Category Archives: sci-fi novels

Rabid Reads: "Benjamin’s Parasite" by Jeff Strand

Benjamin’s Parasite
223 pages
ISBN 9781934546123
Purchase via: Amazon / Book Depository
It’s been a little while since I read a book that nearly made me retch. If I was keeping a daily tally on how long it’s been since the last time a book managed to make me a bit queasy, I’d have to set it back to zero now. It’s not a gore fest, mind you, but there were just a couple scenes that really made me cringe. Body horror has a way of doing that to me. What kind of horror fan am I?
So, this is a novel about Benjamin Wilson–and his parasite. Well, technically it’s not his, so much as it’s the property of a top secret project, and it just happens to wind up inside Benjamin after a tangled series of events, which is capped off with him having to shoot one of his students in self-defense when the boy goes on a seemingly random psychotic rampage. After that traumatic event, he begins to experience some strange cravings and inhibitions are lowered. Basically his every latent compulsion and desire is coming to the surface, sometimes when he’s not even aware of it.
Then there’s that searing pain in his stomach.
This novel is a quick, crazy read. And, it’s not just a horror novel, as there is a wild kind of road story to it, too. That’s because Benjamin is saved early on from certain death by a femme fatale bountyhunter who abducts him and tries to get him to the folks responsible for the parasite, so they can get it out of him. There are others who are aware of the parasite too though, and will stop at nothing to get it–whether Benjamin lives or dies in the process. Gunfights, car chases, double crosses, etc.
Benjamin is an amiable character and easy to root for, but there are moments when he is hip deep in the action and it feels like he is just taking it all in stride. Like, he’s in such an incredibly unheard of onslaught of circumstances and he still maintains an aloof sense of humor at times. Most of the time he is freaking out and scared shitless, so that helps, but his wisecracking feels overdone once in a while.
Other than that gripe, this is great pulpy horror/action novel, and it served as a great sample of Jeff Strand’s work. I’m eager to read more of his work down the road.

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The Best Books of 2010 (Part 2): Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Last week, I offered up a fave five list of sorts dedicated to some of my favorite horror titles released in 2010. This week, I’m shining a light on some of the sci-fi and fantasy titles I read from the past year. Well, there’s only one book on this list that could be classified as science-fiction, so I decided to include it hear as I didn’t read enough from that genre to have a fave list for it.

There’s actually a lot of fantasy and sci-fi titles from this past year that are still on my wish list and to-be-read pile, much like with the horror genre. A couple of book with potential to have been on this list include Joe Hill’s Horns and Felix Gilman’s The Half-Made World, so bear in mind this list only reflects my opinion of a relatively limited pool of books.

Let’s call this one historical sci-fi: Voltaire’s Calligrapher by Pablo De Santis [review here]

This is a short novel and has a unique vibe to it. It’s historical fiction with some intriguing sci-fi ingredients thrown in. The book was originally published quite a few years ago in South America, but North America got its first taste of novel, translated of course, and was well worth the wait it would seem. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it’s worth giving a chance. Why should Swedish authors get all the love these days? Save some for the South Americans.

Urban fantasy with a chip on its shoulder: Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey [review coming soon]

This one was originally published in ’09, but the paperback release came out in spring of last year, so that counts in my book. I’d read enough good reviews for this book that when I won my choice of books from Adventures with Cecelia Bedelia in April, I picked this one. It’s urban fantasy in so much that it takes place monstly in Los Angeles and has plenty of demons, magic, and fighting. But the protagonist and narrator, Sandman Slim, is easily the surliest sonofabitch in the genre. Like, if Mickey Rourke attended Hogwarts.

How about a graphic novel: Neil Young’s Greendale by Josh Dysart [review coming soon]

A music aficionado I am not, but I enjoy Neil Young’s tunes more often than not. So imagine my surprise to hear there’s a graphic novel out inspired by his album, Greendale. I wouldn’t have figured a comic book based on a folk rock singer’s baying-at-the-moon style of singing would work, but this was pretty darned good. George Bush and Sarah Palin might not care for it, but it’s not like they were the target audience anyway.

Zombies with a romantic side: The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan [review here]

This is the sequel to one of my favorite novels of 2009, The Forest of Hands and Teeth. It didn’t carry the same jaw-dropping impact as the first, but it was a very good followup and the daughter’s story wound up as intriguing and suspenseful as her mother’s in the first book. The third, and presumably final, book is due out sometime in 2011, and I’ll certainly be looking forward to it. Out of all the books that could be saddled with the YA romantic fantasy label, Ryan’s novels have been my favorites by far.

