“Rapture” by Susan Minot (Knopf, 2002)

Rapturestarstarstar

Much like Steve Martin’s Shopgirl, Rapture is a story about a doomed relationship. Benjamin already has a fiancée by the name of Vanessa who he’s pretty sure he’s still in love with, while Kay meets Benjamin on the shooting of a movie and from then on the game plays out.  Sometimes he is madly in love with her, while she just wants to get away from him, while at other times the opposite takes place, and rarely do the two want each other.  What makes Rapture unique are a few things: the book takes place entirely around the setting of Kay going down on Benjamin, and this oral sex does not reach its orgasmic conclusion until page 112; and the reader is not only in the head of Benjamin or Kay, but both of them, each mind separated by a single asterisk, and each time you know whose head you are in because Minot follows the plan exactly.

Minot also has many lessons to give you: “Once a boy felt he’d made a conquest, then his energy was released and he was free to move on and put the girl out of his mind.  For a girl, that conquest left its hook in.”  The only think lacking in Rapture is a comfortable sense of the outside world which most books tend to offer.  Because of this  we do not know where we are, what jobs the characters have, and are confined to the narrow minds of these bizarre yet perfectly realistic characters.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on May 6th 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love” by Dava Sobel (Penguin, 2000)

Galileo's Daughterstarstarstarstar

The small picture of the nun on the front cover of Galileo’s Daughter may well be Suor (Sister) Maria Celeste, Galileo’s daughter, and then again it might not.  This stands as a summation of what is within the pages Dava Sobel has strung together.

Suor Maria Celeste begins every single one of her letters to her father, the great scientist Galileo, with “Most Illustrious” or “Most Beloved” or “Most Illustrious and Beloved Lord-Father.”  But then she is a nun.  Once you get over the astonishing endearments, you are taken into a world that has not existed for centuries.  The setting is Italy and the man is the genius known as Galileo Galilei, from his fledgling days as a scholar, to a broken man who died in a great pain.

While Galileo’s daughter does play a significant role in this piece of historical nonfiction, the man of the novel is Galileo, and this is his new biography, written with extreme research and in complete detail, where any questions you may have had on this man’s life are answered.

Sobel does an excellent job of presenting hitherto held beliefs or ideas on a specific aspect of Galileo’s life (such as the number of trials he had to attend), and then providing exact evidence from the reliable source with the truth (two, one for a hearing, and one for a sentencing).  The result is a book about Galileo that is unlikely to be equaled.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on April 29th 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

An Interview with Mira Grant (April, 2010)

Mira Grant

Mira Grant

Mira Grant is Seanan McGuire’s pseudonym.  Mira Grant’s first book is the zombie horror/science fiction novel Feed, the premiere book in the Newsflesh Trilogy.

Alex: Who is Mira Grant?

Mira: Mira Grant is the thing under your bed.  Born and raised in the spider-infested wilds of Northern California, she has devoted her life to warning people about the impending threat of the zombie apocalypse.  Since most people don’t want to listen to her warnings, she’s taken to carrying lots of weapons, because she’ll need a way to cut through the undead hordes when her prophesies finally came to pass.  They laughed at her in the academy, but she doesn’t really mind, because she knows the last laugh will be hers.

Also, she’s an author.

Alex: What does Mira Grant do that Seanan McGuire wouldn’t?

Mira: Write political horror thrillers.  Walk into the cornfield at midnight with grim determination.  (Seanan would also go into the cornfield at midnight, but there’d be more “frolicking gleefully” than “stalking grimly.”)  Compile a list of 200+ warnings about the dangers of Mira Grant.

Alex: What does Mira Grant like to do for fun?

Mira: If she told you, she’d have to kill you.  Sorry.  It’s a matter of national security.

Alex: Do you feel like a different person, or perhaps think of yourself differently when writing as Mira Grant?

Mira: Not really.  I tend to present myself day-to-day as a happy Halloweentown Disney Princess, so Mira Grant is just sort of me through a much darker mirror.  She’s definitely a caricature, but when I’m working, I’m a whole bunch of different people.  Mira is just one more character.

Alex: When did you know you wanted to write a zombie horror series?

Mira: About halfway through Feed.  Before that, I thought I was just writing a zombie horror novel.  Surprise!  But I knew I wanted to do a zombie novel when I realized that all the books I was seeing had one thing in common: the apocalypse came, and we lost.  I wanted to go in the other direction.

