Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Aussie Indie goodness

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes looks pretty intense. Too bad we have to wait till July to see the next Planet of the Apes movie.

And here are some still portraits from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Filming for the Indie flick Arrowhead is going on in the outback this winter. Arrowhead reached its Kickstarter goal, but the filmmakers want to generate more buzz via Kickstarter to make the most of the launch and recoup some of the funds they personally invested. Here's the teaser and a 10 minute proof of concept that got the initial funding. The film is slated to premiere on TV in Australia in September 2014. No word yet on a US release date.

Arrowhead Show Reel from Arrowhead: The Movie on Vimeo.

Arrowhead: Signal from Arrowhead: The Movie on Vimeo.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Vonnegut story to film project, literary freebies and gift ideas

Screenwriter Derek Ryan has teamed up with folks connected with such projects as District 9 to produce Kurt Vonnegut's "2BR02B" short story as a short film. "2BR02B" explores the effects of population control on a future earth where no one is born unless someone volunteers to die. And this in a world where, barring a random accident, where people no longer age or die. And to make it worse for the parents, they're having triplets.  You can read the story for free at the Gutenberg Project. I also just found an audio version of 2BR02B at LibriVox.

This film is still in the crowd-funding stage. I'm giving it my thumbs up as a good investment. I wouldn't post it here unless I thought it a worthwhile project. You can also visit their Facebook page for more information.


Phoenix Pick’s free ebook for December is A. A. Attanasio’s Last Legends
of Earth. This novel has a five-star rating on Amazon. Publishers Weekly calls it an "Epic love
story, intricate, wildly imaginative and touching."

Set in the artificial planetary system of Chalco-Doror, which is no more and no less than a vast cosmic machine, The
Last Legends of Earth is a love story, a gripping saga of struggle against alien control, and an examination of the machinery of creation and destruction. Above all, it is world-building of the highest and grandest order, on a scale rarely seen in science fiction since the great works of Olaf Stapledon.

Visit Phoenix Pick's online catalog and enter 9991563 to receive this title for free through the end of December 2013.


I've had quite a few emails from folks wanting me to include their stuff in my holiday gift guide. And which one would that be? I'm kind of fed up with the commercialization of Christmas, but there were a couple items I thought folks would be interested in, whether as a gift or a personal indulgence. Ho ho ho.

The Who's Who of Doctor Who: A Whovian Guide to Friends, Foes, Villians, Monsters, and Companions to the Good Doctor. I'm guessing it will have to be a late gift, though, as it publishes on the second of January according to the publisher's email, although their website says available 12/12. You can probably pre-order from the publisher's page and definitely from Amazon.

If you're more of a Star Wars fan and good with your hands (or know of someone that fits that description), there's this Star Wars Origami book: Star Wars Origami: 36 Amazing Paper-folding Projects from a Galaxy Far, Far Away.... 

Or you can give the gift of audiobooks from Audiobooks or Audibles. And you know about LibriVox, right? LibriVox has a ton of titles that are in the public domain that you can download for free. Think you have a great reading voice? They're always looking for more volunteer readers.

Or you could help crowdfund a worthy indie film and gift the perks. ;)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Organic English and the IT factor

Let's talk about English. If learning all of its many quirks and inconsistencies is not enough, it's constantly evolving. Into a better language is yet to be determined. If only we could go back and do damage control and make it easier to learn for those who didn't grow up with it. Not to mention those who are stymied by its many contradictions and crazy grammar rules. At least everything is gender-neutral. That is we don't have a male and feminine form for all of our nouns. However, I suspect that that would be a far easier thing to learn than memorizing all of our homophones, homonyms and the many pronunciation exceptions.

The most interesting changes to the Oxford dictionary since the inclusion of OMG and LOL is the introduction of because as a preposition and the word "selfie" for a photo you take of yourself. Still, my word, "procrastinatable", hasn't made the cut.

Here's the Atlantic article about the word "because" as a preposition, filled with examples. I'm making you go check it out there because ranting.

Now, this is where I launch into my pet peeve. I have long wanted a word in the English language for "it" that isn't derogatory when used for people. I know there have been some attempts in this direction, but none of them have stuck.

If you don't see the need for this new pronoun, ask yourself the following questions:
  • What do you call an unborn child of unknown sex? 
  • How do you refer to someone whose gender is unclear without being offensive? Or what do you call someone who is agender? More about agender can be found in this recent SF Gate article.
  • Wouldn't you rather have one word you can use rather than having to use he/she?
  • You can't just use "them" when you're referring to one person of unknown or irrelevant gender. Not if you want to be grammatically correct.
    You've announced the requirements for the candidate for office. You can either keep saying he/she must this and that, be incorrect and say "they", when you're referring to one candidate, or keep saying "the candidate must" this and that.
    You've just learned you will be meeting with the VP of Marketing of the company at which you are applying. Congratulations.
    I ask you, later that day, if you've met him or her yet, because you haven't told me the President's gender. Or, worse still, you tell me, "No. And I don't know if it's a man or woman. His/her name is Robin."
So, do we go with heshe? That's too long. And women won't like being second any more than men would for shehe. What can we do with two letters that's not already taken and wouldn't be confused with an existing word when spoken? Ba? Ga? Va? Wa? I'm using the "ah" pronunciation of the a here. Or Zo? Vo? Gu? Xo? What's your idea?

On the other hand, can we, through use, remove the derogatory connotation from that perfectly useful pronoun? Maybe that's easier. How do we reclaim the word "it" so we can use it for humans?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Exodus Code - the Barrowman's deliver!

Torchwood Exodus Code
John and Carole E. Barrowman
BBC Books Sept. 2013

Review by Ann Wilkes

This nineteenth novel written in the Torchwood world created by Russell T Davies for the BBC show of the same name (2006-2011) was written by Torchwood star John Barrowman (Captain Jack) and his sister, Carole E Barrowman.

Torchwood Exodus Code begins with madness. Jack falls from an airplane without a chute in 1930 Peru, survives (Captain Jack is from the 51st century and - unlike other humans from that time or any other - can’t stay dead) and gets prepared for sacrifice to the mountain. The Cuari tribe have been expecting a god to fall from the sky.

All the while, his mind is slipping. Reality is shattering. He’s flooded with tastes and smells and unnatural reactions to sensations.
For a beat Jack realized the chamber was inside his head and outside it. Behind him and in front of him. He laughed at the absurdity and let himself sink back into the rock. The silver veins threaded themselves across every muscle, every limb, every part of him. Closing his eyes again, he could see himself being folded into the rock.

The sensation was wonderful, yet Jack heard himself thinking that this was not a good wonderful. It was a bad wonderful. It was the wonderful at the end of a thrilling journey. It was the wonderful after intimacy. It was the last hurrah, the final chapter, the kiss goodbye, the beginning of the end.

Jack lifted his arm and tore it away from the wall, snapping the threads.

He heard a sob. It tasted like ginger.
Back in present day Cardiff, Gwen Cooper encounters a madwoman in the aisles at a grocery store who tries to end her suffering by tearing off her own ear. Gwen is also succumbing to a madness that is affecting clusters of women around the world. And it has to do with heightened and crossed senses. Like synaesthia on steroids with some delusion and hallucination thrown in. Torchwood, an organization that investigates alien threats and defends the world against invasion, having suffered grave losses and being org-non-grata with the government, has been, for all practical purposes disbanded. Only Gwen and Captain Jack Harness are left.

