader of the Nameless Assassins, who has shattered the peace of the Steppe, has struck at Temur’s uncle already. To the south, in the Rasan empire, plague rages. To the east, the great city of Asmaracanda has burned, and the Uthman Caliph is deposed. All the world seems to be on fire, and who knows if even the beloved son of the Eternal Sky can save it?

WESTON OCHSE: Task Force Ombra Series #1

Grunt Life -- Releasing April 29, 2014 by Solaris
This is a brand new Military SF series from Weston Ochse, an experienced military man and author.

Earth has been invaded and the insect-like aliens have established secret hives across the world. The only thing standing between Earth and domination by these creatures are the Grunts, men whose business is soldiering. But this time they must learn how to defeat a very different kind of enemy to any human foe.

NALINI SINGH: Psy/Changeling Series

Shield of Winter (Psy/Changeling #13) - Releasing June 4, 2014 by Berkeley
Assassin. Soldier. Arrow. That is who Vasic is, who he will always be. His soul drenched in blood, his conscience heavy with the weight of all he’s done, he exists in the shadows, far from the hope his people can almost touch—if only they do not first drown in the murderous insanity of a lethal contagion. To stop the wave of death, Vasic must complete the simplest and most difficult mission of his life.

For if the Psy race is to survive, the empaths must wake…

Having rebuilt her life after medical “treatment” that violated her mind and sought to suffocate her abilities, Ivy should have run from the black-clad Arrow with eyes of winter frost. But Ivy Jane has never done what she should. Now, she’ll fight for her people, and for this Arrow who stands as her living shield, yet believes he is beyond redemption. But as the world turns to screaming crimson, even Ivy’s fierce will may not be enough to save Vasic from the cold darkness…

JAMES S.A. COREY: The Expanse Series

Cibola Burn (The Expanse #4) -- Releases June 17, 2014 by Orbit
The gates have opened the way to thousands of habitable planets, and the land rush has begun. Settlers stream out from humanity's home planets in a vast, poorly controlled flood, landing on a new world. Among them, the Rocinante, haunted by the vast, posthuman network of the protomolecule as they investigate what destroyed the great intergalactic society that built the gates and the protomolecule.

But Holden and his crew must also contend with the growing tensions between the settlers and the company which owns the official claim to the planet. Both sides will stop at nothing to defend what's theirs, but soon a terrible disease strikes and only Holden - with help from the ghostly Detective Miller - can find the cure.

ILONA ANDREWS: Kate Daniels Series

Magic Breaks (Kate Daniels #7) -- Releasing July 29, 2014 by Ace
As the mate of the Beast Lord, Curran, former mercenary Kate Daniels has more responsibilities than it seems possible to juggle. Not only is she still struggling to keep her investigative business afloat, she must now deal with the affairs of the pack, including preparing her people for attack from Roland, a cruel ancient being with god-like powers. Since Kate’s connection to Roland has come out into the open, no one is safe—especially those closest to Kate.

As Roland’s long shadow looms ever nearer, Kate is called to attend the Conclave, a gathering of the leaders from the various supernatural factions in Atlanta. When one of the Masters of the Dead is found murdered there, apparently at the hands of a shapeshifter, Kate is given only twenty-four hours to hunt down the killer. And this time, if she fails, she’ll find herself embroiled in a war which could destroy everything she holds dear…

MELJEAN BROOK: Iron Seas Series

The Kraken King -- All I know about this book is that it will first release in serialized format between April &  June with the complete ebook and trade paperback releasing around August or so -- all to be confirmed. It's all hush hush. I don't have a summary or a cover either, but I love this series and won't miss the book! There be a Kraken!

ANN LECKIE: Imperial Radch Series

Ancillary Sword (2014, Orbit) - I just read Ancillary Justice, the first book in Leckie's Imperial Radch space opera trilogy, and now I'm anxiously waiting for the second book Ancillary Sword. I don't have a release date, but I'm guessing it will be during the last quarter of the year. I also believe that Ancillary Mercy, the last book of this trilogy, could be ready for 2015. But for now, I have high hopes for the second book!


Lock In -- Releasing August 26, 2014 - I can't find a cover or a summary for this book either, but this is another standalone by Scalzi. I won't miss it. I became a Scalzi fan a few years ago, but last year I talked my husband into reading Old Man's War and that was it. He has become a John Scalzi fan-a-tic. The man is reading all of Scalzi's works back-to-back and is already ahead of me (and bugging me to catch up so we can discuss). I will be getting this book for both of us!

