Reading the 1941 Retro Hugo Best Novel Nominees – Kallocain by Karin Boye

I finished Kallocain early this morning.  Finished is too final a word.  I doubt this book will ever fully leave me.  I should give this book four or five stars, but it’s hard to ‘lie’ to myself (as the narrator so aptly does until nearly the end) that I liked or loved this book.  It’s dystopian ficion – not an overly likeable or loveable subgenre of science fiction. Even so, decades later, we as a society still devour and crave stories that allow us to peer through a mirror darkly at what might grow if we nurture security at the expense of liberty.

Often compared to Huxley’s Brave New World (published eight yours before Kallocain) and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (published eight yours after), and having read both of those famous classics, I put forth that Boye’s Kallocain is more insidious, more disturbing than either.  Leo Kall invents a drug which facilitates the policing of thoughts, the ‘holy grail’ of any totalitarian police state.  The tragedy is Kall’s complete almost innocent faith in his Worldstate while his closest fellow-soldiers (wife, supervisor, test subjects and high ranking officials) exhibit humanity (laudible traits and those less laudible ones that bear fruit in totalitarian regins) and individuality.  Kall wishes to eradicate these treasonous thoughts in others and so aids less scrupulous officials in legislating and condemning them.  Once he achieves a modicum of his own power and acts upon his fears, Kall beings to regret, doubt takes root, innocence toward the benevolence of the Worldstate crumbles and his conscience awakes.

Continue reading “Reading the 1941 Retro Hugo Best Novel Nominees – Kallocain by Karin Boye”

Book Review: Stormdancer by Kristoff (4 Stars)

Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

4 out of 5 stars

Read in late August 2014

Synopsis from MacMillan’s site:

Stormdancer is the first in the epic new fantasy series The Lotus War, introducing an unforgettable heroine and a stunningly original dystopian steampunk world with a flavor of feudal Japan.

The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. When hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a legendary griffin, they fear their lives are over. Any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.  Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, the girl Yukiko finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled griffin for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her. But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire. Continue reading “Book Review: Stormdancer by Kristoff (4 Stars)”

Fantasy v SF Round One Second Half Gets Weird

io9 continues whittling down the first sixty-four entries, getting decidedly weirder, digging around in the classics for mad scientists, dystopian alternate realities, monsters and magic.

Results from the first half of the voting returned only one disappointment for me, and it’s a bittersweet one. The Princess Bride edged out The Wheel of Time in the Epic Fantasy bracket.  Bit of a quibble for me as I don’t really think the former qualifies as ‘epic’ fantasy; rather, it’s more like humorous high fantasy.  The latter clearly takes epic to the next level and should not have been so easily defeated.  I’ve read both, though, and loved them both.

Update March 20, 2014: I missed the vote yesterday for the first half of round two.  Some of the results are already in and can be found here.

Upcoming Schedule:

  • Friday, March 21: Sweet Sixteen
  • Monday, March 24: Elite Eight
  • Wednesday, March 26: Final Four
  • Friday, March 28: Championship

Book Review: A Highly Unlikely Scenario by Cantor (3 Stars)

A Highly Unlikely Scenario or, a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World by Rachel Cantor

3 out of 5 stars

Read in February 2014

Suggested reading for the Kansas City Public Library Adult Winter Reading Program “Stop Me If You’ve Read This One”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

In the not-too-distant future, competing giant fast food factions rule the world. Leonard works for Neetsa Pizza, the Pythagorean pizza chain, in a lonely but highly surveilled home office, answering calls on his complaints hotline. It’s a boring job, but he likes it—there’s a set answer for every scenario, and he never has to leave the house. Except then he starts getting calls from Marco, who claims to be a thirteenth-century explorer just returned from Cathay. And what do you say to a caller like that? Plus, Neetsa Pizza doesn’t like it when you go off script.

