Archive for the 'Reviews' Category


Friday, May 18th, 2007

I spotted Stigma, a first novel by Philip Hawley, Jr., on the new book shelves at the library. Although I prefer science fiction, sometimes I can’t resist a medical thriller with a nice, juicy disease. The disease in question was a mysterious autoimmune-style reaction to (the reader must suspect) that new vaccine approach every other character in the novel is working on.

The medical side of the plot took some interesting twists and turns, but it was overshadowed by the more physical exploits of the ex-Navy SEAL emergency-room physician, his ex-girlfriend, and his mysterious nemesis. This was frustrating for me because when I read a medical thriller, I want the heros wearing biohazard gear and the extras bleeding out of their eyes. I’m not so interested in the hand-to-hand combat in South American jungles and the specially-modified Glocks.

Definitely at the point where the hero stops the imminent threat of worldwide contagion, he should be using his new vaccine rather than a block of C4. But if you like the heavy-handed ex-SEAL approach to epidemiology, then Stigma is for you.

Movies I Want to See

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

I don’t usually have such a backlog of interesting-sounding movies.

  • V for Vendetta, already out so don’t spoil me.
  • Slither, a silly creepy-crawly movie due out tomorrow.
  • Lady in the Water, a mermaid story from M. Night Shyamalan, due out in July.
  • Idiocracy, a pessimist’s take on the Rip Van Winkle story, from the producer of Office Space. According to Wikipedia, production is stalled because the movie is just too funny for prime-time.
  • While I’m at it, I really need to see Office Space, too.

Firestar, City, Ancient Shores

Thursday, November 17th, 2005

Rather than tell you how far I’m behind on NaNoWriMo, I’ll try to catch up a tiny bit on my book reviews.

I picked up Firestar by Michael Flynn because I’d enjoyed The Wreck of The River of Stars so much. I was correspondingly disappointed in this earlier novel.

Our Heroine is a rich woman with a fear of asteroid strikes who decides to start her own space program. The subplots involve a shallow test pilot and his ambitious friends testing her experimental spacecraft, a bunch of schoolkids and their favorite teacher who’ve been bought out by her educational branch, and the general corporate goings-on of her extensive holdings. Although there’s plenty of plot and action, plus some teen angst, I didn’t feel like there was enough conflict or reader cookies to hold my attention. It’s a long novel that sprawls; I had the feeling, from some repetitive backstory references in the second half of the book, that it had been composed as several shorter stories.

City is a classic short-story series by Clifford D. Simak with a bonus short at the end. It reminded me a bit of When Late the Sweet Birds Sang, but it covers a longer time-frame in short out-takes. I thought “Huddling Place” had the most impact of the stories, and the last one the least, but they were all worth reading.

Ancient Shores by Jack McDevitt reminded me, in terms of genre, of Sims by F. Paul Wilson—a novel I picked up for its sci-fi content but enjoyed for the modern-day, non-skiffy characters, plot, and writing. In Ancient Shores, a farmer digs up a yacht on his property in North Dakota; it’s ancient but perfectly preserved and composed of a strange, occasionally glowing, substance. His friend begins to investigate and gets involved with a woman chemist and a Sioux lawyer.

In the end, the main character doesn’t change much and the resolution is a deus ex machina—but an interesting one that makes real-world sense even though as a novel conclusion it was disappointing. The language was straightforward and the glimpses into the world of the title few and far between, but the novel still managed to convey a certain numinous feel. I recommend it, and I’ll be looking for more of his books.

Dread Empire’s Fall

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

This is going to be another one of those go-out-and-buy-it reviews. Dread Empire’s Fall: The Praxis and Dread Empire’s Fall: The Sundering are the beginning of a lovely space opera by Walter Jon Williams. There’s romance and inbred aristocracy and slow-motion space battles and of course a dread empire falling. I couldn’t put it down.

The dread empire has an intriguing philosophy I would have liked to see more of. It banned all those troublesome non-space-operatic technologies like immortality and artificial intelligence, leaving a familiar milieu that reminded me mostly of Lois McMaster Bujold (who, by the way, has another Chalion book out).

But in a good way. If you liked her space opera but want something with more of a bite, you’ll love Dread Empire’s Fall. (If you prefer her lighter moments, WJW has done some comic space opera, too—though you won’t find it here.) The next installment of the series is due out in November 2005. See his FAQ for the titles.

In the tradition of 5-minute Voyager…

Monday, May 16th, 2005

Book-a-Minute SF/F (ultra-condensed sci-fi and fantasy books). See especially the extra-condensed Collected Work of Marion Zimmer Bradley, Collected Work of Stephen King and Collected Work of H. P. Lovecraft.

