"review" · chapter/series · Children's · comics/graphic novels · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · short story

{comic} BFFs

little robot cover

Little Robot by Ben Hatke

First Second, 2015.

Advanced Reader Copy (thank you First Second/Net Galley) in exchange for a fair review.

When a little girl finds an adorable robot in the woods, she presses a button and accidentally activates him for the first time. Now, she finally has a friend. But the big, bad robots are coming to collect the little guy for nefarious purposes, and it’s all up to a five-year-old armed only with a wrench and a fierce loyalty to her mechanical friend to save the day!–Publisher’s comments

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As observed of his Zita Spacegirl series “Hatke does really good robots—seriously, spaceships, gear, and really great robots.”* So when I heard First Second was publishing his Little Robot, I was super geeked.

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Little Robot is deceptively simple in presentation. Unlined panels, a lot of white space, silence for pages, uncluttered or uncomplicated compositions. The first text is “tap,” a sound effect on page 25. The first spoken text is on 27. The story is quiet yet brimming with expression. The reader is like the cat licking the robot, there is an initial zing, as well as a residual. We cannot remain unaffected.

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Like other Hatke heroines we’ve met, this little girl is beautifully determined and resourceful. She is alone and capable, lonely and courageous, and likes it that way. What is awesome about the story: its point is not whether the little girl will prove acceptable or not when human children arrive at the end of the book. When the human children do arrive, she runs off with her already true friend, the little robot she fought so hard to befriend/rescue. True, she needed a friend–and she’d found one.

Little Robot is very much a story of daring, of tenacity, of not letting a monster robot get in the way of a friendship you’ve invested in, one you’ve been waiting for.

The subject of life and death is hardly subtle, and in that way, it is accessible. The Little Robot is as animated and unnamed as the Little Human protagonist. They also seem to be subject to a greater machine at work, one that leaves her to her own devices, sneaking into the yards of others’ to play—an older white male watching her from the window. What is equally left unsaid is whether the man is malevolent. “ROM!” takes on a different affect at the end of the story after the mechanism is re-adjusted, can we infer the same of its human counterpart (if said man is, in fact, its counterpart?); Industry is.

I love the juxtaposition of Machine and Nature. I love the delightful experiences of those a forming friendship. I love that the last image brings to mind Castle in the Sky (Miyazaki, 1986)… Hatke is artful in his use of of panel, in the reaches across. He is judicious in breaking the reverie of the image with text. He’s playful. And he writes the best female characters and their adventures in such a way that it makes it difficult to understand just how rare their portrayals and their settings actually are.

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Ben Hatke’s work is worth the anticipation it builds, not just the robots, but the girls, their adventures, their courage, their heart. I can’t wait to meet his next adventure, but in the meantime, I’ll indulge a few re-reads.

——-

recommendations: emerging readers through grade-school, and adults. STEM kids, and artists. Those needing greater diversity in their library/repertoire. lovers of robot art.

*Legends of Zita Spacegirl review. Here is one for Zita Spacegirl.

{images belong to Ben Hatke}

Uncategorized

{television} deep breath(ing)

deep-Jenna-Louise-Coleman-Peter-Capaldi-Doctor-Who-Deep-Breath-570x422
Clara (Jenna Louise Coleman) & the 12th Doctor (Peter Capaldi) in a wickedly creepy, yet delightful scene.

The household are Whovians to varying degrees, but all of us felt fairly equal trepidation with the New Doctor: the Twelfth Doctor played by Peter Capaldi. It isn’t that we doubt Capaldi as an actor. It’s just that we admit to liking the younger Doctors–and Series 8, Episode 1: “Deep Breath” called us out on it.

