Mini Review: Parasite, by Mira Grant

Grant_Parasite-HCJust for the record, no one could possibly convince me to read a futuristic horror novel about the tapeworm zombie apocalypse except for the Mira Grant, author of the Newsflesh Trilogy.  NO ONE.  Second of all, this book ends on a major cliffhanger.  I just…I can’t take the stress.  Now I have to wait MONTHS to find out if we are all going to die because of tapeworm zombies!  Aaaargh!

In case the caps lock wasn’t enough to tip you off, I loved Parasite and it scared the bejeebers out of me.  Here’s the basic plot:  In the year 2027, a company named SymboGen has virtually eliminated all diseases and allergies by means of a simple treatment.  People who become hosts for the bioengineered “Intestinal Bodyguard” live medically charmed lives.  But the parasites begin to take over their hosts, causing them to behave in a zombie-like state.

This book was exciting and horrifying and thought-provoking.  I cared about Sally, the protagonist, even when I was annoyed by her.  By setting the story in the very near future, and by never forgetting the mundane, Mira Grant makes the danger feel like an immediate threat.  I admired the fact that her characters have to do things like eat and sleep and deal with Bay Area traffic.  The book was firmly grounded and that increased the level of dread.  The level of science seems good overall.  Mira Grant did a ton of research to write the book, and it shows.  And I deeply appreciated a general absence of gore.  Grant seems aware that we, the readers, are grossed out by the mere concept of the story, so she doesn’t have to gross us out more with gore or with explicit tapeworm disgusting-ness.  When there is gore, it’s effective, because of the overall level of restraint.

You can find my full-length review at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Mini Review: Charming, by Elliott James

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Charming is – well.  It’s charming – sexy, funny, and engaging.  This urban fantasy introduces us to John Charming, who is a former Knight Templar gone rogue.  John is sexy, snarky, smart, a good fighter, and he loves strong, capable, smart women.  For once, you can judge this book by its cover.  If find the cover […]

Science at Work: It Came From Outer Space!

AstronautDuring budget crunches, it’s common for the public to ask why funding space exploration should be a priority when we have so many problems on earth.  In this month’s “Science at Work” feature, we look at some of the more immediately, tangibly practical things that space exploration has brought all of us.  I’m pulling a few highlights from these three webpages:  dsc.discovery.com,  spinoff.nasa.gov, and science.howstuffworks.com – be sure to click on them for more cool stuff that came to your house from outer space (or at least, as a byproduct of getting people and machines to space and back again).

So, what cool stuff has NASA done for you lately?  Here’s five examples:

  • Invisible Braces:  Invisible braces are made from translucent polycrystalline aliminua (TCA), which was developed by Ceradyne in conjunction with NASA to protect the antenna of heat-seeking missile trackers.
  • Memory foam:  This is the stuff that makes your Tempurpedic mattress so comfy.  It shows up all over the place these days – sports helmets, packaging for delicate equipment, cars, commercial aircraft, and amusement park rides.
  • Lifeshears:  You know those big things that looks like giant, terrifying hedge clippers that firefighters use to pry your mangled car apart so they can remove you from the wreckage?  If heaven forbid you are ever trapped in a mangled car, you can thank NASA for helping you get out.  The technology is the same technology that NASA developed to separate the space shuttle from the booster during flight.
  • Insulin Pump:  NASA developed a way to monitor astronauts vital signs continuously during long voyages.  This technology makes the insulin pump, which dispenses insulin according to the body’s levels of blood sugar, possible.
  • Cordless tools:  This started as a Black and Decker Project, became a Black and Decker and NASA project, and has since been used not only to develop my family’s weed whacker (a device without which we’d have to burn our house down completely and move) but also medical tools.

Here’s something NASA did NOT invent, despite the not so subtly altered photo above:  Tang.  Tang was invented by General Foods but has been associated with the space program since the astronauts drank it in 1962.  Teflon and velcro are also associated with the space program but were not invented by NASA.

NASA’s budget is currently about 0.5 percent of the Federal budget.  That’s half a penny per tax dollar.  For this, you get technologies that affect our abilities to handle medical problems, environmental issues, safety, and more.  The movement penny4nasa points out that we could double NASA’s budget for only half a cent more per tax dollar.  Not a bad deal for all of space.

Friday Book Club: Dracula At the Movies

SWT-Book-ClubsFrom silent movies to today’s 3D, Dracula inspires filmmakers because its themes continue to resonate with modern viewers, and because it is full of vivid, iconic imagery.  What filmmaker wouldn’t want to film the scene of Dracula crawling down the castle wall, face first?  Or the scene in which Van Helsing and Mina Harker take refuge in a circle made of crumbled holy communion wafers as Dracula’s brides  attempt to lure them into the open?  Or Vampire Lucy wandering the graveyard in her wedding/burial dress, clutching a child (dinner) to her lovely bosom?  The novel is perfect for the movies.

black and white photo of Bela Lugosi as Dracula

Bela Lugosi

It probably doesn’t hurt that the basic story of Dracula provides a good excuse for a filmmaker to sell gore, sex, and mayhem.

