Tag Archives: speculative fiction

Lotus Blue

Author: Cat Sparks

My rating: 5 of 5

Many years ago, wars decimated the planet, unleashing bio-engineered weaponized plants and mecha supersoldiers–half human, half machine–on the world. Now, the only ones who truly remember what the world once was are the few still functional Templars, their bodies sustained by the tech inside left over from the wars. Meanwhile, vast sections of the remaining population hole up in underground cities, waiting for the world to recover. And on the sand roads above, a determined few face the fading world and strive for survival, the tech of the past incomprehensibly altered to the stuff of myths. But the world is changing–Angels fall from the sky, travelers arrive from the hidden underground cities, and somewhere beyond the Obsidian Sea an ancient consciousness awakes.

I hugely enjoyed Lotus Blue, right from the start. This may not make sense, since they’re really not particularly alike, but the flavor of this story reminds me a lot of Firefly (a favorite of mine). The author’s descriptions are evocative, and the worldbuilding is sublime. I love the way she looks at modern (and futuristic) tech through the eyes of a people who have long forgotten what it actually is; the combination of advanced technology and primitive culture is quite intriguing. I love how the world slowly blossoms before the reader, displayed through the eyes of a variety of characters, each with different backgrounds, understandings, and motivations. The multiple points of view are fascinating, and the characters are all interesting in their own ways. The story itself weaves multiple individual stories into one big interconnected plot, and does so remarkably well. I honestly had no complaints about this book; it was very enjoyable and is one I would highly recommend–an excellent work of post-apocalyptic speculative fiction.

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As the Last I May Know (Short Story)

Author: S. L. Huang

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Ten-year-old Nyma stands as the last line of defense preventing her country from doing the unthinkable and wiping out entire cities full of innocents in the name of victory . . . a fate her own country experienced years ago. In fact, her own order was established in reaction to the horrors they experienced then. It’s something she believes in, a fate she willingly agreed to . . . but that doesn’t mean she isn’t terrified, trapped and manipulated between opposing parties, never knowing which day will be her last.

First off, I must say that I had no idea what this story was about when I picked it up; I probably wouldn’t have chosen something this dark intentionally right now. But Huang’s writing in The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist was good, so. . . . I guess I should have been prepared, considering the dark ending of the aforementioned story. As the Last I May Know is first and foremost an anti-war story focusing in on the high costs in innocent lives, the costs no one can calculate or determine in advance. I had to read some similar stuff years ago for school, but it’s been a long time since I’ve read something so directly focused on that particular subject. It’s pretty dark, and the way the story’s written, quite disturbing. It’s supposed to be. But Huang gives this story layers, creating a sympathetic protagonist in Nyma. She’s determined and his strong convictions. She’s young and scared. She writes poetry and watches the peach blossoms falling. In spite of the darkness, I enjoyed reading her voice, which just makes the context even more dark and disturbing. This was a good, if pointed, story; perhaps more recommended to read in a more cheerful, less worried time, but still worth reading.

Note: You can read this story for free at https://www.tor.com/2019/10/23/as-the-last-i-may-know-s-l-huang/.

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The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist (Novelette)

Author: S. L. Huang

My rating: 4 of 5

The world is only just beginning to learn about the atargati, a second race of sentient beings who dwell deep in the ocean. And while no human can really be said to know them, Dr. Cadence Mbella comes the closest of anyone, having actually interacted with them,  studied them extensively, and learned to speak their language. Her professional life comes to an abrupt halt, however, when she discovers one of the atargati has been kidnapped for study. Unable to let this stand, Dr. Mbella rescues the atargati, but in doing so, she loses everything . . . and yet, even on the run from her country, she finds her curiosity unsated as she yearns to learn more of this culture.