Alex: Have you always been a fan of zombie stories?

Mira: Oh, yeah.  As long as I can remember.  And since they did a lot of zombie stories on early Doctor Who, “as long as I can remember” means “basically since the age of three.”  I just love their little shambling terror!

Alex: Do you pray or perhaps sacrifice small animals to an effigy of George Romero?

Mira: George Romero, no.  Stephen King, on the other hand…

Alex: Did you at all plan to have your zombie novel published in a time when it seems like there’s a new story, film or piece of work involving zombies being published every week?

Mira: No, and I was a little…not annoyed, exactly, but fussed to realize that was the case.  Feed took about four years to research and write, and when I started, the zombie renaissance was still a little ways away.  I’m hoping this will just mean there’s a larger audience, because people love their zombies.

Alex: With the “glut” of zombie material currently being made, do you feel the full effect of Feed may be diluted somewhat?

Mira: Not really—not if people can get their hands on it.  I read a lot of zombie fiction, so I’m pretty familiar with what’s out there right now, and I believe I can honestly say that Feed isn’t like anything else that’s currently on the market.

Alex: Where did the idea for Feed come from?

Mira: All the zombie fiction for a long time had the apocalypse coming to a world that was just totally unprepared—and see, that isn’t realistic, because if the zombies came tomorrow, and acted like the zombies in the movies, we’d know what to do.  Also, the Internet changes things.  Assuming the network stays up for any real amount of time, we’ll be able to share information, to react, and to fight back.  That was the beginning.  Everything else sort of came from there.

Alex: You have some incredibly strong and developed characters with Georgia, Shaun and Buffy.  Where did they come from?  Are they based on real people in any way?

Mira: They just…came.  Seriously.  I thought “Wow, here’s the story,” and it was like George just marched into my head and started dictating.  I got to know Shaun and Buffy as the story went on, through the lens of her experiences with them.  It was awesome, and daunting.

Alex: There’s a lot of politics, journalism, science and technology playing important parts in Feed.  How much of this did you know or have experience with, and how much of it was hardcore research?

Mira: I did so much research for this book.  Holy cats, the research.  I had to learn more than I ever thought I’d need to know about viral engineering, modern political process, wireless technology…the list is epic.  I had some really good subject matter experts, which is a good thing, because otherwise, my head might have exploded.

Alex: The cover is pretty eye-catching.  Did you have any involvement in that?

Mira: I did not.  But isn’t it pretty?

Alex: What separates Feed and the Newsflesh Trilogy from every other zombie story out there?

Mira: The Newsflesh Trilogy is about what comes after the dead.  It’s about the way societies adapt to just about anything, including the constant threat of the zombie uprising.  And I think it’s a much more chilling approach, in some ways, because in my world, the zombies aren’t the only thing you have to worry about.

Alex: If Feed got made into a movie, do you have any ideal actors you’d like to see play Georgia, Shaun and Buffy?

Mira: First off, I’d want James Gunn to direct.  Just putting that out there.  If the movie was made in the next few years, I’d want Allison Scagliotti for George (Warehouse 13), Jason Dohring for Shaun (Veronica Mars), and possibly Bryce Dallas Howard for Buffy.  The characters are supposed to be pretty young, so my casting choices will naturally change as time passes.

Alex: Did you always know where Feed was going and how it would end?  Or was it more of a rough outline and you let the characters take you along for the ride?

Mira: I both did and didn’t.  Some of the later events in the book were really a surprise to me, and I think were only possible because I’d already realized that this was going to be a trilogy, rather than a stand-alone book.

Alex: What can readers expect from Deadline?

Mira: Big changes, big shocks, and a lot of digging into the underside of the post-Rising world.  Also, things explode.  I like it when things explode.  It’s…soothing.

Alex: And what about Blackout?

Mira: Blackout will change everything.

Alex: What will Mira Grant be working on after the Newsflesh Trilogy?

Mira: I don’t know yet.  These are pretty hefty books, and I’ve barely started book three, so I’m sort of stuck in this paradigm right now.  I’m toying with the idea of a trilogy about parasitic infection, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Alex: What’s available for fans at www.miragrant.com?  And what will be added in the future?