Leslie Nielsen as Dracula

Leslie Nielsen loves his mayhem!

And, in a perfect circle of longevity, every time filmmakers release another movie version of Dracula, more movie goers become interested in the book – and as their interest grows, so does the studios interest in making more movies grow.  That’s not even counting all the vampire movies more loosely inspired by Dracula (Interview with a Vampire, Lost Boys, Near Dark, The Hunger, Blade, etc.)

Christopher Lee as Dracula

Christopher Lee, creeping me out.

Here’s a partial list of movies (by year of release) more or less directly based on the novel Dracula.  My source is the wonderful New Annotated Dracula, annotated by Leslie S. Klinger.  Just for the heck of it, here’s a link to a review from io9 of the latest Dracula movie, Dracula 3D.  Directed by Asia Argento, it is supposed to be bad beyond all belief!  If you are in the Sacramento area, come visit us at the Arden Dimick Branch of the Sacramento Public Library on October 27, at 2PM, for our actual, real life, face to face book club discussion.  I hereby invite you in.

Gary Oldman as Dracula

Gary Oldman as Dracula in Francis Ford Coppola’s terrible, terrible adaptation.

Now for the movies.  I haven’t seen most of these movies so I can’t personally endorse them.  Be aware that I’m listing movies according to their link to the novel, not according to their quality, which may be minimal.

1921:  Death of Dracula (no copies remain)

1922:  Nosferatu

1931:  Dracula (starring Bela Lugosi!)

1953:  Drakula Istanbul’da  (a Turkish production)

1958:  The Horror of Dracula (starring Christopher Lee)

1972:  Blacula

1973:  Dracula (starring Jack Palance)

1978:  Count Dracula (starring Louis Jordan)

1979:  Dracula (starring Frank Langella)

1979:  Love at First Bite (a comedy starring George Hamilton)

1992:  Bram Stoker’s Dracula (directed by Francis Ford Coppola, it has very little in common with Bran Stoker’s version of Dracula.  I actually have seen this movie, and it’s HORRIBLE.)

1995:  Dracula:  Dead and Loving It (a Mel Brooks’ directed comedy starring Leslie Nielsen)

2000:  Dracula 2000 (directed by Wes Craven)

2004:  Dracula 3000 ( a sci-fi horror film that, weirdly, has no relation to Dracula 2000).

2008:  The Librarian:  Curse of the Judas Chalice (starring Noah Wylie as the badass librarian)

2013:  Dracula 3D (directed by Dario Argento)

For a more complete list, including such gems as Batman Fights Dracula, and Dracula’s Dog,  Wikipedia has a long, long list!

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: “Girl in the Flower Dress”

Agents of SHIELD logoAnother good episode, although I still think it’s time for Skye and Ward to fill the background while Melinda May and Fitz/Simmons get something epic and character-building to do.  Remember this column is more of a “highlight” feature than a recap.  To find out the details of what happened, I recommend Television Without Pity, io9, or The Mary Sue, all of which have great recaps of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Speaking of Melinda May, do I have a dirty mind, or are she and Coulson ex-lovers?  Who might get back together at any minute, especially if Melinda has anything to say about it?  Because the way she suggested getting out the mats like in the old days was fraught with meaning.  Fraught, I say!  They have a torrid past, people!  You heard it here first!  And did anyone else notice that this conversation happened during the only time in the series so far when Melinda has been wearing casual clothes instead of what is basically body armor?  Might we start seeing Melinda, the person, soon as opposed to Melinda the weapon?

No, Agent Ward, it's not just you - we are all confused by this shirt.

No, Agent Ward, it’s not just you – we are all confused by this shirt.

And all this makes me wonder – does Phil remember the cellist?  Obviously he still has long-term memory but I wonder if he lost any memories from his pre-Loki weeks.  Coulson, you have a jet!  You can go visit the cellist in Portland!  Having lived in Portland, I guarantee you it’s packed with all kinds of things you can investigate, so you can even conduct these visits on work time.  As Tony says, “Keep love alive”.  Unless you and Melinda might…and I still think you and Maria Hill could…Oh, I’m sorry, were we watching something?

SO ANYWAY, this weeks’ theme is who people really are.  At first the theme seems to be that everyone would really love to have sex but would sooner perish than reveal such a fact.  Thus we have Melinda and the mats conversation, and Ward and Skye playing Battleship in an awfully chummy way (I prefer to think of them as brother/sister but it’s an adorable scene either way).  Skye has sex with an idiot ex-boyfriend (nice underwear, Skye!) and Fitz seems to take the reveal of the boyfriend’s existence awfully personally.  Meanwhile, the expendable bad guy of the week is manipulated all too easily by the Girl in the Flower Dress, Raina, who slinks about in pure evil villain fashion.  You know who she reminds me of?  A sexy version of Blofield from Dr. No.  Get this woman a cat.

Beware!

Beware!

