Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

I read a post by Valente on Chuck Wendig’s blog and was charmed enough that I HAD to read this book as soon as I could get my hands on it.  What followed was a very involved system of trying to request it every single day until a library was willing to send me a copy.

Then I was kind of iffy about it.  It took me a little while to get into it because at first it felt very wordy.  By the time I slid into the story, though, and got used to the style, it had me hooked.  I even downloaded the audio so that I could get through it even faster.

Sentient life has been discovered on Earth by the rest of the of the sentient universe.  Still reeling from an intergalactic war, a war about answering the age old question of who is meat and who is not.  In resolution, the planets have banned together to create a musical competition, the Grand Prix, which all planets with sentient life must compete in every year.  In order for a newly discovered planet to be accepted in, they must not finish last.  Enter Decibel Jones, a washed up glam rocker whose band is the last on the list to compete for Earth’s place in the universe.  Unfortunately, the rest of the performers on the list are dead.

Decibel needs to get his band back together except that Mira, his old drummer, is dead and Oort has been busy becoming normal since the band broke up.  Decibel and Oort have eleven days to write a song and when they get to the host planet of the Grand Prix, they discover that they also have to make it to the Grand Prix while other species attempt to kill them, move them through a wormhole, and even steal Decibel’s voice.

This is definitely one of those books that you are either going to love or hate.  I don’t think that there’s anyway that you could feel “so-so” about it.  I loved it but I wasn’t sure that I loved it until it made me cry after making me chuckle so much.  A fun romp with some feeling.


Landscape with Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson

There is something that I cannot resist about a slim novel and this one comes in at 149 pages plus has a great cover.  I’ll be honest and say upfront that this isn’t a book for everyone but I really liked it.  It was weird, which I love, and it was scifi without feeling like scifi.

This is our world after the vuvv, an alien race shaped somewhat like coffee tables, have landed.  The vuvv are all about efficiency and when they first landed they promised Earth a world with no more work and no more disease.  However, all of their tech was sold to the highest bidders and now the economy is in ruins.  Adam used to have a normal life but now his father is gone, there’s another family living in his basement, and his mother has been unemployed for months.  Adam is a painter in a world where most art is digital and each short chapter feels like a painting.  Adam is trying to find ways to support his family, by recording his relationship with Chloe for the vuvv and entering in an art contest, while dealing with a disease makes digestion miserable.

I thought this was a really interesting book.  It looked at the line between the haves and have-nots in a way that didn’t feel heavy handed.  Adam’s family used to be middle class and I like how it painted the picture that anyone could lose everything.  Adam’s mother never gives up hope and Adam is always trying to come up with a better way.  Great scifi for someone who doesn’t necessarily like scifi.

The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard

This book was originally chosen for my now defunct sci-fi/fantasy book club.  It took me a while to get to it because I just kind of got buried by other books and then my reading slumped a bit with the pregnancy and so on and so forth.  This was the last library book I had left to read before my maternity leave and I figured it would be fast because it is so very short.  I also thought that it might prove to be atmospheric enough to pull me in and distract me because I liked the idea of reading about hot, humid lagoons and jungles.

It didn’t work.

My reading of this book went in three phases, splitting the book roughly into thirds.  First, I was in for it.  I was interested in the setting and the people and the ideas.  I told Hubby that he would probably love the book.  I let the language carry me.  Second, I was a little bored.  I don’t know why, really.  It was like a struggle to read.  The language weighed me down.  I would get through a page or two and then put it away or fall asleep.  Finally, I hit the “I just do not care” point.  I didn’t.  I almost gave up on it a number of times, even when I was only 20 pages from the end.  I had to fight to finish and it took a very long time.

The Drowned World takes place in a time when solar flares have caused the world to warm up, melting the ice caps and causing the water levels to rise.  With the rising water, silt deposits have completely changed the map of the world and now most of the globe is covered in dense jungles and lagoons.  The only truly inhabitable places are the far north and the far south.  A group of military men and scientists are in submerged London but things are beginning to go bad.  People are haunted by dreams that seem to drive them slowly insane.  When word comes for everyone to move out and back to their base, Dr. Kerans decides to stay behind with Beatrice, the only woman in the area.  They have forged comfortable lives there in penthouses with air conditioning and food stores.  Kerans’ associate, Dr. Bodkin, stays behind as well, chasing down vague memories of his childhood in the city.  Before long, a kind of pirate arrives to loot the city and as he attempts to draw the three from their self imposed isolation, it becomes apparent that he is not to be trusted.

