"review" · concenter · fiction · Lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · young adult lit

{book} of all possible worlds…

best of all possible worldsThe Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

Ballantine Books|Del Rey, 2013.

hardcover, 303 pages. Library borrow.

A proud and reserved alien society finds its homeland destroyed in an unprovoked act of aggression, and the survivors have no choice but to reach out to the indigenous humanoids of their adopted world, to whom they are distantly related. They wish to preserve their cherished way of life but come to discover that in order to preserve their culture, they may have to change it forever.

Now a man and a woman from these two clashing societies must work together to save this vanishing race — and end up uncovering ancient mysteries with far-reaching ramifications. As their mission hangs in the balance, this unlikely team — one cool and cerebral, the other fiery and impulsive — just may find in each other their own destinies… and a force that transcends all.—Publisher’s comments.

You know how an occasional character or two will channel a familiar voice or face? Dllenahkh, the third-limited narrator (in alternation) of Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds, brought the dulcet tones of Spock with an edge of Sherlock to surface. His situation of a recently annihilated nation didn’t hurt either. But the predominant first person voice of Grace Delarua rather pleasantly brought my friend Leah to mind. Think: intelligent, emotionally sensitive, snarky, laughter-loving, possessively independent, fiercely loyal to tribe, lover of the pretty and companionable. She will underestimate herself at times, admits to vulnerability, but is incredibly courageous. Even thinking beyond the measures of these attributes Lord concocts for her heroine, Leah would even share similar psi-abilities. She is smart, loving, and funny—Delarua, my friend Leah, and Karen Lord.

“He frowned in puzzlement as he tapped in our destination. ‘Why are you thanking me? I haven’t done anything yet.’

‘You listen to my crazy ideas and make sense out of them. That’s worth some thanks.’

He let the autopilot take us and turned to face me, eyes flashing. “What you describe as the product of a mental imbalance, I would classify as swift, intuitive thinking to arrive at creative solutions.” (249)

Carrying off a light-hearted amusement amid a pretty serious occasion is a trick Karen Lord makes appear effortless. Moving forward and remembrance, maintaining histories and beginnings, the tensions of what is “appropriate” in any give situation are reflected in the solemn and the lightness of being. Setting elements of romantic-comedy amid relief & rehabilitation post-mass-genocide is daring, and with Lord’s confidence, successful. The fulcrum upon which The Best of All Possible Worlds is hope…and grace. Relationships require both and the novel centralizes its story around the discovery and recovery of relationships.

“I have come to the conclusion that while superiority may be our most obvious flaw, it is not the most dangerous one. […] I believe that our main flaw, and one I acknowledge in myself, is not that we consider ourselves superior but invincible. This makes it difficult to ask for help, even from our own”  (188).

Having worked with Second Assistant Delarua as a biotechnician helping the Sadiri homestead on the Cygnus Beta, Councilor Dllenahkh enlists her aid in a survey of the planets other emigrants who, in any way (phenotypically, traditionally, genotypically), would be a good source for mating partners. Delarua discovers a lot about herself along the way, but so does Dllenahkh and other crew-members whom Lord makes irresistible. The social commentary is served alongside endearing characters and the gorgeously bizarre—e.g. The Fearie (119). Conversations surrounding pregnancy and the female professional (158), victim-blaming (i.e. p 152), and human trafficking (~171) to name a few, are nestled among action-adventure sequences, physical comedy, workplace-friendship-family drama, and time-travel.