Mira: Right now, you’ve got some really kick-ass icons and wallpapers, a list of reasons to beware of Mira Grant, and the Horror Movie Survival FAQ.  We’ll be adding more graphics, more tips on getting through a horror movie alive, and some links to other handy zombie survival resources.

Alex: Is Mira Grant more like Georgia – reporting accurately with crucial details from a distance; or like Shaun – throwing herself into the thick of it, taking chances for the thrill?  Or is she neither: someone who likes to hide in her home protected from the zombies?

Mira: Definitely more like Shaun.  Luckily, the zombie virus is too afraid of Mira Grant to infect her.

Alex: Other than the Newsflesh Trilogy, what is your all time favorite zombie book and favorite zombie movie?

Mira: My favorite zombie movie is James Gunn’s Slither.  No contest.  I love it like fire.  Zombie book is a little harder.  So…

FAVORITE ZOMBIE ANTHOLOGY: The Living Dead, edited by John Joseph Adams

FAVORITE SERIOUS ZOMBIE BOOK: World War Z, Max Brooks

FAVORITE SERIOUS YA ZOMBIE BOOK: Soulless, Christopher Golden

FAVORITE FUNNY ZOMBIE BOOK: Breathers, S.G. Browne

FAVORITE FUNNY YA ZOMBIE BOOK: You Are So Undead To Me, Stacy Jay

FAVORITE INSANE ZOMBIE BOOK: Ex-Heroes, Peter Clines

Hope that’s a good enough list!

Who is Mira Grant?

Mira Grant is the thing under your bed.  Born and raised in the spider-infested wilds of Northern California, she has devoted her life to warning people about the impending threat of the zombie apocalypse.  Since most people don’t want to listen to her warnings, she’s taken to carrying lots of weapons, because she’ll need a way to cut through the undead hordes when her prophesies finally came to pass.  They laughed at her in the academy, but she doesn’t really mind, because she knows the last laugh will be hers.

Also, she’s an author.

What does Mira Grant do that Seanan McGuire wouldn’t?

Write political horror thrillers.  Walk into the cornfield at midnight with grim determination.  (Seanan would also go into the cornfield at midnight, but there’d be more “frolicking gleefully” than “stalking grimly.”)  Compile a list of 200+ warnings about the dangers of Mira Grant.

What does Mira Grant like to do for fun?

If she told you, she’d have to kill you.  Sorry.  It’s a matter of national security.

Do you feel like a different person, or perhaps think of yourself differently when writing as Mira Grant?

Not really.  I tend to present myself day-to-day as a happy Halloweentown Disney Princess, so Mira Grant is just sort of me through a much darker mirror.  She’s definitely a caricature, but when I’m working, I’m a whole bunch of different people.  Mira is just one more character.

When did you know you wanted to write a zombie horror series?

About halfway through Feed.  Before that, I thought I was just writing a zombie horror novel.  Surprise!  But I knew I wanted to do a zombie novel when I realized that all the books I was seeing had one thing in common: the apocalypse came, and we lost.  I wanted to go in the other direction.

Have you always been a fan of zombie stories?

Oh, yeah.  As long as I can remember.  And since they did a lot of zombie stories on early Doctor Who, “as long as I can remember” means “basically since the age of three.”  I just love their little shambling terror!

Do you pray or perhaps sacrifice small animals to an effigy of George Romero?

George Romero, no.  Stephen King, on the other hand…

Did you at all plan to have your zombie novel published in a time when it seems like there’s a new story, film or piece of work involving zombies being published every week?

No, and I was a little…not annoyed, exactly, but fussed to realize that was the case.  Feed took about four years to research and write, and when I started, the zombie renaissance was still a little ways away.  I’m hoping this will just mean there’s a larger audience, because people love their zombies.

With the “glut” of zombie material currently being made, do you feel the full effect of Feed may be diluted somewhat?

Not really—not if people can get their hands on it.  I read a lot of zombie fiction, so I’m pretty familiar with what’s out there right now, and I believe I can honestly say that Feed isn’t like anything else that’s currently on the market.

Where did the idea for Feed come from?

All the zombie fiction for a long time had the apocalypse coming to a world that was just totally unprepared—and see, that isn’t realistic, because if the zombies came tomorrow, and acted like the zombies in the movies, we’d know what to do.  Also, the Internet changes things.  Assuming the network stays up for any real amount of time, we’ll be able to share information, to react, and to fight back.  That was the beginning.  Everything else sort of came from there.

