Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fatherly Advice

My son is still fairly young (he turns 3 in about 2 weeks) and I can't say how much fun he is. But of course there are some things I'm really looking forward to when he gets older. One of those things would be bestowing him the wisdom contained in this book, which I just received in the mail today.

Young Wizards Handbook: How to Trap a Zombie, Track a Vampire, and other Hands-On Activities for Monster Hunters by A.R. Rotruck (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Room With a View: Charleston

As I started here, I am continuing my new (and 100% original) tradition of posting pictures from my hotel room while traveling. Below is the view from my room in Charleston, South Carolina. I wish all hotel rooms had such a great view (the picture really doesn't do it justice).

Back to schmoozing (and generally having a great time) at my conference.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Something Completely Different

Next week I'm off to Charleston, SC for a conference. I imagine it'll be quite around here, but who knows. Anyway...

So, are only Reservoir Dogs allowed in this Men's Room? (Romania)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) is about many things, one of which is that classic science fiction time-travel trope of paradox and time loops. Therefore I find it rather ironic that I entered my own self-fulfilling time loop prior to reading this book. I rarely read any reviews about books I plan to read, and I often avoid even reading the synopsis on the back cover. But prior to picking up How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, I read this short commentary by Jeff VanderMeer. Thus I entered my own time loop, one in which I knew that I was going to like this book, that I would see it as a touching story about a dysfunctional relationship between a father and son, that it would be humorous and clever. I knew my own future?

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu is a book about a young man named Charles Yu who writes a book called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. Is it fiction? Is it autobiography? Is it both? Is it neither? Is it an instruction manual? Yes, no, I don’t know. It is a young man’s search for an absent father. It is his coming to know his depressed mother. It is his coming to know himself. It is a very literary novel. It is also an incredibly clever and amusing piece of science fiction. Charles is accompanied by a loyal retconned dog that doesn’t actually exist but shows love for Charles regardless – does the love exist, the smell of dog seems to. It’s an adventure through time and space in a slightly incomplete universe where Charles encounters the son of Luke Skywalker and several other people attempting to change the past.

How does one really characterize a book that swirls in and out of paradox, digs deep into the science fiction of time travel, that gets a little depressive, a little existential, that delves deep into the relationships of father-son, mother-son, self-self, and defines the metaphysics of time travel in the terms of literary narrative? In my case, I attempt to relay the first half (or so) of the book through out of context excerpts.
When it happens, this is what happens: I shoot myself.

I’ve never met Linus Skywalker before, but I’ve heard stories from other techs, so I feel like I have a good idea what to expect.

But the reason I have job security is that people have no idea how to make themselves happy. Even with a time machine. I have job security because what a customer wants, when you get right down to it, is to relive his very worst moment, over and over and over
again. Willing to pay a lot of money to do it, too.

Reality represents 13 percent of the total surface area and 17 percent of the total volume of Minor Universe 31.

Chronodiegetics is the branch of science fictional science focusing on the physical and metaphysical properties of time given a finite and bounded diegesis. It is currently the best theory of the nature and function of time within a narrative space.

Once upon a time, I am ten years old and my dad is driving me home from the park.

Read this book. Then write it. Your life depends on it.

No, this woman standing in front of me is something else, she is the one and only Woman My Mother Should Have Been, and I have found her. Looking for my father, I have found this woman, I have traveled, chronogrammatically, out of the ordinary tense axes and into this place, the subjunctive mode.

“So why am I being retconned?”
The style Yu uses in How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe varies widely and may be a barrier to some readers. The book is largely told from first person, sometimes told with excerpts from the book How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universal, and is sometimes both at once. The writing ranges from short, clipped phrases to long, run-on sentences spaced out with numerous commas. It can very dense, very technical speak about the mechanics of time machines and metaphysics of time travel. It can also be touching, if sad, reminiscing about a father and son working long hours in a garage. It has one foot in the literary world and one in a science fiction world, meeting in a space that can be equal parts brilliant and unappealing to both.

For the most part I flew through this book. Eagerly reading, digesting and laughing. Unfortunately, once the time loop is entered, the book slows down. The first portion of this time loop is one of the better parts of the book, but it’s the tail end that drags. I can see what Yu is doing – he is defining the past relationship between father and son, he bringing the son to a self-realization, he is setting up the end play. But it’s too often rather boring, and simply depressing as hell. It works because it achieves its goals, but it doesn’t work because it far too unappealing. Perhaps this is the SFF fan in me reacting to one of the more literary sections of the story. Perhaps I’m just uncomfortable seeing such a gloomy portrayal of a father and son’s relationship. Perhaps it was just too sad and boring.

So, was my own time loop self-realized? Did I like How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe because I knew I would? Did I like it because of its own merit? Did I break the loop by only liking it with a few reservations? Will this paradox send me into a parallel universe very similar yet strikingly different from this one? A blogger could get confused trying to be this clever (especially one with a relative lack of pedigree in the realm of hard science fiction). But I do know that How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is a fun, entertaining, depressing, and uplifting story of father and son, a mother and son, and a son and himself wrapped in a bunch of interesting science fictional ideas, full of clever homage and sarcastic, yet touching humor. The book is a paradox, literary and genre, and at least for me, a self-fulfilling time-loop – sort of like review blogging in the SFF world, though that is a different discussion that I’ll try not to have another day. 8/10

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Brandon Sanderson: Post Modern Fantasist…Really?

