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

{book} the friday society

friday society coverThe Friday Society by Adrienne Kress

Dial Books, 2012.

Hardcover, 437 pages. teen fiction. {owned}

An action-packed tale of gowns, guys, guns–and the heroines who use them all

Set in turn of the century London, The Friday Society follows the stories of three very intelligent and talented young women, all of whom are assistants to powerful men: Cora, lab assistant; Michiko, Japanese fight assistant; and Nellie, magician’s assistant. The three young women’s lives become inexorably intertwined after a chance meeting at a ball that ends with the discovery of a murdered mystery man.

It’s up to these three, in their own charming but bold way, to solve the murder–and the crimes they believe may be connected to it–without calling too much attention to themselves.

Set in the past but with a modern irreverent flare, this Steampunk whodunit introduces three unforgettable and very ladylike–well, relatively ladylike–heroines poised for more dangerous adventures.—publisher’s comments.

That “modern irreverent flare” is the thing that seems to be snagging people’s attention with this read, and I can’t say I was immune. Of the few things anachronism truly has a hard time forgiving: playing with the language is one, so your long sword is made of pvc pipe, but none shall be referred to as “hot.” It’s just too startling.

confession: I am not a Jane Austen fanatic—I like her well enough, can appreciate her and all that, and Emma is hilarious fun. I know that as a female English Major in Literature I am supposed to have read every volume at least three times and swoon at the mention of Mr. Darcy. My reading of Wuthering Heights could be viewed as disrespectful at best. This does not make me immune to a love of the historical period or even ignorant for that matter, but maybe what it does make me is sensitive to the idea that not everyone does take to it; that perhaps the time frame harbors a language and culture that could seem impenetrable to potential lovers of Steampunk—a subgenre which necessarily must reside then and there historically, at least until more envision it further along the timeline.

I was reading a blog post the other day where a mother was trying to find fantasy books that might appeal to a daughter that only likes ‘realist’ fiction—to broaden her genre horizons and share her own love for fantasy. Well, The Friday Society is “contemporary chick lit” in steampunk clothing. A bridgework. And Kress does not approach the genre without credential, so if you worry that she is incapable there is a lovely anthology of short stories (Corsets and Clockwork) in which Kress’ is one of the best. Kress is being deliberate here and I find this bold move fascinating.


{Adrienne Kress. Photo: Tanja Tiziana}

As much as the modern language should have turned me off of the read, I liked The Friday Society. It was light and fun, and I enjoy Kress’ style. I like the feminist inclusions. Cora Bell is remarkable to me because Kress has built in recognizable vulnerabilities with which to commiserate and creates an opportunity to show some self-determination, e.g. Andrew and the kissing and the effort or lack thereof to overcome his distraction. Some young female leads seem immune to that sort of foolishness and I liked this lead for having hormones and not necessitating deep emotional attachment—call me old fashioned that way.

in which I elaborate: We have a strong female protagonist who kisses a young man who is not an actual love interest. She does not end up with him. Turns out that the attraction is not the first sign that they were fated and the make-out sessions (a term used, 256) do not confirm ours suspicions of such. Cora is physically attracted but unsure that she even likes/respects Andrew. She kisses him back because she likes it, and pursues further kisses for the same reason. What does the Cora/Andrew spin tell us? One: Girls experience sexual feelings/response/pleasure, too—even to distracted and foolish extents. Two: just because she likes kissing and is attracted to a male she does not “love” does not make her a loose woman, but rather it may actually be possible if not normal to be sexually attracted to someone not “loved.” Three: just because she wants and enjoys does not render her incapable of applying her intelligence to the situation; which, after validation of the first two points, is awesome to see played out. You are neither a slut nor a freak, but you should be wise. [read 256-8.]