When Gwen realizes there’s something wrong on a worldwide scale, she contacts Jack through a computer she’s stashed away down the street while her baby sleeps in her crib. She has the baby monitor. It will be ok, she thinks. She then hears footsteps on the stairs of her house. She’s worried Rhys will get to Anwen and realize she’s not home. Then he'll really be done with her.
Gwen stopped typing. Her hands frozen in mid-air. What if it wasn't Rhys?”
Gwen comes completely unglued and attacks and nearly kills her own husband. Jack comes just in the nick of time. Gwen is put on a ward with other women suffering the same “masochistic madness”. Jack and Rhys try to figure out what’s going on, but without Torchwood computers, it’s slow going.

Meanwhile, something is happening in the Earth’s oceans. Tremors, which are inexplicably not setting off tsunamis, are opening hydrothermal vents in the ocean floor and spewing toxins. Jack enlists the help of an old friend with a arsenal of special tech equipment aboard a ship in the Atlantic.

All the characters in the story come to life. I could picture all of them. Felt I knew them. Exodus Code is the first tie-in novel I’ve ever read. Well, that’s going to have to change. What a ride! It was like getting to experience a two-part episode of Torchwood with more detail and drilling down deeper into the minds of the characters and the forces at work against them.

No real familiarity with the show is necessary to enjoy this book, but being familiar with the characters makes it come alive. It’s a swashbuckling adventure meets sci-fi meets mystery. You are in Captain Jack's muddled head as he tries to unravel the puzzle. If he doesn’t figure it out soon, the world will end. No pressure.

The Barrowmans make a great writing team. The pacing, plot and scenes were very tight. Loved this book cover to cover. More please.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Win a Plantronics Gamer Headset - Odds are Goods at ScifiODD!

The Minister of Chance is in its final countdown before production of the short film The Prologue with Paul McGann which reprises the role of Durian. Tim McInnerny will play The King. 

The audio series remains free to download via and thery have exciting perks on the Make The Film page. Search "minister of chance" in the Google search box to the right on this blog to read my many reviews. It's a fabulous sonic movie that will surely be a hit feature movie.

Here's another look at the next Hobbit movie.

This is on my watch list. Coming out in December.

Now the giveaway for my gamer readers. Want to win one?

Leave a comment here about your favorite game to be entered to win. I'll put your name in a hat and have my cute little granddaughter pick a name. She can't read yet, so it's fair. ;) She'll pick the name from the comments on Tuesday next week and I'll post the winner on Wednesday morning.

For more information about this sweet gamer headset, read Plantronics' press release.

Finally, of interest if you're local, I'll be reading a ghost story 
by candlelight in a mausoleum tonight at 7PM. Santa Rosa Memorial Park on Franklin Ave. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Darwin Elevator grabs readers with unique post-apocalyptic premise

The Darwin Elevator
Book 1 of The Dire Earth Cycle
Jason M. Hough
Del Rey 2013

Review by Clare Deming

In this debut novel by Jason M. Hough, humanity has fallen on hard times after the mysterious arrival of an alien space elevator in Darwin, Australia. While first heralded as a promising technology, the elevator's appearance is followed by a plague which turns the majority of those affected into feral sub-humans, if it doesn't kill them outright. Only the protective Aura encircling the elevator can prevent the disease from infecting and transforming the population.

The underlying cause of the disease is unknown, but a few rare souls are immune to its effects. By the time the novel opens, nearly all of humanity has either died from the plague, been converted to a sub-human, or found refuge in the disease-free ring of land and space encompassed by the elevator's Aura.

Skyler Luiken is one of those fortunate immunes, and since he can travel outside the Aura without a sealed suit, he makes his living as a scavenger of earth's former civilizations, recovering items requested by those restricted to Darwin. His small team runs into trouble when the elevator loses power at the same time that Skyler's ship crosses the Aura on their return from a routine mission. His ship is subjected to a search and his crew draws the suspicion of Russell Blackfield, prefect of Nightcliff, a fortress built to guard the base of the alien elevator.

Humans also live on a series of orbital habitats, tethered along the elevator. They grow food for all mankind, while Nightcliff fortress oversees the exchange of this food for air and water from below. One of the Orbitals, scientist Dr. Tania Sharma, has developed a theory that the alien Builders are set to return in the very near future. Together with Neil Platz, the entrepreneur who built many of the human additions along the elevator, Tania launches a secret investigation into the aliens' imminent return.

Tania's research leads her to recruit Skyler to retrieve data from abandoned astronomical facilities. In the course of his missions, Skyler draws more scrutiny upon himself and his crew from the overbearing Russell Blackfield. Tension builds as repeated malfunctions in the elevator and political wrangling both threaten the fragile economy of Darwin. At the same time, the sub-humans are becoming more aggressive and dangerous to those outside the Aura, or even on its periphery.

The world that Hough has built in this book was very easy to visualize, and the plot kept me guessing with abundant tension and action that never became exhausting. After a few unforeseen surprises in the plot, I was truly enjoying myself. The vivid characters presented a realistic mix of cultural backgrounds, with both male and female personalities shining in their roles. For me, Russell Blackfield's actions became a bit over-the-top as the novel progressed, but it did not detract from the rest of the story.

The Darwin Elevator shows marvelous skill for a new author and was one of the best books that I've read all year. It is the first volume in The Dire Earth Cycle, but fortunately you don't have to wait for the next book - the remaining two volumes have already been released. I have the second book, The Exodus Towers, in my hands already.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Gravity - Doesn't fall flat

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Written by Alfonso Cuarón and Jonas Cuarón
Released Oct 4, 2013

Reviewed by Ann Wilkes

Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney was much better than I expected. Honestly, after seeing the preview, I expected something like Castaway with Tom Hanks. One of those soul-searching, endlessly long waiting games. The trailer doesn't leave much to go on.

Debris hits the International Space Station after the Russians decommission one of their own satellites with a missile. Two astronauts, who were EVA, Ryan and Matt, survive the accident, but with the ISS trashed, they're on their own. Mission control, due to a chain reaction from the debris hitting other satellites in the same orbit, has gone silent. Matt and Ryan, stranded in space, with no help from below, did anything but wait for rescue. The suspense in this flick was non-stop.

Though there were a lot of "no way" moments, the story was a good one and the acting drew me in and made me forget the plot holes. But I'll still list some. ;) I didn't buy Matt's rationale for letting go when he did. Maybe they only paid Clooney for x amount of scenes. Seriously. Don't want to spoil it for you, but when you get there, you'll know what I mean. In fact, if you want to talk more and don't mind the spoilers because you've already seen it, or you just don't mind spoilers, read more in my comment below.

It was also way too full of coincidences, but I'll let that go for the sake of a good yarn. The distances seemed a bit far-fetched, or rather, not far enough fetched. Also, I wanted to yell at Ryan to calm down and quit using so much oxygen. Don't they teach astronauts any meditation or other calming techniques for when they need to reserve oxygen? And then Matt should have been making sure she's conscious now and then, but not making her talk more. Yeah, maybe that was to calm her down, but she still used more oxygen doing most of the talking.

Sandra Bullock delivered a believable, touching performance of an IT specialist on her first space mission. Though she admitted to being close to losing her cookies most of the mission, when spun at high speed in free-fall, she amazingly held it together. Hmmmmm.

Clooney played the cool veteran, enjoying tootling around with his suit jets, making fun of their fellow space walker (before the accident, obviously).  Post-accident, he kept Ryan focused and remained calm, if not a bit too lackadaisical. Stereotypical hot-dogging pilot, only in space. Not sure he was the pilot, but you get the idea. Not too complex. Ryan, on the other hand, has an interesting backstory.  I won't spoil that for you.

