Category Archives: General Nerdery

Nading’s Caliban has scary monsters in its DNA (and RNA)

It’s always a good thing when you walk into a book and are surprised by how good it is. I’ve never read anything by Miranda Nading before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from her 2014 release, Caliban. Was it going to be a Crichton knockoff? How dark would it go? Would the tension live up to the premise?

Let me answer all of those questions with one sentence: I really hope Nading has plans for a sequel. Granted, it’s been three years, but I’ll hold out hope.

To give you a bit of understanding… Caliban is the story of Walker’s Pass, a small town in Wyoming. Doctor Bobby Reed, a former geneticist, is mostly the main character throughout the novel, but there are several other perspectives, so I see it as from the whole town’s perspective.

Difficult parts of Bobby’s past are brought back to the present when he’s called away to assist in a grisly murder at a nearby old-folks rest home, owned by the mysterious Alpha Corporation. Bobby learns far more than is good for him as he tries to fix what his former colleague has done. But, locked away in the bowels of a secret facility under the rest home, he has no idea what is heading for the town and his kids.

Back in Walker’s Pass, Sheriff Mark BaldEagle starts to brace the town for a blizzard. When the townspeople come down with a crazy-fast flu and some of his deputies start to disappear, he starts to piece things together. In the middle of the night, he pulls on every bit of his knowledge of the area and his combat experience to try and save his hometown.

Like the sickness in the story, Caliban starts as a low-grade fever and quickly builds to a deadly blaze of action filled with monsters, crazy corporate megalomaniacs, and genetically engineered killing machines.

Caliban is a fun and exciting read. I only had two issues with Nading’s story. First, there was a strange jump early on in the story, where there seemed to be a paragraph missing. It could have been me, but it just felt off. Second, the budding romantic relationships, seem a little predictable. It’s not that there was anything particularly wrong with them. I could forgive one of them, but Bobby’s bugged me.

These two issues are still pretty minor. And, while, yes, it is definitely something in the vein of what Michael Crichton would have written, Nading has given Caliban its own voice.

I very much enjoyed this book and, as I said above, I am holding out hope that Nading will write a sequel. She definitely left it open for one.

Living Planets, Lesbians and Lots of Action In Space

The Stars Are Legion is a very strange and gripping science fiction tale. I can honestly say I’ve never read or seen anything like it. To be honest, you could almost describe it as a magic-less fantasy story set inside of a flesh-and-blood living world that happens to be floating in space along with hundreds of others like it. Yes, that’s a mouthful, but the characters seem to have very little to no understanding of science, at least not like you’d expect in a science fiction story.

When you really get down to it, though, Stars is pretty solidly science fiction. I don’t think there is anything in the book that is even remotely fantastical. Of course, the worlds and people and events are fantastic, but there’s no psychics, magic or Force. The biggest leap is the biological ships, but biological ships are fairly common in science fiction anyway.

The book is told from two perspectives, Zan and Jayd, with Zan being the slightly more prominent character. We start from Zan’s point of view with no knowledge of what the hell is going on. We don’t know who anyone is, where anyone is or what the surrounding world is like, and neither does Zan.

In a sense, this gives us the typical person with amnesia/Jason Bourne setup. But things go sideways really fast. We are shown that this is not a typical science fiction story as soon as Zan is tossed right into an attack in the black of space while riding what is essentially a living space motorcycle beast. What really threw me off, though, was that Zan had done this before. A lot. Over and over again, she’s woken up with no memory, gone out and attacked this other bio-world called the Mokshi and then come back, her memory gone again.

Without getting into spoilers, I’ll just say that this is honestly a hell of a ride. Hurley has an incredible imagination and has put an amazing level of depth into this book. This is not just some simple space opera yarn. Stars is a fully fleshed-out (pun intended) universe through which she takes us on a huge rollercoaster ride. Hurley’s tale tests the limits of what can, and should, be forgiven in the name of love. It takes on issues of womanhood that I don’t think have ever been discussed in science fiction or epic fantasy. It has fantastic battles and fights that leave real, lasting damage to the characters. And it does it all without a single man.

That’s right, this might be one of the biggest and most interesting points about Stars, there are no men. I was worried at first that I would get hung up on the science of how the hell that was possible, but to be honest, after a few chapters in I didn’t give a shit. Even so, while Hurley never says it outright, she hints at the how of this potential plot hole, leaving it as a non-issue. Still, I want to know more about the origin of how things came to be the way they are.

