Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Sunday Review

Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

This is yet another book I jumped into without reading anything more than "it's good!" from a bunch of people. Seriously, this is very unlike me, and I have expected to be disappointed, but mostly I've been extremely impressed by the quality of the works.

First up: the completely non-spoiler review. The story is set in a small valley threatened by an evil Wood, and it starts out with the most perfect opening:
Our Dragon doesn't eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.
If that doesn't draw you in, nothing will. The plot from there seems a bit obvious, until it isn't any more. The main character's name is Agnieszka, pronounced ag-NYESH-kah, as pointed out in the acknowledgments in the back of the book. I would have liked to have read that bit at the beginning... but that may be the biggest flaw I found in the whole thing.

Ok, Spoilers ahead (use rot13 to read). Gur angher bs gur Jbbq vf gbyq ragveryl, ohg va gubfr synfuonpxf-bs-Gehgu gung V jbhyq svaq vaperqvoyl qvfgheovat gb qrny jvgu, crefbanyyl. V jbaqrerq rneyl ba jul gur Qentba qvqa'g vafvfg ba qbvat gur Fhzzbavat ba gur dhrra, rkprcg sbe gur snpg gung ur jnf gbgnyyl rkunhfgrq naq arneyl qrnq. Lrnu, vg jnfa'g rknpgyl n zlfgrel ubj gung fgrc va gur chetvat tbg zvffrq, ohg vg jnf fbzrguvat gung jbhyq unir ceriragrq nyy gur erfg... juvpu vf, bs pbhefr, jul vg qvqa'g unccra.

V unir unq n erpheevat qernz va juvpu n zntvpvna gnxrf n jbzna/tvey (nyjnlf cynlrq ol zr va gur qernz, ohg arire npghnyyl zr) naq gryrcbegf ure gb n pnfgyr jvgu n zneoyr sybbe, yrnivat ure va gur unyy ba ure unaqf naq xarrf fvpx sebz gur cnffntr. V jnf fghaarq gb ernq cerggl zhpu gung rknpg fprar va gur bcravat cnentencu. V nqzvg gung znqr zr rira zber phevbhf guna V zvtug unir nyernql orra nobhg gur obbx, naq cerggl zhpu przragrq vg nf "zvar" va zl zvaq.

Znerx vf obgu cngurgvp naq njrfbzr, ohg zbfgyl cngurgvp. V ybir gur fprar jurer Ntavrfmxn orngf uvz hc. Dhvgr fngvfslvat. V nyfb rawblrq gur snpg gung fur svanyyl ernyvmrf jung fur vf qhevat gung fprar.

Gur bcravat puncgre nyfb gryyf lbh n ybg gung vf yngre hapbirerq... yvxr jul gur tveyf yrnir gur inyyrl. Va fubeg, gurl ybfr gurve qrrc pbaarpgvba gb gur cynpr naq ernyvmr whfg ubj greevslvat naq qnatrebhf vg vf gb yvir gurer. Nal abezny crbcyr jbhyq or vapyvarq gb yrnir gur inyyrl jura zbafgref uhag gurz, cbyyra snyyf ba gurve svryqf naq cbvfbaf gurz naq na ragver ivyyntr vf fjnyybjrq hc va yvivat zrzbel ol gur rivy bs gur Jbbq. Lrnu, abezny crbcyr... ohg cneg bs orvat hcebbgrq ol gur Qentba vagb uvf pnfgyr vf n fybj ybff bs pbaarpgvba gb gur ynaq. V sbhaq vg obgu gentvp naq jbaqreshy jura V svanyyl haqrefgbbq.

Gur jbeyqohvyqvat vf vagrerfgvat. Gur jvgpurf naq jvmneqf nccneragyl unir irel ybat yvirf anghenyyl, nf gur bar punenpgre jnf qvfpbirerq orpnhfr ur'q fcrag 40 lrnef vyyhzvangvat znahfpevcgf naq unqa'g ntrq. Gurer ner nyfb aba-uhzna enprf ba gur jbeyq, nf jr riraghnyyl frr gunaxf gb gur gevcf vagb gur jbbqf. Abg whfg zbafgref, ohg bgure glcrf bs perngherf. Gur guvat gung vagrerfgf zr zbfg, naq znxrf gur raqvat fngvfslvat qrfcvgr n lrneavat gb yrnea zber, vf ubj Ntavrfmxn jvyy yvxryl fhpprrq va ure svany dhrfg orpnhfr bs ure ybat yvsr. Senaxyl, sebz fgneg gb svavfu V ernyyl rawblrq guvf obbx.

In conclusion, if you enjoy fantasy at all, this is a great book to check out. It drew me in quite unexpectedly and held my interest as well as any book I've read in the past year. I loved the main character and found the plot to have just enough small twists to keep me turning pages. I very much enjoyed it.