These are the books I had in my "must read" list, but there are more out there that I have slated as possible (probable) reads. There are too many to mention, particularly in the SFF (and spec fic) categories. So those will be a surprise to you and me along the way. :) How about you? What SFF/UF books are you looking forward to reading in 2014?

The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience

Thursday, January 9, 2014

SF Movies: Elysium & Oblivion


Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Tristar Pictures
Directed and Written by Neill Blomkamp
Released in Theaters: August, 2013
DVD Released: December 17, 2013
Cast: Matt Damon, Jodi Foster, Sharito Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura

I love my sci-fi movies and Matt Damon is a favorite actor, so I looked forward to the release of Elysium on DVD during the holidays when I'm usually on vacation and can indulge myself in marathon movie watching at home.

The plot for Elysium falls under social science fiction with plenty of exciting action. It all comes down to a matter class, with the very wealthy living high above in the space station Elysium, and the rest of humanity surviving life on Earth. Most of the action takes place in a post-apocalyptic Earth decimated by pollutants and overpopulation. It's the year 2154 and Earth's inhabitants are wracked by decease, poverty, filth, and hopelessness. The population has few choices left. Some live and die working for the few Elysium owned mega-corporations where they are treated as nothing more than disposable cattle, others turn to crime for which they pay severe penalties, or in desperation, join rebel forces and attempt to gain citizenship in Elysium by breaking their immigration laws.

This life contrasts severely with the immaculate, rarefied, and sterile world that the wealthy enjoy in their space station with its controlled environment. Each luxury home has its own high-tech medical pod to take care of incurable deceases, and anti-immigration laws prevent undesirables from entering their airspace, so that the issues of overpopulation and poverty do not exist. It's all about control, and no one believes this more than Elysium's hard-liner Secretary Delacourt (Jodi Foster) whose actions reflect her beliefs, even as the moderate President disagrees with the results.

Max (Matt Damon) dreamed of going to Elysium as a child, but turned to crime in his youth and is now trying to lead a productive life by working in an Elysium-owned corporation. After suffering from a massive dose of radiation at work, he is given five days to live and is dismissed without a thought by the wealthy owner. Max realizes that his only chance at survival is going to Elysium for a cure and contacts rebel forces working to change the status quo. His journey is almost impossible, and throughout he encounters danger, his childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga) whose daughter is dying of Leukemia, and Delacourt's own private assassin on Earth.

I found the central sociopolitical plot points used in Elysium, overblown and without subtlety. Blomkamp's idea for a space station inhabited by the "haves" reminds me of isolated, and already existing, gated communities -- used as a base but expanded to build a dystopian future. The same goes with the reasons utilized for Earth's devastation and touchy sociological and political contemporary issues such as pollution, global overpopulation and the question of immigration laws, citizenship (I noticed everyone speaks Spanish including Max), and healthcare. The huge sense of entitlement v. poverty, or the "let them eat cake or die" attitude is blown out of proportion to fit the futuristic angle, but yes, the issues involved are immediately recognizable.

The action is exciting and entertaining, with science fiction details that range from the crude to the sophisticated to fit the plot, but there are places where plausibility, (in the plot), takes a backseat to the non-stop action. And as is expected with such actors as Matt Damon and Jodi Foster in the cast, the characterizations are above average, although I would not say outstanding or memorable. The rest of the acting was either average or over the top (that assassin!).

My husband and I watched this film together, and he had tons of questions about the plausibility of how the space station worked and the ships landed. We both ended up with questions at the end about plot holes or particular plot points that did not make sense. And, we had a long discussion about the sociopolitical aspects that were touched on in this movie. We both enjoyed the action and gritty dystopian atmosphere, and while I probably won't watch this movie again on purpose, I may get caught up on the action. I know my husband will watch it again. :)


Also on the holiday movie menu:


Action & Adventure, Science-Fiction & Fantasy
Universal Pictures
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Written by Joseph Kosinski and Michael DeBruyn
Released in Theaters: April 19, 2013
DVD Released: August 6, 2013
Cast: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Melissa Leo, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau

