Completed 3/2013, reviewed 5/24/2013
The Graveyard Book is a wonderful horror novel for young
teens. The story follows the young life
of an infant whose parents are murdered. He is found, reared, and protected by the
ghosts of a graveyard. At various times
in my reading of it, I thought the premise of the book was too dark for the
targeted age group. But not being a
parent, I eventually gave up my concerns and just enjoyed a great story.
The ghosts in the graveyard are wonderfully endearing. They work together to protect and raise
Bod. They are an eclectic group from
different eras, different classes, and different temperaments. They are a joy to meet. I wished the book was longer so we could
spend more time with the ghosts and get more development of their stories.
I have to say I loved every chapter of the book. I want to particularly mention the Danse
Macabre. It is an incredibly bizarre and
engrossing sequence. It reminded me of
some of the bizarre scenes from Clive Barker.
Now that I am writing about it, I don’t quite know what to say about
it. I think I just loved the bizarreness
of it, how the living and the dead can be bewitched into a dancing frenzy, and
afterwards not be remembered by living, or spoken of by the dead.
I loved Bod’s attempts to become integrated with the living,
walking through town, going to school, and meeting a girl. Yeah, it’s kind of the typical disaffected
teenager story, but I really enjoyed it.
It’s been a while since I read the book, so I don’t have
that many specifics anymore. What comes
to me when I reminisce about the book is the warm feeling I had while reading
it. It is easily a 4 star book, with
great characterization and imaginative scenarios.
A few months after writing this review, I had the opportunity to listen
to the book on CD read by Gaiman. When
we got to the end, I had tears rolling down my eyes. I had to be careful though because I was driving
back from Alaska, and simply breaking down wasn’t an option. Because of this I elevated the rating from 4
stars to 5. Now when I think back on the
book, I just don’t get a warm feeling inside, I get a very powerful emotional
Melissa Scott and Lisa A Barnett
Completed 3/20/2016, reviewed 3/21/2016
“Point of Hopes” is the first in a cross genre series. It is a mystery set in a fantasy world where
astrology is real. It plays an important
role in everything from the politics of kingdom to helping people determine the
job best suited for them. It also can be
used to help Nicolas Rathe find the missing children of Astreiant. I picked this book up because the sequel,
“Point of Dreams” won the Lambda Literary Award, and the fourth book “Fair’s
Point” recently won the Spectrum Award.
I had high hopes for this book, but I had a lot of trouble getting
started with it, leaving me with a mediocre experience.
I often have trouble getting started in books. It’s partly why I’ve had problems with short
stories: it takes too long to get into
the story, then its over. “Hopes” took a
lot longer than usual. There was a
prologue that was incomprehensible. It
was vague and too out of context to give me any hint as to what was coming
next. When I got to the first chapter, I
felt lost, disorienting me for the rest of the book. Once the story started, the authors throws
tons of minor characters at you in a short period of time. Everyone has a first and last name, and most
are hard to pronounce. Then, referring
to the characters by either the first or last name made it hard to follow
conversations as well as develop decent pictures of the characters.
Another problem I had with the book was the prose. It was quite dense in many places and broke a
rule I have for decent writing. The rule
is not to break up short sentences with line upon line of description and
simile. If you read my review of Michael
Chabon’s “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”, I give an example of this (which I
made up myself and of which I am very proud).
Basically, it’s: Begin a
statement comma lines and lines and lines of descriptions and similes comma end
the statement. It’s one of my pet
peeves. After reading a few pages of
that, I often had to go back and read only the dialogue just so I could follow
it better. About halfway through the
book, either I got into a better groove or the authors were doing it less, but
I didn’t have to go back and reread nearly as much.
Having gotten about halfway through the book, I started to
enjoy it. It seems pretty obvious who is
stealing the children, but the why and who’s behind it all is the greater and
more fun part of the mystery. At the same time, I also began to care about the
main characters and some of the minor ones.
The series touts a gay romance between the main characters, but it barely
even buds in the first novel. There’s
just a hint of interest between them.
But there are same-sex relationships in the culture and they are simply
matter of fact and unremarkable, which is a good thing.
I give the book three stars because it got good after the tedious
two star start. I’m looking forward to
the second book because it is the award winner, and I’m hoping that means it is
Read early 2013, reviewed 6/1/2013
What a tedious book!
I had not read Chabon before this.
