September's Review and October's Preview

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 0
Whoa -- did you feel that? That was September flying by!

Random Sam-cat photo. :)
Fun things that happened this month:
I also set up both a facebook page and twitter account for the blog -- so if you are looking for more Exploring Worlds goodness, please like/follow! Besides promoting blog posts, I try and post links to other random fun news I find through out the week on both accounts. 

What I am hoping to bring you this October: 
  • My review of Robin Hobb's new book Fool's Assassin (It is coming this week, I swear it! Oh, Fitz!)
  • Another awesome Battle of the Books. October's theme? Weird Westerns, aka Flintlock Fantasy, aka cowboys and magic, aka awesome! Check back next week for my intro post.
  • More Dark Tower love: a review of the final book Dark Tower and more Soundtrack Saturdays devoted to the rest of everyone's favorite ka-tet: Eddie, Susannah, and Jake. I loved creating these playlists, so it might something I continue doing for other books / series. 
  • Some scary read recommendations for Horror October, the Fortnight, hosted by Oh, the Books! 
  • More awesome short stories with Sunday Shorts
Wee! I am having fun planning ahead (really! I enjoy planning probably too much), especially with upcoming Sci-Fi November. So get ready for moar bookish / geeky content from Exploring Worlds!

Any requests or recommendations for the blog? Books you are looking forward to in October? Other cuddly cat photos from this month to share? Feel free to leave them in the comments below! 

Sunday Short: Ken Liu's Paper Menagerie

Sunday, September 28, 2014 0
This week's short story is the award winning story from Ken Liu, republished via io9 -- Paper Menagerie.

Origami Tiger, link

This fantastical short tells the story of an American boy whose Chinese mother has the ability to fold origami animals and breathe life into them. One of his earliest childhood memories is her folding him a tiger named Laohu. The animals his mother creates him become his childhood toys until another child calls them trash and taunts him for his mixed heritage. He then renounces the toys (burying them in a corner in the attic) and demands his mother be 'normal' for him - no longer speak Chinese and cook American. Children are cruel.

The story follows the narrator until sometime after his mother's death, when he learns of her difficult childhood in China and Hong Kong. I wont spoil the story for you, but I did find her experience with the Cultural Revolution interesting.

Overall the imagery of origami animals coming to light delightful and the mishaps / mischief that resulted charming. As a new mom, I can admit that more than once I've thought about all that my family heritage I'd like to impart on my daughter (and any future children). And I will admit I teared up a little at the way the narrator's mother delivers a final note to her son. But I did find the story a little heavy handed in its ultimate tragedy (ie -- mom can do no wrong, why did you ever reject her?) and would have appreciated maybe a more nuanced ending (rather than such a long reveal-all letter).

The story is definitely worth a read, though, and I definitely am putting Ken Liu's upcoming book -- The Grace of Kings -- the first in a series called the Dandelion Dynasty -- on my to-read list.

Rating 4/5

Favorite line: 
Sometimes, the animals got into trouble. Once, the water buffalo jumped into a dish of soy sauce on the table at dinner. (He wanted to wallow, like a real water buffalo.) I picked him out quickly but the capillary action had already pulled the dark liquid high up into his legs. The sauce-softened legs would not hold him up, and he collapsed onto the table. I dried him out in the sun, but his legs became crooked after that, and he ran around with a limp. Mom eventually wrapped his legs in saran wrap so that he could wallow to his heart's content (just not in soy sauce). 
Also, Laohu liked to pounce at sparrows when he and I played in the backyard. But one time, a cornered bird struck back in desperation and tore his ear. He whimpered and winced as I held him and Mom patched his ear together with tape. He avoided birds after that.
Any thoughts on this week's tale? Anybody else itching to find a few good origami patterns online to fold now?

Next week's Sunday short will be Sarah Pinsker's No Lonely Seafarer, published in Lightspeed this September.

Soundtrack Saturday: Dark Tower's Roland

Saturday, September 27, 2014 0

This Saturday & for the month of October, I am participating in Soundtrack Saturday, a meme created by the blogger The Hardcover Lover. Rather than creating a playlist based on one book, though, I am going to create playlists for my favorite characters from my most recent (and still ongoing) obsession, the Dark Tower. It is kind of a final love fest before posting my review of the final book in the series.