There is plenty of science in the fiction. I was especially drawn to the inclusion of lore. But I dig the multi-faceted discipline of Anthropology, which is the predominant science of the novel—thus the Ursula K. LeGuin allusion in jacket copy. Lord is not at subtle as LeGuin, lulling you into critically considering an alien race before realizing she is really talking about humanity and our conditions (individually/socially), and her tone is more conversational than her predecessor. Neither does Lord try to rename the familiar like the impulse seems to be for many science fictions. The vernacular is close and pop cultural references feel as recent as now (not future-alien-earth)—watching “holovids.” The time-travel is pretty complicated , the telepathic, psionic elements of particular interest. Lord proves herself a capable conversant on these subjects but does not bog down the story. It is as if Lord is less interested in hiding the SFF fact that we are talking about humans and contemporary social realities, and more interested in the transparencies SFF have to offer. I’m thinking about how she begins with the humanoid-familiarity first before introducing the alien, or even the science. She draws from human experience in imagining The Best of All Possible Worlds in plenty of interesting ways, but I am presently infatuated with one in particular.

The End of the Laughter. I recognize this one,’ said Joral. ‘Is this the adaptation of Enough, the taSadiri tale of a man who kills his unfaithful wife and her lover?’

‘No,’ said Tarik, shaking his head firmly. ‘You have made a common error. In this one, he kills the man that he mistakenly thinks is her lover while her real lover gets away. This is an adaptation of the Ainya play Deception, not Enough.’

“Okay, not meaning to muddy the waters,’ I said, ‘but I’m fairly certain that what we have here is a version of Otello, one of the old Terran standards. Kills his not-unfaithful wife on the says-so of a man who was out to get him.’

Lian approached the poster more closely and read the fine print at the bottom out loud. ‘Based on the Italian opera Pagliacci.’

We crowded around the poster. ‘Who dies?’ asked Tarik with interest. ‘And was the infidelity real or alleged?’

‘Is there some other production we might attend which does not illustrate that dysfunctional pair bonding is endemic in most cultures?’ asked Dllenahkh with heavy disapproval. (140)

In my albeit limited experience with science fiction, I am almost always left with the impression that a planet is homogenous. When encountering this “new life and new civilization” (Star Trek) on (or from) planet $@#!, the life-forms and society  depicted is indicative of the planet’s whole. As Lord traverse’s Cygnus Beta, its Terra-formed populations become reminiscent of our own diverse global landscape; folk lore is one indicator (Celtic, Chinese, etc.), an isolationist island country that observes hierarchy and strict decorum?? and Cygnus-Beta is proud of its shared heritage among the emigrated natives: “There isn’t a group on Cygnus Beta who can’t trace their family back to some world-shattering event. Landless, kinless, unwanted—theoretically, the Sadiri would fit right in” (9). The Cygnian society is willing to host and aide the refugee. Lord moves in and out of time, uses fictional and non-fictional allusions, but the references are Earth-as-we-know-it-based. A planet can and does support diverse life and civilizations. And a single government may; which is where the global exploration works to demonstrate. The planet could be seen as a single country, or no; but there is the greater government with its structures in place. There is policy and protocol that presides over the mission and the civilizations met. This government then, is influenced and linked to one greater than itself. The problems and pleasures of multi-culturalism is explored and the end result of the relationships within the novel can evidence a powerful message.

Or you can just be wildly entertained by The Best of All Possible Worlds, but I find Karen Lord to be too assertive and intelligent of perspective to ignore. She just makes the reading easier. The easy familiarity fosters the human potentiality of allowing the other their dignity and value; exhibiting hope and grace; that maybe we could do all of this without losing our-selves: a relevant anxiety for many right now. Lord explores this with humor and grace.

——————

recommendations… an accessible novel for non-readers of SF. for those looking for depictions of people of color and culture that differ from White and nuclear.

Was one of Carl V’s favorites of 2013 over at Stainless Steel Droppings in which he writes:

“In addition to the way in which the story is different than most science fiction one would pull from the shelf, the reason it stands out is that you get to know these characters and develop an emotional bond with them. You care about what happens to them and you keep reading hoping that your desires will find fulfillment. This was my first experience with the work of Karen Lord. It will not be my last, she is a true talent.”

thanks again Carl for the book recommendation!

of note: I’m still working to articulate this: but I didn’t want to leave this post w/out suggesting that there is something Karen Lord does as a storyteller that only she, as a female storyteller can do…in an argument as to why we need published-access to female writers and/or a writer of color: The Best of All Possible Worlds is the most positive consequence of greater diversity in Literature.

