Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory

0345501160.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Book – I swear, Daryl Gregory writes some of the most interesting, original premises I’ve ever seen. In this, his first novel, it’s possession by entities that everybody calls demons, but are clearly cultural archetypes – the Captain is Captain America, the Truth is a Dick Tracy/noir pulp hero, the Hellion is Katzenjammer Kids meets Dennis the Menace, and the Little Angel is Shirley Temple meets the World War I “Angel of the Battlefield.” And everyone in the book is smart enough to know that; I appreciate that in a story.

There’s a wonderful cast of characters in Pandemonium, from Del himself to his older brother Lew, their mother (whom they call the Cyclops since she’s missing one eye), the Irish exorcist Mother Mariette, and the entity formerly known as the author Philip K. Dick. They’re all struggling to understand this thing that’s been destroying peoples’ lives for the past fifty-odd years, but they’re all also so wrapped up in their own damages and perceptions that it’s clearly going to take them a while.

One of my favorite parts of the book were the Demonology inserts, short chapters describing possession incidents by various demons. These bits did a wonderful job fleshing out the universe of the book as well as letting you meet some demons who weren’t tremendously important to the main narrative. They also led me, subtly but ingeniously, to the climax of the book, which struck just the right balance between explaining enough to make it satisfying and not explaining so much that it seemed like all the fun was being explained away.

Company Town by Madeline Ashby

indexBook – Hwa lives on an oil rig the size of a small town off the coast of Canada, where she works as a bodyguard for the United Sex Workers union. She’d hoped to get out – maybe back to Korea – by joining the army, but when her brother died in an explosion on the rig, her dreams got smaller. But the town’s just been bought by the unbelievably rich and innovative Lynch Ltd., and Hwa managed to catch the eye of their head of security. Now she’s the bodyguard for the youngest Lynch, a fourteen-year-old genius who’s heir to the entire company, and someone is after him. Oh, and just when she quit her old job, someone started killing her friends.

With corporate espionage, technological spirituality, and a serial killer (not to mention a pretty solid romance plotline) there’s a lot going on in this relatively small book, but it juggles everything pretty well. Hwa’s future is undeniably cyberpunk dystopia in the tradition of Blade Runner and Neuromancer, updated for today’s technology and the futures we can extrapolate from it: socially mandatory implants that require a subscription (which might break down and kill you if you stop paying). Visual glosses that allow you to simply not see anything that might distress you. A centralized security-monitoring system that tracks everything everyone does all day long — one that lets Hwa solve the murders of her friends at the same time that she resents the intrusion on her own privacy. I liked that best about this book. Ashby isn’t writing a cautionary tale about technology, she’s simply saying that this is what we might end up with, and we’re going to have to figure out how to deal with it.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

player oneBook– In the year 2044, the aptly-named virtual reality game OASIS allows people an immersive experience that diverts them from the shambles that is the world around them.  Teenage Wade Watts has essentially been raised by OASIS–he learned to read from its educational software, goes to school in one of its virtual classrooms, and like many others, seeks to solve the puzzles, or Easter eggs, that are hidden in the game. The first to find the eggs will win OASIS creator James Halliday’s fortune and control of the OASIS. To this aim, puzzle solvers (who call themselves “gunters,” from egg hunters) obsess over every facet of Halliday’s life, especially his video game and pop culture obsessions which should be familiar to anyone who was a nerd in the 1980s. Though Wade does not have as many credits (in-game money) or as much experience as some players, he is the one who stumbles on the first clue of the game and sets off the competition.

Though it certainly helps, you don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of 1980s nerd culture to read this book. At its heart, the book reads like a virtual reality version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. If I had a complaint, it’s that I would have liked to see more world-building of the world outside the OASIS, but the game world is so immersive for both the reader and the characters that it’s not a serious issue. Ready Player One will appeal to fans of young adult dystopias, video games, and science fiction. Also, the audio version is narrated by Wil Wheaton.  Who can resist?

