Sep 18, 2010

Elantrians as Zombies

I never did review Elantris after I was done listening to it on audio. Now that Mr. X is reading it, my interest is renewed. It has been fun hearing him speculate about various outcomes of the book. I started listening to Elantris shortly after I met Mr. X and throughout the experience I continued to recommend the book to him. Brandon Sanderson has created a unique world both inside and outside of the city of Elantris. When I heard Sanderson talking about the book at the LTUE symposium he said that Elantris is essentially a city of zombies. Once of city of power and strength, the inhabitants are now weak, endlessly hungry, and subjected to endless suffering.


Though to call them zombies would not be apparent from the outset, having this as a lenses through which to view the book provides a unique perspective. Because while many in Elantris act like zombies, we are able to hear a story from the inside. Zombie books are always written from the point of view of the human and I have always been curious about the mindset of the zombie. The characters always seem to speculate about their lack of thought and individuality. But it is curious to read Elantris as seeing into the mind of a zombie, or perhaps into the mind of a person the moment before zombification.


When discussing this issue with Mr. X, he seemed to think there was a definite case to be made for at least on of the gangs within Elantris. They had total disregard for almost everyone and were mindless and thoughtless. All the people in Elantris are somehow dead and alive at the same time. And this struggle is the core of zombies.


For more about this book, please check out Mr. X’s excellent review.

Sci Fi by Women

It has been over a year since my interest in science fiction by female authors was peaked. And honestly, I haven’t don as much with it as I would have liked to. Throughout my online exploration certain names tended to come up a lot. Atwood, Willis, Tepper, Tiptree, Norton, and Cherryh.  I know there are tons of other great writers, but these are the ones that came up the most and stuck in my brain. Yet, I failed in following through with this by mostly only reading books by Margaret Atwood, who was already one of my favorite authors.  I read D. A. which was  a really interesting novella by Connie Willis. But these names did stick in my mind, and when I found a book by them in a thrift store I tended to buy it. Also, Andre Norton’s name shows up on the young adult dystopian list a few times.


I feel that female authors bring a unique quality to the science fiction world. They often have more attention to the details of WRITING than often see in science fiction.  I continue to struggle with reading adult books, they tend to have so many pages and science fiction takes this to extreme. I always try and encourage myself to read in a more balanced way.  Lucky for me TJ from Dreams and Speculations has my back! In 2011 she is hosting an amazing book club featuring various science fiction novel by female authors.




There is an interesting assortment of book selected. I say interesting because I haven’t heard of most of them. I own 3 books from the book club list, one of which I have already read. But after checking out the list and having some great general discussion with TJ via Twitter, I decided to take advantage of a great sale at Better World Books to track down a few more titles. The best part about this book club is that you can participate for one month or twelve. It isn’t particularly rigid, so you don’t even have to decide ahead of time which books you will want to read. After my new books arrive, I will have the opportunity to read at least 6 books for the book club, but I never know when life will get in the way. I am sure when I do participate it will be a lot of fun.  Hope to see you there.


The books:

January - Dust by Elizabeth Bear
February - The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin*
March - Darkship Thieves by Sarah Hoyt
April - The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis*
May - Mappa Mundi by Justina Robson
June - Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler
July - Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
August - China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh*
September - Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon*
October - Farthing by Jo Walton*
November - The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood*
December - City of Pearl by Karen Traviss


The books marked with * are the ones I already owned or recently purchased. I still think there are one or two more books I would like to buy.  Have you read any of these?  What did you think?

Sep 14, 2010

The Problem with Dystopia

1984_dystopia The struggle with understanding and categorizing dystopia stems from the multiple attempts to define it. There are dictionary definitions and literary definitions, yet it seems that will all the definitions we are left with very little as a single common denominator.


First of all we can say we know that dystopia, in the end, is a bad place. It may not appear to be so at all times, but through control or destruction the world is bad and can now be defined as a dystopia. The definition vary on when and how this bad world is discovered. Some focus on constant destruction and war, other definitions focus on governmental control. Some definition focus on the element of dystopia having to be imagined, while others call Nazi Germany a real life dystopia.


Dystopian literature is gaining momentum, especially in the young adult market, yet no one seems to have a grasp on what words to you use to define, understand, and categorize dystopia.