But as it turns out, all this sexy vibe stuff is just an excuse to get to the bigger theme:  can you know who someone else really is?  At thins point, we know very little about anyone’s back story so everyone is a mystery.  But Skye’s dark secret is revealed to the group, and they are all clearly devastated that she lied to them, in a “we thought we knew who you were” sort of way.  Well, yeah – you did know who she was.  You knew she was a hacker with a secret hacker organization and a strong belief in basic human rights.  Which she is.

And BTW, could we please have the argument that Skye and her ex have about the ethics of S.H.I.E.L.D, only could we please have it between two characters who have higher levels of intelligence than a chia pet?  Because there’s an actual, valid argument to be had here and it lacks credibility when it comes from Skye and her idiot boyfriend, on account of how the two of them put together still lack the brainpower of a chia pet.

And of course this whole betrayal thing is laid out nicely in parallel with street magician guy who at first seems like a fairly decent guy who feels ignored but who ends up frying one of our two villains.  and of course he is betrayed by the flower dress woman who promises him that he will have fame and fortune and ends up stealing his platelets.

Owwww...

Owwww…

Here’s some more great lines from this week:

Great deadpan, when Skye’s idiot ex-boyfriend says to May, “So, are you guys just going to destroy all my stuff?”  To which she says,

“Yes”.

Well, you asked, dumbass.

Coulson has the very best lines, of course:

“So we’re good, right?”

“They said he was kind of a tool”

“Oh crap.  They gave him a name”.

Hello, Scorch.  Ooops  - Goodbye, Scorch.

Hello, Scorch. Ooops – Goodbye, Scorch.

And the saddest exchange is between Skye and her ex, although no one cares because she and her ex are both such horrible morons during this episode:

“You’re not who you used to be”.

“You’re not who I thought you were”.

One last thing:  we now have a firmly established family dynamic on our team.  Fitz/Simmons are the babies of the family – cute little kids.  Skye is the bratty teenager.  Grant is her big brother.   Coulson and May are the parents.

agents-of-shield-girl-in-the-flower-dress-coulson

Skye gets busted for having sex with her ex, who S.H..I.E.L.D. is looking for.  Specifically, she is busted while she is trying to find her shirt, by none other than a very angry Melinda May.  The only thing that could make Melinda May seem more like a very, very angry mom at that moment is that she never says the word “grounded”.  Seriously, it’s just so pianful.  And OMG, Coulson is so dissapointed, and so angry – it’s a great moment for Couson (“You’re lying NOW!”) because we get to see his facade crack a little.  He is furious.  When Loki stabbed him during The Avengers, Coulson looked a little annoyed, as though he was buying groceries and realized that he had left his wallet at home.  Now he is PISSED.

Yes, I find this affecting.  I'm not made of stone, people.

If Coulson was angry and disappointed in me, this is exactly the face I would make, too.  Stop making me feel stuff Skye, I’m getting all sniffly!

So, despite the entire existence of idiot ex-boyfriend, I thought this was a great episode.  There were smallish stakes (individual people might die or get hurt, Grant’s Battleship might get sunk).  There were personal stakes.  The thing with Skye’s ex was dumb but the shame and humiliation she experiences, and the sense of betrayal and disappointment that the team experiences  – that was powerful and real.  There were global stakes – an international group is trying to create super-villains, so that’s not good.

No highlights next week because no show next week – we’ll be back with this feature in November!

Wednesday Videos: 2 short Edgar Allan Poe movies

WednesdayVideoThe winner of the “Poe Project” film competition was the amazingly creepy Ligea, but there’s a special spot in my heart for Here, Puppy, Puppy”, which is loosely based on “The Black Cat”.  Incidentally, I got to meet the actress who plays Ligea, and she’s incredibly friendly and warm.  But I was very careful not to make her angry  –  just in case.

Book Review: Fortune’s Pawn, by Rachel Bach

cover of Fortune's Pawn

Fortune’s Pawn is the first book in The Paradox Series, and it is absolutely yummy if you are into light space opera with a tough, smart heroine, some romance, and lots of action.  Which I am, so…yum!

Devi is a mercenary who hopes to reach a high status position as a Devestator, one of the King’s guards.  In order to get promoted, Devi accepts a job guarding a ship that always seems to get into trouble.  The ship has an irritable captain, a mechanic who slaps patches onto the hull with maniacal cheer, a doctor who is a species of alien known for eating humans, and a silent, mysterious young girl who plays chess by herself all the time.  The ship also has a very sexy cook who has lots of secrets.  And, true to its reputation, the ship and/or its crew seems to be in trouble almost all of the time.

I like that the author respects the reader’s intelligence enough to slip in world-building without spelling things out at length.  This world seems solid, dirty, and real, with complex but believable social structures.  And Devi is a great character.  Although Devi is often rescued, it’s not because she’s a girl.  Her competence as a fighter is well established and she only requires assistance when she is fighting an extremely unusual opponent, an extremely large number of opponents, or both.    She reminded me a bit of Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica, but she’s much more mentally healthy than Starbuck.  Not that she doesn’t have her neurosis, but on the whole she’s socially adept, confident, and not self-destructive.  