Did I mention how much I love the Dark Tower? Oh yes I did! In the intro here and here and here and here... Are you a fan of epic fantasy? Do yourself a favor and read this series already. And remember kleenex when starting Book 7. And don't hate me too much for getting you hooked.

Before I get started, it is worth noting that someone has already compiled all songs mentioned in the Dark Tower series that is totally worth checking out. 

This week, I'll start with a playlist devoted to Roland Deschain, the last of a long line of gunslingers and the final descendant of Arthur Eld. If you are like me, you'll hate and then love Roland.

If you'd like to listen along, hit play on the corresponding Spotify playlist I compiled:

Roland Deschain:

1. Imagine Dragons - Radioactive: I know most everyone thinks of Roland as the ass-kicking gun-slinging cowboy (and the DT series as a western), but I like the imagery of him traveling through a world that has moved on. Technology is dying, time is unraveling. And, as we see in the first book of the series, The Gunslinger, Roland can be pretty dangerous to the towns he passes through. 

I'm waking to ash and dust / I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust / I'm breathing in the chemicals.

2. KONGOS - Come With Me Now: In the first few books of the series, we see Roland seek his team - his ka-tet. (We later learn that Roland is pretty much a terrible team player, as so many have been lost on his quest.)  But I like the main refrain of the song as a reminder of Roland's beckoning of the ka-tet.
I heard him say / Come with me now / Don't delay
I need to move / I need to fight / I need to lose myself tonight.

3.  Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison Blues: When you are introduced to Roland in The Gunslinger, you see pretty early on that he has killed people. And then you see as he kills more people. But I think a part of him always regrets it. 

I hear the train a comin' / It's rolling round the bend
I'm stuck in Folsom prison, and time keeps draggin' on

4. The Wailin' Jennys - Long Time Traveler: Roland is old and hard. He makes heartless decisions on his way to the Tower. But in the book Wizard and Glass, you see his heart. I liked that this song acknowledged his traveling and his mourning for lost love, lost friendship, lost home (Gilead).

I'm a long time travelling here below / I'm a long time travelling away from home
Farewell kind friends whose tender care / has long engaged my love

5. Milky Chance - Stolen Dance: One of the iconic images of the series for me is Roland dancing the commala*. For whatever reason, the beat / base of this song had me thinking about Roland captivating the crowd in Calla Bryn Sturgis. Also, the lyrics below reminded me of the mourning of the losses in the final book (which I am so not emotionally healed from yet). 

Coldest winter for me / No sun is shining anymore
The only thing I feel is pain /Caused by absence of you

6.  OneRepublic - Counting Stars: I like to think of this song as an ode Roland's obession with the Dark Tower.  

Everything that kills me makes me feel alive.

7. Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah: I think what slays me most about this series is the ending for Roland. I am not going to spoil it (I hope!!), but my heart still feels it. I feel like this haunting take of the song fits accompanying a final scene with our cowboy walking into the sunset.

Maybe there's a God above / But all I've ever learned from love / Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you. 

There you have it -- seven songs for the seven books in the Dark Tower series! Do you have any songs to suggest for Roland? Thoughts on other songs for the rest of Roland's ka-tet? Leave them in the comments below! Next week, there will be a playlist for wise-guy Eddie. 

*It is worth noting that someone else actually put the commala lyrics from the series to song, to beautiful effect. I'd be amiss if I didn't link to it too!

Battle of the Books: Oz - reviews & conclusion

Thursday, September 25, 2014 2

This week I conclude this month's Battle of the Books, a feature where I read and review two books with a take on a similar topic. You can read my post introducing this month's battle (Wizard of Oz) and the books here. See below for my reviews and conclusions!

The Books

Dorothy Must Die (DMD), by Danielle Paige, is a young adult story set after the events of the story we all know and love in the Wizard of Oz. We see Oz as it is slowly degrading from the rule of a despot in Dorothy, with magic mined and animals enslaved by Dorothy's minions. DMD follows Amy, a girl from Kansas, as she is swept into Oz on a tornado and eventually bound to a group called the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked with a mission to remove Dorothy from power.

