At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson

Book – I frequently tell people that some of the best science fiction and fantasy is happening in short stories. It seems counter-intuitive that you could squeeze a satisfying world and characters both out of a couple dozen pages, especially when it’s so hard to find a novel that isn’t part of a series, but there’s something about the short format that really packs a hefty punch. Kij Johnson is an excellent example: her stories are complex, rich, and deep, set in spectacular worlds ranging from just different enough from ours to be intriguing to so different they should be hard to imagine (although she makes it easy). And they’ve won three Nebula awards, which is nothing to sneeze at.

The stories in At the Mouth of the River of Bees circle around themes of grief, loss, rebuilding, and the power of story itself to help us through these. In “The Horse Raiders,” a young woman is the only survivor of an attack that wipes out her clan, only to discover that a plague is wiping out their entire planet’s way of life. In “Dia Chjerman’s Tale,” women captives on an imperial spaceship tell the stories of how their ancestors stayed alive. And in the title story, a road trip leads to an unexpected pilgrimage and an even more unexpected chance for grace on behalf of a woman’s dying dog. The characters in these stories are angry, they’re hurt, they lash out and they make mistakes, but they also pull themselves together and carry on.

Underworld: Blood Wars (2016)

Movie – Selene is back! As the fifth installment to the Underworld saga, Blood Wars takes the story in a new direction introducing new characters and locations. In the aftermath of Underworld: Awakening, Michael is nowhere to be found and Selene has no idea where her daughter is. Selene is on her own and fighting for her survival.

Vampires and Lycans have been at war for centuries. Selene is now their common enemy. In Underworld: Blood Wars, Selene is a rogue vampire who has gone against the elder vampires, and is fighting off Lycans at every turn. Her only allies are David and his father Thomas. Thomas convinces the elders to bring Selene in as a consultant to help train new Death Dealers. Semira is trying to bolster her power within the clan. She agrees to bring on Selene then betrays her. This sends Selene and David seeking out new allies. The two are instructed by Thomas to head north to the Nordic Coven. While there, both characters learn about events and history that will change how the vampires will govern.

Blood Wars is a good tale and I feel reboots the series with a changing of the guard. The film is trying to bring in new fans and keep the story fresh for loyal fans. I can see the next installment introduce new younger characters, a truce with the Lycans, and/ or bring in some type of new enemy. If you are a fan of the Underworld films, you may want to see this film to see where the series will go. New fans to the series, I would recommend watching the other films in order to understand what is happening in the film. Do not watch this film without viewing the others.

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

Book – After the Sadiri homeworld was destroyed, their only hope for survival is in reaching out to the indigenous population of their newly adopted home for aid. Cygnus Beta is a world of refugees, all trying to re-create their dramatically different home cultures and governments. Grace Delarua’s job is to try to manage and integrate all this incredible variety; Sadiri Councillor Dllenakh is her point of contact with the Sadiri exiles, who are in search of a population that might be related to their own.

This is a short book, but it packs a lot into a few pages (which is my favorite kind of science fiction, really). Cygnus Beta is a fascinating world, so much variety and diversity packed up right next to each other – which really highlights how often science fiction forgets that we have just as much diversity on our own very small planet – and the overall story, about refugees trying to figure out what culture and heritage and history mean, is incredibly relevant right now. And for once, the slow-burn romance between Delarua and Dllenakh is one of my favorite parts of the story. If you like science fiction but are a little exhausted by breathless save-the-galaxy plots, give this one a try.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

ParableOfTheSower(1stEd)Book – Lauren has hyperempathy, a disorder born from a drug her mother took while she was pregnant; it means that Lauren feels other people’s pain like it’s her own. When she was a kid, her brothers would cut themselves to watch her bleed. It’s a tough disorder to live with in a world like hers, where everyone lives close to the edge all the time. Her dad tells stories about the good old days, when his professor’s salary was enough to live well, when people didn’t live in walled neighborhoods just to keep the looters out, when you could buy your food at the grocery store instead of growing and trading for what you need to survive – but Lauren knows better than to listen too close to those stories, because she’s pretty sure it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Which means that when, one day, it does, she’s one of the only people from her old neighborhood who’s prepared for what comes next.

This is one of those books that people have been telling me to read for years, and I only just got around to it. It’s a classic of science fiction, and for good reason: Lauren is one of the most real characters I’ve ever seen. She’s afraid, she’s hurt, she’s brave, she’s stubborn, she’s uncertain, she’s a leader not because she knows better than anyone else but because she’s thoughtful, and has thought about things that most people are too afraid to consider. This is a quieter dystopia than most of the current run of dystopian fiction. There’s no Hunger Games here, just people fighting for their own survival. But it’s even more inspiring because of that, because while we can’t all be Katniss, it’s much easier to imagine ourselves being Lauren — someone who, when faced with the loss of everything she’s ever known and loved, does her best to help others build a future.

