Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi


Review from John for Redshirts.

John’s quick take:   What starts out as a clever and humorous science fiction story turns into something a bit too clever and a bit less funny.

John’s description:   I’m not spoiling the plot by telling you that this story is one long (and convoluted) riff on Star Trek. In Star Trek stories redshirts are the lowly ensigns who accompany the senior officers on missions and who have remarkably short life spans - while the senior officers themselves always survive in order to go on many more future missions, some portion of the redshirts always come to a sticky end.

In this novel a group of lowly new ensigns on the Universal Union ship Intrepid are the focus of the plot. They soon figure out that something is amiss and that statistically speaking far too many of their colleagues and peers have ended up dying. Meanwhile, crew members who have been around just a bit longer go to ridiculous lengths to avoid the senior officers and their off-ship missions. The newbies come up with a very whacky theory as to what might be causing their plight. The theory is so crazy that our heroes start to think that they themselves must be slightly crazy, but now the plot takes the first of several mind-bending twists.

I can’t say too much without giving away spoilers, but suffice to say that as the ensigns struggle to figure out how to survive, we quickly descend into time travel, doppelgangers and metaphysics.

John’s thoughts:    The plot is based on a very interesting premise – though I still can’t tell you about the basic idea without making myself a turkey. Be prepared for a Mobius strip-like logical flow that will exercise your grey matter as you try to work out the possibilities and ramifications of what is going on. I found myself giving up and just going with the flow.

But did I enjoy it? Well I did to begin with, but as things become more and more twisted I started to feel like I was on a bit of a mission to make it through to the end, rather than actually getting a kick out of the read. And I did find that as the implausibility factor increased, so my enjoyment levels diminished.

Also, I am a bit undecided about how the book ends. Basically after the main story comes to a sort of a conclusion, there are three separate codas from the perspectives of three of the minor characters. It’s a neat idea and I really like the final coda, but I didn’t like the first of the three and found the second one a bit so-so.

So overall it’s a great premise for a story and I got a few chuckles from it, but in the end I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I thought I was going to. I do suspect that there will be some very divided opinions over this one. Personally I’m glad that I read it and I’d rate it three stars, despite some of the things which didn’t quite work for me. If you like convoluted science fiction stories written by someone with their tongue firmly in their cheek, then this one is for you.

Tor Books; January 2013; Trade Paperback; 320 pages.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Giveaway: The House at the End of Hope Street ~ by Menna Van Praag

house at the end of hope street

Giveaway for The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna Van Praag for on US or Canadian resident.

A magical debut about an enchanted house that offers refuge to women in their time of need.

Distraught that her academic career has stalled, Alba is walking through her hometown of Cambridge, England, when she finds herself in front of a house she’s never seen before, 11 Hope Street. A beautiful older woman named Peggy greets her and invites her to stay, on the house’s usual conditions: she has ninety-nine nights to turn her life around. With nothing left to lose, Alba takes a chance and moves in.

She soon discovers that this is no ordinary house. Past residents have included Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Parker, who, after receiving the assistance they needed, hung around to help newcomers—literally, in talking portraits on the wall. As she escapes into this new world, Alba begins a journey that will heal her wounds—and maybe even save her life.

Filled with a colorful and unforgettable cast of literary figures, The House at the End of Hope Street is a charming, whimsical novel of hope and feminine wisdom that is sure to appeal to fans of Jasper Fforde and especially Sarah Addison Allen.

304 pages | 04 Apr 2013 | Pamela Dorman Books |18 - AND UP

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Review: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Queen Victoria's Book of Spells

Shellie’s review for Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.

Shellie’s quick take:  A fantastical and intellectual collection of stories termed “Gaslamp” (set within Victorian times) with dark themes.

Shellie’s thoughts:   What is Gaslamp fantasy? It’s fantasy set within the time when gas lamps lit England, before electric lights. So there can be a flavor of steampunk, but gaslamp is a broader genre as reflected by these stories.

In their stories the authors from this collection take “a poke” at the era with its blatant superior belief systems and its male-dominated and class-ridden social structure - as Terry Windling excellently addresses in the beginning to this anthology with her Introduction: Fantasy, Magic, and Fairyland in Nineteenth-Century England. Here the author academically describes how fantasy and magic where seen during Victorian times in England, setting the stage for the stories in this collection.

With eighteen stories, I did not love every one (some of the writing styles where difficult for me to digest), so I have only listed my very favorites. In my opinion these short stories definitely make the book worth the read. Each favored title has a short description including my quick thoughts – perhaps to persuade you to pick up and read one or two.

The Fairy Enterprise” by Jeffrey Ford - An arrogant industrialist has an idea on how to make money by using fairies. It is wonderfully horrific and has a revengeful ending. I love great revenge stories.

From the Catalogue of the Pavilion of the Uncanny and Marvelous, Scheduled for Premiere at the Great Exhibition (Before the Fire)” by Genevieve Valentine - An unusually told story based upon a true event – The Great Exhibit of 1851 in London and the fire. The story creatively catalogs the fantastical items which where lost in the fire which destroyed the exhibit.

The Governess” by Elizabeth Bear - Is a dark feminist take on the selkie myth and is one of my top picks for the collection.

The Unwanted Women of Surrey” by Kaaron Warren  - A story set around a group of women whose husbands keep them in a home and away from their families for various reasons. The women get involved in some horrific mischief that is particularly memorable and historically significant to the era.

Phosphorus” by Veronica Shanoes - And lastly another big favorite of mine is the dark tale based upon the women workers who made matches during the era; they worked under terrible circumstances and absorbed some of the phosphorus from the matches into their bodies.

What I liked about my favorites is that they had an accessible writing style where I was absorbed into the stories; and most brought to light some of aspect of real life horror happening during the time.

In the end I recommend this book for readers looking for a dark fantastic journey into Victorian England, especially readers who enjoy the literature from the era. I’d give 3.5 stars for this short story collection.

Tor Books; March 2013; Trade Paperback; 352 pages.

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