Accusations of being a “tease” are thrown around regarding Cora, but more often with the gorgeous and gregarious Nellie. Nellie who is, like the other two, in the throes of deciding who she is and whom she envisions herself becoming. What responsibility can and should she take for happening to be born physically beautiful?

confession: I flinch at the use of the word “squee.” And Lady Sparkle? I, like Cora, cringed, but Nellie is a dynamic and a personality to be missed. I like Nellie as much as Cora. She seemed ridiculous to me at times, but between her candor and the parrot Scheherazade I was won over. But not completely, not yet; which may have more to do with those moments where I just did not feel “girly” enough. Some women’s fiction alienates me in the same way.

Few of the characters are to be missed, really. Kress has a way with villains (Alex and the Ironic Gentleman is home to some of my favorite villains ever). The non-villainous Raheem and his possibilities have me curious, though I was experiencing a dreadful surfacing notion that I was in for a Charlie’s Angels twist. Fortunately Kress resists the urge to be normal and thus predictable (and I hope this continues). One point of resistance is Michiko. Michiko is not a token character, but one who could and should be an available historical figure to explore in parallel to the other two. She is one of three and Kress develops each of the three along their own paths (in alternating, 1st person, narrative sections), using “happenstance” to intertwine and affect each other until the most natural conclusion could be met.

“Go home, Michiko.” How she wanted to. She missed Japan—the countryside, the food. Understanding what the hell people were saying. (93)

Michiko understands very little English and comes from a very different culture. She carries the easiest explanation for physical bad-assery, but few authors would be this daring. Cora and Nellie click. Michiko takes some work.  It does take time for the three to work together, but Michiko is the more solitary line of the three. She is held most dramatically in in relationship to the others by this sense of fate, paths crossing in various and frequent inventions, all surrounding crimes being perpetrated in their vicinity.

“We’ve already been pursuing this, each of us, in our own way. And somehow we always manage to help each other out. It’s fate. It…it has to mean something. Everything is connected. Right?” She turned to Michiko, who nodded, but it wasn’t clear if she was agreeing with Cora or just humoring her. Nellie still didn’t look convinced. Cora sighed and sat down at the foot of the bed. “Haven’t you always wanted to just do something yourself?” she asked, her voice softer. “To make a real difference? Not for anyone else. Not an assignment or a task. Something that you made the decision to do?” (353)

The Friday Society is an excellent read for a young woman, especially perhaps the ones who take themselves too seriously literarily. Kress infuses a lot of personality and concentrates on building her characters. She has a great sense of humor. At times the crime-story seems frustratingly secondary–probably because it is. I found it a bit ridiculous at times and I acknowledge that that has to do with my aging, but I found the earnestness of it appealing. I’m looking forward to seeing what Kress does with this series.

recommendations: I mentioned young ladies, but young gentleman could do with reading these sort of heroines, too. for those looking for an accessible steampunk or science fiction or historical fiction (Kress is good with tech language as well as detailing costuming, place and normalities without breaking pace).

an author interview by InkyGirl regarding this book.

a Sci-Fi Experience 2013 qualifier


"review" · cinema · sci-fi/fantasy

{film} looper


In 2074, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past where a hired gun awaits. Someone like Joe, who one day learns the mob wants to ‘close the loop’ by transporting back Joe’s future self.—IMDb


Older Joe: I don’t want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.

There are remarkably few reviewers disenchanted with Looper (2012), but those who are seem to share the same issue: the science in the fiction. Oddly enough, just because time travel is a key aspect to this science fiction film, it is disinterested in talking about it. It practically chastises the viewer with comments like Joe’s (above) and this one from the crime boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) “This time travel crap, just fries your brain like a egg…” Even without those occasional overt comments, the story removes itself to other concerns pretty quickly, relying on the softer science and recreating memory (physical or no) as its most central interest of time travel. Looper would be a nice anti-dote for the mind-bender Primer (2004)—which, if you are in love with the science/consequences of time travel that little indie cult film is a must.

