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Category Archives: Science Fiction / Fantasy

Party Wolves in My Skull by Michael Allen Rose

You probably haven’t heard of Bizarro Fiction. I know I hadn’t.

As an established genre, Bizarro is a relatively new concept, though the form and ideas have been around for a long time. As the official Bizarro website states, ‘Bizarro, simply put, is the genre of the weird.’ Combining logic of the absurd with twisted, occasionally pornographic, and always macabre themes, it brings to mind the writings of Christopher Moore, Franz Kafka, and even Lewis Carroll, just to name a few.

Since it is such a new genre, Bizarro is always looking to further the art form and release new talent on an unsuspecting world. One of the eight books released this year by the New Bizarro Author Series, Party Wolves in My Skull by Michael Allen Rose is a shining example of what it means to be shelved in the Bizarro section.

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The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road by Cormac McCarthyFirst of all, please don’t think I picked this book up because of the Oprah endorsement. I’m made of meatier things than can be swayed by an Empress. But when it comes to Viggo Mortensen, I’m JELLY. It might have something to do with his hair/face/body. Anyhoo, I remember seeing the cover of the book whilst shelving at the unnamed bookstore I worked for and thinking, “Oh, Viggo, when will we stop playing these games?” At around the same time my brother saw No Country for Old Men and was all, “I’m scared to sleep alone.” That movie being based on a McCarthy book paired with Viggo on the cover of THIS book slayed me. So I began the reading.

And let me tell you. It is not a happy read. Clinically depressed people and people prone to over-sympathizing, stay away. You will not have a happy thought for days. Not exaggerating.

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The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Magician KingI have to come clean – when I read the first book in this series, The Magicians, I had very mixed feelings about it.  The writing was excellent, no doubt about it, and I read through the book very quickly.  But at the end, when I put it down, I couldn’t tell if I had liked it or not.

The problem is: Grossman takes fantasy worlds similar to Harry Potter, Narnia, and others, and brings them into a very modern setting.  Young magicians are given an entrance exam to see if they will be accepted into the magical college of Brakebills.  A fantasy world from a series of children’s books, known as Fillory, turns out to be real.  And the magicians must learn their own powers to navigate in this magical world.  Except along the way they get lost a lot, and there is quite a bit college-age experimentation with drugs, alcohol, and sex.  The characters make an unending list of pop culture references.  Their adventures seem to meander around with no clear objective.  This is not how I expect my fantasy novels to play out.

I like Harry Potter because none of the wizards uses a cell phone, even outside of Hogwarts.  They don’t use magic to throw crazy parties fueled by controlled substances.  There’s a timelessness about the Harry Potter books, and the Narnia books, that is quaint and comfortable.  Is it more realistic that young people would misbehave a bit when learning to harness great powers?  Sure.  But that’s not what I’m used to finding in my fantasy novels.

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The Postmortal by Drew Magary

The Postmortal by Drew MagaryThis book starts with hypotheticals.  What if you didn’t have to grow any older, but could freeze your body’s aging process and stay exactly the same age as you are today?  (Your current position on the aging spectrum might affect your answer to that one.)  Now — what if everybody had access to this cure for aging?  What might a society of perpetual 20-somethings look like?  How would religion, politics, and social mores change as a result?  And how terribly wrong could it go?

I love the premise of this book.  John Farrell is 29 years old in 2019, the not-too-distant-at-all-future, when the cure for aging is discovered.  Initially illegal in most countries, Farrell has the right kind of connections to get access to the cure on the black market almost immediately.  It is important to note that this cure is only for aging itself — which means it is not the same thing as immortality.  You can still die of cancer, or a car crash, or a nuclear bomb.  You just can’t die peacefully in your sleep of old age.  Within a few years the ban is overruled, and society at large jumps at the chance to stay young forever.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenHave you ever felt haunted by a book that wanted you to read it, no matter what?  The wonderfully-titled Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children followed me around for a couple of weeks, then appeared in my house under suspicious circumstances.  Which is to say, it was recommended to me on various websites, by word of mouth, and I saw it reviewed all over the place.  But I resisted, and wasn’t sure that I really wanted or needed to read it.  I wish I could remember what finally convinced me to pick it up, or where or when I finally bought it.  All I can say for sure, however, is that it made its way into my home, at the very top of my TBR, and I’m grateful that it did.

