Saturday, July 01, 2017

Quote of the Day, New Blade Runner 2049 trailer, Irish Indie Bookstores, Above Us Only Sky by Michele Young-Stone, Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Bradley Schenck, The Diary by Eileen Goudge and Dark Orbit by Carol Ives Gilman

I completely agree with Mr Barry, bookshops are chapels for the holiness that is the printed word. I've always felt that libraries were like churches, as well as theaters. Holy ground for stories, which, as Neil Gaiman once noted, are what we all are made of in the end.

Quotation of the Day

"If books constitute a magical religion that doesn't persecute anyone,
then obviously a bookshop is a radiant chapel of that religion. In this
strange new world the importance of books and bookshops has taken a
quantum leap. I am thrilled, strengthened and frankly improved by
receiving this award from this Atlas-like sector of society--may
independent bookshops thrive, and indeed be nurtured, till the end of

--Author Sebastian Barry, in his remarks after winning this year's U.K. Independent Bookshop Week award for Days Without End.

I am so looking forward to Ridley Scotts sequel to his famed Blade Runner movie, based on the fantastic short story by PK Dick. Since this film premiers the day after my 20th wedding anniversary, I think it's a safe bet that I will be happily ensconced in a theater on October 6.

A new featurette is out for Blade Runner 2049
that "includes never-before-seen footage from Denis Villeneuve's sequel,
plus cast and crew interviews," Indiewire reported. Starring Ryan
Gosling and Harrison Ford, the film, inspired by Philip K. Dick's Do
Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, "is the latest major gig for
Villeneuve, whose profile has been rising significantly over the last
several years thanks to projects like Prisoners, Sicario and Arrival,"
Deadline wrote, adding: "Blade Runner 2049 will reunite him with
cinematographer Roger Deakins, and the duo have cooked up what looks to
go down as the most visually stunning movie of 2017." It opens in
theaters nationwide October 6.

When I visited Ireland in 2000, I remember falling in love with a small dusty bookshop in Dublin that had the most exquisite collection of fountain pens. They also had gorgeous writing paper, wonderful leather bound journals and of course, tons of old books. The place smelled delicious to me, like a bibliophile's dream of heaven. So I was thrilled to see in Shelf Awareness that the Irish indie bookstores are doing just fine, thanks. I would expect nothing less of a country that produced the Long Room Library at Trinity College in Dublin.

Irish Independent Bookshops 'Are Flourishing'

Irish independent bookshops "are flourishing
the Journal reported, noting that "ahead of Independent Bookshop Week, we spoke to several independent booksellers on how they're surviving in the Amazon age, how they
differentiate themselves and the joys of a good book."

Bob Johnston, who founded Dublin's the Gutter Bookshop in 2009, said, "It was just one of those things that I always wanted to do. So I did it. And it was the best
thing I ever did.... I knew from the word go that you had to offer
something that would slightly differentiate you from the rest. We have a
small shop so we need to be careful what we pick, without being snobby.
We have everything from the latest thriller to Beckett, but we simply
say no to a lot of stuff. And it works in our favor."

Maria Dickenson of Dubray Books, with eight
locations across the country, observed: "A lot of people come in looking
for guidance on what to read, and the engaged staff in these shops offer
just that. We've seen a much more positive energy around the bookshop in
recent years.... These kind of book shops offer a unique space to
discover new books. There's a certain nostalgia element to what we
offer, and that pulls people in too."