You have some incredibly strong and developed characters with Georgia, Shaun and Buffy.  Where did they come from?  Are they based on real people in any way?

They just…came.  Seriously.  I thought “Wow, here’s the story,” and it was like George just marched into my head and started dictating.  I got to know Shaun and Buffy as the story went on, through the lens of her experiences with them.  It was awesome, and daunting.

There’s a lot of politics, journalism, science and technology playing important parts in Feed.  How much of this did you know or have experience with, and how much of it was hardcore research?

I did so much research for this book.  Holy cats, the research.  I had to learn more than I ever thought I’d need to know about viral engineering, modern political process, wireless technology…the list is epic.  I had some really good subject matter experts, which is a good thing, because otherwise, my head might have exploded.

The cover is pretty eye-catching.  Did you have any involvement in that?

I did not.  But isn’t it pretty?

What separates Feed and the Newsflesh Trilogy from every other zombie story out there?

The Newsflesh Trilogy is about what comes after the dead.  It’s about the way societies adapt to just about anything, including the constant threat of the zombie uprising.  And I think it’s a much more chilling approach, in some ways, because in my world, the zombies aren’t the only thing you have to worry about.

If Feed got made into a movie, do you have any ideal actors you’d like to see play Georgia, Shaun and Buffy?

First off, I’d want James Gunn to direct.  Just putting that out there.  If the movie was made in the next few years, I’d want Allison Scagliotti for George (Warehouse 13), Jason Dohring for Shaun (Veronica Mars), and possibly Bryce Dallas Howard for Buffy.  The characters are supposed to be pretty young, so my casting choices will naturally change as time passes.

Did you always know where Feed was going and how it would end?  Or was it more of a rough outline and you let the characters take you along for the ride?

I both did and didn’t.  Some of the later events in the book were a really surprise to me, and I think were only possible because I’d already realized that this was going to be a trilogy, rather than a stand-alone book.

What can readers expect from Deadline?

Big changes, big shocks, and a lot of digging into the underside of the post-Rising world.  Also, things explode.  I like it when things explode.  It’s…soothing.

And what about Blackout?

Blackout will change everything.

What will Mira Grant be working on after the Newsflesh Trilogy?

I don’t know yet.  These are pretty hefty books, and I’ve barely started book three, so I’m sort of stuck in this paradigm right now.  I’m toying with the idea of a trilogy about parasitic infection, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

What’s available for fans at www.miragrant.com?  And what will be added in the future?

Right now, you’ve got some really kick-ass icons and wallpapers, a list of reasons to beware of Mira Grant, and the Horror Movie Survival FAQ.  We’ll be adding more graphics, more tips on getting through a horror movie alive, and some links to other handy zombie survival resources.

Is Mira Grant more like Georgia – reporting accurately with crucial details from a distance; or like Shaun – throwing herself into the thick of it, taking chances for the thrill?  Or is she neither: someone who likes to hide in her home protected from the zombies?

Definitely more like Shaun. Luckily, the zombie virus is too afraid of Mira Grant to infect her.

Other than the Newsflesh Trilogy, what is your all time favorite zombie book and favorite zombie movie?

My favorite zombie movie is James Gunn’s Slither.  No contest.  I love it like fire.  Zombie book is a little harder.  So…

FAVORITE ZOMBIE ANTHOLOGY: The Living Dead, edited by John Joseph Adams

FAVORITE SERIOUS ZOMBIE BOOK: World War Z, Max Brooks

FAVORITE SERIOUS YA ZOMBIE BOOK: Soulless, Christopher Golden

FAVORITE FUNNY ZOMBIE BOOK: Breathers, S.G. Browne

FAVORITE FUNNY YA ZOMBIE BOOK: You Are So Undead To Me, Stacy Jay

FAVORITE INSANE ZOMBIE BOOK: Ex-Heroes, Peter Clines

Hope that’s a good enough list!

“Feed” by Mira Grant (Orbit, 2010)

Feedstarstarstarstarstar

There have been many books about zombies, many are being written right now.  Almost all of them are about zombie invasions, zombies attacking killing humans, people turning into zombies, and basically humanity’s innate fear of zombies.  Feed by Mira Grant is nothing like these books, and yet it is a zombie horror novel; the first book in the Newsflesh Trilogy.

