Mini Review: “The Rapture of the Nerds” by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross

This post is a part of a series of mini-reviews of books that I read while on blogging hiatus last fall.  I received a review copy of The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross while at BEA in exchange for an honest review.

The Rapture of the Nerds is the story of a man who wants nothing more than to be human.  Young Hew is a bit of a Luddite, and remains on Earth even as most other humans have uploaded themselves to the cloud.  The people who have chosen to stay behind are all a little weird, and make great fodder for practical jokes.  That’s why the plans for all new technology must be evaluated by a court to make sure that they’re legit.  When Young Huw is called for Tech Jury Duty, his life is forever changed as he comes full circle with his biggest fears.

The book is divided into two main sections, both of which parallel and build off of each other.  The first half is set on Earth, and the second half takes place in the cloud.  The second half of the book is simultaneously creative and confusing in a way that only transhumanist literature can accomplish.

Singularity fiction is, by its very nature, a bit absurd, but The Rapture of the Nerds takes the cake.  Doctorow and Stross clearly had a lot of fun writing this one.  It’s what you’d get if Douglas Adams was on crack and spent too much time on 4chan, and I mean that as a compliment.  There are a lot of references to both science fiction and pop culture.  At one point, the “rustled my jimmies” gorilla pops up.  The overall tone is satirical, and the plot is used to make fun of attitudes and mindsets present in our own society.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Priest-Kings of Gor” by John Norman

When I get stressed out, I find myself drawn to so-bad-it’s-good pulpy sci-fi, which is why I picked up book three of John Norman’s Gor series.  For anyone who hasn’t read my reviews of the first two books, think A Princess of Mars, except all the women are sex slaves who seem to be relatively happy about it.  If you’re looking for high-quality literature, then run.  This is not the series for you.  I’d compare it to a meth addiction (Disclaimer: I’ve never actually tried meth, but I’ve watched my fair share of Intervention).  You know on an intellectual level that it’s bad, but somehow you can’t make yourself stop doing it.  That’s why I’m in the middle of book four as I’m writing this and am impatiently waiting to jump back into it.

In my review of Outlaw of Gor, I mentioned that the book felt like a side quest.  Priest-Kings of Gor picks up with the main story.  Tarl Cabot, in a quest to avenge the destruction of his city, travels into the mountains of Sardar, from which no man ever returns.  He intends to find the technologically advanced Priest-Kings of Gor.

The Priest-Kings were not what he expected.  They are giant insects who dwell in an underground nest.  Most of the Priest-Kings are genderless.  The Queen is the only true female in the Nest, and she is dying.  This means that the Nest is dying.  Tarl Cabot finds himself caught between two opposing factions, one that wishes to destroy the Nest, and one that wishes to save it.

I found myself impressed with the world-building as the author describes the social structure of the Priest-Kings and of Gor itself.  The Priest-Kings’ culture involves a strong sense of loyalty to the Nest, to the point that it can mean forgiving betrayal if it is committed by someone who is a part of the Nest.  Outside the Nest, the Priest-Kings are less forgiving.  After seeing the way that humans blow each other up on Earth, the Priest-Kings forbid humans from having technologically advanced weapons.  If a human tries to build a gun or explosive, he is incinerated by the dreaded “Flame Death.”  This is what keeps Gor so primitive, and part of what gives it its charm.

The Priest-Kings keep slaves, but those slaves are still considered to be “of the Nest,” which is considered to be a higher social status than being outside the Nest.  One of the turning points in Tarl Cabot’s struggle was when he taught two slaves who had been raised in the Nest that rebellion and free will is part of what makes us human.

There’s a bit of a double standard going on, because when it’s a guy slave, rebellion and free will are glorified, but for women, submission is considered to be the ultimate form of existence.  It’s almost like women are viewed as wild animals that are dangerous if they aren’t tamed.  This can be demonstrated through Tarl Cabot’s encounter with the treacherous slave girl Vika, who only when fully dominated decides to switch sides and help Tarl instead of working against him.

Verdict:  If you’re in the mood for some creative pulpy sword-and-planet featuring technologically advanced insect-people, then give it a try.  The rampant misogyny is going to be a deal breaker for a lot of readers, so be forewarned.  If you know what you’re getting into, it can be a fun read.

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September 2013: A Month in Review

September has come to an end, and so it’s time for my Month-in-Review post.

September was a productive month for blogging.  I reviewed a total of 9 books, 3 of which counted toward the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril challenge.  I also welcomed Brandon Engel for a Guest Post on H.P. Lovecraft.

