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John Kwok (New York, NY USA)
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Luminarium
Luminarium
by Alex Shakar
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.16
46 used & new from CDN$ 2.57

5.0 out of 5 stars Searching for the Meaning of Life via Cyberspace Courtesy of Alex Shakar, Aug. 10 2012
This review is from: Luminarium (Hardcover)
Difficult to read and, at times, to comprehend, "Luminarium" is Alex Shakar's literary effort in ascertaining the meaning of life via the medium of cyberspace. With its ample references to virtual reality and the Internet, "Luminarium" could be mistaken as a post-cyberpunk science fictional attempt in trying to understand today's almost Byzantine post-9/11 reality. But it isn't science fiction, nor should it be viewed as such, especially when there are other writers working from within that genre who have used successfully - as William Gibson has dubbed it - the "toolkit of science fiction" - as a means of obtaining a meaningful fictional grasp on reality; indeed I would contend that Gibson, in his latest "Blue Ant" trilogy ("Pattern Recognition", "Spook Country" and "Zero History") , is a more astute observer than Shakar with regards to American post-9/11 paranoia and our ongoing obsession with media culture. Instead, "Luminarium" works best as a stream-of-consciousness novel revolving around Fred Brounian, the now penniless co-founder of a software company whose mission was creating utopian virtual worlds; the firm's co-founder, his computer programming genius twin brother George, lies comatose in a New York, NY hospital bed dying from cancer. While Fred plots to reassert control of the company from a military contracting conglomerate, he also falls under the romantic spell of 9/11 widow Mira Egghart while participating in a neurological study that promises "peak" experiences and a spiritual outlook on life. Shakar treats readers on a whirlwind tour of subjects as diverse as virtual reality, computer coding, evolutionary ecology and state-of-the-art neurology as means of adding further dimensions to Fred's persona without losing himself or his readers in the details. Where Shakar succeeds most admirably is in his depiction of Fred and his younger brother Sam, their father Vartan, and Mira as utterly realistic fictional figures; I was less impressed with the 9/11 motif that runs as an underlying, and perhaps, extraneous, theme in "Luminarium". In a year that saw memorable works of genre and genre-bending fiction like China Mieville's "Embassytown" and Haruki Murakami's "1Q84", "Luminarium" remains a notable, though lesser, achievement in melding genre with mainstream literary fiction.

A Rising Thunder
A Rising Thunder
by David Weber
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
34 used & new from CDN$ 3.10

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Bridge To Bear Between the Manticoran Alliance and the Solarian League, Aug. 10 2012
This review is from: A Rising Thunder (Hardcover)
"A Rising Thunder" reads like the unfinished prelude to the grand finale of the "Honor Harrington" saga; not surprisingly, it is the first half of a manuscript Weber has written already chronicling the war between the Solarian League and the Star Empire of Manticore and its allies. While this isn't by far the best in the "Honor Harrington" series, it is not the worst, and is commendable to the extent in which Weber describes Harrington, Queen Elizabeth Winton of Manticore and President Eloise Pritchart of Haven in almost realistic, three-dimensional terms; however, too often, the plot revolves around secondary characters far less compelling than these key protagonists and their closest friends and allies. One major objection I have with Weber's ongoing plotting is in demonstrating how quickly Manticore and Haven transform themselves from deadly enemies to stalwart allies in the face of Solarian League military aggression. Devoted fans of Weber's "Honorverse" will find much worth noting in "A Rising Thunder"; however, those who are seeking the space-opera science fictional equivalent of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series will be disappointed unless they are familiar already with Weber's "Honorverse" novels.