I think if a reader looking for an easy read with a relatable 'outsider' teen protagonist, this story might fit the bill. Amy has had a tough life in small town Kansas and yearns for an adventure. She gets an adventure, but it isn't what she expects. Overall, I felt that the story proceeded at a decent pace and kept me entertained well.
And then I thought: Bring it on. There’s no place like anywhere but here. - DMD
I definitely appreciated that Amy had qualms with the savior/chosen one/assassin role that individuals in Oz were attributing to her; it was a nice homage to the similar feelings that Dorothy faced in the original story. I liked that there was some question of whether the Order she was aligned with was really doing the right thing (and I plan to read the sequel next year to find out).

But I ultimately couldn't believe that the Dorothy we knew from Wizard of Oz would somehow turn out so... wrong. I think this was the ultimate weakness of this story for me -- there wasn't a clear or satisfying explanation of why Dorothy has turned into a total sociopath. In the original Wizard of Oz, Dorothy truly wants to go home, even if it is gray and dreary in comparison to Oz. Because that is where her family and home are... and there is no place like home.

Wicked, by Gregory Maguire, takes the world of Oz and creates a complex backstory filled with political conflicts and one character's slow descent from into madness.

The main character Elphaba was named in homage for L Frank Baum (L F B / El pha ba). Wicked is ultimately her story, and I thought she was one of the most unique characters I have encountered in literature for a long time.
One never learns how the witch became wicked, or whether that was the right choice for her -- is it ever the right choice? Does the devil ever struggle to be good again, or if so is he not a devil? It is at the very least a question of definitions. - Wicked
I found Elphaba's descent into madness believable (from student/research activist to fanatic to disillusioned greaving survivor) until the very end -- where it felt a little rushed to fit into the story we know from the viewpoint of Dorothy and her companions (must have my sister's shoes!!!). But in one sense, I appreciated that her madness/wickedness at the very end really was not entirely relatable nor justified because she had truly finally lost it.

I also felt that the overall pace of Wicked wasn't as uniform as DMD -- I felt some parts (her time with Fiyero's family, for one) slower and tougher to get through than others. It was a tougher book in some ways because of the complexity of the issues it addressed and cast of characters created for the story.

My Verdict

Ultimately, who do I think did the retelling of Oz better? Wicked.

Neither story was perfect to me, but I believe the story had a more interesting main character in Elphaba and a more nuanced take on the lands and magic of Oz.

As a fantasy fan, I always enjoy the magic systems created for a world. The magic/science system of Wicked felt ultimately more realistic to me than that in Dorothy Must Die. In Wicked, the magic was an artform to be studied and practiced for an entire lifetime (Elphaba laments not taking a class on it towards the end), but in DMD, it was something our main character was able to tap into within a few weeks based on channeling emotions.

But as a reader, to me a story ultimately succeeds on it's characters. We follow Elphaba from childhood into adulthood, witnessing her devote herself to a worthy cause (the Animals) to the point of fanaticism. Amy is a generally likable teenager, but I wanted more than one girl's story of (mis)adventure and teenage love interest. With Wicked, through the main character's story we get a nuanced tale/tragedy of why someone may turn into the very carciture of evil seen in Wizard of Oz. In DMD, we got the story of a group of witches formerly wicked and good alike, working to overthrow an evil that didn't feel fully explained to the reader.

Ratings: 4/5 Wicked, 3/5 Dorothy Must Die.

What about you? If you read both of the books, do you have a favorite? Any suggestions for other works (books, TV, etc?) inspired by the world created in The Wizard of Oz? Leave them in the comments below! And stay tuned next month for another Battle of the Books!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Fall To-Read List

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 0

Welcome to another post for the weekly meme created by The Broke and The Bookish. Each week, they post a new Top Ten list, and then bloggers respond with their answers. Without further ado, this week's list (in no particular order)! 

Top Ten Books On My Fall To-Be-Read List:

Ah, fall! A time of pumpkin and spice and everything nice! Other than already purchasing more than my fair share of everything pumpkin this week at the grocery store (pumpkin english muffins, where have you been all my life?), I have quite a list of books I'd like to tackle in the next few months.