In the final analysis, I'd say this is a worthwhile movie and definitely one to see on the big screen. Don't forget to check out my comment below if you don't mind spoilers. I'm hoping to actually get a lively discussion going on that point. Come back here after you've seen the movie and weigh in.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Channel Zilch is a wild and funny ride

Channel Zilch
Doug Sharp
Panverse Publishing 2013
Review by Ann Wilkes

I loved Doug Sharp's sense of humor in Channel Zilch. He maintains levity throughout, even through dire straits (literally), guns in faces and threatened torture. Mick Oolfson, former NASA astronaut, reduced to spreading manure from his plane, The Flying Cow, is approached by a wealthy entrepreneur with a zany plan to go to space, make money and then buy a ticket home.

The plan is to steal the Enterprise shuttle before it heads to its next display gig and get it to Kazakhstan, strap it onto the Energia and launch into space . . . to broadcast a reality show: Channel Zilch. This guy, Manuel Chin, tells him about how he's got a ticket to use the Energia rocket because the Russian guy who's in  possession is a huge 60s rock and roll fan and Chin pays with old Turtles, Herman's Hermit's and Monkees albums and the chopper Peter Fonda rode in Easy Rider.

Crazy, Mick says. But the more he hears, the less crazy it sounds. And then there's the gorgeous, but totally geeky daughter who is completely screwed up emotionally that knows just how to push all of Mick's buttons.
She shoots me a narrow-eyed, nostril-flared gaze that curls my toes, with a tight little smirk like I'd asked her the color of her panties. I see her fingers twitch and the light grid on her belly comes to life--flipping between




Pop Chin emits a guffaw. "Do not let my daughter pull your chain. Heloise has an unfortunate propensity to toy with men's psyches. What do you call this charming avocation, my dear?"

Heloise looks at me mock-sweetly and bats her lashes.

And here's some of Sharp's delicious sarcasm as delivered by Mick.
Right. Mustn't let the other Maritime Byproduct Moguls steal your killer business plan to branch out into media by launching a space shuttle. I ask, "What sort of aggressive security steps are you talking about? Just because I'm an astronaut doesn't mean I'm part ninja. Nunchuks are hilarious in microgravity."
He signs on and the adventure begins. They actually steal the shuttle, right under Mick's old nemesis' nose and manage (mostly) to hide the huge bulk that is the Enterprise from satellites and Navy Seals all the way to Kazakhstan. Just when I thought it couldn't get any more interesting, Chin gets them safely away from their pursuers with the help of the Russian Mafiya. As you can imagine, getting in bed with the Mafiya leads to more unpleasantness.

Mick is yanked around on Heloise's chain, driven to distraction by the nutty star of Channel Zilch and working long hours with little sleep while always pursued and occasionally attacked by the NASA creep who got him canned. Non-stop action with non-stop sweet sarcasm.

Now you want to read it, right? Find it here.

Friday, September 20, 2013

This Week in Santa Rosa and Space

Tomorrow, Saturday 21st, is the Sonoma County Book Festival. I'm in charge of volunteers, so I'll be there all day, mostly at the info booth. In addition, I'll be reading a story that all the editors love, but none will publish. I've changed strategies and sent it to a literary journal this time, though it is speculative. Seriously, it makes people cry. They all love it. It just doesn't fit into their little boxes. You can hear seven minutes of it tomorrow at 12:30 at the Redwood Writers' Reading Circle in front of Bertolini Student Center near the Santa Rosa Junior College Quad. I'll be joined by fellow Broad Universe member Michelle Murrain and fellow Redwood Writer Robbi Bryant.


JP Aerospace has a mission that you can watch live on Sunday. Pillownauts! Pillows exploring space. Wackiest thing since ping pong balls in space. Did you know that JP Aerospace does more experiments than NASA? Yeah, I know, these days that isn't saying much. But they are in a constant state of motion. Keep an eye on them. Never heard of them? They're building airships for space exploration. No joke. I wrote about them in my article "Airships: Not Just Flying Billboards" over at Strange Horizons.  They are the real deal. Anyhow, here's the link for more information and where to watch live.

I don't think John Powell will mind me posting another picture to entice your interest.

And you can read about the essay contest for selecting the pillow parents here.


In other space news, the second, to-date, private space company supplied the International Space Station on Wednesday. Read more about Orbital Sciences Corp. and its Cygnus capsule here.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Cool stuff I'm doing and cool books I'm not reading

Well, I did finally find, or rather hubby did, the sequel to that not-so-fantastical The Last Policeman series. But, meanwhile, I'm struggling to find any reading time at all with my September events in full swing. If you're in the Santa Rosa, CA area on September 21st with a few hours to spare, I desperately need some room monitors for the Sonoma County Book Festival. And if you're going to the Kendall Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival on September 28th, I just might be taking your ticket.

I'm reading a pretty decent book by Doug Sharp, Channel Zilch, published by Panverse. Really want to throw my Pandigital e-reader across the room, though. It shouldn't take three to five swipes to finally get the page to turn. Very frustrating! And I actually requested a collection of shorts by a newbie that's self-published. Then, of course, there's Gardner Dozois' tome, The Year's Best Science Fiction. I'm feeling a little like Burgess Meredith's character in that classic Twilight Zone episode. Uninterupted reading time would be lovely. Then I might even get to writing as well.

Speaking of Gardner, if you're not FB friends with him, you're missing out. He writes hysterical little bits on the celebrations of the day. My favorite of the ones I've read is the "leave a zucchini on the doorstep and run" day. I just tried to find it, so I could quote from it, but couldn't. Anyway, very entertaining stuff.

I promised a piece to a friend for a domestic violence awareness thing and signed up to do an exquisite corpse and a voice part for a podnovel. I really need to learn my limitations. But there are so many delicious opportunities out there. If only they all paid. ;)

Want to join me for the Exquisite Corpse? It's in San Francisco on October 2. We write a play together and then see it performed by improv actors on the spot. How cool is that? Leave a comment here and I'll tell you more.

Now, since I mentioned it, I just have to slip it in here (and not for the first time).

If you're a Twilight Zone fan, you'll love my short fiction. They are very much like Twilight Zone episodes. Some of it's available online still. Check out the list on my website at

In SF News...
Apex magazine is losing its Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor as Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas (respectively) step down. Lynn, who took the reins from Catherynne M. Valente two years ago, told Locus that she needed a break and looked forward to taking up other projects after that.

So, how many Harry Potter fans out there have read her trilogy apparently written for charity entitled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? Any good? Well, if so, you'll be glad to hear J.K. Rowling will be writing screenplays for them for Warner Bros. Check out the article at

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Transmissions from Colony One - Worth a listen

As I'm never tired of saying (though my fans may be tired of hearing), I LOVE Minister of Chance. It's a fantastic "sonic movie". Well, I just got turned onto another radio play yesterday that's about the first Mars colony. I listened to the first nine episodes of Transmissions from Colony One yesterday and the finale is available now. You can hear it for yourself (all free) here.

The story follows the 16-member crew of the first manned ship to reach Mars. And it's a colony ship. Well, I had a few quibbles with how that all went down. I know it takes a while to get to Mars, but wouldn't we send a smaller crew there and back first? The whole crew seems to be twenty-somethings. They act like college kids, making jokes and talking about crushes. I don't know if they're meant to be 20-somethings, but the actors look fairly young and that's how they come off. There are eight of each gender, so I'm guessing they're planning on starting the colony with that gene pool. Hmmm. They do expect supply ships, but there is no mention of further manned ships coming.

The acting wasn't bad and the detail to the science was just the right amount in my opinion. I can't speak to how accurate the science is, but it kept it plausible and authentic for this layperson. The main thing that was missing for me was the tension. How long did it take to get there? And by episode nine, it's day 11 on Mars. Everyone, for the most part is still getting along and friendly.

OK, maybe, but here's the real kicker:  As they were landing, they lost contact with earth. It's day 11 and no one's freaking out. They are only just starting to notice weird stuff and are mostly ticked at the commander for hiding something from them. It's a pretty big deal to sign on for a one-way trip to Mars. Having communication with earth would seem to make it more bearable. Take that away, with no explanation for why it's gone and for how long? I'd be majorly freaking out. That's all I would be thinking or talking about.

