Thursday, April 28, 2011

American Gods (Book)

Forgotten Gods. New Gods. Con Games. Coin Tricks. Road Trips. The Coming Storm.

The winner of the 2002 Hugo, Locus Science Fiction, and Nebula awards can be easily described by its title, American Gods. The story is about the gods and myths that the immigrants brought to America as well as the new ones later created. At times, Neil Gaiman’s story is gross, horrifying, and perhaps sacrilegious. Yet, it is also warm, thought-provoking, and brilliant.

Shadow is a big, loveable lug, who at the beginning of the story is just about to be paroled after serving three years of a six year sentence for assaulting two men. He wants nothing more than to be reunited with his wife and work in the job that his best friend has offered him. Just before the release, he finds out that this wife has been killed in a car accident. Soon after the release, he discovers that his best friend was also killed in the accident, while engaging in a compromising act with Shadow’s wife. With no wife and no job, Shadow is ripe for the advances of Mr. Wednesday, who offers him a mysterious job. Shadow goes on to meet bizarre individuals and have strange experiences.

This would be a great book for an English class, a writing group, or a book group. Gaiman takes a premise, American gods, and builds an original story around it. While not a great fan of dead people coughing up maggots, I have to admit that I enjoyed the book and admire Gaiman. I am not sure I would have picked it up on my own and am grateful that the Hugo Award list led me to it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

2011 Hugo Award Nominees Announced

  • Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis
  • Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Dervish House by Ian McDonald
  • Feed by Mira Grant
  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

I am not sure whether I am obsessed or merely passionate. Yesterday, the Hugo Award nominees were to be announced after 2pm PDT. I went on-line around 2:15 and checked the list of nominated novels against the books in our county library system. I found we didn’t have The Dervish House. By 2:30, I already had e-mailed the library requesting it buy the book. I have not read any of these books yet.

Blackout is also nominated for a Nebula Award. Blackout and All Clear is/are essentially one novel divided into two books. I enjoyed Willis’ previous two Hugo Award winning time-travel books and am looking forward to reading this/these one/two.

Cryoburn is the fourteenth book in the Vorkosigan Saga. I left off at the ninth. I guess I will be busy reading this series for awhile.

The Dervish House recently won The British Science Fiction Award and is nominated for the Clarke award.

Feed is written by Seanan McGuire under the pen name Mira Grant. I am not familiar with the author. This looks likes it is the first in a series.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is also nominated for a Nebula Award. This is the first book in a trilogy.

I still have six—some very long—books to go before I have finished reading the Hugo Award winning novels from 1958 to the present. Hopefully I will begin to read the 2011 nominees late in May.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

To Say Nothing of the Dog (Book)

History was indeed controlled by blind forces, as well as character and courage and treachery and love.
Dogs & Cats. Séances. Church Restorations. Bird Stumps. Jumble Sales. The Space-Time Continuum. The 1999 Hugo and Locus Science Fiction award winning novel, To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, is part time-travel, part mystery, and all fun. Poor Ned Henry has a bad case of time-lag after traveling to the 1940’s too many times in search of information—particularly about a bird stump—for Lady Schrapnell, who is rebuilding Coventry Cathedral. To hide from Lady Schrapnell, Ned is sent to 1888 for some much needed rest and to return something that was mistakenly brought back by Verity, another time traveler. At the center of the mystery is Lady Schrapnell’s great-great-great-great-grandmother. A diary says that she is supposed to fall in love with and marry a mysterious Mr. C., but instead she becomes engaged to a young man Ned meets when he first arrives. In going back in time, has Ned accidentally altered the space-time continuum and history? Has Verity? Who is Mr. C.? Can Ned and Verity set everything right?

I want more! I loved Willis’s Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Forever Peace (Book)

Nanotechnology. Universal Welfare State. Humanization. The End of the World. In Forever Peace—winner of the 1998 Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell awards—Joe Haldeman once again explores the subject of war. As part of the draft, Julian, who in civilian job life is a physicist, is required to spend ten days a month jacked to a remote controlled soldierboy. The jack implanted in his skull not only allows him to operate the robot, but also connects him to the other members of his military unit. For those ten days he is intimately connected to all their physical and emotional feelings, their memories, and even their knowledge.