2014sfexp400read for The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience…and my own desire to read toward Diversity in Lit.

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Born in Barbados, Karen Lord is an award-winning author of Redemption in Indigo (2010). Expect Rafi Delarua’s return in August 2014 w/ The Galaxy Game. She has BSc in Physics and cites martial arts/fencing as a hobby (link). She has “has taught physics, trained soldiers, worked in the Foreign Service and earned a Ph.D. in the sociology of religion” (2013 Bookpage interview w/Gavin Grant).  From the Bookpage interview:

“I know you read far and wide. Have you read anything recently you’d especially recommend? [recs linked]
I love to recommend Caribbean science fiction, [like] Ghosts by Curdella Forbes (2012) and The Rainmaker’s Mistake by Erna Brodber (2007). I’ve gained a new appreciation for short story collections. I recently read Ted Chiang’s brilliant Stories of Your Life and Others (I know, I’m late). Karin Tidbeck’s recent debut collection Jagannath is beautiful, and The Weird anthology, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, is essential reading.”

Learn more about Karen Lord: her site; & note her “Reading List”.

"review" · fiction · Lit · mystery · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy

{book} life-altering lenses

eye in the sky coverEye in the Sky by Philip K Dick

Mariner Books (Houghton Mifflin), 2012 edition

orig. written 1957 & published by Ace Books.

Tradepaper, 243 pages.

What does it say about me that this was a Christmas gift?

“When a routine tour of a particle accelerator goes awry, Jack Hamilton and the rest of his tour group find themselves in a world ruled by Old Testament morality, where the smallest infraction can bring about a plague of locusts. Escape from that world is not the end, though, as they plunge into a Communist dystopia and a world where everything is an enemy.
Philip K. Dick was aggressively individualistic and no worldview is safe from his acerbic and hilarious take downs. Eye in the Sky blends the thrills and the jokes to craft a startling morality lesson hidden inside a comedy.” (jacket copy)

As you may have guessed from the synopsis, Eye in the Sky employs the ridiculous with an indiscriminate hand. Such brand of humor isn’t for everyone, nor is the novel. Not to come across as snotty, it is one of those reads that comes out better if the reader has a good grasp on their history lessons. That said, it does have that timeless quality as the U.S. hasn’t progressed that far from extreme political paranoia and race- and class-ism. And apparently, helicopter parenting is not a new phenomena after all. In true Dickian fashion, Eye in the Sky is bizarre, but incredibly relevant.

I heard a bit of a humming sound as I read the science in the fiction (more the physics than the electronics, oddly enough); so forgive me if I do not observe plausibility. As it was, I was quickly swept up into the impossible (but familiar?) situation the Hamiltons, and then the tour group, finds themselves in.

If they’d expected to wake at all after the accident, it should have been in a hospital. Instead they wake in what increasingly appears to be an alternate reality—but whose? and how? It isn’t a deserted island destination but a dystopia of frightening—and amusingly imagined—proportion. And the next reality after they’ve survived the first is just as terrifying. Our guide and protagonist Jack Hamilton reads a lot like Rick Deckard (for those of you who’ve read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)—though instead of a young Harrison Ford, I cast Cary Grant. He is wry, and a bit bewildered.

It becomes clear as the novel progresses that regardless of the diverse perspectives/utopic visions, there is little room for Jack and his wife Marsha’s less conservative views. And they are not the only ones who do not belong, finding the ‘reality’ conflict-ridden, to say nothing of oppressive. Eye in the Sky introduces a question of social tolerances; what one is able to abide, arguments toward degrees of moderation in the face of extremist points-of-view. The young black tour guide and physicist, Bill Laws, and free-thinking, feminist Marsha Hamilton are the most intriguing to watch. And it is also interesting to think about how are protagonist reads and responds to the shifting landscape about him. For fans of character-driven novels, Dick is a favorite spiked dessert. He is nothing if not provoking.

