Tag Archives: Science Fiction

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

It’s as if Carrie Fisher came to my house and initiated a conversation right in my living room. The free-falling intimacy-sharing format of her memoir, The Princess Diarist, brings the author to life, despite her fairly recent death.

This particular book touches on Fisher’s experiences as Princess Leia in the first of the Star Wars films. She takes us back to the seventies and relives those days of her teens. At that time she was naive and self conscious, despite growing up in a Show Biz family with mother Debbie Reynolds (and her divorced father Eddie Fisher).

Anyone aware of Carrie’s numerous books and talk show appearances knows about her transformation over the years from a shy, reticent girl to a pull-no-punches, shoot-straight-from-the-hip woman who faced life straight on, not dodging any bullets while sharing the truths in her life, including her drug addiction (or self-medicating to control her bi polar disorder).

But at nineteen, Carrie was fresh and talented and still a bit of a baby. Somehow she allowed herself to over imbibe at a cast party and almost got herself into a real mess with several of the rowdy crew when costar Harrison Ford “rescued” her right into the bedroom.

Thus began their location liaison lasting for three months until the last day of Ford’s filming when he left London to return home to his wife and two children.

Through the diaries which Carrie kept during that time frame, we hear the thoughts of a young girl who can’t believe that this handsome, older, more worldly man would choose her. Terrified she’d do or say the wrong thing, Carrie obsesses about her mostly silent partner as they spend their weekends together. She fantasizes about a future as a couple even while realizing that theirs is only an affair of convenience.

After thoroughly exploring this relationship, Carrie goes on to discuss the after effects of the Princess Leia role, including her interactions with the fans

Despite their instant fame, the young cast members had signed off all rights to the Star Wars merchandizing, so to fund her passion for shopping, Fisher found herself in need of ways to fill the coffers, including selling her signature (which she called the celebrity lap dance) at various events including Comic Cons.

While Fisher’s writing style is breezy and easy to read, full of anecdotes reflecting her twisted sense of humor and allusions to her youthful insecurities which spilled over into adulthood, too much time is spent on the “Carrington” affair (lots of attention, not too many details). The diary excerpts are difficult to read. I was nineteen once and I personally don’t want to read anyone else’s rambling reflections and anxieties involving their first love, especially this confusing relationship between Carrie and Harrison – two such disparate personalities. It’s just too personal.

The diary entries, especially the poetry, are often pretentious (although there are a few good lines) and embarrassingly over the top, although the reader gets an understanding of what Carrie was feeling during that interlude. Fisher is nothing if not open and honest, willing to kiss and tell while leaving out the actually sex (beyond a mention of their numerous make out sessions).

Despite the run on sentences and other flaws, Princess Leia fans will enjoy this trip down memory lane. An added bonus is the photographs interspersed throughout the book.

I’ve always been a Carrie Fisher fan (more the person, than the actual roles she portrayed), so this book was difficult to read knowing that she had tragically died of a heart attack at the age of sixty, not even old enough to collect social security. A close family, Carrie’s mom had a stroke and died while planning the funeral with her son. Fisher’s beautiful twenty five year old daughter is left to carry on the family tradition. Perhaps she’ll also have some stories to share so their family legacy lives on.

Check the internet for a tour of Carrie’s home full of amazing collectibles which are slated to be auctioned (along with items her mother/next door neighbor Debbie Reynolds accumulated over the years).

Three stars.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodread.

Sixteen by Jen Estes

Here is a tale of teen angst with a twist. You have the social misfit who despite her lack of popularity, is best friends with the prom queen and dating the Captain of the Football Team that she met while fulfilling her court mandated community service as punishment for buying drugs (sleeping pills) from an undercover cop. To complicate matters, the one person who provides emotional support has run off with her obnoxious foster sister. Sounds like your typical YA novel, yet there is a whole other story written between the lines which moves Sixteen by Jen Estes up a notch from normal expectations.

