Tag Archives: unusual

Samuel Bjork — The Owl Always Hunts at Night

Police investigator Mia Krüger and her boss Holger Munch head a team looking into the strange death of a young girl found posed in the woods on a bed of feathers. They discover a film of the girl in a cage, running in a wheel like an animal in order to get food. What sort of sick person would do this?

Maybe it’s the cold and the long dark nights or maybe it’s the books I choose to read, but it seems that whenever I read a novel by a Scandinavian author, they are filled with gloom. Norwegian Bjork fills the story with characters (good and bad) who are depressed or psychologically damaged. It’s set in the beginning of a long, cold, dark, Norway winter.

Even so, I enjoyed the plot’s twists and turns, the unraveling of a very strange murder, and even those bleak characters involved in solving the crime.

Science Fiction

I know people who like reading fiction but say they don’t like science fiction (SF). But how can you write off a huge genre that contains everything from literary to trash? There are so many subgenres in SF as there are outside SF—genres and subgenres combined.

I just finished another SF novel that kept me up until 4 AM to finish it—The Man in the Tree by Sage Walker. I started to write another post about science fiction and realized I had already done that, so I am reposting it.

Science Fiction posted Jul 29, 2014.
I love SF books. At least some of them. They cover so much ground. The range from great to boring. But isn’t that true of all novels? There are many genres within SF: Adventure, Space, Hard SF, Soft SF, Paranormal, Cyberpunk, Alternate History, and many more. Some cross over genres into romance, mystery, fantasy, or mainstream fiction. Now they are sometimes calling it speculative fiction, which appears to covers more genres than even science fiction.

I first wrote my novel, The Janus Code, as science fiction or speculative fiction in 1995. When the world caught up with my imagination, I edited it to bring it up-to-date and published it as a suspense thriller.

Getting back to why I started this post, I stayed up ‘til 4AM a couple of nights ago reading a SF book – The Silent History by Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby and Kevin Moffett. This is soft or social SF. I found the book fascinating for several reasons. One is the fact that it is a collaboration between three authors. Something that caught my attention was that the story was originally written as an iPhone app. Another reason is that they wrote in first person, but each chapter is from a different character’s point of view. You don’t see many books written multiple first person.

An interesting point is that these characters may show up in only one or two chapters or they may continue to appear throughout the book. This made the story a bit difficult to follow when I started reading. I kept thinking, “Did I see this person before?” But that didn’t last when I got into the story.

The plot: Children are born without language capability. It turns out to be a virus and more and more children are born with this condition.

I could get into the story and the characters’ reactions. I could tell you how it relates to the way people today respond to anyone who is “different.” I could tell you how the story progresses. Instead, I’ll let you read this very absorbing story.

I’ve started another SF novel – Mars, inc.: The Billionaire’s Club by Ben Bova, one of SF’s most accomplished and prolific writers. This is hard science fiction or maybe even mainstream fiction. The science is real; it could happen today. One man convinces a group of billionaires to finance a crewed mission to Mars. I can’t give you much more on this one because I’ve just begun reading.

For those of you who don’t read SF, give it a try. There are many variations and lots of good writing.

Annalee Newitz — Atonomous

This novel is speculative or science fiction; exploring robotics, pharmaceuticals, biotech, and artificial intelligence. The characters and POV include a human biotech pirate, an “indentured” human, a free robot scientist, an indentured android, other humans and bots. Newitz does a good job of getting into the “minds” of the bots as well as the humans.

Many underlying themes weave through this story—property rights, patents, pharmaceuticals, indenture/slavery, what is human. The plot revolves around the female biotech pirate, Jack, reverse-engineering a drug the makes people love their work. The patented version is very expensive and only available to the rich. Her version is cheap and available. It’s very addictive and some people work themselves to death or cause catastrophes that kill others. She goes to work finding a cure.

Other characters are Eliasz, human, and his indentured robotic partner, Paladin, who are working for Big Pharma tracking the pirate. Jack rescues and frees an indentured human. An autonomous robot comes into the story, working with Jack on the cure. Other characters, mostly from Jack’s past, pass through.

I enjoyed the ideas about our future more than the main plot of the story. I also liked the various points of view. Newitz did well poking into the thoughts of robots.

