Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Chronicles of Riddick

Grazing the tv offerings after Mother went to bed last night I came across The Chronicles of Riddick, the 3rd and last in the Riddick series, starring Vin Diesel as Riddick and featuring Dame Judi Dench as a member of the Elemental race. I liked all three of these films, and I think Vin Diesel is a lot of fun to watch. This movie is a science fiction/action movie -with lots of action. The first one was Pitch Black, science fiction but with more of a horror/suspense leaning, and the second one was an animated film called Dark Fury.

trailer:


Moria calls it "an ornate, Gothic space opera," says it "feels like a fantasy story that just happens to be told in science-fiction terms" and claims "Diesel certainly puts some credibility back into his screen presence" in this film. Slant Magazine despises it. Roger Ebert gives it a negative review. EW doesn't seem to like it much either.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell


Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a wonderful fantasy novel, the first book by Susanna Clarke. There is a wiki devoted to the book here. It won the 2005 Hugo Award, the World Fantasy Award, the Locus Award for Best First Novel, the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature and the Time Best Book Award. She won the British Book Award for Best Newcomer of that year.

There are 2 mentions of Methodists. The first is early on, describing a man in Mr. Norrell's library:
Mr. Honeyfoot meanwhile, his hands in the air like a Methodist praising God, was walking rapidly from bookcase to bookcase; he could scarcely stop long enough to read the title of one book before his eye was caught by another on the other side of the room.
The second is in the middle of the book in a passing mention that a certain man could most certainly not have been drunk because he "is a Methodist preacher."

from the dust jacket:
"Two magicians shall appear in England.
The first shall fear me; the second shall long
to behold me..."

The year is 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon, and it is hundreds of years since practical magic faded into the nation's past. But scholars of this glorious industry suddenly discover that one practicing magician still remains: the reclusive Mr Norrell of Hurtfew Abbey. Challenged to demonstrate his powers, Norrell causes the statues of York Cathedral to speak and sing, and sends a thrill through the country. The magician proceeds to London, trailed by excited rumors, where he raises a beautiful young woman from the dead and finally enters war, summoning an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French.

Yet Norrell is soon challenged by the emergence of another magician: the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange. Young, handsome, and daring, Strange is the very opposite of cautious, fussy Norrell. Still, Norrell agrees to take Strange as his pupil, and the young magician joins England's cause, enduring the rigors of Wellington's campaign in Portugal to lend the army his supernatural skill on the battlefield.

But as Strange's powers grow, so do his ambitions. He becomes obsessed with the founder of English magic, a shadowy twelfth-century figure known as the Raven King. In his increasingly restless pursuit of the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, Strange risks sacrificing not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything else that he holds dear.

Elegant, witty, and flawlessly detailed, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a magisterial first novel that draws readers into Susanna Clarke's fantastic and utterly convincing vision of a past world.

SFReviews.net calls it "Breathtakingly original" and says that "as a storyteller, Clarke simply knocks you off your feet." SF Signal gives special praise to the world building. The SF Site review closes by saying,
I'm afraid I've now become one of those people who go on and on about how great a certain book is. I've been trying to convince my customers to buy it, trying to convince them not to be turned off by how fat Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is. 'I've heard a lot about this book,' they say, 'can it really be as good as all that?' Yes, I tell them, it can.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sailing Bright Eternity


The Galactic Center Saga by Gregory Benford is another example of a series it has taken me forever to read. I bought them as I found them, but it took years before I picked them all up, and by then I had completely forgotten the ones I had read earlier. I read Sailing Bright Eternity (6th and last in the series) while Mother was in the hospital, and I enjoyed it even though I'd forgotten the rest of the series.

from the back of the book:
The final chapter of humanity's future has begun. And three men hold the key to survival. As the fierce, artificially intelligent mechs pursue their savage and unstoppable destruction of the human race, it soon becomes apparent that these three men-three generations in a family of voyagers-are their targets. Toby Bishop, his father, Killeen Bishop, and his long-dead grandfather each carry a piece of the lethal secret that can destroy their relentless pursuers. There's only one problem: they have no idea they possess the only weapon that can save humanity.

