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Monthly Archives: December 2010

Book Review: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi‘s Ship Breaker starts out with the main character inside the ducts of a crumbling oil tanker. And although the character soon leaves that cramped lightless place, the narration never loses that narrowness of vision.

And that’s a very good thing.

All too often in science fiction and fantasy, the fate of some insignificant peasant/slave/nobody has world-shaking reprecussions. In fantasy empires crumble and evil kings or mages get their cumuppence. In science fiction, corporations fall, world governments topple or the destiny of a whole galaxy shifts.

This doesn’t happen in Ship Breaker. The main character Nailer cares about himself and the people around him, his family. Like many people of his (my) generation, Bacigalupi uses Ship Breaker to meditate on what family is, how it’s defined and who makes that decision.

However, while the focus is small, the story is anything but. The reader is thrown right into action, fear, threats, love and loyalty. And although Bacigalupi has set Ship Breaker in a distopian future that probably none of his readers could relate to, he creates relationships we know all about.

This is the strength of a good science fiction novel – offering the reader something we experience day to day using an alien (or in this case futuristic) setting which forces us to re-examine what we think we know about our world and our relationships.

Don’t get me wrong, though. There’s nothing pedantic or preachy about the novel. It’s a good teenage-boy action romp through a drowned and decaying Mississipi delta with gun fights, chase scenes and just the right amount of inaccessible love interest.

I’ve heard the publishing industry complain that there’s not enough teen-boy fiction out there. This book helps to fill that gap with style and with depth.

So, give yoruself a fun read by picking up a copy of Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker for your Amazon Kindle.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2010 in Book Reviews

 

Friday Flash: Asking for Excitement

Given my exposure to so much sarcastic teen first person narrative this week, it’s no surprise that this week’s flash fiction came out that way. Enjoy!

*****

You have no idea how boring living in Spain is. Now before you think me some stupid uncultured American teenager, let me explain.

I go to an English school, my family came here for a year with my parents’ best friends so we spend all our time with each other, I’m not learning any Spanish and our parents work so much in the nanotechnology labs that we don’t get to go anywhere exciting.

Plus we arrived in October just as beach season was ending and the Basque Country’s very, and I mean VERY, wet version of winter was just about to start, trapping us indoor.

Fortunately the villa the two families are sharing is enormous or I’d have to kill someone.

You can imagine, therefore, how happy I was when I started seeing fairies.

At first I thought it was just my imagination, you know, my boredom creating flickers of images out of the corner of my eye. But then they moved into full vision and I couldn’t deny them.

I then thought that I was going crazy that the black mold we keep finding in corners of the house was causing me to hallucinate, but then Jared started seeing them too.

Jared’s my best friend and the oldest boy in the family that we came to Spain with.

Thing is, he only sees one fairy, a kind of walking collection of sticks, while I see all sorts. I haven’t told him about the other ones. Until we started talking to the stickman Jared was always trying to convince himself that the fairy didn’t exist.

That’s why I forced an encounter, to make Jared stop with all the denial, because, as we all know, denial is not one of the fifty states.

The stickman is cool, but kind of boring as well. I mean, he spends all his time sitting near a bush watching the world go by and once a day he goes for a walk around the block, but that’s about it. After school Jared and talk to him and he tells us about what he’s seen, which usually includes the number of different makes of cars and what colors. For a guy that can speak at least three languages, he’s not that bright, you know? Maybe it’s because he doesn’t have an actual brain in among those sticks that make up his head.

I want something more exciting to happen, you know? So that’s why I’ve started my late night walks. I don’t worry about my safety. San Sebastian’s a really safe city. And besides, I’m sixteen years old. In another year and a half I’ll be going away to college and live on my own. I figure it’s just like practicing being independent. No?

Anyway, I wasn’t having any luck with these 2am walks either. The fairies kept just out of sight. I would catch glimpses of them, but not a single one of them would talk to me. Stickman is always asleep under his bush and I don’t want to wake him, so I leave him be.

And then two nights ago I got lucky.

I was strolling down this big hill between our house and the center of town – and I mean BIG – it’s hard to stop myself running it’s so steep, but I know that would just end in disaster so I lean back hard and force myself to walk.

So, here I was walking down this hill and suddenly from the stone wall to my right I hear this voice say to me in Spanish “Oye guapa. Que haces aqui por la noche?” Okay, so I’m not sure if that’s exactly what he said, my Spanish is horrible, but I think the voice wanted to ask me what I was doing walking around at night.

“Buenas noches,” I said, hoping my accent was understandable. “¿Habla usted inglés?” I asked, figuring that if Stickman speaks English, most other fairies can too.

“Maybe,” the voice answered.

