What I’ve Been Reading

Howdy folks!

It’s been over a year since I updated this thing, despite promising myself otherwise. So much for New Year’s resolutions.

I had planned to be more productive in 2016. Unfortunately, life sort of got in the way.

Since my last post, I’ve switched jobs (yet again), and finally started writing on a more regular basis. I’ve altered my daily routine so that I get up an hour earlier and shoot for a weekly goal of around 5,000 words. I’m hoping to get that number up to about 10,000 words in the next month or so.

Currently chugging along on a novella and some short stories. We’ll see where that goes…

Anyway, I’ve read/am reading some good books, and I’d like to share my thoughts. My reading’s been a bit intermittent these past couple of years, but I’ve recently picked up a few things I’m enjoying.

First off this year was The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley.

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Kameron rocketed to the top of my “Buy Immediately and Devour in Three Days” category with the Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy. God’s War blew my brain right out of my skull and was the most inventive, exciting, and engaging book I’d read since Altered Carbon.

With her new book, The Stars Are Legion, she’s turned her wicked talents to space opera, albeit with a twist. This is hardcore biopunk, and it reads like a bizarre blood-and-guts epic fantasy with a sci-fi slant (which is awesome, by the way!) Not recommended for the squeamish.

It’s hard to talk about this book without giving too much away, but suffice it to say, you’re in for a ride. Huge, organic worldships inhabited by an all-female cast of characters who are as brutal and deadly as their environment. Kameron takes biotech to a whole new level, extrapolating from modern research and creating a shockingly alien yet utterly believable setting, the likes of which I haven’t really seen before in science fiction. Mix that with warring feudal cultures reminiscent of the Houses in Dune, mutant “witches,” organic vehicles and weapons, and what you get is a hack and slash non-stop-action thrill ride that grabs you from page one and doesn’t let up until the very end.

My only complaint about this story is that the ending felt a bit rushed. On the whole, the pacing was great, and the worldbuilding was extensive yet never felt overwhelming. Kameron is one of the best in the field when it comes to portraying complex societies and settings without bogging the reader down in exposition. There was one reveal about two thirds of the way through the story that I felt was a bit predictable, but it didn’t ruin my overall experience.

For anyone interested in some truly original and refreshing science fiction that has the pulpy action adventure flavor of a Golden Age story but modern sensibilities and politics, then you could do a whole lot worse than The Stars Are Legion. Do yourself a favor and go grab a copy now.

Seriously. Right now.

I’ll wait…

For more information about Kameron Hurley, you can visit her at her website. I highly recommend checking out her blog while you’re there.

Next up on my list is Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells. I stumbled across this one on one of those i09 lists of upcoming sci-fi and fantasy and was immediately grabbed by the  cover art. One-eyed mercenary with a flaming hand standing in front of a motorcycle while a spaceship takes off in the background? Yes please.

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I’m only about a third away into this one, but so far so good. Motorcycle gangs, a rough colony planet, exotic blue crystal, some flavor of pyrokinesis, and all kinds of weirdness sprinkled throughout. Love the Western vibes this one gives off.

I also recently picked up a copy of John Scalzi’s new book, The Collapsing Empire. I’ve read some great things about this one, so I’m really looking forward to diving in once I’ve polished off Hunger Makes the Wolf.

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Also on my night stand are two non-fiction books: The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig and The Writer’s Guide to Weapons. I’ve been reading these on and off for the past few months and am enjoying both. Craft books are hit or miss for me, but both of these are great references. Wendig’s easy style and no-bullshit approach to writing make this one a fun, but also informative read.

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So, anyway, that’s it for me. I’m going to go write some more, and hopefully I’ll post again soon. We’ll see…

 

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The Expanse

I recently finished Season 1 of The Expanse, the new TV adaptation of James S. A. Corey’s novel Leviathan Wakes.

The Expanse

Before delving too deeply into it, let me start with the disclaimer that I’m not a big fan of most SF on TV or in the movies these days. In fact, I’d argue that most of what calls itself science fiction is in fact just regular old adventure fiction with an SF veneer. That being said, I have enjoyed movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, Ex Machina, and The Martian, which I consider some of the best representations of the genre outside of literature.

