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Archive for April, 2012

What to Read Next (April 2012 edition)

It is a good problem to have. What to read next?? Indulge in some recent SF/Fantasy? Read an old classic? Venture into my other fetish, historical non-fiction? Like most, I have a stack of books (well over 100 siting in my study) that I have collected to read. Yet different  influences always intrude to bring different tomes to the top of the stack.

Currently in the running:[amazon_carousel widget_type="ASINList" width="500" height="200" title="" market_place="US" shuffle_products="False" show_border="False" asin="0915368617, 1616146117, 1590202929, 0394746236, B000IOB9IU" /]

The Judging Eye by R. Scott Baker

This is the first book in the second trilogy (The Aspect-Emperor) that follows The Prince of Nothing Trilogy, which saw Kellhus become the first true Aspect-Emperor of this fictitious land in a thousand years. Since the second book is not out yet (at least in paperback) I may hold off on this one; it has lots of political machinations and multiple characters that would make it easier to remember if I read the entire trilogy back-to-back-to-back.

The Burning Man by Mark Chadbourn

Chadbourn’s Age of Misrule trilogy was one of the best at depicting a slow transition from a “normal” world into the chaos of a fantastical world (my review of World’s End at SFSignal). Jack Churchill is an enjoyable hero to observe, and Chadbourn sets up the battle between light and dark well, pulling in lots of different mythos to go along with the Pendragon spirit. Reading this one and the concluding one in the trilogy are high on the list. And, Chadbourn follows the memory rule: he puts a summary at the beginning, realizing that most of us don’t remember Jack of Ravens (the first in this trilogy, my notes here) since we read it long ago.

The Civil War: A Narrative–Fort Sumter to Perryville, Vol. 1 by Shelby Foote

At 840 pages, the first volume of Shelby Foote’s amazing Civil War narrative is the very definition of reader commitment. And I already did a preview of the first chapter, a narrative of Jefferson Davis resigning from Congress as secession nears. But I will wait until I have collected the last two in the trilogy, and read them all straight through.

At Dawn We Slept by Gordon Prange

Having recently completed Red Sun (an alternate history which assumes the Japanese invaded Oahu after Pearl Harbor, notes here) and Retribution by Max Hastings, which chronicles the end of World War II in the Pacific, I’d like to dive into Prange’s classic detailed history of Pearl (and follow that up with Miracle at Midway by Prange)

Norstrilia by Cordwainer Smith

Norstrilia is Paul Linebarger’s (writing as Cordwainer Smith) only science fiction novel. I ordered both the novel and the full collection of short stories (The Rediscovery of Man) in the excellent NESFA Press hardbacks. I’ve read Atomsk (my notes here), Linebarger’s (writing as Carmichael Smith) post-World War II thriller, and I enjoyed the psychological warfare perspectives he threw in. As it is standalone, this novel will most likely be next in line.


In Honor of the last day to see “John Carter” in the movies

Once more, my John Carter video primer! Not long until the DVD is available! To help push for a sequel, visit the BackToBarsoom website.


Red Sun: The Invasion of Hawai'i After Pearl Harbor. A Fictional History by Richard Ziegler and Patrick M. Patterson

Red Sun: The Invasion of Hawai’i After Pearl Harbor. A Fictional History by Richard Ziegler and Patrick M. Patterson

Red SunRed Sun is a fictional World War II history that assumes different outcomes of several events in the Pacific Theater of World War II:

  • The carrier USS Enterprise was in Pearl Harbor during the attack, and was destroyed (and, in fact, blocked the Harbor); in fact, the carrier was due in Pearl Harbor the morning on the attacks, but was delayed due to a storm and was several hundred miles away.
  • The Japanese did indeed launch the third air strike against Pearl Harbor; in fact, they did not, fearing counter-attacks from the carriers USS Enterprise and Lexington, whose whereabouts were unknown.
  • The Japanese subsequently invaded and overtook Hawaii.