For at least the next few days, I will have a lot more time for reading and blogging than anticipated.  As someone whose job is contingent on federal funding, I’m out of work for the duration of the shutdown.  Hopefully it doesn’t last very long.  I’m trying to count my blessings and use the spare time well, but it’s a stressful and annoying situation to be caught in.IMG_0792

Of course, I have the following new books to keep me busy:

  • “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman – I won this in a giveaway at The Blog of Litwits.  I’ve heard lots of good things about it, and you can’t go wrong with Neil Gaiman.
  • “Burial Rites” by Hannah Kent – This is a review copy of a book about an Icelandic murderess awaiting execution in the 1800s.  It’s either going to be amazing or horribly depressing.  I’m putting my bets on amazing.
  • “The Color of Light” by Helen Maryles Shankman – Part of a TLC Book Tour.  The books is about vampires, Nazis, and art, which seem like a winning combination.

I’m hoping while furloughed to make a serious dent in my TBR pile, as well as to start catching up on reviews.  I’ve got a queue of about ten books that I’ve read recently but not written about yet, and now seems like an opportune time to work on them.

What are your October reading plans?  Have you gotten any new and exciting books lately?

Categories: Month in Review, Other | Tags: , | 8 Comments

“The Passage” by Justin Cronin

I received an electronic copy of The Passage by Justin Cronin through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I had originally intended to read it for last year’s R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, but took a blogging hiatus around that time and never got around to reading it.  I picked it up last week and realized just how much I’d been missing out on.

This is not your ordinary vampire book.

A top-secret military operation called Project NOAH thinks that it has stumbled upon the secret of regeneration and life extension.  After following legends about vampires, they discover a virus that significantly alters the human body.  The military experiments on a group of twelve death-row inmates, finally perfecting a mutation the virus which they give to a little girl named Amy.  Unfortunately, their test subjects are more powerful than they thought, and they escape and wreak havoc on mankind.

The book is divided into two main sections.  The first describes the progression of Project NOAH up until the vampires are unleashed, and the second is a post-apocalyptic tale of a small colony of human survivors.  The book alternates between point-of-view characters in order to tell a story that’s much larger than any of their individual lifespans.  This style of narration reminded me a bit of Asimov’s Founation Trilogy, and it Cronin uses it spectacularly.  There’s a lot of description of the characters and their relationships with each other, but it doesn’t weigh the book down.  Instead, it makes you more invested in the fate of every single person, and it emphasizes the strength and weaknesses of a community trying to survive in the face of extreme danger.

My initial thought as I read about Project NOAH’s experiments is that there is no way in hell that an IRB (Independent Review Board) would ever sanction that type of experiment.  It violates pretty much every rule of the ethical treatment of human subjects currently in existence.  It was a disaster waiting to happen.

The characters in the second half of the book face a different ethical question.  They see family and friends being turned, and it’s like zombies, really.  You know you have to shoot them.  At the same time, they seem to retain at least a shadow of the people who they once were, so it’s hard to do it, even though you know you have to.  People are taught that the vampires have no souls, but their behavior is a bit more complex and isn’t very well understood.

Cronin’s biggest strength was the way that he showed how life goes on, even when there are vampires and you know you might not live another day.  In one part of the book, a band of brave colonists embark on a journey to bring Amy to Colorado.  They think that she is the only hope left for humanity, and that they could discover a way to end the vampires.  On the way, some members of the group fall in love.  One couple has a baby.  The fact that it’s the apocalypse doesn’t mean that people stop being people, or that human interactions change in any fundamental way.

The Passage is well worth the time spent reading it (and at more than 700 pages, it does take quite a bit of time to read).  It’s the kind of book that makes you ask “Where have you been all my life?!” as you read it.  I’d highly recommend it.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments

“Outlaw of Gor” by John Norman

I picked up Outlaw of Gor, sequel to John Norman’s Tarnsman of Gor, because I was having a stressful week and wanted something mindless, pulpy, and fun.

Tarl Cabot goes on a camping trip into the mountains and once again finds himself swept away to the planet Gor, known as the Counter Earth.  When he arrives, he finds that his city has been razed and its people scattered, including the woman that he loves.  Tarl vows his revenge upon the Priest Kings and embarks on a journey to confront them.

On his way, Tarl visits the city of Tharna.  Unlike any other place on Gor, Tharna is ruled by women, who coincidentally wear creepy masks as further proof that they are evil.  Men have no social status, and are generally enslaved.  Reproduction is handled medically, and there is no place in Tharna for sex.  Love is forbidden.  There is no laughter, song, dancing, or anything else to relieve the monotony of life.  When Tarl finds himself captured and enslaved, he mounts a rebellion to change Tharna.

