Book Review: The Fifth Season

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Cover image of NK Jemisin’s 2015 Hugo Award winning novel “The Fifth Season

“Jemisin is now a pillar of speculative fiction, breathtakingly imaginative and narratively bold.”―Entertainment Weekly

“Intricate and extraordinary.”―The New York Times

“[The Fifth Season is] an ambitious book, with a shifting point of view, and a protagonist whose full complexity doesn’t become apparent till toward the end of the novel. … Jemisin’s work itself is part of a slow but definite change in sci-fi and fantasy.”―Guardian

“Astounding… Jemisin maintains a gripping voice and an emotional core that not only carries the story through its complicated setting, but sets things up for even more staggering revelations to come.”―NPR Books

“Jemisin’s graceful prose and gritty setting provide the perfect backdrop for this fascinating tale of determined characters fighting to save a doomed world.”―Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“A must-buy…breaks uncharted ground.”―Library Journal (starred review)

“Jemisin might just be the best world builder out there right now…. [She] is a master at what she does.”―RT Book Reviews (Top Pick!)

“Wait! What? Sure, it’s an interesting story, but… –Me

I’ve read most Hugo nominated and award-winning novels from 1988 back to 1958, when the Hugos first came into existence, but recently, I decided for the sake of fairness, I should consume more recent popular SF/F novels and stories to see how cultural perception is changing the landscape of speculative fiction. The fact that N.K. Jemisin is a three-time Hugo award winner wasn’t lost on me, particularly after having read her latest controversial historic Hugo Award acceptance speech.

Fortunately, The Fifth Season (2015), the first book in “The Broken Earth” series, was available through my local public library system. Given its obvious “hype,” I was hoping for something spectacular and afraid that it wouldn’t be.

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Hugo Award Winning Novels I Have Read

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Cover image of NK Jemisin’s 2015 Hugo Award winning novel “The Fifth Season

You might be wondering about why I’ve posted the lengthy lists of tabular data below.

Last summer and so on, when I was writing blog posts critical of the Hugo Awards, WorldCon, and a seeming lack of objectivity in how the Hugos are awarded, I learned a lot.

I’m not going to post a bunch of links to past blog missives, but I did learn that the Hugos were never meant to be particularly objective. Various works, including novels, are voted on by people who have paid to be at that year’s convention, people who are, for all appearances, very hard-core Science Fiction and Fantasy fans, and not necessarily the sort of person who might casually pick up a SciFi novel to read here and there (like most of us).

I also noted one of the criticisms leveled against SF author Robert Silverberg in the comments section at File 770 after Silverberg criticized NK Jemisin’s most recent Hugo Award acceptance speech, was that it was said Silverberg hadn’t read a SF novel in the past decade, like that’s a bad thing.

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Book Review of “The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack: A Burton and Swinburne Adventure”

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Cover image for Mark Hodder’s 2010 novel The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack

Some months ago at work, a friend of mine and I got to talking about steampunk as a sub-genre of science fiction, and, long story short, he recently lent me his copy of Mark Hodder’s 2010 novel The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack: A Burton and Swinburne Adventure.

Basically, Hodder takes real places (London specifically) and actual historical figures, such as Sir Richard Burton, poet Algernon Swinburne, Charles Darwin (yes, that Charles Darwin), and Florence Nightingale, and transforms them into bizarre, distorted, “steampunkish” versions of themselves in a much larger than life adventure set against a highly improbable background.

The result is an amazing romp that could never have happened (time travel notwithstanding) but is nevertheless, is a lot of fun.

Recently, I said that I’d be making a concerted effort to read more recently produced science fiction novels and stories as defined by those having been published within the last ten years or so. Mr. Hodder’s novel certainly qualifies, so here we go.

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Resisting the Echo Chamber

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Original cover for James P. Hogan’s 1977 novel “Inherit the Stars”

Somewhere on Facebook, I saw an image of a familiar book cover, the cover to James P. Hogan’s 1977 science fiction novel Inherit the Stars. I remember reading it while my wife and I were on vacation in Europe in 1985, traveling with a Catholic choir group (long story).

As with a lot of books I read decades ago, I remember liking it, but I can recall almost nothing of the plot. Yes, it all starts with the mystery of a dead human being found on the Moon, a person 50,000 years old. Intriguing.

I thought about adding it to my list of books to re-read, even though a day ago, I dedicated myself to reading science fiction and fantasy of a more recent vintage.

I was surprised to discover that “Inherit” was the first book in a five-part series. I was also surprised to discover that it was the first book Hogan ever wrote, and that he did so on a dare.

I decided to look up Hogan on the internet. He died in 2010 at the age of 69, just a few years older than I am now.

I also found out he wasn’t a nice man.

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Dabbling in Science Fiction Fandom

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Photo credit – Knoxville News – Science Fiction convention – place and date unknown

In recent comments on the File 770 SF/F news blog criticizing veteran SF writer Robert Silverberg over comments he made about author NK Jemisin’s Hugo Award acceptance speech last summer, one of the things mentioned is that Silverberg hasn’t read any SF stories written in the past ten years, like that’s a bad thing.

In comments I made on twitter last summer criticizing the objectivity of the Hugo Awards, one person accused me of not being “a fan,” as if being a fan were some sort of exalted and coveted position.

But as I continued to gather information about the Hugos and how one is nominated for an award, I realized that although the pool of voters each year is relatively small (I’d estimate anywhere between a few hundred and a few thousand), probably all of them are avid SF/F readers and viewers who consume tons and tons of the latest available works. I guess that’s what my critic meant when she said I wasn’t a fan.