In The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist, Huang gives a dark, reverse retelling of “The Little Mermaid.” And let me just say, this short novelette packs a punch. It’s lovely and moving, but it’s also absolutely heartbreaking. Not a happy ending; consider yourself warned. I really enjoyed this story, though. It’s presented as a log of Dr. Mbella’s that she records as the story progresses, and I enjoyed both her unique voice and the way in which you get snatches of the story as it happens with all the emotion and urgency that each moment entails. The author does a great job of giving us that without losing the flow of the narrative. The portrayal of this utterly alien submarine culture is fascinating–and very notably alien. I loved how Huang uses both details that are rooted in scientific actualities and the strangeness of the unknown and possibly unknowable to flesh out the narrator’s understanding and depiction of the atargati. Dr. Mbella’s moral and ethical quandaries in dealing with this culture–and in interacting with her own in relation to the atargati–is compelling and adds depth to the story beyond a simple fairy tale retelling. Additionally, the author does a good job of portraying the narrator’s struggles with identity as she identifies as lesbian yet finds herself falling for someone of a completely different, non-binary species. On the whole, The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist was a fascinating, thought-provoking story that breaks from a lot of traditional molds while giving a solid retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic fairy tale–non-Disney-fied, just the way I like it.

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Gravity Falls: Lost Legends (Graphic Novel)

Author: Alex Hirsch

My rating: 5 of 5

Welcome back to the weird, wonderful town of Gravity Falls for a collection of never-before-told tales! Follow Dipper and Pacifica as they go where no human has been permitted before (not that they were actually invited) in a quest to retrieve . . . Mabel’s stolen face. Or join the gang as they dive into the wonderful world of comics, breaking all genre boundaries (and the fourth wall) in search of Grunkle Stan. Watch in wonder as Mabel faces the challenges of dealing with none other than . . . herself? And enjoy a peek into the childhood adventures of the older Pines twins. Weirdest of all? The whole thing is narrated by none other than Gravity Falls’ own Shmebulock!

I enjoy this graphic novel so much! I’ve read Lost Legends three times so far, and it has yet to grow old. Because honestly? This book is basically the series, and when does that ever grow old? Seriously, these four stories are slated as tales that were just a bit too weird to make the cut for the cartoon . . . but I could totally see them being there. Not that I’m sad they ended up as a graphic novel instead, though. They’re perfect for this medium, especially the story where they go into graphic novels as part of the plot. It’s hugely fun to see the various styles on the page, going from old-school comics to manga to gritty contemporary stuff to superhero comics–plus the visual effect when they fall into the margins and cut through the pages. It’s great–probably my favorite story of this set. Throughout all four stories, we see the characters being very much themselves and in character. But we also get character growth, which is also amazing. At least two of these stories take place late in the series (one of them post-Weirdmageddon), and it shows. Pacifica begins to come into her own and make choices that aren’t totally based on her family’s approval. Mabel begins to realize how over-the-top and kind-of selfish she can be. Just generally the characters are fabulous and the stories are a lot of fun. Highly recommended to fans of the cartoon.

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The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

Authors: Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience for language, violence, sexual content, and general adult situations

Little could Dr. Melisande Stokes have foreseen the consequences when she was initially approached by the dashing Major Tristan Lyons to do some obscure translation work–work that she had to sign nondisclosure agreements before she could even be told about. Certainly, she couldn’t have predicted that it would get her stuck back in 1850’s England! But then, the entire operation is full of surprises, as any government operation dedicated to reviving magic to time travel by way of quantum mechanics is bound to be. Actually, the whole thing sounds absurd, and yet, the U.S. government seems convinced that it’s actually possible . . . and they’re pouring in the funds to support their conviction. And so, armed with a research budget and their own skills and intelligence, Mel and Tristan form the beginnings of the Department of Diachronic Operations.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. captivated me before I even opened the cover. I mean just look at the cover design; doesn’t it just promise all kinds of fun?! And the story inside does not disappoint. To start out, the whole idea of quantum theory and magic being in any way linked is just mind-bogglingly strange . . . yet at the same time brilliant. If you think about their reasoning, it actually makes sense; there’s an element of plausibility that’s brought into the whole thing. And the way the story plays with alternate timelines and the interplay of quantum mechanics and magic is just fascinating–it’s all extremely well thought out, complex, and convincing. Yet while you have this almost hard science flavor being brought in with all that, there’s also this great sense of humor and people throughout. There are a lot of strong personalities at play in this novel, and they are allowed to roam free and do what they will, which creates all sorts of interesting drama and plot in a very natural, believable manner without being overdone. I also loved the way the entire story is told in documents–the majority of it being memoirs Mel is writing while trapped in 1851, combined with interdepartmental memos, diary entries, wiki pages, etc. It’s modern, expressive, and (again) just a very credible way of presenting the story that’s also full of humor and personality. The one thing that I didn’t love about this story is that it’s essentially a military operation, one that gets really big by the latter parts of the story, and as such, our main characters (that I love) get a bit lost in the shuffle for a while. But they pop back to the surface when things fall apart at the end, so it works out. Definitely recommended.