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

indexBook – One day the stars go out. A mysterious membrane has encircled the Earth, and the only thing that gets in is sunlight. And then it’s discovered that the membrane doesn’t just seal the Earth off in space, but also in time, and eons are passing in the rest of the galaxy to every Earth minute. The story of the panicked Earth is told by Tyler Dupree, childhood friend of genius and technology heir Jason Lawton, who will eventually construct a space program dedicated to divining the mystery of the Spin membrane and the Hypotheticals who put it there. Isaac becomes a doctor, and is hired as Jason’s personal physician, a position that lets him watch the whole thing go spiraling out of control.

Science fiction with big ideas often suffers from unrealistic or just uninteresting characters, but I never had that problem with Spin. Tyler, Jason, and Jason’s twin sister Diane are all complex people with deep personal connections in addition to their role in helping the world recover the global disaster that is the Spin – Jason and Diane both push against their politically powerful father, E.D., in different ways, while Tyler is hyper-aware of his position relative to them: he’s the son of their family’s housekeeper. The way their personal dramas play out on a global, even a galactic, scale parallels the accelerated timeline of the Earth under the Spin.

Splice (2010)

4271Movie- Geneticist couple Elsa and Clive have successfully spliced together the DNA of different living animal organisms and created a pair of hybrids named Fred and Ginger, a scientific breakthrough that promises to yield great medical benefits. However, they are not satisfied, and wish to create creatures with human genetics. Against the wishes of their employer, they clandestinely create a human hybrid with DNA from all kinds of animals. Elsa treats the creature like a daughter, putting it in dresses, teaching it language, and naming it Dren. As Dren begins to get older (and more aggressive), Elsa and Clive move her to Elsa’s abandoned childhood home, a farmhouse and barn with plenty of room to hide Dren. Meanwhile, the Fred and Ginger experiment goes horribly, publicly wrong, with disturbing implications for Dren that earn this movie’s R rating.

Dren’s character design resides squarely in the uncanny valley, by turns beautiful and ineffably creepy. Without spoiling anything, the relationships among the characters in this film are really twisted and the movie’s end is quite graphic. I enjoyed the suspense and quiet build-up of the earlier half of the film more than the series of increasingly unpleasant events that make up the latter half of the film, though I suspect many who typically enjoy films in the horror genre will relish the ending. Splice will appeal to fans of other films with genetic experiments gone wrong, such as Jurassic Park and The Fly.

 

Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer

indexBook – There are various times in one’s life where the discussion of death, and God, and the afterlife happen. When love ones pass, health issues arise, or in lectures with professors. In Calculating God the story centers on Thomas Jericho, a paleontologist from Toronto who is dying from lung cancer.

Two alien species from different planets, Forhilnors and Wreeds, have come to Earth to speak with paleontologists about evolution, science, and religion. Tom, being a scientist does not believe in God and is surprised both alien species firmly believe in a God. This makes for interesting dialogue between all parties. On the one hand there are aliens on Earth and want to learn about the evolution of our planet and species; but on the other hand both alien species believe in what we call God. Tom has a hard time grasping this even knowing his fate.

The writing is a little slower in pace and gives the reader points where reflection of one’s life may happen. There is a plot line that includes creationists and I did not understand why it was being included until it climaxed. Science fiction readers or anyone who may want to reflect on why illness happens or question if a higher power exists may find this book interesting. Readers who enjoy a book with minimal, but more developed characters will also like this book.

It took me two years to finish this book. This does not speak of the quality of writing, because Robert Sawyer does a great job of keeping the reader intrigued. I am a firm believer of the notion that sometimes you are not ready for a book. At the time I started it, I was not ready for it. I found it again and was bolstered by the ending.

Groot by Jeff Loveness

51jARlMoeUL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_Book: “I am Groot.” Groot, a huge hulking tree and a Guardian of the Galaxy, may be only able to verbalize three words, but he really does have a lot to say. Jeff Loveness’ graphic novel Groot is the story of Groot (duh) and Rocket the Racoon traveling together to Terrian (aka Earth). The two pals’ trip is not going as planned because apparently Groot wanted to take the scenic route. They also run into the problem of no longer having a spaceship. This leads the best friends to literally hitchhike across the galaxy. Much hilarity ensues as the pair encounter different alien species and trials on their journey. The contrast of Groot’s simple nature with Rocket’s impatience and lack of compassion leads great conversations and adventures.