I'm not sure how to best summarize the plot for this movie without giving away too much or too little information. I will try my best though. Years ago Earth was invaded by aliens. Earth won, but the war left the planet uninhabitable with heavily polluted, radiation zones. Most humans have been evacuated to a colony in Titan. Supervised by Sally (Melissa Leo) from Control on the Tet (a sort of space station), Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and Vicka (Andrea Riseborough) are two weeks from completing their mission as the mop up team on Earth overseeing the extraction of vital resources, such as water from the oceans, gathered by giant processors to be used at the Titan colony. Jack's work is to patrol the planet's surface from the skies and repair droids when needed, but when on the planet's surface, there's always the danger of attack from remaining alien scavengers. The situation changes drastically when a spacecraft crashes and Jack rescues Julia (Olga Kurylenko), the beautiful woman he has been seeing in recent dreams and impossible memories from before the war. As truths begin to surface, Jack and Vika's world unravels until the only answers left are too terrible to consider and the only choice left to all involved may be life or death.

Oblivion is beautifully shot science fiction film with a glossy, crisp, and clean post apocalyptic earth. It is a desolate landscape, but aesthetically pleasing with a black, white, and grey motif and few moments of vivid greens, bright blues, and later reds to shock the eye… I mean even the two main characters, Jack (Tom Cruise) and Vicka (Andrea Riseborough) are neutral in color -- wardrobe, makeup, hair, demeanor. There are also gorgeous still shots in this movie that can be used as magazine covers and/or saved for posterity as futuristic sci-fi art, or something along those lines.

The science fiction elements in this story are soft in nature, and although the storyline kept me engaged enough throughout, in the end I was underwhelmed with it as a whole. The movie begins with simple, contained scenes, and rather slow action, the plot builds as it moves along with revelation after revelation and multiple plot changes along the way. However, even as heavier action becomes part of the story, I found little tension in all that build-up. I watched this movie with my husband and brothers, and we all agree that if key plot changes are missed, nothing makes sense.

My favorite performance of this film has to be Andrea Riseborough's characterization of Vicka. I found it to be terrifyingly subtle. I love the way her character slowly falls apart so quietly, and how her eyes, body language, and tone of voice say it all without effort. The rest of the cast does their job as expected, nothing outstanding or out of the ordinary.

So, for me, Oblivion turned out to be a science fiction film with some messy plot changes, beautifully shot but predictable action scenes, and above average cinematography. My husband and brothers, on the other hand, loved the film as a whole! They were riveted throughout and say they will watch it again. So there you have it, two completely different reactions to the same film. One last comment, the title is perfect for the film.


The 2014 Science Fiction Experience

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Review: The Birthday of the World: and Other Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin

Published by Harper in 2002, The Birthday of the World: and Other Stories is a collection of eight stories by Ursula K. Le Guin. The collection begins with a marvelous introduction in which Le Guin provides readers familiar with her works a behind-the-scenes look at each story and new readers, like me, with enough understanding to enjoy them. Six of the eight stories are connected to her Hainish Cycle* series. These stories are all set in the different worlds Ekumen mobiles explore. In three, Le Guin focuses and expands on distinctive sets of social and/or cultural customs, while in the rest her mobiles confront conflicts arising from either observation or active participation in their attempt to understand different civilizations.

Of the stories focused on cultural and social customs, "Coming of Age in Karhide" is a favorite. Set in the frozen Gethenian world where its inhabitants are androgynous hermaphrodites, Le Guin weaves a coming of age piece filled with detailed intimacy and warmth. Le Guin refers to the other two stories, "Unchosen Love" and "Mountain Ways," as "a comedy of manners." They are both set in the world of "O" where the custom is for marriage to take place between four people -- two males and two females. The complexities used as a base to build this society's familial bonds were both intriguing and well thought out, however, neither story kept me as entranced as the outstanding tales where her mobiles discover conflict through observation or confront it through personal participation.

"The Matter of Seggri" is composed of observation reports written by various "mobiles" throughout years or centuries as they witness changes taking place in a society where women outnumber men. With Seggri's world, Le Guin experiments with the reversal of gender roles, as well as with the inevitable consequences arising from a society where "men have all the privilege and women all the power." Does Le Guin's thought experiment using gender imbalance and role reversal lead to a utopia for women? This is a fascinating study that ends the way it should.

