Sunday, March 29, 2015

Two Reviews

Two overdue reviews from my February reading.

Eric (Discworld, #9; Rincewind #4)Eric by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Engaging escapism combined with Pratchett's customary wit and prodigious imagination. In this installment we return to the misadventures of Rincewind who finds himself the captive demon of an angst-filled adolescent on a quest for world-domination and self-gratification.

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23122312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It is with regret and frustration I found myself at the end of Robinson's much-acclaimed novel 2312. I've spent a great deal of time thinking about why. Perhaps it was the preponderance of scientific terminology this reader found daunting and falling too far into the expository, while for some Robinson's prodigious understanding of science and what might be possible in the far future would be fascinating.

The characterization had moments of brilliance, but overall fell too far into the unidentifiable and understandable. For a brief segment there was an occurrence and journey which very much put me in mind of le Guin's brilliant novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, but alas that sense of epic journey dissipated.

There are sections which are meant to be in the form of found fragments of notes from a journal, very much stream of consciousness. But, again, very often slipped into the extreme end of the scientific so that the average reader, without knowledge of higher sciences, was without frame of reference.

And in the end the entire novel felt like an exercise to demonstrate Robinson's personal knowledge, rather than a novel to challenge and entertain. The plot, if one could call it that, revolved around terrorism and revolutionary planetary colonies, so that once again I felt as though we were dealing with spies in space.

Very, very disappointing, from an author I had long respected.

Your mileage may vary.

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

The heartache of false allegations

I have lived my life privately, never believing in the drama of public declarations of personal details. That sort of behaviour has always smacked of something belonging to pain-mongers like Jerry Springer or Geraldo Rivera, a sort of coliseum mentality. Voyeurism.

During the past year, however, that desire to live a dignified, decent life has eroded under the constant onslaught of false allegations brought on by my daughter, Kelly Stephens, through a blog ironically I encouraged her to create: see none hear none.

This past week her cries of abuse have reached a shrill and very public crescendo, albeit presented with seeming grace, bravery and eloquence.

And so, the damning evidence:

I present this here in the interest of full disclosure.

The complete transcript of the speech Kelly delivered to the Mississauga Celebrating Womanhood gala on March 14, can be found here.

There are times when a state of grace can only be maintained through silence and acceptance. There are also times when it is necessary to address injustice and present a more balanced picture. Had my daughter's accusations remained part of a personal blog which may, or may not, contribute to her coping with bipolar and borderline personality disorder, I might have been of a mind to remain silent, to allow her to go through the process, find balance.

Her assertions, however, have now become very public. And I, my husband, and my son now stand accused, tried and convicted in a public forum in which we have no recourse to defense or justice.

I could enumerate all the accusations with assertions which clearly contradict the alleged veracity of her statements. I could open the entire very personal, very private history of our family for the entire world to read.

But I will not answer an injustice with an injustice. I will refrain from allowing this tragedy to travel too far into voyeurism.

It is tragic in the extreme that both my daughter and I believe in empowering women, giving voice to victims, championing the helpless. It is also ironic in the extreme that I, my husband and my son find ourselves standing as the accused and condemned, we who have embraced the concept of a better, kinder society.

How are we, as a society, ever to evolve toward a paradigm of transparency, honesty, and peace if at our very foundation we also allow accusations and condemnation to occur without giving due process and recourse to the accused? I, my husband and my son are now guilty by virtue of public opinion. Certainly it would seem Kelly's psychiatrist has allowed our guilt to enter the realm of reality. And it would seem the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board have also accepted our guilt without proof. It doesn't matter what we do now, how loudly we proclaim our innocence, or how hard we attempt to live a life of decency and trust. The allegation is out there. And thus suspicion grows.

It is a Salem witch trial in 2015.

And we are not alone. Just do an internet search for false allegations of abuse and you will find cases all over the world of people staggering under the weight of this sort of behaviour.

In our quest to empower victims, let us not forget to also empower truth. Let us not forget about due process. Let us not forget the accused also have a voice, and sometimes that voice is one of innocence.

Kelly, my dearest daughter, if you read this, remember that you have been loved, cherished, supported and championed by us all your life. Remember all those conversations in the wee hours, the rescues both physical, emotional and financial. The shelter both physical and spiritual we opened to you without question. Remember these things.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A sale to Neo-Opsis!

So far I'm batting 100% for 2015 it would seem. I'm sure this isn't going to last for long (oh, optimistic one). Still and all, I've sold my humorous short story, Occupational Hazards, to Neo-Opsis magazine, my first sale to the periodical.