In a raid gone wrong, Julian accidentally kills a boy with his soldierboy, causing Julian’s emotional health to deteriorate. About this same time, his girlfriend discovers that the particle accelerator project that she has been involved with might trigger a new Big Bang, ending the world as we know it. In addition, one of Julian’s other friends, decides that he can use the brain jacks to bring peace to earth.

The book is relatively fast moving and has plenty of action. Some of the social issues are thought-provoking. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Maybe, it is just more of a guy’s book.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Diamond Age (Book)

Confucius. Nanotechnology. Neo-Victorians. Ractors. Tribes. Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer.

Reading the 1996 Hugo Award and Locus Science Fiction Award winning novel, The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, was a refreshing experience for me. While I see it categorized on-line as Cyberpunk, I don’t feel comfortable putting it into any one box. I was drawn into the story from the very beginning and found myself carried along by my curiosity about how the story would unfold.

I would have titled the book, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, because much of the novel centers on the primer. A nanotechnological engineer creates a primer for a wealthy client to give to his granddaughter in order to ensure that she will grow up to be an exceptional woman. The primer tells “stories to a young person, tailoring them for the child’s needs and interests—even teaching them to read if need be.” The engineer, who has a daughter about the same age as the granddaughter, makes an illegal copy of the book. Unfortunately, he is mugged by a gang and his copy of the primer stolen by one of the boys. The boy gives it to his four year old sister, Nell, who immediately bonds with the book. It tells hers stories that incorporate what is going on in her life. This includes Nell’s attachment to her four dolls/stuffed animals as well as the physical abuse and neglect she experiences. Many of the stories are in the style of Grimm’s fairytales. The stories also have an anonymous human element to them, ractors—think actors who help create animated movies and games. Nell interacts with the primer well into her teenage years.

The Diamond Age is just a good over all story. As a reader, I felt the love that an older brother or father has for a little sister/daughter, yet the book was not in the least bit sentimental. It contained a few moments of humor. In a few places, I found some profound wisdom, yet I would not describe the book as especially philosophical.--Stephenson brings up some interesting points in regard to the topics of belonging to a tribe, discipline and intelligence.--The neo-Victorian subculture presented in the book isn’t just an affectation, but adds to the story. The book contains some sex and violence, but it also contains moments of childlike innocence. It is an odd book, but a very pleasing one to read.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Stupid vs. Intelligent People (Quote)

I found this quote in The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson and needed to share it:
the difference between ignorant and educated people is that the latter know more facts. But that has nothing to do with whether they are stupid or intelligent. The difference between stupid and intelligent people—and this is true whether or not they are well-educated—is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations—in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Fall of Hyperion (Book)

Sol realized that he had responded to a force more basic and persuasive than the Shrike’s terror or pain’s dominion. If he was right—and he did not know but felt—then love was as hardwired into the structure of the universe as gravity and matter/antimatter. There was room for some sort of God not in the web between the walls, not in the singularity cracks in the pavement, not somewhere out before and beyond the sphere of things…but in the very warp and woof of things. Evolving as the universe evolved. Learning as the learning-able parts of the universe learned. Loving as humankind loved.
In The Fall of Hyperion, winner of the 1991 British Science Fiction and Locus Science Fiction awards, Dan Simmons concludes the story he began to tell in Hyperion. If reading Hyperion was like opening a box full of puzzle pieces without knowing what the picture looked like, The Fall of Hyperion is like slowly putting the puzzle together, finding an edge here, matching a bit of graphic there.

The Hegemony of Man is at war with the Ousters. Factions of artificial intelligences within the TechnoCore are at war with one another. Humans are at war with the TechnoCore. Both humans and Artificial Intelligences are looking for the Ultimate Intelligence. Page by page we discover that the role of the Time Tomb pilgrims in this larger context is to be the only unpredictable factor in the outcome of events.