And he knows how to set up a good thriller. I should have seen the end coming, and I know I owe this book a second read at least. Dick is excellent with the surreal and painfully concrete. His imagination and social critique are love letters, exactly what I need to know exists out there; so eloquent and messy, yet precise.

——————

2014sfexp200recommendations… If you are a Philip K Dick fan, this one should not escape your notice, unless the occasional religious and/or nationalistic irreverence is not your cup of tea—though now I am wondering when/where he doesn’t make such commentary? If conspiracies and paranoia are a Sunday afternoon, Dick continues to dispense thrillers with a delight in the darkly absurd. Eye in the Sky is especially bizarre, but it is a quick and compelling read for fans of such things.

of note… this is a read for the Sci-Fi Experience 2014.

"review" · Children's · fiction · juvenile lit · Picture book · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · Tales

{book} bound-picture-page-funny-tale-carrier

fortunately the milk coverFortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman

illustrated by Skottie Young (as this is the U.S. edition)

Harper (HarperCollins) 2013. hardcover.

 

While mum is off at a conference presenting her paper on lizards, dad is tasked with minding the kids’ schedules, heating pre-made casseroles, and groceries–like the milk supply. Mum isn’t gone long and the milk supply is depleted. So dad, wanting to provide a breakfast of cereal for his son and daughter, as well as some milk for his tea, heads to the shop and takes a very long time returning. Once home, he has quite the story to tell.

fortunately-the-milk-croppe

“I bought the milk,” said my father. “I walked out of the corner shop, and heard a noise like this: thummthumm. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road.”

Hullo,” I said to myself. “That’s not something you see every day. And then something odd happened.” (jacket copy)

The eldest sibling is skeptical, the younger only cares if there are ponies–which there are, suddenly. The tale is marvelously outlandish with a time-travelling stegosaurus, pirates, a primitive tribe who worships a volcanic god Splod, and, of course, aliens (who bring Douglas Adams to mind…). There is a musical interlude put on by space dinosaurs (yes, Whovians, dinosaurs in space), and it is hilarious–and it is a reminder that this book should be enjoyed by the older crowd who will appreciate some of the humor.

FortunatelyMilk_USExcerptReveal-3

Fortunately, the milk (always emboldened in the text) happens to save the dad from all sorts of scrapes. Too, is his and Professor Steg’s wit. It is all pretty silly. And It is left up to the children and the reader whether the tale is true or not. It all depends on how you read the evidence, or how possible you think the world can be…

FtMink0061

Skottie Young illustrates the US version and Chris Riddell the UK*. They are fun, the rough sketch and energy reflect the tale the dad and book (as narrated by the son) tells. And there are a lot of illustrations, so the slim volume is chock full of visual and textual wit you won’t mind revisiting time and again, w/ or w/out the young-read-to-person in your life.

———————-

FTM06-349x500

*Child-Led Chaos (provider of above image) compares the US/UK versions–it is excellent, so check it out–for instance the dad in Riddell’s version is inspired by Gaiman himself. and spoilers–it comes down to preference, the reviewer is happy to own both.

{all images belong to Skottie Young (whose linked deviantart page is fab), except the final pairing where the upper is evidently Chris Riddell’s doing, and as such,  belongs to him.}

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the time travel (“transtemporal metascience” (88)), the aliens, and the outer space makes this a Sci-Fi Experience!

"review" · cinema · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · Uncategorized

{television} almost human

almost-human-poster-21top-710x400

“In a not-so-distant future, human cops and androids partner up to protect and serve.” IMDb

Do you remember RoboCop (1987)? I do. It was okay for the time, but it isn’t something I can get excited re-booting. Yes, I know there is a film in the offing. I had it in my mind that Fox’s new television show Almost Human (2013) was of RoboCop ilk. It isn’t. Now Blade Runner (1982)? Yes. It even has a pleasant flavor of the recent [Judge] Dredd (2012)–in which Karl Urban just so happened to star–minus the intense gore & bloodletting. Also, not so comic-bookish. Add a tinge of Total Recall (2012) while your at it…at least for the “pilot.”  All this to say: I decided to watch not only the Pilot, but every episode since. If you like Blade Runner and/or Dickian sci-fi futures & dilemmas, give it a go.