My favorite novel of any genre: Black Hills by Dan Simmons [review here]

My first opportunity to read a Dan Simmons novel turned out to be a showstopper of a book. When I read this book in the spring, I was reasonably sure I wouldn’t come across a better 2010 release. So far, I hold to that assertion. This was just a great sweeping story about a Native-American’s life from boyhood to old age, and his tribulations in holding onto his heritage, surviving love and revenge, and enduring the pernicious ghostly thoughts of General Custer in his head. Amazing book.

There you go, five books that you should consider reading if you want to dip into those genres. The past year looked like a very rich time for the two genres, so if you have any suggestions, by all means:

What were your favorite sci-fi/fantasy novels from 2010?

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Wish List Wednesday #64: Elizabeth Bear’s "Dust"

Wish List Wednesday is a weekly meme I started in July ’09, in which I put the spotlight on a book that is on my wish list–whether new release, blast from the past, or hidden gem.

Okay, last week I mentioned I was up to my neck in trilogies and series that I have yet to finish. Honestly, I’ve lost count. Well, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a few titles on my wish list that are not the first novels of proposed trilogies. It’s a problem I’m trying to address.

Elizabeth Bear is a fantasy and sci-fi author with quite a few titles to her credit in the few years since her debut. I’ve yet to read any of her novels, but there is one out this year that sounds promising.

Titled Dust, it’s the first book in a sci-fi trilogy called Jacob’s Ladder. It’s about a giant spaceship called Jacob’s Ladder that houses colonists traversing the stars. They’ve been out there a long time and have undergone a kind of evolution through nanotechnology over hundreds of years. It’s hardly a utopian environment though, with a few factions ready to battle it out with each other. And to top things off, the star they’re orbiting is ready to go supernova and the ship needs to be repaired before they can haul ass out of there.

The synopsis I’ve read makes it sound like a sci-fi novel with dashes of fantasy thrown in for flavor. It could be a good read, as I do like it when genres are successfully mixed.

Have you heard of this author’s work before? What do you think about the premise for this novel and trilogy?

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Rabid Reads "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams


Title: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Film Tie-In Edition)
Author: Douglas Adams; with afterword by Robbie Stamp
Publisher: Pan McMillan Ltd. (2005); originally published in 1979
Genre: Science-Fiction/Humor
Pages: 323
ISBN 0-33043798-4

Note: As part of Banned Books Week, I’ll be posting a review of a banned book for weekday. In Canada, Hitchhiker’s Guide was once banned from a school because of the use of the word “whore.” Yup, that’s all it takes.

I probably should have checked the table of contents or something before getting this novel. I, being more a child of movies and television than books, assumed this novel contained the entire “Hitchhiker” saga. Wrong. I had an inkling there were five parts to this story, and originally sold as five separate novels. I did not, however, think this book would only contain the first of the five novels. It’s the film tie-in edition for crying out loud. Was I out of line in thinking this should contain the “Hitchhiker” saga in its entirety? I guess I was. Ah well, live and learn.

For being only one fairly quick read–the actual novel only comprises 220 pages–I still had a great time reading this story. I liked the movie, and have heard enough deification of Douglas Adams, I thought it a safe bet I would enjoy The Hitchhiker’s Guide in book form.

While the movie told the vast majority of the story through the eyes of Arthur Dent, schlubby English nobody, as a way of giving the viewing audience a point-of-view they could relate to and gain familiarity with during the fantastical events of the story. The book, at least this first one, gives a wider range of PoVs, by giving glimpses into the minds of others such as Trillian (a beautiful academic and the object of Arthur’s affection), Ford (Arthur’s best friend and a vagabond alien), Zaphod (the President of the Galaxy and a glorious scoundrel), and even Marvin, everyone’s favorite paranoid android.

For those unfamiliar, this story basically starts out with the destruction of Earth–not a bad way to get things rolling. Our little ocean pearl is in the way of some industrialist aliens, known as Vogons, building an intergalactic highway. So, POOF! Earth’s gone. Moments before it’s destroyed, however, our hapless hero, Arthur Dent, is spared demise via his friend Ford Prefect’s secret alien connections. And the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. Not long after being hurled into a mind-baffling universe of aliens of every shade of silly, Arthur is reunited with the woman he’s pined over for weeks … and the dashing alien who thwarted his attempts at talking to her in the first place. Conflict and hilarity ensue.

I don’t think I need to bother summarizes beyond that, since the story is so absurd and hilarious it defies a proper encapsulation, and I’m just not the cat to do it justice. There’s even a proper amount of suspense and action to keep the story rolling along.

While I enjoyed the movie, and subsequently this first novel in the series, I’m not a fanatic. I would require months of training to become as ravenous, protectionist, and geeky as the most ardent Hitchhiker fan. Or, maybe you must be born that way. I do think this was one of the funnier novels I’ve had the chance to read recently, though. The absurdest humor and snappy dialog really give this story a voice all its own.

