“Seed to Harvest” by Octavia E. Butler (Grand Central, 2007)

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Collected for the first time are all four of Octavia E. Butler’s Patternist novels: Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Clay’s Ark, and Patternmaster.  Now you get to see this whole unique world from its beginnings, hundreds of years ago, to its conclusion hundreds and thousands of years in the future.  Seed to Harvest will delight and terrify you in a way only Butler can.

Our main character and quasi hero is Doro, who is more like a god or perhaps a devil in a way, instead of a human.  He has a special power: he’s immortal, only to continue living forever he has to consume other people’s souls and become that person, inhabiting that body.  He has been doing this for a thousand years, and lives his life as he does until one day he meets a woman, Anyanwu, in Africa, in the seventeenth century.  She is a shapeshifter and has unique powers of her own, such as the ability to heal by a kiss, and with an incredible strength, she can defend herself against anything.  Wild Seed is their story, as they meet and get to know each other, fall in love, and travel to New Amsterdam, where they will start their own family of gifted children.  Along the way they find other characters with special abilities, which Doro believes is somehow linked to his history and his own powers.  But Doro is also creating this family for his own personal survival, so he will have more victims to keep him alive and immortal.  Wild Seed ends with the family now quite large, and Anyanwu unable to live with Doro anymore, leaving him.

Mind of  My Mind is close to the present day, Anyanwu has changed her name to Emma, wanting to separate herself from her past, but unable to.  Doro now lives in Forsyth, California, where his family continues to grow with new individuals and their unique powers.  It is here that the Pattern begins to emerge of this large family that is all interrelated, and that is in constant struggle with the paternal master, Doro.  The book ends with the final death of Doro, who is sealed in his current body, cremated and no longer able to take another, ending the line.  But the Pattern is not finished.

Clay’s Ark is set in the twenty-third century and it is here that the spaceship, known as Clay’s Ark, returns to Earth with an alien and a sickness that begins to infect everyone.  But at the same time a new race is formed out of the sickness, out of those on the spaceship, who become known as “Clayarcs.”  And as time passes, they establish themselves as a formidable force on the planet.

Patternmaster is the mighty conclusion to the long series, where the Patternists and Clayarcs fight against each other in a distant future time where evolution has made them look barely human.  This is a hostile and tough world, where only one race can triumph, the question is which one will it be?

While Seed to Harvest can be boiled down to a simple summary, Butler has weaved many emotions and issues that are ever present in the current world, on the subject of race and evolution, on what it means to be human.  The book merely continues to prove that Octavia E. Butler was one of the best science fiction writers of her time.

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

Originally written on April 14th, 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Sixty Days and Counting” by Kim Stanley Robinson (Spectra, 2007)

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Kim Stanley Robinson has released the conclusion to his trilogy, Sixty Days and Counting, just in time!  The hardcover is out and the paperback will be out at Christmas, if not, early next year: just in time for everyone to buy it, read the trilogy, and decide who to vote for in the Presidential elections of November 2008.  Again, Robinson is not looking to wow and amaze readers with shocking scifi events, but keeping true to the close reality of his world.

The Gulf Stream is working well again, President Chase is just taking office, knowing that the absolute worse may have been averted for a little while, but that there is still very much to do.  Selecting a cabinet composed of the many characters we have come to know over Forty Signs of Rain and Fifty Degrees Below, we know this administration is on our side and looking out for the world and its people.  It is here Robinson really shines using his amazing knowledge of science and physics in coming up with ways to deal with the immense carbon dioxide volume being both pumped into the atmosphere and already there causing world temperatures to rise.  The United States bands together with countries around the world, such as Russia and China, in the development of a fast growing lichen that will spread through a forest fast under the right conditions, and has an astonishing carbon absorption rate.  Working in conjunction, the world slowly begins to heal itself.  On a subplot level, Frank Vanderwal, who is now an assistant to a cabinet member, is looking for his quasi-girlfriend whose former husband was instrumental in a plot to rig the election that failed.  It becomes a game of cat and mouse, as Frank and his girlfriend try to stay ahead of the chasing husband.

By the end of the book, some simple matters are resolved, while the world is a little calmer in their nonstop fight to “cool down” global warming.  The one final consolation is Tibet being declared independent once more from the Chinese, and the close friends of the main characters who moved to DC at the beginning of the series because their island, Khembalung, was drowning due to rising ocean levels, have been vindicated.

Robinson’s message is clear at the end: global warming cannot be completely stopped, and to slow it down will be a long and arduous struggle that will last through our lives and into our children’s and grandchildren’s lives; but there is hope for this planet, so long as we act now and soon.  The series will make the next presidential election a very interesting time.

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

Originally written on April 8th, 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.

Kim Stanley Robinson will be interviewed in episode 28 of Bookbanter available March 15.  Check out the Bookbanter website for more information.