I’ve yet to hear any complaint on the performances. You’ll hear none from me. I was really worried about how distracted I would be with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s donning of prosthetics to look more like Bruce Willis. And I was sort of distracted. It is the eyebrows, lip, and shadow mainly. And it was startling, in a lovely way, how Gordon-Levitt not only adopts Willis’ facial profile, but his mannerisms as well. When the two sit across the table and interact, I was riveted, and very much amused. Gordon-Levitt as the younger Joe is, well, young and not all together as clever as the older version of himself, an extremely badass and emotionally mature Willis, but he gets there–a development that is crucial to the film. Emily Blunt is dependably Emily as the character Sara who is a little further along the timeline of maturity than Joe. Pierce Cagnon, the little boy who plays Cid, is terrifying. He made me want to pee myself he was that convincing.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Bruce Willis

Rian Johnson wrote and directed Looper, and is credited the same with Brick (2005). Expect that sort of unflinching dark—in humor, violence, and outcome. In Looper, where beginnings and ends are in focus, the path between is the mystery. Knowing the end, how does one change the past? Knowing the beginning, how does one change the future’s seemingly inevitable trajectory? What of the impact of a parent on the child, the parental figure on the vulnerable… Survival is a menacing state and Johnson with Looper is determined to pull it from the abstract and create concrete scenarios in which to ground his explorations. The caliber of talent he directs is key for that emotional complication. This is not one for those who cannot handle residing outside the austerity of black and white thinking. The actors are determined to share their torn nature and desperate circumstances with the viewer.

It is of interest to me where Looper finds its sentiment and where it scoffs at the facades of popular nostalgia. Hipster be warned, you are again the butt end of a joke, and how significant that the unwittingly iconic Gordon-Levitt is cast in such a role. Seriously though, it is noticed the styling of the mafia in the “present day” and the mimicry pushing further back along the timeline as the future moves forward garbing their “vigilante terrorist” in wide-brims and dusters. In a way it marks vengeance over greed, but do they really differ? We do not get to see the affluent and sheltered—only the grit and scrapes. And like the refusal to play the time-travel-digressions, it is desperate to avoid other genre expectations as well. Looper is what happens when an true Indie gets a hold of the Sci-fi genre. It even refuses to give the stripper-lover big breasts.

The effects are good, really good. The soundtrack more ambient. The lighting is perfect, and like Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises (2012), bad things happen in daylight as well as night, so really there is no escape there, no grand gesture on where evil and truth should reside. And the violence is bloody and affecting—please no young audiences in your vicinity for this one. Joe is complicated, and desperate, and there are some unpleasant decisions to be made. The humor is a pleasure, and sometimes it is less obvious. For instance, the interaction between Abe and Joe regarding Joe’s choice of language and his future travels become even more amusing when you read the trivia and learn that they could not afford to film in Paris as previously planned.


The urban versus rural landscapes features prominently, not only the rural as a place where things grow out of the earth/nature, but as it is connected with particular female characters. The three women characters have a mother/lover aspect, each to varying degrees with Emily Blunt’s Sara placed between Piper Perabo’s Suzie and Qing Xu’s Summer (and not just in timeline). Yes, I noticed the naming, too. The women are tough, decisive figures, but it is the rural connection with Sara and Summer that add to the statement about lost boys. Everything is just cleaner among the more natural climes—it is a site of restoration. Which makes young Joe’s use of it as a meeting place something to think about when we are to wonder about his nature… That, or it just remarks upon the error of my reading. Or maybe he is the coyote.

Abe: Ask yourself: who would I sacrifice for what’s MINE?

It is tricky to talk about probable consequences of time travel when the film doesn’t want to go into detail (whether it can or not) and the viewer might. However it does create a set of basic assumptions upon which much of the conflict is built. Fortunately, the assumptions are not hard to grasp, and that may be the source of some of the complaints; it may be too simplistic. I like the accessibility, and I enjoy the very simple impossibility of the dilemma which comes to rest in the question of love and sacrifice. The action, acting, filming, sound, effects, pacing, characterization and progression: all good and entertaining. But one of the things that sets Looper apart is that it is interesting, to say nothing of feeling undeniably relevant. Not an older generation observing or complaining, but a young man standing in the middle looking back and forward and wondering aloud and trying to hold onto the most hopeful vision of a seemingly impossible future in the present.

