Negative Reviews

I was inspired to write this after reading a couple of intriguing posts about negative reviews by Re-enchantment Of The World and Weighing A Pig Doesn’t Fatten It. Clicking on the links will take you to each post. Please read the comments, too, as there are some great points brought up there.

(c) Alex Norris, Website: https://webcomicname.com/

Thinking over the past year of blogging book reviews, I’m pressed to remember a truly negative review I posted. I was disappointed with Stephen King’s IT because I thought it was overlong and suffered from King’s tendency to waffle. Also, it was surprisingly dull in parts and had me almost skipping pages. Despite these flaws, I still rated it 2 stars. Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation wasn’t a great read for me either, but I initially gave it 3 stars, mainly because I liked the weird atmosphere and some of the writing style. After thinking more about it, I’ve amended that rating to 2 stars. But if you follow the Goodreads rating system, “2 stars” means the book was “okay.” Is “okay” a negative review? Not really.

Continue reading

Song of Kali (1985) by Dan Simmons

‘All of the reasoned editorials sounded hollow in light of the perverse randomness of the event. It was as if only a thin wall of electric lighting protected the great cities of the world from total barbarism.’

-Dan Simmons, Song of Kali

A random recommendation on Robert Mayer Burnett’s YouTube channel brought me to this book. I read Simmons’s Hyperion a while back and enjoyed it, but never tried anything else by him. The synopsis sounded intriguing, as did the setting of “Calcutta,” (now Kolkata). Song of Kali won the World Fantasy Award in 1986.

Art by Francois Baranger

Synopsis

Song of Kali follows an American magazine editor who journeys to the brutally bleak, poverty-stricken Indian city in search of a manuscript by a mysterious poet—but instead is drawn into an encounter with the cult of Kali, goddess of death.’


My Thoughts

Literary magazine editor Robert Luczak (Loo-zack) is sent to “Calcutta” to verify the rumours of new work by the legendary Indian poet M. Das. The poet “disappeared” eight years previously, and nothing has been heard from him since. It is presumed that he is dead. Luczak sets off on this journey with his Indian wife, Amrita, and their baby girl, Victoria.

Continue reading

A Big Book of Ballard

I posted a review of J.G. Ballard’s short story “Chronopolis” yesterday, so I thought I would show some photos of the HUGE book I read it in. The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard (2010) was a present from my brother a few years back. I’ve only dipped into it occasionally, so I want to make an effort to read more of the stories this year. It’s also a good chance to read more Ballard–a writer whose work is reckoned to be essential reading for any fan of the science fiction genre.

This book contains 98 short stories written between 1956 and 1996. That’s one thousand one hundred and ninety-six pages! I think this will take me a few years to complete, as I’ve been advised not to read too much Ballard in quick succession. I can understand why. His writing is well-known for being “thought-provoking and unsettling,” his stories “eerie and melancholy.”

Continue reading

Chronopolis (1960) short story by J.G. Ballard

‘In the bottom compartment of her jewellery case he came across a small flat gold-cased object, equipped with a wrist strap. The dial had no hands but the twelve-numbered face intrigued him and he fastened it to his wrist.’

-J.G. Ballard, Chronopolis

Norton paperback edition, 2010

Brief Synopsis

In a world where timepieces have been abolished, Conrad Newman is in jail, waiting to stand trial for murder. 


My Thoughts

The story opens with the protagonist Conrad Newman in jail awaiting trial. We learn that he has fashioned a sundial in his cell which he uses to keep track of the “daily roster.” It’s clear that Conrad is obsessed with time, as he worries about “going mad” if he is unable to tell what time it is “at any given moment.” There are no clocks in the prison.

Continue reading

New Additions to the Teahouse

Shiver: Selected Stories (2015) by Junji Ito

‘This volume includes nine of Junji Ito’s best short stories, as selected by the author himself and presented with accompanying notes and commentary. An arm peppered with tiny holes dangles from a sick girl’s window… After an idol hangs herself, balloons bearing faces appear in the sky, some even featuring your own face… An amateur film crew hires an extremely individualistic fashion model and faces a real bloody ending… An offering of nine fresh nightmares for the delight of horror fans.’

I’d heard about Junji Ito’s horror manga, but never read any. I recently watched a video about the Japanese artist on ComicPop‘s Youtube channel. It made me want to check out his work. Here’s a link to the video. (Discussion of this book starts from 25:43)


Continue reading

Agency (2020) by William Gibson

‘Very recent hiredness was its own liminal state, Verity reminded herself, on the crowded Montgomery BART platform, waiting for a train to Sixteenth and Mission.’

