Monday, March 07, 2011

Astrological predictions and my strange destiny

Astrology. The science of interpreting how the cosmic forces of gravity, spiritual energy (and according to some, white mice) combine to predestine our actions. I believe that there are forces out there greater than us, but also that we create our own destiny. Still, I like to have a little forewarning once in a while, a leg up on what's in store for me on any given day. Today's horoscope was rather pedestrian and encouraging. Tomorrow's foretells that I'll be feeling ill due to stress and anxiety at work - that one must be a replay from two weeks ago, when it was true.

While I was pondering the boring, nondescript nature of these entries in my starry fate, I was reminded of my horoscope from a few weeks ago. It prophesied a good day for me. My energy was focused, my body and my spirit were one. My horoscope said that there were no problems I couldn't handle that day, and that so long as I maintained my focus, I would "literally turn mountains into molehills."

That's the direct quote. I know that you can't always take a horoscope literally, but in this case it came right out and said so. Talk about setting me up for failure! My initial reaction was that I'd better go out and buy some dynamite. My wife suggested, "It means you'll overcome a big problem." I said, "No, it said LITERALLY. Mountains...molehills. Alakazam!" The Force is hella big with this one, baby.

Needless to say, I did not take up mining or tunneling. I have not destroyed any geographic features, nor have I invented a powerful shrink ray. To that end, I have also not used magic or science (of any sort) to mutate tiny rodents into giant atomic monsters. This pretty much exhausts all the ways I can think to interpret that prediction, so I guess, all in all, I'm a pretty big failure as far as my destiny goes.

Now reading: still working on Dreadnought. Too many things to read right now.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Bambi = The Walking Dead

Amazon, as we've all probably experienced, is a pretty powerful shopping site. When I look up something that I'm interested in, they never fail to suggest several other things that I might also like, based on my browsing and purchasing behavior. But they can suggest some really weird things sometimes. For example, yesterday a coworker commented on the irony of a purchase suggestion that he received from Amazon:
"Customers who purchased movies and TV shows might also be interested in this week's notable new releases on DVD and Blu-ray, including Bambi, and upcoming future releases, including The Walking Dead: Season One."

Bambi and The Walking Dead. Out of all the new and upcoming releases, this targeted email pulled those two together? We had a good laugh about the crazy robots Amazon uses to make their marketing and merchandising decisions.

But the more I thought about it, the more the connections began to form. When you get right down to it, the stories are the same: They both center around a strong and upstanding character who's world is forever changed by an external force. One faces hunters and a forest fire, while the other faces an unending zombie apocalypse. The character is forced to band with other survivors as they all struggle to find their place in the new natural order. They meet friends and make alliances, and they experience scary new changes in the world they've always known. Both stories are about the survival and growth of the characters.

So yes, from this literary perspective, these moves are actually a well-matched set. And maybe those robots at Amazon are a little smarter than we give them credit.

Now reading: Dreadnought by Cherie Priest

Tuesday, March 01, 2011


Book review: 2011.01

Author: Gail Carriger

Gail Carriger's series came to my attention via Mighty Mur Lafferty's podcast (I Should Be Writing), I think. My wife gave them to me for Christmas last year, and they've been a delightful gift.

To be honest, I'm not sure why I liked Soulless as much as I did. It's Victorian era fantasy with a thick layer of steampunk frosting. This is good, I like both of those things. It also has vampires, werewolves, and ghosts openly existing in society among normal humans, and I don't like that. Monsters are supposed to be just that – monsters. They belong in the dark. But in this series, they are an integral part of society and Carriger has created a strong world where these 'monsters' are strongly integrated into the culture, society, and history. The setting is internally consistent, and crafted well, so I was able to forgive the things I don't usually like.

The main character, Alexia Tarabotti, is loveable because she's a misfit within Victorian society. Tall, dark complected, with a non-dainty nose and full figure, she's practically a pariah, especially compared to her mother and two step-sisters. Add to this an inquisitive mind and she's clearly doomed as a potential wife.
But Alexia has a secret. She doesn't have a soul, which really isn't as terrible as it sounds.

The author alludes that it's Alexia's soullessness that is likely the cause of her heroic nature. Soulless people are a rare species, called preternaturals, who are juxtaposed with the supernatural caste of vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. And preternaturals were historically the nemeses of the monsters. They were the monster hunters. And this puts Alexia at odds with the supernatural community.

More than the setting, which as I said, is very logical and internally consistent, it's the characters that I like. Carriger populates this silly setting with some fun characters and each one is a person unto themselves. Personally, I really want to see more of the Scarlet Pimpernellian Lord Akeldama and his cadre of spies…please Gail!

In truth, the story is as much a romance story as it is scifi/fantasy, and Carriger handles her stuff well in both courts. She does a masterful job of handling character relationships and interactions, especially the friendly ones. The characters are fun and their interactions are realistic. Characters put as much importance on society, appearance, and etiquette as they do the story at hand, and most characters have their own perspectives on the world around them. Their own motivations guide their actions, whether that is spying on the vampire hives or finding right hat or cravat for the day's activities.

The book is full of humor, full of adventure, and definitely a fun read. If Kim Harrison and Jane Austin got together to write a book, it might come close to this. My defining keywords for this book are: character, steampunk, adventure, humor, espionage, and romance; in that order.

As I'm writing this, I've nearly finished the second book in the series, Changeless. Alexia's Cinderella story has come true and this book finds the city embroiled in a panic as the supernatural denizens of London are rendered completely mortal for a day. Alexia is on the case trying to figure out the cause of this calamity.

This novel further develops the history of Carriger's setting, expanding what we know about the roles the supernatural elements have played in the past. We get more clues about Alexia's father and the nature of their species, the preternaturals. And the author treats us with some delightful new characters, including a cross-dressing, counter-culture mad scientist and a pack of Scottish werewolves. Steampunk elements feature very strongly in this story as well. Thus far, there are still no zombies, but I'm holding out hope for the third book on that note.

Changeless does everything a second-book should and it's been a fun read. I'm only about fifty pages from the end and plots are starting to be resolved, thanks to the unladylike willfulness of our heroic main character. Again, thanks to my wife, the third book is on my book shelf, and I just discovered that the fourth will be out soon. I'm looking forward to both!