The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth Church

25810606Book – Seventeen-year-old Meridian Wallace is a bright, energetic woman and the only child of doting parents. Her parents encourage her curiosity and academic pursuits. She starts college at the University of Chicago in 1941 to pursue her degree in ornithology, the study of birds. She falls in love with a brilliant physics professor, Alden Whetstone. He’s more than twenty years her senior, and she is attracted to his intelligence and their stimulating scientific conversations. When he is tapped to work at Los Alamos on a top secret project, Meridian follows him and postpones her acceptance to grad school for a year. She marries Alden and begins an independent study of crows. As the years go by, Meridian continues to submerge her own desires and dreams to accommodate Alden’s career. She finds companionship in some of the other women and then, in the 1970’s meets Clay, who introduces her to new experiences and encourages her independence. This book fascinated me with its depictions of the changing times and society’s expectations, particularly toward women. I sometimes hoped that Meridian would make different choices, but thought that her struggles and decisions were realistic. This book is an engaging, thought-provoking read.

The Gentleman by Forrest Leo

6174e2-23JL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book – Sometimes, it’s easy to know from the outset whether a book will be a good fit or not.  Such is the case with The Gentlemen, a book about a vain Victorian poet who meets the Devil at a masquerade ball, accidentally sells his wife’s soul in exchange for poetic inspiration and consequently launches an expedition (peopled by his bluff adventuring brother-in-law, his scandalous sister, a shy mad scientist and a stalwart butler) to Hell to retrieve her.  If that premise sounds as delightful to you as it did to me, you’ll love the book; if not, don’t bother.  Simple as that.

Forrest Leo’s language in The Gentleman is perfectly Victorian, his parodistic humor is spot-on for the absurd, over-the-top story he’s looking to tell, and the steampunk elements of his universe are used sparingly and well.  While reading, there was a moment when I feared I would feel cheated by the ending, but I was happily mistaken in that.  If I had to quibble, I wouldn’t have minded a little more swashbuckling action.  Overall, however, The Gentleman was a delightfully silly, light, fast-paced, fun first novel, with a great and original premise, from a clearly talented young writer.  I can’t wait to see what he writes next!

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

BmTk6UbnC1k.movieposter_maxresMovie – The zombie apocalypse has come! Or is it an alien invasion? A terrorist attack that wiped out the US government? Either way something bad has happened to the country and civilization is descending into anarchy! Or is it?

In 10 Cloverfield Lane, Howard (John Goodman) has prepared for the worst. He has a bunker and everything he needs to survive an event of catastrophic proportions. While out Howard finds Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on the side of a road. She has been in a car accident. He takes her to his bunker to save her life. Michelle wakes up to find she is chained to a wall in a bare room and has injured her leg in the accident. Howard explains what happened and that an apocalyptic event has made the world up top uninhabitable. Michelle is unsure and does not want to believe him. Howard unchains Michelle and allows her into the common area. There she meets Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). Emmett reassures Michelle that everything Howard has told her happened. Emmett is also hurt like Michelle. As the movie progresses Michelle discovers something which points her to think Howard lying and begins to doubt his story once again.

The film has a slow pace at the beginning and viewers with little patience might give up. But if you stick with it, it picks up quickly and the ending is something worth seeing. When the film first came out many speculated whether it was a sequel to Cloverfield (2008). All I will reveal is that I don’t know if it is or not. Viewers who like movies with a short character list, a good soundtrack, and suspense will enjoy this one. Patience is a must, though.

Bitch Planet Vol. 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick

1863e34a261397f597644526b51444341587343Graphic Novel – Kelly Sue DeConnick was sharply criticized for her recent transformation of the Marvel character Captain Marvel. In a response to some of those criticisms DeConnick created Bitch Planet. It is a graphic novel series in a society where men extremely prosecute women’s actions. Express your opinion too vocally, go to Bitch Planet. Disagree with your husband, go to Bitch Planet. Become overweight, go to Bitch Planet!

In this first volume DeConnick provides the reader with small amounts of information into the main characters. Penny Rolle is the only character with some backstory. It is of a troubled childhood, her dislike for people who try to change her, and how she feels about herself. Other characters are introduced with minimal storylines. With this being just the first volume I was left with a lot of questions at the end.

One of the main storylines of this volume is centered on forming a team to play a sport similar to rugby. It has only been played by men and they would be the first women team. The reward, if they survive, could be freedom from Bitch Planet.

There are several reoccurring visuals and themes requiring deeper analysis. They include the race issue present throughout, lack of women’s rights, the sexualized image of women, the role of a patriarchal religion, and more. The style of the volume is based on the 1970’s women prison and Blaxploitation films. There is a lot of nudity, violence, and blood. If you do not like this type of thing I would not recommend you read it. If you do and want something that will engage the current landscape of society then this one is a must read.

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.