Tim Dorsey — Clownfish Blues

The protagonist of Dorsey’s twenty-plus books is Serge Storms, a psychotic serial killer who thinks up unique ways to punish or kill people who are hurting others. Coleman is a drugged-out sidekick to tea-totaling Serge. Clownfish Blues main plot (if it has one) revolves around the Florida lottery.

Dorsey skips between places, events, times, and people, so you don’t know where the story is going. Sometimes he seems to throw in characters from previous novels just for the sake of mentioning them, not to advance the story. Serge is unbelievable, Coleman is getting boring in his drunken stupor, the plots are thin, but Dorsey makes me laugh.

His stories are an exaggerated view of reality in Florida. The highways and byways visited by Serge and Coleman are real or based on real places. I enjoy the tours around the state.

So even though there are many things about Dorsey’s writing that I wouldn’t put up with from other authors, I enjoy his weird tales. As I said, he makes me laugh.

Michael Chabon — Moonglow

Moonglow is a very different book—a fictionalized memoir or autobiographical novel. We don’t know how much of the novel is true (or true as remembered) and how much is Michael’s imagination.

Michael visits his dying grandfather, a man who has never talked about his life. But whether because he is dying or the effects of medication, the grandfather pours out stories of love, war, prison, of working as an engineer in the space industry, and stories of Michael’s grandmother and mother. Mixed in with the stories told by the grandfather are Michael’s own memories and stories told by his mother. The events are in no particular order, but they weave a picture of a family.

I enjoyed the read and came to admire the grandfather, even though he was not always likeable. I recommend this book for someone who likes a book off the beaten path.

Anne Corlett — The Space Between the Stars

Humans have expanded throughout the galaxy before a virus wipes out nearly all the population on every planet. Jamie Allenby wakes up alone on a remote planet she escaped to when her marriage was failing and she wanted “some space.” Zero point zero zero zero one percent survival rate, she had heard before her planet fell to the virus. After three days alone she finds two other people. They are rescued by two others in a small spacecraft looking for fuel. Their little band of survivors gathers two more as they bounce from planet to planet toward Earth.

This is not hard science fiction. I would call it “literary” or maybe “psychological” — a study in human behavior. Jamie isn’t sure what she’s searching for, maybe home. The small group includes an ex-priest, a prostitute, an ex-scientist who believes God has caused the apocalypse in order to start over, a young man with autism, the spaceship captain, and his engineer.

Corlette, with her first novel, has written an intriguing story that covers many issues that are relevant today, in the past, or our future.

This one kept me awake until 3AM to finish it. I look forward to more from Anne Corlette.

Stephen King — Duma Key

Duma Key is the first Stephen King novel I’ve read in many years. Even though he is an excellent writer, I’m not a fan of horror. You usually find his books classified as horror, but they could also fall into thriller, suspense, fantasy, psychological, supernatural, paranormal, ghost story, and mystery genres. Duma Key is all of these.

I’m not sure why I decided to read this book; maybe because the setting is in Southwest Florida where I live. I found the story intriguing from the beginning. Edgar Freemantle, builder and contractor, is almost killed in an accident that damages his right hip and leg, crushes his skull, and he loses his right arm. Due to his unpredictable behavior while recovering, his wife leaves him.

His shrink suggests Edgar should take up a hobby and go on sabbatical. He leases “Big Pink,” a house hanging over the water at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico on Duma Key. Here he begins to draw and then paint, learning at a furious pace. His ghost arm drives him.

Walking the beach, Edgar meets Wireman, and they become friends. Wireman is caretaker for an old woman, Elizabeth Eastlake, who floats in and out of dementia. Elizabeth owns the habitable part of Duma Key, including Big Pink, and she is an integral part of the story.

The story begins as psychological and/or supernatural thriller, moving on to become a ghost story. It doesn’t become a “horror story/monster movie” until about three-quarters of the way through. By that time it had me hooked, and I had to keep reading to see what would happen. Edgar, Wireman, and Jack (who was hired to help Edgar and became his friend) join forces to battle the monsters.

As I said at the beginning, Stephen King is an excellent writer.

Kim Stanley Robinson — 2312

I picked this book to read because I was delighted with Robinson’s New York 2140. I wanted to read more. But there is no connection between the two novels except the author.