Short story reviews:
  • "Blue Ribbon" by Marissa Lingen is about 4-H in space. I don't know how much more I can say without giving far too much away, but this is really a great little story about children dealing with extreme adversity that is definitely worth a read if you can get a copy.

  • "Madeleine" by Amal El-Mohtar is about a woman who accepts an experimental drug to help her handle severe grief. It starts out seeming normal enough, but veers off into the strange and different... and then into the hopeful. I enjoyed it a lot. I'm not sure how long it will stay with me, but it's a good tale.

  • "The Extraordinary Extraterrestrial Togo Mouse from Ghana" by Ryan W. Norris is a very silly story about an "alien" creature discovered living deep in Ghana. The first part of the story is basically a conversation between a reporter and a biologist about the possible origins of the creature. It gets silly when the tale goes into a flashback that describes just how the aliens arrived in Ghana and why they are running loose there. Not something I would consider particularly Hugo-Worthy, but a fun story nonetheless.

  • "Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys: The Elephant's Tale" by Damien Angelica Walters is not a science fiction or fantasy tale, to the best of my reading ability. It's an extended metaphor with some aspect of fantasy, but I wouldn't call it flat-out fantasy. It won't be on my list.

  • "God Mode" by Daniel H. Wilson is about the memories of a man meeting his lover, while the stars are disappearing in the sky. It's a touching and bittersweet story, but I'm not knocked out by it.

Novelette reviews:
  • "Karma Among the Cloud Kings" by Brian Trent is about what happens when different human cultures and beliefs end up having differing goals and priorities. In this particular case, I can't see a good result happening for the humans, because they rely on what's outside to survive. I sympathize with them, of course, but at the end I'm worried for them. As for storytelling, this was nicely done, including a clever flashback method. Fascinating story that sticks with me.

  • "Entanglements" by David Gerrold is about alternate universes, although it takes its dear sweet time getting to the point. Still, I suppose the set up is important to the notion of looking at the works of alternate "you" in a cell-phone-like device. I think the trick with this one is the final paragraph that at first doesn't seem to be part of the story itself. Ha. I get it. There's a lot going on here, but your mileage will vary. I liked it, but I'm not really sure if it'll stick with me.

New television review:
  • Doctor Who: "The Magician's Apprentice" - Well. Wow. Ok, this one requires spoilers all the way through (use rot13 to read). Vg'f byq ubzr jrrx ng Qbpgbe Jub, jvgu HAVG, Zvffl, gur Fvfgreubbq bs Xnea, naq Qnyrxf. Naq na harkcrpgrq nccrnenapr ol n irel lbhat Qniebf. Ubyl synzvat pbjf. Gur unaqf jrer rkgerzryl perrcl, rfcrpvnyyl ubj dhvpxyl gurl znqr gur thl inavfu. Jul qvq Pynen srry vg arprffnel gb qenj n pvepyr ba ure jvaqbj? Gung jnf... bqq. Univat n fvfgre bs Xnea gnyx nobhg Qniebf orvat byq vf n ovg ulcbpevgvpny, vfa'g vg? V jnf nyzbfg jvyyvat gb oryvrir gung Zvffl qvrq, ohg V jnfa'g jvyyvat gb oryvrir Pynen qvrq, abg rira jvgu gur fcbvyref bhg gung fur'f yrnivat gur frevrf. Naq V'z pregnvayl abg jvyyvat gb oryvrir gur GNEQVF jnf qrfgeblrq, fb gung raqvat ybfg n ybg bs vgf vzcnpg sbe zr. V thrff V'z n plavpny byq sna. Birenyy, V gubhtug vg jnf n qrprag rcvfbqr, ohg vg ernyyl sryg yvxr vg jnf ernpuvat gb chyy bhg nyy gur fgbcf - naq V'z abg fher jul. Episode 1 of the ninth series, originally aired Sep 19, 2015.

Older television reviews (these are only the ones that I thought might be good enough to give an award to):
  • Gotham: "Red Hood": A pivotal episode in some ways, this one had two points to it that lifted it above the average episode of Gotham, a show that's been very uneven. The first is Fish Mooney removing her own eye to prevent it being used as a spare part for somebody else. It's gross and powerful, but develops the character more than just about any other point in the show. The second point is Alfred's past coming back to haunt him. The bits of his old war buddy talking about the old days was good stuff. The inclusion of the red hood in a storyline is cute, but not necessarily compelling to anyone who doesn't know Batman history, so I don't have much to say about it. Episode 17 of the first season, originally aired Feb 23, 2015.