But I was aware that he was quite a critical darling, and had won a
Pulitzer. I had high expectations for the
book, and was utterly disappointed. After
reading, I came to the conclusion that the only reason this book won the Hugo
was because fans thought they needed to jump on the Chabon bandwagon, that they
wanted to have at least one Hugo winner also be a famous literary prize winner.
This is another noir genre book. The basic premise is really interesting. Israel
is never formed after WWII, and Russia
allocates a part of the panhandle, Sitka
and its surrounding area, for the Jews as a temporary homeland. There is a murder in the eve of the Jews
losing their lease on Sitka, and a local police
officer must investigate the seamy side of Sitka to find the murderer. You would think this has the makings of a
great alternative universe. But it
What kills this book is the prose. The prose is so overwrought, at the end of
every paragraph, all I could imagine was Chabon at his computer, looking at the
paragraph and saying to himself, “Wow, I’m such a good writer!” or “I bet you never saw anybody ever
described a scene like this before, eh, eh?”
Here’s my perception of Chabon’s formula for each
paragraph. A character begins a
statement. This is followed by some
crazy non-sequitor prose. The character
finishes the statement. It made all the dialogue in the book very difficult to
follow. And the prose added nothing to
the statement. It only takes a few pages
to get the mood and setting of the book.
But Chabon pounds this over your head with every paragraph he writes.
There was a lot of potential in the book, the universe, the
characters, the plot. But I felt
derailed by the prose every step of the way.
I just couldn’t get interest in anything because I wasn’t allowed to sit
with anything without being interrupted by the prose.
I created a Chabon-homage paragraph which I am quite proud
He nods his head and smiles, with teeth like peppermint
chicklets chewed in twos, threes, or whole packs by young children trying to
blow bubbles as if it were a piece of bazooka, gum which only could be obtained
from boutique candy stores in quaint old-fashioned purveyors of discontinued
candies, in mountain towns now dwarfed by casinos converted from renovated
antique stores, which gamblers only visit to reminisce over long forgotten
brandless penny candies, when leaving one parlour of despair believing the next
parlour would be one of hope, and says, "My ex-wife," with sadness
entering his grey cloudy eyes as he remembers their days of sex, constant and
daily, in any room, at any time, on the stove, on the kitchen table, in the
bathroom, in the closet, in the park among the forsythia bushes, in the bus
station toilet, even on that couch in the station, "left town."
Two stars, because of the concept. And I liked the main character and the murder
victim. No other reason.
Completed 3/11/2016, reviewed 3/11/2016
The more of Jo Walton I read, the more I think she is one of
the best writers in genre fiction today.
“My Real Children” is about an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s
disease. She forgets a lot of things
especially the recent past and she is often confused, but remembers most parts
of her life. The problem is she
remembers two distinct pasts and can’t tell which one is real. Her children from both her pasts come to
visit her regularly in two different hospitals which keeps her wondering which
life is her real life and which children are her real children. It makes for a wonderful novel of alternate
history, both personal and global.
Patricia Cowan remembers only one youth. The split seems to happen when her fiancé
asks her to marry her suddenly. In one
history, she says yes, in the other she says no. Her two lives divulge from there. Her marriage is loveless and abusive. She has four children with him and doesn’t
work. In her other life, she falls in
love with a woman, together they have three children. She works as a travel writer and despite many
obstacles, has a wonderful love-filled life.
These two stories told in parallel would be a wonderful
story in itself, but the alternate history doesn’t end there. World events are also different in both time
lines. You would think that the reader
would be able to guess which life is real based on the historical events in
each life, but Walton comes up with two alternate histories, so readers can’t
tell which is real either. Where her
life is full of marital anguish, the world is a relatively nice place to
be. Where her life is better, the world
is dangerous and violent. It’s a great
device and works well to keep the reader from coming to any conclusions on
The highlight of the book for me was the prose. It was simply beautiful. Walton was able to describe the lives of
Patricia in alternating chapters with overlapping time frames and yet keep the
story and emotional impact of each separate and easy to follow. Patricia lives a long time, so there are over
sixty years to cover twice in only a little more than three hundred pages. Walton does it and still delivers an
emotional tour de force. I know “tour de
force” is rather hackneyed, but it sums up well how it affected me.
I save five star ratings for books that I feel are excellent
but affect me at an emotional level in some way, whether it’s tearing up or
feeling emotionally exhausted or exhilarated.