“Wasn’t that English?” I asked. “So yes you do.”

“Or maybe I’ve put a spell on you to understand Spanish.”

“Really? You can do that? That’s so cool!”

“Maybe. Why should I tell you?”

All right, so this fairy was a contrary one. I’d have to be careful with him.

“You don’t actually. As long as we can talk I’m happy.”

“Why do you want to talk to me? I could be a monster, I could be a rapist, or something worse.”

“Yeah, and I could be Little Red Riding Hood. If you were going to harm me wouldn’t you have done so already?”

“I could be like a cat and enjoy playing with my food.”

“Are you? Should I be worried?”

I was acting all brave, but I was actually kind of wanting to pee myself. Maybe the thing was dangerous. In my boredom I hadn’t thought of that possibility. Now maybe I was going to pay the price for it.

The voice laughed and a small man squeezed himself out of an impossibly small crack in the stones to land at my feet. He had ears and a snout like a bat, but he was definitely human-like, even if he was only a couple of feet tall. He was kind of cute and despite the bat-features and being extremely short, he could almost pass for any other teenager I knew.

“So, why you out so late at night? Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” he asked.

I shrugged.

“I’m bored.”

He grinned revealing two rows of sharp jagged teeth and I took a step back.

“Oh, don’t worry, girlie,” he said, “I only eat bugs. Humans are way to soft and fleshy.”

“Um, that’s a good thing, I suppose.”

“So you’re bored?” he asked and I nodded.
He stared off into the sky for a moment, then nodded to himself once.

“See that park above us here?”

I nodded again.

“Come here tomorrow night at three o’clock and I promise you excitement.”

“Yeah right. I might be bored but I’m not stupid.”

“And if I give you my solemn word that no harm will come to you while I live?”

“Then I’ll think about it.”

He grinned again. “You’ll be there. Humans are dangerously curious and you’ll hate yourself for the rest of your life if you don’t come.” Then he jumped into the air, turned into a bat and took off, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

He was right of course. There’s no way I’m going to not show up. And you can’t tell me that you wouldn’t do the same.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2010 in Friday flash, Online Fiction

 

YA Round Up: What’s up with 1st Person Narrative?

Seriously, what’s with first person narrative in Young Adult fiction? In the eleven books I sampled this week, eight were written in first person. And while I often enjoy it as much as a third person or omniscient narrative, it does get boring to read it over and over again. I guess it’s because the reader supposedly identifies more with a first person narrative, but after a while all the voices blend into an insipid “me, me me” from a bunch of self-absorbed teenagers.

Fortunately within all that whining, there are some great voices available. This week I added another two books to my Buy Now! list (as well as Kate Elliott’s Cold Magic). At this rate, reading a book every two weeks on average, I’m going to have books to last me through 2011 before I even get to February.

Not that I’m complaining, of course. An excess of good reading is never a bad thing.

Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready: I follow Smith-Ready on Twitter and find her tweets fun, so I was intrigued to sample her debut YA (but not her first ever published) novel. The main character talks to us in first person and she’s a sarcastic teen with an attitude problem, but she doesn’t annoy me. Given her situation (born just after a Shift happened that caused all newborns to be able to speak to the wrongfully dead), I’d be pretty bitter and sarcastic too. The character does feel older than the 16 years she’s supposed to have, but having grown up on a diet of murder and gore, it’s not surprising. I’m looking forward to seeing where Smith-Ready takes me.

The Cup of The World by John Dickinson: The story starts with a girl tagging along after her peers to spy on a witch trial. She worries a lot about being caught and notices a lot of physical details around her. There’s nothing wrong with this opening, but neither does it excite me. Next!

Matched by Ally Condie: A girl in some post-apocalytic world is on the way to meet her predestined match. You think that this would interest me given that the novel I’ve just started submitting is about predestined love matches, but I got bored while the main character and her best friend talked about the upcoming ceremony while driving to the event. And boredom without doubt means it gets a Next!

Real Mermaids Don’t Wear Toe Rings by Helene Boudreau: First person teenaged girl with a dead mother and an awkward father. The dead parent trope has to be used with skill or the reader just won’t care enough. And in this case I couldn’t care at all. Next!

Ghost Town by Richard W. Jennings: The first sentence contains the name Chief Leopard Frog in a piece of dialogue, then drops into backstory. Patricia C. Wrede has a great article up on her blog about openings and “hooking” the reader then losing them right after. This opening, for me, offers a great example what of what Wrede talks about. As a lesson, perfect. As a possible purchase, nope. Next!

The Great Blue Yonder by Alex Shearer: Dead kid complaining about how dead kids get no respect. I don’t like complainers, dead or alive. Next!

