Monday, January 30, 2017

Oscars 2017!

Last week the announcements went out, and as per usual I'm now going to dedicate the next month to watching all of the fancy films recommended to me by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I figure that as I spend the rest of my year watching various super-hero, monster and robot films, I can spend a month catching up with some pretty great drama.

This year I started with two Best Picture nominees already in my hand, having seen both La La Land and Moonlight before the nominations had gone out, but that leaves me with seven films to see, Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, Lion, and Manchester by the Sea. I do try to work my way through the other categories with varying degrees of success (Production Design usually requires me to see one new movie, while Best Documentary Short goes unseen every year).

I made it out to see Hidden Figures with the family yesterday, and will post a review on it tomorrow.

Short version - It was pretty darn great!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Book Review: The Scar

China Mieville's second book set in the world of Bas-Lag is the 2004 novel, The Scar, and even though it doesn't take place in the city of New Crobuzon (the setting of his book Perdido Street Station), that city hovers over the majority of this book as both threat and homeland.

The novel follows a translator named Bellis Coldwine, a famous linguist in her own right, who has taken a job on the first available ship out of New Crobuzon's harbor as she is on the run from the government due to the activities of an ex-boyfriend named Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin (the protagonist of Perdido Street Station). The story follows her through her first mission and then the novel switches gears as (sorry for the mild 13-year-old spoiler) her ship is overtaken and she is press-ganged into working and living on a floating city called Armada.

Much of the novel follows her explorations and discoveries on this new city, including its varied rulers, denizens, and culture (here the remade are seen as equal, and sometimes slightly higher than equal, members of society). Much of the book deals with language and literacy and a significant portion is set in a library, so I was quickly sold.

I really love Mieville's ability to populate his novels with a large number of characters all with their own agendas and a consistent interplay of actions, reactions and rules.

A great read and yes, I'll be following it up with his third book in the setting Iron Council, next month.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book Review: A Handful of Coppers

So for my fortieth birthday my lovely wife tracked down a large number of hardcover Charles de Lint books for me, including a number I had missed out on while reading my way through his work.

Case in point A Handful of Coppers: The Early Works of Charles de Lint vol 1: High Fantasy - the book follows four separate characters through a number of short stories (and one novella), that range from straight Conan the Barbarian/Farfd and the Gray Mouser worlds through to Arthurian legend and beyond, including one book I've read before, but in context with three other stories about the character.

I'll admit some of the earliest stories are pretty rough, but with each of them you can read and watch a master storyteller develop through his early days, and for that alone it is well worth the read.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Book Review: The Physiognomy

Jeffrey Ford's The Physiognomy (1997) has been on my "To Read" list and my "Used Bookstore" list for almost a decade, and over the holiday break I managed to find an ebook copy through my local library and was able to read this, the last best novel winner of the World Fantasy Award from the 1990s on my Award Winners list.

The novel focuses on a witchfinder general type named Physiognomist Cley, who has been sent from "The Well-Built City" to an outlying village to track down a theif, using his mastery of the skill of physiognomy (the now outdated science of tracking peoples attributes and abilities based on lumps and bumps on their skulls). Cley is a pretty awful, unsympathetic character, I haven't disliked a protagonist so much at the begning of a novel since reading S.M. Stirling's The Domination, but as with that book, Cley is meant to be disliked and even hated at first; he's a drug user, a rapist, a bully and pretty much a monster by any normal standard.

His problems begin when he meets a woman who also claims the ability to perform physiognomy just as he loses his own ability to perform his art as well. If I had to find a sub-genre for the novel it gets close to Steampunk in a number of ways, but equally moves towards high fantasy in a number of places.

In the end I found the book to be a good read, but I'm not sure I would continue to explore the followup titles in Ford's Well-Built City Trilogy.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Book Review: Gates of Fire

Finishing my first year of reading historical fiction set in Ancient Greece, I read my second Steven Pressfield novel, Gates of Fire. This one focused on the Battle of Thermopylae between Sparta and the Persian Empire. Similar to Gary Jenning's 1980 novel Aztec, Gates of Fire is told from the point of view of the victors of the battle interviewing a lone survivor, and works to paint a view of a society in the era leading up to the battle in question.

In Pressfield's book, the character is Xeones, a volunteer in the Spartan army (which would mean he wasn't a true citizen of Sparta), who is able to tell his own life story, as well as why he volunteered to join with a city that would never consider him to be a full citizen and further, why he would join the Three Hundred Spartan in a battle that was sure to end in their deaths.

The novel was incredibly immersive and powerful, and left me with no question as to why this book was so well received and sits on the recommended reading lists of so many military forces throughout the world.

As much as I've enjoyed every one of the twelve novels I've read off this list to date, Gates of Fire alone would have made reading the list worthwhile.

A great book.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

I just finished a list it took me eight years to complete

Think of some long term goals you've had in life; marriage, wealth, kids, fantasy vacations, retire by 55, you know the type. Those sort of goals that sit just over the horizon waiting for you to catch up, and most of them feeling like there's not much you can do but wait and hope for the best.

Then think of those medium length goals, the sort of five-year-plan goals we have more often that require some work; propose marriage, get a degree, or even pay off your car.

Back in 2008 I had a dose of reality hit me when I heard about David Pringle's Science Fiction: The 100 Best Books Published in English between 1949 and 1984. The book began with George Orwell' s 1984 and ended with William Gibson's Nueromancer. As a huge science fiction fan and a voracious reader, I was fairly certain I would have read at least half of the novels he wrote about. Unfortunately for me; a then 32-year-old Canadian who counted the dozens of Star Trek and movie tie-in novels as a lot, Pringle's UK-focused list left me with a disappointing nine titles in total (four of which I had read as novel studies in Junior and Senior High School).

That left me with ninety-one books between where I thought I would be when I picked up the book, and where I found myself when I put it down.

So, I decided to start with the second book, Earth Abides (which would end up becoming one of my favourite novels period), by George R. Stewart, and try to read a book off of the list each month.

Two weeks ago, nearly eight years after I picked up Pringle's book, I finished John Calvin Bachelor's The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica (As a Canadian SF fan, I had read Nueromancer in my teens).

Here's what I learned along the way.

1) As my wife put it to me when I suggested starting a University degree part-time, "you'll be seven years older whether you do the work or not", and she was absolutely right.

2) I've now read my way through a list of books that were pretty good at the worst, and mind-blowing at their best, and honestly, I probably wouldn't have heard of half of these titles had I simply stuck to the SF section of my local bookstore.

3) I found the simple and yet amazing fact that if you take something big, break it down into manageable chunks, and consistently work at it, you can do all sorts of things - even if it takes you the better part of a decade.

BTW - my reward? Knowing that this is the kind of thing I can do with clear goals, consistent work, and a supportive network of friends and family.

What a great way to start a new year!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy 2017!

Happy New Year's Everyone!

Hoping 2017 will be a great year for us all!

Your old pal,