This book did it for me. Sitting
down to read it every evening was a pure joy, even the devastating subplots. I highly recommend this book, even for
Completed 3/14/2016, reviewed 3/14/2016
“Unicorn Mountain” falls under the category of fantasy. I would call it rural fantasy (as opposed to
urban fantasy) because it deals with the gritty reality of life in a rural
setting with some magical elements woven through. The gritty realities are AIDS, circa 1988,
when life expectancy was low and quality of life was even lower, the plight of
Native Americans and their life on reservations, and a divorced Anglo woman
running a ranch in rural Colorado on her own.
All three of these threads come together in a pretty powerful story surrounding
the appearance and plight of unicorns.
It’s no wonder the book won the Mythopoeic Award in 1989. I found the book engrossing and satisfying
even though it deals with the homophobia, sexism, and racism of thirty years
ago. I’d like to think we’ve made some
headway on all three fronts, but it’s hard knowing that a lot of it still
exists and is finding a loud voice in the politics of 2016.
The story is about Libby, a divorced ranch owner who takes
in Bo, her gay ex-cousin-in-law who is dying of AIDS with Karposi’s
sarcoma. She has a Native American ranch
hand, Sam, with an estranged daughter, Paisley, who seems to be on the verge of
becoming a shaman for her Ute tribe.
Above the ranch there is a herd of unicorns that seem to have appeared
from another dimension. The unicorns are
dying from their own illness, something resembling the KS that is afflicting
Bo. Together they try to find a way to
heal unicorns, as well has heal the relationships between them all.
Reading the book was hard, but I don’t mean the writing. It takes place in an era of fear and
persecution, when AIDS was an instant death sentence and there were nearly no
drugs to provide the longer, higher quality of life that Persons with AIDS have
today, assuming they have the insurance to pay for the drugs. Bishop had extensive interviews with a PWA,
and it shows in how well he captures the fear and dread of the disease, the
myriad of reactions from the supporting characters, and their subtle and
not-so-subtle homophobia. Some of the
homophobic dialogue is so accurate, it’s cringe-worthy.
The book is actually written pretty well. It has the feel of a standard contemporary
novel, not too prosy, not to terse. The characters are very strong. Despite almost all of them being sarcastic
and impatient, I liked them and was rooting for them. Bo specifically reminded me of a number of
people in my past who had a quick sharp wit.
Sam was also a really well drawn character, full of the despair of
having been estranged from his daughter for so long. Paisley and Libby were both tough and
In a way, the unicorns didn’t even have to be in the
story. The characters were that
good. But they provided a not so subtle
metaphor for PWAs, as well as a totem of rebirth and strength for the Native
Americans, and plot for the main characters to rally around. Bishop did a great job coming up with his own
mythology for them and it’s easy to see the appeal to the Mythopoeic voters.
I give this book four out of five stars. It is a powerful reminder of a terrible time
in our recent history, of how badly we treated each other. Even though the specifics are a bit dated, I
think it is relevant to the culture of hate that seems to be on the rise this
Completed 3/7/2016, reviewed 3/8/2016
“We” is the root of the modern dystopian novel. It was the inspiration for “1984”. It was written in 1921, only a few years
after the Russian Revolution, and it was already predicting life under
Stalinism. The story is about the
designer of the spacecraft, the Integral,
which will carry the message of the “One State” to the universe. The designer, D-503, is the perfect citizen
of the “One State” until he meets and falls in love with the subversive
I-330. Through her, his precise model
world slowly unravels and he discovers to his horror that he has a soul and
that life is messy. It’s a good book,
but a tough read.
What makes this book a tough read is that it is written
almost in stream of consciousness style.
The premise is that this is the journal of D-503. He is writing it as a document of life in the
“One State” for the otherworldly beings the Integral
may come into contact with. Being a
believer in the truth, he writes down everything, including non-sequitors and
partial thoughts. This makes it hard to
follow, but gives you the feeling that you are actually in the character’s
Zamyatin’s writing style includes a lot of color to describe
things. He constantly refers to things
and people and parts of the body with colors, particularly he uses pink a
lot. It’s been noted that Zamyatin may
have had a condition known as synesthesis, in which he attributes qualities to
letters and sounds, particularly colors.
That may be why he referred to the character I-330 as pink so very often.
