Here I am continuing to wander through my mid-40's. That's right, it's time for my annual birthday post!
Today happens to be Stephen King's birthday, so my present for Uncle Stevie is a review of his latest novel!
I was eagerly awaiting King's return to fantasy, and Fairy Tale did not disappoint. It's not a mere retelling of any particular fairy tale, but it's more like the answer to the question, "What if Stephen King wrote a fairy tale?" And there are depths to it that may surprise King newbies, but won't surprise Constant Readers.
Back in the day (the 1980's) I was a huge Arnold Schwarzenegger fan. (To be honest, I still am.) And one of my favorite of Arnold's 80's heyday was Predator (1987). I was a kid at the time, but something about the story intrigued me. Maybe it was that it started as a Rambo-type military story and became a much weirder science fiction story. Maybe it was my nascent love of stories that turn the tables on preconceived notions, a love that has only deepened over time. Maybe I just thought the Predator was cool.
Over the intervening decades I have watched most of the later iterations of the Predator, most of which were okay but none of which quite captured the same feeling as the original for me. Still, I was really excited when I heard that the newest Predator movie would be set in the early 1700's in North America and most of the human cast would be Native American. What a cool idea!
I didn't make it to Chicago in person for Worldcon this year, but I did watch most of the Hugo ceremony online. You can find the results here.
I was starting to feel like I had my finger on the pulse of the Hugo voters, but then I didn't pick the winner for Best Novel. I really liked all the novel nominees so I can't complain. While I personally didn't like A Desolation Called Peace quite as much as its predecessor A Memory Called Empire, I'm glad to see Arkady Martine win another Hugo.
|Uncanny Magazine: Source of half the nominees in this post!|
Now that I've posted about my picks for novels and novellas for this year's Hugo awards, here are my picks for Best Novelette and Best Short Story. I did manage to read all of these (except for one I couldn't get into), but I usually do well with the short fiction in that regard. Hopefully I'll get to some of the other categories soon. I even listened to some of the podcast nominees this year--a personal best! The voting deadline is Aug. 11, so I'd better get to it.
|Some of Best Novel nominees for 2022|
I've been voting for the Hugos since 2017. And every year since then I've told myself that I'll get started earlier next year. And mostly I fail to do so, although I did manage to read all the novels and all but one of the novellas this year, so that's pretty good. I just finished the short stories and novelettes (look for that post coming soon). I may not get to all the other categories, but I still have ten days, so we'll see.
Without further ado, here's how I'm voting for Best Novel and Best Novella! You can find the full list of nominees here.
At times the intrigue of Shelley Parker-Chan's She Who Became the Sun is a bit tough to follow (I needed a Dramatis Personae), but overall this is a beautifully-written exploration of gender, politics, ambition, and desire in 14th century China with some mild fantasy elements. I think there's even an interesting sort of thought experiment about Buddhist conceptions of desire and suffering to be found.
Reading Becky Chambers is like having a nice cup of hot cocoa under a cozy blanket. As I said about one of her other books, it's not space opera, it's space chill-wave. But it also makes you think and feel new and interesting things. While this isn't the only science fiction book I've read with almost entirely non-human characters (Iain M. Banks's Look to Windward comes to mind), Chambers does really interesting things with this idea, like exploring ideas of otherness and forming relationships across lines of difference, and maybe the most amazing thing is that she does all this without giving up her patented coziness.
Stephen King's The Outsider makes me interested in things I wasn't all that interested in before: crime fiction and King's previous Bill Hodges trilogy. And it has all the Stephen King goodness we all love: developed characters encountering something otherworldly.
In my perhaps ill-advised and loosely-resolved quest to read all of Stephen King's books, I have come to two shorter ones published over 20 years apart (2005 and 1983). I figured I would review them together on the blog. So here are The Colorado Kid and Cycle of the Werewolf!
The Colorado Kid
I don't know how Stephen King does it, but he took a story of two folksy small town newspaper reporters telling a 25-year-old story to a 22-year-old reporter and turned it into a probing thought experiment on two kinds of stories: those that recount events loose threads and all and stories that wrap things up with a nice beginning, middle, and end. If you think about it, the first kind of story is what really happens in life. And if you think about it some more, you'll see that the "complete" stories where everything is wrapped up are entirely artificial: they always leave some things out or take liberties for the sake of narrative unity.
In The Colorado Kid, our folksy reporters call these news stories versus features stories. I'm also thinking about a distinction used by Noam Chomsky between mysteries and problems. A problem has a solution, or at least a resolution. But a mystery may not. It may go far beyond our cognitive capacity as human beings to understand. It may remain open-ended. Like life itself.