The pace of the book is good – there are moments of calm and conversation, there’s humor, there’s tons of action, and some hefty mysteries for Devi to solve.  I don’t think this book is a genre-buster – if you are not interested in science fiction books set in space with lots of action, then give this book a pass.  but if you like tough warrior heroines, sexy, mysterious, kind heroes, and a strong supporting cast in an interesting, action packed setting, don’t miss this book.  My one caveat is that it ends on something of a cliffhanger, so be prepared for that.

Can we just spend a moment to pay proper respect to the cover art?  See what that is?  A picture of a woman, that does not focus on her boobs or her butt!  I love this cover art so very much.  Over on orbit.net you can read this entry by the illustrator (Kirk Benshoff) about how he made the art for the series.  It’s beautiful, it fits the concept, it fits the character, it tells the reader at a glance who the book is about.  Kudos, Kirk Benshoff.

History’s Hidden Heroes: Kerry Sieh

photo of Kerry SiehQuick!  Think of a LGBT scientist!  I drew a blank at Alan Turing.  But of course history is full of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender scientists.  Historically, the sexual orientations of some scientists, as with other historical figures, is a matter of conjecture – in some case conjuncture backed by a lot of evidence, in some case not so much.  Historical scientists who were likely to be either gay or bi-sexual include Leonardo Da Vinci, Sir Francis Bacon, and Alexander von Humbolt.

Today scientists, especially those in the US, are more likely to be open about their orientation.  Kerry Sieh is an openly gay scientist who studies geology and seismology.  Dr. Sieh did most of his work in California before being offered a position as Director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore.  Dr. Sieh was excited about the post but had to establish that he would be able to live openly as a gay man in a country where a law criminalizing homosexuality is still on the books.  ‘I’m no crusader, but I’m going to be myself…I would not have come here if my partner could not have come with me, ” he told Straits Times in 2008.

Dr. Sieh focuses his work on earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis, with a goal of creating practical plans and solutions to reduce suffering in case of disaster.  He invented the field of paleosiesmology, which involves using geologic layers and formations to understand active faults.  In Asia, he has studied the Sunda megathrust, an undersea fault line, to predict future quakes and tsunamis.

For more information about Dr. Sieh, you can check out this article “Senior Scientists enjoy New Latitude at Singapore Earth-Science Center”.  This was my major source for this blog entry.  I found more details about his work at the Nanyang Technical University webpage.

Friday Book Club: Dracula and The Angel in the House

SWT-Book-Clubs Once upon a time, there was a poet with the rather wonderful name of Coventry Patmore,  He published a long poem in installments between 1854-1862.  This poem, called “The Angel in the House”, laid out an image of womanhood that became the Victorian ideal.

‘The Angel in the House’ ideal was based on the premise that women were superior to men morally and that their role was to provide a stable, serene domestic environment for their husband and their children.  The Victorian Era was a time of great social instability, and men of every socio-economic class were in some way affected by the changes of their society.  The Angel was to provide a sanctuary from a troublesome world, and to provide moral guidance to men and to children.

Believers in the ‘Angel in the House’ ideal believed that a woman should be intelligent and well-educated enough to converse with her husband and teach her children, but she should not engage in intellectual pursuits.  She should not work outside the home and of course her behavior would always be socially proper and sexually pure.  In this ideal, a man lucky enough to be married to an Angel should appreciate her and not treat her badly.  But if he did, she must patiently guide him towards better behavior, and stoically endure her own suffering.

So, let’s talk about Lucy Westnera and Mina Harker, in Dracula.  Lucy Westnera is like that blonde girl in the slasher movie who has (*gasp*) HAD SEX.  Although Lucy is, presumably, a virgin, she’s enough of a flirt that you just know poor Lucy isn’t going to make it to the end of the book.  She’s sweet, she’s kind, all the men adore her, but they like her a little too much, and she likes them a little too much.  She’s not “pure”.

But Mina is the Angel incarnate.  She’s smart, she’s well-educated, she has practical skills, but she is content to use them to assist her man – she has no ambition to strike out on her own as one of those “New Women”.  The “New Women” was a phrase coined towards the end of the Victorian Era that described women who resisted the Angel in the House ideal – they were self-supporting and independent, and often rejected the idea of monogamy.

Mina Harker is also the heart of the group.  When Jonathon is ill, her one thought is to nurse him back to physical and emotional health.  She comforts Lucy’s suitors with supreme tact and kindness.  She is the moral guide of the story, insisting that one should not hate Dracula, but be thankful that with his death he will be restored to God.  Mina is capable with a firearm but chooses to remain in the background both as a matter of strategy (she may be controlled by the Count) and as a matter of temperament.  It is the men’s job to protect her and it is her job to emotionally and spiritually guide the men.

I do think that Stoker plays a bit of a double game in Dracula.  Mina makes fun of the “new woman” but she seems a little envious of them as well.  And in the original manuscript, Lucy says, “I almost envy mother sometimes for her knowledge, when she can talk to people whist I have to sit by like a dumb animal and smile a stereotyped smile till I find myself blushing at being an incarnate lie.  And it is so silly and childish to blush and without reason too.”  This does not appear in the published manuscript, but it, combined with the ambivalent attitude of Mina towards professional women, suggests that Stoker’s views about the roles of women were not as clear-cut as a quick reading of Dracula suggests.