For me, the best part of this book was the settings. It starts with a sunrise on planet Mercury. The descriptions are breath-taking. The author continues to give us imaginative pictures of and from other places in our solar system throughout the book. It must have required tons of research combined with an ingenious imagination to create these scenes.

There are four (or five) principal characters. Swan is an artist from Mercury. She designed worlds and created habitats in moons and asteroids. Her grandmother Alex, who was the leader of Mercury and more, has died, and Swan is mourning. Swan is volatile, angry, hyper…and 135 years old. She meets Wahram, a diplomat from the Saturn system, whose personality is the complete opposite—relaxed, accepting, enjoying life. Inspector Genette is an interplanetary policeman. Kiran is a young man from Earth who helps Swan. She, in turn, helps him leave Earth and immigrate to Venus. The fifth main character is Pauline, the cube (quantum computer) in Swan’s head. There are many other characters scattered through the book, but I believe these are the central cast.

The intricate plot twists and turns. Earth is in bad shape with political and environmental issues. It is the only planet in the solar system still struggling with poverty and social inequality. Swan and Wahram are trying to fix it with successes and failures. Someone tries to destroy Terminator, the city on Mercury, but most of the people escape. An asteroid habitat was destroyed previously, and all inhabitants died. These events appear to be related. Was Alex’s death murder or natural causes? Swan and Wahram work with Genette trying to find who is responsible for these disasters.

I could go on, but you should read the book. It’s long, but you could skip the extracts and lists and get the whole story. I recommend you read everything. Those extracts give history, explanations, and descriptions that enhance the story.

Dave Eggers — The Circle

This is a dystopian, creepy, novel. I can’t say I liked it, but it kept my interest to the end. To me it was a different kind of horror story, too close to the reality of where we are headed. I picked up the book because friends were talking about the movie, which I didn’t see. From what I understand, the movie didn’t exactly follow the novel and may have missed the point of the book.

I guess you could call the story a satire.

Satire definition from Oxford Dictionary: The use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

I didn’t see much humor in the book, but the rest fits.

Mae Holland is thrilled when her friend Annie gets her a job at The Circle—a company that has become the ultimate monopoly in social media and the Internet. Think Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Instagram, Flikr, Tumblr, YouTube, government databases, medical databases, police records, real estate records, credit bureaus…anything that collects data about you and more…all lumped together in one company. Your life is available to anyone.

Mae is needy and wants to be loved and admired by the whole world. She accepts and enjoys the cult-like behavior required of her by The Circle. She ends up wearing a camera, which records everything she does and everyone with whom she comes in contact.

Mercer, an old boyfriend and a friend of her parents, sees all that is wrong about The Circle—the lack of privacy and lack of control of your own life. He tries to explain to Mae, but she can’t see it.

I could go on, but if this sort of book interests you, read it.

Alexander McCall Smith — Precious and Grace

I’m not sure The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series of novels fits in any genre—maybe cozy mystery. If you are tired of reading fast-paced thrillers, this book will slow you down. It’s a relaxing pleasant read.

The protagonist, Mma Precious Ramotswe, owner and founder of the detective agency in Gaborone, Botswana, has a unique personality unlike any I’ve encountered in other novels or in real life. She sees the positive in life and in the people around her, overlooking others faults and misbehaviors, especially those of her “partner,” Mma Grace Makutsi. Even though Mma Ramotswe owns the agency and hired Mma Makutsi as a secretary, Grace self-promoted herself to assistant detective and now co-director, even insinuating to a client that she started the business. Unlike Precious, Grace is not tolerant of others real or perceived faults. But Precious doesn’t like to argue; she would rather relax with a cup of tea.

The plot revolves around a Canadian woman who was born in Botswana and left when she was eight years old. She wants to reconnect with her past and is looking for the house she lived in and the woman who cared for her as a child. This is difficult because the Canadian only has a very old fuzzy photo and Gaborone has grown and changed much in thirty years. No crime involved there, but there are subplots.

A part-time assistant of Mma Ramotswe, Mr. Polopetsi, becomes involved in a pyramid scheme. Precious takes it upon herself to unwind Mr. Polopetsi from the tangle into which he’s naively fallen. And there is also a stray dog who keeps showing up that Precious feels needs a home.

As I said in the beginning, this is not a fast-paced thriller. This is a gentle, people oriented, relaxing novel.