In some ways, this book is feminist without directly addressing a single feminist issue. It shreds the Bechdel Test and does a great job of showing that people are just freakin’ people. Every trope about what a society would be like if it were run by women is destroyed. The universe of Stars is definitely not a Straw or Enlightened Matriarchy. The women are not overly-emotional; they don’t lead a kinder, gentler society; and there’s no wizened great matriarch who leads with an even, motherly hand. No, the Stars is just full of people trying to survive, they make good decisions, they make bad decisions, and they live with the consequences.

As much of a fan of science fiction as I am, I’m not nearly as well-read as I’d like. I haven’t read very many of the sci-fi classics. I am really happy I picked this to be the next book in my queue and I fully believe this will soon be considered one of the modern sci-fi classics. I don’t know if there’s going to be a sequel or not, but I really hope so.

Overall, the Stars Are Legion is a gripping story that takes the reader on a compelling journey through a thoroughly unique world. And in today’s glut of available fiction worlds, that’s a really hard thing to do.

The Handmaid’s Tale Ep. 1-3: Setup for a Dark Future

I’d never read Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale. Though, I’m remedying this. I’m barely up to chapter eight. The book, however, has been one of my wife’s favorites for as long as I’ve known her, so the moment she saw the first trailer she was hooked. After seeing the trailer myself, it took little convincing to get me on board.

Just a couple days ago, Hulu released the first three episodes of their exclusive on-screen interpretation. I’ve kept up a little with what’s going on as far as production and what not, like how Atwood herself has been pretty heavily involved since the get-go. Translating any book to film is always a tricky prospect, but this fact gave me hope.

To be honest, I’m riding a bit high on the book-to-screen translation dope since I’m emphatically in love with SyFy’s production of S. A. Corey’s The Expanse. That show airs on Wednesday nights, my writing group night, but I try to watch it as soon as I can. (Note, if you like scifi and have not seen that, you clearly don’t like science fiction enough, because that show is the mother-fucking BOMB!)

The show starts with a chase scene, the main character and her family trying to escape mysterious, black-clad pursuers. And while this flash-back opener is a little cryptic, it only takes about a minute for you to understand what is really going on. The black-clad figures are part of some governmental police force and our main character, Offred—her given name after being captured—is a Handmaid.

As expected, the first episode is all setup. This is where we learn what Offred’s daily life is like, who are the proverbial good/bad guys and what a Handmaid is. Though, given Offred’s situation exactly who is “good” and who is “bad” is not terribly clear. In fact, the only really clear thing is this world she lives in, a world that seems very similar and yet very different from our own, is really messed up. The short end of the basic setup is that at some point in the near future, humanity is beset with a plague of sterility that nearly destroys our ability to reproduce.

Offred’s dark future is one that is ruled by an unnamed extreme religious fundamentalist group that has seized control of most of what used to be the United States. You can think of this group as something similar to a Christian ISIL. They blame the plague of sterility on dating apps, gays, science and abortions. Following the seriously new fucked-up laws, gays, scientists, priests (outside of the fundamentalist sect), doctors and professors are all executed, usually hung on public display.

And while all of that is really horrific, the focus ends up being on women. Women are broken into four basic castes. There are the elite women, married to men of power and faith. This is Serena Joy, the woman in charge of Offred. There are the econowives. I’ve not notice these women in the show yet, but that could be because they’re little more than background radiation. There are the Marthas, little more than slaves for labor in the home.

Lastly, there are Handmaids. Handmaids are, for all intents and purposes, human womb-slaves. These are the few women who can actually get pregnant. As such, they are basically leased to families of wealth for their childbearing functions. Needless to say, the wives are not too happy about the men boinking these strange, often very young, women while they’re SITTING RIGHT THERE. (Yes, that’s actually part of the ceremonialized impregnation.)

I suppose I could have given spoiler warnings, but everything I’ve said is really just the setup. The first episode ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, which is good. To me, this is the writers telling us, “Okay, now the shit gets real.”

Having watched a few of Netflix’s original content—Oh my god can’t wait for Stranger Things Season 2—I was not sure what to expect from this show. On one hand, Daredevil was slightly better than okay for me, just enough to get me mildly interested in watching Season 2, and I thought the Arrested Development revival was terrible. (I’ve not even watched the much-panned IronFist.)

However, I loved Stranger Things and Black Mirror. Their production, acting and effects qualities were really top-notch. So, while The Handmaid’s Tale does not seem to require a lot of special effects, I was REALLY hoping it would be on this level of quality.

My opinion after the first three episodes? I’m rather impressed. The acting was solid. Elisabeth Moss’ Offred is genuine and completely believable as a woman who has accepted her current situation but still has not given up. Even though her screen time was pretty minimal, I loved Yvonne Strahovski’s Serena Joy, the Commander’s wife. Serena’s initial disdain for Offred is palpable as it grows into a deep-seated hatred. At the same time, Strahovski does a great job of letting us wonder if there is something else behind that hatred, that maybe it doesn’t all come from Offred, even though that’s where she’d directing it.

