Category Archives: science fiction

Fledgling by Octavia Butler

Fledgling

Alas or Hooray… we are living in a world where the relevance and popularity of Octavia Butler is on the rise! Her Kindred has just been adapted to an excellent graphic novel, Dawn (the first book in the Lilith’s Brood series) is becoming a TV show, and Parable of the Talents is currently reality. (not to spoil that dystopian book, but there’s a populist president brought into office by white supremacists chanting “Make America Great Again”)

Butler published Fledgling in 2005, just a year before her death. The book’s protagonist is named… well she can’t remember, at least for a while. She wakes up in terrible pain unable to remember anything, except that she is HUNGRY. What’s she hungry for? Well, turns out she’s Butler’s take on a vampire, so she’s hungry for blood. But Butler’s version of vampires (Ina) don’t necessarily kill for blood, instead cultivating extended families of human “symbionts” to feed off of. In turn, the humans gain supernatural health and longevity, and there’s a lot of sex too (it is a vampire story, after all).

Not that this is going to help entice you to read this book, but I’d like to say one of my favorite things about this book is the fact that everyone in it KNOWS there are vampires in culture. This is one of my greatest pet peeves about most genre films/books. The zombie apocalypse comes (like, say, in the walking dead) and nobody, nobody, nobody, has any idea what a zombie is. They’re always, “whoa, if you get bitten who knew you’d turn?” Anyone whose ever seen a zombie movie! Zombies, werewolves, and vampires as recognizable to modern Americans as Michael Jackson. Case in point— Thriller. So I find it refreshing that when our protagonist and her humans are trying to figure out what/who she is, they pour through hundreds of years of vampire folklore. Because scrubbing that from the universe while playing on this folklores tropes is just wrong. Butler even drops a lame Bella Lugosi joke, which even her characters find lame! Awesome.

Like many of Butler’s novels, the plot moves forward as an initially unsure protagonist gains skill and confidence to lead her community through struggle. The protagonist learns her name and finds that she is the product of genetic experimentation. The social mark of this experiment endangers and empowers her.

Overall, this is not my favorite Butler novel, and frankly I think a large part of that is that the main character appears to be only 10-11 in human years (but is really older, because… vampires), yet still is object of a lot of sexual desire and has a lot of sex (again, because vampires). Fine and good, but… yuuuuuuuck and eeee… it was just too much for me. I don’t really see the point, given the books interest in polyamorous relations.

Go read it– and all of Butler’s other works, too.

Availability: USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Recommended

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff, read by Keven Kernerly

Lovecraft Country

Here’s how we came to listen to Lovecraft Country. After approximately 20 attempts of going to the movies with friends collapsed in last-minute mishaps, Kaitlyn and I watched Get Out, written and directed by Jordan Peele. Get Out was and is our favorite film of 2017– Peele weaves the classic tropes of horror films together to show the endurance and adaptation of racism in America today. Get Out has been a critical and box office break-out success, and HBO spent little time hiring Peele and his Monkeypaw Productions to make a series adapted from Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country (2016). So, driving through the mountains of British Columbia and Alberta and cruelly deprived of access to Game of Thrones while camping, Kaitlyn and I decided to listen to the book that will no doubt be our favorite tv show one day soon.

Lovecraft Country is a novel composed of episodic chapters that follow different members of two African American families living in Chicago during the 50s. When Montrose, the father of Atticus, disappears into a notorious sundown town of rural Massachusetts, Atticus, his Uncle (the publisher of the Safe Negro Travel Guide) and a friend, Leticia, embark on a journey to find and save Montrose. They confront the horrors of 1950s Jim Crow and Northern racism, but these horrors blend seamlessly with supernatural horrors that pay homage to the sci-fi stories Atticus, George and Leticia devour in their spare time. The episodes cover a lot of ground; the sinister manor stories (like Get Out), space-travel, haunted houses, creepy doll stuff, transformations, and witchcraft. But in every richly imagined story, it’s the banal violence Jim Crow that cements itself as the most pervasive and dangerous.

Kaitlyn writes that “at first I wasn’t sure about the style of episodic stories, but it worked. It really worked.”

As I am writing this NPR is describing the violent clash of white supremacists and counter-protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia. As both Get Out and Lovecraft Country show, the horror of Jim Crow and racism are the stuff of nightmares, and nightmares alive today.

Availability: COSMOS (Print & Audio)
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Highly Recommended

Gold Fame Citrus by Clair Vaye Watkins

Gold Fame Citrus

I downloaded Gold Fame Citrus (hereafter GFC) after listening to an EXCELLENT podcast on climate change and literature from On the Media called “Apocalypse, Now.” That’s also were we found Borne. Unlike so much of cli-fi (fiction about the future of climate change on earth), GFC eschews the eschatological lingo of “the flood” [see Atwood’s The Year of the Flood or Waterworld or Robinson’s New York 2140] for the language of desiccation and desertification. In GFC Southern California– and much of the US Southwest– has turned into a massive dune sea called “The Amargosa.” It is in Watkins imaginative descriptions of the Amargosa that this book shines. Like Mord in Vandemeer’s Borne, the Amargosa, while created by human action, is a wild and almost living thing that exerts its influence and even desires without our full understanding or ability to compel. The Amargosa, mirage-like, shimmers into and out of focus and understanding across the short novel’s pages.