Kirkus Reviews closes its review with this:
Extravagantly, mind-bogglingly strange yet it's the well-realized characters as much as Benford's astounding inventiveness that propel this amorphous drama to its utterly fascinating conclusion.

Friday, January 14, 2011

So, now I'm a Virgo?


Rachel Maddow said in her show last night that they've added a new sign and changed the dates on all the others, but as I look into it I see I have nothing to worry about. That's a relief. Since it'll make such a huge difference in my life.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Miracle in the Rain

This is one of the movies I've seen thanks to Mother's access to TCM. Miracle in the Rain is a slow-moving film and too sappy for my taste. It stars Jane Wyman and Van Johnson. This is one of Arte Johnson's earlier roles.

Here are the opening few minutes:


DVD Talk calls it "a truly odd movie" and says, "The film's only excuse for success is that it loves its characters and presents them all as deserving of a miracle." TimeOut says it's "much better than one might expect." The TCM overview is here.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

I have seen a couple of movies since Mother fell, and Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium was one of them. The Elder Son gave the dvd to me, and he made a good choice. I found it delightful. Of course, given the horrible reviews, my experience may have been colored by the fact that I was in my Mother's hospital room and _any_thing would have seemed cheery. It stars Dustin Hoffman and Natalie Portman.

trailer:


The poor film only gets 37% at Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert gave it 3 stars and concludes, "This isn't quite the over-the-top fantasy you'd like it to be, but it's a charming enough little movie, and probably the younger you are, the more charming." EW gives it an "F" and has nothing positive to say. Time Out calls it a "no more than a dull, whimsical, superficial film". DVD Talk doesn't like it either, saying it's "90 minutes of forced whimsy that never quite gets off the ground." Slant Magazine says, "the film stagnates more often than it flourishes".

Saturday, January 08, 2011

The Last Colony


The Last Colony is the 3rd in a series by John Scalzi. I have enjoyed all of these, but I don't plan on reading the 4th one. That whole retell-the story-from-another-character's-viewpoint turns me seriously off.

The author discusses the book here:


from the back of the book:
John Perry, the hero of John Scalzi's bestselling debut novel Old Man's War has retired with his wife and daughter to one of humanity's many colonies. It's a good life, but something's ... missing. When John and Jane are asked to lead a new colony world, they jump at the chance to explore the universe once more.

But nothing is what it seems. Perry and the new colony are pawns in an interstellar game of diplomacy and war between humanity's Colonial Union and a new, seemingly unstoppable alien alliance that has demanded an end to all human colonization. As those gambits rage above, on the ground Perry struggles to keep his colonists alive in the face of threats both alien and familiar.

For his family's survival, and everyone else's, Perry must unravel the web of lies, half-truths, and deception spun around him and uncover the colony's shocking true purpose - lest it become, truly, the last colony of the human race.
SF Signal says it "lives up to the reputation of the previous books."
SFReviews.net describes it as
largely an exegesis on imperialism, and how expansionist politics ultimately serve to perpetuate the notion of imperialism for its own sake instead of looking out for the welfare of the actual people it presumes to serve.
SFFWorld.com closes with this:
Entertaining in the sense that the pages move quick, you don’t want to stop reading, and you find yourself smiling and laughing at the words on the page. Thought provoking in the sense that Scalzi extrapolates today’s society into a far future, and plausibly.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The Ghost Brigades

 

I've read The Android's Dream and Old Man's War and enjoyed both. The Ghost Brigades is the sequel to the latter of those. I like the writing; the plot moves right along, and the characters are interesting. Author John Scalzi has written a third in that series and has a fourth book set in that universe. There is a short bio of the author here.

from the back of the book:
The Ghost Brigades are the Special Forces of the Colonial Defense Forces, elite troops created from the DNA of the dead and turned into the perfect soldiers for the CDF's toughest operations. They're young, they're fast and strong, and they're totally without normal human qualms.

The universe is a dangerous place for humanity — and it's about to become far more dangerous. Three races that humans have clashed with before have allied to halt our expansion into space. Their linchpin: the turncoat military scientist Charles Boutin, who knows the CDF's biggest military secrets. To prevail, the CDF must find out why Boutin did what he did.