It is the future, the year is 2039.  Twenty-five years ago the Kellis-Amberlee virus was released and began turning humanity into zombies.  The world is now a very different place: many people rarely leave their homes, or the protected confines of their neighborhoods; many places have been overridden by zombies, while the government does what it can to feebly protect its people.  Georgia Mason (named after someone who understood zombies very well) and her twin brother Shaun are bloggers.  When everything went to hell a quarter-century ago, the media denied what was happening, mocking the bloggers who were purportedly telling the truth.  Now the bloggers have become the media, for they are the only ones brave (or stupid) enough to get close to the zombies and report what’s happening.

It’s an election year and Republican Senator Peter Ryman is running for president, looking to change the country, to make the American people feel safe and protected once more.  George and Shaun and their techie Buffy have been picked as members of the media to cover Senator Ryman’s campaign, launching them into journalism stardom.  But then something terrible happens, at one of the Senator’s events; zombies attack and people die.  As the Senator’s campaign continues, George, Shaun and Buffy try to put the pieces together and work out exactly what’s going on, and why the Senator is being attacked, in an attempt to ultimately find out who is behind it all.

Mira Grant is not simply telling a good story about zombies; she is instead telling a fantastic story about a group of young bloggers covering the campaign of a hopeful presidential candidate in a world where there are zombies and fear is a part of everyone’s everyday life.  And as the book comes to a close, the reader realizes there are things in this world that are worse than zombies.  They’re humans.  If you’re going to read a book that has anything to do with zombies at all, read this one.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on April 28 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime” by Miles Harvey (Broadway, 2001)

Island of Lost Mapsstarstarstar

Miles Harvey is a writer for Outside magazine and it was quite some time age that he was given the assignment to write a well-researched article on cartographic crime.  Having been obsessed with maps, order, and direction from a young age, the article was written, and then Harvey began researching the same subject for a book.  In his travels he discovered one of the most notorious and recent perpetrators of cartographic crime, Gilbert Joseph Bland, Jr.  The Island of Lost Maps is this man’s story.

Recently released in paperback, the Island of Lost Maps presents a healthy mixture of the nonfiction world of cartography and the crimes committed against it, as well as fictional work with Harvey’s exploration of Bland’s life.  Harvey has had to recreate the criminal career of this enigmatic person who abhors publicity and being known for who he is.  Through meticulous research, interviews, and actual years of study, the result is a most remarkable book.

But not only is this a book about how Bland with a small razor blade would cut out maps and then proceed to steal them from prestigious libraries and later sell them.  The reader also gets a full history lesson in when many of these magnificent cartographic pieces of art were created, how they were made, and what the currently fetch on the auction block at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.  For example, just a couple years ago, a 1492 print of Ptolemy’s Geographic was auctioned at Sotheby’s (with an estimated auction range of $200-300,000) for $1,150,000.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on April 29th 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West” by Stephen E.. Ambrose (Simon and Schuster, 1996)

Undaunted Couragestarstarstar

There have been quite a few books written about the lives of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, but it is safe to say no one writes these historical biographies quite like Stephen E. Ambrose.  The advantage with reading Ambrose is you get the entire story and then some!

Ambrose does not begin with the first steps Lewis took towards the Pacific, but the many steps involved in his succession as Captain, the development of his friendship with Thomas Jefferson, and what led to Clark joining Lewis on this most historic journey.  And with the detail that Ambrose uses with Lewis and Clark’s travail across the American West, one cannot help but feel it is really taking years to get through this lengthy book.

The advantage of the audiobook is that apart from being very mobile, one feels, as they list to these well-read words, that he or she is really waling along with Lewis and Clark, listening to them chatter amongst themselves, watching as Lewis writes his journal, playing a lead role in the fights that place between the members of the party, and what led to the specific decisions that were taken.

My only complaint really would be that Ambrose goes a little too far with his depth, as the book carries on fro quite a few pages after Lewis’ suicide, to the extend that the author rehashes what he has already told the reader, and reveals points of character about Lewis that the reader certainly already knows.  Nevertheless, plowing through this book is much like the journey Lewis and Clark took: it is long and hard, but a historical journey that the reader will never forget.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on April 29th 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.