Over the weekend I saw this Big Idea post by Brandon Sanderson over on John Scalzi’s Whatever. He goes on to discuss deconstructionism and post modernism and how his Mistborn series (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound, my review) is intentionally post modern and that his latest book, The Way of Kings (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound, my review), is intentionally not post modern. He also discusses it a bit more briefly in this interview.

After reading that post I sat up a bit more strait and exclaimed something like ‘Huhhhh….’ I like Brandon Sanderson’s fiction – I've reviewed it rather favorably and I had a wonderful time when I met him (you will not meet a nicer, more humble person). But in no way do I consider any of what I’ve read of Sanderson to be post modern. Frankly, it’s almost laughable. Subverting a trope or two does not equal post modernism.

I won’t claim that I have the pedigree to call out Sanderson on this, even though for the past two days I’ve really, really wanted to. Thankfully, Jeff VanderMeer has stepped in. He does have the pedigree and is an author in the SFF world that I do consider to be post modern (at least some of the time). Thanks Jeff, I needed that.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What Twitter is Good For

One great aspect of using Twitter is that I can follow the thoughts of interesting authors in the SFF world. And sometimes I even get in ‘conversations’ with them. To prove to the world just how interesting these conversations can be, I give a slightly censored Twitter direct message exchange that I had with Unnamed SFF Author* a month or two ago (note: the language used quickly becomes uncivilized, to say the least).

USFFA: Those guys are losers to the extreme, ranging from conceited twats or fat babies.

Me: I agree - I wonder if my response will create a mini shitstorm, or just blow away

USFFA: If it does, don't back down. Those assheads need to be called on it.

Me: Oh, I won't back down, though I may grow dissinterested, which could appear as such.

USFFA: Either way, when people complain that sci fi isn't taken seriously, ___ is the reason why.

Me: yeah it's a group who feel that by liking SFF they forfeit any rights to be intellectuals but they like it anyway and hate themselves for it

USFFA: I think it's more that they fill a stereotype and enjoy only what they feel that stereotype should like.

Me: yeah - I think we are pretty well in agreement here.

USFFA: They are jerks.

Me: Jerkwads

USFFA: assbutts

Me: fucktards....oh boy, this going nowhere fast.

USFFA: Right. We might have to end it there.

Me: yes we should, they are jerks, jerkwads, assbuts, fucktards
So apparently Twitter is great for calling people names behind their back. I can live with that.

*Before you ask, no I won’t reveal USFFA’s identity or who/what ___ refers to.**

**Unless USFFA reveals themselves and what we were discussing.

New Brandon Sanderson Interview

A new interview with Brandon Sanderson has been posted over at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist. Once again, I helped out by submitting a few questions, along with a few other bloggers including Larry from OF Blog of the Fallen and Adam from The Wertzone. It mostly covers The Way of Kings (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound, my review), but also hits on general writing and just barely touches The Wheel of Time.

It's another great interview, so go read it! And thanks to Brandon (and Peter, his assistant, who recorded and transcribed the interview...and of course Pat who arranged the interview).

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mini-Review: The Chamber of Ten by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon

I picked up The Chamber of Ten by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) just before travelling to Europe for work. It is the latest book in Lebbon and Golden’s loose series of The Hidden Cities and is set in Venice where an archaeological team unearths something important and unexpected. At the same time an ancient dark magic is unearthed, plunging the archaeological team into chaos and threatening to destroy the city. Yes, the description reads a lot like a Dan Brown knock-off or a bad Hollywood thriller, but books like this often capture the setting very well, and this is what I was looking for. I was hoping that that an interesting portrayal of Venice would help excite me for my own upcoming European adventures.

Unfortunately I was rather disappointed. The Chamber of Ten jumps immediately into action without taking much time to introduce its characters, including the city of Venice, which fails to ever emerge as a character of its own. The result is even harder with the human characters that get thrown into seemingly dangerous scenarios before the reader cares enough about what could happen to them. This all results in a big disconnect between the reader and the story.

Thankfully the story itself emerges as something interesting enough to capture the imagination and attention. By about half-way through the book I started to get really sucked into the fast-paced supernatural thriller and I only quit reading late into the evening with reluctance. Foremost in my rejuvenated interest beyond the high-octane thriller pace, were tantalizing hints about the history of Venice. Unfortunately, these hints were never realized with revelation.

While The Chamber of Ten is a bit of a breath of fresh air in the world of urban fantasy – there’s not a werewolf or vampire in sight – but is suffers under the generic feel of feeling like a Dan Brown imitation. The prose is a bit better that Dan Brown, but the storytelling is not. I think traditional SFF fans won’t find it terribly interesting and traditional thriller fans won’t buy into the speculative aspects of the story. This seems to leave The Chamber of Ten without an audience. 5.5/10

Monday, September 06, 2010

Towers of Midnight Trailer

This past weekend at DragonCon, Tor released the book trailer for Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound).

As far as book trailers go it’s pretty decent. A bit overdramatic and a bit low budget, but not bad if a bit narrow in scope. As a long-time fan of The Wheel of Time I liked it (even though I’m one of those fans that wishes Moiraine were dead and gone).

Of course after the book trailer you inevitably come to the cover art.


Friday, September 03, 2010

Something Completely Different

I'm home and life is threatening to overwhelm me. So, an image from just up the road (I love where I live).
Mohave Point, South Rim, Grand Canyon, Arizona


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