Jared Dirac is the only human who can provide answers -a superhuman hybrid, created from Boutin's DNA- Jared's brain should be able to access Boutin's electronic memories. But when the memory transplant appears to fail, Jared is given to the Ghost Brigades.

At first, Jared is a perfect soldier. Then, as Boutin's memories slowly surface, Jared begins to intuit the reason's for Boutin's betrayal... and the fact that some of humanity's enemies have worse things in mind than our mere defeat.

SF Signal's review gave it 5/5 stars and says it's "Fun, page-turning, well-written science fiction." Strange Horizons says, "Scalzi's prose harkens back to the Golden Age of science fiction while still remaining fresh and vibrant." SFReviews.net praises the book, opening with this: "Though labeled a sequel to Old Man's War, The Ghost Brigades is very much a stand-alone adventure. While it expands upon ideas introduced in the earlier novel, John Scalzi doesn't require you to have read it to become fully absorbed in this one. I have a soft spot for writers who are this thoughtful" and closes by calling Scalzi "one of SF's most rewarding purveyors of thrilling, gut-wrenching, and thoughtful space opera."

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Steal Across the Sky

 

I remember reading Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress years ago, and, although I liked it, I was not inspired to go right out and buy more of her work. I do already have a huge tbr pile, after all. Lately, though, I'd been interested in picking up a few new books, so I bought her Steal Across the Sky. I enjoyed this, as I did Beggars, while I was reading it, but neither is sticking with me. She's not going to become my favorite author, but I'll read more by her when I come across them.

The first chapter of Steal Across the Sky can be read online at the author's site. She is an active blogger.

from the back of the book:
Cam, Lucca, Soledad... three ordinary people chosen by an alien power for reasons no one understands to undertake a journey no one on Earth could have imagined.

An alien base has appeared on the moon. The aliens call themselves the Atoners and claim that they have wronged humanity. They sidestep governments and directly recruit a group of young humans to be their Witnesses - not geniuses, not astronauts, not politicians, not the wealthy or the famous. just people curious enough to apply for the job.

What they will find on seven distant worlds will change them. The knowledge they will bring back to Earth will change everyone.


Strange Horizons gives it a mixed review. SF Revu calls her "An accomplished writer" and says, "Provided the reader accepts the initial premise, the action flows smoothly. Some may quibble with the plausibility of the basic premise and a few with the central theme."

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The City & the City


I like China Mieville. Iron Council is my least favorite so far, but his work appeals to me. I wish now I had gone ahead and read The City & the City when it came out in hardback, but I waited until it came out in paperback and deprived myself. Ah, well, live and learn. I'll buy them when I see them in hard cover from now on.

The City & the City (2009) is a mystery novel that takes place in a pair of fantasy cities. It is a straight mystery story, but the setting is fascinating. Chapter 1 can be read here. It tied for the 2010 Hugo for Best Novel, won the Arthur C. Clarke award (for the 3rd time) and won both the World Fantasy and BSFA awards for best novel.

from the back of the book:
When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. To investigate, Borlú must travel from the decaying Beszel to its equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the vibrant city of Ul Qoma. But this is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a seeing of the unseen. With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, Borlú is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of nationalists intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists who dream of dissolving the two into one. As the detectives uncover the dead woman’s secrets, they begin to suspect a truth that could cost them more than their lives. What stands against them are murderous powers in Beszel and in Ul Qoma - and, most terrifying of all, that which lies between these two cities.

SF Reviews opens by calling it "China Miéville's best novel since The Scar, and the tightest and most politically observant of his career." SF Site calls it "Miéville's finest work to date." SF Signal's review closes with this:
What drew me to a re-read on The City & The City is that the story works on so many levels. It works as a police procedural. It works as an examination of class distinctions. It works as a biting statement on the things that we, as a society, choose to see and to unsee on a daily basis.
Michael Moorcock has a review of this book at The Guardian that closes by saying,
As in no previous novel, the author celebrates and enhances the genre he loves and has never rejected. On many levels this novel is a testament to his admirable integrity. Keeping his grip firmly on an idea which would quickly slip from the hands of a less skilled writer, Miéville again proves himself as intelligent as he is original.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Anathem

 