I liked The Fall of Hyperion much more than Hyperion. Although The Fall of Hyperion contains more violence and horror than I prefer, I now understand their purpose in the context of the larger plot. The book is philosophical—it referred to Teilhard a number of times—as well as full of action and adventure. While this book brings closure to the tale of the Time Tomb pilgrims, Dan Simmons continued the storyline in two subsequent books, creating the Hyperion Cantos.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party (Book)

Don’t change too much,” she [Mma Ramotswe] said gently. “We like you the way you are, Charlie.”…. She looked down. He had clasped his hands together, his fingers interlaced. It was a gesture, she thought, of unequivocal pleasure—pleasure at hearing what all of us wanted to hear at least occasionally: that there was somebody who liked us, whatever our fault, and liked us sufficiently to say so.

Reading The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series is like an annual visit to my favorite relatives. Afterwards my heart feels a little lighter, and I feel less cynical about the world. The recently released The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, the 12th book in the series, gave me that same feeling.

All the characters I have come to know and love are back. Mma Ramotswe investigates the deaths of two cows and later struggles with the ethical considerations of what she uncovers. In addition, her infamous white van has come back to haunt her. Grace Makusi is about to get married, but not listening to the advice of her talking shoes leads to a small disaster. Charlie, once again, has girl trouble. Mma Potokwane proves that the true currency in life is cake. Botswana continues to be an interesting setting.

I am not sure The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party is a standalone book; it has a lot of small references to previous stories. The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency—the first book in the series—was the book that made me want to read fiction again after a long break. I have given and loaned books in the series to friends and relatives. While some haven’t liked the slow pace, many have come to love the books as much as I have. Sometimes a person just needs to read a book where the characters are basically kind.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Last Tai Chi Class of the School Year

Experiential. We just finished our last Tai Chi class of the school year. I learned more this year than I have in any year since I originally learned the Tai Chi form. This year was very experiential. Rather than focusing on Bob, our Tai Chi instructor, we were directed to focus on our own experiences as we did the form. Sometimes Bob would have us focus our attention on a particular part of our body or particular aspect of our movement, such as shifting our weight. Other times Bob would have us use some sort of visualization as we did the form.

In this last class, Bob used more visualization. First, we imagined elongating our arms: shoulder to elbow, elbow to wrist, and hand to fingertip. Next, we were to imagine that our head was being pulled upward and our pelvis being pulled downward, elongating our spine. After that, we were to imagine that our back was leaning against a wall as we did the form, an interesting feeling. We closed the class and the year by doing the form as if it were brand new, like we were doing it for the first time.

I end the class with a mixture of sadness, fear, and gratitude. I am not sure where my life is going to take me, so I don’t know whether I will be back in autumn. Yet, I was exposed to so many ideas in the past year that I have enough material to experiment with for a long, long time.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Hyperion (Book)

Parasitic Cruciforms. Ghost Lovers. Daughters Aging In Reverse. Murderous Monsters. Cybrid Lovers. John Keats. Reading Dan Simmons’ novel Hyperion, the winner of the 1990 Hugo and Locus Science Fiction awards, is a little bit like opening a box filled with puzzle pieces and not knowing what the puzzle is supposed to look like. Read as a stand-alone book, it is a series of short stories, woven together by a central plot. Each story describes what has driven one of the characters to go on a pilgrimage to the Time Tombs, where they risk being killed by the Shrike. Based on what I have read on the internet, the almost five hundred page novel is the first half of a longer story that is completed in Fall of Hyperion.

My first reaction was that I didn’t like the book. It was too coarse and violent for me.—I like science fiction books with a lot of science and sympathetic characters—Yet, the book is unusual and very original. Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion combined won a total of four major awards and were even mentioned in one of the books in the Mars Series by Kim Stanley. Why? Out of sheer curiosity I am going to read Fall of Hyperion.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Eleventh Tai Chi Class of the Semester

Grace. How strange to write about my experiences on Saturday in the middle of a blog that right now is mostly filled with my reactions to Science Fiction books.