Meanwhile, Leonard’s sister keeps disappearing on secret missions with her “book club,” leaving him to take care of his nephew, which means Leonard has to go outside. And outside is where the trouble starts.

My Thoughts:

I read this new novel with every intention of joining the local real-life book discussion group.  I try to participate in at least one or two book discussion groups during the annual adult winter reading program at the Kansas City Public Library.  Continue reading “Book Review: A Highly Unlikely Scenario by Cantor (3 Stars)”

Book Review: Allegiant by Roth (4 Stars)

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

4 out of 5 stars

Read in December 2013


The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

My Thoughts:

Roth redeemed herself, at least in my mind, with Allegiant.  While not perfect, I felt more at home with the direction the plot took than what happened in the middle weak-link book Insurgient (which I didn’t bother to review because it disappointed me so much).  For my review of Divergent, follow this link.

Continue reading “Book Review: Allegiant by Roth (4 Stars)”

Movie Review: Total Recall (2012)

Total Recall (2012)

3 out of 5 stars

I find myself drawn to movies inspired from PKD short stories.  I was a bit disappointed when the Adjustment Bureau did not win the Nebula Award (Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation) in 2011.  And I suppose it’s time I watched Minority Report and Bladerunner, but first I’m going to read the original stories as written by the incomparable Phillip K. Dick.  In the case of Total Recall, the short story is entitled ‘We Can Remember It For Your Wholesale.’  Since I have not read the original short story, I will refrain from making comparisons and questioning the adaptation as portrayed in this latest re-imagining.

I will however compare this 2012 version to the other 1990 edition, which I’ve watched many times.  Off the top of my head, I didn’t care for the excision of Mars from the plot.  The Colony became Britain’s Penal Colony continent (Australia) and the world is toast, chemically speaking, except for the British Isles and Australia, connected by a super-fast (17 minutes one-way) tunnel through the Earth’s core called the Fall.  I remain skeptical and would like to see a bit more science and less fiction explaining that setup.

I actually found it hard to watch this remake because I knew, before hand, some of the key plot points that would occur.  No, they didn’t coincide completely with what I suspected, but enough doubt remained in my mind that I did not enjoy the film as much as I probably could or should have.  For example, I really hoped that the ending would return us to Rekall and leave us wondering if it was ‘real’ or ‘Memorex’ but this adaptation preferred to alter reality and continue with less ambiguity.  I think I would have preferred the more thought-provoking ending.

I guess the best thing I can say about this movie is I didn’t fall asleep while watching it.  I know, that’s not saying much, but it happens to me quite frequently.  But it didn’t knock my socks off as I expect when you’re adapting material from one of the 20th century’s most lauded science fiction authors.

Movie Review: The Hunger Games (2012)

The Hunger Games (2012)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Better than the book, barely.  I read the book and gave it three stars.  I knew then, when I finished reading it, that a movie would deliver more impact in some respects, and it does.  I missed some of the back-story (although the first book doesn’t give you much to work with).  The book did provide a better window and more intimately through Katniss’ eyes and thoughts, into the plight of the ‘citizens’ of the Districts.

I have gripes with the casting though.  Peeta in no way convinced me of his strength or of even being a baker’s son.  Same goes for Gale, only I thought the casting went over-the-top the other way on that one.

I noticed from the credits that the author, Suzanne Collins, had her fingers in most of the pots, including as an executive producer, so I really have no quibble with deviations from the written vision.

I will say I was a bit disappointed by the special affects, which seemed on par with a television show and not a ‘normal’ science fiction film.

Book Review: Cat’s Cradle by Vonnegut

Cat's CradleCat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the first books I remember being ‘required’ to read in school (Middle School to be exact) happened to be Slaughterhouse-Five. Looking back, even though I had been reading at a college level since I reached double-digit age, I probably wasn’t ready for the subject matter. Come to think of it, I should probably re-read Vonnegut’s most famous novel again, from the other end of three decades of my life gone by. The same could be said for Cat’s Cradle, if I had read it back then, but I’m reading it for the first time on the downhill side of my life.

