Monday, January 30, 2012

Firefly, directed by Joss Whedon

I took a break from reading for awhile to watch a TV series, something I haven't done in 10 years or so.  I prefer my fiction in words.  But I got a pretty strong  recommendation to watch Firefly, and have followed stories on it since it came out in 2002, so I went for it.  The link is to the Amazon Streaming Video page.  It's a mild (OK not so mild) stretch of "free", but it was free to me as I am a Prime subscriber (well worth it for prepaid 2-day shipping).  In reading about it and seeing the sequence of the releases, it was pretty amazing how badly Fox sabotaged it. 

Did I enjoy it?  Yes, watched all 14 episodes over 15 nights.  And I think it improved the experience to see it in its intended sequence.  But did it rock my world, like the devoted fans?  Not quite that much.  I think the Western aspect ends up being overplayed, to the point where the poor folk in the outer reaches are somehow making it as an aesthetic choice that is more than a fad.  Outland managed the ethos without the affected style.  And since I saw Gunsmoke and Bonanza growing up, the characters weren't showing me a lot that was new.  But the action is good, and most of the characters are appealing.  If you are an SF fan and have not seen it, it does not take long to get a sense of what it's about.  Not near the commitment of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Lost.  3 stars.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

To Kiss a Star, by Amy Sterling Casil

To Kiss a Star was nominated for a Nebula for best novelette in 2001.  I had a feeling I'd read it before, and was correct, though it has been awhile.  And it's a nice Lifetime Network kind of story, where a severely physically handicapped but mentally intact girl struggles with the idea of being implanted in a starship as a lone pilot.  It's solid on the emotional front and all, worth one read but probably not two.  I give it 3 stars for award nomination and good writing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Stealing Alabama, by Allen Steele

Stealing Alabama was a Hugo nominee for best novella in 2002.  It's an alternate history, and the exact background is somewhat hard to figure.  One discerns that the South basically won the civil war, pushing the North back to New England and claiming much of what is known now as America, including the informal name.  The protagonist of the story is a descendent of Robert E. Lee, named after him.  And the center of the action is the first starship, named the Alabama.

The story is solid and the alternate history is fun to puzzle out, it's a real change from many versions of the South surviving the Civil War that I have read.  The characters are a little stiff but the SF is pretty basic space opera, which appeals to me.  It's not going to rock your world, but it will fill a couple of hours and leave you entertained.  I give it 3 stars.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Louise's Ghost, by Kelly Link

Louise's Ghost (part of Link's Stranger Things Happen collection) won the Nebula for best novelette in 2001, and I think I understand why.  It's a really fine piece of writing for writers.  The protagonist and her best friend are both named Louise, and there is much weaving of their stories, with a bit of intentional confusion.  The magical elements are matter-of-factly handled yet central to the story--the ghost(s) are not mere adjuncts to character development, they are central to it.  I feel like I've learned something about writing by reading this piece.  The only holdback is that I normally don't want to work that hard to understand a speculative piece, and I think this story sort of needs to be studied.  I would highly recommend it if you like more introspective, writerly pieces.  As more of an adventure-science guy I can manage 3 stars for it.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Shoe and Marriage, by Kelly Link

Shoe and Marriage is part of Kelly Link's Stranger Things Happen collection, and was nominated for a World Fantasy Award in 2001.  In order to convey a large message, a short story has to be poetic, or cryptic, or both.  I would say that Shoe and Marriage is on the cryptic side.  The shoe is a metaphor for all things we care deeply about, mostly children.  Not to make you think it is sweet--it's mostly pretty dark.  I think her fans would find it worth reading, I myself will have to consider whether I did or not.  2 stars, in the end.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Redchapel, by Mike Resnick

Redchapel is a bit of historical speculative fiction featuring Theodore Rooseveldt as a character.  It got a Hugo nomination in 2001.  Resnick portrays Rooseveldt as a pretty overbearing character, but I rather think this is accurate.  I think he made this one available to present his own theory on who Jack the Ripper was.  Since it is a mystery story I won't give it away, but I do find the speculation pretty interesting.  All told with Resnick's superb professional touch. 

This story also features Resnick's strong attachment to the troubled places of the world.  London's Whitechapel slum is every bit as awful as the heart of Africa, and Resnick evokes a similar sense of hope and resignation in the setting.  3 stars from me.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Radiant Green Star, by Lucius Shepard

I have spent a couple of good days reading Radiant Green Star, which got both a Hugo and Nebula nomination in 2001.  It's a great pleasure to read a story so well-constructed, with just enough twist in it to make it interesting and not confusing.  The story is set as a struggle among wealthy and powerful people, but in the modest circumstance of a traveling circus, and Shepard spends a lot of time in the inner life of our protagonist, a half-American Vietnamese boy named Phillip.

I feel a need to be mildly critical as this seems to me to be a good story that could have been really good.  It's just a bit long for what it accomplishes--might have been filled out further for a novel, or cut to a novelette.  His most striking side character is The Major, the last American POW, who has had horrible genetic experiments carried out on him that have granted long life and weird disfigurement.  And while he is carefully woven into the story and has important moments, in the end I couldn't figure out his true place.  The speculative part is a backdrop to the emotions and circumstances of the protagonist, which can make for a good tale and in this case does.  I give it 3 stars, and you would not be sorry if you spent some time reading it too.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Elephants of Neptune, by Mike Resnick

I like most all of what Mike Resnick writes, since he does it so thoroughly professionally.  The Elephants on Neptune is no exception.  It is well researched and executed, and I learned something.  But while I liked it enough to give it 3 stars, I concede to be somewhat confused as to his point.  Elephants are nicer than people?  Surely not so prosaic.  As he says, Neptune is a confusing place.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Fortitude, by Andy Duncan

The premise of Fortitude is pretty simple--George Patton gets a reboot on his life, and we see him try to change his future.  But the story is of course much more, and is told with a great deal of depth so it's no wonder it was a Nebula nominee in 2000.  The style in which it is told reminds me very much of Connie Willis' time travel to WWII stories and novels (All Clear, for example), except that this one is focused very much on fighting and Willis is mostly about the backstory.  I have a nagging feeling I've read it before, but can find no evidence of it.  So I hung in with it, and can say I enjoyed it enough for 3 stars.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Dead Boy at Your Window, by Bruce Holland Rogers

The Dead Boy at Your Window is, according to its author, an exercise in writing a fairy tale.  That exercise turned out pretty well, garnering a Nebula nomination for best short story in 1999.  It's a very brief tale, and like most fairy tales it does not summarize well without paraphrasing its point.  And you don't want to do that with a fairy tale, because a good one does that much better in the original words.  The story is about life, and death, and the connections between--which covers a pretty large chunk of all speculative fiction anyway.  What I can say is I liked reading it, and as an exercise it worked.  I give it 3 stars, have fun.