Above Us Only Sky by Michele Young-Stone is either the second or third book I've read about a girl born with wings and her travails of being different and trying to find her place in the world of non-winged people. For some reason, this page-turner felt familiar to me, though I can't seem to find any evidence that I read it before or blogged a review of it. Still, if I did read it in 2015, when it debuted, then I don't remember it well enough to know more than the general outline of the plot and characters. At any rate, though it is yet another book set in WWII (and sometimes it seems as if I've read dozens of them), and I grow weary of reading about the horrors of war, Above Us Only Sky shows us what happened to the Lithuanians who were murdered by the Russians and the Germans during the war. Here's the blurb: On March 29, 1973, Prudence Eleanor Vilkas was born with heart-shaped wings pressed accordion-style against her back. Considered a birth defect, her wings were surgically removed, leaving only the ghost of them behind.
In 1980, Prudence’s mother takes her from Nashville to Florida, to a town inhabited by people who have run as far as they can without fins or wings. In this new town, Prudence is befriended by a boy who can see what others can’t, including Prudence’s ghostly wings.
The unexpected and unimaginable bubble up from the depths of the Atlantic to confront Prudence when she meets her long-estranged Lithuanian grandfather and discovers a miraculous lineage beating and pulsing with past Lithuanian bird-women, storytellers with wings dragging the dirt, survivors perched on radio towers, lovers lit up like fireworks and heroes disguised as everyday men and women.
Above Us Only Sky spans the 1863 January Uprising against Russian Tsarist rule in Eastern Europe to the fall of the Berlin Wall and Lithuania’s independence in 1991. It is a “daring, imaginative” (Milepost magazine) story of mutual understanding between the old and young; it is a love story, a story of survival, and most importantly, a story about disovering where we belong in the world.
Young-Stone seamlessly balances Lithuanian history with magical realism in this “amazing, spellbinding, incredible journey” 
Though Prudence's parents seem like complete idiots (her mother nearly abandons her because she fears she's deformed, then treats her with neglect and indifference throughout her life, even allowing her to smoke cigarettes when she's 15/16 years old, while her father, a musician, is some kind of overly emotional infantile jerk who, because he loves his daughter more than he loves his wife, is perfectly fine with them leaving him so he doesn't see his daughter for years), Prudence herself somehow gains a sense of self from her grandfather and her great aunt and best friend, all of whom accept her for what she is and help her develop her love of kinship with her Lithuanian family and their dark and terrible past. There is a sly undercurrent of shaming baby boomers and first generation immigrants who wanted to forget the horrors of their past and forge a new and better life in the United States. I honestly don't see the problems of letting go of "the old ways" if they're so out of date and shrouded in pain and darkness that all they bring is memories of pain and suffering. What really is the point of that? You can acknowledge your ancestry and history without allowing it to be a depressing fateful cloud over your life. Still, Young-Stone's prose is engaging and wistful, and her plot is dark and unrelenting. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who wonders about the Lithuanians during WWII.

I got a copy of Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A novel of Retropolis by Bradley W Schenck because of the title, and because it was recommended by the Barnes and Noble Science Fiction/Fantasy blog as a fun and "retro" read. Fortunately, the book lived up to it's title, and it was a lot like reading a script for an old 1950s radio serial program, like Buck Rogers, where there are wicked space aliens and robots and rockets and an adventurer/hero who brings down the bad guys while winning the hand of the female protagonist with his dashing good looks. Our hero, unsurprisingly called "Dash Kent" is not only a rocket jockey out to save the cats of Retropolis from the Spider Priests of the Moon, he's also a plumber, a private eye and an apartment manager. The lead female in this radio drama is Nola Gardner, who hires Dash to find out why she and her fellow televideo operators were fired without cause or explanation by the dastardly Howard Pitt, an evil genius engineer who finds humanity too messy and unorganized, and therefore hatches an elaborate plot to get rid of them. Meanwhile, the Robots are unionizing, there are two sadistic homicidal children running around with a miniaturized killer robot and an accountant and a robot builder are seeking the answer to the mystery of what Pitt is up to by using a ton of expensive supplies that aren't accounted for in the ledgers. Here's the blurb:
If Fritz Lang’s Metropolis somehow mated with Futurama, their mutant offspring might well be Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom. 
After a surprise efficiency review, the switchboard operators of Retropolis are replaced by a mysterious system beyond their comprehension. Dash Kent, freelance adventurer and apartment manager, is hired to get to the bottom of it, and discovers that the replacement switchboard is only one element of a plan concocted by an insane civil engineer: a plan so vast that it reaches from Retropolis to the Moon. And no one—not the Space Patrol, nor the Fraternal League of Robotic Persons, nor the mad scientists of Experimental Research District, nor even the priests of the Temple of the Spider God, will know what hit them. Publisher's Weekly: In this madcap homage to the pulp adventures and fanciful inventions of the early to mid-20th century, debut author and artist Schenck takes readers on a tour of Retropolis, an art deco city whose hallmarks include flying cars, pneumatic tube transports, and indentured robots serving numerous functions. When the Info-Slate switchboard operators are unexpectedly fired en masse, one of them, Nola Gardner, hires freelance adventurer Kelvin “Dash” Kent to find out why they’ve been replaced. Their quest takes them deep into the heart of Retropolis, where they stumble across an ambitious plan that could affect the entire population of the city. They also encounter spider cultists on the moon and the world’s smallest giant robot. The adventure grows ever stranger as the mystery deepens, invoking mad science and action at every turn. The story is brought to life by Schenck’s own retrofuturistic artwork; it’s suitably evocative where technology is concerned, but the depictions of humans are awkward. A genuine love for the material makes this a strong and entertaining debut.
While I enjoyed all the pulp fiction drama and goofiness of this book, I felt that more than once the prose became too mired in detail and narration, which slowed the plot to a crawl. It would pick up again a chapter later, but I found myself becoming bored by explanations of technical things that will never exist and also astonished that the author would portray children as bloodthirsty sociopaths. It might have been meant to be humorous, but it came off as sour and mean instead. Also, because the characters were stereotypes/archetypes, they often came off as shallow and stupid, bungling along without seeing the bigger picture. Still, I'd give the book a B, and recommend it to those who love old space opera and 1950s swashbuckling heroes.