"Solitude," also has a bit of that role reversal happening since villages are composed solely of women and children, while males are thrown out into the wilderness to fend for themselves as soon as they reach puberty. Women choose if or when to visit males for sexual pleasure or to have children, but all inhabitants of this planet, males and females, relish solitude. The mobile in this piece pays a high price when she brings her children to live within this society. Le Guin conducts an intricate, detailed exploration of culture, gender roles, and human nature in this favorite piece.

And finally, in "Old Music and the Slave Women," Le Guin takes on the subject of racism and bigotry and turns it on its head by taking the reader to the planet Werel where slavery has always been the way of life. She picks up the story in the middle of a revolution as the slaves are winning. The long-term chief intelligence officer from the Ekumical embassy is taken prisoner by the losing side to be used as a weapon against them. Narrated from the mobile's point of view, his ideological views soon clash with the cruel realities of what a physical revolution entails as he first meets one faction and then the other. Will things really change? Or in the end, is bigotry and racism so ingrained in this society that it won't matter who comes to power?

Of the two remaining stories, including "The Birthday of the World," "Paradise Lost" captured my attention and stayed with me, not only because it deviates completely from the rest, but because the content and writing are fabulous. This is a space voyage set in a generational ship, focusing on the middle generations whose lives begin and end during the journey. Their duties are that of maintenance and ensuring that the journey continues unimpeded to its final destination. Imagine that! To those middle generations the ship is "the world," where they have built their own complex realities, have no real knowledge of their home planet Earth or Dischew, and little interest in their Destination. These generations's only knowledge of Dischew is through virtual reality programs where they learn about dangers encountered by past generations in their home planet through an educational system established by Generation Zero.
In the Fifth Generation
My grandfather's grandfather walked under heaven.
That was another world.
When I am a grandmother, they say, I may walk under heaven
On another world.
But I am living my life now joyously in my world
Here in the middle of heaven. -- 5-Hsing
"History is what we need never do again." Generation Zero attempts to build a future "world" where subsequent generations learn from their past history. There is no organized religion, disease, crime, and people's lives are highly organized and therefore effective -- all is beautiful, perfect and in its place. But, although certain anomalies are considered, they forget that humans learn through experience, that history is often manipulated and lost to future generations, and that what is important to one generation may become obsolete to others. They fail to take into consideration the human factor and, as expected, there is trouble in Paradise. However, in Paradise Lost that human factor also includes love of freedom and the beauty that life has to offer. This is a 115 page-long study of the complexities (the seemingly simple and deeply profound) found in human nature.

As an added bonus at the end of this book, you will find the fabulous essay "On Despising Genres" (a piece that deserves a post of its own), followed by "Answers to a Questionnaire." Both give the reader further insight into the author's personal thought process.

*Related Post
Ursula K. Le Guin & The Hainish Cycle Series

Reviewed as part of The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience

Monday, December 23, 2013

Review: The Kassa Gambit by M.C. Planck

I purchased M.C. Planck's science fiction debut novel, The Kassa Gambit when it first released. I picked up the 288 page-long hard cover edition of this rather short space opera because the premise looked interesting. It is a quick read, but I found it to be superficially developed without enough details to make it stand out in any way. The sci-fi world-building is rather generic with action that lacks real excitement, and while the characters did not draw me into the story, to a certain extent, the plot did. The Kassa Gambit is your basic mystery set in space with the two main characters separately, and together, fighting their way to find the answers. I love mysteries, so of course once I began reading, I wanted to know the final resolution.

Captain Prudence Falling and the small crew of the small tramp freighter Ulysses answer a distress call from the small planet of Kassa and inexplicably find it to have been decimated by a full-blown attack. Right behind the Ulysses is a ship from Altair Prime's Fleet and with them comes police office Lt. Kyle Daspar of Altair Prime, an anti-League double agent working undercover, sent there on an unexplained mission. While aiding survivors, Kyle, Prudence and her crew discover a crashed, abandoned "alien" spaceship. This discovery means that humans are not alone in the universe and everything will change.

Kyle comes to the conclusion that an unknown someone from the League sent him to Kassa for foul purposes. Hoping that his undercover anti-League role is not blown, he denies knowledge of the find and carefully arranges for another Fleet Captain to conveniently make the discovery. Meanwhile, as Prudence and her crew leave Kassa and run to safety, she spreads bits of news throughout the ports implying that the planet has been brutally bombed and devastated by aliens. The news quickly makes the rounds around the scattered planets as Kyle barely survives a brutal attack. Soon Prudence and Kyle find themselves on the run together trying to figure out who is really behind the attack on Kassa and what the ultimate ramifications may mean to the human race.

