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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine: Uh-Oh

Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine: Uh-Oh: "'Fletch' Reboot Heading to the Big Screen - Heat Vision: 'Warner Bros. is looking to bring investigating reporter Fletch back to the big scr..."

Locus Magazine recommended reading list is posted

Of the novels, the ones I've read are bolded.  I do want to read "Directive 51" and probably "Starbound".  I'm still unsure if I'm going to read "Surface Detail" and "Brain Thief"

Recently read: "The Girl in the Green Raincoat" by Laura Lippman

"The Girl in the Green Raincoat" by Laura Lippman

Tess Monaghan is back!  We only get a novella length story here (originally serialized in the New York Times Magazine), but it is tons of fun.  Tess is in the late stages of an at-risk pregnancy, and is forced into bed rest.  Riffing on Hitchcock's "Rear Window", Tess is fascinated by a dog walking lady in a green raincoat, and then by the abandoned dog.

Marshalling her forces (assistant detective Mrs. Blossom, researcher Dorie Starnes, boyfriend Crow and best friend Whitney Talbot) Tess investigates the disappearance of the lady, who is the missing wife of a husband who already has two dead wives and a dead girlfriend.

Faced with pre-eclampsia, the complicated case, and another dog (the raincoat lady's greyhound from hell), Tess turns weepy at times, as she and Crow question their future.  The case comes together, and the greyhound helps save the day.  We even get a big dose of Whitney helping solve the case, who at the end of the tale proclaims herself "the comic relief".

Tess's supporting case is large enough, and interesting enough, that Lippman could continue giving us her exploits for a long time.  It will be interesting to see how motherhood changes the Baltimore PI.

Recently Read: "Last Call" by Tim Powers

"Last Call" by Tim Powers

Another marvelous fantasy by Tim Powers.  This is a re read, since our book club had picked it, and was the first time I've read it in probably ten years. 

Based upon T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land", along with the Parsifal legend and heavy with Tarot symbolism, the book has Bugsy Siegel as The Fisher King, building the Flamingo Hotel as the Tarot's Tower.  Siegel is killed by George Leon, who plans on using his sons as vessels for him take over as he ages.  Leon's wife shoots George in the groin to protect young Scott, permanently wounding George with a Fisher King's unhealing wound.  Scott, losing an eye to George and thus becoming a one-eyed Jack, is found and adopted by Ozzie and raised as a professional poker player.

After playing a game of "assumption" with his real father (in his brother's Richard's body) as an adult, Scott is abandoned by Ozzie, not realizing that his soul is in jeopardy, as George has won Scott's body to use in the future.  Years later, when it is time for another round of "Assumption" Scott must figure out how to win his body back.  Along for the ride is Scott's neighbor, suffering from cancer and looking for a magical cure, and an older Ozzie, recruited in order to save Scott's adopted sister Diana, who is slated to become the Fisher King's Queen.

This was the book that firmly put Powers in my "buy at sight" category (though he was really there already).  I don't read a lot of fantasy anymore, and have avoided most modern stuff ("urban fantasy"), but Powers can write about any topic and turn it into a fantasy that fascinates me.  Here he is heavy into the magic of poker (descended from Tarot).  As is common with him, he has found real events (here the founding of Vegas by Siegel) and woven a "hidden history" with a magical background that still allows most people to be unaware of what is really happening.

I was a little disappointed that most of the book group didnt' care for the book, citing different issues with it (some thought they couldn't root for the main characters, others thought it was slow).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Recently read: "Usurper of the Sun" by Housuke Nojiri

"Usurper of the Sun" by Housuke Nojiri

Another Japanese novel published here in the US by Haikasoru, which has become one of my favorite publishers in a very short time.

Aki Shiraishi is a high school student in an astronomy club viewing a solar transit of Mercury, when she sees a tower that is being built on Mercury.  Using nano technology, it appears that an alien race (dubbed "Builders") are constructing a ring around the sun.  The ring eventually threatens Earth's ecology due to it's shadow.  Aki pursues a career in the sciences, and travels to the Ring and eventually must confront the Builders as their starship enters the Solar System.

This is truly a hard SF novel.  There's very little unrealistic technology development here.  Nojiri has thought about alien intelligence, and come up with a clever twist.  It somewhat reminds me of Peter Watts' "Blindsight", though not quite as depressing. 

It also reads very easily, so I guess that's a tribute to the translator?

Recently read: "Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Shattered Light" by Various

Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Shattered Light

This is the 3rd book in what I guess is the Myriad Universes series. 

I used to read a lot of Star Trek fiction, but there's way too much, and most of it is forgettable at best.  I now occasionally pick up one that looks interesting.  Given the glut of Star Trek fiction in general, it's probably a good thing that we're getting something that isn't supposed to be "canon."  It is  funny, given the rise in popularity of Alternative History in the SF field, that we now have Alternative Histories of a Fictional Future. 

We get three stories here. 

"The Embrace of Cold Architects" which has the Enterprise under Riker's command defeating the Borg (killing Picard).  We also get a different outcome to the Data/Lal (his "daughter") story.  The story is ok, but feels a bit by the numbers.