First the new or newer releases:

1.  Ancillary Sword by Anne Leckie: the first in this series (Ancillary Justice) won all the awards this year, and I am one of those people who thinks it deserved it. I am really looking forward to another story with the alien perspective of Breq!
2.  Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin: this novel is a multiple award winning novel in China. It is being translated and released in English for the first time in November.
3.  The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell: as mentioned last week, I really enjoyed Mitchell's unconventional storytelling in his Cloud Atlas (and even thought the movie was decent), so I am looking forward to his new release.
4.  Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb: I haven't read enough Hobb, and I know that I need to remedy that. I've had this book on my to-read list for awhile.
5.  Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King: True story -- I am a member of a local all-girl's book club that is pretty awesome. In November, we are supposed to read another chick-lit book, but a few of us have revolted and decided to read this Stephen King instead (yes, I have found my tribe). 

And then the older releases that I'm hoping to finally tackle this fall:

  6.  Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: As noted in my SDCC wrap up, Gabaldon really impressed me at her panel I attended. I am hoping to start this series in the fall. 
7.  Red Country by John Abercrombie: Another author I met at SDCC, I have a pile of his books to read. I really enjoyed his latest release (Half a King review here), and his short story in the Dangerous Women anthology. 
8.  The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes: I've heard a lot of buzz about Beukes latest book (Broken Monsters), and it has put this other novel by her up higher on my to-read list again (seeing as it has been sitting on my kindle for over a year). 
9.  Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood: Atwood is another author I have vowed to read more of, and her sci-fi series in pretty high on my to-read list.
10. Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold: I went on a Bujold binge this time last year (highly recommended), reading pretty much all of her fantasy (Chalion series and The Sharing Knife series). Her Vorkosigan series is definitely high on my to-read list.

I'm not certain I will get to all these books but I am certainly going to have fun trying! Ah, the life of a literary addict. 

Sunday Short: Marie Brennan's Mad Maudlin

Sunday, September 21, 2014 0
This Sunday's short is Marie Brennan's Mad Maudlin, published on Previously, I've read Brennan's novel A Natural History of Dragons, which I would recommend to any fan of alternative histories / dragons / Victorian era stories -- an awesome mix, right?

This short starts with a psychiatrist named Peter who is meeting a newly admitted patient who came to the hospital with blood on her clothes that were not her own. She calls herself Mad Maudlin and recites verses of a folksong that Peter doesn't recognize from his youth until later that evening.
For to see mad Tom o’ Bedlam
Ten thousand miles I’ve traveled
Mad Maudlin goes on dirty toes
For to save her shoes from gravel.
Illustration by Iain McCaig,
I found this story as creepy as all get out, but in a good way. We can hear Peter's inner dialogue as he first meets and interacts with Maud, as he thinks about the song -- a song about insanity, as he tries to help treat Maud. We follow Peter as he offers to help her and realizes that he has volunteered much more than intended. This twisty turny tale also touches on some interesting psychiatric ideas (which former psych genetics student me found really interesting!) and a big dose of mythology to boot.
Frankly, this story may be one of my all-time favorite short stories. If you are looking for a little haunting thriller to read (especially with October coming up), I'd recommend you check this one out. 
Rating: 5/5
Favorite line: 
The logical conclusion, then, was that Maud wasn’t schizophrenic at all. But she was: Peter knew that, as firmly as he knew his own name. Even though it wrenched his brain, trying to hold both contradictory truths at once. If Maud’s delusions were real, then she wasn’t mad. But she was mad—both creator of and created by this world she’d dragged him into. You’d have to be mad yourself, to wrap your brain around that.
Archetypal figures of lunacy. Mad Maudlin, and Tom o’ Bedlam. The only way for them to exist was to be both at once: insane, and also true.
Next week's Sunday Short will be  Ken Liu's award winning short story Paper Menagerie, reprinted in io9. Ken Liu is translating The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin, which is coming to Tor this October. This novel is the first volume of the most popular hard scifi series in China, and it has been on my definite to-read list since hearing about the translation! 

Battle of the Books: Oz edition

Thursday, September 18, 2014 4

This week, I am debuting a new monthly feature -- Battle of the Books! Each month, I will read and review two books that take a spin at a similar topic, be it broad (space opera! dragons!) or narrow (weird westerns! time traveling to WWII!) in scope. With this feature, there will be two posts a month -- one to introduce the topic and books, and another with my reviews.