Those of you who read Fifteen, the first novel in the Dreamwalker Diaries Series by Jen Estes are familiar with Ashling Campbell, a Dreamwalker who is the only one that can stop the depraved Jumlin from achieving immortality for himself and his spawn, thus gaining the ability to enslave or destroy mankind. Luckily this can only be attempted once every fifteen years and requires the help of the reincarnated Laughing Bear who is human despite being a descendent of the Jumlin. The Dreamwalker is able to travel 15 years forward through time in order to find a way to thwart these potential cataclysmic events. Their progeny is then burdened with the same task until the Jumlin either succeeds in his task or is destroyed.

In Fifteen, Ash discovers that the Jumlin is actually, Walker Smith, the supposed father of best friend Skykar (who was actually switched at birth with his real daughter – Nadette – by the predecessor Dreamwalker). In order to prevent her horrific recurring nightmares from becoming true, Ash convinces Nadette (her foster sister) to run away, not realizing her buddy Tate would go along for the ride. It’s not that she totally resents his attraction to her malicious “adopted” roommate, it’s that she doesn’t have anyone else with whom she can share her most intimate nightmares without being declared insane.

Sixteen advances the saga as Jen tracks down her half brother who has the key to finding another way to “redo” her previous feat in order to “undo” the accidental shooting death of her mother. Success in this quest would result in a boring plot, so the unexpected repercussions of her actions alert the Jumlin to her presence, endangering her friends and family. Forced to expand the circle of individuals who know the truth, they must band together and make some difficult decisions on how to keep the demon Walker from unearthing any further secrets while destroying the minions who make up his empire – all without being thrown into prison for murder or ending up hospitalized/dead.

The trouble the author, Jen Estes, faced was how to weave the two stories together. It’s been two years since Fifteen was published, so a little refresher was welcome, but as Ash explains the whys and wherefores to a widening circle of people in the know, the reader is forced to hear the details over and over. Flashbacks and old diary entries fill in additional blanks as Ash solves some of the remaining riddles. While the repetitions get annoying at times, the plot has enough booby traps to keep it interesting along with some gratuitous violence to appeal to readers who additionally enjoy stories with vampire or dragon slayers. Of special interest was the blending of past, present, and future as Ash interacts with various individuals from her life at different stages in their existence.

Expect an abrupt culmination with a cliffhanger ending leading into the next novel where the teens, armed with what normal people would consider insane facts, are determined to spend the summer tracking down and destroying this evil which threatens the world.

Not quite as groundbreaking as the first novel, three and a half stars and a thank you to Curiosity Quill for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads and Amazon.

The Zodiac Legacy #1: Tiger Island created by Bruce Lee, written by Stuart Moore, illustrated by P H Marcondes

I must admit, I’ve always been fascinated by the Chinese Zodiac and the idea that each of the twelve signs could imbue powers on select hosts is definitely an intriguing concept for a comic book/graphic novel series. Add in the brilliance of Stan Lee, the imaginative writing talents of Stuart Moore, the detailed illustrative abilities of P H Marcondes, and the support of Disney, resulting in the start of a promising series.

To fully appreciate the comic book The Zodiac Legacy #1: Tiger Island, I recommend you read Stan Lee’s introductory novel, The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence which lays out the groundwork for the series. Even though Tiger Island has some background information, the format doesn’t allow for the detail necessary to explain all the nuances of the various characters. As the first issue in this continuing saga, graphics are used to identify the various powers of the good guys on “Team Steven Lee” as they search for a place to set up a command post in their fight against the Vanguard who are plotting to steal their special Zodiac powers to add to the power of their boss, the insane evil genius Maxwell.

At the prospective headquarters on the technology savvy Tiger Island, the reader is able to glean some insight into the inner workings of “the players” as they visit the Holodeck Wishing Rooms to live out their dreams via vertical reality. These fantasies are interrupted by a very real invasion of dangerous wild animals who have been sent by Vanguard to attack the island. While our heroes are saving the day, one of their compatriots disappears. What happens next can be found in The Zodiac Legacy #2: Power Lines.