Should you be interested in the original poem by Coventry Patmore, poemhunter.com has the complete poem, “The Angel in the House”.

Personal Aside:  Nathaniel Hawthorne was a huge believer in the ‘Angel in the House’ ideal.  I did my senior thesis on Hawthorne and his views on women.  Mercifully, I’ve forgotten almost everything I’ve written, although I’m left with a strong impression that Hawthorne was a brilliant writer and a colossal jerk.  Hawthorne’s gothic novel House of the Seven Gables, published in 1851, has a character, Phoebe, who is a textbook example of the ‘Angel in the House’.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Eye-Spy

Agents of SHIELD logoThis is more like it!  This week’s episode was fun, but also suspenseful, gross, creepy, and emotionally engaging.  I worried during this episode, and I laughed, and I went, “Ewwww!”  So, a good week.

The Good Stuff

This episode set a different tone than the previous episodes. with a creepy opening sequence in which a young black woman encounters a group of strange men with suits, briefcases, and red masks at a street fair.  They end up on the same train, the lights go out, and when they come back on train is full of dead red-faced guys while she is at the station unloading a box of diamonds into her hand.  It’s part horror, part heist.

See?  They're creepy!

See? They’re creepy!

We can thank three things for this week’s success – decent writing that was unafraid to show a story that doesn’t revolve around Our Heroes emotional tics, excellent direction (the opening montage was visually fantastic), and a sublime performance from guest star Pascale Armand, as Akela Amadour.  Here she is, folks:

PASCALE ARMAND

It’s a tribute to the power of tropes that I saw the opening scene as a woman being stalked by creepy guys, when in fact the plot suggests that she stalked them.  And there are lots of other nifty reversal and twists in this episode.  Above all, Armand is such a subtle actress that she single-handedly brings a high level of gravitas to the show, which the actors around her do a great job of keeping it from becoming oppressive.  Akela projects vulnerability, so I felt empathy and worry for her.  She’s tough (physically and mentally – holy shit, that eyeball thing was badass!)  and smart, so I respected her.  And her presence allows for more conflict among the team  – May is genuinely put out with Coulson, the ever-infallible Coulson seems to have made a huge mistake in the past with Akela, and everyone has to do things they aren’t comfortable doing.  So, I laughed plenty during this episode, and had fun, and got to take a much-needed weekly break from Thinking Deep Thoughts, but I also got very invested in what was going on.  Congrats, show!

I’m fond of the fact that this show keeps addressing, and subverting, the idea that the role of an agent is to seduce people.  In the pilot, Skye only uses her womanly wiles to gain an advantage over Ward after he specifically tells her that that will work.  In the next episode, Coulson’s ex tries to seduce him but that just makes him realize that she’s up to something.  In the following episode, Skye attempts wiles again but is informed by the bad guy that he is only interested in her brains.  And in this one, Ward has to seduce a man.  Now, I’m annoyed that Ward would balk at the idea of seducing a man.  He’s been an agent for ages and I find it hard to believe that he hasn’t had to do it before.  But, I find it hilarious that the problem isn’t really that he has to seduce a man, it’s that he has to seduce a man who is probably straight, and that the answer to this conundrum is to try to make friends.  Yes, Ward, friends.  It’s in the dictionary.  Look it up.

Agent May is extra scary in the morning.

Agent May is not amused.

The Not As Good Stuff

I still don’t understand why Fitz and Simmons are doing eye surgery.  They don’t understand it either.  Is it actually possible that no one on the planet but me, Fitz, and Simmons understands the difference between being able to build a bomb and being able to cut someone’s eye out without doing unintentional damage?  I mean, anyone can cut out an eyeball, but putting it back, or even leaving it out and not having your patient bleed to death through their eye socket – that’s tricky.  I’m sorry to have to dwell on such a disgusting subject, but oh, my God, the eye horror was through the roof this week, with the needle, and the – OK, see, now I have to go lie down.

Best Lines of the Week

The best line this week comes from the unexpected difficulties of stakeouts, when Fitz, Simmons, and Skye ask Ward where they are supposed to pee (“It was really a long drive! and some of us are nervous”) and he suggests an empty water bottle, prompting Skye to say, “Did you ever learn the part where boy parts and girl parts are different, and our parts aren’t PENISES?”

For other standouts, I give you the following:

Fitz/Simmons giving Ward experimental weaponry:  “In case you miss!  Or…have…multiple..assilants”.

Coulson:  “Next time I get to decide what we call ourselves, OK?”

When Skye mentions being attacked during the stakeout, Coulson says, “That should never have happened”.  and when she brushes it off saying it wasn’t as scary as listening to her parents fight, he says, “That should never have happened either”.  Now I have, like, ALL the emotions.  Excuse me while I just stick my heart back into my chest.

