15 April 2018

Rebooting My Sci-Fi Brain

Like my breakfast pairing of coffee with jellybeans my recent reading weeks have been everything but ordinary. Months of disenchantment with my book piles, I have rambled through March/April holding resolute to obscure Agatha Christie short stories. With the myriad of choice in science fiction why do I shipwreck myself on Mystery Island so frequently? 

The finalists for the The Hugo Awards rather than pique my interest has me grasping for Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland like a talisman of literary inspiration. Sorry but not sorry, American popular speculative fiction is all that I am desperate to avoid. For years my reading lists have been peppered by Clarke nominations, sprinkled on top with a few solid Canadian writers, all the while patiently waiting to see what springs from The Kitschies


Has my geeky love for science fiction finally run dry? If I am not this girl, the Mom in the playground buried deep in a space operatic adventure lost to the nuances of daily life, then who am I? There is nothing direr than a reader without a reading purpose. As a sub-species, the 'bookless' reader mopes through the hours of the day, bewildered, definitely rattled, awash in loneliness. "I have nothing to read!" bounces through the reader's soul pounding in the necessity to share the desperation to anyone in visual proximity. An annoyance of the sub-species, the lamentations serve purpose, drawing forth recommendations and driving the species to visit second-hand bookstores, library stacks and internet lists which  feed the publishing system, completing the circle of reading life.

I am everything and nothing without a book. 

So what indeed, as I lament on the beaches of Mystery Island have I succumbed to read? There was that fortuitous moment when I grabbed a second-hand copy of The Great Gatsby, acclimatizing myself to the grandeur of the American Dream, wondering if we all just stopped the pursuit what our world would become. Nick Carraway's glimpse into the privileged heart, accessible only as a second-hand friend, serving as narrator reflects to us the decadence that was post-war New-York. The Jazz Age beat continuously, striving to forget The Great War masking the depths of grief through a haze of booze, drugs and seemingly endless rising of fortunes. Through the veils of wealth, the agony of the human heart is revealed in all its petty, fragile glory.  

This is novel stimulated my reading brain, pursued me to grab non-fiction books on psychology, on parenting, led me to Lewis Carroll, willed me to read current best-selling authors found in airport magazine stands. Stranded on Mystery Island has quieted my SF genre heart, permitting me to explore and just read. 

23 March 2018

Revisit: A Review of A Wrinkle in Time,


Succumbing to trend, I am revisiting an old classic.The newly released Hollywood film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time has led me to my third floor bookcase in search of my dusty copy. I must somehow identify with this book again, erase the earwig of Oprah hearing a voice in the universe, and properly evaluate my perspective without popular distractions. The probability of me watching the film is slight having a phobia of movies ruining a good book - This is I desperately staying on topic without addressing every adaptation of Dune. Are not books to be imagined? Truly, the printed word in essence is enough? 

I was one of those children who at breakfast would prop a book up against the milk carton, even read the carton for those dire days when a book was not at hand. James and the Giant Peach defined me, as did Crunchy chocolate bars, salt n' vinegar chips and cream soda pop. The definition of young girl's heart beats deep with junk food specializations, a deep love of purple and her favourite book. My elementary years were spent laughing riotously along with the hijinks being had at Macdonald Hall, visualizing what could possibly be through the wardrobe and sleuthing along with Nancy.  And yet, my reading self somehow never came across Madeleine L'Engle's The Time Quintet. Surely, someone failed me in my past and so I righted this wrong reading A Wrinkle in Time in my late 30s and promptly forgetting it. This gap in memory lures me back, that and Oprah and Reese, let us not forget Reese. 

Where is Mr. Murry? Two years of town gossip, and still his family insists he hasn't left them for another woman. Sporting another black eye, Meg returns home from school. If it isn't defending her absentee father then it's the snide remarks about her baby brother Charles Wallace, Meg's young life is full of turmoil. That night listening to the howls of a storm thrash against the old farmhouse, Meg retreats to the safely of the kitchen for a glass of cocoa. As expected, Charles Wallace, her baby brother of merely four is waiting not only for her but her mother. As the three set upon their midnight snacks, a witch appears, having blown off course by the storm. 

Any critique of a cherished children's book is fraught with complications. Our childhood books encapsulate our dreams, memories and wonder. Any revisit of a classic could possibly unhinge the magical quality the book once held. I read A Wrinkle in Time with soft eyes, careful in my harsh science fiction gaze, hoping to realign with my 10-year-old self. Is the story of Meg, Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin an allegoric tale of the importance of family, an identification of self, or a multi-faceted exploration of the space time continuum, questioning the role of God and our place in the universe? 