The first episode of the 12th Doctor (written by Steven Moffat) addresses the issue of a dramatic (backwards) shift in the age of the Doctor head-on. The Ben Wheatley directed episode opens with a dinosaur in old London–not subtle. When Matt Smith took over from David Tennant, his antics during regeneration could be described as goofy, the same antics played by Capaldi could easily misconstrued as senility. Tennant ran around in nightclothes, but Capaldi’s historical dress accentuate elderly over silly. Then there is Clara’s (Jenna Coleman) response to the new face and disoriented Doctor. Her response should harken back to Rose’s (Billie Piper) discomfort with the Christopher Eccleston-David Tennant transition during Series 2, but Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) calls her on confusing the Doctor as a dashing young love-interest rather than the very old Time Lord that he actually is. It is soon made apparent that the episode is using Clara as the audience’s avatar, both in guilt and self-defense. And bless it, Moffat offers a balm. (Have tissues ready).

Besides the challenging of ageism, the episode explores the question of pretenses, veils, facades.

deep-breath-capaldi-openingCapaldi’s Doctor is not adjusting to his old face with any greater ease, wondering “who frowned this face,” in a gorgeous dialog with a homeless man in an alley. “Where do the faces come from?” “Why’d I choose this face? Am I trying to tell myself something?” I love the accompanying question posed to the “regenerating” villain: “If you replace the parts often enough, are you still you? How many generations until you are not you?” (may have paraphrased).

“Deep Breath” punches the emotional core with its focus on lost and lonely creatures. The discombobulated Doctor and companion are juxtaposed to the household relationships between others who are out of time and place: Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart) and Strax (Dan Starkey). A central thrust to connect character drama and the criminal-mystery is in the dilemma of destroying a complete creature for one useful part? And what of that facet where a creature is destroyed to hide what it was that was taken from it?

Madame Vastra (Neve
Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh)

It took time adjusting to Capaldi, but we were won in an episode. We were equally impressed by how Clara had finally become a fully actualized character for us in one episode. Yes, we know that she had more than a full season for characterization, but after an intriguing play at a Jack Harkness-type character, they flattened her out and she became a mere vehicle for Smith’s departure. She’s back.

“Deep Breath” offers humor and horror and a really, really smart introduction to the 12th Doctor. We are feeling vastly reassured having seen it.

Of note: It will be worth your time to revisit “The Girl in the Fireplace” (S2, ep4: Tennant/Piper), wherein we realized that this new transitioning of the Doctor isn’t the only regenerating episode to reference “The Girl in the Fireplace.” The episode also rewards long-time viewers in other ways…yes, Sean winced when 12 rejected the notion of wearing a long scarf.

"review" · cinema · sci-fi/fantasy

{film} not exactly transcending

Despite the ubiquity with which it was panned, we decided to watch Transcendence (2014) anyway. I am not going to pan the film, but I would recommend it to only to a niche audience.

 

Transcendence-PosterWally Pfister directed Transcendence was pitched as a near kin to Inception (2010). And Christopher Nolan’s name is attached to both; he is executive producer of Transcendence and Writer/Director of the other. Their likeness will be found in the question of whether you believe a particular premise to be real or not. Which point-of-view is reliable, let alone right. What the films do not share is Inception’s action sequences and dazzling effects. I’m not trying to spoil the film, but rather rescue it from expectations. And the film could use some help at reception.

An activist organization is trying to thwart the advancement of Artificial Intelligent (A.I.), believing that technology has crossed ethical boundaries and must be stopped. One of their targets, Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is fatally wounded and between his research and other top scientist’s work, his wife Dr. Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Dr. Max Waters (Paul Bettany) are able to preserve his consciousness by uploading his brain’s neural engineering. A big question is whether it worked or is PINN (the A.I. Caster designed) hiding behind Caster’s façade (avatar). Another is: can the ensuing god-complex be stopped—and should it.

The cast is an impressive one, but the wow factor is suppressed by script, direction, and editing. The opening series of cross-cuts are inelegant. The science and philosophy in visual dialog and vocal are heavy* and either depends upon a savvy viewer, or an ignorant one. Transcendence is a film about ideas and, thus, is one for conversation afterward. Too, the film does choose a clearly delineated side to the kind of moral implications with which it wrestles.