The book was written in 2001 by Richard Ziegler and Patrick M. Patterson, two instructors from the Honolulu Community College, and uses the above assumptions, combined with knowledge of Japanese and U.S. actions in other theaters to tell a compelling story. Through three different types of dialog (called Vistas, Vignettes and Voices), the story unfolds through fictional history lessons, personal accounts and reflections.

After having recently read Retribution, Max Hasting’s excellent account of the end of World War II in the Pacific, the references to other battles, to the treatments by the Japanese of their prisoners and the attitudes of the Japanese themselves all ring true in Red Sun. It is a very plausible what-if alternate history, complete with a set of notes at the end about what events were altered or assumed altered for the story. (more…)

Review of Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale - on SFSignal

Review of Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale – on SFSignal

My review of Edge of Dark Water by fellow Texan and martial artist Joe R. Lansdale is up on SFSignal.

An excerpt:

REVIEW SUMMARY: Utilizing the East Texas setting he knows so well, Lansdale repeats the master storytelling displayed in one of my all-time faves, The Bottoms, with this genre-bending tale of escape and hope. Lansdale integrates pieces of Homer, Mark Twain and other influences, but it is his ability to make the characters, the setting and extraordinary circumstances come to life that makes this a great read.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Almost an adult, Sue Ellen is trapped in East Texas with an abusive stepfather and a mother who lives in a drunken haze. A friend’s murder and the discovery of her hidden stash of cash set Sue Ellen and her friends, Terry and Jinx, on an escape down-river, trying to leave their past and running from people and legendary killers who would take their new found cash, their freedom and their lives.

PROS: Lots of people know how to write a book, Lansdale knows how to tell a story. The characters, the setting, the prejudices of the time period and the legendary “do they really exist” killers all flow together into a can’t-put-it-down tale.
CONS: Strikingly similar to The Bottoms  not necessarily a con, but some scenes seemed familiar.
BOTTOM LINE: Lansdale often gets classified as a “Horror Author” and that kept me away from his stories for a long time. But his writing flows so well, it’s like we’re sitting drinking tequila swapping tales…with him always winning the storytelling contest. Edge of Dark Water is difficult book to confine into a single genre (the best kind!) but it’s an enjoyable read, ranking close to The Bottoms as Lansdale’s best.


The Bottoms, Joe Lansdale’s Edgar Award winning novel from 2000, is one of my favorite stories of all time. The East Texas setting, the Depression era time period, the characterizations, the prejudice…all flowed together into exactly what a novel should be…a story told by a master storyteller in a way that sounds like he’s sitting right across from you. These pieces made the “horror” aspect of a traveling serial killer blend right in to the background, making it just another part of the story.

Lansdale’s latest, Edge of Dark Water, has a lot of the same characteristics as The Bottoms. The setting of East Texas near the Sabine River is similar, and some of the scenes (escaping through the thorns and brambles, for example) seemed familiar. It’s is told from the perspective of Sue Ellen, a teenager, almost a woman, who lives an edge-of-poverty existence dodging her drunken step-father’s roving hands. Her mother is hooked on a cure-all that keeps her in a dazed stupor. Sue Ellen’s release are her friends: Terry, a well-schooled young man most suspect of being a “sissy” with stepfather issues of his own; Jinx, a black girl with good parents whose father travels north frequently to get a good paying job; and May Lynn, a beautiful young lady who dreams of going to Hollywood. When they pull May Lynn’s body out of the river while fishing (found with a sewing machine tied to her legs to hold her down), Sue Ellen’s world changes, and changes quickly. Terry wants to take May Lynn’s ashes and spread them over Hollywood. And when they stumble upon a map of May Lynn’s which leads to a stash of cash apparently stolen by her larcenous brother (now deceased), they have the means to not only escape the lives they currently detest, but honor May Lynn as well.

Read the full review here.

A Tale of Two Depressing Movies - Notes on "The Descendants" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"

A Tale of Two Depressing Movies – Notes on “The Descendants” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”

We rarely watch depressing movies in our house, as we find reality harsh enough. But in a recent week we viewed two Oscar Best Picture nominees: The Descendants starring my wife’s favorite (and everybody’s wife’s fave) George Clooney, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock.