With many a science fiction book I open, time travel to the fifth dimension has less to do with the physics and much more to do with our humanity. The alien qualities of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, even Aunt Beast provide the main characters with the tools to find the inherent truths to life. A Wrinkle in Time is in essence a story about love. Although my adult self found the reading flat, less opulent in fantastic descriptors than I enjoy, A Wrinkle in Time continues to shine. It revels in the splendour of possibilities, all while speaking with intention to children. 

26 January 2018

Not Okay: A Discussion of Grief and the Books That Helped

Serendipitous factors always deliver the right book to the top of my reading stack. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, followed by Lois Metzger's YA novel, Change Places With Me encapsulate the intensity of grief. Ove, a curmudgeon, surly enough to claim king of the cranky old man castle woke one Tuesday morning without purpose. This is a funny, odd book about an odd, funny man who doggedly attempts to quiet his mourning widower's heart. In Change Places With Me we swing to the teenager, lost without her father, freezing the pain, and subsequently herself. Rose, or is it Clara sleeps in late, childishly giddy with wanting to explore the wonders of her world. As we walk along her high school hallways, we as with Rose begin to notice that not all is what it seems. Ove, and Rose have lost someone, as they meander through and around their anguish, they reluctantly embrace their sorrows, learning to live again. 

A great writer died on Monday. And while I have read only one of her books, Ursula Le Guin’s passing has left me glum. Not delusional regarding my role in her life, the emotions conjured by her death honour my melancholy as I continue to walk the road of my grief. 

Eugene Everett Best died September 16, 2016 - it took me, his daughter one year to arrive at my own season of sorrow.

The autumn of 2017, the acceptance of my loss filled me with oppressing heartache. Anxiety crept in like a cancer, holding me hostage as I cried alone, looking out my living room window as the leaves gradually turned from green to orange. School morning drop-offs, I circled the blocks of my downtown neighbourhood, gasping for breath, attempting to lay back claim to my lungs that seemed imprisoned in spinning fear. I continued to maintain a shell of normality, keeping fit, smiling when deemed appropriate, willing to laugh, to crack the joke, drink that coffee even when the bitterness rang to the bottom of my toes. 

I began to question happiness, intently curious if the emotion was achievable once one’s heart exploded. Surely the serenity permeating from my acquaintances, friends and strangers was an abnormality conjured by their own dismay? Gradually, I began to substantiate my life in two fractured parts: the Holly with a father, and the Holly Without.


The Holly Without transitioned to the beginning flurries of winter with a scream locked at the top of her throat. That siren of sadness needed to escape but the shame of not feeling better kept it at bay. When someone dies, people legitimately want to ease the burden of the bereaved; flowers sent, casseroles made, hugs given all within an acceptable period that too quickly closes. Time, as the adage claims does not heal. Each second the clock ticks is a reminder of how long it has been since I last spoke with my Dad. Time was a curse, not the conceived Band-Aid that everyone assumed it to be. And then the day came, as days do come to pass when the barriers crashed down around me, and I confessed to my mother, standing on a bustling city street, that I was not okay.

I wasn’t okay. The very utterance of the word unhinged the scream, and I willingly wanted to make myself whole again. Where to start, counselling was a startling daunting process that I barely could navigate, books on mourning, prescribed reading torture. Eventually I honed my circle for help into a tighter, more malleable process by cloaking myself in honesty. I began to share my truth. Confessing myself as not okay, unhinged some friendships; sadness is an emotion few of us are willing to be comfortable with, let alone allow in a friend. The loss of a few people in my life gradually made room for me to find myself. 

We all have our story of grief, our moments of not being okay. I am a daughter, eternally grateful for my father's love, finally able to walk down my own road to happiness. Sad days come, but they no longer define me.

12 January 2018

Murderbot: A Review of All Systems Red, Martha Wells

There is no better adjective for today but disgusting. The rain gods must surely love Toronto as they have showered down their love for 24 hrs. My kitchen view expands out onto a dreary, grey-soaked winter day, snow banks depressingly vanquished, debris sadly on display all the while the mercury plummets. We have been promised an ice palace by this evening, one that no one wishes to enter, least of all visit by car.  Standing outside my library branch, damp and windswept my thoughts jumbled from the morning argument with child regarding appropriate garments to Murderbots. 

The nominations for 2018's Philip K. Dick award for science fiction novels published in the United States for the previous year were released. A living breathing paradox, my very geeky science fiction proclivities extend not to the conventions, awards and publishing houses that make what I love available. Indeed, Arthur C. Clarke and the tantalizing lists that have come out of The Kitschies have only recently piqued my interests, giving momentum to my recent year's reading piles. Sorry for the dis Hugo, but this girl is just not into you. Yet, here I sit having read one of the nominees, debating whether to continue with my planned review, feeling slightly annoyed that an award has deemed it reading worthy. 