A seasoned professor once told young hopeful graduate student me that rarely is a good idea new. This idea depressed me at first. But honestly? Now I have accepted that it can be kind of awesome. If you love a topic or have a great idea, even an esoteric one, it can be great to find out that someone else has done it too.

Therefore, even though I am calling this feature a battle (who among sci-fi/fantasy fans doesn't love battles, am I right?), I don't want a reader to get the wrong idea -- both books could be awesome and totally recommended. Ultimately, I hope my reviews may help future readers identify a book (or two) in an area that would suit them best.

Without further ado, this month's Battle is in the realm of munchkins and magic and yellow brick roads.... the world of Oz, as originally created by L. Frank Baum in 1900 with his novel 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.' 

Baum's novel inspired a musical and later the 1939 film adaptation we all know and love. The author went on to write 13 other novels based on the land and people of Oz. (In the spirit of honesty, I have only ever read the first in this series, but hope to read the whole bit for my daughter when she gets old enough!) From the introduction preceding The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, we read Baum's motivation in the creation of Oz:
...the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written solely to please children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment of joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.
The land of Oz has inspired many adaptations (and pop culture references) over the years, but today I am going to focus on two novel adaptations that spin this original fairy tale world back into a gritty one with plenty of heartaches and nightmares for young adult and adult readers -- Danielle Paige's young adult novel Dorothy Must Die (published in April 2014) and Gregory Maguire's Wicked: Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (published in October 2009).


Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige tells the story of a modern day teenage girl from Kansas named Amy. Her father abandoned both Amy and her mom early on, and Amy's mother struggles with addiction. They live in a trailer park in a small town. Amy is at home, alone, when a tornado hits and sends her and her trailer to Oz.

Our protagonist finds that the land of Oz is drastically different from the stories we know and love -- a gloomy washed out land where magic is mined from the land and magically creatures are enslaved to a despot named Dorothy. Dorothy is the one and same girl from Kansas we've previously known, and she has come back to Oz greedy for attention, magic, power, etc. Amy finds herself bound to a group called the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked whose members include wicked witches and wizards intent on killing Dorothy and restoring a balance of good and evil in Oz.

Wicked: Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire focuses on the life of the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba. It tells us her side of the story, a girl born with strange green skin and a fear of water to a minister/missionary and heiress to the Thropp family. The story travels to familiar places and introduces the reader to other familiar characters, with secrets of their own.

Wicked also creates complex political and religious issues in the land of Oz with a class-based system and debates on topics such as whether Animals who can talk should be treated the same as animals that cannot.

Have you read either of these books or others inspired by L. Frank Baum's work? Have suggestions for other books for fans of Oz? Ideas for other books to battle? Leave a comment below! And don't forget to check back later this month for my reviews and the winner of this month's battle.

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I NEED to Read More

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 2

In an effort to provide a little more regular programming, I am going to start experimenting with some weekly features. This week I am trying out the weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday. Have an idea of something you'd like to see? Leave it in the comments below! 

It is a weekly meme created by The Broke and The Bookish. Each week, they post a new Top Ten list, and then bloggers can response with their answers. Without further ado, this week's list (in no particular order)! 

Top Authors I've Only Read One Book From But NEED to Read More: 