I enjoyed the worldbuilding in Outlaw of Gor far more than in the first book.  Norman’s passages on Gorean society, flora, and fauna are such that you feel nostalgia for a place you’ve never been.  You can tell that he’s spent a lot of time thinking about his world, and that he cares about it.  In the first book, it felt like an infodump, but in this one, it makes me want to visit Gor and see the wonders he describes.

I read the book in one sitting, and it worked wonders for my mood.  This series has become one of my guilty pleasures.  I should probably be outraged by the treatment of women, but I’m not.  Strangely, I think it adds to the books’ charm, and let’s face it, the male characters are no less objectified in sword and planet books and movies.  That being said, these books aren’t for everyone, and readers should know what they’re getting into.  Pretty much every female character is a happy sex slave (or discovers she’d be happier as a sex slave, as in the case of Lara, the ruler of Tharna).

I’m eager to read the next book and to see where Tarl’s adventures take him.  If the Gor series were a video game, Outlaw of Gor would be a side quest.  The adventure in Tharna was fascinating, but the plot line with the Priest Kings and Tarl’s mysterious return to Gor are left unresolved.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

On “Green Eggs and Ham” and Government Shutdowns

I try to avoid political rants on my blog, but a certain incident involving a certain elected representative and a misunderstanding of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham has been brought to my attention.

The entire point of Green Eggs and Ham is that Sam-I-Am never tried the very food that he spends the entire book ranting about. After finally caving and trying green eggs and ham, Sam-I-Am discovers that he loves green eggs and ham, and that he had completely misjudged the dish based on his own prejudices.

When Ted Cruz read Green Eggs and Ham as part of a fake filibuster against the Affordable Care Act, he was in effect arguing against his own cause. All of the provisions of the healthcare law haven’t been enacted yet. Like Sam-I-Am, he has never actually given the thing he’s fighting a chance.

I realize that the Affordable Care Act is a polarizing topic. Realistically, there is no way that a bill defunding healthcare reform would pass through the Senate. In the extremely unlikely event that it did, it would be subject to a presidential veto. It seems rather juvenile to hold the entire federal government hostage in a battle that can’t be won.

Because I live in the DC area, I see the impact that a shutdown would have on ordinary people. A lot of times the media characterizes government employees as overpaid and lazy. Maybe a few at the top conform to that stereotype, but the world I’ve seen is a quite different. A lot of low level government employees are overworked, underpaid, and living paycheck to paycheck. A shutdown would make it difficult for those people to pay their rent and support their families. A shutdown would also impact the large number of contractors who work to support federal agencies. That’s another segment of workers who won’t be getting paid. Having a large sector of people without an income, even temporarily, would hurt restaurants, grocery stores, etc. Shutting down the government would further harm an already troubled economy, and I don’t think that’s fair to anyone.

Moral of the story–No matter what side of the spectrum you are on, vote for candidates who will take their responsibilities seriously. Vote for candidates who will put aside ideological differences in order to do their jobs. Vote for candidates who can think, debate, and compromise on tough issues. Vote for candidates who understand Dr. Seuss.

Categories: Fiction | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

“Days of Blood & Starlight” by Laini Taylor

Days of Blood & Starlight is the sequel to Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone, a YA fantasy novel of angels and demons that is both chilling and unputdownable.  This post will contain spoilers from the first book, so if you haven’t read it, stop reading now.

In a parallel world to our own, the chimera are at war with the angels.  Unlike in our own heavenly mythology, there aren’t really clear-cut good guys and bad guys.  Both sides have been at war for so long that they have no collective memory of peace.  Two young lovers once imagined another way of life, but that was before the angel Akiva ordered the genocide of Karou’s entire city.  Now, Karou and Akiva are two lost souls with the power to change the world, but an unbreachable rift between them.

Akiva has returned to his position in the angel army, but killing chimera no longer feels right to him.  His disillusionment with war begins to spread throughout the angel ranks, providing a glimmer of hope.

Meanwhile, Karou has returned to the chimera and is using her power of necromancy/restoration to breathe new hope into the chimera’s fight. However, the chimera army is being led by Karou’s unscrupulous almost-ex-fiance, and Karou constantly feels unsafe among her own people.

Days of Blood & Starlight is fast-paced and suspenseful.  We see both Karou and Akiva struggling with their own beliefs, but even at their darkest moments (and there have been plenty of them so far), you can tell that neither believes that war and violence are a productive way for their peoples to move forward.  It is heartening to see both Karou and Akiva inspiring others by their example.  And the cliffhanger ending… so dramatic!  I can’t wait for the final book in the trilogy to be released so that I can see how it all comes together in the end.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, YA | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Guest Post on H.P. Lovecraft

When fellow H.P. Lovecraft fan Brandon Engel contacted me about writing a guest post, I was eager to accept.  Lovecraft’s stories are especially fitting during this time of year, as the leaves begin to change and Halloween approaches.