The plot must unfold quickly since this book is only 66 pages long, so don’t look for a lot of specifics, although the colorful graphics, with some incredible “special effects”, do enhance the story. Still, if you go into this book familiar with the numerous characters, you can sit back and enjoy the ride. While the cliffhanger is on the mild side, it does leave you wanting more.

This continuation of the original Legacy trilogy lends itself to a comic book format, especially since too much explanation detracts from the action. Perfect for middle schoolers or fans of super heroes.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Papercutz for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Robota by Doug Chiang, Orson Scott Card

First off, Robota doesn’t necessarily prescribe to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. On this alien influenced earth, robots carry the ability to think and they want to take over the world. Whereas once flesh and metal lived side by side, over time they became enemies – each striving for survival. While not all robots are bloodthirsty, Kaantur-Set, the general of the robot army, is obsessed with destroying all carbon based life forms on the planet. Enter Caps, a man whose amnesia leads him to search for the truth. Cap ends up joining a rag tag team, consisting of a monkey-like creature, a young woman raised by robots, and a yeti-looking gorilla, all out to get revenge. It’s kill or be killed, yet they discover not every enemy is set on destruction, when they add Elyso, a robot whose sect refuses to harm humans, to their team.

While this world at times represents the Earth we know, the majority of the planet is fascinatingly bizarre yet somehow enticing, encouraging the reader to try and decipher the underlying meaning behind the fast paced, albeit confusing events. The stunning illustrations by Doug Chiang (who has numerous film credits to his name including Star Wars) creates a breathtaking fantasy world. Unfortunately, the narrative by Orson Scott Card, well known for his work in the SF genre, is totally perplexing, like a rough draft that has left out some pertinent details. Perhaps Chiang’s prologue would have helped set the stage, but it was blurred and unreadable in my ebook. Luckily Wikipedia has the complete backstory, filling in the numerous blanks and providing the reader with enough details to obtain somewhat of a grasp on the plot line.

I find it especially annoying that there was no attempt to revise the written portion of the 2003 publication for this new 2016 edition of Robota, although there is the addition of a forward by Garett Edwards and some extra concept artwork by Chiang to enjoy.

At one point there was a promise for the creation of a video game using the Robota theme, although I would prefer to see an action movie visually bringing Chaing’s conceptualizations to graphic life. There are a few glimpses of the possibilities on utube, where several 2 minute vignettes (with and without sound) are available to view. As I was reading the book, I couldn’t help visualizing the animation possibilities which were more exciting than the written word. Yet, while the illustrations remained stupefying, they didn’t always jive with the narration, despite their astonishing content.

Five stars to Chiang, 2 stars to Card for a total of 3.5 stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Dover Publications for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Reading Dark Matter by Blake Crouch is like walking through a maze – well not exactly since a maze has a beginning and an end, more like a labyrinth with a multitude of paths leading nowhere.

Jason Dessen has the perfect life with his wife Daniela and son Charlie. Perhaps he had to give up a high level career and settle for a professorship in physics at a small college and his talented wife never achieved the artistic fame she had once sought, but they were content. Jason has a chance to find out that happiness doesn’t hinge on money and prestige when he is basically kidnapped and sent to an alternative universe (multiverse) while someone else takes over his idyllic life. The new world is a nightmare and in order to maintain his sanity, Jason needs to find out where he is and how he got there in order to have any hope of discovering the path back “home”. What makes matters worse is that second guessing his own motivations only creates more chaos in an already disjointed and deranged world.