But wait a minute. How much SF/F do I read?

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Book Review: Chill (Jacob’s Ladder Book 2)

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Cover image for Elizabeth Bear’s novel “Chill”

Today, I finished the science fiction novel Chill by Hugo and Sturgeon award-winning author Elizabeth Bear. Unfortunately, when I checked it out of my local public library, I didn’t notice that it was the second installment in the three-part Jacob’s Ladder series.

The series tells the tale of a generation ship, a proposed means of crossing interstellar space by having a space vessel carry multiple generations of people across long distances at relatively slow speeds. It’s a trope that’s very familiar with science fiction fans.

Ms. Bear did something new, but it was hard for me to figure out exactly what, since I was coming into the story in the proverbial middle of the second reel.

Apparently the generation ship, Jacob’s Ladder starts out in the first novel “Dust” trapped in orbit around a doomed star, using its resources to replenish the ship’s damage. I don’t know how that works, and like I said, I’ve never read the first book.

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Book Review: “The Man in the High Castle

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Cover image for the novel “The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K. Dick

My son Michael and I were talking about the television series The Man in the High Castle, which is based on the 1962 novel of the same name authored by the late Philip K. Dick. I’ve never seen the television show (and probably never will), but I did recall reading the novel sometime back in the 1970s.

Unfortunately, that’s all I remembered about it. Curious, I decided to check a copy of the book out of my local public library and re-read it.

The novel is set in the year it was published and postulates what the United States would have been like if the Axis powers had won World War Two thanks to the Nazis having developed the atomic bomb first.

The US is divided into three zones, with the Nazis in control of the East, the Japanese in control of the West, and a sort of DMZ existing across the Rocky Mountain States.

The “Man in the High Castle” refers to the author of a controversial novel called “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” written by the mysterious Hawthorne Abendsen. It postulates what the world would have been like if the Allies had won the war. The book is tolerated in the West, but the Nazis have made it illegal in the East and there are rumors that there’s an ongoing attempt to assassinate the book’s writer. Thus Abendsen is said to live in a fortress (“High Castle”) in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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I Voted!

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Image Credit: James Pyles – Cover of Philip K. Dick’s novel “The Man in the High Castle”

Now before you freak out at the photo, no I didn’t vote for the Nazi party or the Axis powers. My son and I were discussing the television version of the late Philip K. Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle last Sunday, and I realized I probably hadn’t read the novel since the mid-1970s.

So after voting, I swung by the Public Library and checked out a copy. Since public libraries have free and totally unrestricted WiFi (Hooray freedom!), I took the opportunity to email this photo to myself so I could post the image all over the place (blogging, social media, etc…). So here it is.

I took an early lunch so I could hit my polling place while it was relatively uncrowded. Really, I was in and out in about fifteen minutes, and it’s like a five-minute walk from my house. I was tempted to stop by home, but my wife is watching our three-year-old granddaughter while her Mom’s at work, and I know that while she’d be happy to see me, she wouldn’t understand why I couldn’t stay.

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Book Review of Echo Volume 2: The Taste of Ashes

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Cover for Echo Vol 2: A Taste of Ashes

It’s been over two years since I reviewed Kent Wayne’s (pen name) military science fiction novel Echo Vol I: Approaching Shatter. I’ve had volumes 2 and 3 on my Kindle Fire forever, but just hadn’t managed to get around to reading them (so many books, so little time). But then, I hit just the right break in my reading schedule and inserted Echo Volume 2: The Taste of Ashes.

Echo I set the stage for the action in Echo 2, which is an adrenaline-fueled, supercharged, watch-the-body-count-rise, military “gore-fest.” No kidding, for nearly the first half of the book, the protagonist Atriya is constantly battling hordes of enemy Dissidents without a single break.

In the book’s Afterword, Wayne admits he probably could have shifted the scene a little bit or avoided describing, second by second, everything Atriya was going through in microscopic detail. My personal opinion is that he should probably just repackage Vol I and II as a single novel, since it would even things out a bit.

I’m not being particularly critical when I say this. I enjoyed the action, although there were times when, even with the Crusader’s advanced augmentations, he seemed more superhuman than any of his contemporaries.

So what’s going on?

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Galactic North: A Brief Book Review

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Cover art for Alastair Reynolds’ book ‘Galactic North.”

A friend of mine loaned me his copy of this book because we share similar tastes in reading and I must say I found it well-written and compelling. Galactic North is a collection of eight short stories all set in the same “universe” and spanning centuries.

They involve different variations of the human race, and how they cooperate and compete with each other across the ages and light years. It’s space opera at its finest including plausible “space pirates.”

Author Alastair Reynolds has a Ph.D in Astronomy and was previously employed as an astrophysicist for the European Space Agency, so he definitely possesses the qualifications for writing “hard science fiction.”

Interestingly enough, in addition to realistically portrayed interstellar travel, suspended animation, and human cybernetic hive minds, he focuses quite a bit on the medical adaptations to human beings, from the hyper-cerebral Conjoiners, to the terrifying Denizens.

The only thing that put me off a bit were the instances of what I call “medical atrocities,” that is, how some of the people in the stories end up horribly altered and mutilated, but that’s more a problem with my squeamishness than Reynolds’ writing.

As I understand it, Reynolds has written a number of other short stories and novels in the “Revelation Space” series, comparable to Larry Niven’s “Known Space” series. I have no problem giving “Galactic North” a solid five stars on Amazon, which I will be doing in just a bit.