“Heart-Shaped Box” by Joe Hill (William Morrow, 2007)

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One thing I admire greatly about Joe Hill King, son of famous bestselling author Stephen King, is that he didn’t get a leg up from his father like our former President did.  While I’m sure he’s had plenty of help and advice, Joe Hill has earned his own success through his writing.  Having won a Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection with his first book, 20th Century Ghosts, he now returns with his first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, which was naturally generating a tremendous amount of buzz before the book even came out.  And the congratulatory quote on the back of the book from Neil Gaiman just made it that more popular.

Our main character, Judas Coyne, is a famous guitarist of a band that was once up there with Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, but after the sudden deaths of two band members, the guitarist is now a successful solo artist whose eccentricities range into the banal, naturally.  His favorite is to collect items and trinkets of the most unusual – the weirder the better!  So when Jude sees a ghost for sale on an auction site, he immediately jumps on it, chooses the “Buy it Now” option and soon has the package on its way.  The single mother is very happy to get rid of the ghost of her grandfather who has been haunting her and her son for so long, and Jude now has his very own ghost.

The package arrives in a large black heart-shaped box and inside he finds an ancient but impeccable suit.  Judas is impressed by it, closes the box and soon forgets about it.  Then the haunting begins: strange noises and thenthey see the ghost, walking around.  Then things take a turn for the worse, as the ghost comes after Judas and his friends.

Sadly, when it is revealed where this ghost has come from the story kind of goes downhill.  It turns out the ghost is the deceased grandfather of the sister of a former girlfriend of Jude’s who killed herself after he dumped her.  While the supernatural element of the ghost remains, and it is on their tail trying to catch them, the reasoning behind it is minor and weakens the foundation of the plot.  Nevertheless there is a darkness and depth within this novel that reveals a talented writer with a bold future ahead of him.  Like Carrie, this is not the best first novel, but with the talent in Hill’s genes, we know there will be many more stories for him to tell that will be great and terrifying.

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

Originally written on April 8th, 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Fifty Degrees Below” by Kim Stanley Robinson (Spectra, 2005)

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Kim Stanley Robinson returns with the second in his trilogy on the current state of global warming and its possible ramifications.  Robinson does a great job in making his world seem very much like our own, but his sequence of events are a lot more “down to earth” than The Day After Tomorrow.

Forty Signs of Rain ended with a flash flood drowning most of Washington DC and leaving the main characters to fend for themselves, having to travel around by boat.  Some time has passed and the waters have receded and life is back to normal in DC.  All that remains are faded muddy water lines on famous monuments to prove that the flood actually happened.  But the mentality of the world is a little different now, as the weather begins to deteriorate: increased storms, hurricanes (with obvious similarities to Hurricane Katrina and that terrible Fall), droughts, and fluctuating temperatures.  Meanwhile the main characters continue their plight to alert the world about global warming and to come up with ways to fight it, while the current administration struts blindly on, not caring.

Then the world changes.  The crucial Gulf Stream that circulates around the Atlantic via the Gulf Coast, which keeps a balance of cold and warm waters, as well as setting an equilibrium of sorts with the weather, stalls.  Having never happened before, the world is not sure what the results will be.  Time slowly passes and nothing happens.  Then the weather begins to change and the temperature drops and drops and drops.  In the winter the western world is freezing, and DC reports a record temperature of fifty degrees below.  Everyone’s lives are changed, as they accept the reality of global warming, even the current administration, soon to be out of office, accepts this fate, knowing they can do nothing in the immediate future to help.  It is the National Science Foundation, working with different groups around the world, that comes up with a possible solution: dumping many of tons of salt into the north Atlantic to restart the Gulf Stream.  It takes some time to mine the salt fields throughout the world and load the giant cargo ships with the precious material, but the plan is eventually successful and the catastrophe that would only have gotten worse is averted.  But everyone knows this isn’t it, that there is more in store for the world at the hand of global warming.

Fifty Degrees Below ends with the successful election of Senator Phil Chase, the important environmental politician who the main characters have been working with in support of the agenda to prevent global warming.  It is in the concluding book of the series, Sixty Days and Counting, where all will need to be somehow resolved, and the new president will have to make some big changes to get the world back on its feet again.

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

Originally written on April 5th, 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.

Kim Stanley Robinson will be interviewed in episode 28 of Bookbanter available March 15.  Check out the Bookbanter website for more information.

“Labyrinth” by Kate Mosse (Putnam Adult, 2006)

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If only Kate Mosse had published her novel not in 2006, but shortly after the astonishing success of the Da Vinci Code, it perhaps would’ve received the literary respect it deserves, instead of coming last in a slew of novels involving the subjects of the Holy Grail, the Knights Templar, and what they represent in the present day.  The quote on the back of the paperback edition from the Kirkus Review really says it all: “A quickly paced adventure that wears its considerable learning lightly – and of higher literary quality than The Da Vinci Code, to which it will inevitably be compared.”  And yet Labyrinth goes more than a few steps further, not just adding new and original twists to the myth of the grail, but adding a new depth and level that hasn’t been seen before.  As for the truth behind it all, Mosse doesn’t offer a note of explanation, but leaves it to the reader’s imagination.