A lot of the so-called "mystery" genre really consists of stories of problems in this sense, or features stories to use the terminology of this book. And if I'm being honest, this is probably why I usually don't care for the mystery genre (and why I have only recently delved into King's forays into more mystery-tinted fiction, but I should have known that King's mysteries would still be, well, Stephen King).
While I understand the appeal of wrapping up a mystery or solving a problem with a nice little bow (maybe precisely because we are usually denied such things in real life), my experience in my decades of existence has taught me that reality is rarely like that. It's simply not true to my basic sense of this universe. Our universe is full of mysteries that we may never solve. This could in some cases be horrifying or disappointing (and King explores those Lovecraftian depths elsewhere), but I prefer the answer that King hints at in this novel and seems to confirm in his Afterword: it is precisely these unresolved mysteries, these loose threads of reality, that make our lives more interesting, perhaps even more meaningful.
Cycle of the Werewolf
This is a fun little story (maybe a novella, maybe really just a long-ish short story) that was originally based on an idea for a calendar (no, really). It's vintage 80's Stephen King: mysterious murders are taking place in the small Maine down of Tarker's Mills (no relation). And of course the murders take place when there is a full moon each month for a year (so this is a kind of calendar, after all!).
And you get all of this with cool artwork from Berni Wrightson. Honestly the artwork is probably what sells this for me. The werewolf story is solid enough, but nothing all that great within King's larger oeuvre. The movie Silver Bullet is a bonkers expansion of the story in the tradition of the best schlocky 80's Stephen King adaptations.
Like other monsters, werewolves are, from the outside, a reminder of our mortality. Be they werewolves, vampires, Frankenstein monsters, mummies, creatures from the Black Lagoon, etc., monsters are there waiting for us all. You don't know when. But they will get you eventually. In particular, werewolves are a reminder of the duality within us all and a reminder that the more brutal, base side of our nature can sometimes come out unexpectedly.
I hesitate to say "animalistic," because I like animals just fine and think they get a bad wrap. As a werewolf in wolf form, you're just trying to eat, which is little comfort to the victims, I suppose, and a horror all its own.
Still, the real evil in this story is the conscious decision made by the human side of the werewolf character. I won't spoil it, but that, I think, is a common theme for King: the real evil isn't the monsters, it's the people. And what they do with their inner turmoil. That's a far more terrifying idea, ultimately much harder to escape, which is probably the key to King's enduring popularity. (Along with the schlocky adaptations, of course!)
Great stuff! Interesting, surprisingly deep, and above all: fun!
This novel (Clark's first full novel) is set in the same universe as several short stories and at least one novella (The Haunting of Tram Car 015). In an alternate history of the early 20th century, djinn and other magical creatures have come into our world from elsewhere, centered on Cairo.
My Random Thoughts series continues with Part 18! Still with random memes for exponential randomness! In fact, my inventory of memes is at an all-time high. These memes have to go! Enjoy!
Apparently I haven't done a "review of reviews" since February 2021 and most of my reviews on the blog lately have been for books, so I figured it was time to do a "Review of Reviews" for some of the TV and movies I've been watching lately.
So check out my review of reviews of Firestarter (2022), Everything Everywhere All At Once, Severance, Outer Range, Inside Job, Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Gremlins 2: The New Batch! (Okay, you got me. Gremlins 2 is hardly new, but I did watch it recently, so here you go.)
I've also been watching all the new Star Trek shows as of late: Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Lower Decks, Star Trek: Prodigy, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. It's a fantastic time to be a Star Trek fan! But that's a lot of Star Trek, so I will cover those in a separate post.
Without further ado: my review of reviews!
I loved the first book in this series: A Memory Called Empire. It grabbed me right away and carried me through until the end. This sequel, not as much. Maybe that "new universe smell" has worn off. Maybe I had forgotten too many details to get invested in the political intrigue, or maybe the interesting stuff doesn't really get going until about halfway through. Still, once A Desolation Called Peace does get interesting, it gets really, really interesting and expands some of the philosophical themes of the first one. So I recommend it to fans of the first one. In fact, you might benefit from reading this soon after reading the first one, rather than two years later like I did.
I read the first book in John Scalzi's Interdependency Series (The Collapsing Empire) several years ago and probably would have gotten more out of the first 100 pages or so of this second book (The Consuming Fire) if I had reminded myself what happened there before diving in (I had a general idea of the Flow and the Emperox, but I had forgotten the who's who of the various political intrigues, a lot of which I admit I have trouble following or caring much about).