Of the graphic novels that I have read, this one is by far my favorite. The story line is so much fun to read. It gives background knowledge to Groot and his friendship with Rocket. It shows a new side to both of these characters. If you loved the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, then you will love this graphic novel. If you want to try reading graphic novels for the first time, Groot is an excellent place to start. It’s a complete story from beginning to end and the art work is beautiful.

Free to Fall by Lauren Miller

18602289Book – In a society obsessed with the newest Apple gadget, it’s not hard to imagine what the future holds for us in technology. Apple watches and Google Glass are slowly starting to emerge while our smartphones grow bigger and bigger each year. Soon, perhaps everyone will be carrying around an 8-in tablet to fit their every need, with cellphones obsolete. Once the watches and glasses really take flight,  will the next big thing be completely virtual devices? Something implanted in our skin that monitors our health as well as fulfilling all our tech needs with some sort of virtual projection?  Oh what fun the future holds!

The technology we find in Free to Fall doesn’t seem so fantastical considering how dependent we have become on our smartphones and millions of apps. The events of this novel take place in the near future. Apple has become obsolete, replaced by Gnosis and its life-changing technology called Lux. Lux is a high-powered personal decision-making app that guides you towards the best decisions. Following Lux’s recommendations will lead you to a happy, and fulfilling life.

Like everyone else, teen Rory Vaughn does not stray from the guidance of Lux, consulting the app for every choice she makes in her daily life. When she is accepted to a prestigious boarding school, Rory can’t wait for the happy future she’s been promised. Yet something feels off once she arrives at the elite academy. After meeting a local outsider named North who refuses to use Lux, Rory begins to question everything she’s ever known.

Life by Gwyneth Jones

519EMKTM55L._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_Book – Anna Senoz is, somewhat secretly, an ambitious scientist. When she was in college she wanted to change the world, but doesn’t everyone? Since then she’s gone through a lot – a miscarriage, a marriage, a child; several career dead-ends, a revolution, a discovery – and learned a lot, and she still wants to do is her piece of the work. The work, it turns out, is Transferred Y, a discovery about the evolution of human sex chromosomes that might change the world after all.

Life is a quiet, meditative story, part of that peculiar sub-genre of science fiction that is really more about people doing science than about any particular discovery. It is, as Jones has described it, “a fairytale about how change, real change in the world comes about,” through struggles and frustrations and the constant struggle of choosing to do something revolutionary or choosing to continue to feed your family.

It’s also very much a feminist story, in that Anna has to face a lot of issues her male colleagues never consider. Her friend and shadow-self, Ramone Hollyrood, becomes a famous feminist writer; Anna is never a feminist herself, but she wants to be treated as a person, which she finds is nearly impossible sometimes. She’s a tremendously real character, full of flaws and inconsistencies, but after finishing the book I find that I miss spending time with her.

Ex Machina (2015)

ex-machina-dvdMovie – Caleb works for Bluebook, the world’s largest search engine, and he’s just won a contest whose prize is to spend a week living with the company’s founder, Nathan. When he arrives at Nathan’s isolated, ultra-modern estate, though, Caleb signs a nondisclosure agreement and learns that he’s been hand-picked to test Nathan’s most audacious new project: an artificial intelligence. Her name is Ava.

Ex Machina starts off as a beautifully realized science fiction story – one of the rare ones that make it all the way to film with all their complex ideas intact underneath the special effects. This is a small movie, resting on the shoulders of the actors and the characters rather than the effects (although the special effects on Ava’s transparent android body are so good you forget they’re special effects). Nathan embodies the modern brogrammer, and Oscar Isaac is note-perfect throughout. Caleb, played by Domhnall Gleeson (son of award-winning actor Brendan Gleeson), is the more stereotypical computer nerd. But neither of them are as compelling as Alicia Vikander’s Ava. Caleb is supposed to be testing whether or not Ava is really conscious, but as an audience who’s already seen plenty of movies where Robots Are People, Too, we’re waiting to see what he’ll do when he decides that she is.

And that’s where Ex Machina turns into a horror movie – a quiet one, nearly bloodless, but no less bloodcurdling for that. Why, after all, did Nathan put his AI into a female body?

And what are they all going to do with it?