Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ominous Clouds Approach (a.k.a. I may be getting sick)

For the last few days I've been getting that ominous feeling you sometimes have when a cold is on the way.  Sort of a, not feeling too bad but something is certainly heading in your direction and if you can hide behind a mailbox before it gets here you should give that a try.

So now that I've come to work the last few days on a comforting cocktail of tea and DayQuill (making sure to stay a comfortable distance from my coworkers and keep myself properly hydrating), I think I'm getting ready to call it a loss to the common cold.

Also I'm not a fan of when co-workers come into the office obviously sick, and as I'm edging closer to that myself it may be time to give everyone (especially me) a bit of a rest.

For me, the worst part of the who thing is that fact that I won't be able to do much reading/watching/gameing for the next few days as it will all end up either being immediately forgotten or in the best case smushed together into some sort of unrecognizable blob of plot, character and sudden twists...

You may have won this time cold, but next time... next time... (that bit would be funnier if you knew I sounded like Doctor Claw right now)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Book Review: Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier

For one of my books clubs last month I got to read a book I've been looking forward to for a long time, Daphne Du Maurier's 1938 novel Rebecca.

I saw Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 adaptation of the book a few years ago when working my way back through all the winners of the Best Picture Oscar and absolutely loved it.  The film was haunting, captivating and included Judith Anderson as the villainous Mrs. Danvers, a character which still sits quite high on my list of most terrifying movie villains.

The book (which has never been out of print since its publication), focuses on a young woman who marries a considerably older man and finds herself at in charge of a large manor house, Manderley, where her husbands last wife, Rebecca ruled until her untimely death.

The novel focuses on how our narrator and unnamed heroine (often referred to as either "Dear" or "The Second Mrs. De Winter") attempts to deal with a household and environment still held under the sway of her husbands dead wife.

The book does have a lot in common with Bronte's Jane Eyre; young girl marries older man, mysterious goings on in the house, a tragic secret, etc., but is well worth reading on its own as Du Maurier has created one of the most thrilling reads about a young bride I've ever come across.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Book Review: Orbitsville

Continuing through my survey of 1970s era Science Fiction, I've just finished Bob Shaw's 1975 novel Orbitsville, which I found to be both intriguing and a little alarming (but in a really good way).

The novel focus on ship captain Vance Garamond, who while waiting to meet the CEO of the most powerful company on Earth makes a rather (sorry for the mild forty-year-old spoiler of the events of the first chapter) terrible mistake and through a moment of negligence allows the CEOs only child to die in an accident.

Obviously the next segment of the book follows his rapid escape from Earth and his attempt to hide from the most powerful person in the world, which leads to Orbitsville itself, a massive Dyson sphere (wherein a hospitable atmosphere and environment exist across the inside of a globe) but the sphere itself is so massive it is almost beyond comprehension.

For classic SF readers, the book is clearly going to draw comparisons with Larry Niven's Ringworld (1970), but although there are a number of similarities between the two - world exploration, action and adventure, Orbitsville plays down the aliens aspect and focuses much more on the alien nature of the world itself.  

The book was a quick read, quite fascinating, and ended with a turn of events I was definitely not expecting.  Well worth a read.

Monday, February 23, 2015

We Now Return to our Regularly Scheduled Program

And as it's almost been a week since my last post, a quick run down of last week is in order.

From Wednesday to Friday I was at a Statistical Literacy Institute, which was actually a lot of fun and really interesting.

Then we hit Oscar weekend and I was focusing on getting my last few movies watched before the big event...

So here we are, Monday morning, and it's all going to go back to normal, so don't worry, I'll be chatting about my regular reading, viewing, etc. every day for the rest of the week to make it up to you.

Thanks all!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Book Review: Pinocchio

Growing up I read a lot of books, through elementary and junior high and even into high school I averaged four to five books a week, every week without fail.

As I've always been a fan of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction, I made my way through a lot of children's fables and fairy tales, which are filled with some of the most awful things you can imagine and then tend to aim them at kids (Cooked in an oven, eyes pecked out by birds, or bed-time forever, anyone?)