The one to watch, in our humble opinion, is NOT the one we predicted. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is, by far, the better movie of the two, with an interesting story and an ending that, while not exactly uplifting, tells a story of hope. The Descendants, in contrast, meanders all over the place, not really telling us anything.

There are some good pieces to the Clooney movie, his performance being one of them; as a man who has ignored his wife, who is now in a coma and finds out she was having an affair, Clooney plays confusion and uncertainty on what steps to take exceedingly well. The subplot of the Hawaiian land that “the descendants” own, and what to do with it, hits close to home, with our good friends who live and were born on the islands providing background on this issue, past and present. And Shailene Woodley who plays Clooney’s teenage daughter, out of drug rehab and trying to help, is enjoyable and gorgeous.

But the movie is a cacophony of angry reactions and aimless events (with the exception of the decision on what to do with the parcel of land). While the characters may be believable, it’s hard to give a crap what happens to them.

The opposite occurs in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The story of Oskar Schell, close to his father, not so much to his mother, hunting for the lock that fits a key that he found amongst his father’s things after his father was killed in 9/11. By finding what the key fits (and it has do with “BLACK”, which is the name on the envelope the key came in), Oskar hopes to find some closure on his father’s death. Aided in his search by his Grandmother’s “renter” (who he knows is his estranged Grandfather, played well by Max Von Sydow), without giving away spoilers…Oskar does find closure, and ends up much closer to his mother.

Hanks and Bullock could have overwhelmed this movie, but it is Oskar’s story (played by Thomas Horn, whose IMDB bio says he won Kid’s Week on Jeopardy) and the two stars (and Sydow) fit in seamlessly.


Shameless Plug: Vote SFSignal for Hugo Award (Best Fanzine)

SFSignalFirst, the plug: surf quickly, don’t walk, and vote in the Hugo Awards for SFSignal as Best Fanzine and SFSignal Podcast as Best Fancast. Information on how to vote can be found at the Hugo Awards website and at the Chicon7 web site.

Here’s my personal persuasion for you:

I met John DeNardo (JD, because all of the kool one word monikers were taken) in 2006. I was pimping my novel Dusk Before the Dawn, and knew of this site called SFSignal. I contacted them, and got an email from this John DeNardo guy with an address of where to send a copy.

The address had the same zip code as mine. I had no clue. JD was not only in the same neighborhood, but worked for the same large computer company that I used to work for.

We met in person (rare for any internet relationship) and JD reviewed my novel. His review was characteristic of  the site, and of John: fair and insightful.

I’d been reviewing books on my website for a while, and JD asked me to review a novel that was somewhat related to mine. Thus I became an SFSignal Irregular.

Before I took the oath (which included strange disclaimers about bagels) I was told the following:

  • there is no pay; the site is supported mainly by some ad and affiliate revenue, just enough to cover the hosting costs (I’m guesstimating here). This is an important point for you voters to realize: JD and his partner in crime, JP, have done the editing and generated most of the content for this site for a decade for the love of the genre;
  • there is the opportunity to get free books. Obviously, this sold me; I’d do lots of unnatural acts for free books.

Since then, I’ve gotten the opportunity to not only read books that I would not have read, either because of time or availability, but I’ve interviewed a couple of authors who’ve I’ve built extended relationships with, built a couple of cool primers for Doc Savage and John Carter, and been introduced to an opportunity to do a video primer of John Carter, which was eventually shown at the NY Review of Science Fiction meeting.

I denote these not to blow my own horn, but to show how JD and SFSignal promote the community of science fiction and fantasy. JD encourages creativity during his editorial purview, and by looking at some of the awesome columns on the site, you can see the results.

So…VOTE FOR MY FRIEND JD and SFSIGNAL. It is an honor I believe is well deserved.

Re-reading MSandT

Re-reading Tad William's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

click on the image for more info and to support this blog

Dusk Before the Dawn

Dusk Before the Dawn

Software By the Kilo

Software by the Kilo


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