Commander Sam Flynn has his suspensions which he is keeping to himself. He even lies about stuff to keep them from investigating on their own. He tries to keep his people focused on the mission, which is vital to their survival, but how many people can really compartmentalize such a huge thing like that and carry on as if nothing's amiss? In episode 10, Earth, he reveals his findings, after being called to account by his communications officer, Kaia Osen, in the previous episode.

I'm still interested in this series and intend to head over to to listen to the season finale. The sound effects and acting are well-executed. The banter and interpersonal relationships add a nice touch.

Space exploration fascinates me. However, whenever anyone asks if I'd say yes to going myself, I say, "Hell, no!" I can't handle living in the country, let alone, outer space. I'm too much of a people person and like my city life handy. Not to mention the ocean, the forests, the mountains and the lakes. Nope. Let someone else go. I'll be an armchair tourist from the comfort of my home in beautiful wine country.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What's speculative and what's just inevitable?

I finished a book a couple weeks ago that I received from Quirk. Every book I've read by them has been speculative. I've read a couple of their mash-ups and started a third (see post on July 18th re: William Shakespeare's Star Wars). The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters (I reviewed his mash-up, Android Karenina), aside from the fact that an asteroid is headed for the earth, is not speculative. The earth could one day be in the path of an asteroid that size. So, is that really speculative? Yes, and no. This is how Wikipedia defines speculative fiction:

Speculative fiction is an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres, specifically science fiction, fantasy, horror, weird fiction, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, and alternate history in literature as well as related static, motion, and virtual arts.[1]
The footnote goes to an explanation and brief history by Margaret Atwood. An asteroid that size colliding with the earth is not something that's happened in human history. None of us can really know how we would deal with the knowledge of the end of the earth if we haven't lived through it, so I guess, in that sense, it's speculative, dystopian even. And it's a great "what if".

Soft Apocalypse, which I read and reviewed a couple years ago had the same focus, although the apocalypse was slow and the world wouldn't be entirely wiped out. I did enjoy reading The Last Policeman. It was refreshing to read a book that only had one POV. So many authors cram anywhere from three to even twelve into one novel. I think Dan Simmons' The Terror (review here) must have had a dozen. It has advantages and disadvantages. Certainly, when you only have time to read a book in snatches, the single POV is more manageable and an easier read. The Terror, btw, is slated to be an AMC mini-series or TV movie (depending on who you ask) next year. 

I enjoyed the Detective Hank Palace's reactions and personality enough to read more in Countdown City: The Last Policeman II (as soon as I can figure out what I did with it). I have to say, though, they are more detective novels than speculative fiction, which is why I'm not reviewing either of them here. I reviewed Rob Sawyer's Red Planet Blues, which was also a detective novel, but that one was set on, well, Mars, and involved a lot of not-yet science, so it more than qualified.


For those of you who live in or near San Francisco, a local landmark tourist attraction, Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf, is shutting its doors after today. Better hurry! Too bad it isn't next Thursday. Then Kevin and I could visit during our honeymoon. Ah, well, that will leave more time for dancing!


Here's the Phoenix Picks free ebook for August. Coupon code, 9991670 is good through August 31.

Carolyn Ives Gilman’s Hugo and Nebula nominated novella, The Ice Owl.
Set in the same universe as Arkfall (although a totally independent
story), The Ice Owl tells a tale capturing that moment when we start to
lose our childhood…when we start to realize that our parents and the
“grown-ups” are just as flawed as we are…everyone struggling to deal with
their own demons.

With all the wedding plans, this little gem got buried. It's still available on demand, so I'm still posting it. Maybe we'll watch it next week - when we're not dancing. ;) It's got Russell Tovey, the werewolf from Being Human. The original, Brit series, not the rubbish Americanized version. He's great!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Europa Report - an intimate look at space exploration

Release Date: Aug 2, 2013
Director: Sebastián Cordero
Review by Emily Bettencourt

The exploration of new galaxies, trips to new planets, and the existence of alien life are all concepts that have a well-earned place on the shelf of science fiction classics. I was somewhat doubtful that Europa Report could deliver the space journey story in a new way.

The film, directed by Sebastián Cordero, is billed as a documentary-style science fiction thriller, which charts the journey of a privately funded spacecraft exploring the icy surface of Europa, Jupiter's moon. After a catastrophic technical failure and a loss of communication with Earth, the astronauts must complete their mission alone, and survive both the toll of deep-space travel and the discovery they make on Europa.

It's the documentary styling that makes Europa Report unique. It doesn't quite fit into the found-footage genre, but the film does rely heavily on a sense of realism provided by fixed onboard cameras—a rare move in a genre dominated largely by sweeping camera angles and grand storytelling. The onboard camera footage provides both a window into the daily lives of the crew members and a means for them to tell their own stories, in the form of recorded video logs.

This realism is also where much of the tension in the film has its origins. The cameras record every aspect of the crew's daily life, which gives viewers access to even the most tedious details of their routines—a trick which could be grating, if done poorly, but one which Europa Report handles remarkably well. The psychological and physical costs of deep-space travel are not so difficult to imagine when the viewer has such direct access to the astronauts' daily lives. 

Another of the film's strengths is its cast, comprised equally of familiar and unfamiliar faces, all of whom delivery a cohesive and powerful performance. Some more familiar names may include Michael Nyqvist (of Millennium Trilogy fame), Daniel Xu, and Christian Camargo, as well as Sharlto Copley, Karolina Wydra, and Anamaria Marinca. Although some characters have more screen time than others, the actors work well to deliver an impressively convincing portrayal of a group of people trapped in a tiny space, alternately cooperating and annoying each other.

The third area in which Europa Report excels is in the science and the attention to detail that went into it. The filmmakers worked with NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratories, SpaceX, and more in order to most accurately depict what a mission to Europa would look like—from the surface of the moon itself, to the spacecraft necessary to get there, to the life that they may or may not find on the surface. The structure of the spacecraft's design comes from NASA research and development archives, and the creature models were created with the help of leading astrobiologists. As a result, the world that Europa Report inhabits is full of rich detail, creating a plausible, mind-blowing experience.

However, I did have one major nitpick. The film's documentary style is framed by sets of interviews, with staff and scientists from the company that funded the Europa mission. However, the film itself seemed to be an attempt at an in-media-res telling, but with little logic and in no particular order. The sequences of events felt choppy and disjointed. Catastrophic events happened to characters that I had not yet become attached to. This may be a style that some viewers have no difficulty following, but I found myself confused in many places and, unfortunately, my confusion remained at film's end.

Europa Report certainly succeeds at being a unique approach to the space odyssey story, with its documentary-style film-making and the sparse, even bleak storytelling. Despite its (in my opinion) flawed chronology, it was still an interesting, at times heartbreaking, and often armrest-gripping flick that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys the space exploration genre.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Monsters! Robots! Monsters vs. robots!

Pacific Rim
Review by Lyda Morehouse 
Release date: July 12, 2013
Director: Guillermo Del Toro

On the drive to the theatre to see Pacific Rim, I told my friends, “You know what I want this movie to be?  Monsters! Robots! Monsters vs. Robots!”

One-hundred and thirty-one minutes later, I nodded sagely and pronounced gleefully, “There were monsters! There were robots!  They fought!”