All Systems Red by Martha Wells is an adequately satisfying read for a novella, providing enough world building to enrich the reader's imagination but brief enough to encapsulate a mood fully. Truthfully, the time spent between waiting for the second book of a trilogy to arrive through the library hold system can be a bleak experience. The pull of the first novel is so complete that any book read in the interim can be lost, used mostly as filler. Not so is the case with All Systems Red, the confessions of government SecUnit gone rogue, who darkly refers to himself/herself as Murderbot. 

This is a future in which sentient constructs of synthetic and organic parts exist to fulfill specific societal roles. Not quite a robot, defiantly not human, our Murderbot is in security, owned and hired out to protect the corporation's contractual obligations for myriad of clientele. On an unexplored planet, Murderbot contentedly streams hours of hacked entertainment feeds, successfully convincing the small survey team it works for that it is a focused, professional SecUnit. Things begin to unravel as it becomes clear that someone wishes them all harm. 

The Murderbot Diaries have an Isaac Asimov, 'I, Robot' quality, interlaced with a twang of Philip K. Dick's 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep'. Because it is a novella, information that would normally develop is eluded to, giving All Systems Red a real-time perspective. We meet Murderbot, speculate on his/her existence, and surmise that Murderbot is more than the constructed parts he/she presents to the world. Martha Wells has created a powerfully humane sentient being, alarmingly alien yet complex enough that we want to be his/her friend. I look forward to the movie that hopefully will spawn from this little gem of a book. I have a deep desire to see a meaningfully deep science fiction film, sprinkled with murder and mayhem. 


6 January 2018

Art Installation: A Review of Illuminae, Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff

The morning sunbeam that brightened my yoga practise while cheerful was ineffective in bringing warmth. Canada has frozen over as has my toes, little stubborn icicles refusing to believe in green leaves, soft winds. A fan of extreme weather patterns, the -36 wind-chill does little to squash my winter love. If we are going to do this season, might as well do it with gusto. 

The tree continues - ornaments catching my favour attempt to convince me to extend their reign for one more day. January 6th has always been our tree-tossing day. Yet, with the furnace roaring, the hubby playing Zelda and the kid heading back to school on Monday, what harm could a little extended sparkle cause? A diluted Christmas, with barely an attempt to formulate a book list, Santa still left me a little parcel of science fiction wonder under the tree. Gleefully happy that my hubby continues to understand my intense desire to read over the holidays, I cracked open my first book of 2018 on New Year's Day.

And what an adventure, Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff brought me right back to those wonderful feelings of 2012 when I read Leviathan Wakes. We all have those book moments we wish we could relive. Understanding the genius of War and Peace, experiencing the encompassing thrill of Dune, wanting nothing more to live in a peach with James and his insect friends. With every book cover I crack, anticipation rises as I hope for vomit zombies. After all, don't we all just want to curl up during the holidays reading about the coming end of the universe? Maybe, that is just I but to win my heart, gift this girl a good space operatic adventure that throws all the tropes right in my face.

A small illegal mining operation on the planet Kerenza has been violently attacked by the mega corporation Beitech. Our hero Kady, having just broken up with her boyfriend Ezra, watches her world explode. Her transition from survivor, to refuge to conscripted reluctant hero moves at the speed of light. As the last shuttle bay doors close, the beitech battleship Lincoln pursues the small fleet of survivors aboard the freighter Copernicus, science ship Hypatia and their crippled saviour, the battle carrier Alexander. There can be no survivors to report this take-over. Plague virus, psychopathic A.I, a battle cruiser on the hunt smashes us with detail. This is a ride that will not let you go. 

Dare I say, Illuminae is so much more than a science fiction book, it is an art installation. Beitech's crimes against Kerenza are catalogued through hacked emails, medical and classified military reports, sensor arrays, and diagnostics of battlecarrier Alexander's corrupt A.I., AIDEN. Nothing seemingly new, as SF has been doing this technique of world-building since the 60s but the sheer audacity to publish a SF story with the soul of EE. Cummings is bold. Holding Illuminae in your hands, having to turn the pages upside down to read battle text, you feel immersed more effectively than tradition paragraphs. Sheepishly, my first wayward thought as I opened its illustrative pages was it wasn't my thing - dialogue heavy this had to be a pseudo attempt at science fiction. Thankfully, the plot is a grabber. The initial design began to fade to quickly becoming an increasing important element to the dramatics of the book. I prefer my science fiction served up one way: prose. How wrong I was. 

2018 began with a work of art, how exciting this year is turning out to be.