The Kassa Gambit is categorized as a space opera, so the first thing I looked for were the science fiction details and world-building. The science fiction information provided such as the superficial touches on sociological, cultural, and political structures, and the more detailed explanations of space travel with spaceships using the gravitational pull of planets to accelerate and decelerate and jumping through actives "nodes," turned out to be good, but predictable. The action is also there with a few space battles and the threat of lurking danger, it's just not exciting action. Additionally, as expected, this is not a character-driven story. Instead, the central characters serve as the key narrators whose roles are to drive the plot forward by providing details and action. These characters, however, need to be engaging to keep the reader interested and invested enough to care about what happens to them. It is unfortunate then that I never came to care for Captain Prudence Falling.

Prudence is a cold, paranoid, self-centered character who doesn't change by the end of the story -- even when we are told she does, I didn't quite believe in her. Her paranoia boosts her skills as a Captain and gives her good insight. However, there are mixed signals given about this character -- telling and not showing. For example, in my opinion, Prudence's attitude toward her crew says a lot about her. Despite attempts to keep her distance, Pru has supposedly found a "family" with her crew, and is particularly attached to simple-minded Jor whom she mothers. But, there is a disconnect there because one minute she's protective of him and the next she's using or willing to sacrifice Jor to save herself.

Kyle's personality traits match Pru's in that he is cold, calculating and paranoid. He is also willing to sacrifice others, but in his case it is so that he may complete his mission to keep his home planet, Altair Prime, safe. A man with a purpose and nothing to lose, Kyle is dangerous but I also found him to possess warmth and a conscience. Unfortunately, his paranoia is so extreme at this point that at times throughout the story, his way of processing information and working through possible political and personal ramifications become a confusing, frustrating mess. The "romantic" touch in this space opera is awkward with Kyle and Prudence developing an almost instant, and not entirely understandable, attachment for each other.

The thing is that the premise for the mystery plot in The Kassa Gambit worked well enough to keep me reading. And I believe that although this book is lacking in those small details that make a space opera shine, if I had thought of it as entertaining, light science fiction, it may have worked for me. I particularly liked a few of the secondary characters that provide Prudence and Kyle with information while they jump from planet to planet, the fast paced evolution of the story, and the twisty revelations and resolutions Planck uses in the end.

Category: Science Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Tor Books/January 8, 2013

The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Spotlight: Ursula K. Le Guin & The Hainish Cycle Series

About the Author: Ursula K. Le Guin is the author of more than 100 short stories, 2 collections of essays, 4 volumes of poetry, and 18 novels. Her best known fantasy works, the Books of Earthsea, have sold millions of copies in the U.S., the U.K., and have been translated into sixteen languages. Her first major work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness, is considered epoch-making in the field of its radical investigation of gender roles and its moral and literary complexity.

Three of Le Guin's books have been finalists for American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize and among the many honors her writing has received are a National Book Award, five Hugo Awards, five Nebula Awards, the Kafka Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Howard Vursell Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


In the two science fiction books I read by Le Guin, (The Birthday of the World and The Left Hand of Darkness) she seemed to be significantly deliberate in her presentation of race, gender, culture, and social identity. Her characters, in their majority, are racially and culturally diverse, and the examination and exploration of gender roles and sexual identity take center stage. This exploration largely extends to include the psychological and sociological impact that effects individuals as they first interact with diverse indigenous populations, different environmental issues, cultures, and political structures. In some of her stories the cultural exchange shocks one side, however in others, it has the reverse effect and/or is experienced by both sides.

In the introduction to the above mentioned books, Le Guin refers to some of her stories as "thought experiments." I can see why, and believe that she seems to have found the perfect niche to conduct those experiments within the Science Fiction genre. From what I've read so far, I think of her work as social science fiction, although I understand that she's not fond of labels. However, if like me, you are just beginning to familiarize yourself with Le Guin, then I believe there is a need to point out that her science fiction is not composed of epic space battles or fast paced action. Instead, I found that her books are masterful pieces of science fiction written in gorgeous prose, with stories that will make you think, and then think again.