The Diary by Eileen Goudge was a paperback that I picked up at a garage sale that proved to be a delightful surprise. Though I am sure it's considered general fiction, this book is actually epistolary historical romance. Similar in style and tone to novels by Dorothea Benton Frank and Elizabeth Berg, Goudge creates a compelling and bittersweet story of a love triangle and the classes that separated society in the 1940s and 50s. Here's the blurb: Emily and Sarah Marshall are cleaning out their dying mother’s attic when Emily finds an old leather diary. Their mother’s handwriting on the yellowed pages takes them back to a small Nebraska town in the summer of 1951, where sheltered, almost-engaged Elizabeth Harvey is swept into a clandestine romance with AJ, her rebellious childhood friend. When AJ becomes the prime suspect in a neighborhood fire, Elizabeth has to make the most difficult decision of her young life and choose between passionate but unpredictable AJ and her stable, longtime beau, Bob. Shocked to learn that their mother was in love with a man other than their father, Emily and Sarah must confront painful truths about their mother, their father, and ultimately, themselves. Moving and uplifting, with a surprise ending readers won’t see coming, The Diary is a novel about the mysteries of romantic love and the unassailable bond between parents and children.Publisher's Weekly: As their mother lies dying in a nursing home, two sisters find her diary—and a mother they never knew. Written shortly before their parents' marriage, the diary details their mother's romance with another man, and the sisters are moved to discover the depth of their mother's heartache. Slipping between a nostalgic past and the present, the story is suspenseful and surprising, and the versatile author gives the characters the life, color and personality they deserve, effortlessly and faithfully conveying the middle-class, Midwestern setting. 
I realize the ending is supposed to be shocking, but I think any reader with half a brain will see it coming about halfway through the novel. Elizabeth herself comes off as flighty and pretty and stupid in more than one chapter, not being able to make a decision and waffling between what is expected of her and what/who she really wants. Still, she does make a decision in the end, and leads a happy life because of it. I have a feeling that my mother, who was a teenager in the 50s would love this book, and have a better understanding of it than I do. The prose was provocative and charming, and the characters fairly realistic. I'd give this short "beach read" a B, and recommend it to anyone who has some time to read something fun and distracting.

Dark Orbit by Carol Ives Gilman was recommended to me by a book blog that deals with science fiction/fantasy titles. I remember reading her book Halfway Human years ago, and not really liking it at all. That said, I wondered if the author had changed/grown over the years, so I decided to give this book a try, as it sounded like something right up my alley, with an alien planet and aliens and the people sent to find out if this planet held anything valuable for the corporations back home. The other selling point was that a majority of the characters were not white, but were instead Indian, black and female. There is too little diversity in science fiction, and while that is changing, there's still a long way to go. Sara and Thora, the protagonists, make a compelling case for having women be the ambassadors of first contact with alien races, because women are taught to listen, to compromise and to find solutions to problems that do not involve violence. Here's the blurb:
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate. Thora was once a member of the interplanetary elite, but since her prophetic delusions helped mobilize a revolt on Orem, she's been banished to the farthest reaches of space, because of the risk that her very presence could revive unrest.
Upon arrival, the team finds an extraordinary crystalline planet, laden with dark matter. Then a crew member is murdered and Thora mysteriously disappears. Thought to be uninhabited, the planet is in fact home to a blind, sentient species whose members navigate their world with a bizarre vocabulary and extrasensory perceptions.
Lost in the deep crevasses of the planet among these people, Thora must battle her demons and learn to comprehend the native inhabitants in order to find her crewmates and warn them of an impending danger. But her most difficult task may lie in persuading the crew that some powers lie beyond the boundaries of science.
This book had a style and tone reminiscent of Zenna Henderson's "The People" social science fiction novels that I read back in the 1970s as a teenager. There was a great deal of discussion about the way the visually blind aliens lived that pointed to how our society is so visually oriented and "blinded" by what we see. That said, I was somewhat disheartened by the stereotype of the "wise" aliens/natives, especially wise elderly native women who pass on their oral histories and have magical powers. Of course, the younger generation is more adventurous and accepting of the people who land on their planet, and yet, even after Moth (a young native) tries to learn to see using her eyes, it's made clear that the alien native's version of seeing is much more profound and spiritual than our way (they navigate the world by touch and hearing). Having read as much science fiction as I have, I grow weary of the whole "humans are hopeless and horrible" trope. Thora's long diary entries often veer into metaphysical discussions on the nature of reality that I found boring and that slowed down the plot considerably. There were also moments when the technical aspects of the mission overwhelmed the story. The prose was sturdy, but the plot was uneven and, as stated above, the characters were stereotypes. Still, I'd give this book a C+, which is still a passing grade, and recommend it to those who like social science fiction with plenty of diversity. 

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