I will agree with many that the setting and the ideas are good and that the language can at times be poetic.  That is not enough to carry a book, though, not even a short one.  I found the characters to be flat and the plot felt a little too cliche and convenient.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

This is how I read it:  Joe Chip works for Runciter’s prudence firm, a company that combats people with psionic powers like telepathy and precognition.  Joe is a tester, someone who measures the field an anti-talent can put out to negate the psis.  When Ashwood, a recruiter, brings Pat to Joe it becomes apparent that her powers are unique.  She has the ability to move through time and change events before they even happen.  When there is an explosion on the job, Joe and the anti-talents believe that Mr. Runciter is dead.  Soon, time is moving backward around them and Joe begins to receive messages from his boss that indicate he is still alive and that everyone else is dead.  Anti-talents begin to die horrific deaths as Joe races against the clock to get Ubik, a product that may prevent his own death.  Or is what Mr. Renciter says true?  Is Joe already dead?

Dick built an interesting world to play with mortality in.  In the future 1992 that he created, people can be kept in a half-life state and still be contacted by the living.  But who is int he half-life?  What is causing the terrible deaths?  What, exactly, is Ubik?

I had a hard time figuring out what to say about this book.  It was the selection for my book club this month and I probably would not have stuck it out otherwise.  It had a very slow build for me and I wasn’t feeling very interested in it until around the 100 page mark.  The subject matter is some of the more difficult stuff for me to deal with and for a while I had to take it in small doses and then go and distract myself for a while.  I’m not saying it wasn’t worth the read or that I didn’t enjoy it at all.  It just wasn’t the book for me.

Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey

I read this one as part of my Sci-Fi/Fantasy club.  After a couple of rough books, this was a wonderful relief.  I loved it.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I gave a hearty, “Yay, Lessa!”  I asked my husband if I could have a dragon.  (Though, the torti cat is pretty close to one sometimes…)

Lessa has been hiding out in Ruatha since the day Fax’s troops stormed the castle and killed her family.  Only the watch-wher knows who she is.  When F’lar, the rider of a great bronze dragon, brings his men in search of a new weyrwoman, she sees her chance of destroying Fax.  Lessa is smart, determined, and capable of manipulating others with ease.  When she manages to force F’lar’s hand in offing Fax, she see’s only that she will soon reclaim her hold.  Then F’lar offers her a chance to weyrwoman.

Pern is in trouble.  The ancient enemies, Threads that come from the red star, are about to fall and they are short on dragons and support.  The legends are fading away in the minds of the common people who know only that they are sending their harvests on to an outdated tradition.  F’lar and Lessa must find a way to solve these problems, and fast, before the whole planet is destroyed.

Another book that I wish I had been able to read faster.  I could barely put it down at the end.  Still want a dragon.

The Female Man by Joanna Russ

This was the first book selected for my scifi/fantasy book club.  In order to prevent the lag that occurs when people choose horrible books, I selected a list of 50 “to read before you die” books and made a book jar.  This was a rough start.

The comment that keeps coming up is that The Female Man is a feminist book, no scifi.  Yes, there are scifi elements to it but they are so much thinner than the feminist agenda.  Now, I am a feminist and I get what Russ is trying to do but even I felt that it was too heavy handed at times.

The Female Man is about four J’s: Joanna, Jeannine, Janet, and Jael.  In essence, these women are the same women living in different times and realities.  They have been shaped by their realities so that each one is different.  They have been collected together by Jael who is fighting an actual battle of the sexes in her time and wants them to allow her to place stuff in their realities, bases and soldiers and such.  However, the J’s made the book very hard to follow and the characters didn’t feel distinct enough to tell apart until about half way through the book.

I agree with a lot of the social commentary that is made throughout.  My problem with this book is that it doesn’t feel true to me.  I know what you’re thinking.  “Of course it’s not true.  It’s fiction.”  If you read enough, you can tell when an author is not telling the truth.  I could never pin it down but I never trusted this story.

I would like to see this exact book tackled now.  I think that would be interesting to see.