"The Tears O Eridanus".  Hikaru Sulu is commander of the Interstellar Guard ship Kumari.  The Guard is the military arm of the Interstellar Union which is dominated by Andor, along with Earth and Tellar.  The Kumari is sent on a hostage rescue mission to a desert planet called by some "Vulcan".  The change in history is that Vulcan never embraced the philosoy of Surak, and remains divided and violent.  Among the hostages is Sulu's daughter Demora.  This is the most "changed" of the three stories, and probably the best.  It does suffer from what is often seen in Alternative Histories, where despite massive changes to the timeline, certain characters still appear.  In addition to Sulu and Demora, we also get Kirk (off screen), T'Pau and Sybok (though not Spock).

"Honor in the Night"  The change point is the Sherman's Planet/Tribble episode, here the ship carrying Cyrano Jones malfunctions, killing him and the tribbles.  Therefore, Kirk doesn't discover that "Arne Darvin" is a Klingon.  The Federation loses Sherman's Planet, and years later former president Nilz Baris has died, with his final words "Arne Darvin".  We then get a "Citizen Kane" type story with a Federation reporter trying to understand the story of Baris's life.  We do get a good amount of McCoy, but the rest of the Enterprise crew is typically off screen.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Recently read: "The Gibraltar Series" by Michael McCollum

"Gibraltar Earth"
"Gibraltar Sun"
"Gibraltar Stars"

I used to read McCollum when he was published by Del Rey, and knew that he was one of the earliest SF writers to move to ebooks and self publishing (I'm assuming he Del Rey dropped him).  Now that I'm reading mainly on my Kindle, I decided to check out some of his more recent works.

This is a space operaish trilogy, with humans starting to explore the nearby stars with an FTL drive.  They stumble upon a space battle and destroy the attaching ship.  The victim is damaged, and only a single small, monkey like alien is left aboard.  Taking him back to Earth, they discover that there is an interstellar empire, ruled by the Broa, who allow no competitors.

Book one sets the stage, and lets our heroes find out the magnitude of the problem, and who the Broa really are. Book two has the humans making a decision: do they fight and risk extermination, hide and hope they aren't discovered or submit to the Broa.  Book three has the humans trying to expand their foothold into Broa space and race against time as the Broa are starting to wonder where these new aliens are coming from.

McCollum has an interesting twist, as the Broa travel via jump gates, and care nothing for the void between stars (more than once the maps of the gate system is likened to a subway map) while the humans travel FTL, but still take an appreciable time to go from star to star.  This leads to some clever strategy and tactics that affect the plot.

While he is juggling a relatively large cast, his two main viewpoints characters are Mark and Lisa Rykand, both of whom are pulled into the military almost by accident (Mark's sister is killed in the first encounter and Lisa is the linguist that is first task with communicating with the initial alien survivor).  Along the way, we see them becoming friends, lovers and then husband and wife.

Nothing earth shattering here, but a good read.

Recently Read: "The Ouroboros Wave" by Jyouji Hayashi

"The Ouroboros Wave"

I continue to check out the Japanese SF that is being published in this country by Haikasoru.  This isn't really a novel, but instead a collection of linked stories.  Set almost a century from now, there's black hole dubbed "Kali" that is being tapped for energy to fuel the human expansion across the solar system.  There's friction between the societies (Earth, Mars, Europa, Titanaia) and there's always the AADD (Artificial Accretion Disk Development Association).

Most of the stories are hard SF puzzle stories.  I enjoyed the book a lot, but it's not the smoothest read.  I think Hayashi has an interesting setting, with a mind that likes the classical puzzle SF story, but much of it reads too flat, with a lot of info dumping at times.

Recently read: "Hunt Through Napoleon's Web" by "Gabriel Hunt"

"Hunt Through Napoleon's Web"

The latest in the "Gabriel Hunt" series, this one has Hunt traveling to Egypt to meet with his sister's kidnappers, the "Alliance of The Pharoahs".  He's forced to try and find a second Rosetta Stone, which is hidden and protected by numerous traps (designed by Napoleon).  the stone is supposed to represent some sort of great power.Along for the ride is a French friend of his sister, who happens to be a magician and escape artist.  We get the usual cliff hangers, and a lot of gun play with chases.

This may be the last the Hunt book, given the issues with the publisher.  Too bad, since the series has been a lot of fun.

Recently read: "The Spy Who Loved Me" by Ian Fleming.

After another break, I returned to the Bond books.  I believe that this is the first novel where the book has no connection at all to the movie (even the book version of Moonraker had a rocket in it...).  The story of Vivienne Michel, a Canadaian educated in England, she is burned in love twice (once having an abortion) and decides to drive her Vespa from Canada to Florida.  While working in a hotel in upstate New York, she is threatened by two thugs (on a mission from the owner to burn the hotel down for insurance).  Bond shows up (halfway into the book) with a flat tire and needing a room.

A showdown occurs, and Bond gets the girl.  The first half of the book is an interesting character study, though I'm not sure that Vivienne ends up learning the correct lesson.  There's a good speech at the end by a state policemen, explaining to her that regardless of the fact that she was rescued by him, that Bond is a different type of person, with more in common with the thugs than Vivienne.  She listens to the policeman, but doesn't really hear him.