Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Dance with Dragons (Fantasy Novel)

The Game of Thrones. Hostages. Sacrifices. Suitors. Princes. Diseases. Magic. New Alliances. 

Let me say two things upfront. A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin is big, over a thousand pages in the hardback edition. Second, I am not the only person who found it tremendously rewarding to read. It is the winner of the 2012 Locus Fantasy award and is nominated for the 2012 Hugo and British Fantasy Society awards. The novel is the fifth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series.

The first part of A Dance with Dragons takes place directly after A Storm of Swords (the third book in the series), continuing storylines not fully furthered in A Feast for Crows (the fourth book in the series): Jon Snow, Tywin, Daenerys, Bran Stark. There are a few times when an event from Book 4 is described from a different point of view in A Dance with Dragons. The second part of the novel continues storylines from both books. One thing that makes the novel more challenging –many will say more interesting– is that chapters are often titled by a description of the character rather than by a proper name. Keeping all the storylines straight is an interesting challenge.

Here are some brief highlights. Winter has almost arrived. People continue to vie for control of the Seven Kingdoms. We see people we thought were dead. We learn much more about the mysterious Varys. Tyrion continues to suffer indignities and meet interesting people. Daenerys has multiple men who want to marry her, and in order to protect her people she makes a questionable decision. Jon Snow, as Commander of the Night Watch, finds that none of his decisions makes anyone particularly happy with him. Bran Stark finally flies. Of course, the book ends with us wanting to know what happens next.

I find this series amazing. It has multiple storylines being woven in and out. It keeps my attention; many of the chapters end with some unexpected twist. It has wonderful characters. The descriptions are so vivid that I feel like I am living in the books. A Dance with Dragons is definitely Hugo worthy.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself (Self Help Book)

Law of Attraction. How the Brain Works. Habitual Thinking. Change.

The recently released, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Dr. Joe Dispenza does a nice job of combining the Law of Attraction with research about the brain. The book is relatively easy to read and immediately practical. It describes why, despite our best intentions, we stay stuck in self-defeating ways of thinking and behaving. It describes how we identify our “self” from a neurological point of view. It then describes how we can create a new “self.”

I am a great fan of Joe Dispenza. He was one of my favorite people in What the Bleep. I loved Evolve Your Brain: The Science of Changing Your Mind even though at times I felt overwhelmed by the amount of detail. Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself has just the right amount of science for me. Right from the very beginning, the way the book is written caused me to start contemplating the ideas, even when I was engaged in my daily activities. Although Dispenza never directly refers to Eastern Philosophy, many of the ideas in the book echo Tai Chi and Zen mindfulness principles. This book makes sense to me. It is a wonderful book for people who feel stuck in their lives and want to change.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Feast for Crows (Fantasy Novel)

A Feast for Crows is the fourth book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice Series. It was nominated for the 2006 Hugo, Locus Fantasy and British Fantasy Society Awards.

Briefly, A Feast for Crows takes up immediately after A Storm of Swords ends. While the earlier novels focused on the Starks, this one focuses on Cersei and Jaime Lannister. Brienne, Samwell, and Arya have substantial storylines. Characters from the Iron Islands and from Dorne become more significant. A reoccurring theme is prophecy. Cersei is haunted by a prophesy that a fortuneteller gave her as a teenager. Of course, there is the larger prophesy of the coming of the dragons. Noticeably absent are storylines involving Tyrion, Bran and Daenerys. The next book in the series will focus more on their storylines.

A Feast for Crows is shorter than some of the books in the series. It contains some of my favorite characters, and I enjoyed learning more about Cersei. On the other hand, like the earlier books in the series, it is very violent. I also had a hard time feeling invested in the new storylines.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Walking the Clouds (SF Anthology)

 Indigenous Science Fiction

The recently released, Walking the Clouds edited by Grace L. Dillon is an anthology of Indigenous science fiction. Some of the selections are short stories but most are excerpts from novels or novellas. The book has the feel of an academic book, with long, scholarly introductions to the selections. It is well written, well organized and whetted my appetite to read the longer works. I felt I learned a bit more about Indigenous points of view of reality. One short story, which dealt with non-linear time, caused me to do some heavy pondering. Emotionally, the book left me a bit cold. When I originally brought the book home from the library, I had expected to sit back and immerse myself in experiences. I could do that with some of the short stories, but not most of the excerpts. All in all, while the book might not have mass appeal, it will be valuable to readers who want to broaden their understanding of science fiction.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

RIP Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury passed away today at the age of 91. He is one of my heroes. I feel fortunate that I was able to see him speak in Illinois years ago. May he inspire many, many more generations of SF writers and readers.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The English Major (Novel)

The world is a wobbly place and so is my mind.
States. Birds. Road Trip. English Majors. Deaths. Divorce. Butts. Cell Phones. Puzzle Pieces. Transitions. 

The English Major by Jim Harrison won the 2008 New York Times Notable Book Award. It belongs to the “now what do I do with my life” genre of novels. The book is light, semi-rambling, humorous, and at times poignant and profound. Cliff, the main character and narrator, is incredibly likable. The only thing irritating about the novel, at least from a female point of view, is his semi-adolescent thoughts about sex.

Briefly, after Cliff’s wife divorces him, his dog dies, and the land he has been farming for the past 25 years is sold, Cliff goes on a road trip that is inspired by a childhood puzzle of the United States. Early in the trip, Cliff meets up with Marybelle, who was a student of his before he started farming. They travel together. At the beginning, Marybelle is the fulfillment of one of Cliff’s fantasies. After a time, she becomes an irritant and a hindrance to his need to experience nature and ponder his life. Cliff believes that one of his purposes in life is to rename the 50 states and their state birds. Cliff’s adult, gay son gives him advice on what to do with his life. Cliff’s ex-wife and his alcoholic doctor friend also interfere. By the end of the story, Cliff is ready to start the next phase of his life.

After reading so much lop-off-their-heads fantasy, The English Major was refreshing. It reminds me what it is like to be human: to love, lose, and try to love again.