Tag Archives: science fiction

Read: Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut

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Kurt Vonnegut has been on my list for a while, especially since he is my uncle’s favorite author. After seeing him this winter, he recommended starting with Welcome to the Monkey House. What a great suggestion!

Welcome to the Monkey House is a collection of short stories. Other than labelling it fiction, there is no consensus on what type of stories make up the collection. They are a combination of varying sorts, some military in theme (but not about war or battles) while others are science fiction. Even then, the range for both includes stories that are more realistic to fantastical and magical realism. The variety is remarkable, with each story being distinct from all others.

The sheer imagination in every story gives each such a weight that they feel more like mini novels than short stories. Vonnegut crafts detailed worlds, norms, cultures, and characters that enrich the handful of pages that encapsulate them. Even within the limited space, Vonnegut takes the reader far beyond by expanding the bounds through his in-depth, comprehensive stories. Due to the heft of each, reading the collection took me extra time as I never knew what was coming next and needed a break before jumping into the unknown of a new story. While the variety was certainly enjoyable, it also made for a choppier reading experience as there was no overall commonality other than examining humans and the human condition. The sci-fi stories that were dystopic and bleak were of human creation (or folly)–either overpopulation and highly advanced medicine, or strict social norms, or a division between a new way of life and the old. No monsters or aliens enslaved everyone or caused in-fighting; we did that to our selves.

While most of the stories start in medias res, Vonnegut’s detailed and vivid writing quickly gets the reader up to speed, which is crucial as these are short stories. Vonnegut focuses on action and uses minimal dialogue to tell the tales, without offering too many explanations. Vonnegut is a master storyteller, that is clear.

Recommended?: Yes! This collection is great especially for anyone new to Vonnegut. I can see why my uncle suggested it as my first encounter, as it gives the reader a taste of all the different types of stories. In just 330 pages, there are 25 stories and many are 6-7 pages. It is just incredible what he accomplishes in so little space. I look forward to picking up a novel of his to see how it compares–first up, Slaughterhouse 5.

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Transmetropolitan volume 1 by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson

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While not originally on my reading list or bookshelf, Transmetropolitan: Back on the street volume 1 sounded too intriguing to pass up. The only graphic novels that I’ve read are Persepolis and Maus, more memoir than traditional comic book/graphic novel. I wasn’t sure what to expect but Ellis and Robertson, though, do not disappoint with Transmet.

Wow! This graphic novel is “in-your-face” from the start, gripping in its oddity, imagery, and dramatic characters. Spider Jersualum has lived alone in the mountains for five years, hiding from his journalistic past and, well, the world. However, he still owes his editor two books and must return to the city to work. He actively seeks out trouble for journalism’s sake and begins writing a weekly column to make money.

The setting for the story is a cyberpunk, gritty, commercialist future. At first, the style reminded me of a mix of the movies Bladerunner and The fifth element. However, the more I read, it seemed more accurately along the lines of a serious version of Idiocracy. The City is grimy, a mingling of all cultures and peoples, and run by a controlling Civic Center. The base tv package includes 2000 channels, hedinoism and drugs are rampant, and sex is pervasive. People can embed themselves with technology and some even enjoy becoming aliens temporarily. Transients are people that live between being human and alien, caught in the slow morphing process in which they will one day be fully alien. These transients are a main focus of the story that Spider makes his pet project.

Transmet was originally released in 60 issues but the version that I’m reading from the public library is a 10-volume set. The format works well, as it is addictive to read, even if the characters and world are abrasive and extremely rude, and sometimes downright disgusting. I read it in three days, mesmerized for most of it by the detailed and bizarre artwork and story. The next two volumes are already on order from the library. Despite the depravity, the future is a compelling one that’s really not too different from the present. Ellis weaves social commentary into the story, such as transient human rights and chastising the corrupt politician. Cory Doctorow even thinks that Transmet gives insight to the current election, although I’ve yet to see that so far with volume 1.

So far, this volume has intrigued me to continue on with the series. We will see if I make it through the nine remaining.

Recommended?: While certainly not for everyone, and it truly is adult for the explicit language and violence and allusions to sex, there are many people who would enjoy this crazy character, story, and setting. For graphic novel readers, try this one out if it sounds interesting. Also, anyone who enjoys the above movies might want to consider it as well. If any part of my review or your looking into this series turns your off from it, then go ahead and skip this one. There is a lot to read in the world, and while you should push yourself out of your reading comfort zone now and then, this is probably not the one for that.