Revealers by Kamil Vojnar & Amanda Marrone: Another whiny teenage girl complaining about her life. And yet it doesn’t feel like complaining. The world that the authors have created intrigues me enough to continue, despite the whining. It reminded me of two of my favourite escapist teen movies: Heathers and The Craft, giving the book bonus points by association and putting it on my Buy Now list.

The Naming by Alison Croggon: The book starts with a physical description of a place and a confused sense of point of view. Is it omniscient? Distant third person? External narrator? When I’m asking questions like that right at the beginning, that’s not a good sign. Next!

Dr Franklin’s Island by Ann Halam: The title suggests a cross between Frankenstein and The Island of Dr Moreau. The opening shows a bunch of kids on their way to an island to learn all about science. Things are all too obviously going to horribly wrong when they get there. I never hung out in big groups of teenagers when I was one, and I’m not about to start now. Next!

Another Pan by Daniel & Dina Nayeri: The second setence mentions vampires and while I tend to enjoy books about the god Pan (I’m assuming given the title) I’m not into vampires, plus the book starts with description-heavy prelude. Two strikes against it. Given my growing book queue, I’m not going to stick around for the third strike. Next!

Edward Beaton and the Star in the Glass by Caroline Raine & Caroline Esterhuizen: An orphanage, a small-for-his age kid and the need for a good edit (on the first page the authors use the word found in two different ways in the same sentence). Plus on the Amazon website the book cover was a different size than all the rest, telling me that the authors of this self-published effort (not a bad thing in itself) didn’t research standard formats before uploading their book. And as fellow writer Margaret Fisk says, appearances do matter. Next!

Lots of books this week and while the majority of them aren’t for me, I did find two strong maybes which makes me a very happy Kindle reader.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2010 in Book Reviews

 

Friday Flash: Spanish Twigs

¿Qué quiere usted de nosotros?

The thing—Jared couldn’t think of the seven-foot collection of twigs as anything other than a thing—stopped its slow shamble across the road. Jared hoped that no car came whipping around the corner like the Spanish drivers usually do. While it was scary-cool to see this creature every morning on their walk to school, it was a whole new terror to have it looking right at him. No way of denying the reality of the situation like his mind tried to do by noon each day.

At night in the safety of Paula’s bedroom they talked about what they saw, convincing each other that it couldn’t be real.

“But what if it is?” Paula had asked the night before. “We must be able to see it for a reason, you know. And I’m going to find out.”

Jared had tried to talk her out of it, but obviously to little success.

Me llamo Paula,” Paula continued, pulling Jared back to the present.

He wanted to run back the way they’d come, up the long stairs to the villa their two families were sharing for the year but fear—and yes, some curiosity—held him immobile.

Paul nudged him.

Um, ah, me llamo Jared,” he said.

The twig creature swiveled its body and started towards them.

“Can we run?” Jared was certain he did not want any of this to be happening.

Paula gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head. Her eyes were wide and the hand she put on Jared’s shoulder shook, but he doubted it was from fear. Paula was fairy-crazy and her dream had always been to talk to a fairy, to visit wherever they live and then to come back to talk about it. Jared had never admitted to her that everything she worhsipped gave him the creeps big time.

And now, here they were—Paula’s dream and Jared’s nightmare.

When the thing started talking, it didn’t at first seem to be any sort of language at all, but as it got closer, Jared recognized a few Basque words from his once-a-week classes.

“Do you think it even knows Spanish?” Jared asked. “Maybe it like knows Base Language?” That was the language they used on that new show about a trading market stationed at the nexus of two wormholes. It was his favorite show and since one thing was true, why not the other?

“That’s science fiction. This is a fairy tale,” Paul hissed back at him. To the creature she said, “Creo que somos los únicos que le ven. Si podemos ayudarle en algo, solo tiene que decirnoslo y lo haremos.

That did it! Jared didn’t read many fairy tales, but even he knew that you didn’t promise to do whatever a fairy asks. This was going to be big trouble for both of them. They were so going to miss the start of school, if not the whole day completely. If not die.

The creature kept coming at them, still muttering in Basque. Two steps before it crashed into them, it stopped and stared down at them.

“Anything?” It spoke unaccented English from the weirdest mouth ever. Its face was made up of twigs and small branches that spread up out from its neck where they were tied together by a vine and thinned out, ending in a kind of spiky haircut. The mouth was four smaller twigs sprouting out sideways and overlapping in the middle. These psuedo-lips moved just like normal lips did, but there was no mouth behind them, just more twigs and branches rising up. It was wrong, all wrong.

Jared swallowed hard and willed his knees to stop shaking.