What a wild ride! Just when you think you’ve got things figured out there’s either a dead end or an unexpected plot twist. While I was able to foresee a few events there were others which astounded and the ending remained as bizarre as the original premise. At times the author’s explanation of the scientific phenomena of the Schrodinger’s Cat Paradox and quantum physics were repetitious and frankly, over my head, although I did grasp enough of the essence to accept the situation as plausible in a demented sort of way. The singlemindedness of Jason was both annoying in its doggedness as well as endearing for its root causes. It certainly kept me engaged, especially with the crazy climax which appeared to have no acceptable resolution. Crouch definitely induces the reader to analyze their own motivations in life, pondering the various “what if” alternatives which might have been chosen. The one weakness of this novel is the lack of depth in the characterizations which would have provided some substance to the reasonings of the supporting players instead of leaving open ended suppositions about their particular actions for the reader to contemplate.

I find this novel difficult to categorize – is it an existential love story or a science fiction tale of horror or a psychological thriller? You pick.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Crown Publishing for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Father, the Pornographer: A Memoir by Chris Offutt

I was intrigued by the title My Father, the Pornographer, not knowing what to expect, but surprised to find myself drawn into the tale of a dysfunctional family with an unconventional father the center of the strife. Andrew Offutt, a science fiction author who found fulfillment in writing situational pornography under numerous pseudonyms, was, what I would call, a genius with a way with words. Having myself worked with gifted children, from my experiences I oftentimes observed that the brightest among us have idiosyncrasies or quirks which many would consider antisocial. Andrew, while talented, focused his energies on describing sexual encounters (he even had a notebook with various descriptions and vocabulary to assist him in his goal of completing a book a month) many of them focusing on BDSM, including psychological and physical degradation. A connoisseur of his craft, Offutt used his well honed research techniques to create compelling, complex plots intermingled with smut. In the midst of this flurry of “erotica”, was the publication of some renowned literature in the SF genre.

Known as Andrew J. Offutt, he found his niche in the world of fanzine, attending Science Fiction conventions in the Midwest. Here is where our lives intersected. During my college years I was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club at the University of Buffalo where I was introduced to the world of “Cons”. My first exposure was at the 1973 WorldCon in Toronto – Torcon. Here I got to meet my favorite SF authors (please note true science fiction fans never use the term sci-fi), discuss details of our favorite books with other fans, buy SF parphanalia, and watch various relevant films, both old and new. The hi-light of the event was the Hugo Awards voted on by the fans who attended at least one the WorldCons over the previous two years (vs the Nebula Award which is presented by the professional organization SFWA – Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). While WorldCons are held at locations throughout the United States and other countries, the 1974 WorldCon was held in Washington DC – DisCon. It was huge (centrally located so that both the Midwest and Northeast – including the NYC crowd – attended) and I was there. The handsome Andrew Offutt was the Toastmaster at the Hugo presentation. It was with the adulation of the science fiction crowd he felt a kinship.

While my viewpoint of the conventions, which I found exciting, and the author’s, who found them boring, did not merge, I still was brought back to my late teen years when I was immersed in the field of literature. Not only did I recognize the SF authors mentioned, I had also read and enjoyed some of Andrew Offutt’s works. My BA in English from UB and involvement in science fiction included a stint in organizing Anonycon I in Niagara Falls and Anonycon II in Buffalo. (Anonycon stood for Another New York Convention). My memory is fuzzy, but I remember Samuel R Delaney (Chip), a visiting professor at UB, was the guest of honor at the later event.

Needless to say, I disregarded the porn aspect of the story and focused on the SF tales. As far as the family dynamics, I believe Andrew truly loved his children, but that he had narcissistic tendencies along with a sort of OCD which made him an irascible, verbally abusive parent who demanded complete fidelity including an unrealistic stillness from his four young children while he worked in his Appalachian Kentucky home. His attraction to pornography only added to his unreasonable demands. My personal reflection is that what society considers the norm for sexuality, does not exist. The so-called variations and permentations, including homosexuality, transexuality, fetishes, BDSM, sadism, masichism, etc. are more common than admitted. Pornography has been around since biblical times and I agree with the elder Offutt that the fantasies serve a purpose, fulfilling a need and keeping the viewer/reader from acting on their impulses. I personally have no problem with porn, unless it involves any acts of pediphilia which I consider abhorrent. Luckily, Andrew Offutt kept his sexual encounters between adults. If you are picking up this book hoping for numerous erotic excerpts, you will be disappointed, although there are a few scenarios shared which I personally found disturbing.