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Running from the Deity

Author: Alan Dean Foster

Pip & Flinx, vol. 11

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Flinx really didn’t set out to make first contact with the (comparatively) primitive native population on the planet Arrawd. . . . Never mind that doing so is a huge breach of Commonwealth law, Flinx was honestly a bit more occupied with his search for the Tar-Aiym artifact and, you know, saving the known universe. So when his ship set down on Arrawd to conduct some routine maintenance, he had every intention to stay on board and wait. But then boredom coupled with his innate curiosity struck, he explored a bit, accidentally ran into a native Dwarran (as they called themselves) . . . and what with one thing leading to another, somehow he’s using modern technology to perform what seem like miracles to the native Dwarrans and gaining a reputation across the world.

Running from the Deity is the first Alan Dean Foster I’ve ever read, and to be honest, that’s kind of tragic because he’s such a good writer. I feel like I’ve been missing out. First off, just on the whole, he crafts an interesting story, plain and simple. And I know it’s weird to be jumping into the middle of a series like this, but this book is surprisingly well self-contained–while also clearly connecting to the other volumes in the series, should you want to read them in order. But starting the story at this point, I didn’t feel lost; I was given sufficient background information in a pleasant, approachable manner so as to be able to enjoy the story . . . without being subjected to a nasty info dump. The only chapter that felt even slightly out of place was the last, which jumps to a different character and sets the stage for the next volume. The characters are excellent–full of personality that is presented to the reader in scintillating detail and that drives the progression of the story in a remarkably credible manner. And the worldbuilding. Just, wow. Arrawd and its population are so utterly alien, yet they’re presented in such a comprehensible and interesting way that I could just see them. Physical details, culture, all of it is thoroughly developed in much greater detail that I am accustomed to seeing just about anywhere. The actual writing itself is equally impressive–easy to understand, interesting to read, yet also teeming with challenging vocabulary that had me pulling out a dictionary. So yes, I truly enjoyed reading Running from the Deity as a fascinating sci-fi story and would certainly recommend it.

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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Author: Douglas Adams

My rating: 3.5 of 5

A computer programmer out to describe the rhythms of the universe in computer-generated music. A sofa stuck in a physically impossible angle on the stairs outside his apartment. A ghost stuck between life and death. An impossible magic trick. An electric monk from an alien world, created to save the people of that world the trouble of believing things for themselves. A visit to an old college professor. The works of a dead poet. Seemingly disconnected pieces, and yet they come together surprisingly in the hands of one Dirk Gently–who firmly professes to not be psychic. He’s a holistic detective, that’s all.

I’ve enjoyed Douglas Adams’s writing in the past, and I found Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency to be an enjoyable read, but definitely a more challenging piece. Not that it’s a difficult read exactly. But it’s very fragmented, especially towards the beginning, and there are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of if you want the ending to make any sense at all. The author certainly doesn’t dumb it down enough to give the reader the full breakdown, although everything is pretty thoroughly explained by the end if you pay attention. But yeah, fragmented and kind of pretentious would be my best way to describe this book. It’s well written, though, and has some quite interesting turns of phrase. I would almost say that’s one of the biggest selling points of this book, honestly. Of note, the titular character doesn’t actually appear until, like, halfway through the book. It’s really more about the programmer Richard, honestly, than it is about Dirk. Dirk’s just the guy strange and open-minded (or something) enough to connect all the weird, impossible dots. In any case, recommended for those who enjoy some slightly older speculative fiction (the bits about 1980’s computers were cool) and who has the patience to piece together all the randomness this story offers.

Of note, since I recently reviewed the BBC rendition of this story: they aren’t even the same story. Like, at all. They can’t even be considered AUs of each other, since that would require at least some level of semblance. The only things they have in common are the name Dirk Gently–the character is completely different, despite the name–and the concept of everything being connected–the “holistic” thing. Other than that, characters, plots, everything is different, to the point that it’s possible to enjoy each completely without comparing them to each other . . . as long as you don’t go and try to make them fit, because they just won’t.

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