Tag: science fiction

Here’s some thrilling news! My poem “Uncanny Valley Trail” has been included in the Spring 2015 issue of Star*Line, the official magazine of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. This is a major honor and I can’t believe I’m in such great company.

When I first read about the uncanny valley phenomenon in robotics, it practically broke my brain. The concept is all-at-once freaky, simple, complex and mind-blowing. It comes from a 1970 paper by Japanese professor Masahiro Mori. I urge you to go and read the new translation published at IEEE Spectrum (which is by the way one of my favorite websites for robotics and artificial intelligence).

Mori’s paper is lively and fascinating as he diagrams his interpretation of the way humans react toward robots. Specifically, robots designed to appear as lifelike as possible. Mori’s metaphors and diagrams of hills and valleys helped me to visualize the various aspects of the uncanny valley, and because I am an avid hiker, my poem takes shape around a ’trail’ where one can experience this phenomenon as a journey. My poem is both exploration and education for myself. Hopefully entertaining too – for you!

Up until recently, my poems have been published and made available for free by online magazines, blogs and journals. Print is not dead! Star*Line is a quarterly print journal of poetry, and you can purchase your own Spring 2015 copy (or more issues!) HERE. The cover art by Aunia Kahn is stunning, as you’ll see. You can also buy a pdf for $2.50 via Paypal or credit card if you would like!

Heartfelt thanks to everyone for supporting poetry and the arts.

“Donetsk robot 01” by Andrew Butko. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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Happy New Year’s Eve, people!  

It’s that time when every website on the internets is banging out a “Best Of” list and yammering at you to make resolutions.  So while I’m still trying to wrap up my 2014 To Do list and write something coherent about my recent trip to New Orleans, I thought I would share some of my own favorite fun bits of the past year.  Have a safe and happy night!

Noon Pacific’s Space Jams  By far my favorite weekly treat is the music playlist that Clark Dinnison publishes every Monday at – yep – noon Pacific Standard Time.  Here’s a compilation of his picks for 2014’s best spaced out jams.

Jay Sizemore  Absolutely my new favorite poet.  I discovered his work after Rattle published his poem ‘how to remove a hazmat suit.’   It blew my mind.  Just go read it.

io9  Great gobs of geekiness, I am so glad I found this website.  Always something interesting for me here, and frequent contributor Charlie Jane Anders is now one of my favorite bloggers.

The Leftovers  I admit I haven’t watched the final episodes because I don’t have cable TV, but this HBO series about life in a small town post-Rapture was freakin’ badass.  So many unexpected twists and turns, so much to ponder, and also Carrie Coon.  I can’t wait to watch the finale.  Don’t tell me what happens.

Luna Station Quarterly  So happy to be part of this wonderful women’s speculative fiction website.  My first audiobook review comes out January 6th!

Maplecroft  My one-night stand read of the year!  Couldn’t put down this Cherie Priest novel, so I didn’t!  Read it in one day.

Why do I study Physics?  I love this short animated documentary by Xiangjun Shi – I re-watch it constantly, like a daily affirmation.

book reviews get reel grab bag mixtapes

I took the Goodreads Reading Challenge this year and committed to reading 60 titles in 2014.  I surpassed my goal by 6 books!  Maybe a few more before December 31st!  Looking back on all that I read, I’m realizing these books are a chronicle of my life this past year.  ‘Scuse me while I reminisce.
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2014 started off heavy!  I was diggin’ on philosophy, evolution, atheism and HP Lovecraft.  What else am I supposed to read during winter in Colorado?  By far one of my favorite books this year was David Quammen’s Spillover – a hardcore and thoroughly researched work on zoonotic viruses.  Recently Quammen’s section on Ebola was published as a separate special edition.  Highly recommended.  Reading Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion made me feel intrigued, irritated, and enlightened all at once.  I agree with so much of what he says, but the dude can be a bit snide.   I balanced out all this deep thinking (or my sad attempts at deep thinking) with a long term battle to finish Guy Gavriel Kay’s fantasy doorstopper Tigana.  Good grief I wanted to love this book, but it took me forever – I listened to the audiobook while hiking in Colorado and Wyoming.  That was perfect, since the novel is about a beloved homeland, and mine is the Rocky Mountains.
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I moved to Wyoming for the summer and went on a thriller fiction rebound binge.  I plowed through the entire Pendergast series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.  The books got progressively less impressive, but I had a good time.  And, okay, I couldn’t stay away from science and religion – I began my joyous discovery of Carl Sagan’s works, and will be reading more in 2015.  Then I realized that I wanted to immerse myself in all the scifi and fantasy I’ve been too busy to read during the last few years.   I jumped into The Expanse series and Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard books, and I listened to Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion series on my regular hikes up Josie’s Ridge.  I didn’t give up nonfiction though – I loved The Emerald Mile, Kevin Fedarko’s jawdropping account of the fastest-ever run down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon – in a wooden dory.  I still get chills.