  1. Ann Leckie: This one isn't my fault, as she only has one novel out: Ancillary Justice. But the next in the series, Ancillary Sword, is high on my to-read list.
  2. Guy Gavriel Kay: I read Kay's Tigana with the Sword and Laser bookclub in 2013 and thought the author did a great job of twisting some familiar fantasy tropes. I hope to get a chance to read The Lions of Al-Rassan.
  3. Kate Atkinson: I read her Life after Life last winter and loved it (although wouldn't recommend it for any other new parent that is worried about all the things that go wrong for their children). I will probably start with her popular Jackson Brodie series, which I heard hyped at SDCC this year.
  4. Joe Abercrombie: I read his most recent novel Half a King and plan to continue that series when the next comes out. I plan on reading his novel Red Country soon. 
  5. Jo Walton: I read her Hugo winning novel Among Others with the Sword and Laser bookclub in 2013 and have read some of her short fiction since then. Her novel My Real Children has been on my to-read list for awhile.
  6. Jim Butcher: I set a goal of reading one long series every year, and I'm pretty certain next year's series will be Butcher's Dresden files. I've only read the first in his Codex Alera (high fantasy) series Furies of Calderon (because who doesn't want to read a book in which the author tried to mix Roman legions and Pokemon, right?). 
  7. C.J. Cherryh: Sometimes a girl needs straight up politics and space opera, am I right? I read Cherryhy's Hugo-award winning Downbelow Station with the Sword and Laser bookclub in 2013, and I appreciated the story's complexity of the politics / science fiction. I will probably start with Foreigner.
  8. David Mitchell: Read his Cloud Atlas with (wait for it...) the Sword and Laser bookclub and loved the unconventional storyline (gave my reading muscles a workout!)...I am definitely interested in his newly published The Bone Clocks.
  9. Margaret Atwood: Probably one of my biggest sources of reader shame is having only read Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which was definitely not the most comfortable read but so very very interesting. I've had her Oryx and Crake novel on my to-read list for awhile.
  10. Scott Lynch: Reading 1.5 novels still counts as 1 novel, right? I read Lynch's Lies of Locke Lamora (with the Sword and Laser bookclub, surprise!) and started the sequel on audiobook only to get caught up in other reads. I need to start Red Seas under Red Skies again. Because I need to know what happens to my favorite gentlemen bastards. I probably just wont listen to the audiobook, as I've found I don't really enjoy my stories as much that way.
As you can imagine, my to-read list is way. too. long! Making this list definitely made me appreciate the Sword and Laser book club, which I discovered back in 2012 and have been reading the picks for ever since. This online book club has done a great job of introducing me to new (to me) authors!

Sunday Short: Jennifer Pelland's Captive Girl

Sunday, September 14, 2014 0

This week's short was Jennifer Pelland's Captive Girl, published in Helix magazine.

Monkey Head Nebula, viewed by the Hubble Telescope
Honestly, this story was a little bit outside of my comfort zone. It tells the story of one girl, Alice, who 'volunteered' to be hooked up to a surveillance system on humankind's first extra-solar colony. Ten years previously, the colony had been attacked by unknown assailants who then vanished. The program involved blinding, deafening, and crippling the subjects used in the program so that the implants could work. The implants could only work with a juvenile mind.

We first meet Alice as she is out of body surveying the space around the planet.

I found the idea of a mind out of body interesting, and the fact that there were sacrifices to make it so (essentially crippling the user) interesting as well. The delving into the consequences of those sacrifices (especially when the program was discontinued and Alice underwent surgery to repair all the damage) was the most interesting to me. I would have been interested to see more of Alice and Jayna as roommates after everything that happened to them.

But I did not like the idea of it being done only on adolescent girls. And the whole subplot of the caretaker Marika (and it's concluson) had an ick factor to me. The subplot's ending was unsatisfying as well (love = suffering through old traumas?). 

Overall, this short had some really interesting ideas, but it wasn't a favorite of mine. If you are a fan of this story or the idea of extra computerized perception out of body, you might like the award winning* novel by Ann Leckie -- Ancillary Justice. This novel is told from the perspective of Breq -- who was an AI in control of a whole ship, battle contingent... etc. It is an interesting narrator to say the least! 

What award, you ask? Pretty much all! 2014 Hugo, Nebula, British Science Fiction, Locus and Arthur C. Clarke Awards. 

Rating: 2.5/5

Favorite line: In the choreographed chaos of space, she searches for patterns that do not fit. She listens to the hiss and murmur of the interstellar winds; she peers into the visible spectrum and beyond. Whistling particles stream by, and her mind sizes them up, then discards them as harmless background radiation. Just flotsam on the solar winds. 

Next week, I'll review the short Marie Brennan's Mad Maudlin, published in

Dark Tower: Books Five and Six - Mister, we deal in lead...Come, come, commala!

Thursday, September 11, 2014 0
Today's Dark Tower post continues the journey along the beam with Books Five and Six of the series. My Dark Tower introduction can be found here (and reviews of the other books in the series here and here).