Couple bits of trivia – this episode was directed by…wait for it…Roxann Dawson!  Who played B’Elanna Torres on Star Trek: Voyager!  Personally, I’m not a fan of Voyager, but I was a fan of that character, so – Hi!  And on a purely personal note, whenever I’m looking for images for these posts I keep finding images of Loki instead.  Oh, Loki.  Ours is a forbidden love.

Wednesday Video: Bill Nye Talks about Talking about Evolution

WednesdayVideoWe’ll miss you on Dancing with the Stars, Bill, but we prefer you doing your science thing.  In this clip, Bill Nye talks about teaching evolution.  His tip – use your passion!  He also explains why the concept of evolution is so difficult for people to grasp – it’s counter to our experience of the scale of time and of how we do things.  Check it out:

Book Review: MaddAddam

cover of MaddAddamMaddAddam is the last book in the brilliant trilogy that includes Oryx and Crake and In the Year of the Flood.  I absolutely recommend it.  I give it many thumbs up.

MaddAddam has a helpful intro that sums up the events of the previous two books in the series.  I had read them, but forgotten almost all the details, so it was helpful to me.  I certainly recommend reading the previous two books, because they are amazing – but I think you can follow MaddAddam without having read them as long as you read “The Story So Far”.

This book concludes the story of a not very far in the future dystopia in which a bioengineered plague has destroyed most of humanity.  As with the other books, this one is dark, violent, gross, beautiful, touching, and has a deep core of optimism and warmth – much more than you’d expect from a story which, at various points in the series, has involved child abuse, rape, murder, mad science at its most disgusting, pollution, and the importance of eating whatever is in the freezer first, before the power goes out.  Of course a lot of this horrified me – it was meant to.  But at the end, I felt hopeful.  The series is demanding, but not nihilistic, despite having many nihilistic characters (particularly in the first two books – the characters in MaddAddam are pretty much focused on survival as a community and a species, not on wreaking havoc).

The other surprising thing about this particular piece of dystopia is that it’s funny.  The story of “Oh Fuck” for instance, is hilarious, as is the understatement of the century, “This is a major cultural misunderstanding.”  This humor helps make the poignancy of the story bearable – and it’s needed, as characters battle grief and confusion and loneliness in their own ways.  But they also make, or keep and strengthen, deep emotional connections to each other.

E.M. Foster said, “Only connect!”  The first book, Oryx and Crake, was about destruction.  The second book, In the Year of the Flood, was about survival.  This book is about connection, and that’s what makes it uplifting despite all the pain within it.

covers of Oryx and Crake and In the Year of the Flood

One last thing – Margaret Atwood claims that all the science stuff in the trilogy is either actually in place now or is theoretically possible.  As evidence, she has this site:  maddadam’s world.  It’s AMAZING.  so go check it out.

Gateway Drugs: The Horror Edition

door opening onto poppiesFor this month’s Gateway Drugs, I bring you a sampling of some influential horror novels.  These are good books to read if you want to try the genre out – they are also good books if you want to understand the genre.  I tried to pick books that had a lasting influence on genre.  I’ve also steered away from most horror/sci fi and horror/vampires and werewolves and zombies (oh my!).  But I made a couple of exceptions, and of course a lot of horror crosses over into other genres.  For instance, Frankenstein is easily as much science fiction as it is horror.  So dive under the covers with a flashlight and celebrate Halloween with:

The Classics

Any collection of stories by Edgar Allan Poe

Frankenstein:  by Mary Shelley

Dracula:  by Bram Stoker

Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde:  by Robert Louis Stevenson

These stories include gore and purely psychological horror.  They are a vital influence on not only horror but all literature that came after the Victorian Age, including thoughts on sex, death, gender, science, and religion. Honestly, even if you have zero interest in horror, if you want to be well-read, you have to read these – I’m sorry, but that’s the deal.  I’m sure it’s a law but I’m too busy reading to go look it up.  And read some H.P. Lovecraft, too!

Modern Horror

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

This is a ghost story/haunted house story that combines scares with psychological horror.  I also recommend We Have Always Lived in the Castle but it’s not as widely influential as Hill House.

I am Legend:  by Richard Matheson

I’m purposely avoiding a lot of vampire stuff (we’ll have to do a whole separate Gateway edition about vampires one of these days).  I made an exception for Dracula and for I Am Legend because they influenced literature beyond the depiction of vampires.  In the case of I Am Legend, which is a remarkably unpleasant but important book, Matheson made a mark not so much on vampire stories but on apocalyptic stories in horror and in science fiction.  It’s also notable for having an anti-hero and a twist that reveals just how anti the hero actually is.

The Shining by Stephen King

I’m hard pressed to pick one Stephen King book but I think The Shining made a broader mark on literature in general than any of his other work.  There’s plenty of gore in this book but the scariest moments tend to involve the mind.  Few things can top the impact of finding out just what Jack has been typing all this time.  And it’s not just a scary story but a true tragedy, as in a Greek style tragedy.  Stephen King never lets you forget the human impact of what happens.

John Dies at the End by David Wong

This book is new enough that I guess I can’t say whether it will be influential or not, but when I read it it felt new – like the first horror novel of the Internet age.  It’s gross and crass and scary and funny (and really gross- I have to confess that I skipped some bits).  It’s not for the faint of heart.  But it feels like a crazy book that reflects horror from a uniquely modern standpoint.  And did I mention that it’s funny?