Technology in the form of A.I. is both promising and perilous. What boundaries should this technology observe? Can and should it be regulated?  Who can we trust to make those moral and legislative decisions?

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Finding the hero in the film is part of its psychological playground. Paul Bettany as Max is our way in and through the film. He holds the interest of both the human and the machine; loves both the Casters and respects the fears of the rest. He is also only interested in intervening at what is perceived as the most fraught moment, suggesting he reacts rather than function as a proactive participant. And in the end, we are left to judge his actions over any other institution represented: science, marriage, government, activists. Because he is our representative, the viewer demands a less conflicted resolution—because we are sheepish that way.

If the film is only ever a love story between the Casters, one desperate to preserve her husband, the other only wanting to spend what time he can with her and see to her needs, it is the one story arch that finds clarity (especially if you are paying good attention to the framing sequences). The preservation of the loving union at its idyllic is of and returned to the garden. The sunflower is revived and can once again turn its face toward the sun, its creator (alluding to the Greek myth here).

The conversation of the creator and created is unavoidable in Transcendence. There is a question of where any relevant distinctions can be found between the created and its creator. Is PINN not somehow Will** even before the upload? And what does Evelyn contribute to the experiment? (more on that in a moment.) The created only live as long as the creator is connected (and vice versa); at least in some sequences anyway. The conversation neatly nestles into the soul vs. intelligence dilemma. Does the intelligence invent the concept of the soul, naming its self-consciousness thus? How does human emotion figure in—an equally rational part of us? Max argues that where emotion can handle the “illogical conflicts” like ‘loving someone, yet hating the things they’ve done.’ He observes that the “machine can’t reconcile that.”

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There is a concern in the narrative that Evelyn has emotionally contaminated the experiment somehow. She is the only figure connected with nature (gardening) and has the vision to change the world with the technology they are advancing. It is a subject of amusement and horror in the film that where she would change things for the greater good, while her husband only wants to figure out how the transcendent A.I. could/would work. I think the end points to a conflation of the two creators, male/female, Will/Evelyn. The two of whom we must kill, yet must also preserve in a story, in a garden. And yet, I am still nettled by the suggestion of her failure to remain indifferent makes her the compromised scientist and an inferior goddess. Additionally, his vulnerability to her desires makes him the failure as well. Transcendence is the story of The Fall: the edenic being the internet, the apple being A.I. and its subsequent technological advancements and/or you could read eden as the garden of their shared domestic space, and technology the intruding and fatal apple.

Transcendence wrestles with the conflict of mankind and technology, of our fears of how technology could aide us, but might supplant us. But the tension in the film relies on our cultural fear of a lack of privacy and intrusion upon individuality. It moves to cultivate a fear of the internet and the efficiency of its collaborative nature; a fear of the collective conscious; and a fear of the avatar and the anonymity of its user.

transcendence_ver5_xlgThe end suggestion is that we would rather embrace a stunted growth, a blissful ignorance even if it means suffering. Those who reach too far, too quickly are punished. Their regulators are an interesting brew of governmental entity and grassroots activism.

The leader of the activist-terrorists is not against technology. No one in the film is saying this: even Evelyn likes to unplug and spend time in her garden, etc. Will decides to forgo lab work to spend quality time with his wife.  The terrorist group encapsulates its manifesto in the length of a tweet. It uses cars, computers, phones, and weaponry to carry out its efforts; the difference, they cite, is the use of technology as aide, not attempting to supplant humanity. The government nurtures scientific inquiry, but it also wants to monitor it in the paternalistic way they do.

The trick in the film is to decide who is right, the government and activist who care for public interests, or those like the Casters who are protecting private interests. The answer is likely found in the love story—a marriage, which is both of public and private interest to succeed; and the only thing to transcend the human and the technological interferences.  Of course, I come to this conclusion with some thought and some indecision.