Book Five: Wolves of the Calla

Rating: 5/5 - Goodreads

I think in some ways, readers of the series either loved or hated this book. I was definitely in the camp of LOVE, but I can see the frustrations for those who many not have loved it. The ka-tet is on their way to the Dark Tower, when they get detoured in the town of Calla Bryn Sturgis -- where everyone has twins and every 20-30 years a band of people called Wolves come and take one from each set. The kidnapped children come back later 'roont'.

In the Calla, we meet a character from one of King's other novel's -- Fr. Callahan. (On a side note: I've never read 'Salem's Lot, but if you don't want to be spoiled for that story, I'd recommend you read that King book before this story.) The town asks the gunslingers for help, and they, being of the line of Arthur Eld, oblige.

I loved Roland and Jake's relationship growth in this book. The commala dance that Roland performs is one of those images I'll keep with me. And I daresay I even started to like Susannah/Detta by the end.

Ultimately, if you love this series for the characters and aren't too interested in getting-to-the-tower-already-damnit, then this story shines. The ka-tet all get a grand adventure together, fighting baddies in a gritty western style shoot out, which was very satisfying to me. My only complaint is the storyline with Susannah and Mia and the chap -- but by the end of the next novel I understood why King included it (still, not my favorite).

Book Six: Song of Susannah

Rating: 5/5 - Goodreads

Did you feel that? The slight but persistent change in pull in this book? I felt a change when I started; it was when I realized the ending was going to be more dark and less happy then I hoped. And that it was coming, coming way faster than I wanted (but I couldn't stop).

After the battle in Calla Bryn Sturgis, Mia takes Susannah into 1999, and the rest of the ka-tet go after her and a very special rose they must protect in the keystone/modern day world. Roland and Eddie end up in 1977, while Jake, Oy, and Fr. Callahan end up in 1999. Most of this book is spent in this modern world -- with thugs chasing after our ka-tet and shoot outs, there is plenty of action.

And frankly, the story gets really weird in this book. Because Stephen King is in the book. Yes, Stephen King writes himself as a character in his own epic, and it is weird, but at least he doesn't write himself awesome. (Book-King is mostly a stoner / drunk.) It took me awhile to accept it as just how it was going to be.

I did love how you can feel each character missing every other character, how much they are pining for a reunion. Because they are joined in ka-tet and in friendship on this journey that separates them. I think it was here that I realized that there may not be any other characters I've read that I've spent so much time (and so many pages) getting to know, especially in their relationships of non-romantic / platonic nature. It is just so damn epic.


Dark Tower update: Last week, I finished the final book in the series, but it is going to take me a little while to recover from the emotional ride it was. But sometime in the next month I hope to have the final review out!

Sunday Short: LaShawn M. Wanak's 21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus One)

Sunday, September 7, 2014 0
This week's short is Wanak's 21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus One), published in Strange Horizons.
2014, Cedric Fiumara (with background texture by,
"21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus One)"

This story caught me on a bad day and did something that great stories do -- it made me forget the moment I was and transport me to another one. 21 Steps is told from the perspective of a young black girl who lives in a world where spiral staircases just appear. We are told: '..spiral staircases give people ideas for their next novel, their next painting. Money for the rent. Boyfriends. Cheetos. A cure for cancer. A warm place to spend the night. Knitting projects, rave parties, manicures, a PhD in astrophysics, that thing you've always wanted as a kid, Heaven, Hell, and everything in between.'

The narrator's mother refuses to climb a staircase, and the narrator comes to the important realization of why. Overall, I think the story shares a lot of similarities to Chu's Hugo winning short story The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere (my review here). Both deal with family dynamics in eloquent and meaningful ways, and both have a fantastical element that the authors use to create an extra emotional depth to the story.

Rating 4.5/5

Favorite line: I wondered if I would ever see her that happy. Then I realized I wasn't responsible for her happiness, anymore than she was responsible for mine.

Next week, I'll highlight the short Jennifer Pelland's Captive Girl, which was originally published in Helix back in 2006 (and nominated for a Nebula in 2007), but is available online for free via Transcriptase.

Another Reader's Comic Con update!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014 0
Some videos from SDCC have been available online for those interested, including this one of the Rulers of the Realm panel:

Truthfully, this panel was really one of my favorite panels in the history of Comic Con panels I've attended -- so if you have some time, I really encourage a viewing!

Copyright © 2014 Exploring Worlds
Template by These Paper Hearts