looper poster

Looper (2012), Directed/Written by Rian Johnson; Music by Nathan Johnson; Cinematography Steve Yedlin: Editing by Bob Ducsay; Produced by Ram Bergman & James D. Stern.Studio: FilmDistrict, Endgame Entertainment & DMG Entertainment. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Joe), Bruce Willis (Old Joe), Emily Blunt (Sara), Paul Dano (Seth), Noah Segan (Kid Blue), Piper Perabo (Suzie), Jeff Daniels (Abe), Pierce Gagnon (Cid), Qing Xu (Summer Qing/Old Joe’s Wife).

Running time: 119 minutes. Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content.


 this post and film is part of The 2013 Science Fiction Experience


{challenge} science fiction experience 2013

13sfexp300As we approach another New Year and contemplate ways to start it off right [like sleeping in on a weekday], I would like to offer up the suggestion of joining The 2013 Science Fiction Experience hosted by Carl V. over at Stainless Steel Droppings. Most of you have heard of it and are participating, right? But for those less familiar allow me to introduce you.

Whatever the form (book, screen, dream, illustration), Carl loves Science Fiction. And instead of creating a reading challenge, he’s taken to hosting something more of an “experience.” As Carl writes,

This event was not to be a challenge. It was not a dare nor was it a contest. It was meant to be an experience, a word I did not choose at random. The very best connections with books are more than just a detached reading, they are an experience–an immersive, engaging interaction between the reader and the characters and events between the covers. It is that tangible joy I feel when reading science fiction that I wanted to share with like readers, while at the same time creating an open, embracing forum for those to participate who have either not read science fiction in the past or have had less than successful experiences with the genre.

Yes, go ahead and send that telepathic hug his way.

The 2013 Science Fiction Experience runs from January 1st through February 28th.

Now there are no “rules,” rather you just read or watch something(s) from the genre of Science Fiction and share it with someone, at home or abroad. If you’ve a venue, post a review or discussion/conversation. There is a “Review Site” you may link to and/or find links to reviews or discussions hosted by others.

I will try to finally cobble together some response to Prometheus (2012) and Total Recall (2012). Sean suggested we use the excuse to read more Philip K. Dick. Scalzi is on the radar. The list is still formulating, but already an episode of Doll House (1009-10, Joss Whedon) is on the tele.

Of course, taking advantage of the community the experience draws together is key. Please think about joining in. If you’d like a place to host your “experience” let me know, but you don’t have to have a blog to participate.

For reading or viewing inspiration, check out Carl’s site, the Review Site, and another excellent resource would be Jeremy’s Hugo Endurance Project. our wrap-up from 2012’s.


Carl convinces very excellent Artists into lending their images for his event banners. This year he has Stephan Martiniere!


The Experience would pair nicely with these lovely events: Andrea at Little Red Reviewer created her own SF-related non-challenge, The Vintage SF Month. And World’s Without End is hosting a year-long Women of Genre Fiction Challenge.




cinema · sci-fi/fantasy · Uncategorized

{film} choosing for a 2012 sci-fi experience and beyond

Today features a guest-blogger! Sean (aka L’s husband) was kind enough to “pull together a post” for me (aka L). Welcome! and thank you!
Part of the Sci-Fi Experience is deciding how to best experience it in the constraints we have (or in the case of this post, had had). Feel free to recommend in the comments films to add to next year’s queue.


The lovely L. had asked me to pull together a post about  Carl V.’s (“Stainless Steel Droppings” ) The 2012 SciFi Experience and our experience of it.

If memory serves L. brought The SciFi Experience to my attention last year. She was trying to engage in the Experience without having a long [reading] history with science fiction. Most of L.’s exposure was to Philip K. Dick just a few year’s previous and was thinking that for the SFE she would expand out from this foundation.

I was pleased that my wife was looking at SciFi as a genre, as it was an area that I already had logged many hours in. The discussions last year were ones of definition and interest. We talked about what was science fiction, what made one thing it and another not. There were discussions about why science fiction so often got a juvenile rap or tended to be considered less “literary”. And we read (and watched) some great material last year. Overall, when the SFE came up again this year I was ready to engage.