What I loved about Pacific Rim is that Guillermo Del Toro didn’t even pretend that wasn’t exactly the sort of movie he set out to make.  Before we even see the movie title credits we’re thrown into a montage that explains everything we need to know: for reasons unknown (and who cares!?), alien monsters started rising out of a rift/wormhole in the Pacific and humanity bonded together to create giant robots to stop them from stomping Tokyo (and Sidney, San Francisco, etc.) to smithereens (never mind that our giant robots do at least as much damage, because: Monsters! Robots! Monsters vs. Robots!)

The story rather foolishly, in my opinion, follows our handsome, indistinguishable dude-hero, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) as he falls from grace as a jaegger, a monster/kaiju hunter (aka robot driver), when a mission goes horribly wrong.  Eventually, and as a surprise to no one but our hero, Raleigh is called back to action when the kaiju mysteriously power-up and he is needed.  Having lost his jaegger partner, he’s paired up with Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), a sexy badass with a mysterious past and a controlling father-figure.

For my money, Mako would have made a better main character.  I found her back story compelling and her moment of honor and revenge was by far the most emotionally satisfying and visually awesome (swords!) part of the movie.  My only other disappointment of the movie was that Mako didn’t get to beat her own apology out of the indistinguishable jackass rival-character.

There were side plots involving somewhat mad scientists and Ron Perlman being awesome in gold-plated shoes.

My only true caveat about Pacific Rim is that I think it appeals most to either serious or casual fans of the kaiju genre (which is all the Godzilla films as well as some others.)  I fall into the casual fan category, but, on the flipside, I’m a big shonen manga/anime fan. I will happily watch hours and hours of movies and TV shows that involve fight scene after fight scene where our clichéd hero powers-up and shouts things like “Thundercloud formation!”  (an actual moment in Pacific Rim, by the way, but not done by our hero.)  I’ve been told by people much more knowledgeable about such things than I, that there are not only a ton of homages to the original Godzilla films, but also moments that will feel gleefully familiar to fans of Mazinger Z, Mobile Suit Gundam and Zeta Gundam, Evangelion.

But, all that being said, I went along with one friend who was bored almost to tears by Pacific Rim, because it wasn’t her thing. The idea of “Monsters! Robots! Monsters and Robots!” was not enough for her.  She wanted decent dialogue, a bit of humor, characters to care about, and maybe, you know, a story.

Eh, whatever.  We agreed to disagree about Pacific Rim. Because: Swords! Acid spitting kaiju! Elbow rockets!  Wing-sprouting monsters!

And . . . did I mention?  There were monsters!  There were robots!  They fought!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Best laid plans and Trailer Time

I was going to post a review last week of a magazine. Then I was going to do it this week. I've had zero time to read. Which is funny, since I got laid off last Tuesday. They let me work out the rest of the week and so far this week I've been buried in wedding preparations (the big day is a month away) and helping with a benefit concert for a musician friend with cancer. It's been a crazy couple of weeks. We also lost another friend to cancer (one of my fiancé's groomsmen) and my fiancé and his brother reconciled while I was getting laid off. Then there's applying for unemployment, filing a claim with the labor board (still haven't been paid by the new owner for my last week), getting the brakes fixed on my car, etc. I'm really gonna need that honeymoon!

I have started reading William Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher. It would be a great idea for an activity at a sci-fi convention or meet-up. Do a table reading. It's much better done aloud. It would make a great Saturday Night Live skit, but I don't know if I'll still find it so amusing half-way through. I mean, we know what's gonna happen. The quirky fun will get old I'm afraid. But here's an excerpt for you.
C-3PO          ---Thou shalt not label me
              A mindless, brute philosopher! Nay, nay,
              Thou overladen glob of grease, thou imp,
              Thou rubbish bucket fit for scrap, thou blue
              And silver pile of bantha dung! Now, come,
              And get thee hence away lest someone sees.
R2-D2   Beep, meep, beep, squeak, beep, beep, beepm meep, beep, whee!
C3PO    What secret mission? And what plans? What dost
              Thou talk about? I'll surely not get in! 
                                                                     [Sound of blast.
              I warrant I'll regret this. So say I!
                                                      [Exit C-3PO into escape pod.

So, here I am being lazy again. I hope you don't mind.

The Colony. Hmmm. Looks like another zombie movie. Yum. Yum. This one comes out in September. Why do they bury this information, so you have to dig for it? Just sayin'.

Gravity. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. I'm fans of both. :)

We have to wait six months for this one, but it looks great.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Shakespeare's Star Wars and may the Fourth be with you!

Happy Fourth of July! Declare your independence from the mundane today! 

I can't wait to dig into this lovely little book. Mind you, I'm reading two books and a magazine at the moment. Pretty neat trailer, eh?

In Minister of Chance news, the prologue and all five episodes of this fabulous sonic movie are available for download at iTunes for free. Meanwhile, their Kickstarter campaign needs your help as they bring the story to the screen as a feature movie. Visit to download the sonic movie and help them get the feature film going. This is a spin-off of sorts from the Dr. Who series and stars Julian Wadham, Lauren Crace, Jenny Agutter (Logan's Run anyone?), Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann. The sound and acting is top-notch. I've reviewed more than one episode here on Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys. Put Minister of Chance in the google search box on the right to find them.

The magazine I'm reading is the second volume of Galaxy's Edge. So far, I'm liking it better than the first. Some of the stories are riveting. The full review will follow next week. Meantime, my review of issue one is available here and volume three was just released on the first. Get it at Phoenix Pick's site, where you can also download a free novel. This month's Phoenix Pick's free book is Rogue Queen by L. Sprague de Camp. The description calls it a ground-breaking science fiction novel that was the first to explore sexual themes. Really? I find that hard to believe. Anyway, you can read it for free, so nothing lost. See what you think. The code to enter at Phoenix Pick is  9991539 and is good through July 2013.

May the Fourth be with you!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Shadowed Sun - Narcomancy Gone Bad?

The Shadowed Sun
Book 2 of The Dreamblood
N K Jemisin
Orbit 2012

Review by Clare Deming

In The Shadowed Sun, we are returned to the world of The Dreamblood, in which priests of the Hetawa practice the goddess Hananja's dream magic. This time, the city-state of Gujaareh is under Kisuati control, occupied and overseen by the opposing city-state after its former Prince's failed attempt at war. Since the primary tenet of Hananja's Law is peace, the people of Gujaareh have submitted to foreign rule with only silent outrage.

Not all the land is calm, however, and the desert barbarian tribes are becoming more daring in their raids, stealing trade goods from Gujaareh. When Apprentice Hanani heals a soldier injured in one of these attacks, she weaves his torn body back together using the various humors collected from dreams in an attempt to pass her Sharer-trial. Her healing efforts are successful, but in the aftermath, a terrible discovery is made. One of the acolytes who served her, along with the tithebearer providing the humors, has died horribly. No cause can be immediately ascertained, so Hanani is indirectly blamed and is forbidden from practicing any further narcomancy.

Wanahomen, son to the ousted Prince, and heir to the Sunset Lineage of Gujaareh has made a place for himself among those barbarian tribes, rising to a position of influence among the Banbarra. With his father's former general at his side, he struggles to convince the desert people to help him oust the Kisuati and regain his city.

The deaths laid at Hanani's feet were not the last, and a plague of dream-driven fatalities spreads through the city. Anyone who tries to investigate the nightmare of those afflicted also becomes trapped by it. As unrest and violence churn within Gujaareh, Hanani is cleared of fault in the mysterious deaths. Despite this, her skills are still in question by some among the Hetawa because she is the first woman ever admitted into training as a Sharer. A new trial is set, and Hanani and her mentor, Mhi-inh, are offered up to the Banbarra tribe by Gatherer Nijiri, a prominent character from the first book, The Killing Moon.