At times, it feels as if the good old days of films like Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Aliens have come and gone. Remakes, re-imaginings, and sequels notwithstanding, I wish we had more movies in that vein. Instead we get endless re-hashings like Jurassic World, Terminator Genisys, and yes, I’m sorry to say, even Star Wars Episode VII, which contribute very little new material to their enormously popular franchises.

So, when I saw the trailer for The Expanse, I was excited but cautious, as I know how the TV industry is, and frankly the Syfy channel hasn’t put out anything of note since Battlestar Galactica, which ended its run in 2009.

I read Leviathan Wakes a year or two after it came out and enjoyed it quite a bit. I haven’t read the sequels, but I’m sure with the success of the TV show those will get adaptations as well.

Now, disclaimer out of the way, I have to say I was really impressed with The Expanse. It feels hip, fresh, and intelligent. It’s got good special effects, good acting, excellent pacing, and overall good storytelling. From the first episode, I knew this was something worth watching. I haven’t felt that way about an SF show in a very long time.

For the first couple of episodes, it sticks pretty closely to the storyline in Leviathan Wakes, though it does begin to incorporate elements from other novels as the season progresses. One of the best characters, in fact, Chrisjen Avasarala, doesn’t appear until the second novel, but she plays a pivotal role in the TV series. I thought all of the choices the showrunners made were very good and only helped flesh out the universe created in the novels. The realistic physics, believable characters, and familiar political situations made it all the more engaging. To me, this feels like what the creators of Battlestar Galactica and Firefly were going for when they tried to portray a realistic, “lived in” future in stark contrast to the shiny utopia of Star Trek and its ilk.

I don’t have many criticisms of the show, though I will say the plot meanders a bit for the first couple of episodes. Once it gets its footing, though, it tears right along. One of my favorite scenes in the whole series is when the main characters blast their way out of a Martian warship in a special effects extravaganza that puts most Hollywood blockbusters to shame. It’s a cool show, and it walks a fine line between the grimdark tone of Battlestar and the lighter adventurous spirit of Firefly. If you enjoyed either of those shows, chances are you’ll find a lot to like in The Expanse.

Here’s to hoping Netflix does Altered Carbon justice. Now that could be a hell of a show!

The Revenant

So, let’s kick this thing off with a movie review. Last weekend I watched The Revenant.

The Revenant

I’ve been looking forward to this one since I saw the trailer back in the summer. It’s got a lot of strong elements working for it: some brilliant casting choices, stunning imagery, gritty atmosphere, and loads of action. The trailer sold me right away.

I’m pleased to say, unlike some other recent movies I’ve seen, this one definitely lived up to the hype. It not only delivered what it promised in the trailer, it exceeded my expectations. Not since the Coen brothers’ adaptation of No Country For Old Men have I enjoyed such a bleak, utterly savage portrayal of the darker side of human nature. This is a hardcore revenge tale set in the 1800s, which follows Hugh Glass, a fur trapper mauled by  a bear and left for dead, as he struggles to survive the hostility of the wild frontier.

The story takes its time to build, developing its characters over the first thirty to forty-five minutes, which is well worth it, as the rest of the movie is a nonstop rollercoaster ride of man-versus-nature that makes Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” look like a Sunday afternoon stroll. DiCaprio’s portrayal of Glass is excellent, though I never felt like the story was overly focused on its star, as equal time is spent following Tom Hardy’s character, arguably one of the more reprehensible examples of human depravity to grace the screen of late.

While the movie has some great scenes, for me, the most enjoyable aspect was its setting. Through their sweeping shots of untamed wilderness and deft cinematography throughout, Alejandro Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki capture an era of unparalleled brutality that leaves the viewer shaken to the core. There are some gruesome bits, and the film certainly doesn’t pull its punches so I don’t recommend it for those with a weak stomach. That being said, it is beautifully grotesque in places.

Overall, I found The Revenant to be a thoroughly satisfying movie. Its simple story and close attention to detail make it a refreshing change from all this slam-bang comic book schlock that’s come to dominate our screens these last few years.

Welcome

As a part of my New Year’s Resolution to write more, I’m starting a new blog. Here you’ll find book and movie reviews, random things I find interesting, occasional artwork and fiction, and whatever else I feel like posting. Happy 2016!