Thinking about rivers, I traveled from Jackson, Wyoming to Shelton, Washington in late summer, following the Columbia along the way and listening to A Canticle for Leibowitz.  A true sci fi classic, I was riveted by this post-nuclear dystopian novel, even more powerful to experience while driving along the river south of the Hanford Site.  I don’t recommend doing a solo road trip through California and listening to T. Jefferson Parker’s serial killer fiction The Blue Hour – but I definitely recommend the book – harrowing and suspenseful.
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By far the last quarter has been the most fun reading I’ve done this year.  I drove from Arizona to Texas listening to Marisha Pessl’s bizarrely riveting novel Night Film.  I devoured Cherie Priest’s Maplecroft and the first book in Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, and I finally tackled Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, all of which did not disappoint – great examples of why I prefer speculative fiction to anything else: innovation, daring, otherworldliness.  And I read Shards of Time, the last book of Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series.  A bittersweet conclusion to a series that I love so much.

I also started reviewing books for this very blog, which led me to volunteer as a blogger for the women’s speculative fiction website Luna Station Quarterly.  My first audiobook review, of Melissa Scott’s wonderful Five-Twelfths of Heaven, will be online in January!

Booooooooks.  I love them so.  Find me on Goodreads!

Thanks to Unsplash for the great library photo.

 

book reviews

This week’s roundup of random links I learned from and enjoyed!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!! 

 

Studying the evolution of a virus can help find a cure.  This time, it’s of course Ebola.

 

Here’s a classic sci-fi short story, one of my favorites because it’s all dialogue.

 

Climate change is no lie, and it affects us all.  Climate change means we need to change.  I’m trying.

 

A little science about spiders, just in time for Halloween.

 

Here’s an excerpt from a new book I’m very keen to read.

 

Spider photograph courtesy of Pixabay.

 

grab bag

book reviews

It may not be fair to say that the sci fi, fantasy and horror genres aren’t taken seriously, no matter what the medium.  Well, actually it is fair to say that – but maybe the playing field is changing.  I’ve never been more aware of this than I am when I’m watching some of the brilliant speculative TV of the last five years.  Still, I wish the women who carry the shows would receive MORE recognition.  Here’s my list of seven incredible actresses who are so fantastic, they should have awards not simply bestowed upon them, but created in their honor.
Tatiana Maslany
What rock are you living under, that you haven’t seen this amazing and versatile actress portray multiple clones so well, you’ll forget she’s only one woman.
Jaime Murray
I loved Ms. Murray as HG Wells on Warehouse 13, but on Defiance, she is like no creature on earth – literally.  Her fierce portrayal of Stahma Tarr is breathtaking in its otherworldliness – frightening and poignant all at once.
Nicole Beharie
You can’t watch this show without falling for Lt. Abbie Mills – kickass cop with a troubled childhood ready to battle demons – I love her resilience and sly humor, and Beharie’s fantastically controlled facial expressions.
Carrie Coon
Nora Durst – wow, what a role, and Coon really chews it up.  Every scene she’s in is a revelation – pun intended.
Keeley Hawes
Keeley Hawes can do anything better than anybody, and with a stellar Brit accent.  It doesn’t get much better than watching Bolly Kecks square off against Gene Hunt.
Anna Silk and Ksenia Solo
These two ladies are so inseparable and so wonderful as BFF’s that I had to nominate them as a pair.  Sure, Lost Girl is thrilling and funny and all about the fey underground, but at its heart, the real story is the friendship between Kenzi and Bo.

grab bag

Beth Bernobich’s The Time Roads is Steampunk Lite with a twist of Time Travel.  That might sound less enjoyable than the actual reading experience, which is mostly a mild disappointment; flat but still somewhat entertaining.  The prose is crisp and the vocabulary appropriately antique; the worldbuilding is thoughtful, but not spectacular.  It’s plausible that more research went into Irish names than almost everything else here, except possibly prime numbers.

So, there’s this alternate-history Ireland, see, in 1897.  Éire.  And in this reality, Éire is an empire with a savvy new Queen and civil unrest brewing in the world.  Intriguing premise!  Sadly, other than that, there’s nothing truly wowza here.   Even thrilling subplots (a love triangle; a string of violent and bizarre murders; even the dire quest for time travel itself) don’t live up to their potential and left this reader unsatisfied.  If the main point of the novel had been to focus on the scientific pursuit of the time roads, that would be understandable, but even the method of traveling through time is confusing and unbelievable.  The political intrigue, time slippage and interpersonal relations that slowly unspool the plot are too tangled, and no amount of cool steampunk hot air balloons, strong tea drinking, or alternate history lessons can knot it all together quite well enough (though I do love reading about a good cuppa).

The elaborate description of scientist Brendan Ó Cuilinn’s strange time machine – an octopus-like brass and silver contraption with wires and glass tubes – opens the first section of the novel, with a focus on mystical mathematics, as Ó Cuilinn uses his machine to make an iron-chromium bar “disappear,” claiming he has sent the bar into the future.  But despite much emphasis on insanity, prime numbers and lots of philosophical name-dropping, it seems as if the reader is expected to accept the book’s time travel premise based mostly on magical descriptions of the time roads themselves, and the characters’ sudden encounters with inexplicable nausea and fugue states – or being dead one minute, and alive the next – with the ability to remember different realities.  Why bother with science or pseudoscience at all?  There is no concern with paradox.   The most pressing issues for the main characters are that of overlapping timelines, the resulting confusion, and possible war among nations, but the narrative is itself so switchbacky  that I began to doubt everything, and not in ways that I think were intentional.