Read: Captain Vorpatril’s alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

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One of the great things about library conferences is that vendors, publishers, and authors eagerly handout books as you walk by. It is also the worst if you have no room in your luggage and don’t want to pay shipping to send a box home. At annual last year, I received Captain Vorpatril’s alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold during a talk that also included George R.R. Martin–all his freebies were gone by the time I arrived. Each speaker was good and since I didn’t know a thing about Bujold other than what I’d just heard, my hopes were up for the sci-fi book that I gladly packed in my luggage. Now having finally read it, I’m not sure it was worth hauling back.

To preempt any of her fans, apparently there are a lot, that might take issue with my review of the author, who has a few Hugo awards too!, let me be clear that this is the first book I’ve read by her. The world and characters are new to me and after checking out fan reviews online, there is enough agreement that this novel isn’t the best introduction to the series. It is the 15th in the series, by the way.

Heinlein is a favorite of mine and I love a good sci-fi book, even if it is pulpy. But Bujold didn’t hook me. The story felt too explanatory, dwelling on history and family, making connections and tying up loose ends for everything it seemed. Stilted describes it well. As in, they went here and this is why, how, and the necessary history related to it that you need to know. An info-dump as we called it in creative writing courses. Sci-fi and Fantasy are usually focus on adventure and action, a get-up-and-go sense of urgency for one reason or another. Bradbury’s Something wicked this way comes wasn’t fast-paced but made you lean in and intrigued to continue, and had many eerily cautious portions. Unfortunately, this novel lacked any of those aspects for me.

Usually I am completely agreeable and give benefit of the doubt to books but there are a few cases in which writing style turns me off. This is one of those times. And I probably won’t pick up another of hers, again fans of hers please forgive me, because I have too much on my shelves and other book lists to get to reading. I understand being a fan and reading everything someone writes, I love Terry Goodkind’s Sword of truth, but we all have our favorites.

Recommend?: For fans of Bujold and her Vorkosigan saga, also anyone who is looking for a massive inter-galactic space adventure series. From what I gathered, her world is as large and diverse, and complex, as Star Wars, which all of the different relations and planets.

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Read: Friday by Robert A. Heinlein

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Friday by Robert A. Heinlein

The latest of my sci-fi reads, and a favorite author of mine ever since middle school when I first read him. However, reading Friday reminded me of the reasons that I like and dislike Heinlein. Yes, like and dislike. Let’s start with the likes!

The best parts of Heinlein novels are always the characters, always. I loved Stranger in a strange land and A door into summer mainly because of the characters; they felt like real people. Oddly enough, Friday is an artificial intelligence creation that is so realistic she is indistinguishable from actual human. This becomes her downfall because she knows and other humans claim that they could spot an A.I. piece of cake and are prejudice against them which bothers her greatly. The other great part about his novels are the ideas that drive the story and fuel the characters. An A.I. who longs to be accepted like any other human though she is mistaken for one–a man raised by martians on Mars then practically worshiped as a deity when he returns to Earth–a man who tries to right all the wrongs with his time traveling machine (FridayStrangerA door, respectively).

The writing isn’t the greatest but it’s more like a script and still very readable. They aren’t really novels to be read and reread, and I had one friend who really didn’t enjoy Stranger as much as I remember liking it. Since middle school, I’ve tried and failed to reread that one of his, getting stuck early on just after Michael leaves the hospital. That’s when the realization set in that the writing and steering of the plot were just okay. Heinlein has a way of enticing the reader and spurring them on, though, so he’s still a fave author of mine but not one that I will reread.

It just so happened that last week at the ALA Annual conference, I heard George R.R. Martin speak, saying that Heinlein’s Have spacesuit will travel started him reading and thus lead to him later writing. I’ve not read this YA novel of Heinlein but again, it might be one that I pick up to find out what about it hooked Martin all those years ago. It’s always fun to connect with someone on authors, and especially particular books because, at least to me, they really become a part of who I am and it’s something that you can tangibly know about a person–a shared bond over a story and characters. While Friday wasn’t as quick a read for me as I hoped, after hearing Martin praise Heinlein, I delved back in with renewed vigor and finished it while at conference; fun reading for an otherwise packed week.

Recommended?: It depends. If you like Heinlein or sci-fi then maybe/yes. This is a fun read, an adventure story more so than a groundbreaking, earth-shattering, beautifully written novel. Like I already said, I won’t reread it but I’m glad that I read it and now have Friday in my life as another very strong woman to draw upon. She’s feisty, fearless, and speaks her mind–right up my alley.

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Infinite update: On page 109 and footnote 46. My next challenge is to try to get through this before the end of August so I need to crack down on DFW and get reading him more!

In other news, Camp NaNoWriMo didn’t go as well as I hoped; gee, going to conference last minute sure didn’t help my productivity! However, I did write 20,000 for my novel so it is a great chunk that I can now work further with. There’s always August for another chance, or November if I wanna try and get some real reading done this summer. Steve going to Cyprus for a week will help!