Saturday morning the first bus I took dropped me off at my transfer point early, so I decided to forgo the second bus and walk the mile and a half to class instead. Despite the overcast and somewhat windy day, I made an intention to use the experience to be present in the moment. When I arrived at the college campus where class is held, I still had almost half an hour to amuse myself. Part of me was irritated. Another part of me decided to use this as part of my purpose for coming there.

The path leading from the road to the buildings is surrounded by old oak trees. Over the years, I have read about people who believe that oaks contain wisdom and possibly healing abilities. Who know whether that is true? I just allowed myself to be present, to pay attention to the trees and any birds. Instead of going directly to class, I took a gravel path that led off to the side. I had never been on it before. That early in the morning it was a bit deserted, but I decided I was supposed to walk along it that day. The path had enough of an incline to get my sap moving. More old trees. I saw parts of the campus I had never been to before. Almost 100 year old buildings beside new construction. But the amazing part was what I felt. A coolness. Clear air. A calm that went to my very core. The peace that passes all understanding. I don’t think there are words to describe it. Coming from the opposite direction than what I normally take into the building where class is held, I noticed that high above the walkway there is a niche containing a statue of Mother Mary. Despite not being Catholic, I could somehow feel her energy.

Bob began class with Zhan Zhuang, Standing like a Tree meditation. This has been my nemesis over the years. Since I was a little kid, standing in one place without moving has been an invitation to get light headed and slowly start to black out. I was not amused, especially after my walk. But, somehow the experience was different this time. Bob added more of a meditation aspect that seemed to work for me. I was a bit disappointed when we stopped and began to do the Tai Chi form.

We did the full Tai Chi form twice. The second time we listened to Bob’s tape in preparation for the demonstration that he plans to give for World Tai Chi Day. We ended class doing the last part of the form while focusing on our feet: where we put our weight as we moved and how we switched from one foot to another.

Of course the real end to my little journey was going to the library and picking up two Science Fiction books that had been transferred from other libraries.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Blue Mars (Book)

When many of us, as little kids, thought about the future, this is the world that we dreamed of living in. Millions of people are living on Mars. Earth has begun to colonize planets around other stars. People can expect to live well into their two hundreds.

Blue Mars, the winner of both the 1997 Hugo and Locus Science Fiction awards, completes Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. Like the previous two book, Red Mars and Green Mars, the scope in Blue Mars is incredible. Robinson continues to describe the experiences of the First Hundred, as well as those of some other major characters. At times, the story is intimate, describing a character’s innermost thoughts. At other times, the story can be highly scientific, describing complex theories. At times, the story is highly philosophical, describing how Mars changes the psyche of the settlers. At other times, the story is highly sociological, describing how the new government is set up and how the different political parties maneuver for power. In addition, the timeframe of the combined trilogy encompasses almost two hundred years.

Briefly, Blue Mars begins after the second revolution on Mars. The original Hundred Colonists are now out of hiding, terraforming continues to make the surface more and more livable, and the Martians begin to set up their own government. However, they are not totally free from the influence of Earth, which has undergone a serious of major challenges. In Green Mars, half of the Antarctic icecap had melted, raising sea level seven meters, and the introduction of the longevity drug had compounded the problems of overpopulation. In Blue Mars, these continue to affect the lives of the characters. In addition, as the years progress the first people to take the longevity drug are now beginning to have neurological problems, most of which involve memory. Then, there are the implications of just expecting to live a long life. Threads begun in Red and Green Mars continue to weave their way through Blue Mars on both small and large scales.

The Mars Series deserves to be savored. When I read it again, as I hope to do some time in the future, I would like to read just a few pages at a time, enjoying the descriptions. For example, in one scene of Blue Mars, Sax and Maya are discussing the colors of the Martian sky, which from the very beginning of Red Mars is described as having colors, particularly shades of purple, that there are no words for in Earth languages. In addition, the series contains levels of meaning that I don’t think are apparent on a quick read. For example, much of Blue Mars describes the search for Hiroko, the illusive matriarch of the first generations born on Mars. After over 1600 pages, I feel almost disloyal moving onto another book, but more Hugo winning novels await.