Labyrinth opens with one of the two main characters, Alice, working on an archaeological site in southern France, where she finds a hidden cave and two skeletons within.  She also finds a unique ring bearing an unusual symbol: a labyrinth.  Notifying the authorities of the discovered site, with the skeletons it suddenly becomes a crime scene, and the archaeologists are kicked off the site.  The reader is then taken back in time to the thirteenth century, where they meet the other main character, Alaïs, a young girl held back by tradition and ritual in a chivalric society where the knight and the priest are strongest.  For the duration of the book, the reader follows these two characters, as they live their lives in parallel.

As Alice returns to her hotel, strange things start to happen, as strangers contact her about what she found in the cave, police telling her to describe exactly what she saw and confiscating her sketches.  Members of the dig go mysteriously missing, and people begin to die for unknown reasons.  Finding pieces of evidence, Alice weaves together the story bit by bit, and as she does she discovers that she is intrinsically linked to it all, and most importantly to Alaïs, but her strange dreams of this unknown girl from the late Middle Ages are the least of her worries.

Alaïs finds herself caught up in the changing and challenging times when the pope launches a crusade against the Cathars, a declared heretic group who believe that while God is absolute and utmost, the work they do in their lives is by their doing and not God’s.  It is a time when Christians are fighting Christians overtly because of their supposed heretical ways, but subversively because the northern French want the rich southern land of the langue d’Oc.

Wrapped in this dense plot is the story of the Grail, which every Christian seeks, and it is only when the three ancient texts with the strange hieroglyphs are brought together, that the true way to the Grail will be shown.  But the story of this Grail is not the one that we all think we know, but something deeper and more ancient that is tied in with this mysterious symbol of the labyrinth, and reaches back into Ancient Egypt and the founding of civilization.

While the last third of the book seems somewhat rushed, as Mosse forgoes the back and forth chapters through time, and relies on present day characters telling what they know of the past; there is an inevitable building that results in a climactic ending of not just character realization, but eye-opening shock on the reader’s part, as they finally know the whole story.  Like the symbol, Labyrinth is a story that begins simple and straightforward, but grows more and more complex, until the denouement when all is revealed and finally understood.  Check out www.labyrinthbook.net for more information.

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

Originally written on March 27th, 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Fledgling” by Octavia E. Butler (Seven Stories Press, 2005)

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In Fledgling, well known science fiction author Octavia E. Butler, who sadly passed away last year, reinvents the idea of the vampire and their existence in history, putting her own original slant on it.  While the book is complete in its rounded story, one is left wanting more of this very original creation on an archetype.

The book opens with what can  only be termed an uncomfortable situation, at the very least.  From the viewpoint of the main character, Shori, who has been horribly disfigured by some terrible accident, the reader learns she is a vampire as the character comes to realize this herself, feeding off another, and healing incredibly fast.  She has also forgotten everything about herself and her history, and with the reader, slowly learns about this.  She then finds herself what is termed a symbiont, which is one who provides a regular blood source to the vampires known as Ina.  The man, brought under the power of Shori and the hypnotic venom in her bite, essentially falls in love with her and their relationship begins at full steam, even though Shori appears no older than a ten year old black girl, and he an adult.  The reader is left feeling very uncomfortable about this Lolitaesque relationship.

Eventually, when Shori confronts the place of her accident and meets other Ina, the full story is revealed.  It is thought that she and her whole family of vampires and symbionts were all killed in this terrible attack.  The reason was that she was the result of a genetic experiment to make it possible for vampires to brave the sun.  The result was successful, and Shori is able to travel in daylight – although she must remain fully covered and will suffer burns.  Nevertheless, there is someone who feels that Shori is an abomination and must be destroyed.

It is when this second group of Ina are killed with two symbionts surviving, that Shori and her group flee to another Ina family in California where she finds further answers.  And when this group is then attacked, but due to Shori’s preparation, thwarts the attack and captures three of them, all the answers are revealed.  Behind the attacks are a large family in Los Angeles who have always hated the idea of meddling with the pure race of the Ina.  The book pushes forth its message here with the idea that these ancient Ina are angry not so much at Shori for being black, but at her genetically engineered nature of mixing human genes and Ina genes; they no longer consider her Ina, no longer pure.

Then in a three-day ceremony that harkens back to every form of town government and religious ritual, a judicial gathering is convened with members of many families of Ina represented, while the complete family of those who are supposedly behind the killings are put on trial.  The question is whether the jury will side with a small black girl who remembers nothing of her past and heritage, or with the proud and ancient Ina family who have helped so many.

Butler skillfully and subtly asks questions of race and genetic alteration: what it is to be human, or in this case Ina, and how we as people see that, and what value we place on it.  In a time when a cloned and/or genetically engineered humanity is not so much a future nightmare, but an eventual reality we all wait to read about in the newspapers, Fledgling certainly does its job in helping those who are unsure on these matters to make decision.

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

Originally written on February 22nd, 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.