Sunday, December 30, 2012

Review of American Gods

    American Gods: Author's Preferred Text

       You can conjure anything based on belief, especially gods and monsters. The central conceit of American Gods by Neil Gaiman is that because humans believe in the gods, the gods exist. Fairies, kobolds, immortal queens and kings, and so forth are real simply because humans sought explanations for their world. It is an excellent idea to base a novel around and Gaiman takes readers on a tour of the spiritual landscape of the world and the backroads and quiet centers of the American continent.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Review of Encountering The Mind

   Encountering the Mind

      Reading the first published work from an author can be a treat because one is seeing the writer in their rawest form, generally showing the author’s initial leanings in terms of content and style. The content and style of Tabitha Edson’s Encountering The Mind is poignant, blood-soaked, and sinister in equal measure. Miss Edson has shown in her first published work that she has a penchant for the macabre, the deranged, and sorrow. While there are a few minor gripes over writing style, I found this collection of short-short fiction and poetry to be a welcome and engaging book.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Review of Treasure Island

  Treasure Island (Dover Thrift Editions)

   Pirates are the endurable symbol of man’s desire for freedom from restriction and the cost of such freedom. They are one of the few mythic archetypes in literature that can be both the villain of the story as well as the protagonist thanks in large part to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Few adventure stories have had such a wide-ranging impact on storytelling and popular culture. While Stevenson did not invent the swashbuckling genre, the argument can be made that he made a swashbuckling story that is close to perfect.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Review of A Scanner Darkly

     A Scanner Darkly

     When one reads any story written by Philip K. Dick, one expects certain themes and situations to appear. An example would be the question: What constitutes reality? In A Scanner Darkly, Dick uses drug culture and the often-debilitating effects of drug abuse to take the reader through a journey into a fracturing mind. It is an honest portrayal of the cost of experiencing life through the distorted mirror of altered states of consciousness. It is also one of the most personal stories written by the late Philip K. Dick, based largely on the people he encountered during his own lost times.

Friday, October 26, 2012

October Absence

   It's been a strange month for me. The last few weeks have seen a change in jobs, which is what threw my reading and posting schedule completely off-kilter. For those who have been following this page loyally, I apologize for the communication blackout. Starting in November, I'll resume my pace of at least two book reviews each month, beginning with a review of A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Review of Corruption

     CORRUPTION: A Marshal Boothe Tale of Justice (SIMON VECTOR)

     There are few things as terrifying as a truly just man. The “White Hat” of literature is an old staple, a good man fighting against a bankrupt world. In the latest Entrypoint novella Corruption (part of the Simon Vector universe), the audience is given a closer glimpse into the violent, extortionate setting of this sci-fi universe. While the plot of the story is exceedingly familiar, the characters within the book make notable what could have been a merely rote storytelling experience.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Review of "Death Angel's Shadow"

     Karl Edward Wagner’s work can be described as brutally nihilistic in both tone and scope. In a trio of short stories, Wagner sends Kane, the Mystic Swordsman, hurtling from one blood-soaked adventure to another. Each story that makes up Death Angel’s Shadow surrounds itself with death like a hedonistic lover’s arms. And while there is an amount of erudite mental wrangling done by the lead character, the majority of these stories is spent in visceral escapism.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Review of "The First Days: As the World Dies"

     Of all the monsters humans have created, zombies stand out as among the most terrifying. While vampires (representing unbridled sexuality and the lure of immortality) and werewolves (representing the animalistic id of human nature) are arguably the most popular, zombies have become the metaphor for our greatest fear: our own consumer nature run amok. Rhiannon Frater’s The First Days: As the World Dies follows the path of previous zombie stories and films but manages to break some new ground in terms of characters.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Review of "Stranger in a Strange Land"

