Science Fiction

Review: After the Fall Before the Fall During the Fall

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After The Fall

What do you call a dystopian sci-fi novel with a glimmer of hope? Hope-topia? That’s it—I’m coining a new genre name: the Eco-Hopetopia.  After the Fall Before the Fall During the Fall by Nancy Kress is a prime example of this term.

We’ve all read our share of stories set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia, haven’t we? After the Fall is a little different, and compelling enough that I read it in one sitting.  There are two plots to this story—one that takes place in the immediate future (just Before the Fall), and one that takes place in the more distant future (After the Fall). The distant-future folks are living in what’s called a Shell, protecting them from a dead planet. They are very few, survivors left over from the apocalypse, and they are trying their best to repopulate the human race. They have been given technology by their keepers, the Tesslies, that gives them the ability to travel back in time to before the apocalypse, so they can Grab: supplies, clothing, food (besides the soy they grow) and babies to continue their small community. The very near-future plot involves an investigation into these baby-Grabs.

What’s strong about this book is the unusual time-travel aspect: only children can go through the Grab portals, we’re not sure what the technology is, and they only have ten minutes to Grab and be gone. The other major strength is the very short chapters wherein we get zoomed in, to the functioning of mutating bacteria just before the apocalypse. These particular chapters add to the tension and makes one want to know what happens next. I also appreciate the hyper-ecological message echoing throughout. Even though it gets a bit preachy, it’s a strong message and it works well within these two plots.

The thing is, I’m not sure if this is a YA novel or not. The main character in the future-plot is fifteen years old, but the discussions and experiences surrounding sex are…weird. Well I suppose it would be weird if you were one of a handful of the human race that was left. I don’t know, it just struck me as a bit jarring, almost out of character. Also, it’s a short book, which is good in a way, but when we get to the climax and end of the story, it does feel a bit rushed.

My only major beef with this otherwise compelling book is the moment where the two plots conjoin. I won’t tell you exactly what happens, as I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but I have to say that I didn’t buy it. I’ll leave it at that—go out and read this book and come back here and tell me if you agree.

Bottom line: I highly recommend this book. It comes out in March—seriously, go read it and come back and let’s talk about it with spoilers.

~Prof. Jenn

Image Courtesy of blakenorthcott.com

Review: Vs. Reality #1

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Image Courtesy of blakenorthcott.com

What if?
What if the person we are in our dreams was who we could become in the waking world?

Volume one of Blake Northcott’s Vs. Reality series asks just that. The book is a raucous mix of the comic-book, a little bit of science and philosophy and far too much pop-culture memetics, with a sprinkle of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts,) just for kicks.

The book is a quick, light read, true to it’s obvious comic book roots. If you have a teenage Urban Fantasy fan in your household, or if you love comics, Vs. Reality will make a nice addition to the e-book library. That doesn’t mean the narrative isn’t flawed. The protagonist, Donovan Cole is drawn a little too thinly, while his best-friend/sidekick, Jenns is a clear cardboard cutout. Cole redeems himself a bit and shows some depth by the end of the book, but I never found myself caring about him. The most interesting characters are Dia and Paige, by far. In their voices, Ms. Northcott finds the humanity necessary to tell a story about people who can become the things we dream. Dia Davenport is a person, not a hero, not a villain: a person. Paige Davenport shows the pragmatic side of being a hero: Sometimes it’s the only option left. Rounding out this group of misfits is stoner/chemist Brodie, providing a touch of comic relief as well as the literal catalysts for the, “manifestations,” of abilities.

The plot is standard discovery and recognition of abilities, as the evil organization trying to suppress people with special abilities looms over our heroes. What lifts this above the trope, is that who we think is the villain, is the villain, but certainly not the only one. By the end of the first installment in this series, Ms. Northcott has raised the stakes to a truly comic book worthy shadow conspiracy, in the best way. What jumps off the page is the author’s ability to write snappy, slightly noir, slightly screwball-comedy dialogue in scenes that aren’t about superpowers or villains. Dia and Cole’s first meeting in a nightclub springs to life, while a later scene about heroism falls prey to an overly-aware tone that’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer.

Most of the pop-culture touchstones are amusing. Yet the saturation in self-awareness weighs down a narrative that raises some very interesting points about science, politics, and the nature of reality. What does it mean to live in a near utopia? What will politicians do to foment fear? How many universes are there, anyway? What are human beings truly capable of? Do we create our own reality? Is society already too narcotized with happy pills and fear? Dig beneath the glossy superhero layer, and there are some very real issues at play. It left me with the impression that some of that glossy veneer is in place so as not to scare off the normals.

I’m not disappointed that I read it, but I’m not completely satisfied with Vs. Reality, either. It’s a fun read that left me waiting for a more direct exploration of the issues it only dances around. With a little more character development and either a full commitment to meta-fiction or a less self-referential tone, this could be a “series to watch”.

Book Review: Two by Arturo Perez-Reverte

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Need some excellent summer reading, Nerd-Babes?

The New York Daily News called Arturo Perez-Reverte’s book The Club Dumas “beach reading for intellectuals,” and I wholeheartedly agree. I also recommend several of his books for those of you who like fun mystery-almost-sci-fi-smart-cliffhangers, but have read all the Sherlock Holmes stories way too many times and are far too discerning a reader to tolerate The Da Vinci Code. Allow me to recommend two of his books in particular to you: The Flanders Panel and The Club Dumas.