My mistake at this point was to pick up 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. For the intent of reading a work of science fiction, this did in fact fulfill the Experience, but it also ate two months of my life. I finished the tome with only a couple days to spare in February, limiting my reading to a single (though wonderful) work. The sidetrack that 1Q84 took me on also distracted me from the film side of things. Aside from a couple random films that N. picked out we were not doing well with our SciFi Experience as the end of February approached. To remedy this and to get us focused I tried to pull together a list of seminal science fiction films to fill the last eleven days of the month. Our limiting factors were an interest in not just watching the same films we had watched last year and the intention to include the 11-year old in our screenings. Suddenly we needed to remove such things as Alien and The Terminator/T2.

If you pull such heavy hitters out of the available options, what do you include? To answer this I spent an amount of time on the interwebs looking at “Greatest SciFi Films” lists and trying to create a listology of my own exploring the topic followed by time cross-referencing CommonSense Media and the like. I also decided to reach out to our social circles (where the geek-quotient runs high) asking what they would include.

The list of possibles included everything from Dark City (1998, dir. Alex Proyas) to Metropolis (1927, dir. Fritz Lang) to Blade Runner  (1982, dir. Ridley Scott) to Star Trek to Star Wars. No one mentioned Enemy Mine (1985, dir. Wolfgang Petersen), though I would be a bad son if it had not crossed my mind. What came out of the list was telling about my friends and family, but not necessarily enlightening. In the end I took a queue from my own interests and my daughter’s recent interest in Past/Present/Future, looking especially at dystopian narratives, time stories, and style. Films on the list moved away from Genre-defining towards stylistic and pulp explorations.

In the final days of February in a fit of watching (paired with dinner or popcorn on the couch) we managed The Matrix Trilogy (1999-2003, dir. Andy & Lana Wachowski), Never Let Me Go (2010, dir. Mark Romanek), Gattaca (1997, dir. Andrew Niccol), 12 Monkeys (1995, dir. Terry Gilliam), Sunshine (2007, dir. Danny Boyle) [Sean only], Aeon Flux (2005, dir. Karen Kusama), I, Robot (2004, dir. Alex Proyas), and Rise of the Planet of the Apes(2011, dir. Rupert Wyatt) [Sean & L only]. As I mentioned these were less about genre-defining and more about personal taste or visual interest. The strength of the films chosen was that each is trying to pedal more than just pretty pictures. So each night we were able to watch and then discuss the baggage the movie brought with it into the living room.

The movies returned to the conversation that L. and I had begun in 2011 of what made science fiction. Certainly Aeon Flux borders on fantasy and Never Let Me Go hardly feels like a science fiction story at all. Gattaca is blatant in its genes. 12 Monkeys and The Matrix Trilogy both play with the Past/Present/Future exploring what is real and what is not. And then I, Robot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Sunshine are all very open in their science fiction heritage. During our binge we did not however really engage in aliens, space-horror or space-opera. I can’t really say why more than either the violence would have been over the top, or we had already seen the movies that would have fit the bill. There was a lack of a cohesive theme to this years mad-dash through the halls of science fiction.

N. and I have spent hours watching Farscape (1999, tv series)and then with L. even more hours with Doctor Who (2005, tv series), covering aliens and space-opera. N. watched the Star Wars trilogies a few years ago (which in itself has fascinating to watch her watch) and she is a fan of the new Star Trek (2009, dir. J.J. Abrams) reboot, meaning that we have covered much of the “classics”. I am wondering if the titles picked should have been more of a specific theme or collective story. Perhaps next year will be “All dystopia all the time” or “The fathers of our affliction”.