The Time Roads is divided into four books, each taking place in a year between 1897 and 1914 (althought at one point, we’re in the 1940’s), and in multiple time streams.  The division of the book unfortunately breaks up the narrative flow into a collected of disjointed novellas, further scattered by the use of different points of view.   Disjointedness and multiple viewpoints are techniques that really work in time travel stories – hey, they’re often key to the plot.  I didn’t feel that applied here, which may have been the point, but if it was, I don’t actually see the point of that.

The first and last books are told in first person by Queen Áine, while the second and third books are told in third person and focus on two other characters.  The Queen’s chapter introduces Ó Cuilinn’s machine, Queen Áine (our sharpwitted and independent heroine), and her trusted agent Aidrean Ó Deághaidh – the love triangle that goes in circles.  The second book follows Síomón Madoc and his sister Gwen, student prodigies and future (past?) discoverers of the time roads and how to travel them.  Gwen is literally two split people in the book – tragically mad and scientifically gifted – but the two personas are neither fleshed out nor threaded together to make either one, let alone two, solid characters.  The third chapter involves Ó Deághaidh investigating reports of unrest in the country of Montenegro.  Oddly, this section of the book – “Ars Memoriae” – is the strongest, because it is completely unlike the other sections.  “Ars Memoriae” is Jason Bourne meets HG Wells, a spy novella with trust issues, reality issues, and thriller-level suspense.  If the whole novel could have been like this – BOOM, yes!!  It really seems like it tried to be.  Alas, no.

The character of Queen Áine is the book’s strong, smart heroine – yes, but more like a box to be checkmarked than a woman to care about – which is too bad.   In Montenegro, Ó Deághaidh meets Valerija Delchev, who definitely has the most charisma of the female players, and then she’s promptly dropped from the storyline and footnoted.

For a novel about time travel, The Time Roads is two-dimensional.  Is it because the characters are developed only enough to simply suffice for the plot and general reader interest?  Is it because the book’s concept of time travel requires advanced degrees in mathematics and physics (does it – really?)?   This is a book that could have been.  Could have been more.  Kind of calls for someone to go back in time and add what’s missing.  I would read that alternate-reality version of this book.

I received this book as a free ARC from Netgalley.

 

 

book reviews

Some more free goodies on Kindle Unlimited.

Supernatural mystery with Detective Chen – this is probably the find that I’m most excited about. There are more books in the series.

 

 

 

More gritty supernatural noir, starring shapeshifter detective Jeremy Stake.

 

 

 

Ghosty literary suspense.

 

 

 

 

Short fiction from smarter-than-you Peter Watts’ giant sci fi brain.

 

 

 

 

Who isn’t always looking for good time travel fiction?

book reviews

Have you been thinking about signing up for Kindle Unlimited, but $9.99 a month seems kinda pricey?  It’s true that you can only “check out” 10 books at a time.  That’s probably plenty for the average reader, but you have to count on a few Did Not Finish’ers.  You can return books and exchange them for others any time.  I signed up for the 30 day free trial and went on a hunt for good speculative fiction.  So far I’ve found some pretty great stuff, but the trick is to go after what you really want (I used my goodreads list), instead of relying on Amazon’s genre lists to spoonfeed you.  They don’t seem to be doing a good job of curating these lists at all.  Example – even though there’s a paranormal/urban fantasy list, there’s nothing for horror or supernatural.   And the sci fi list seems to rely on Wool and Fluency.

So, here’s what I’ve found so far.  If I stay signed on, I’ll update this monthly with whatever I find.  Either way, the book prices are on the low side even if you don’t do Kindle Unlimited.

Click on the covers to link to Amazon.

 

One of the best vampire series out there kicks off with this book.

 

Phil Rickman (aka Will Kingdom) is a Welsh author who writes extremely good supernatural mysteries with wonderful characters.

Laird Barron is one of the spookiest dudes writing horror fiction today.

More people need to read Melissa Scott.

Tentacles on the cover!  Feel the Lovecraft.

 

 

 

book reviews

Part of the Worlds Without End Grand Master Reading Challenge

Much better than I expected, but as dry as I feared. I don’t usually think “this would make a great movie” when I’m reading a classic, but here I couldn’t help thinking “I wish Ridley Scott would work this up.” I suppose that means a debt is owed to Clarke once again, for his pioneering vision, if not his plywood characters.  I can’t help preferring more current page turners like McDevitt’s Chindi, but he owes a debt to Clarke, and the latter’s science is likely more accurate.  I finished reading Rama with a wish that it had been as “big” a book as its eponymous spacecraft, but aside from a pervading sense of unease and the harrowing sail across Rama’s Cylindrical Sea (with a female captain at the helm!) I didn’t get an epic feeling of adventure as much as I had wanted.

 

book reviews