Karl Johanson, editor of Neo-Opsis, tells me Occupational Hazards will be coming out in the next issue.

Of course that means all of you are going to have to rush right out and acquire your own print or digital copy. That's right.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Review: All the Broken Things, by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

All the Broken ThingsAll the Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was very much minded of Rohinton Mistry's novels when reading Kuitenbrower's All the Broken Things, albeit we've changed from writing about the tragedies of India's people to the tragedy of Canada's.

In this case Kuitenbrower tells a deftly-crafted tale of a Vietnamese mother, son and daughter who are refugees just after the infamous civil war that ravaged their country. Not only are they victims of the war, but of that deadly and devastating chemical known as Agent Orange, large quantities of which were produced in Grimsby, Ontario, by Uniroyal.

The story centres around the boy, Bo, who attempts to find the strength and compassion to not only deal with his mother who is rapidly sinking into depression, extreme poverty and the effects of Agent Orange, but his sister who was born grotesquely deformed because of the chemical.

It is also a story about freaks and misfits who find a home in the carnivals and sideshows that toured southern Ontario, and were featured at the Canadian National Exhibition.

So it is a story about broken people, broken in body and spirit. It is a story about broken morality. Broken promises. Broken trust.

And it is utterly, completely mesmerizing in the simplicity and beauty of Kuitenbrower's phrasing and story-telling ability.

Highly recommended.

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Review: The Eye of the Dragon, by Joel Champetier

The Dragon's EyeThe Dragon's Eye by Joël Champetier
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It is with novels like The Dragon's Eye my antipathy toward hard SF becomes evident. Or does it? Certainly authors like Kim Stanley Robinson are capable of writing hard SF, introducing fascinating concepts and situations which are completely and utterly foreign to present-world understanding. Robinson unhinges the reader with the brilliance of his vision.

Perhaps it is there the difference between Champetier's novel, translated by Trudel, and Robinson's work becomes most evident: vision.

Champetier creates a science premise which in itself is fascinating: a binary system in which Earth colonists from China attempt to create a purist vision of their homeland and culture. However, instead of focusing on the challenges of living in an environment made hostile by a star pumping out deadly levels of radiation, Champetier instead creates what essentially boils down to Bond in Space, replete with lady-killer protagonist, helpless female waif, and Mandarin-style espionage and subterfuge. Truly the entire plot ended up so sadly predictable.

And I did so want to like this novel. It came highly recommended by a colleague whose tastes I trust. Champetier himself is not unknown to me in the circles in which I orbit. Yet hard as I tried I could find little in the plot to snare my attention and fill me with a sense of wonder.

Which, in the end, is what good SF should engender: wonder, whether that wonder is horrific or beatific doesn't matter. That sense of Wow needs to be there.

So, with apologies to Champetier, and my trusted colleague, I will simply have to put this negative review down to differing tastes and expectations.

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Two film reviews: Lucy and Fury

Recently watched two much-hyped films. I always go into a hyped film with a healthy dose of skepticism developed from long experience of disappointment with the ardour of the general public. It could be argued this skepticism is the fatal prescription for enjoyment of any film much-hyped. It could be argued a fatal hubris on my part. In all fairness, I do, however, attempt to lay that bias aside and evaluate a film, just as I evaluate any book or novel, upon the craftsmanship of the art form.

It is to be remembered beauty is in the eye of the beholder, for good or ill.

Having dispensed with that preamble, I will attempt to illustrate why both Lucy and Fury fell so far short of their magnificent potential and became, at least for this viewer, nothing more than shallow vehicles for the money-making machine of the film industry.

2 of 5 stars
Lucy, starring Scarlet Johansson, is a science fiction thriller revolving around a young woman who unwittingly finds herself a mule for an Asian drug cartel which has developed a powerful nootropic drug. The drug, known as CPH4, has been surgically implanted in Lucy's abdomen. The bag breaks enroute to her destination, and the drug spills into her system, transforming her from a normal human using 10% of her brain, to eventually a superhuman functioning on 100% brain use.

A fascinating, if perhaps stretched and predictable scientific plot, the film focuses more upon the nasty underbelly of the drug cartel, the blood, guts, firepower and mayhem spilling off them in a tsunami of gratuitous and unjustified violence.

By the time we reach the Armageddon denouement, there are bodies heaped like refuse, buildings and art destroyed beyond repair, at the nexus Lucy who is transforming into a biological computer resembling creeping, black roots, and the arch villain, Mr. Jang, mired in blood, guts and raging hatred.