Less compelling, from my point of view, are any of the characters in the book. There’s a good bit of old fashioned US Southwest cult fiction in this book, and that’s nice. But the protagonist, who irked me to the point I can’t remember her name right now, is HARD to get behind. My mom tells me this was the point, and that “she’s just a typical millennial.” Maybe my mom has a point, and I am to close to the myopic, selfish, lazy millennial stereotype myself to grok all of that.

Recommend… with a glass of water nearby.

Availability: COSMOS (Print & Audio) USMAI (Print)
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Recommended
Challenge: A book with a color in the title.

Borne by Jeff Vandemeer read by Bahni Turpin

Borne

Go read some Vandemeer– but I’d say start with either The City of Saints and Madmen or his Area X trilogy before Borne (personal preference). But Borne is good and typical Vandemeer– fascinating, creepy, hybridized sci-fi fantasy realism that grips you until there’s nothing left to read. Or listen to, as was the case a few weeks ago while Kaitlyn and I were cruising past the endless fields of Canola is Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Borne is the story of a climate and GMO destroyed future where all kinds of discarded “biotech”– organisms made by a Monsanto-esque company and discarded in a poor city, run amok. Chief among the biotech (and the most interesting character in the story) is Mord, a colossus of a bear that can fly and commands the fear and respect of all the city’s inhabitants. Mord is a capricious and unknowable god that tramples on the grapes of city life without knowable rhyme or reason. Rachel, the stories protagonist, scavenges salvage from Mord’s robe-thick hairs that catch and carry up small bits of destruction as he roams the city. And in Mord’s fur Rachel finds Borne.

Rachel, Borne, and even the bear-sounding Mord are brought to life by Bahni Turpin’s excellent narration. Kaitlyn and I try to imitate her Borne voice on the regular, and we’re getting better at it. You should listen to this eerie and well-executed sci-fi and try for yourself.

Availability: COSMOS (Print & Audio)
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2017

Four: A Divergent Story Collection by Veronica Roth

It took me a little while to decide on a number book …. 2061 (it had been too long since I read the first two), one fish, two fish (seemed a little too short), any Stephanie Plum book (could not remember which ones that I had read). I enjoyed the Divergent series of books and I was curious as to why there was another book, so Four: A Divergent Story Collection seemed like the best choice.

The book is divided into four main chapters (maybe they are short stories) and there are also three “scenes”. The first three chapters take place before Divergent and the fourth (as well as the scenes which are just scenes from the Divergent book told from Four’s perspective) take place during Divergent. Four should be read fourth even though it starts before the first book since I think it would take away some of the surprise. It is the same world, same overall plot, and it just adds a slight bit of background and point of view from Four – I don’t think it really adds to the overall story and it doesn’t really have the same discovery that you enjoyed while reading Divergent.

For huge fans, it is probably great as another fix, I found it enjoyable but I don’t think it added to the series, so … recommended. Note – I highly recommend Divergent.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Andy Ashenfelter
Rating:  Recommended
Challenge: A book with a number in the title.

The Cage by Megan Shepard

The Cage

The Cage is a science fiction book where teenagers are kidnapped by aliens and put in an enclosure and their attempts to escape. I liked the idea of this book and the author does give some interesting ideas about what aliens might be like and how different people would react to this situation. The alien technology was also interesting. I personally am a huge sucker for world building so I enjoy books that engage in this.

However, the book is hampered by the fact that the characters, and the main character especially, are incredibly stupid. They start out okay but soon devolve into people whose logic doesn’t make any sense. The main character is desperate to get back home, which is understandable, however she never thinks about what they are going to do when they get out of the cage (because of the tiny problem that they are several thousand miles away from Earth). A prime (non plot related) example of this, is when an alien is trying to get her to not escape, he shows her a girl who has tried to escape three times and has been drugged and sold into a fate worse than death. Her only thought is “she escaped so I can too.” Also, the book has this weird backstory for the main character which tries to make her seem tougher, caring and “not a victim” when it just makes her seem stupid, callous and self-righteous. Also coming along with this there seems to be an implication that the penalties for drunk driving are too harsh, even when a person dies because of it. Also, there is a love triangle and it is just as annoying as always.

I recommend with reservations. This book will probably only work for someone who is willing to put up with the stupidity of the characters to enjoy the world building.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Madeline Rivard
Rating:  Recommended with reservations

The Door Into Summer by Robert A Heinlein

Door Into Summer

 

I think many of us are like, Pete, the cat in this book, checking every door, because the next door might be the one which leads to summer. Nice light reading; or listening, in my case.
Highly Recommended

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Deborah Stephenson
Rating: Highly Recommended