It’s an accessible sci-fi romp, so those like me who tend to stray from the harder sci-fi novels should feel comfortable sitting down to read this one. Just be prepared to take a lot of the terminology at face value and chalk it up to ridiculousness. And don’t be surprised if you end up wanting to read the rest of the series, like me. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is on my wish list now.

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Fave Five: Science-Fiction Novels … So Far

More often than not, I love watching sci-fi movies. I’ve always been a fan of Star Trek, even though you will never ever catch me wearing a pair of Spock ears, nor keep an English-to-Klingon dictionary on my bookshelf. I believe there’s something about the realm of sci-fi that taps into our childlike wonder about the universe around us. How can we not imagine what awaits us in the starry skies or in a future we can’t yet see?

When it comes to science-fiction literature, however, I’m not nearly as familiar with the genre. I’ve long had an aversion to sci-fi books more than most other genres—chick lit and memoirs being the only two genres I can think of that I avoid with greater effort. A few I have read have been dull and bogged down with blather about the science, while ignoring what matters most … the fiction. I have a healthy suspension of disbelief when I’m reading, so I don’t need the characters in a story blathering on about how the bloody gadget works—it works, I get it. When I thought about it though, several novels I’ve read and enjoyed could arguably fall into the category of science-fiction.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson could qualify, as could Stephen King’s Cell. Dean Koontz’s Watchers is another tale of terror that deals heavily with some science-fiction elements. There’s something interchangeable between sci-fi and horror. It may be humanity’s fear of the unknown. What would you say?

In any event, I thought I would try to come up with five novels I’ve enjoyed that would qualify as sci-fi more than anything else. So, here it goes …

#5: Man Plus by Frederick PohlA man is basically rebuilt into a pseudo-Martian in order to participate in a long-term mission on Mars. His personal life is in turmoil, however, and there’s the threat of it sabotaging the work of everyone involved. I liked this novel, as it was suspenseful in spots and evocative in others. This was an obscure pick, as I found it in a bargain bin at a used-bookstore, but I’m glad I took a chance on it.

#4: The Free Lunch by Spider RobinsonI once saw Robinson on an episode of Idea City, where he discusses his work on Robert Heinlein’s last, unfinished novel. The guy’s a character, so I wanted to try out his work after reading Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. Free Lunch is tuned more towards the YA crowd, but the whole concept of running away to a futuristic, Disney-esque theme park appealed to me. It was a quick, fun read that had healthy doses of humor and action.

#3: Frankenstein by Mary ShelleyLike Dracula, I like this classic tale in spite of the way the story is told. I’m simply not a fan of the correspondence-letters-from-Hell approach to storytelling. And Frankenstein is even more convoluted thanks to hearing an explorer write home to his sister about Dr. Frankenstein talking about the monster he created droning on with his own tale. It was like a Russian nesting doll of narration. But, the whole story of Frankenstein’s monster and how he torments Frankenstein for years is riveting.

#2: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott CardIf this book qualifies as straight-up sci-fi, then it’s the best I’ve read so far. A young boy is whisked off to a futuristic, military training camp for children, so he can become one of Earth’s defenders against an impending alien assault. This was such a good exploration of a coming-of-age tale, I’d dare say it ought to be required reading for school kids. They wouldn’t regret it, and they might forget about Harry Potter for a little while. Side-note: OSC’s verbal reaming of J.K. Rowling for her efforts to thwart an unauthorized HP Index being published is near classic. Look for it.

#1: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray BradburyThis is one of my all-time favorite stories. I’m not a fan of the allegedly classic movie, though the ending was a nice touch. Maybe this novel counts more as “speculative” fiction than sci-fi, but it’s in the same vein. Books are something we’ve given to the world which are uniquely ours. In the context of the universe, it’s a pretty exclusive club we readers belong to. We’re the only species that thought to immortalize our words—our language—for future generations. So, the thought of our greatest and most treasured pieces of literature being burned into oblivion is supremely frightening. If you ask anyone afraid of the digital age of books, they’ll probably tell you the lack of a tangible, physical connection to the words is one of the factors that influences their emotions on the subject—it does with me, at any rate. Underneath it all, this story by Bradbury shows us that, no matter what, it is the stories that matter most, whatever medium they come in.

There are still more titles sitting on my shelf, which I think have the potential to end up on this list in the future. Probably the one sci-fi novel I’m most looking forward to reading some time is Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The movie was okay, but I have a feeling it didn’t do the book justice, especially when you consider how much praise it’s received over the years. Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles is collecting dust on my shelf too.

There really aren’t any science-fiction titles on my wish list, though. There’s some that could be squeezed into the category, but they seem to be more closely associated with steampunk and young-adult (Stephanie Meyer’s The Host and Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan).

For any sci-fi geeks out there, what would you suggest as essential reading in the realm of sci-fi?

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