The whole thing played out like a first-person shooter game, devoid of intellect, suspense, nuance. We knew exactly what was going to happen: everyone dies, lots of shock and awesome firepower, lots of CGI.

The screenplay was so completely devoid of originality I am surprised the likes of Johansson and Freeman signed to appear in such a piece of obvious drek.

Yawn. Stretch. My attention lagged and I wondered if I might not have found a better way to have spent the past 89 minutes.

I would rate Lucy 2 out of 5 stars.

2 of 5 stars
Which brings me to Fury.

By way of background, I think it fair to say Gary and I are somewhat conversant in the history of tanks in WWII, Gary's father having been both a tank driver and part of the tank recovery unit in the British army during WWII, and then later in Burma and during the historic events in Hong Kong when the Red Army was closing in.

So, given the praise abounding from tank aficionados, the starring role cast to Brad Pitt, and the comparison of Fury to Saving Private Ryan, we were hopeful this would be an accurate portrayal of WWII tank warfare with a good storyline.

Epic fail.

Right from the outset it was clear this film was going to have little do with a faithful recreation of the culture, paradigms and strategies of the era. We are introduced to a tank platoon so insubordinate as to be foreign to the culture of the time. We are given to understand tank commanders rode about like shooting-gallery ducks sticking out of turrets. And we are, in the denouement, given to understand a tank commander, devoid of any support for his lone tank, would continue to charge on to a designated point and attempt to hold it, against overwhelming odds, instead of returning to command centre for reinforcements.

And what a denouement. Why, oh why, must it always be directors and screenwriters insist upon falling back to the first person shooter game of mayhem and awesome firepower? That last scene is utterly ridiculous. The German commander, instead of deploying his Panzerfausts in a ring around this forlorn-hope Sherman tank, and quickly and efficiently, without loss of troops or ammunition, annihilating his enemy, chooses to expend his troops and other ammunition plainly for the purpose of gratifying the director's misinformed and misguided sense of excellent historical film creation.

Then there's the screenplay itself. There isn't one. There is no story. There is no character development. There were so many missed opportunities, Why was the tank named Fury? There's a story there. What was Sargeant Don Collier's background prior to WWII. Was he a career soldier? Was he, like Captain John Miller in Saving Private Ryan, a man of some other disparate career back home? Was he married, single, gay like Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited? We have absolutely no idea at all who the man of Don Collier is beyond the fact he's the commander of this tank crew, and in his own negligent way cares about them.

And what of the remainder of the crew? We know nothing at all about them. They become nothing more than cardboard characters the director moves about this board of misguided mayhem.

To compare Fury to Saving Private Ryan is an egregious error and insult. There is no comparison. The former is an adolescent shock and awe film. The latter is a creation of art which will be remembered, like Lawrence of Arabia or Bridehead Revisited long after the hype from Fury has subsided.

There's another 139 minutes I'll never get back.

2 of 5 stars.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Review: Green Grass, Running Water, by Thomas King

Green Grass, Running WaterGreen Grass, Running Water by Thomas King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Without doubt Thomas King is the secret and wickedly clever twin of Salman Rushdie. Green Grass, Running Water is my introduction to this master of magic realism, and what an introduction it has been.

In the first third of the novel I realized bedtime reading this novel should not be (echoes of Yoda there), because the narrative, weighted heavily toward sharp, incisive dialogue, required a reader fully awake, engaged and firing on all cylinders. (Warp 9, Number One!)

By the second third I realized I needed to rein in the rapid-fire narrative and set about reading as though I were a beginner, pausing on each word, each phrase, because without that sort of careful consideration I would be sure to lose the avalanche of nuance Thomas King wields with careless, effortless abandon.

Dear god I wish I could write like that!

The novel abounds with metaphor, both subtle and sledge-hammer: the four elders who are escapees from a home for the mentally challenged, who assume the identities of Ishmael, Robinson Crusoe, The Lone Ranger and Hawkeye. There are the derelict cars Nissan and Pinto, one red, one blue; the puddle become lake that follows both vehicles; the lone cabin at the bottom of a dam which is known to be flawed and has yet to work; a woman seeking motherhood but not a husband; an appliance salesman seeking freedom; Coyote and Old Coyote attempting to narrate the genesis story.... I could go on. But the mind stutters and pauses and seeks breath. And even with all these seemingly disparate stories, King weaves the threads together into a lustrous cloth.

This is a rich, lavish, humorous and irreverent novel that will change the way you think about story-telling and the world in general.

Highly recommended. But read when you're completely awake!

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