  • Gotham: "Everyone Has A Cobblepot": This one is only good due to the level of corruption it reveals in the Gotham police. The underlying theme of the show is that every single police officer is corrupt, which is a neat trick, really. So this episode shows how that's accomplished, while giving Gordon a chance to use the corruption in the system to his advantage. Is it enough to nominate it for a Hugo? Probably not, but it is an interesting episode with a strange stand-alone concept. Episode 18 of the first season, originally aired March 1, 2015.

  • The Flash: "Out of Time": Probably the best episode so far in 2015 of a fantastic series, this one has Barry travel in time... but not until a whole bunch of dramatic and terrible things happen first. The shocker in this episode is the death of Cisco, which had fans screaming and clutching their heads. The next episode looks at the consequences of the time travel, but in this episode the writers cut loose, which made it an incredible piece of television. Episode 15 of the first season, originally aired March 17, 2015.

  • The Flash: "Fast Enough": The season finale of The Flash did not disappoint, but I'd be afraid to nominate it because it might not make sense to a new viewer. There is more of that pesky time travel, and some incredible hints of the future to come. The cliffhanger is truly magnificent: a black hole developing that will destroy the earth? Very superheroey. Episode 23 of the first season, originally aired May 19, 2015.

My Hugo Suggestions were likely recommended in the comment sections on File 770, Renay's Hugo Spreadsheet of Doom, or the Hugo 2016 Wikia. For my current list of Hugo 2016 readings, check out my Hugo 2016 Posts page.

Fortean Times #329
Fortean Times #329 (July 2015). A bit of a strange and dark cover, with a werewolf and a soldier. Not my favorite. The cover story is about the Morbach Monster, a werewolf supposedly encountered by American troops stationed in rural Germany near the end of the Cold War. The writer actually visited the place the creature was spotted and learned more about traditional tales in the area, and what's become of the legend started by bored servicemen guarding an ammo dump in the middle of nowhere.

The next story is about Linda S. Godfrey, who kind of stumbled into the role of chronicling werewolf sightings while working at a small newspaper. After writing about the fact that the county animal control officer actually had a file folder marked "werewolf" to put frequent sightings of such animals in, she started to get tips on other sightings and started a bit of a fever for werewolves in the town. It turned in to a career of sorts for Godfrey, who wrote books about the phenomenom.

The last main article is about Etienne Bottineau, who claimed he could tell if ships were coming from hundreds of miles away in 1782. He called the science nauscopie, and said it was the result of years of study and trial and error. The article dissects what we know of the man and his science.

Strangedays starts out with mysterious noises heard by many people, mal de debarquement syndrom (a neurological disorder triggered by travel), genetically stinky people, a sleeping sickness in Kazakhstan, another visit to Loch Ness, crows in Seattle who bring gifts to humans and snakes... it just had to have an article on snakes. The Conspirasphere talks about monological theories: in which everything fits into a single far-reaching conspiracy. Archaeology looks at evidence for more types of early humans, ancient runes, and children noticing things in plain sight that other people have missed.

Classical Corner covers the dangers of being a baby, particularly a royal baby, in the ancient world. Ghostwatch looks at a theory that some types of mold within old houses might cause people to see ghosts. Alien Zoo looks at an awesomely colored crayfish and tackles an internet "hoax" - a video posted in May that shows how simple it is to make a believable UFO video using CGI.

Speaking of UFOs, the UFO Files looks at yet more failures to prove the existence of alien bodies from a media event that turned out to be based on slides of a mummy from a museum. Blast from the Past looks at the history of chloroform in crime and stories about crime. Strange Statesmen has become a regular feature, this time looking at fairies, folklore and fascism in 20th century Irish politicians.

Fortean Traveller goes to Portland, Maine, and visits the International Cryptozoology Museum. Illustrated Police News recounts the tale of the Countess of Derwentwater, and the fact that no one knows who she really was... or even if she was who she claimed she was. Phenomenomix has part three of the biography of Dion Fortune.

The Forum has a review of a recent dramatization of the Enfield Poltergeist story from one of the people involved in the original event, who also talks about his character in the tv show. Another forum article is about the Queensland tiger what what it might actually be.

The Reviews start with a book about how Victorians tried to teach science with fairy tales, which sounds utterly zany but was one way people tried to deal with the changing times. Most of the books reviewed didn't catch my interest, but there's a couple that might make my list if I keep rereading the reviews. The movie reviews were fun, as usual. The letters page has a response to the article about radio interference in FT327, talking about modern radio interference caused by cheap power supplies. There's also a page of simulacra: trees that look like faces. It happened to me has a letter from a person who suffered from amnesia and forgot who his was, in answer to a mythconception that claimed amnesiacs never forget who they are.