The Flanders Panel

Julia is a young art restorer that drinks lots of black coffee and vodka and whose best friend/surrogate father is an elegant gay man who owns an antique shop, named Cesar. See how cool our company is already? Julia is assigned a painting called The Chess Game, and all kinds of strange murder-mystery-meets-chess-game-puzzles ensue. First, she needs to figure out the puzzle within the painting, which hinges on the phrase, “Who Killed the Knight?” that she finds under a layer of paint. Then, she needs to have help to continue the chess game in the painting to head off the current murders taking place in her world.

There’s all kinds of in-depth art-appreciation scenes as well as paragraphs of fascinating chess-as-philosophy discussions amongst the artsy characters. Back in the day when I spent much of my time being all artsy in coffee shops (this was pre-hipster, people), the characters in this book made me so happy, as they discussed life and art and chess in long wonderful diatribes. Some delightful moments here, when Julia finds herself caught up in the story and images of the painting, and the painting’s story blends with hers. Also, a surprising ending. I didn’t actually foresee “whodunit” before I got there—let me know if you did.

The only drawback some people may have with this book (actually with Perez-Reverte in general) is its sometimes-longwindedness. What you need to remember is: a) this is just nutritious play for your brain. Get into it; and b) since Perez-Reverte is Spanish, anyone who doesn’t speak Spanish and/or doesn’t have the original Spanish edition, is perforce reading a translation. Which is way different than the original, as any bilingual person can tell you.

The Club Dumas

Two book-centered plots gallop along side-by-side in this book, its connective node being mainly Lucas Corso, an antique book hound. See how cool Perez-Reverte’s characters are? The elitist artsy type in me just revels in this stuff. Anyway, so one plot is about a handwritten chapter from Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. The other is about an ancient book called the Necronomicon, and trying to piece together the actual powerful woodcuts that appeared in the original as compared to the copies that made (perhaps conscious) mistakes. Book forgers, old aristocrats, Corso himself, and a mysterious woman who calls herself Irene Adler make up the complex characters. And a pretentiously arrogant, unreliable narrator. Also people who take on the personae of Three Musketeers characters.

You may know this book because of the Johnny Depp movie barely based on one of its plots, The Ninth Gate. This movie, though a fun thriller, and admittedly does bring some of the suspense of the book-hunting to life, doesn’t really touch on the mystery, the unexplained, the depth of the two plotlines of the novel working together. The movie goes with the Necronomicon plot and has nothing of the Dumas plot, nor does it play with the identity of Irene Adler as much—it treats her as a cardboard cutout, not an enigma. Without spoiling the plot, here’s what we should think about her: “Whoa, is that a symbol for what I think it is? No, no, it couldn’t be…” The movie shows too much of her mysterious identity too soon, and makes her into too much of a Resident Evil Alice sort of character.

The great thing about this book is similar to what’s great about The Flanders Panel: artsy characters, philosophical discussions, hair-raising chase scenes and fight scenes, and twisty endings. The drawbacks are also basically the same: it’s going to be a translation, unless you have the language and the special editions. An extra drawback to this one is if you’ve seen the movie first.

 

In conclusion, pick these two up by Arturo Perez-Reverte if you’re a nerd who loves art, puzzles, and a good, nail-biting, hair-raising adventure. After these two, feel free to move on to The Fencing Master, The Seville Communion, or any of his series about duelists or pirates. But I’d recommend starting here.

~Prof. Jenn

TronEvolution

TRON: Evolution Voice Actors Announced

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In preparation for the new TRON: Legacy movie coming in December, Disney Interactive Studios will be releasing a third-person video game named TRON: Evolution. The game, which combines elements of RPG and racing to allow for both single and multi-player options, will bridge the storyline between the original movie and the new one.

Heading the voice cast for Evolution will be original TRON actor Bruce Boxleitner along with television star Olivia Wilde (House). Joining them will be a number of familiar names from our television screens. Jensen Ackles (Supernatural) will voice Gibson, John Glover (Smallville) voices Abraxas, Nolan North (Port Charles/General Hospital) will voice Behemoth/Sentries/Blaze, and Terrence A. Carson (Living Single) voices Calchas. You can see a small video of the voice cast here. This will be the second voice acting role for Ackles, who garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews for his role of Red Hood/Jason Todd in the recent Batman release Under the Red Hood.

Are you excited for the new TRON movie? Will you be heading out to your nearest gaming store to pick up TRON: Evolution? I know I’m looking forward to hearing more from my favorite voice actors and am very interested to see how Ackles’ second venture out goes.

Photo Credit: Disney Interactive Studios

The Apollo Awards: Neat Idea or Cashing In On Nerd Culture

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Let’s have a discussion. I have to thank one of my Twitter followers (@dr_lindyke) for inspiring this blog post.

Earlier this morning on Geeky Pleasures, I posted the following press release. Click the clip below or you will be a wee bit lost on this topic.

Not receiving any feedback, I asked the following question on Twitter:

Which spawned this discussion (if you are viewing this in an RSS reader, you may need to visit the site to read the discussion):
<a href=”http://twitoaster.com/country-ca/geekyjules/am-i-the-only-1-excited-re-announcement-of-the-apollo-awards-1st-global-online-scififantasy-awards-made-today-at-nycc/”>Am I the only 1 excited RE announcement of The Apollo – Twitter conversation</a>
So let me ask you the same questions. Do you think it is neat that geeks and nerds get to nominate and vote for their favourite SciFi and Fantasy films and television or do you think it is just another popularity contest?

Do you see it as geeks/nerds choosing what they actually like without mainstream telling them what is or is not cool or do you think it is profit grab?

Do you like this idea or does it bother you?

Do you think these are awards are filled with irony due to popularity factor and as geeks and nerds we shouldn’t care about that?

What other issues do you see with this, if any?

What do you think?

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