Published a year before I took my first breath, I get all the cultural references. I am still pondering the ramifications of the ‘Truth’ of all religions, according to Vonnegut’s character (who remained nameless throughout the entire novel). Satire? Irony? Poetic justice? Nihilism? Or some chaotic cohesion of all of them?

I found a few gems among the exceptionally short chapters (some less than a page in length): The ambassador’s speech before tossing the wreath in honor of the Hundred Martyrs to Democracy: ‘Think of what a paradise this world would be if men were kind and wise.’; Newt: ‘No damn cat, and no damn cradle.’; and Mona: ‘I love everyone.’

I actually heard Kurt Vonnegut speak during my college years. He came to Wichita State University in the early 80s to give a lecture. I learned about his appearance late (on the same day in fact), so I arrived almost too late to get a seat. For some reason, the facility decided to open up seating on the stage, so I sat cross-legged within ten or twenty feet of him to his right. As memorable as my seating arrangements were, I cannot remember anything he said during that lecture, nor even what his topic was. My book collection remained at home in Leavenworth County, so I had nothing to ask him to sign. I sincerely regret that now.

I gave Cat’s Cradle three stars. I liked it, and it definitely made me think deeply and ponder many questions, but I can’t say I really liked it. An interesting read, and it has aged remarkably well.

View all my reviews

This is the first ebook I read using the OverDrive Media Nook application.  I checked it out smoothly and easily from the Kansas City Public Library.  After fiddling with the Reading Options, I found a happy medium for speed of page turns (but not transitions between chapters) and font shape and size.  The dictionary feature only works if you have your wifi on and connected to the Internet because it uses  This differs from the default ereading application provided by Barnes & Noble, which uses a pre-installed copy of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (11th Edition).  I definitely missed the highlighting and annotating features that come standard with most ereading software.   Strangely, I’ve checked out ebooks from the KC Public Library before, but used the Adobe Digital Editions software and a USB cable to transfer the ebook from my computer to my Nook Color.  In that instance, I used the default ereader to read the ebook, so I had all my normal functionality.  I can only hope the OverDrive Media Console application will improve with time and feedback.

Book Review: Insurgent by Roth

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I eagerly awaited the arrival of Insurgent. I devoured Divergent last fall in hours, unusual in that I normally read two to three books simultaneously over the course of a week or so. I put all my other reads on hold when I picked up Divergent. I almost repeated the process with Insurgent, reading half of the book one weekend and finishing it the next. Quick and easy reading, but a bit disappointing turn in the plot at the end left me with an aftertaste I still can’t rinse out of my mind.

I gave Insurgent four stars here at GoodReads, but I will most likely settle on a 3.5 star rating on my personal objective scale. Parts of the book brought tears to my eyes, but they did not outweigh the moments of frustration I felt with Tris. She personifies recklessness in the extreme.

I’m trying to avoid spoilers, so I won’t express the specific reasons for my distaste or displeasure with the final revelation in the last few paragraphs of the book. I may have to go back and re-categorize this novel, and place Insurgent on completely different shelves.

If there is a sequel, and I haven’t gone looking to determine if there will be one, I hope more background is provided to justify the premise revealed at the end. Too many questions, and not the ones I expected to be answered; just a whole barrel of new ones on top of the old ones.

View all my reviews

Movie Review: In Time (2011)

In Time (2011)

3.5 out of 5 stars

I’m not the first one to mention this in a review of In Time, and probably won’t be the last.  The comparison to Logan’s Run is inevitable, but I see it also as a retelling of Robin Hood, at least the second half of it.  Dystopian science-fiction is all the rage, especially now that The Hunger Games have made it to the big screen.  But what the Hunger Games lack in depth (but make up for in violence), In Time brings a thought-provoking story and a message about just how much you can accomplish with only one day left to live.