In some ways it seems like it would be easier to go back and look at the TYPES of dystopian worlds and from that make a conclusion on how we can most accurately define the genre, world, and classification.


dystLet's start simple.

 Lenore suggested to me once 3 classifications:

· environmental

· governmental

· technological


I like this. It is easy and to the point but it doesn’t help with the understanding of dystopia, just with the classifying of it. Also to me there would be another category that would be biological. Though some of the things that classify under that would fall under environmental or technological depending on the type of biology. (Virus or DNA testing/modification.)


In order to help us understand dystopia we use movies and literature that we classify as dystopian to help us come up with a classification for the genre. This micro examination continues to fragment our ability to understand dystopia in one fail swoop. Dystopia is not an umbrella term, it is another word you can use to describe a book in a certain genre. When we try to set dystopia apart we end up trying to pull all these books into it.




The Exploring Dystopia web site tries to create distinct classifications as types of utopia as follows:

    • totalitarian
    • bureaucratic
    • cyberpunk
    • tech noir
    • off world
    • crime
    • overpopulation
    • leisure
    • alien
    • apocalyptic
    • post-apocalyptic
    • machine
    • surreal
    • pseudo-utopian
    • feminist
    • time-travel
    • capitalistic


This is an overblown list that is so specific it doesn't help anyone get a grasp on the understanding of dystopia. Governmental, economic, criminal, technological, biological, and off world would be an adequate over simplification of these terms. But the issue isn't simplification. The problem is that anything has the ability to become dystopic, so utilizing this type of classification system will simply cause our understanding to become out dated as new forms of dystopia emerge.


One of the other struggles is that a handful of definitions are coming from a group of select individuals making there own judgments on the understanding of the concept of dystopia. There are very few experts in the field. And there is the fragmentation between the study of Utopia and Dystopia.


Example definitions of dystopia:

a bad place

a wretched place

people live dehumanizing lives

a world worse than our own

exploration of worst case scenario


You can see how the difficulty to define dystopia could arise, because all of these understandings are based so subjectively. We each have our own understanding of a bad place or the worst possible world. We are being required to use the judgments of others or ourselves to definite a word in common use. Even academic works on this topic struggle with wish washy understandings of the word or just pick one and use it as absolute while leaving out vital aspects.


Through this blog I hope to bring you insight into this issue and more as I explore both academic and non academic venues to better understand the word dystopia and discover if there is a commonality among all the opposing ideas that are out there. I would love to hear any additions you have to add to this conversation. Especially if you know about other bloggers who are talking about this subject or know of other articles.


Zombies Love My Brains

Today/yesterday kicked off’s Zombie Week, and I have to admit that I am more excited than I expected. Ever since going to the LTUE panel on Zombies I have had a particular interest in exploring the world of these creatures. Combine this with the glorious writing of Carrie Ryan in The Forest of Hands and Teeth and I am verging on being a hardcore zombie fan.

On my recent book buying splurge (if you missed it I ordered almost 100 books in a span of a few weeks) I also become the proud owner of a handful of zombie books. With great zombie books coming out by authors like Max Brooks, it seems that the interest in zombies is being pushed out of the fringes into the main stream. The only Max Brooks book I have started so far is World War Z and I have to admit it is pretty amazing.

New acquisitions to my zombie library are:

Zombie Blondes by Brian James first and foremost has an amazing cover. The book caught my eye previous to me finding it on the Better World Books website. The cover and concept had me thinking this was some variation on high school Stepford Wives. All I really know about this book is the words on the cover. It may be totally worthless but I figured for $2.50 my interest in it was enough to give it a try.

From the publisher:

From the moment Hannah Sanders arrived in town, she felt there was something wrong.
A lot of houses were for sale, and the town seemed infected by an unearthly quiet. And then, on Hannah’s first day of classes, she ran into a group of cheerleaders—the most popular girls in school.
The odd thing was that they were nearly identical in appearance: blonde, beautiful, and deathly pale.
But Hannah wants desperately to fit in—regardless of what her friend Lukas is telling her: If she doesn’t watch her back, she’s going to be blonde and popular and dead—just like all the other zombies in this town. . . .