Almost-Human-wide-560x282

Starring: (l-r) Michael Irby (Richard Paul), Minka Kelly (Valerie Stahl), Michael Ealy (Dorian), Karl Urban (John Kennex), Lili Taylor (Capt. Sandra Maldonado) & Mackenzie Crook (Rudy Lom).

Almost Human reads like a procedural drama closer to Castle (humor) than Law & Order: SVU (gut-wrenching horror), but it does have serious & dark matters. The technological future plays not only into the setting, but to its unusual criminal opportunity. The show also takes advantage of human drama in the philosophical musings of its android character Dorian (Michael Ealy). With all its gadgetry and ‘what does it mean to be (almost) human?’ the series is going for gritty realism, carrying off normalcy with incredible aplomb. The success, in great part, is due to casting Karl Urban as Detective John Kennex who is at home in science-fictional landscapes, action films, and comedy. He translates well and carries off his character and the situations convincingly. His age is perfect on him (delicious one might say).

almost human ealy urban

I am steadily warming to the Urban and Ealy chemistry, Dorian’s character ever surprising Kennex, to our delight. He has a dry wit, delivered smooth. The body count has been high, and so have been the laughs. Anticipating story lines presents a new challenge with the future and its tech being foreign enough. This brings me to the mad-scientist in the basement Rudy Lom (Mackenzie Crook). His lab really ties the show back to Blade Runner (for Sean). He is typical of what we are seeing in handling of the characterization on the show. Two episodes in and Lom (Crook) has moved beyond caricature. I can’t possibly see anyone better in the role. This true of Kennex (Urban) and Dorian (Ealy). I look forward to a few of the other characters moving beyond device/role and owning the character they are in; and feel relief that it could be handled in an episode–we’re all still waiting on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013) to make someone other than Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg ) indispensable.

almost human crook urban

The androids maintain the appropriate distance, heavily applied foundation flattening their aspect, their movements robotic, expressions programmable. Dorian’s model is more flexible, but he always bears signs of his android-ness. There is alot of interesting (and not-so-interesting) conversations on how the show is handling race. What are they saying in casting Ealy as the android and Urban as the human? What would it say if it were the other way around? While we’ve seen sex-bots (“Skin” ep2), we’ve yet to see female androids (that I’ve noted), but the androids and human are ethnically diverse. And I adore their female captain Sandra Maldonado–the character and the actress Lili Taylor.

The pilot is unsurprisingly info-heavy, but it moves to tread more naturally into the subsequent episodes. It is so nice to not say, “Hmm, I’ll give this an episode or two.” I’m decided. Looking forward to a good season of sci-fi crime drama. Please, please, Fox do not cancel!

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Almost Human (2013)—

Created by J.H. Wyman. Theme Music: The Crystal Method. Executive producers: Wyman, J.J. Abrams & Bryan Burk, Producer: Athena Wickham. Location: Vancouver. Studios: Frequency Films, Bad Robot Films, Warner Bros. Television. Airing on Fox.

Uncategorized

{event} sci-fi experience

2014sfexp400According to its creator Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings, seven years ago, The Sci-Fi Experience was born 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.

Choose your options and Join us! This year the 2014 Sci-Fi Experience moves to a start date of December 1st and will run through the end of January 2014. You can link your blog up with others at Carl’s announcement page, post friendly content here (email me), and/or keep tabs on the review site.

I tend to watch more sci-fi than read it, but who knows what I’ll be up to over Winter Break.

{image: “Strength and Honor” by Stephan Martiniere, used with the artist’s permission}