     Religion and sexuality are two of the most difficult subjects to engage as a writer. Regardless of the writer’s intentions, someone is going to be deeply offended or challenged, probably both. Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land seeks to both offend and challenge. Heinlein uses the eponymous stranger to stand on a soap box and examine humanity’s penchant for ideology and sexual repression. Clearly a product of its time, the novel does not hold up as well on the speculative fiction front. On the psychological front, the novel can and does retain an impactful message for humans to examine their own foibles.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Review of "Shadow of the Torturer"

     To say that Gene Wolfe is a difficult author is both a compliment and a knock. In Shadow of the Torturer, the first in a four book series known as The Book of the New Sun, Wolfe’s strongly allusive language is on full display. From character names to descriptions to articles of clothing, Wolfe uses language in the most deliberate fashion. Not a single word chosen by the author is random and throughout this novel, one can see the author’s love and command of language.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Review of "Correction"

        CORRUPTION: A Marshal Boothe Tale of Justice (SIMON VECTOR)

       Of all the villains in literature, the serial killer is the most terrifying for one simple reason: it could be anyone. And yet such monsters command our attention as an audience as few others do. In Correction by Jak Holding (a prequel novella to Simon Vector), the audience is given the background and choices which led to the “Mad Doctor of Mars” Gerald Ruhming to be on the Alpha Draconis penal colony. The fast-paced novella serves as a portal to enter the deranged mind of a very human monster.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Review of "Dune"

     To borrow a line from a film adaption of this novel: “When politics and religion ride in the same cart, the whirlwind follows.” Frank Herbert’s Dune is easily one of the most layered works of fiction produced during the twentieth century. From examining byzantine political gambits to the human penchant for hero worship, Herbert using a far-flung future setting to examine the best and worst aspects of human nature. Dune is easily one of the primary masterpieces of science fiction despite being a dense, somewhat difficult book for the average reader.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Review of "Darkness Weaves"

     As I read Karl Edward Wagner’s Darkness Weaves, I was struck by the familiarity of the setting. The pre-industrial (and possibly post-apocalyptic) world of Kane, the Mystic Swordsman, is classic sword and sorcery with malevolent witches, blood-soaked battles, and a plethora anti-heroes. This is not “high fantasy” of the Tolkien or Brooks variety where the heroes are virtuous and good triumphs over evil in the end. There is no limit to the action, moving from thrilling violence for its own sake as well as enough titillating (and transgressive) sexuality for anyone who prefers more adult-fare in their fantasy.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Review of "More Notes of a Dirty Old Man"

     The view from below often carries a certain amount of filth. But even this filth can be seen as fertilizer for something to grow. Charles Bukowski’s view of the world came from the bottom. And in that view were the basest aspects of life that drove a person forward. More Notes of a Dirty Old Man stands as a collection of fiction, anecdotes, and semi-autobiographical columns written by Bukowski over much of his life. It certainly is not for the weak-minded or the ordinary.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Review of “Kiss the Dead”

     One of the most difficult versions of fiction is a series of stories centered on the same characters. On the one hand, readers get to see an evolution of those characters over time, otherwise known as a character study. The downside is that a series can become stale and rote after awhile. Sadly, the latter option is the conclusion I came to after reading the latest Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter book Kiss the Dead. This is not to say that there are not enjoyable bits in the book (which there are) but those bits are few compared to the overall disappointment I felt reading the book.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Review of The Demolished Man

       Speculative fiction works in no small part because of its basis in Socratic questioning. It is a simple exercise: Suppose “________”. Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man, first published in 1953 has both an interesting pedigree (this is the book that won the very first Hugo Award for best novel) and an interesting Socratic question: Suppose that telepathy exists in the world. This supposition leads to the catalyst question: In such a world, how does one get away with murder?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Review of Simon Vector


     For those that have been fans of this genre for any serious length of time, you find that there are really two types of science fiction. The first is sci-fi or space fantasy, which can be best be exemplified by Star Wars. The other is science fiction or talk and tech, which one sees when watching Star Trek. Simon Vector , written by JAK Holding, tries to straddle the line between the two and is mostly successful in doing so.