Anathem is a 2008 science fiction (do I have to call it "speculative fiction"?) novel by Neal Stephenson. I used to seek out long novels, but gradually it seemed novels were longer and longer just for increasing their usefulness as doorstops. I began to see long novels as those which hadn't had the benefit of a good editor. I started eyeing them with suspicion and passing on to other works. I have read several books by Stephenson, though, which made this one more tempting -even though it is 935 pages long. I'm glad I took the risk. It's a fascinating read. There is information on the book at Neal Stephenson's site.

from the fly-leaf:
Anathem, the latest invention by the New York Times bestselling author of Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle, is a magnificent creation: a work of great scope, intelligence, and imagination that ushers readers into a recognizable -yet strangely inverted- world.

Fraa Erasmas is a young avout living in the Concent of Saunt Edhar, a sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside "saecular" world by ancient stone, honored traditions, and complex rituals. Over the centuries, cities and governments have risen and fallen beyond the concent's walls. Three times during history's darkest epochs violence born of superstition and ignorance has invaded and devastated the cloistered mathic community. Yet the avout have always managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe, becoming out of necessity even more austere and less dependent on technology and material things. And Erasmas has no fear of the outside -the Extramuros- for the last of the terrible times was long, long ago.

Now, in celebration of the week-long, once-in-a-decade rite of Apert, the fraas and suurs prepare to venture beyond the concent's gates - at the same time opening them wide to welcome the curious "extras" in. During his first Apert as a fraa, Erasmas eagerly anticipates reconnecting with the landmarks and family he hasn't seen since he was "collected." But before the week is out, both the existence he abandoned and the one he embraced will stand poised on the brink of cataclysmic change.

Powerful unforeseen forces jeopardize the peaceful stability of mathic life and the established ennui of the Extramuros - a threat that only an unsteady alliance of saecular and avout can oppose - as, one by one, Erasmas and his colleagues, teachers, and friends are summoned forth from the safety of the concent in hopes of warding off global disaster. Suddenly burdened with a staggering responsibility, Erasmas finds himself a major player in a drama that will determine the future of his world - as he sets out on an extraordinary odyssey that will carry him to the most dangerous, inhospitable corners of the planet ... and beyond.


Salon.com calls it a "mind-bogglingly ambitious epic saga" and says "is not for the weak of heart. But there are compensations." That makes it sound downright hard to read. I probably missed a lot, but I enjoyed it anyway. Locus Magazine says, "its brilliance is undeniable". Strange Horizons closes its review by saying, "Anathem is a unique, impressive but fairly mad novel: one part hubris to one part taking the piss to one part gnarly geek awesomeness." SF Signal calls it "All in all, a very enjoyable read, especially if you like Stephenson." The Washington Post reviewer didn't like it at all. The Guardian reviewer admires it: "The only catch to reading a novel as imposingly magnificent as this is that for the next few months, everything else seems small and obvious by comparison." SF Site describes it as "part coming-of-age story, part space opera, part alternate history, part quantum mechanics tutorial, and a completely awe-inspiring creation." Another SF Site reviewer says it is "a prime example of what science fiction itself can be at its very best."

I found her on the floor,

and that -in a nutshell- explains why I haven't posted anything since the first week in July. My mother spent a while in the hospital and some time in a skilled nursing facility before being sent back to her home in my care. (We'd have brought her to our house, but all the bedrooms are upstairs.) About a week later she was back in the hospital. After some time there, she was placed in a rehabilitation facility. She was in rehab for almost 3 weeks, if I've got my time frame right, and they wouldn't let me stay with her overnight. That meant that I got to spend the night in my own bed and got to sleep through the night for the first time in months. -Sleep deprivation is horrible. I cope well with most things, but sleep deprivation is not one of those things.- When she was released from rehab they arranged for a month of in-home physical therapy, which went well.

We've been told she should not be left on her own. I have a sister who spends a few hours with her most days and takes care of lunch but who will not stay at night. I don't get much time at home and haven't used any of that time to write here, but I've decided to make time to post some, at least on books I read.

We have faith that sooner or later we will find a house where I can live with my husband and my mother, but it's been slow going. I've been told the housing market will pick up again now that the holidays are over, and our real estate agent is helpful and patient. Maybe we are just being too picky. But I don't think so.