I was troubled by the framing narrative of the future where the Caster’s neighborhood shows children playing out of doors, people on bicycles, a warm summery glow, yet there is a military presence, and a lack of resources (the sign on the corner market door announcing no eggs or milk). Before they enact a “necessary” catastrophic event, the understanding is they will be met with an apocalyptic landscape. The only interruption or cease/desist to the increasingly rapid advancement of scientific technology is an apocalypse. The only way to stop the encroaching power and its technological over-reach of humanity is to annihilate it. Technology has to be returned to the state of an idea, a utopic vision; for its promises to be actualized would be perilous.

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Plenty hinges on a particular declaration near the end of the film, because the question of whether tech has any vision to be realized at all is in the balance. It is the not dissimilar to the debate regarding the humanity of corporations. There is a human consciousness generating an agenda at some point in the machine’s creation. We know that humans demonstrate a failure to self-regulate, and certainly able to perform acts without considerations for whom it harms. Even good intentions can wreak havoc. However, is it enough to get rid of the human behind the machine, if the machine has taken off without its inability to compute moral implication properly? And we’re back to figuring out who defines “propriety.”

The collaboration for the advancement of science witnessed in the film may be improper, while collaboration for the advancement of humanity is. But then we have to make the distinction between when the advancement of science is not in the interest of advancing humanity; or in the language of the film, when the “intelligence” becomes artificial and loses its “soul.” This is where the criticism of Dr. Max Waters’ seeming passivity comes into play. Interestingly enough: he becomes subject to the persuasive desires of two women. He gets yelled at a lot. The males are much more sympathetic to each other’s plights and interact in softer tones.

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A lovely enough tension, it is Caster (science/tech/boundary-pushing) who appeals to his heart, and the other who must appeal to his reason. A question is whether he is able to reconcile the two successfully. The baiting and switching of sympathies between the competing interests muddled any easy conclusions.

I’m not one who thinks a film should generate an easy conclusion, or neatly bow every question it raises. However, I am flustered by Transcendence’s attempts to be cagey and struggle to pinpoint the lack of coherence in the film.  I can identify a mediocrity in the crafting of the film, and chafe at anti-fem suggestions, but my best guess at the pivotal flaw is the attempt at being too clever in trying to settle on a singular identity of the transcendent technology/intelligence—and maybe this failure is the point of the film: our desire to create a singular from a plural. I guess the question now, is how hard did I work to create coherence where there is likely too little to be had in the film. That “love is what transcends” message bleeds into nothing but the Casters and their friendships. Their love leads to nothing but a negative impact on the world when it meets with regulatory interference. Hmmm…***

—–

Of note: Transcendence is Wally Pfister’s debut as director. He is otherwise known for his work as director of photography. I would like to also acknowledge that David Rosenbloom has a hit-or-miss filmography as editor.

*By heavy, I mean weighted closed to plodding, not heavy in the heft of the delivery Matthew McConaughey’s character manages in True Detective (2014).

**Note the names…how literary of the writer…

***now to sort out whether this message applies to “love between two people,” their partnership or “marriage” of the heteronormative sort.

 ———————

Transcendence posterTranscendence (2014). Director Wally Pfister; Writer Jack Paglen’ Editor David Rosenbloom; Music by Mychael Danna; Cinematography Jess Hall; Executive Producers: Dan Mintz, Christopher Nolan & Emma Thomas; Producers: Kate Cohen, Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove; Annie Marter, Marisa Polvino; Aaron Ryder & David Valdes.  Starring: Johnny Depp (Will Caster), Rebecca Hall (Evelyn Caster); Paul Bettany (Max Waters); Cillian Murphy (Agent Buchanan); Kate Mara (Bree) & Morgan Freeman (Joseph Tagger).

PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality.  Running time 119 minutes.

 

"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.

karen lord————————author———–

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.

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“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.

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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…

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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.

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*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

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“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.

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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).

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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.

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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.