This book is very soft SF, that is, it deals more with the
social sciences than it does with technology and hard science. People are referred to as numbers. Hence the characters are D-503, I-330,
etc. People live in glass apartments so
that they can be observed at all times.
The only time they are allowed privacy is when they have their scheduled
times for sex. And sex is interesting as
well. There is no more marriage. People present each other with pink cards
indicating that they want to have a sexual encounter. It’s all very logical and ordered.
I can’t help but make the comparison to the adage that
people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. While not a direct analogy, I-330 is D-503’s
stone. When she comes into his life, his
world-view shatters and he realizes he has a soul. He compares it to the mathematical number “i”
or the square root of negative one. It’s
an imaginary number that threw him into disarray in school, as does I-330 in
his life now. It eventually leads him to
the Green Wall, a wall that surrounds the One State, which locks out the rest
of the world. Outside this wall are
plants, animals, birds, and the humans who were left out after the
There is a lot of imagination in this story, which makes it
very interesting. It’s just the form and
the odd adjectives that makes it very tough to read. I give this book three out of five stars. It’s also important to remember that this
books was translated from the Russian. I
have not read a lot of Russian literature, but I whenever I have, I’ve found it
Completed 3/4/2016, reviewed 3/4/2016
“In the Garden of Dead Cars” is a post-apocalyptic novel about
humanity after a plague that actually worried me back in the ‘80s, that the
AIDS virus would mutate and go airborne.
I imagined the world coming to an end a la Stephen King’s “The
Stand”. Claiborne imagines something
less cinematic but just as dramatic, as the world’s population is cut in half
and a fascist government outlaws sexual contact.
The plot centers on Emma, a young woman in future New York
City whose dream is to rebuild a Subaru from the parts of dead cars in the
giant dead car lot of Central Park. She
is a product of her times, eschewing contact, and refusing to even reproduce in
the sterile, artificial insemination clinic, though it is required of all
women. She lives and argues with her
mother who reminisces fondly and fiercely of the time before the plague. Much of the book’s conflict comes from the
two of them arguing about living in the past and how to live in the present.
Society is kept in place by the evil comedians, formerly,
the police. It was decided that society
needed to laugh after the plague, and bullets were becoming rare. So they trained the police to add humor to
people’s lives. At first it worked, but
it quickly devolved into a sadistic vigilante group, using fear to keep people
from human contact or other subversive thoughts. Besides the comedians, the government uses
terror to keep society down by regularly televising executions of sexual
There are two types of sexual outlaws. There are the regular citizens who become
outlaws when they have sexual contact and procreate. They are pursued by the comedians and
sometimes executed. However, there’s a
second group, the “carnals”. They are
people who remained coupled even when being in a relationship was
outlawed. They are the new lower
class. The government labels them a
dirty subspecies to help whip up public sentiment against them. But these carnals are effectively invisible,
dropping out of society to live in squalor so that they can have what we
consider “normal sexuality”.
The book is beautifully written. There is an ease and gentleness to the prose
despite the horrible environment it describes.
Emma herself is a hard person, as described by her mother and her
co-worker. She’s a product of the new
society and rebels against her mother’s reminiscing of the past. However, her reality is chipped away slowly
as she becomes more aware of the oppression and subversion around her, even
finally realizing that her mother is not just living in the past, but radically
trying to change the present.
I give this book four out of five stars. Reading it was a delight, which was very
welcome after just finishing a book that was terribly written. Claiborne took some interesting worst case
scenarios and weaved it into a very readable book. The plot is fairly straight forward. Halfway through the book, you know what’s
coming. But that’s not quite as
important as Emma’s journey through this fascist world extrapolated from the
concept that sex is bad.
Completed 3/2013, reviewed 4/16/2013
(Warning: This review
has some spoilers)
I did not like this book.
I found it overly wrought. All of
the characters have serious issues. Most
significantly, the main character, Robert Gu, is simply annoying. Granted, he’s recovered from Alzheimer’s
because of a futuristic cure. But he is
so extremely bitter about his past, his divorce, his children, society, and
life, that you can’t really like him.
The only aspect of him I did like was his luddite-ness. I could relate to his disdain of
technology. However, it was really just
another brick in his wall of abrasiveness.
There were times when I could almost relate to him, but then the scene
would quickly change and would return to just being annoyed with him.