Honestly the book didn't get super interesting to me until about halfway through, but then some really cool stuff started to happen (more on that in spoilery section).
I also have to say I think that while Scalzi's acerbic wit is still there, the patented Scalzi snark is toned down a bit in this volume, and the book is honestly better for it. You still get a few little smirks now and then, but honestly Scalzi's dialogue can sometimes be a bit extra and get in the way of the story (as if everyone is speaking in carefully-crafted tweets at all times). I appreciated the milder version of all that.
Okay, I have to get into some mild spoilers here. So be warned.
I enjoyed the first Gwendy book and meant to read this second one for a while. Then when the third book came out recently and I heard it had explicit Dark Tower connections, I figured I should finally read this second book, too.
|Reading the Patternist series with a beer on a nice afternoon|
March is Women's History Month, so echoing my "Black Future Month" post, this seemed like a good chance to finish two series by two of my favorite authors: Octavia E. Butler's Patternist series and Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series. Okay, so the Earthsea books aren't about the future, at least not our future.
But Le Guin's fantasy may be about my future: I hope to do some serious academic work on both Butler and Le Guin in the future (building on the article on Le Guin I've already published), so maybe this will be a seed of some future project. Echoing a phrase from Le Guin, I might even call it something like Realists of a Larger Reality.
In my long-term quest to read all of Stephen King's books (a quest that feels about as attainable as Roland's Tower), I finally arrived at this classic. Four Past Midnight isn't up there with The Stand or Different Seasons, but it's solid middle-tier King, which is still good stuff. These are technically novellas, but I think The Langoliers and The Library Policeman might really be short novels for King (what would be average length novels for other writers).
|KN-95 masks, arranged artistically(?)|
Happy Second Pandemiversary!
No, wait, that's not right. Try this: I wish you a safe and healthy second pandemiversary!
Better, but still a bit weird. Let's just go with the pained irony approach: Happy (?) Second Pandemiversary!
Last year I wrote a post on "Black History of the Future" with reviews of novels by Samuel R. Delany, Walter Mosley, and Octavia E. Butler. This year for Black History Month, I decided to take an even more explicit cue from N. K. Jemisin's How Long 'Til Black Future Month in calling this post "Reading for Black Future Month 2022." I read two books set in future Ghana and Nigeria respectively: Nnedi Okorafor's Remote Control and Tade Thompson's Rosewater.
I also started a book in Octavia E. Butler's Patternist series, Clay's Ark, but it looks like that one is going to spill over in to Women's History Month for me. Look for that review soon.
And of course nobody should limit their reading of Black and/or women authors to February and/or March! But these provide nice ways to give some structure and inspiration to my reading.
My lists of random thoughts continue with Part 17, and they're new for '22! And of course there are also random memes for no particular reason.
My longer-running-than-I-would-like pandemic journal continues with Part 25! This one includes the first several weeks of 2022: omicron surge, canceled plans, everyone but me playing Wordle (see above), and the pandemic still going on despite many people deciding it's over for them. But I have also continued to collect memes for my and your amusement.
I read the first two books of The Expanse book series around 2013 and 2014. I meant to read the third book soon... and then I didn't. Instead, I watched the entire TV show The Expanse, which just ended recently. Occasionally while watching the TV series over the years, I would think, "I should read the rest of the books someday." And then I didn't. Until now!
From a Buick 8 is one of Stephen King's more explicit forays into science fiction, albeit with horror elements. Let's call it "folksy absurdism."
In a series of flashbacks told to the 18-year-old son of a recently-deceased Pennsylvania state trooper, we get the story of how a mysterious old Buick was abandoned at a gas station in rural Western Pennsylvania in 1979. But it's no ordinary Buick. In fact, it's not really a Buick at all, but something made to look like one with fake radio controls and everything. How did it get to the gas station? Where did the mysterious driver go?
Sometime in 2015 or 2016 I started a "My Favorite Posts" page here on the blog. And every few months ever since I've thought, "I should update that one of these days." And then I never did. Until the last few weeks, anyway.
So check out my newly updated "My Favorite Posts" page!
The Ministry of the Future is up there with Kim Stanley Robinson's best work. Given how much I love his work, this counts as high praise from me.
If you're familiar with Kim Stanley Robinson (KSR), you'll have some idea of what to expect. A lot of wonky, nerdy details delivered in what his critics would call "info dumps," a lot of cool Big Ideas, a delightful thrashing of the "show don't tell" rule that's sure to give nightmares many creative writing teachers, and oh yeah, some characters and plot and stuff, too. (Indeed, I sometimes wonder if a writer like KSR would get published today given how he cuts against the grain.)