0db4124128a0622c59be5010.L._SL500_AA300_The Ultimate Zombie is a collection of short stories. Considering that I essentially haven’t read very many zombie stories. And I am not entirely sure where my interest in zombies really stems from. After the panel at the symposium, I started connecting with the more political aspects of zombie stories.

I guess I never really took zombie stories seriously. And in part that is the beauty of them. They make statements in such a subtle way in can read as pure entertainment.

For me it once again boiled down to the budget issue. This book may not be the best but the price was right. This 391 page volume has 23 stories from a variety of authors, including some I’ve heard of. Anne Rice, Kevin J. Anderson, and Gene Wolfe along with a bunch of authors that I don’t recognize.

I am looking forward to exploring zombie fiction in these bite sized pieces. Like I said, I am not really sure what has originally brought me to zombie fiction, and I am interest in breaking down that interest and seeing where it stems from. For your own exploration of zombie short fiction, check out Zombie Week’s Bitter Grounds by Neil Gaiman.

Mr. X also got me The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan. This is definitely my most exciting new zombie acquisition. The Forest of Hands and Teeth was an amazing read. I was surprised and overwhelmed by my reaction to it. I am hoping that this book is going to be one of the very rare times when I am satisfied with the second book in a series.

Have you read this already? Do you feel like it is a good follow up novel?

I have been eager to have Mr. X read The Forests of Hands and Teeth but having him buy me The Dead-Tossed Waves will do in the meantime.

From Booklist:

The Forest of Hands of and Teeth (2009) spliced classic zombie mythos into a world that was one part postapocalypse and one part colonial America and drove the plot with a healthy surge of teen hormones. This companion piece, which features some returning characters in minor roles, involves another discontented young woman, Gabry. Life within her walled town is shattered when a group of her friends step past the border and are attacked by the Mudo (that’s zombies to you and me).

This week I am shuffling around my reading list a little bit to try and include a few more zombie reads. Are you currently reading anything zombieish?

Also check out

2010: The Year of the Zombie

Sep 13, 2010

Grass by Sheri S. Tepper

I was first exposed to Sheri S. Tepper when I was searching for female science fiction authors. There was a bit of debate online about the quality of her writing. But after talking to some of the people I trust most, I have come to believe that while some of her work can be hit or miss, overall she is an asset to the science fiction genre.


The first thing I noticed when I began the audio of Grass was how striking the language was. I have criticized science fiction writers for not being diligent enough in their writing process to really craft words together. Many times science fiction authors rely on the ideas of their work to drive the piece rather than the quality of their story telling. Tepper’s telling of Grass is definitely an exception to this. Grass was nominated for a Hugo for best novel in 1990 and was included in Millennium/Gollancz’s Masterwork collection. The novel opens with a vignette of the surface of a planet called Grass. It was sweeping an elegant. I was both excited and worried about these opening lines. They were beautiful, but if the rest of the book was written in such a manner I was afraid it would become bloated.


Millions of square miles of it; numberless wind-whipped tsunamis of grass, a thousand sun-lulled caribbeans of grass, a hundred rippling oceans, every ripple a gleam of scarlet or amber, emerald or turquoise, multicolored as rainbows, the colors shivering over the prairies in stripes and blotches, the grasses—some high, some low, some feathered, some straight—making their own geography as they grow.


Through these words, the world of grass is painted before me. Especially through the audio narration I was able to feel like I was standing before the vast plains of multicolored grasses. Being overwhelmed by their splendor. I was also reminded of C. S. Lewis’s depiction of Malacandra on Out of The Silent Planet. I remember when I was reading it I fell so in love with the landscape of the planet. It was in a very similar way that I was drawn to Grass.


After my initial reaction to the description of Grass, I was soon drawn in by other interesting elements of the story. I was really intrigued by the politics of Grass and the whole galaxy. Now previous to meeting Mr. X, I would have considered myself apathetic to politics. But it ends up that I really love seeing the dynamic of interaction on a political level. The book starts out with the upper class population of Grass, called Bons, discussing what to do about some inquiries that are being made to further explore the planet. The people of Grass are very protective of their planet, their rituals, and their life. They moved to Grass to be free from many of the religious movements happening on Earth and across the human worlds. After much discuss that brought much of the dynamics to light, the elite citizens of Grass decide to allow a sort of ambassador to come previous to any sort of scientific or medical exploration team. But one of the particularly unique things is that this is only ONE of the many political dynamics in the book.  All of which held equal interest to me, especially early on in the book.