One aspect of Gu’s character which could have been redeeming
was his relationships with his granddaughter and the young teen who is his
class project partner. Unfortunately,
his grouchiness prevents the relationships from growing at would seem to me to
be normal rates through a novel.
Instead, he has his metanoia so close to the end, that when it happens,
I didn’t believe it.
The overriding plot is a massive global conspiracy being
perpetrated by a scientist who is double-crossing his colleagues. His plot begins rather interestingly, but
quickly becomes overly complex. I found
myself really bored whenever the story returned to the scientist, because I
just didn’t really care about the angst that was driving his motivation. At some point, his plot involved using a
subplot of sabotage instigated by Gu and some of his old academic
acquaintences. But I never fully
realized how it really related to the scientist’s plot.
One thing I did like about book was the complex blending of
the campus demonstration and the sabotage by Gu and his academic gang. Its vivid blending of the concrete and
virtual reality was quite fun and surprising.
I won’t give it away here, but it was the only bright spot in this
tedious book. However, when it was over,
I still couldn’t see how it was supposed to have furthered the crazy scientists
Another unfortunate aspect of this book is that it is the
first of a series. What disappointed me
the most was that we don’t find out who the White Rabbit is. Clearly, s/he is needed for future books in
the series, but since I didn’t really care that the crazy scientist’s evil plot
was thwarted, or that Gu’s bitterness was beginning to lessen, not revealing
the identity of the rabbit made the ending of this book quite unsatisfying.
I gave this book two stars for the strength of the
technology wonder devised for the story.
Completed 2/27/2016, Reviewed 2/29/2016
This has to be one of the most complicated novels I’ve ever
read. There’s way too much going
on. The writing is terrible, nothing is
explained well, and the characters are almost as incomprehensible as the
plot. I can’t believe this book was even
nominated for the Retro-Hugos, the awards given for books published before the
Hugo Awards came into being, let alone came in second. The only reason I kept reading it was because
I find it hard to abandon a book, even if it’s mess like this one.
The Games Machine determines how well you live a
non-Aristotelian, or Null-A, existence, and therefore how successful you will
be in life. The winners of the games get
to emigrate to Venus which has only the best Null-A thinkers. Gilbert Gosseyn is about to play the games,
but finds out he has false memories. He
also has extra bodies, so that if he dies, his consciousness transfers into
another body. In other words, he’s
immortal. Oh yeah, and he has an extra
brain that could make him psychokinetic if he could just figure out how to use
it. And amidst all this, he seems to be
the only person who can stop an intergalactic race of humans from invading
Earth and Venus. Too much? Yeah.
The book actually reminded me of “The Forever Machine” aka
“They’d Rather Be Right” which came out a few years later. Not just because of the terrible writing, but
because of the Games Machine. Doing some
research, I found out that van Vogt was involved in the Dianetics movement of L
Ron Hubbard in 1950. This is a few years
after the publication of this novel, but the influence is basically there. Van Vogt was also a believer in General
Semantics, a sort of early version of Neuro Linguistic Programming, the idea
that language affects behavior, another theme that runs through the book. However, it was really hard to follow the
themes because the plot is so scattered.
Perhaps my biggest complaint with the novel was that I
couldn’t follow the other characters.
There was a group of men and one woman who seemed to be sometimes
enemies, sometimes allies. In one scene,
they’re tying Gosseyn up and he has to escape.
Then in the next encounter, they’re talking to him like he’s no
threat. And Gosseyn seemed to like to
tie up Patricia the one female character a lot too. Of course, I hardly even
need to mention the outdated nature of a sole female in the book. It’s one of those things about golden age SF,
that we should feel lucky there even was a woman in the book.
I didn’t mind the outdated science. The computers have tubes and they still think
Venus is habitable. At least phones had
video. I’ve come to expect golden age SF
to be outdated. The technology is not
nearly as important as having a well-executed story with it. “Null-A” just doesn’t have that. Last year I read a collection of van Vogt’s
short stories. They were not brilliant,
but were generally better being smaller and having only one idea.
The plots were too numerous and complex for a single
book. I think if van Vogt was a better
writer, or perhaps if he had a better editor, and some subplots were cut out
and made what remained more robust, this would have been much better. I started the book thinking this might get
two stars, but by the end, I was praying for the end, hoping that it would all
become clear but never happening. Even
the twist at the end wasn’t satisfying. So I decided to go with one star and recommend
staying away from the book unless you’re a hardcore golden age reader.