The world shown in the show feels full and developed, meaning that even though our view is isolated to Offred’s experiences, we get the strong feeling that there’s more going on beyond her little sphere of knowledge.

As of writing this, I’m less than a fifth of my way through the book. So far I’m finding only minor differences, a character tweak here and there. The most prominent for me is that Offred is friendly with Ofglen. So far at my point in the book, she’s barely getting to know the woman and still thinks she’s a “pious little shit.” However, I understand that sometimes timelines shift for more effective storytelling when going from print to screen.

After just one episode, The Handmaid’s Tale, like the book, sucks you in. However, since Hulu released the first three at once, we burned through episodes 2 and 3 the next night. We’re definitely chomping at the bit waiting until Wednesday for the next episode.

One final note… I think part of what makes The Handmaid’s Tale (book or show) so engrossing, is that it reflects a lot of the socio-religious-political speech that can be heard all over social media, on many “news” sites and on some “news” networks. In some respects, and given our current political climate, watching this show on my television is like seeing a dark, horrifying splinter of what could be our own future.


Pawns is a Slow, Enjoyable Burn With an Engaging Pace

Some books are fast-paced romps; some are even-paced, methodical grippers; and some are just boring. While Pawns, book 1 of Patrick Hodges’ Wielders of Arantha series is not a rollercoaster-ride of a tale, it’s anything but boring. I suppose, to put it into words, it’s a slow burn that builds to a comfortable, engaging pace.

Hodges’ Wielders series is a science fantasy story set several hundred years in Earth’s future. The first of the main characters is Maeve, a mother who escapes the recently-conquered birthplace of humanity with her son and their ship’s engineer. They make it to the distant Castelan VI, a world that has only advanced to early middle-ages technology. There, they meet the other main character, the leader of an all-female tribe hidden from the rest of world.

It takes a good while for the main characters to meet up, but that’s okay, their individual stories were interesting enough to keep me engaged. Aside from a few very minor character issues, I found the storytelling and writing on-par, and even better than some, with several big-publisher authors I’ve read.

I have to say, my favorite part in the book comes rather late when a character Vaxi is saved and healed. When she wakes, having no knowledge of how she got there, she immediately punches her savior in the face. We don’t see this from her perspective, which lets the absurdity of it come through well.

While I do have a few bones to pick, these are not big issues and certainly did not ruin the story for me. The first issue happens when Maeve is swimming in a lake alone. Out of the entire book, this scene has the one sexualized instance. Here we have a woman who’s alone with her son—who’s not present at the moment—just a few days after her husband and most of her friends have died in a harrowing escape, and she takes a second to admire her body and tweak her nipple? I mean, I see—sort of—why he did it. He wanted the embarrassing situation when she realizes she’s being watched by a stranger as well as to develop the later, albeit mild, sexual tension between her and that stranger. Personally, I think this could just have easily have been done without the nipple tweaking. Just being found alone in a lake, naked would be enough for most people.
My other issue is really more about frustration at having to wait for the sequel. The first book ends kind of right in the middle of the story. There is a minor climactic scene involving Maeve getting hurt, but the resolution is kind of predictable. Though, I enjoyed seeing the resolution and fallout from it. My issue is that I wanted either a bit of a resolution for the end of the book or a stronger cliff-hanger.

Now that I’ve laid out my issues, understand that for me these were very minor. Hodges does a good job of keeping the tension throughout the story, especially for a science fantasy tale that has very little actual fighting. The characters are individuals and even the side characters feel like more than just fluff. He also does, in this guy’s opinion for what it’s worth, a pretty good job of writing from several female perspectives. He doesn’t make the women weak or fluffy. And while the issue of male vs female is a rather central issue in the story, each of the women is their own and do not live their lives through the male characters.

For Hodges first foray into science fantasy, I think he’s done a pretty damn good job. I very much enjoyed reading The Wielders of Arantha Book One: Pawns and look forward to book two. I have a feeling we’ll get to learn more about the stakes of the great galactic game and who the unseen hand belongs to that’s moving all of the pieces on the board.

Pawns is available on Amazon, as are his three other contemporary young adult books. He is also an editor for SciFan Magazine.

NerdArt Roundup! April 5, 2017

Looks like I’m moving to an every-other-week thing for the NerdArt Roundup. I’m okay with that, I think. One regular post per week, then either a flash fiction or a NerdArt RoundUp! Anyway, had most of these picked out already, but one was apparently deleted. Found a really cool one to replace it, so I’m happy. So have a gander at these tasty bits of NerdArt! being served up right to your eyeballs!

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