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26 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Epic Conclusion to The Dark Knight, Aug. 7 2012
"The Dark Knight Rises" is a most fitting conclusion to "The Dark Knight" trilogy of Batman films directed by Christopher F. Nolan. (When you see this film, you will understand why Christopher F. Nolan has said he has no interest in directing another "Batman" movie.) It is the most emotionally satisfying of the three films, drawing upon both of its predecessors to provide a rich back-story for the cataclysmic events that unfold within. Nolan and his brother Jonathan have written such an intricate script rich in both emotion and action that will leave viewers in suspense until the very end; not a minute is wasted in a film more than two and a half hours long, but one that will seem much shorter in length due to its ample psychological and physical action. "The Dark Knight Rises" may be the best acted of the three films, with excellent performances by Michael Caine ("Alfred"), Morgan Freeman ("Lucius Fox") and especially, Gary Oldman ("Police Commissioner Jim Gordon") that emphasize more than ever, the gravitas and emotional weight displayed by their characters. Viewers will also find commendable, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's portrayal as devoted, heroic Gotham cop ("John Blake") who symbolizes all that is still good within the corrupt Gotham police department. Marion Cotillard gives an emotionally and psychologically riveting performance as a wealthy green-energy advocate ("Miranda Tate"). Anne Hathaway's "Selina Kyle" is a fun-loving, sexually charged hustler and thief who becomes the catalyst for all of the film's plot threads. Though he's encased in his facial mask throughout the film, Tom Hardy ("Bane") is "The Dark Knight" franchise's most intelligent and diabolical villain, in a performance nearly as memorable as Heath Ledger's "Joker" from "The Dark Knight".

Eight years after the events of "The Dark Knight", Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a reclusive millionaire, suffering from its psychological and emotional toll, retired from his crime-fighting duties as the Batman. Harvey Dent is celebrated as a crime-fighting hero murdered by Batman; only Gotham Police Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) knows the truth, but is afraid to speak it. Neither one knows that a "storm" is about to burst upon the city of Gotham; a storm orchestrated by the mysterious "Bane" and his terrorist militia army; one where they will have the city's inhabitants seeking justice and retribution from Gotham's wealthiest elite. Wayne will wage an intense, emotionally charged, psychological battle within himself, wondering whether he can defeat Bane and rescue Gotham from its "date" with an unspeakable calamity that will reduce the city into ruins. "The Dark Knight Rises" is indeed a most impressive cinematic achievement and one destined to be remembered as among this year's finest films.

The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History
The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History
by Jonathan Franzen
Edition: Hardcover
49 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Memoir As An Essay Collection from Jonathan Franzen, Aug. 3 2012
"The Discomfort Zone" is an autobiographical essay collection - and memoir - from Jonathan Franzen that is among the most impressive examples of memoir writing that I've stumbled upon lately. Readers will get a most vivid and compelling portrait of Franzen - the person and the writer - and one that may illuminate their subsequent reading of his great novels. But this is an essay collection that is somewhat nonlinear with respect to time, opening and closing with important events in his adulthood. Surprisingly for me, given the realism of his current fiction, Franzen expresses ample admiration for the fantasy novels of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein, invoking them repeatedly in his essay collection. Franzen renders a most affectionate portrait of his late mother and his family's former residence in Webster Groves, a financially elite suburb of Saint Louis, in the opening essay "House for Sale". He recounts his childhood love for comics, and especially, "The Peanuts" comic strip, in "Two Ponies", touching upon his childhood relationship with his older brother Tom and their father. "Then Joy Breaks Through" describes his membership in a youth Christian fellowship, fondly recalling it as a sanctuary in an otherwise difficult adolescence that will resonate with many readers. Among the most memorable essays is the concluding one, "My Bird Problem", in which he compares and contrasts his love of birding with his efforts at saving his marriage and then, later, finally finding romantic bliss with a much younger woman from California. Franzen's simple, unadorned, prose shines through in each of the essays, reminding readers of his greatest works in fiction. Without question, "The Discomfort Zone" is an important addition to the memoir of genre, worthy of recognition as among its best.