This book takes a series of odd (or let’s say “peculiar”) vintage photographs and builds a narrative around them.  The concept works so well that it becomes entirely plausible to consider the pictures as proof of the story, instead of merely a jumping off point for spinning this yarn.  In truth, I would have been fascinated by the book if it was just a collection of strange and creepy photographs with whatever limited information about their origin was available.  (The photos all come from personal collections, mostly cultivated through flea markets and other somewhat anonymous sources, so there is probably very little solid information available on any of them.)  In some cases you can guess at the techniques used to create an image of an invisible boy, or a girl trapped in a jar, or a young man lifting a large boulder with one hand.  Though I still found it impressive in an age when “dodge and burn” was not achieved by a mouse click in Photoshop.  Other of the photos are not as easy to explain away, and I spent more time than I care to admit just staring at them in amazement.

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Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black

Zombies vs. Unicorns

Zombies vs. Unicorns

Much as I love short story anthologies, I tend to find them lying around half-finished, simply because it is so easy to put them down at the end of a story and get sidetracked by some other shiny book.  So although I bought this book and started reading it back in September when it was first released, it was only recently that I picked it up again and realized I had a couple stories left to go.

The premise of this anthology is an argument started via blog between YA authors Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black about the relative merits of these mythological creatures.  The stories alternate between zombies and unicorns, with a few combining the two.  The editors provide introductions to each story, arguing the virtues of Team Zombie (Larbalestier) and Team Unicorn (Black).  Many big-name YA authors have contributed, including Meg Cabot, Garth Nix, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, and Scott Westerfeld.  The bickering between the editors feels, at times, a bit contrived, but the stories deliver in fun and exciting ways.

Personally, I was firmly on Team Unicorn when I picked this book up.  In a revelation that is sure to send shock waves through the book blogosphere, I must admit: I am not a fan of zombie literature.  I know it has been very popular of late, with World War Z and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies hitting bestseller lists everywhere.  But I just do not see the appeal of shuffling, leaking, previously-dead people trying to eat your brain.  Unicorns, on the other hand, have a complex and contradictory mythology.  They have healing powers and a sense of purity about them, and yet they can also be deadly.  They have an air of mystery about them.  They glow.  And they don’t leak body fluids.

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Geektastic edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci

Geektastic

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd

Here’s the back story to this YA anthology: Editors Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci were at Comic-Con 2007 and got to talking about how many Jedi and Klingons were present at such conventions.  They thought it would be fun to write a story about a Klingon and Jedi who wake up together after a late night partying.  Awkward “morning after” meets forbidden geek love.  Except, who would publish such a story for them?  The obvious answer was to contact other geeky YA authors and create an anthology to be this story’s home.  Contributors include Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, John Green, David Levithan, Garth Nix, and Scott Westerfeld.

If the premise of said story sounds hilarious to you, buy/borrow/steal this book today.  If you are confused or bored, it’s probably not for you.

The stories and comics in this anthology cover a wide range of geeks: Sci fi / fantasy; theater and band; role playing, video playing, and cosplaying; comics and graphic novels; and my favorite, the literature geeks.  I only fall into a few of those categories, but I understood the culture more than enough to enjoy these stories.

I was disappointed to find that a lot of geek stereotypes were upheld, including geeks being less attractive and popular than their non-geek counterparts.  Who says someone who is a geek in one area also has to be less athletic and deficient in personal hygiene?  Why is there always one token girl geek?  I won’t even get into the nomenclature of geek vs. nerd.  (I generally identify more as a nerd, but in the end it doesn’t matter.)

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