Like most people however, I've read a lot of what you'd expect and not a lot of what you might assume - like Carlo Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883).  I saw the movie as a child, enjoyed the magical transformations, the epic adventure and even singing along with "When You Wish Upon a Star", but had never actually read the original source material.

So a couple weeks ago I picked up the Gris Grimly illustrated version (which is pretty darn amazing), and set down to learn about this little wooden boy.

The book is a really quick read (less than a day for me and largely I'm talking about coffee breaks, my lunch hour and the bus trips to and from work.  The story is a delight to read, although may work better chapter-by-chapter over a series of readings, as much of the narrative is repetitive (Pinocchio is willful, told to think about what he is doing, acts without thinking, and is punished), and there are some very sudden and violent acts portrayed throughout the story as well (let's just say things don't fare very well for the cricket...).

In the end, the original Pinocchio is a pretty fun read, the boy is likable and the semi-self awareness of all puppets in the story is more than a little thought provoking.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Why it is ok to give up on a book series

For the last few months I’ve been working my way through Phillip José Farmer’s The Dungeon, a shared-world fantasy series that was published from 1988 to 1990.

Let me go back a quick step here:

1) A shared world fantasy series is one where different authors continue the story forward from novel to novel, think of it like an elaborate, and book series length, game of telephone.

2) I started reading this particular series because one of my favourite Canadian authors, Charles de Lint, wrote two instalments (Volumes 3 and 5)

3) I tend to be a sucker for series, whether the 50+ books in the Dragonlance series, the expanded Universe Star Wars Novels, or the increasingly depressing, but always engaging Wild Cards series (edited by Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin)

So a series really has to let me down for me to decide to jump off during the last book...

Strongly influenced by pulp magazine stories of the 1920s and 30s and involving everything from dimension hopping to dinosaurs and spaceships, The Dungeon, at first glance seemed pretty tailor-made for me. I've read a number of series with different contributing authors and when done correctly,, shared world series can be fascinating and exciting for a reader who wants to get different perspectives on the same world.

The Dungeon series starts out all right, and then with each new author just seemed to get better and better, yes de Lint was a high point for me, as he found ways to make the stories move faster and also came up with some very interesting plot twists and great character moments.

The problem actually came when I hit about page fifty in the final volume. Author Richard Lupoff (who wrote the first book in the series) seems to have either not read the rest of the series or simply decided to ignore it - he comments about the adventures of the protagonist, Clive Folliot by going into in-depth description of his adventures in book one, and then simply mentioning there were other adventures as well.

The book seemed incredibly dismissive of the rest of the series and as each book ended on a cliffhanger, also managed the ruin the one presented at the end of book five by IGNORING THE ENTIRE THING! Seriously, I could have finished the book and had worse things to say, but after being figuratively slapped in the face by the first few chapters, I decided it would make more sense to state the following.

It is ok to put down a book you don't like - even if you've read everything else in the series and this book promises to give you all the answers you've been craving since you began. The best part about any entertainment medium is that as the consumer (reader, player, audience, etc.) you have the right and the ability to simply say

"No Thanks".

Sorry for my rough words (as a Canadian they may be less rough than yours, but trust me, they're pretty bad here).

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Book Review: The Fair in Emain Macha

Moving from de Lint's workin the 80s into the 90s began with his entries for The Dungeon series, and then continued into The Fair in Emain Macha, which works as a spin-off of Arthurian legend.

The novella (the version I read included the Fritz Leiber story "Ill met in Lankhmar" on the flip side), follows Colom, the last member of an Irish tribe who has returned home after years of serving under King Arthur.  The story benefits from a basic understanding of the story of King Arthur, but doesn't require it, and is best described as mythic or epic fantasy adventure, with both a little romance and magic thrown in (Merlin is a supporting character).

At 104 pages the story moves along at an excellent pace, and give a intriguing look at de Lint's version of the Druid faith, as well as a dash of Viking mythology as well.