This is a more complicated and longer volume than the first novel, and I liked it better for those reasons. The dream magic used by the Hetawa is an intriguing concept, and I felt more familiar with its practice in this book. I suppose this second installment could be read without having first read The Killing Moon, but I think it would be a more enjoyable read in the intended order. I don't know what the author has planned for her future work, but I would be eager to read more stories set in the Dreamblood world.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Killing Moon delivers something refreshingly different

The Killing Moon
Book 1 of The Dreamblood
N.K. Jemisin
Orbit 2012

Review by Clare Deming

The Killing Moon begins another unique fantasy tale by one of my new favorite authors, N. K. Jemisin. Like her earlier work (The Inheritance Trilogy), The Killing Moon is set in a world alien to much of the fantasy genre that often clones a medievalesque society and a quest-driven plot. The cultures that Jemisin paints in The Dreamblood are unlike any others that I have experienced, and that is one of the reasons why The Killing Moon works so well.

In the city-state of Gujaareh, Hananja's law reigns over all aspects of life, organized through the central temple, the Hetawa. Hananja is the goddess of dreams, and peace is of utmost importance among her followers, with corruption punishable by death. Ehiru, priest of the Hetawa, is many things. Foremost, he serves the goddess as a Gatherer by attending to the ill and elderly, ending their lives and guiding their souls into joyful dreams in Ina-Karekh. He gathers their dreamblood which is tithed to the Hetawa and used to bring peace to supplicants of Hananja. This same death also awaits those deemed corrupt, and outside of Gujaareh, Gatherers are heralded as gualoh - demons.

The narrative follows three characters - Ehiru, his apprentice Nijiri, and Sunandi, ambassador from the rival city-state of Kisua. When Ehiru completes a routine commission on a corrupt foreign merchant, the magic goes awry. The man's soul is ripped free and lost in nightmare. As Ehiru leaves, he glimpses another figure on the rooftops, but this other man radiates malevolence in the instant before he disappears from view.

Sunandi maneuvers the delicate political field in the aftermath of her mentor, Kinja's, suspicious death. Immediately after she discovers proof that Kinja was murdered, Ehiru and Nijiri ghost into her chambers. Sunandi has been judged corrupt by the Hetawa, and the Gatherers have arrived to bring her Hananja's eternal peace. But when the ambassador confronts her would-be killers, she is able to cast doubt upon the accusations. She believes that Gujaareh's Prince seeks an excuse for war, and the Gatherers desist because they cannot allow anyone to subvert the will of Hananja.

The story sprints between attempts to unravel the truth about the Prince, the Hetawa, and that evil figure spotted atop the city's homes. Rumors say that a Reaper has come to Gujaareh, an abomination of Hananja's dream magic, and a creature so powerful that its presence threatens all of the city's peace.

The Killing Moon is the first book in The Dreamblood duology, but it can be read as a stand-alone novel. All of the plot threads are tied up in the conclusion and you won't be left in the lurch if you don't have the second book on hand. I had minor difficulty orienting myself to the magic and how it worked. The way in which the Gatherers operated was spelled out clearly since they featured as two of the three main point-of-view characters. Other aspects of dream magic, although fascinating, were hard to intuit since they were not shown in action as much.

The Killing Moon was nominated for a 2012 Nebula Award.

Look for the review of the sequel, The Shadowed Sun on Thursday.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Galaxy's Edge, issue 1 - a mixed bag mag

I loved how Mike Resnick kicked this new magazine off with an entertaining and often humorous look at the history of science fiction magazines in his Editor's Word.  The opening story, however, was a bit of a disappointment. I'm a fan of Robert J. Sawyer's. I even interviewed him twice here on Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys. "The Shoulders of Giants" struck me as three talking heads conveying his cool premise. Nothing really happens. They go somewhere. They arrive. Things aren't what they expected. They decide to leave. That's the whole thing. I'm guessing that this was a trunk story (copyright 2000, by the way) that Rob trotted out to throw at a new magazine, not wanting to give up his best work on a new venture. Just goes to show, even the best writers produce some stinkers. Sorry, Rob.

In "Schrodinger's Cathouse", Kij Johnson (also interviewed herein) shows us a man who takes an unexpected trip down the rabbit hole while sitting at a stop light. Reality bends on him again and again, though a few things are constant. He tries to hang onto the things that don't change and is guided by a person of undetermined or perhaps changing gender. She attempts to help him, then seduce him - it is a cathouse after all - and just when he decides to go with the flow, he gets another curveball that is just too much. It's an amusing tale that speaks of our inability to venture far from our social norms. 

"Creator of the Cosmos Interview Today" by Nick DiChario is just plain weird. It's another fish out of water story with an interesting premise, but left me scratching my head a bit and not feeling very satisfied.

The nonfiction piece that follows, "From the Heart's Basement" by Barry Malzberg, is a rant about the "in" club of the specfic world and how we're not in it. It would be an interesting blog post, but I'm not sure why it's in the magazine. Too depress us and make us give up?

"Just a Second" by Lou J. Berger is the first story that really held my attention, even though it's predictable. A man asks for a potion, achieves success, but is never satisfied. In the end, he gets his comeuppance. The compelling prose and the colorful characterization pulled me in and didn't let go. I loved hating this guy!

The science in "Act of God" by Jack McDevitt is pretty hokey and it's a long tell. In fact, the whole thing is one side of a conversation. Reminded me of an Outer Limits episode about teleportation (from the reboot version of OL), but was all telling about it after the fact. It would have been stronger if I could see the action and get to know the players along the way.

I thoroughly enjoyed "Requiem for a Druid" by Alex Shvartsman. What I liked most was the protagonist's voice. He's an underdog and a fraud, but makes a decent living for a non-gifted by faking it with his bag of tricks. And the real estate developer, for once, isn't pure evil, but an astute, open-minded businessman who keeps the peace and still gets something for himself.

I didn't finish reading "The Bright Seas of Venus" which was not really what was advertised as the writer admits directly to his readers as he's telling us how much he hates us. This bit of reader thrashing was delivered by Stephen Leigh.

"The Spinach Can's Son" wisks us through the "underfunnies" where comic strip physics are skewed and nothing works quite right. This is a back drop for a married couple who are mourning - each in his/her own way - the loss of their son.  Robert T Jeschonek wrote this fun diversion.

A fabulous reprint from James Patrick Kelly will keep you thinking long after you've read it. Honestly, just reading this and Mike's Editor's Word makes all the other mediocre stories forgiveable and the magazine worth picking up. The reprint is "Think Like a Dinosaur" and involves teleportation, the balancing of the equation and the prospect of adopting alien thought to justify doing the unthinkable thing set before you. Can you kill a person to keep the universe in balance?

At the back of the mag, Horace E. Cocroft offers an essay entitled "Economics in SF" for the Something Different column.

Also included in each issue are book reviews and part of a serialized novel. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My Good News

It's small wonder that I haven't had many story sales for a while, since I haven't been doing much writing, let alone sending my baby birds out of the nest. (Too busy dancing!) However, I did manage to get a flash piece written - three times. Yes, the same one. Every Day Fiction asked for a rewrite of it twice. This poor story has so much going on that as soon as I fixed one part another would unravel. And I had to satisfy several judges, who didn't always even agree with each other, not just one. In the end, the story isn't the powerful one I started with, but I think it's still very good. They obviously did too to spend their time rereading it twice.

Well, I invite you to read "The Curse of Having Been a Man", give me a star rating and leave a comment. Trust me. Even if you don't love it, it will get you thinking. And it's part of my elephant mania.

I also had some royalties roll in in spite of my dry year or two. I love it when I get royalties, even if they're meager. Makes me wonder why I should be subbing to mags instead of anthologies. Those two Dark Quest Books anthos are performing nicely. Oh, what are they, you say? Defending the Future IV: No Man's Land edited by Mike McPhail and Beauty Has Her Way edited by Jennifer Brozek.