Hainish Cycle Series
Rocannon's World*, 1966
Planet of Exile*, 1966
City of Illusions*, 1967
The Left Hand of Darkness, 1969 (Hugo and Nebula Award Winner)
The Dispossessed, 1974 (Nebula, Hugo, Locus Award Winner)
The Word for World is Forest, 1976 (Hugo Award, best novella)
Four Ways to Forgiveness, 1995 (Four Stories of the Ekumen)
The Telling, 2000 (Locus SF Award, Endeavour Award)

In the Hainish Cycle series, for example, Le Guin conducts her "thought experiments" by utilizing a whole galaxy of worlds inhabited by different civilizations descended from humans originally born in Terra. Throughout the centuries the inhabitants of these worlds have evolved, sometimes physically to adapt to their environment, but more significantly these civilizations have established different cultural and social structures. Using Le Guin's own words, she has constructed a "loose world" in which a galactic civilization composed of different planets are connected by a central organization called the Ekumen. Le Guin describes Ekumen as a "non-directive, information-gathering consortium of worlds, which occasionally disobeys its own directive to be non-directive."

The Hainish are first and foremost observers and collectors of information about other civilizations -- they learn, absorb, integrate, and as a result grow individually and collectively. Their way is not to interfere with the development of the diverse cultures encountered, instead the Ekumen organization first sends out teams of observers to inhabited worlds to learn language, general culture and assess whether the indigenous population is ready to join their galactic civilization in the trade of goods, advanced technology and education. This process may take centuries. Once readiness is established an envoy or "mobile" is deployed to make first contact and to record his experiences. If the first "mobile" fails, they may send another one later on.

The Hain and their Ekumen travel through space and communicate instantaneously through a device called the "ansible." However, although advanced technology is used, they do not possess that of faster-than-light travel. This combination of slow travel with fast communication gives the worlds within the galactic Ekumen organization the ability to trade, but it also keeps the worlds isolated and independent from each other. So there are no nitty gritty details of advanced technologies, instead Le Guin gives the reader enough information to sweep them along with her "mobiles" as they travel and experience different alien worlds, giving her the opportunity of putting into play the exploration of race, gender roles and sexual identity, culture, and social identity, as well as the psychological and sociological impact, I mention above.


I've had The Dispossessed (1974) in my Kindle for a while, but I decided to explore Le Guin's work through short stories (just a taste first, I thought). As a result, I began reading this series from back to front and then proceeded by picking up a book out of sequence.

I picked up The Birthday of the World: and Other Stories (2002) first, a collection of short stories of which six of the eight are connected to the Hainish Cycle series. I read the first two stories plus the last one, stopped reading the collection, picked up The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), went back to the collection and was hooked. Now, I have the entire series in my possession (some in print and others in ebook format) and hope to read as many books as I can this winter (in order!).

My December posts will all become part of my participation in the 2014 Sci-Fi Experience hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings.

*The Worlds of Exile and Illusion omnibus contains the first three novellas of the Hainish Cycle series: Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile, and City of Illusions.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Joining: The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience & Vintage Science Fiction Month

It's that time of the year when we join challenges and non-challenges for the upcoming year. I have once again decided to join one of my favorite non-challenge events, The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings.

Carl's love of science fiction is contagious and he is again inviting readers to:

a) Continue their love affair with science fiction
b) Return to science fiction after an absence, or
c) Experience for the first time just how exhilarating science fiction can be.

This year, however, he threw all of us a curve ball by changing the dates and began early. I'm already behind! The experience is running for a two month period which already began on December 1, 2013 and will end on January 31, 2014.

I have books and books that I've been saving for this event, so now I just need to get started with reading and reviewing. One of my goals for this experience is to explore Ursula K. Le Guin's backlist, an author whose works I've been meaning to read for a long time. I just finished reading her collection of short stories The Birthday of the World (2002) and The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), and I do really want to get to The Dispossessed (1974) before the end of January.

I will also be joining the Vintage Science Fiction Month , a non-challenge limited to the month of January 2014 and hosted by the Little Red Reviewer. Vintage in this case means science fiction books published before 1979! I have Le Guin's books in mind, of course, but I also need to look at my stack of books and ebooks before making a final decision on the rest of my reads for January.

I again look forward to indulging my love of science fiction by participating in both of these events in 2014.

If you are a sci-fi fan and are interested in joining either of these events, please click on the links above and head over to sign up, or just check out the review pages, you will find loads of great books read and reviewed during the next two months!