Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce

CosmicCover

This is not the kind of book that I read when I was a kid. It’s not quite the kind of book that I prefer to read right now. Despite that, I enjoyed it.

In terms of age range, Cosmic is definitely middle grade. I can see why it is called sci fi, but I think that classification is misleading when compared with other middle grade science fiction. With an allowance made for several advancements beyond current technology, this story is fundamentally about our own world—and the few pieces of advanced technology that are present don’t change that.

The writing honestly made me uncomfortable, and didn’t pull me in right away; the story moves slowly, and from the beginning I felt a looming sense of dread due to the effective foreshadowing. I wonder whether readers of the intended age would feel differently. Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, for example, is famously fun for kids and terrifying for adults… perhaps Cosmic is similar?

I don’t mean to say that the book is bad: it’s actually quite good, once you get into it. But it’s slow and meditative, and it took a while to grow on me. Also, when it did finally grow on me, I felt like I was appreciating it very specifically as an adult; that’s quite distinct from how I’ve felt about some other good middle grade sci fi I’ve read recently. Perhaps a reader less invested in the adventure fiction that I loved as a kid would be more interested in Cosmic. Or maybe I’m just not the right kind of kid inside to really enjoy this book.

If you want a meditation on growing up, the arbitrariness of childhood and adulthood, feelings of connection and responsibility, and maybe just a little bit of space, Cosmic is a good book for you. If you want something fast paced and snappy, I suggest you look elsewhere.

Advertisements

Illuminae, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

IlluminaeCover

I’ve been reading a lot of Young Adult and Middle Grade sci fi over the past few months. A good deal of it has been a grind, predictable material that didn’t excite me but which I knew I had to finish for due diligence. Not so with Illuminae. This is a book I inhaled. It was fun, tense, well-paced, and knew how and when to stab me in the feels.

If you like sci fi, action/thriller stories, and dramatic feels I strongly recommend it. This is solid YA sci fi.

I also strongly recommend reading it in hard copy. I don’t know whether an ebook would deliver the experimental (and effective) layout and formatting, and I’m certain that an audiobook would lose a lot of the value. It’s like Code Name Verity in that way. There are layers of paratextual content that would disappear without the physical book in front of you, and the design itself is worth appreciating.

Though the book is thick, it isn’t dense. The designers’ formatting and layout choices make excellent use of space and spatial alignment to convey the book’s underlying pretext, as the whole piece is found-text: transcripts of chat logs, audio files, video records, and more. There are a few places where the layout and design get even weirder, and most of those spots worked extremely well for me. I won’t spoil them.

Speaking of spoilers, I have some appreciative thoughts which don’t ruin anything but which might be considered *spoiler-ish* by the sensitive. There was a moment a ways in when I realized that there was no guarantee that things would turn out “well” for the primary subjects of the story. I returned to the first pages, re-read the contextualizing introduction, and confirmed my fears. I read on, heart firmly in throat. I was very impressed. I deeply appreciate any book that manages to make such good use of its underlying context to pull the legs out from under the audience, and Illuminae managed that skillfully. *End spoiler-ish*

I don’t think I need to say any more, honestly. Check out the book. If you like the first page, sit back, read on, and enjoy.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers

TheLongWaytoaSmallAngryPlanet

This book is a delight.

This is one of the most character-focused small-scale stories I’ve read in a while; it feels both literary and feminist in that way, delving into personal moments and paying attention to humanizing (“personizing”? Several characters are aliens after all) every character. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet has emotional depth that was often lacking in the science fiction I read growing up, and delivers the wanderlust and quiet tension of venturing between the stars. I love it for that.

This book is a series of well-crafted vignettes that build upon each other time and again. Subsequent layers add depth and import, making the journey of the ship and its crew as much an emotional one as a physical one. I know I’ve just described how most novels should work, but something about this story made me hyper-aware of that fact in a very good way. Let me try to explain.

Continue reading

Overlord

overlord-poster

Overlord is a pulpy, terrifying thrill ride of a B-movie. It feels like an over-the-top World War 2 Delta Green scenario, and an homage to a genre I learned to love through John Carpenter’s films. Having read more about the movie, and learned more about the practical effects used, I’m even more impressed.

As a B-movie it’s quite good, though it rang a bit hollow for me. I think there might have been a little more to the character development arc for Jovan Adepo’s Boyce that didn’t survive to the theatrical cut I saw, and I would have loved to see that. But it’s probably okay: high tension Nazi-killing historical science fiction B-movies aren’t best known for their character development.

I initially wasn’t sure whether to feel happy or miffed about the movie’s portrayal of the 101st Airborne as an integrated force when it was not. Here’s Wikipedia’s article on racial segregation in the US armed forces.

The happy side has won. It’s very easy to explain.

Continue reading

Arisia 2017!

I don’t have anything elaborate for you today. I’m going to be a panelist (and a moderator) at Arisia, starting this evening, and that’s keeping me busy.

If you’re there and want to see me, check out these panels:

  • Poor, Unfortunate Souls – Villainous Perspective (Fri., 8:30pm)
  • Heard the Dice Hit the Table – Games as Fiction (Sat., 11:30am)
  • The Stories People Play (Sat., 2:30pm)
  • Shame on Slut-Shaming (Sat., 5:30pm)
  • Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make Fantasy (Sun., 10:00am)
  • Bleed: Emotion in Roleplay and LARP (Mon., 10:00am)

I hope you have a good weekend!

The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex

The_True_Meaning_of_Smekday_cover.jpg

This book is a quiet piece of genius. It’s hilarious, and far deeper than I had expected it to be. And somehow it delivers on its premise without beating you over the head, even as it makes its commentary abundantly obvious to anyone who’s willing to pay attention. I think I’d be hard pressed to find a middle grade adventure novel that I liked more.

I wouldn’t say it’s the best, because I don’t like committing myself to statements like that, but you’d damn well better do yourself the favor of reading this book.

The Shadow Speaker, by Nnedi Okorafor

ShadowSpeaker.jpg

Yet another excellent book that I’ve found through this semester’s syllabus. Nnedi Okorafor’s combination of a post-apocalyptic setting with fantastical afrofuturism is absolutely magical. I would strongly recommend this book for so many reasons; the setting might honestly be the least of them, despite how much I like it.

I understand that there’s a sequel in the works, titled Stormbringer, and I can’t wait to get my hands on that too.

The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The Summer Prince.jpg

I know, it’s not more Barium Deep. My apologies. But I’m busy and this is an easy recommendation to make. The Summer Prince is an excellent book. I won’t go in depth, because I have a submission due for my editor tomorrow and I want to give her more material, but it’s an excellent book and was one of the few items on my syllabus so far this semester that I’ve found myself reading for pleasure.

I guess I’m part of the target audience these days, but this gave me a great deal to think about in terms of art, and what art means and what it does. It also contains queer romance, and a sometimes hopeful sometimes not vision of a post-apocalyptic future. It’s very much worth reading.

Oh, and in case this is the sort of thing that you care about, this book is written by a woman of color and has (exclusively) non-white protagonists. I really liked it.

More Barium: 9/6

This one’s a bit short. As before, it picks up immediately after where the last one left off.

Enjoy!

Continue reading

More Barium: 9/5-6

This continues my pattern of giving you enough to wish you had more. If you were expecting that to change, well… I’m sorry. The previous entry can be found here, this continues immediately from the last segment.

Enjoy!

Continue reading