I have been writing, just not a lot of fiction. I did toy with starting a magazine briefly, been then realized that, yes, that's just crazy talk. My would-be partner is still moving forward with the project. I wish him well, but am glad I'm not saddled with a venture right now. I have enough on my plate right now with my adventure. I'm getting married in August. It's mind-boggling how many details go into planning a wedding.

I mean, the invitations alone! We got the DIY kit to print them at home and then the printer decided to print everything inexplicably in red, unless it was on 8.5 x 11 20# paper. After taking two of the pieces of the invitation to the local digital copy store, we discover that the problem was just a bad cartridge. :(

But I was talking about writing. I've been doing a lot more writing at the day job, mostly promotional stuff: fliers, weekly marketing emails for both locations, social networking, press releases, etc. I want to get more Web content work. I'd like to save the world by fixing one crappy website at a time. I even wrote an email to corporate today letting them know that all their social networking canned posts they sent out to the franchises are grammatically incorrect. They don't get the whole capitalizing dad and mom thing. And it's almost Father's Day, so there were many mistakes. The guy in charge came back quoting the grammar rules that I had already sited. Apparently, he didn't know they weren't following his rules. But at least he got back to me. I'm used to my comments falling on deaf ears. People send stuff out to non-English speaking content mills and don't notice the gibberish that they've paid for. Don't get me started!

On the other hand, do let me know if you can convince your boss to hire me for Web content instead of the penny per paragraph outfit overseas.

Would you believe I wrote a song? Words and music, without the benefit of a musical instrument. Surprised the heck out of me! A love song, of course. My musician fiancé proposed to me with a song, and has written another one for me since. I wanted to return the favor. What's funny is that I swore I'd never date a musician. I had even written a humorous list of reasons why, and posted it on FB as a private note. See, I write! 

I have a review of Galaxy's Edge magazine almost ready to roll. You'll see that on Thursday. I just had to toot my horn a bit first. ;) 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

BayCon, trailers and a free e-book

BayCon was last weekend in Santa Clara (read San Jose), CA. It had some competition this year in the form of two more local conventions of a similar nature, which definitely had an impact on attendance. I've never seen the dealers room so small, either.

The panels, though long (90 mins. a piece!), were great. I moderated two on Friday and sat on two more on Sunday. I brought my fiancé, Kevin, this year. He's by far a mundane, but this was his first convention. We went easy on him. ;) We both had loads of fun with my con friends old and new alike. The dance on Saturday night was uber lame, but I guess if you're 20-something and LIKE to jump up and down and flap your arms to techno, it was passable. I couldn't tell you as I couldn't stand hangin' in for more than two songs. I gave the masquerade a miss as well, opting instead to go off the reservation for dinner with buddies Bob Brown, Irene Radford, Jeff Lemkin, Dan Pietrasik (Yes, he won my flash contest, and no, it wasn't fixed. I wasn't the judge, remember?) and newbie writer Arley, who is astoundingly prolific and charming. Then we hung out in the lobby bar with Dani Kollin and a flock of new friends.

The parties, probably because of the aforementioned low attendance were also lame. We just cruised the party floor Friday and Saturday keeping our ears open for good conversation but finding none, alas.

I did meet Shahid of Phoenix Picks in the dealers room. Now he's not just some dude. Very nice man. I enjoyed chatting with him. Which brings us to his June picks. He also gave me the first two issues of the new mag, Galaxy's Edge edited by Mike Resnick. Mike's history of science fiction magazines at the beginning of the first issue is very entertaining. I'll review the mag in the next couple of weeks here.

Phoenix Pick's free e-book for June is L. Neil Smith's The Crystal Empire.
Use coupon code 9991642, which will be good from June 2nd-June 30.

About the book:
Earth is ruled by three mighty empires: The Saracen-Jewish Empire led by
the Caliph of Rome, the Mughal-Arab Empire, ferocious in its determination
to destroy its neighbor, and the great Sino-Aztec's Crystal Empire, led by
a living God.

Little is known about the Crystal Empire, which spans most of western
America. But it is the most powerful force surviving on Earth and its
might is unchallenged.

One man, however, will change that. Sedrich Sedrichsohn, a legendary
fallen fighter, has a chance at redemption and nothing will stand in his
way to reclaim his life and his purpose, even if he must fight the Sun-God
 The last episode of the first season of The Minister of Chance is here! Let me entice you with the following trailer.

I'd love to give you a review of the new Star Trek movie, but I was at BayCon all weekend and still haven't seen it. And, besides, you probably have. Instead, here's a trailer for a Will Smith (and son, Jaden) SF flick coming out this Friday.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Judas Unchained provides non-stop geeky thrills

Judas Unchained
by Peter F. Hamilton
Del Ray 2006 (first published 2005 by Macmillan, London)

Review by Carl Cheney

In Judas Unchained, humans have colonized hundreds of planets; most of them part of the Intersolar Commonwealth. Transport and communications is instantaneous from planet to planet via wormholes; typically people travel by rail through the wormholes.

Humanity is under attack by the ruthless relentless Primes, aliens intolerant of any other life in the galaxy. Curious humans accidentally allowed the escape and expansion of the Primes by releasing the force field that had previously bottled them up in their own solar system for thousands of years. The genie escaped from this bottle shows no gratitude, instead intending genocide.

The story kicks off with a killing in a train station. It’s one of many great action sequences—this time there are dozens of security agents attempting to catch the killer in an immense train yard. Yet the assassin somehow escapes despite being surrounded.  As the investigation widens, it becomes evident, always by maddeningly indirect evidence, that a bogeyman most people don’t believe in, the Starflyer, is real.  Somehow the Starflyer has the power to twist people’s minds so that they act in the Starflyer’s interest betraying humanity; this is the Judas of the title.

The many points of view include: the leaders of the 15 dynasties (groups so rich they are based on their own private planets); working class folk; soldiers fighting the invasion of the Primes; gorgeous Melanie, a reporter determined to get the story no matter how many men she has to seduce; the terrorist group, the Guardians of Selfhood; and the investigators working long hours trying to crack the case. At every turn, politics interferes as the legendary chief investigator is discharged and attempts to find people and weapons are blocked for seemingly unrelated reasons.

One of the dynasties was founded by Nigel Sheldon and Ozzie Fernandez Isaac, inventors of the wormhole. Ozzie reminds me of a flashy version of Steve Wozniak, while Sheldon is the businessman of the pair with a flair for living large. Ozzie is a techno wizard with an adventurous streak that has him falling off the edge of a world in a seemingly infinite waterfall, and sailing his raft around in a zero-G gas cloud accompanied by an adolescent boy and an alien of a previously unknown species who speaks by modulating ultraviolet light through his eyes.

This novel is positively stuffed with wonderful ideas, including body modifications such as tattoos. Not merely decorative, the tattoos empower vital functions like sensors, weapons, and even private communications that cannot be intercepted. Most people install retinal inserts granting visual superpowers like zoom or vision outside of normal light frequencies. Working with the retinal inserts, private butlers estimate the sizes of large objects, the closing rate of approaching floating islands, and overlay vision with handy diagrams and icons of electromagnetic radiation, friends and enemies.

People maintain backup stores of their memories for implantation in freshly grown clones if they die. Those who can afford it live forever by moving into a new clone every century or so. The new bodies can be customized. Ozzie: “That was one of my lives where I’d got myself a little bit of a boost where it matters most to a guy, you know. Not that I need much of a boost, but hey.”

If I ran a large diverse conglomerate, I’d retain Peter F. Hamilton to name my new products. Everywhere there are clever names for his numerous creations including a variety of ‘bots.  Soldiers patrolling are accompanied by a ring of stealthy sneakbots (my favorite). Treats and remedies are fetched by maidbots. Mowerbots and gardenerbots landscape. The Internet of the future is known as the Unisphere.