Although many authority figures, especially on Earth, are denying its existence, there is a plague threatening to wipe out the whole of humanity planet by planet. Grass is of particular interest because it seems to be the only known planet that had not been afflicted by anything resembling the plague. A ambassador is sent with his family to Grass to subtly find out if it is true that no one on the planet has ever suffered from the plague. There is worry that somehow people on Grass have found a way to hide the results of a plague, as some other planets have been doing. But the evidence is very strong against this as there have even been rumors of people with the plague being magically healed after a visit to the port town on Grass.


In an interview with Locus Magazine Tepper said:

"I know I continually pound on the same themes, because they're things I care about deeply. Those are the soapboxes. But when the stories get too similar, begin to feel like the same book, that is when I am dissatisfied. I want to be sure it's something at least a little fresh and new, in approach or idea."
It is through Tepper's passion that Majorie, the wife of the ambassador, is able to function in a political capacity on Grass. Majorie is a very smart woman who seems to understand the political dilemma even more than her husband. She is continually striving in her purpose on Grass to learn more about the people there and to discover if the plague is hiding somewhere uncover.  Majorie is a very strong female character and it was refreshing to see her presence in the story. She also has the softness that can be lacking in a strong character. She is maternal, loyal, and extremely caring. It is interesting to see, that even considering this, the family dynamic that Tepper put her in.  


Grass is a very long book and as it goes on more and more elements get weaved into the story. This is both a blessing and a curse. I love the way that Tepper explores so many different things through the different type of people who live on Grass, but it did get a little confusing, especially on audio.  Although I would definitely recommend Grass to others I would dissuade them from listening to the audio version because the story was just a little too complex when you didn’t have the ability to glance back on previous sections. I think even if reading this book in paper the story had at least one too many elements for everything to connect together seamlessly.


Another interesting thing about Grass is that it is considered to be the first book in a series. The following stories are in the same world but not in a direct timeline with the first book. I think I would like to re-read Grass if I ever got the opportunity to purchase it and that I would also like to read the other books in this series.

What female science fiction writer would you recommend?

Sep 12, 2010

TSS – Long Time No See

The Sunday

It will come as no shock that I seem to have inability to be a consistent contributer to the Sunday Salon, or to my own blog in general even.  My reading life has been going moderately well. Even after finishing two books this week, I am still struggling to really get good chunks of reading time in.

Life, focus, twitter, there are so many reasons why I don’t curl up in bed with my book night after night. But one of the biggest issues will probably be that I don’t have a nice reading lamp in my room. I am not sure when that became so vitally important, but it did. Another issue is that I have stopped using the library so I don’t have the built in system of the due date to drive me to read.  In order to combat this I am trying to set up a bit of a reading schedule for myself that I hope to stick by. I am only going to go about ten books out, but I am hoping this will keep me a bit more on track than I have been.

Do you make a list of books you are going to read and stick to that order? Do you just read books as your whims go? For me the hardest part of sticking with this will be that I read more than one book at a time. I know I will be tempted to start all ten books at the same time and be in the same situation I am now.

My goal recently was to finish 3 books that I was currently reading before starting a new book.  That seems to be helping with my focus issues because I have finished two books in one week and it should not be a day or two more before I am finished with the last one.  When I do finish it (not exactly sure which book it will even be), here is my tentative list of the next 10 books I would like to read.

  1. Rae by Chelsea Swiggett
  2. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
  3. The Dead Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
  4. Book I haven’t finished yet (Cherry Heaven, Never Let Me Go, The Iron Heel)
  5. Grimspace by Ann Aguirre
  6. Perdido Street Station by China MiƩville
  7. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
  8. Epic by Conor Kostick
  9. Exile by R. A, Salvatore
  10. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Other books on my radar are Feed, Before I Fall, and Bass Ackwards and Belly Up.

Today I am planning on putting in some quality time with Cherry Heaven. Unfortunately the pages turn very slowly when I am reading this book. I want to just race through it and be over with it. I do want to know what happens in the end but i don’t feel like dealing with all the meandering that is happening in the middle. What do you do when you want to know the end of the story but are struggling to get through it?

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