Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Book Review: Perdido Street Station

When reviewing a China Mieville novel I often find it's pretty hard to find an easy place to begin...

Should I begin with the city, New Crobuzan, and it's bizarre collection of neighbourhoods, rail stations, victorian-era technology, mangic, and a large number of aliens?

Maybe with the novel's protagonists; the scientist, the artist, and the exile?

Or perhaps with the villains of the piece, an ancient race of creatures that quickly found their way around my understanding of the term "vampire" and left me literally shuddering as I read how they feed...

Although only his second novel, this was my fifth novel by Mieville, after The City and the City, King Rat, Kraken, and Embassytown.

As with the others I can best describe the novel as immersive; while reading it I found myself staggered by the amount of world-building that had to go into it and the characters all felt like living, breathing people, with their own hopes, desires and fears.

This novel is actually the first of three set in Bas-Lag, the world in which New Crobuzan exists, and it definitely has me looking forward to reading it's two follow ups, The Scar and Inron Council.

Simply put, books like this are why I read fantasy fiction.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Book Review: The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica

John Calvin Bachelor's 1983 Science Fiction novel The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica is a strange mishmash of old Norse and English sagas, largely focusing on Beowulf and stories of Thor and Odin, with a world on the brink of destruction and the promise of a new society.

The novel follows Grim Fiddle, a Swede destined to become the ruler of a nation at the southernmost pole of the planet and follows him from conception through to old age. Much of the novel takes place at sea, and Bachelor does an interesting thing for science fiction, in that he sets the majority of the novel away from society or in smaller locales where the inhabitants live in a traditional manner, deftly sidestepping both descriptions of futuristic cities, the causes of the the destruction of global civilization and any chance to see our narrator's world through any lens but his own.

The narrative works quite well as saga, following Grim's journey across the years and the globe, moving ever southward and painting a darker and darker picture of the societies he leaves behind, but with little description of the titular republic until the final fifty pages.

An intriguing read.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Third in Christian Cameron's Long War series, Poseidon's Spear picks up directly where Marathon left off, with Arimnestos of Plataea returning home after the battle of Marathon to discover his wife has died in childbirth. Despondant and suicidal, Ari throws himself off of a cliff, only to be rescued and immediately enslaved as a rower on a Carthaginian ship.

Unlike the previous two books, which both worked as coming-of-age stories, Poseidon's Spear works to show much more of the Ancient world from the view of a grown man. Without going into all the various twists and turns of the story, Ari ends up spending time in Africa, Spain, France, and Britain, and much of the book has him working as a tradesman rather than a warrior.

In the end, although the book moved away from the depiction of battles in the Persian war that the first two books focused on, it fleshed our Ari's world, introduced a number of new characters and felt like a really great break before moving back into the main thrust of the series.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Book Review: The Unreasoning Mssk

Philip Jose Farmer's 1981 Science Fiction novel The Unreasoning Mask is actually my first dip into his work - last year I read my way through his series The Dungeon, but as he was more a guiding force on that series, and didn't actually author any of the six titles included, it's not quite the same.

The novel is definitely space opera, as much of the plot follows a spaceship captain who has stolen a holy relic from one planet and spends the majority of the story on the run from the inhabitants of that planet, as well as his own government, and finally a world killing being that appeared as soon as he removed the item in the first place.

Captain Hud Ramstan, a non-practicing Muslim, is in charge of a shape-changing spaceship with a rudimentary sense of intelligence and a fierce loyalty to him. Initially painted as a straight-forward, morally black-and-white character, Ramstan's world is through into turmoil when he steals an idol from a world his ship is visiting for no conscious reason, even the captain is unable to understand why he has taken the item, called the glyfa, until it begins talking to him and lets him know that together then must work to save the universe.

The book does get pretty metaphysical, exploring questions of godhood and different levels of reality, but I found it to be a pretty solid science fiction novel, and one that definitely has me interested in reading more of the author's work.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Book Review: No Enemy But Time

As I near the end of making my way through David Pringle's Science Fiction: The 100 Best Books, I am increasingly glad for both the new finds and the authors I'm returning to again.

Case in point, last week I read Michael Bishop's 1982 Time Travel novel No Enemy But Time.  This was my third time reading a Bishop novel, but my first time reading his Science Fiction.  Previously I had read the horror novel Who Made Stevie Crye? and the Fantasy novel Brittle Innings and had really enjoyed both.

No Enemy But Time focuses on John Monegal, a chrononaut (Time Travelling explorer) who has been dreaming of the African Pleistocene era since birth, and with the help of an American agency begins the novel by travelling back in time to that specific era.

The novel moves back and forth between his study of the Homo Habilis people he finds in prehistoric Africa and his own life's journey that lead him to this point.

I found the novel fascinating throughout (but was a little confused as to why the cover image (seen above) depicts a white guy when the character is black), and enjoyed both John's journey from boy to man and his later journey with people who only see him as a strange creature.

As a man lost in time novel, it was a heck of a lot of fun, and leaves me interested in both finding more of Bishop's work, and of reading my next (and final) book on this crazy SF list I've been reading for nearly eight years now.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Finding Advanced Screening Passes

Over the years I've seen a number of advanced screenings for upcoming films, but generally at the rate of one or two a year.

2016, however, had me check out nearly a dozen advanced screenings, and rather than simply brag about it, I thought I'd take a minute to show you how I've been doing it.

So I've been going to a site called which is simply an aggregator of advanced screening tickets broken down by location - so I keep an eye out for upcoming contests in my hometown of Edmonton, see if I'm interested in the movie and enter all of the contests that link from the site.  That's pretty much it, but it's worked out quite well for me this year.

I know that technically by telling other people about the site I may be decreasing my odds of getting to go to all these shows, but you know what - it's the holidays, and if my advice can get you into something you might be interested to see, then go for it!

Happy Holidays Y'All,
Your old pal Bookmonkey

Monday, December 5, 2016

Book Review: Night School

Since my friend Ron introduced me to Lee Child's Jack Reacher series back in 2012 I've made my way through the series, a book a month until catching up with the latest in the series last year, and since then I've been waiting with the rest of the fans of the series, until last month when the twenty-first novel in the series Night School hit book stores.

The novel is a prequel to the main series, so rather than following Jack as drifter/man-of-action, this focuses on him in the last few years of his career as a Major in the United States Military Police Corps. The novel begins with Jack receiving a medal and being rewarded by being sent to a professional development course, one with only three students (the others being a CIA and FBI agent) and is actually a cover for a mission that seems nearly impossible.

A transaction of a hundred million dollars has been picked up in chatter in Germany, and with a cost that high, it can't be for anything good, so the trio begins work on tracking down an American seller of something they don't know as quickly as possible.

The novel was actually a lot fun, and although I do prefer the man-against-the-world approach that Reacher takes in most of his adventures, seeing him in action as part of a team was a nice departure. A solid read and definitely one that will keep me waiting for the next.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Holiday Decorating at Bookmonkey's

As with most families, we've got our own holiday decorating style.  It tends to go as follows:

1) All Decorations go up as soon as possible in December
1a) Decorating must be accompanied by Holiday Tunes and Eggnogg
1b) Decorations must be in such an amount as to slightly terrify
1c) The Nutcracker Army should be prepared for an attack at any time
2) All Decorations go down by noon on Christmas Day
2a) HEY! It may sound un-Christmas-like to you, but then we have all of the week before New Year's to relax, rather than spending it daring each other to take the ornaments down.

Happy December Everyone!