{images, in part: Blade Runner poster by ModernStylographer; Gattaca poster by Korrdin;

"review" · fiction · Lit · sci-fi/fantasy · series · wondermous

{book} old man’s war

When Carl V. (of Stainless Steel Droppings) highly recommends a book*, read it—you’ll be grateful. John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War is incredibly fun; a wonderfully rendered sci-fi adventure with a very sweet love story. I read very few space Sci-Fi stories (I watch exponentially more). I read even fewer novels where the protagonists are in their later years. If you have similar avoidances, overcome them for Old Man’s War. Yes, when I highly recommend a read, you might should seriously consider it, too.

  John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce — and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.

John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine — and what he will become is far stranger.~publisher’s comments (back cover)

Congratulations John Perry, you are now among my favorite characters of all time. Why? He is just flat-out charming. As our first person narrator, Perry deftly navigates the emotional, technical, political, and comedic. Dialog captures diverse perspectives—and diverse personalities—so the narrative doesn’t feel too narrow or skewed. For those who want to use 3rd person benefits in a 1st person narrative (ahem, Young Adult fiction) Scalzi examples a successful way of doing this.

The sense of humor had me drawing out the read and savoring it. Someone could easily devour the book in a long sitting as it is quick-paced and engrossing. If you’ve been in a slump or inundated with non-fiction assignments at school, Old Man’s War is a comfort food. The rest of the time it is dessert.

I love the imagination in the fiction, especially in its coupling with comedic timing. The planets and aliens are marvelous inventions. I couldn’t get enough of them. And Scalzi’s capture of earthly familiarity (in particular, the military)is amusing and horrifying in their perfection.

  It might have been because of the Covandu themselves who in many respects were clones of the human race itself: bipedal, mammalian, extraordinarily gifted in artistic matters, particularly poetry and drama, fast breeding and unusually aggressive when it come o the universe and their place in it. Humans and the Covandu frequently found themselves fighting for the same undeveloped real estate. Cova Banda, in fact, had been a human colony before it had been a Covandu one, abandoned after a native virus had caused the settlers to grow unsightly additional limbs and homicidal additional personalities. The virus didn’t give the Covandu even a headache; they moved right in. Sixty-three years later, the Colonials finally developed a vaccine and wanted the planet back. Unfortunately, the Covandu, again all too much like humans, weren’t very much into the whole sharing thing. So in we went, to do battle against the Covandu.

The Tallest of whom was no more than one inch tall. (186-7)**


Old Man’s War isn’t just a fluff read. It not only explores the concerns and benefits of age, but imperialism, sexism, sexuality, humanity, religious fervor… Perry is a sensitive observer, naturally flawed enough to be believable, he is personable and reflective. Important to me: he isn’t misogynistic or macho.  If anything he is cautious in his own opinions, except when it comes to his love of his late wife.

I was impressed with the transitions from earth to space, age to youth, base desires to intellectual discourse, death to resurrection and back round again; the explorations throughout and the interconnectedness of them all. They follow and encircle the progression of the story, of John Perry’s life. Placing interrogative conversations with regards to our greatest institutions in the venue of future and space allows us engage in criticism more freely. John Perry is affable.  His is witty and he is loyal, and he is old. He is a brilliant choice as narrator/guide.

Scalzi proves himself to be a talented writer, but more importantly—a gifted storyteller. His pacing, his timing, his balance of dialog, illustration, explanation, and action is remarkable. The novel is immersive. You don’t even think about it as a book one in a series until the last part of the book as it introduces a potential continuation. Even then, the book ends with thoughts of its beginning. Scalzi has whetted enough of an appetite for a series, but the novel is sensitive to the creation of its own entity. It has done what it has promised to do: to follow John Perry on this new adventure, to give him back his “youth,” to give him a new beginning, a fresh start—and to do all this without loss of memory or purpose.


recommendation: sci-fi and non-sci-fi reader, any sex, “big kids” (due to sexual content and language), fans of Heinlein.

of note: yes! finally one for The Sci-Fi Experience–deep sigh. check out the reviews site, here.


*Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings reviews and rereads Old Man’s War.

** I adore Scalzi’s use of “whom” to identify personhood over referencing an object. Note the criticism of the human in the quick matter-of-fact listing of attributes, and setting/explanation for the present situation. John Perry rarely uses confrontational tones.


Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Tor, 2005; tradepaper, 313 pages.

[borrowed from Library, should really own.]


  “Though a lot of SF writers are more or less efficiently continuing the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein, Scalzi’s astonishingly proficient first novel reads like an original work by the late grand master. […]  The story obviously resembles such novels as Starship Troopers and Time Enough for Love, but Scalzi is not just recycling classic Heinlein. He’s working out new twists, variations that startle even as they satisfy. The novel’s tone is right on target, too — sentimentality balanced by hardheaded calculation, know-it-all smugness moderated by innocent wonder. This virtuoso debut pays tribute to SF’s past while showing that well-worn tropes still can have real zip when they’re approached with ingenuity.” Publishers Weekly


with anticipation…

Carl V. at “Stainless Steel Droppings” is hosting his annual Science Fiction Experience: January 1-February 29.

A few years back I decided I would like to invite other readers to spend time together 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 event was not to be a challenge. It was not a dare nor was it a contest. It was meant to be anexperience, a word I did not choose at random. The very best connections with books are more than just a detached reading, they are an experience–an immersive, engaging interaction between the reader and the characters and events between the covers.

Science Fiction is a genre I dip my toes in once in a while, last year was fun so I was happily anticipating the Experience’s return. This is a great opportunity to take notes from other Reader’s reviews and comments on the books they’ve chosen to experience and find something new or interesting in this vast genre. Borrow some enthusiasm if you would like some as a reluctant Sci-Fi reader, geek out with your fellow genre fans if you are not reluctant in the least.

The Daughter said she would join me this year. She harbors an ever growing love Science Fiction. So while I will be picking up John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, [at Carl’s recommendation] N can try Zoe’s Tale. We kinda talked about reading further into the Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series, as N has read Ender’s Game several times now. We’ll see. Am betting we can find a video game or two to toss into the experience.

Check out Carl’s post, keep updated on reviews posted, and join in the fun!

"review" · fiction · Lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · short story · Tales

Clarke’s Graces

While browsing for a Sci Fi Experience read in the Sci Fi/Fantasy section of the Library, I encountered Susanna Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories. Note the base of the spine in the picture. Now, I cannot say that I am an expert on the most inarguable distinctions between Science Fiction and Fantasy genres, but Faerie and Fairy Tales and Magic with no bother for scientific approaches or reasoning? Historical Settings visited without aide of a Time Machine?

I brought Susanna Clarke’s collection home to see if at least one of the stories was Sci-Fi. Also, I was curious about her. Yes, we have that enormous tome Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell at home. Sean raved about it, but I cannot make myself read it just yet. A collection of 8 stories, with the first referencing Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell seemed like a good start.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories

By Susanna Clarke

Illustrations by Charles Vess

Bloomsbury, 2006

235 pages, hardcover.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke is a collection stories involving Magic and Faerie. The introduction to the book is written by a Professor James Sutherland, Director of Sidhe Studies, University of Aberdeen (1-5). Do not skip over this, it is informative and entertaining.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu (7-35)– This story is alluded to in Clarke’s bestselling Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (Bloomsbury, 2004) in a footnote in Chapter 43 (page 478 in the edition we have). It “provides fuller explanation of Strange’s rather enigmatic actions” (2). For those of us who have not read that novel, the story is still enjoyable. (Though I wonder if it would be more sensical had the novel been read.) The 3 Ladies of Grace Adieu relay a great deal of information about women of their time. One marries a widower for money (or otherwise must take a post as a Teacher), another is an Ideal young woman (and ward of her Uncle) proposed to marry the local Rector (as a beautiful young lady should marry), and the third is a bookish-governess–All three are close in age. What these 3 Ladies couldn’t be are students of Magic, “For ladies (as everyone knows) do not study magic” (10).

Vess’ illustration from Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge was Built at Thoresby

On Lickerish Hill (39-62)—Here is a nice and unexpected story that turns out to be similar to the German Tale of Rumpelstiltskin. However it does take some patience to get into, adjusting to the Old English, I like this version better. I enjoyed the fact that the characters are better developed in this tale and there are greater explanations for the situations in which everyone finds themselves.