“Well, anything that won’t cause us or anyone else harm, of course,” Paula added, fixing her earlier mistake. Jared gave a huge sigh of relief.

“Why are you so frightened?” the thing asked turning its full stare on Jared.

The eyes were even worse than the mouth. Not eyes at all, but eye-shaped blotches like marks that appeared on some types of bark, and yet they moved and had an impossible depth and intelligence to them.

“Me?” Jared squeaked, his voice cracking for the first time in three years. “I, uh, you see-” he couldn’t find the right words. Actually, he couldn’t find any words.

The thing smiled.

“I forgot how I must look to humans. It’s been a long time since anyone has seen me. Don’t worry, boy. I’m not going to hurt you.”

For some reason, that didn’t help. It just made Jared even more nervous. Why him? Why Paula? Why could they see this thing when no one else could?

The same question must have occurred to Paula at the same moment but being less afraid, she asked it out loud.

“Good question.” The twig-thing paused. “You know what? You can do something for me.”

Uh-oh. Here it was. The request for some hazardous quest, or something equally bad. Jared squeezed his eyes shut.

“Come talk to me every once in a while. You can usually find me over there near that bush. It offers a good view of the road and the train tracks and I like to spend my days there watching the world go by. It’s a good life, but it does get lonely at time.”

Jared opened his eyes. That was it? Talk to the thing? Keep it company?

“Sure! Sure!” he said before Paula could answer. “Of course! We’ll come by this afternoon in fact, but right now we’re late for school.”

“That won’t do at all,” the thing said. “Off you go! I look forward to this afternoon.”

Jared grabbed Paula’s hand and dragged her around the twig-thing and away. Although she kept looking back to watch it shamble along its usual path, she let Jared drag her off.

“That’s so cool,” she whispered.

Jared didn’t say anything but under the fear that was beginning to dissipate he had to admit that yeah, Paula was right. It was way cool.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2010 in Friday flash, Online Fiction

 

Book Review: Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

Two weeks ago when I first posted about Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card, I didn’t look carefully at the book details on Amazon. I took what my Kindle was telling me at face value, meaning I thought the book was written by Card and by Sammy Yuen Jr.

In reading the sample, I could totally see a second hand in the novel. Yes, the book was typically Card with a highly analytical super-intelligent teenaged boy with dubious father figures around him, but it was more hard-science than I normally see from Card and later, when reading the full book I felt there were slips in the point of view at times, confirming that the veteran Card wasn’t the only person writing the book.

Turns out the Kindle info is incorrect.

Yuen is the cover artist. I don’t know why my Kindle lists him as a co-author. He’s not. The book is all Card.

Funny how what we believe to be true creates reality. I was sure there was a second author and found “proof” of that even though there wasn’t any to be found.

Pathfinder is a bit like that. It’s about time and perception and changing those perceptions to change reality and to change the flow of time itself.

If you liked Card’s other books like Songmaster, the Ender saga or the Bean series, you’ll enjoy this book. There’s also the idea of technology taking charge of humanity that we saw in his Homecoming saga. It’s what Card does best – put us in the mind of a highly advanced child and shows us the psychology of the adults around him or her. With the added hard science, however, it makes the read slightly different from normal Card fare, adding something new to the mix.

There are, however, a couple of things that I didn’t feel quite up to Card’s normal level of quality. When we’re following the point of view of the main character Rigg we’re right inside his head and we sense and feel everything he does. It’s clear and it’s obvious. That’s not the case, however, when Card switches the point of view to the secondary characters, Rigg’s companions. At times I felt that these point of view switches existed only because Rigg wasn’t present in the scenes and not because Card really wanted to use these characters. In a few scenes I wasn’t even sure from which character the scene was supposed to be taking place. The focus was very distant and almost seemed to jump between the two. It was a minor annoyance, however, and didn’t diminish my joy in reading the book.

I found the ending of the novel a much bigger annoyance. The book is the beginning of a new series, which about halfway through the book I figured out. That, however, isn’t the annoying part. The irritating part is the way it ends. Yes the characters achieve their main objective and yes we have some answers to the questions created throughout the book, but the way Card ends the novel felt more like a chapter ending than an ending to a book. There isn’t enough resolution to the current situation. The characters learn about what they have to do next and say “okay, let’s go do it” and then the book ends. If I’m expected to wait the year or so it normally takes for a sequel to come out, then I want a bit more closure, please.

Don’t let that put you off, however. It’s a wonderful book that explores some pretty cool science fiction ideas. And as with the best books, I had no desire to put it down, finding whatever odd moment I could to read a page or two more.

You can download a copy of Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card onto your Kindle via Amazon.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2010 in Book Reviews