A Great Book About Horror

Danse Macabre by Stephen King

A perfect primer for horror including all the mediums (a particularly horrible radio show is mentioned).  Fantastic.

Grand finale on Alethea Kontis’ Blog tour

Hero-Final-Cover-687x1024We were thrilled to have Alethea Kontis appear as our very first guest blogger, with her video rant about the inspiration for her book, Hero.  Want to check out the Grand Finale of her tour?  It’s pretty cool!  And there’s a raffle involved and you gotta love that!  I have no idea what’s in the raffle basket but having had the pleasure of meeting Alethea I suspect glitter may be involved.

The Grand Finale
(In case you missed anything!)
On Tour with Prism Book Tours


Hero

by Alethea Kontis

Rough and tumble Saturday Woodcutter thinks she’s the only one of her sisters without any magic—until the day she accidentally conjures an ocean in the backyard. With her sword in tow, Saturday sets sail on a pirate ship, only to find herself kidnapped and whisked off to the top of the world. 



Is Saturday powerful enough to kill the mountain witch who holds her captive and save the world from sure destruction? And, as she wonders grumpily, “Did romance have to be part of the adventure?” 



As in Enchanted, readers will revel in the fragments of fairy tales that embellish this action-packed story of adventure and, yes, romance.  Excerpt

   
Sail Away on the 
Fairy Tale Adventure Tour*
*Family Welcome

Sept 22 – LAUNCH

Sept 23 – The Missing Piece – Althethea Kontis 

Acknowledgements - Alethea Kontis

 I wrote them. And I cried. And I sent them in. And my editor was touched. And then somewhere between then and publication, they fell through the cracks…

 – Video Rant on Debz Bookshelf

Something about Saturday’s story just touched me… and that made my experience reading this book even more powerful. – Debz review
 
 – Celebration on Deal Sharing Aunt

 

Sept 24 – Interview with Miss Print 

The plan is for the Woodcutter Sisters Series to encompass 7 books — one about each sister. That’s always been my original plan. The publisher’s plan was for Enchanted to be a solo book…INTERVIEW

Hero is another excellent installment in the Woodcutter Sisters story and a mandatory read for anyone looking for an antidote to the typical princess story.  – REVIEW

Sept 25 – Interview with Carina Olsen  

What was the first fairy tale you remember falling in love with?  I started reading when I was three and was crazy about reading by the age of five. When I was eight, my French grandmother gave me a giant copy of unexpurgated Grimm and Andersen tales. I mark that date as The Beginning of The End…

 – The Grandfather Pirate on Living a Goddess Life




 – Meet the Inspiration Part I on The Wonderings of One Person

I was a normal kind from a REALLY NOT NORMAL family. My biggest feelings of inadequacy came from comparing myself to my parents and siblings and everyone else and just not measuring up…

Sept 26 – Review on Shannon’s Blog

Coming from a large family, I liked the way the author not only made the heroine one of many siblings, but managed to include all her brothers and sisters…  It wasn’t just an interesting biographical fact that Saturday came from a large family; it actually mattered to the story.

Sept 27 – My Amazing Sister on Leeana Me

My little sister, Soteria, always asks me who she is in the Woodcutter stories, but it’s hard to say. She and I were so close growing up–if I am every single one of my characters, then she is always my sister in every scene.

Sept 30 — USA Today Happy Ever After interview

My 8-year old daughter loves Alethea Kontis. She’s never read one of her YA books, but she knows her as “Princess Alethea” who hangs out with Mommy at book festivals. Alethea lives and breathes fantasy, fairy tales and girl power, and it always pours out of the page. The second book in her Woodcutter series, Hero, is out, and this one has all the trademark spunky heroine and swashbuckling (there are pirates!) fantasy adventure you will find in her books. I was fortunate enough to grab a few moments with Alethea to ask her a few questions…

 Hero by Alethea Kontis

– Review of Enchantment on Colorimetry

What a deliciously fairy tale filling read… with just enough light-hearted fun, deeply dark antagonists, magic straight out of real fairy-tale-dom with real fairy god mothers… and characters that carry their faults around like real people that accidentally fell into the story.

Oct 1 – RELEASE DAY! – Alethea at Waterworld Mermaids – “Last Minute Wonder”

I can’t even call it procrastination, because it was more like Self-Imposed Ninja Boot Camp…

 – “My Favorite Bit” guest essay by Alethea – Mary Robinette Kowal

…clothes may be an expression of who you are, but they are not the definition.

 – Review at Library of a Book Witch

I think that this series is really good at setting that fairy tale tone with the writing style, being a hard core lover of fairy tales, it makes the books perfect for me. I also love how she weaves in the different stories and pieces it togther like one of Fridays quilts.