As I'm mostly familiar with de Lint through his Urban Fantasy stories, this was fun change and well worth the read.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Book Review: The 37th Mandala

For years now I've been reading my way through two separate horror lists - The Bram Stoker Awards for best novel and the titles in Kim Newman's Horror: The 100 Best Books.  Both of these have been a great way to read books I may not have heard of before and introduce me to all sorts of new authors.  Then last year I came across an entirely new one - The International Horror Guild Award, which ran for fourteen years from 1995 - 2008.  Although I had read a few books off the best novel list There were more than ten I had never heard of, which lead me to today's book The 37th Mandala by Marc Laidlaw.

The book is really great - starting with a terrifying incident in Cambodia and then quickly moving on to a new age author named Derek Crowe at an author signing.  A big part of what I liked about the book was the slow build up to the reveals - the story and characters get laid out first before anything really awful happens and then the narrative begins building momentum like a snowball to an avalanche, which a payoff that actually hit Lovecraft levels for me.

A fantastic read about the dangers of blind faith and importance of responsibility to others.

Strongly Recommended.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Book Review: The Dungeon vol. 5, The Hidden City

Getting to the second Charles de Lint book in Phillip José Farmer's The Dungeon series was a great treat. In this novel, heavy inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Major Clive Folliot and company have now reached the penultimate (next-to-last) level of The Dungeon, and as the last gateway was a looking glass, the problems begin for the group almost immediately.

For starters, the group is split into four rather than two groups - which does allow the story to focus on each group for a section of each chapter to build tension, and in true Alice in Wonderland fashion, one of the groups starts out over sized compared to the world and the other being this level in a micronized (less than an inch in height) fashion.

The story builds quite nicely from the previous two novels, taking the actions, plot and motivations offered there into account with this book. Part of what I've enjoyed so much about this series is how a group of four authors work to create this amazing world.

As with the second novel, I wouldn't recommend reading this book alone if, like me, you are working through the works of de Lint, but assuming the final novel ends works the same way, this entire series is definitely worth a visit.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Edmonton Day 12421

So in the end I made it back - Returning to Edmonton via Houston and Denver, only detouring 2,100 mile (3,380 km) -Thanks United Airlines, two days after I was supposed to get home I'm finally here, a little wiser than before.

My flight home was pretty bad - but the only thing worse that living through it would be forcing my good readers to read about it - so let's say it was awful and move on.

The conference was pretty amazing - I got to meet all sorts of fascinating people and didn't feel too overwhelmed by the Exhibit Hall.

Would I recommend a trip to Chicago?  Absolutely, but maybe try to go during the summer.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Chicago Day 5

So yeah...

My flight yesterday was cancelled, but due to the fast work of my lovely wife and children, I had a new hotel booked, a new flight arranged and two more days to hang out in Chicago.

The trip to and from the airport yesterday (Air Canada helpfully told me my flight was on schedule until well after I had arrived at the airport, found it cancelled, made other arrangements, and headed back into the city) was pretty awful, apparently this was Chicago's fifth worst snowstorm ever.

So with another day and a half to myself I went back to the conference, attended the YALSA Youth Media Awards (which you can read the results about here) which were pretty fun, and got to see Chicago covered in snow (at right is a picture of a fire escape I came across which may have lead up to a fine view, but not back to my hometown - that will have to wait for Tuesday).

Now fingers crossed, I hope to enter my final Chicago entry tomorrow and be home with my loved ones tomorrow night.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Chicago Day 4

Although I'm good to go - the current Blizzard Alert
here may be asking me to extend my stay...
So here we are at the end of my trip - I've pack my bags and am writing this blog before I pack the laptop and then I attempt to disconnect from my hotel (which I'm sure will be fine - although Chicago herself (himself?  Does Chicago have a masculine or feminine identity?) seems to want me to stick around (see left).

I've got one more session at the Conference this morning and then a last swing through the exhibit hall before I say farewell to ALAMW15 and get to the warmer climates of Edmonton, Alberta, CANADA.

In the end I've had a great amount of fun, had some really interesting sessions and hit not one, not two, but THREE Used Bookstores, increasing both my Charles de Lint and Dennis Wheatley collections!

I've had some pretty amazing food, and although I'm pretty sure the chocolate used for Dunkin Donuts Chocolate Dip donut is simply a melted down candy bar, it was still pretty tasty.

Catch you on the flippity-flop y'all!