  It takes a unique individual to construct an alternate world ruled by sinister gods who resemble octopuses. And, apparently, it takes several more unique individuals to flesh out that world — to canonize it and to enrich it with their own interpretations of Lovecraft’s work. Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a writer of some note. He will be affectionately remembered by fans for his rich writing style, and his distinct ability to match his keen attention to detail with an artful restraint. Lovecraft would disclose the minute details about the interior architecture of some alien monster-god dwelling, but then when you see the description of the monster, it would be extremely brief and would force readers to evoke their own monsters — which is, ultimately, the most horrifying thing any horror writer can do.

   It was around 12 years ago that a wonderful and fairly comprehensive compilation of Lovecraft’s best known works was released — an omnibus entitled The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories.It features such classic Lovecraft tales as: “The Dunwich Horror”, “At the Mountain of Madness,” and “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

   Unfortunately for Lovecraft, he never achieved the recognition he deserved while he was alive and writing. Even though he was impoverished throughout his lifetime, Lovecraft is regarded by modern readers as a distinguished author of horror and fantasy — one of the strongest fiction writers within his niche from the early 20th century, and potentially one of the greatest horror authors of all time.

     He first started to build a reputation, and make friends within his peerage, in the 1920’s when he started contributing short stories to the pulp magazine Weird Tales. Among his contemporaries at Weird Tales were Robert E. Howard (the creator of Conan the Barbarian) and Robert Bloch (the author of Psycho). Among the stories which Lovecraft first published through Weird Tales was The Call of Cthulhu, published in 1928. The story introduced the Cthulhu character, who would become extremely important within Lovecraft’s world. The story is based on the fictional manuscript of a character named Francis Wayland Thurston. Thurston had been investigating the death of his uncle Gammell Angell, a Semitic language scholar, who had written about a strange cult which worshipped a god named Cthulhu, a gigantic sub-aquatic monster who is described as resembling an “octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature…. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings.”

     Lovecraft was relatively unknown during his time, but he did correspond with some fellow fantasy writers and publishers who admired his work, such as August Derleth. It was actually Derleth who coined the “Cthulhu Mythos” to describe Lovecraft’s self-contained world ruled by Lovecraft’s pantheon of strange, Alien gods. Other writers have contributed to the Mythos, creating unique characters, and striving to expand upon the world Lovecraft created. Among the many writers who’ve contributed are Robert Bloch, Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker, and Derleth himself.  

  Lovecraft fans and scholars have attempted to categorize alien entities within the Cthulhu Mythos. In the H.P. Lovecraft Companion, author Philip A. Schreffler divided all the alien gods into two distinct camps: there are the “Outer Ones” living in the center of the fictional universe who we can not reach, and then there are the“Great Old Ones” like Cthulhu who live on earth and are worshipped by deranged cultists.

   Lovecraft’s alien deities predate human beings, and they also have no reverence for humanity. In Lovecraft’s bleak world, the human phenomena of grief, anxiety, and emotion are inconsequential. A beast like Cthulhu would look upon a “mere mortal” in the way that “mere mortals” look upon gnats. We are an inconsequential species in their fearsome eyes.  

    But it’s not just alien god monsters that Lovecraft will be remembered for! He authored some works which dealt with bizarre medical practices, and raised questions about scientific ethics, such as his short story Herbert West Re-Animator which was immortalized in the 1980’s by director Stuart Gordon with his film adaptation Re-Animator. The story followed Herbert West, an eccentric, morally ambiguous medical student who has developed an elixir which reanimates dead bodies. Or his novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, which followed the story of an elite young Rhode Island man who has resurrected a remote relative of his, Joseph Curwen, an infamous wizard who practiced black-magic and was responsible for countless deaths. Not only did Ward resurrect Curwen — he surrendered his very identity to him. Curwen attempts (unsuccessfully) to live as Ward, but his great antiquity works against him. The towns’ folk, believing that Curwen is insane, have him locked up in a mental institution. Roger Corman used the story as the basis for his film The Haunted Palace.

   It is somewhat heartbreaking that Lovecraft never got to fully experience real commercial or critical success within his lifetime. Nevertheless, his legacy lives on, as his terrific body of work still resonates with readers to this day.

Author bio: Brandon Engel is an entertainment blogger with whose chief interests include cult films and classic horror literature. Among Brandon’s favorite authors are Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, and Stephen King.

Categories: Guest Posts, Horror/Gothic | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

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