Sunday

– Interview & Review at Tressa’s Wishful Endings

Alethea: I have been accused many times of “cramming all the fairy tales into one book like it was some sort of challenge”–and indeed, it sort of started out that way.I just have to ask, what is your favorite fairy tale and fairy tale princess and why?Alethea: Yay! I love answering this question… Interview

Saturday is such a great character! She is struggling with figuring out her place in the world and who exactly she is…  I loved that she isn’t dramatic, but rather sarcastic… Review

Oct 2 – Video Rant Geek Girl In Love 

Princess Alethea rants about Petronella

I found Hero to be a creative and exciting work of fantasy.  The highlight of the book was the exploration of gender roles, and the romance, which was based very much on the idea that people’s differences can complement each other.

  – “The Big Idea” John Scalzi’s blog 

Every author wonders if they’ll be able to hack it in a trial by fire. Well, this author knows she’s got what it takes. I wrote that manuscript in three months, and when they didn’t like that, I took the fourth month to rewrite the whole thing. But I did it, against all odds, and what came out was magic.
Ironically, this is exactly what Hero is all about.

  – My Bookshelf on Mel’s Shelves

I was intrigued with the summary for this book. I come from a family of 7 daughters (and 2 sons). I line up with daughter number 4, Thursday, who ran off with the Pirate King and sends trunks of gifts back home, haha!  – Review of Enchanted

The Shelf I Can’t Live Without



  – Did You See? on Cu’s eBook Giveaways


Princess Alethea has had a busy week!
 
Madeleine DeRondeOct 3 – Hightlighting The Missing Piece on I Am a Reader, Not a Writer 

Last but not least I must thank the members of my very large family… thank you for keeping my feet tied to the ground while I reach for the stars. You are my heart, and I love you all more than these humble words can say. 

 – Review at Books for Kids

I love the way she writes.  Her characters are vibrant and full of life.  Saturday is a fabulous protagonist.  I adore her strength and her stubbornness, her fire and her fight.  I love the way she solves her problems (with her brain) and the way she carries out her plans (with her strength).

Oct 4 – Podcast Anything Goes with Bennet Pomeranz

 
 

 – Review of Hero on Colorimetry

The scene with the lake is burned on my memory forever:  Surrounded by icy walls, with water so clear you can see that the lake is deep, so deep you don’t know how deep, heated from molten lava within the mountain. It’s amazing. I want to go there!!

Oct 5 – Hero LAUNCH PARTY at One More Page Books in Arlington, VA

…where you can get a personalized, signed copy from Alethea!!


 – Meet the Inspiration Part II on Bookmarks

…So you see, I didn’t just have family members growing up. I had legends. I may have been destined for greatness, but only because my family set the bar SO HIGH.



Oct 7 – Character interview with Saturday Woodcutter at I Smell Sheep

Troubadour: I’m here today with Saturday Woodcutter, sixth of the seven Woodcutter daughters, and sister to the Queen of Arilland. Princess Saturday, could you tell me–

Saturday: Call me “princess” again and I punch you in the face. 

 –  Craft “Stealing from the Best” on Romance Writers of America & Fantasy Futuristic &Paranormal Chapter

In my teen novels, I retell the classic Grimm and Andersen (and a few others’) fairy tales. I don’t regurgitate the exact same sequence of events–though as they’re public domain, I suppose I could. I prefer, instead, to fill in the blanks I feel the original authors left.

Oct 8 – Families in Fiction at A Backwards Story

In real life, we have families. Some of us have REALLY LARGE AND OBNOXIOUS families. And though we feel alone sometimes in those awkward middle school years, we’re never really alone-alone.
Even when we want to be.

 – Review at JL Mbewe

There’s that saying that“it takes a village to raise a child” well, in the publishing world, books are the author’s children. And it takes a village to raise them, too…

The first thing that jumped off the page at me was the author’s style. It’s playful, fun, and fresh filled with an out-of-this-world yet grounded fairy tale experience. I loved it… Review

AK – Beloved is a parallel novel to Hero, chronicling the adventures of Friday and the rest of the Woodcutter crew back in Arilland, in the tragic aftermath of the appearance of Saturday’s “impossible ocean.” Apprentice seamstress Friday becomes a leader of the children (because that’s Friday’s thing), and gets caught up in trying to break a curse involving seven swans, a mute girl, and the need to weave seven shirts out of stinging nettles.

I’ve always loved all the bird-tales (“The Goose Girl” is my favorite) and I have to say…I am SO IN LOVE with writing this book. Beloved is such an appropriate title.

 – Deleted Scene at Fragments of Life

It was a sad road that led Peregrine to his mother’s bedside… 

All in all, Hero was like a tapestry of fairytales interwoven together: vibrant, fun, humorous, tragic and100% magical. I strongly recommend this to readers who love fairytale retellings and fantasy. – Review

Oct 11 – 13 – CaplaveOct 11-15 – GRAND FINALE

Contact BurgandyIce(at)live(dot)come if you’re interested in sharing this Grand Finale!
Hero (Woodcutter Sisters #2)

Tour-Wide Giveaway

Sept 22 – Oct 17

Fairy Tale Gift Basket (US only): Signed copies of both Enchantment and Hero by Alethea Kontis plus swag!

a Rafflecopter giveaway