At times this book reverted to a psychology session as the author tried to come to terms with his inability to connect with his dad. Even though Chris Offutt is also a published author talented with the written word (reflected in the easy, story-telling tone of this book), it was only through third party comments that he received evidence of his father’s approval. By taking on the archival task of cataloguing the entire 400+ collection of his father’s 1800 pounds of published and unpublished works (many of them written solely for private use), as well as a multitude of correspondence, Chris must also deal with his feelings towards the past, many of them negative. In the back of forth of his saga, he often gets up close and personal, sharing the good with the bad. Since the reader is asked to serve as therapist, my advice is to “let it go!”. At one point, an individual grows up and begins to take responsibility for their own actions, leaving parent/child relationships behind. The abuse, whether real or perceived, is in the past and with the death of a parent the past is moot – so move on and stop internalizing regrets.

So, My Father, the Pornographer: A Memoir represents the reflections of Chris Offutt as he sorts through his father’s works, thinking back on his childhood and looking for positive experiences amongst the sad memories, ones which reflect his father’s love. Discussions with his widowed mother, who sold the family home and moved to be close to her son, fills in some of the blanks. The reader is brought along for the ride.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Atria Books for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

You can tell the authors had a blast writing this book. This is not your “father’s” science fiction – it is an SF saga. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff lacks the typical narrative – in fact there is no story, at least not in the typical prose. The reader discovers what is happening through various discourse, documents, and diagrams as found in the report of events prepared by the Illuminae. It’s as if we are experiencing life as it happens via emails and memos – a technique which not only engages the reader, but takes them prisoner as they become compelled to discover what happens next.

On the day after 17 year old Kady dumps her boyfriend Ezra, all hell breaks loose when their home planet is attacked by BeiTech Industries in retaliation for their illicit mining activity. That’s one way to eliminate the competition. Luckily Kady had taken the car to school that day and reluctantly allows Ezra to ride along as they race to one of the two shuttles which are able to make it safely off the annihilated planet to the protection of space ship Alexander (who luckily happened to be close enough to intercept their SOS). Although Flagship Alexander successfully fights off the attacking enemy ship Lincoln, its capacity to jump through space has been so badly damaged that travel to the safety of the nearest space station will have to be the slow, old fashioned way.

Danger continually pops up throughout this epic (600 or so pages), sometimes in the form of a rogue computer reminiscent of 2bi001’s Hal or via a bio virus which rapidly spreads and turns those infected into raving lunatics – a sort of outer space version of Night of the Living Dead. If that doesn’t cause enough of a crisis, the Lincoln is in pursuit while the damaged Alexander has to shut down their Artificial Intelligent computer, AIDEN, after it has gone rogue and taken command (with devastating results). Throughout, Ezra (an innately talented fighter pilot) and Kady (a secret, but effective, computer hacker) find themselves on separate ships, interacting through correspondence and other activities as they strive to reunite and rekindle their former romance.

The authors keep you guessing with death and violence more prevalent than survival. Expect to hold your breath on more than one occasion and don’t get too attached to any of the characters (although many become endearing through their brave actions as reflected via internet dialogue). There are lots of heroes in the midst of tragedy with a sliver of hope that our favorites will survive. Even if you think you’ve figured it all out, there are too many surprises to be smug about correctly envisioning future outcomes. The diabolical AIDEN, with its flawed inner core, leaves us conflicted with love/hate feelings as we at first root for its demise and then want it to survive against all the odds.

Four and a half stars plus some excited anticipation for the rest of the trilogy coming out in 2016 and 2017. This one should make a big impact on the young adult crowd which could easily eek over to adult and teenage readers. I personally think it is a little violent for younger children, but it’s not as if The Hunger Games and Divergent were G rated books either.

A thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for sending this ARC in exchange for an honest review.