Mrs. Mabb (65-99)—Kept drifting in and out of this one. There was plenty of humor and Fanny is amusing. But Venetia became annoying very quickly. Still, readers of Victorian Romance will no doubt navigate the melodrama quite successfully. I can’t say more on this one as I hardly remember much of it. I think Jane Austen fans will dig this one, as well as a few of the others.

The Duke of Wellington Misplaces his Horse (103-110)—this is as amusing as it sounds. And fans of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust will appreciate that Clarke sets this story in Wall, “It concerns Wall, a village in England where there is an actual wall that divides our world and Faerie” (103). The Duke meets with the most fascinating circumstances on the other side of the wall. Who actually controls this man’s destiny, his successes and failures—a woman and her embroidery?

Mr. Simonelli or The Fairy Widower (113-159)—Part of this collection of stories is to realize that Faerie are not sweet little creatures who flutter about angelically. Such is seen in this story which is actually an extraction of Alessanddro Simonelli’s diaries. He relays an early sequence of events in his life through a letter and diary entries. This one is a bit dark, and certainly strange, but compelling.

Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge was Built at Thoresby (163-206)—This was a favorite of mine. The interaction between David Montefiore and Tom Brightwind is amusing. Their encounter at Thoresby was no less so. This is an especially amusing read to entertain while catching up on House, MD (tv) episodes on DVD, David and Tom/House and Wilson… Anyway, the storytelling is interesting and not modern. This collection is for lovers of the old tales as they might be remembered.

Antickes and Frets (209-219). A story for Historical Fiction followers and those interested in Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth of England in 1568. An imprisoned Queen looking to recover her power by any means necessary to a woman; which, in this fascinating case is Embroidery. Women looking for secure futures and some availability of power mark this read. The explanation for the title Antickes and Frets, can be found on the last page 219, which is helpful to read first as it provides further illumination of the story.

John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner (223-235)—A “retelling of a popular Northern English folktale taken from A Child’s History of the Raven King by John Waterbury, Lord Portishead” (223), which is fictional by the way—the book A Child’s History and author Waterbury are made up. “A great ruler is outwitted by one of his humblest subjects” (223). The Charcoal Burner is wronged by the otherwise oblivious John Uskglass so he goes to plead his case to the appropriate saint who would avenge said wrong. “Which saint is it that looks after cheeses?” demanded the Charcoal Burner. “The Almoner thought for a moment. “That would be Saint Bridget.” (228). There is a lot of silliness here. And perhaps some seriousness… the theme of Entitlement comes to mind. It is a really nice story to close out this collection.


The Writing is good, the Storytelling is fluid and the differing approaches show-off Clarke’s flexible talent and her wonderful ability to capture the old Tales, even if they are tales of her own creation. I think she has a bit of Faerie herself. For example, would you have noticed upon first reading that the Introduction by Professor James Sutherland, Director of Sidhe Studies, University of Aberdeen is a short story as well? Loveliness. A completed collection of Fairy Tales. Clarke not-so-subtly interrogates the assertions of Fiction versus Nonfiction. Who is to say which Story or Figure is real or not?


A bit about the Illustrator, Charles Vess, whose black and white line drawings for this collection are perfectly suited. They are quite brilliant. Wikipedia records this argument:

“Mary Ann Gwinn praises them in The Seattle Times, describing them as “delightful” and inspired by art deco and Edward Gorey. Lucy Hughes-Hallett, however, argues that the volume is “insistently and inappropriately illustrated”. Agreeing that the images are indebted to Rackham, she contends that they are “anachronistic” and a “kind of mimsy-whimsy.”

I don’t know… I kind of liked them. The title pages of each story were really nice and they do look Child Storybook-ish, which is a nice touch, and probably intentional.

Charles Vess’ website.


Found this review by Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings after I wrote my review. His is excellent, of course.

If you’ve a review I will likely link it…