–William Gibson

These are the opening lines to Agency, Gibson’s twelfth novel. I had to look up the word “liminal” which means “between or belonging to two different places, states, etc.” It is an important word for this novel, as Gibson weaves his narrative back and forth between the “present” of this story and its future. The present is an alternate 2017 in which Hillary Clinton won the election, and the future is some time in the 22nd century.

Synopsis

In William Gibson’s first novel since 2014’s The Peripheral, a gifted “app-whisperer” is hired by a mysterious San Francisco start-up and finds herself in contact with a unique and surprisingly combat-savvy AI.


My Thoughts

I’m in two minds about this book. I initially rated it 3 stars, but I’m tempted to drop my rating down to 2 stars now. (Please note: 3 stars for me is what I consider “average”, 2 stars is “disappointing.”) The longer I think about the story, the more disappointed I feel. It has some cool ideas, but unfortunately they don’t really go anywhere. The plot is pretty basic and the characters mostly forgettable. Thinking back on it, I’m struggling to remember the characters’ names outside of the main character Verity and the A.I. Eunice.

Continue reading

Reading the Sci Fi “Canon”

Ugh, we’re talking about the “canon” of science fiction literature, again, for reasons (most imminently the recent Hugo award ceremony and its fallout), and whether, basically, newer writers and readers should and must slog through a bunch of books in the genre that are now half a century old at least, from a bunch of mostly male, mostly white, mostly straight writers who are, shall we say, not necessarily speaking to the moment.”

–John Scalzi, Taken from his essay Oh, Christ, Not the Science Fiction Canon Again, August 2020

Selections from the recent Penguin Science Fiction collection

Maryam, over at The Curious SFF Reader, wrote a great post about the science fiction canon, asking if we should read it or not. Her essay and all of the comments made for a fascinating read and got me thinking about what this “canon” is. Is there a canon for science fiction like there is for literature? If so, who decided which books make up this canon?

Continue reading

Once & Future, Vol. 2: Old English (2020) by Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora

“What was in that thing?”
“The usual penny-mix of mystic selection. Plus blessed by a few priests.”
“You talked vicars into blessing a landmine?”

-Kieron Gillen

Clipped from a conversation between Duncan and his grandma Bridgette after their spectacular fight with something huge and powerful in issue #9. Once & Future, Volume Two: Old English collects issues #7 to #12 of the BOOM! Studios comic book.

Synopsis

When an ancient helmet at the British Museum is taken, Bridgette and Duncan are confronted by another hero of yore, one who will lead them to facing off against their most formidable challenge yet…a beast and his mother.


My Thoughts

Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora continue their reinterpretation of the King Arthur myth. In this second volume, they expand on their idea of stories breaking into the real world. Here is a quick recap of the events in Volume One: The King is Undead. Be wary of spoilers.

Continue reading

Mockingbird (1980) by Walter Tevis

‘Only the mockingbird sings at the edge of the woods.’

-Walter Tevis

Did you watch the recent Netflix series about a brilliant female chess player: The Queen’s Gambit? I watched it and really enjoyed it. It is based on the book of the same name by the American author Walter Tevis. I’d never heard of Tevis before the series, but I did know the title of his most famous science fiction story: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963). I’ve seen the film starring David Bowie but I haven’t read the book. After reading Tevis’s novel Mockingbird (1980), I now want to read all of his books including The Hustler (1959) and The Color of Money (1984)–made famous by the Paul Newman-starring movies.

Synopsis

Mockingbird is a powerful novel of a future world where humans are dying. Those that survive spend their days in a narcotic bliss or choose a quick suicide rather than slow extinction. Humanity’s salvation rests with an android who has no desire to live, and a man and a woman who must discover love, hope, and dreams of a world reborn.


My Review

Continue reading

The Jaguar Hunter (1985) by Lucius Shepard

*This is my review of the novelette published by Lucius Shepard in 1985. The Jaguar Hunter is also the title of Shepard’s 1987 collection of short stories, a book I’m very interested in after reading this novelette.

Cover to the 2001 Four Walls Eight Windows edition. Art by Scott Idleman

Brief Synopsis

This is the story of Esteban, a retired hunter living with his wife in Honduras. His wife gets into debt with a local businessman and Esteban agrees to hunt and kill a black jaguar to settle the debt. After entering the jungle on the jaguar’s trail, he meets a beautiful woman who begins to question him about his intentions toward the jaguar. 


My Thoughts

This was my first experience reading Lucius Shepard (1943-2014), an American writer whose work was first published in the 1980s. The Jaguar Hunter was nominated for a Nebula Award in the Best Novelette category in 1986. I read it in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Third Annual Collection” (1986) edited by Gardner Dozois. At only 22 pages, the story can be read in one sitting. 

Continue reading