Sin City

Thursday, April 7th, 2005

Backpedal of the day: BBC Apologizes to Who Star - it sounds like a whitewash to me.

I came, I saw, I wasn’t even squicked. The most disturbing part of “Sin City” for me was its failure to disturb. The violence against eyeballs was minimal, the maimings numbing, and the many messy castrations more calculated to disturb the male half of the audience than yours truly. I’ve seen both volumes of Kill Bill and I found them more squicking, probably because I actually cared about the characters. With “Sin City” I spent most of the movie wondering who was who (except for the cool traitor, who had character to spare).

I did enjoy the comic-noir language and black-and-white atmosphere, and I thought the vignettes were good individually. But I spent too much mental time trying to figure out how each one was connected to the last, considering that the answer turned out to be “very loosely.” In the end I didn’t feel that the movie came together, either emotionally or plot-wise.

The Wreck of The River of Stars

Sunday, March 13th, 2005

I don’t have too much to say about Michael Flynn’s The Wreck of The River of Stars, besides that you should go out and read it, especially if you’re interested in personality typing. On the surface it’s a hard-sf tale of the wreck of the last great magnetic sailing vessel, written in a literary-mainstream style. That is, the omniscient narration gives away its own ending (as if the title hadn’t sufficed) and distances the reader from the crew to the point where they’re not dying fast enough.

That’s a little more quality literature than I signed up for, but the novel makes up for it all by being the world’s only SF Myers-Briggs puzzle. There are sixteen characters (give or take a few corpses) representing the sixteen types, and the reader gets to guess who’s who. Find out how your own special and unique personality helps doom a spaceship full of people to a tragic cold-equations end!

It may sound depressing, but it really was a great read. I highly recommend it. There’s more discussion of the novel and its Myers-Briggs types over at sffworld.

A Hole in Texas, Dead Lines

Saturday, January 1st, 2005

I read a couple of books that sounded like sci-fi on the flap, but turned out to be something else. A Hole in Texas by Herman Wouk sounded like an exciting tale of the Superconducting Supercollider and a sub-atomic space race with the Chinese, but it ended up being mainstream fiction. Is it just me, or are all mainstream novels about adultery at bottom?

It started out so well, too. Wouk does a great job of showing the business end of science–the funding, the rivalries, the power-plays, the government shutting down the SSC halfway through. It could have been sci-fi, but then the hunt for the Higgs boson decays into a mid-life crisis tour of Hollywood and Washington. Even though Our Hero is married to a gorgeous, intelligent woman, he has to attract the attentions of at least two other gorgeous, intelligent women. It’s a bit of overkill if you ask me; I’m assuming that mainstream readers identify with such handsome, successful adulterer-protagonists, but I didn’t.

But I knew Wouk was a mainstream writer. I was prepared to forgive the usual real-life filler. I was less willing to overlook the off-stage, hands-off solution of the scientific mystery. The resolution of the science plot just fell out of a satellite at the end of the book. There was no buildup, no pieces to put together, nothing. It was black-box science, as if the boson were just a prop for Our Hero to push around in between encounters with his women. It was believable, but it wasn’t science fiction.

Dead Lines by Greg Bear also failed to be sci-fi. A mysterious company comes out with a new kind of cell phone that transmits instantaneously, with no noise and no energy. It may sound like a sunny transhumanist tale, but the dark and scary tone lets you know right off that the second law of thermodynamics is not to be flaunted without dire spiritual consequences. The dead are restless, the businessman is soulless, and things go from bad to worse to Evil with a capital E.

It works fine as a horror story, but the science is never adequately explained. Some genius stuck a plug into the afterlife and all we see are effects, never the cause. I think Passage by Connie Willis is a far better mix of the supernatural and the scientific–it has all the spookiness, but with a believable explanation (at least before it jumps the shark). But if you like your horror with a veneer of sci-fi, give Dead Lines a try.

The Incredibles

Sunday, November 28th, 2004

The Incredibles was lots of fun. I highly recommend it, especially for Edna Mode, Seamstress to the Supers. I still have 8% of NaNo to go, so I’ll just point you to this Objectivist review of the movie.

The Grudge

Saturday, October 23rd, 2004

I suppose it could have been worse… Veronica is responsible for our seeing this remake. I thought the slow revelation of the mystery surrounding the cursed house was interesting, though the monster/poltergeist/thing was sorely lacking in magic rules. Magic rules are what make supernatural or magical things believable. This thing could do whatever it wanted; the poor stupid people never had a chance.

I did appreciate the Japanese “we’re all going to die anyway so quit your whining, white girl” passivity. Only the setting made the movie as bearable as it was.

Update: has a review that claims Japanese audiences don’t mind the gaping plot holes the way Americans do.