People employ personal butlers in their brains to manage communications, look up useful data and display video feeds on their internal vision. Whatever gadget you need to manage (e.g. spacesuit, hyperglider, armored combat suit, taxi) interfaces wirelessly and seamlessly with your personal butler as you press controls on your virtual desktop with your customized virtual hand.

The Naval armor suits deserve special mention. Within 10 seconds, five armored soldiers within a smart gel ball are blasted through a rapidly moving wormhole into hostile territory. Meanwhile chaff, drones and communications jamming are besetting the enemy to cover their arrival. The smart balls match the coloring and temperature of their surroundings to cloak the soldiers within. Hiding from the enemy, the balls can also power down to virtually no activity to avoid detection. The ball and suit’s passive sensors scoop up so much information that the soldier’s virtual vision begins to resemble a stained glass window of icons overlaying their field of view. When it’s time to move on, they can haul ass by rolling up to 80 kilometers per hour over wild terrain under their own power while protecting the warrior inside from bumps and keeping her perfectly level. When ready, the soldiers emerge in armored suits ready to dispense serious firepower. I really enjoyed the armor suits in Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (1959). Then John Scalzi one-upped Heinlein in Old Man’s War (2005). In 2005, I think Hamilton bests them both in this arms race of imagination, equipping a small band behind enemy lines with an amazing package of goodies combining serious lethality with stealth.

Judas Unchained is a fantastic kick in the pants. This is my first Peter F. Hamilton book, but it won’t be my last! I was constantly barraged with delightful ideas, distinctive, well-drawn characters, wonderful action sequences, hot sex and mysteries that yield to investigation only by stubbornly revealing further mysteries.

Read Ann Wilkes' interview with Peter F. Hamilton here at SFOO.
Read her review of The Temporal Void and The Evolutionary Void at Mostly Fiction.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sci-fi Conventions, Dark Fantasy and Quirky Books

Ahhh. San Diego.  I just reluctantly turned down the invite from Conjecture, a regional sci-fi convention in San Diego, and now here's salt in the wound.

UC San Diego has just opened their Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, "an interdisciplinary center where researchers in the arts, sciences, medicine and technology will come together to unlock the mysteries of imagination." Read all about the center and the Starship Century Symposium on the 21st and 22nd of this month to commemorate its opening.

I am, however heading to a regional sci-fi convention closer to home. Look for me at BayCon 31 in Santa Clara May 24-26. This year's theme is Triskaidekaphobicon. Fear of the Number 13 Con, basically. It's the 31st BayCon held in 2013 in a hotel with a 13th floor. More importantly, this year's con will explore the darker side of science fiction and fantasy. My latest story credit should fit right in. I sold a flash to Every Day Fiction that's terribly - or deliciously - dark. One of the editors said,
"So, where is the moral?" Well, I guess if there's a lesson, it's "Sometimes discovering the truth just makes it worse." "The Curse of Having Been a Man" will most likely appear in June or July. This is my fourth sale to EDF.

Want to read an appetizer-sized dark fiction piece now? Read "Raining Good Intentions" right here by yours truly, Ann Wilkes. You can always hit the Flash Fiction tab on this blog to read some more little nibblets.

In honor of Zombie Awareness Month, I'm reading The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters. I love Quirk Books! I reviewed another of Winters' Quirk books, Android Karenina, at Mostly Fiction. I also just requested William Shakespeare's Star Wars from Quirk.

Finally, here's a sneak peek at I, Frankenstein, which hits theaters in January.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sharing Goodies from My Inbox

The finale of the first season of The Minister of Chance, my favorite audiphonic sci-fi series, will be available for public consumption in a week.

For now, here's a message from Clare Eden which includes cast and crew profiles and interview snippets with Julian Wadham and The Hobbit's Jed Brophy.


I have to admit I had to agree with the angle posed to me in this review request - where's the sci-fi with black female protags? Indeed! The digital series, Jayde, looks promising, though not as sci-fi for my tastes - unless they're leaving the more sci-fi bits out of the trailer. The About page speaks more to a tale of a woman with supernatural visions who uses them to help others. Can you say Medium? But they do hint at her discovering answers to her past, though it's not clear whether that will be more sci-fi or just more supernatural. But give the trailer a look and decide if it's worth throwing some money at to see more. 


Here's a sci-fi entertainment podcast from Down Under.
Hosted by Sophie Lapin and Topher Willis, Go Pop provides a unique take on the latest sci-fi and pop culture topics that the SF audience and broader sci-fi fans are talking about. The show will go live every Friday afternoon. SF has commissioned ten shows.

“Go Pop is an evolution of the content available on the SF website and social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram,” said Peter Hudson, CEO of SF.

“Go Pop will promote discussion, interaction and connection for our SF audience online as Sophie and Topher present a fresh take on science fiction and the latest television, film, gaming and comics”, said Mr Hudson.

Go Pop can be viewed at [if you're in Australia] and [if you're not].
Or right here...


Phoenix Picks is featuring a Nancy Kress book this month! I might just have to get that one myself! Nancy Kress’ AI Unbound: Two Stories of Artificial Intelligence can be had for the coupon code
9991976 through May 31st. Pop the code into Phoenix Picks' online catalog.

“Nancy Kress is the author of twenty-two novels and numerous short
stories. She is perhaps best known for the Sleepless trilogy that began
with Beggars in Spain. Her fiction has won four Nebulas, two Hugos, a
Sturgeon, and the 2003 John W. Campbell Award (for Probability Space)."

The second issue of Galaxy's Edge is out and includes Gregory Benford as a new regular columnist!


Finally, who's the bigger sell-out? Zachary and Leonard for jumping in bed with Audi or me for posting it? But it IS amusing.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Red Planet Blues Rocks!

Red Planet Blues:
Murder on the Mean Streets of Mars
Robert J. Sawyer
ACE April, 2013

Review by Ann Wilkes

This is the best book I've read for months! Maybe years! What's not to love? You have the Frontier (Mars), the Gold Rush (only it's a fossil rush), a Chandler-like, witty detective, extreme conditions (no atmosphere outside the dome) and cyborgs! Did I mention the body doubles and mind swapping? This book has everything! I couldn't put it down.

The detective, Alex Lomax,  is even a fan of classic movies from the forties!  He's rough around the edges with questionable morals, kind of like Bogart in those movies of old, with the same soft spot for the women and the underdogs.

Diana was standing in her topless splendor next to the bar, loading up her tray. "Hey Diana," I said, when you get off tonight, how 'bout you and me go out and paint the town . . . " I trailed off: the town was already red; the whole damned planet was.

Diana's face lit up, but Buttrick raised a beefy hand. "Not so fast, lover boy. If you've got the money to take her out, you've got the money to settle your tab."

I slipped two golden hundred-solar coins on the countertop. "That should cover it." Buttrick's eyes went as round as the coins, and he scooped them up immediately, as if he were afraid they'd disappear--which, in this joint, they probably would.

The technology and the ways it is abused raise some very interesting questions, like where does our soul live? Do we have one and does it survive our body and live on in a download of our brain? What rights does an unauthorized cyborg have? Will a duplicate be able to think any differently than the original? Does immortality get boring? What upgrades would I get? I love books that make me think, and Robert Sawyer certainly churns out a lot of them.

This is the first book I've read by this author in which the mystery is the heart of the tale and he has mastered that genre neatly, while never straying from science fiction. The mystery involved so many reversals and plot twists which I totally didn't see coming that it kept me guessing throughout.

Read two interviews, one in 2009 and one in 2011 with Rob by yours truly, right here on Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys.  The 2011 interview includes a review of www.Wonder.