Fairyland
Fairyland
by Paul McAuley
Edition: Paperback
13 used & new from CDN$ 5.73

5.0 out of 5 stars A Memorable Post-Cyberpunk Novel Set in a Wasted, Near Future Europe, Aug. 3 2012
This review is from: Fairyland (Paperback)
"Fairyland" remains one of the most impressive works in post-cyberpunk fiction, conjuring a nightmarish vision of a near future Europe in which biotechnology has run amok, creating new species of humans designed for pleasure and violent sport. Paul J. McAuley's novel is a fast-paced thriller reminiscent of William Gibson and John Shirley's early cyberpunk novels in its pacing. Succumbing to the charm and vision of a megalomaniac brilliant young child, Milena, genetic engineer Alex Sharkey helps unleash a dire threat to humanity's existence, allowing "dolls" - bioengineered beings based on human DNA, designed for pleasure, slavery and wanton destruction in gladiator-like amusement games - the opportunity to think for themselves and understand the notion of free will. He will pursue these beings and other, similar, creatures across decades across a European landscape wasted by the ravages of war and poverty, searching for Milena and a means to ensure humanity's survival. Without question, "Fairyland" is still one of Paul J. McAuley's greatest works in fantasy and science fiction, demonstrating his great gifts in storytelling and writing.

Sorry Please Thank You: Stories
Sorry Please Thank You: Stories
by Charles Yu
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.16
19 used & new from CDN$ 0.39

5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Short Story Collection from Charles Yu, Aug. 3 2012
One of the most celebrated emerging writers of literary science fiction of our time, Charles Yu's magnificent "Sorry Please Thank You" is yet another remarkable literary achievement, demonstrating both the ample originality and vitality of his writing. Yu has breathed astonishingly new life into such time-honored fantasy, science fiction and horror tropes as zombies, space opera and Artificial Intelligence into his latest short story collection; one which will resonate strongly with fellow admirers of science fiction and fantasy as well as a more mainstream literary audience which recognizes just how astute and humorous Charles Yu is as an observer of modern society and its emphasis on science and technology. The opening story, "Standard Loneliness Package", is a witty post-cyberpunk tale of sharing one's emotions that reads as a hilarious cross between Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash" and Gary Shteyngart's "Super Sad True Love Story". It's followed by the irresistibly funny "First Person Shooter" about a department store clerk thinking how he'll win the affections of a fellow employee while contending with a zombie obsessed in making her own "fashion statement"; Yu's zombie tale is the most original one I have stumbled upon in years. "Hero Absorbs Major Damage" chronicles the epic quest of one noble warrior leading a ragtag band of warriors across a desolate, often dangerous, computer-generated landscape. "Yeoman" is a hysterically humorous send-up of "Star Trek", describing a lowly crewmember's feelings as he finds himself tempting fate as the "expendable" member of a starship's "away team" as the starship hurls deeper into the "final frontier". "Designer Emotion 67" is a gung-ho market research "report" of a new drug developed in the middle of the 21st Century, and one replete with ample wit of some futuristic Madison Avenue advertising executive. While others have compared him with the likes of Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut, Charles Yu is making a most persuasive case as the greatest living satirist in modern American fiction not named Gary Shteyngart; he is most certainly the finest writing in science fiction today.

Big Machine: A Novel
Big Machine: A Novel
by Victor LaValle
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.68
34 used & new from CDN$ 2.36

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing Blend of Genre With Mainstream Literary Fiction Courtesy of Victor LaValle, July 31 2012
This review is from: Big Machine: A Novel (Paperback)
Another reviewer once compared Victor LaValle with Haruki Marukami; I'll go further by saying that LaValle is the English language equivalent of Marukami, which he demonstrates in his great novel "Big Machine"; an intoxicating blend of genre with mainstream literary fiction. "Big Machine" evokes not only the surreal supernaturalism found in recent Murakami novels like "Kafka On the Shore", and "1Q84", but it also draws heavily from crime noir, horror and fantasy in creating a work that is compelling in its lyrically beautiful prose, richly drawn characters and settings, and also frightening in the degree to which LaValle draws upon the macabre; in short, what LaValle has written here is something that could be viewed as part of the "weird fiction" defined by China Mieville; indeed, in the most nightmarish passages of "Big Machine", readers will find events that are as bloody and surrealistic as those found in Mieville's recent "adult" fantasy novel "Kraken". More so than Murakami in the latter's most recent fiction, LaValle has created two memorable, and compelling, characters; down-on-his-luck hustler and recovering heroin drug addict Ricky Race and Adele Henry, a former prostitute with a history almost as dark as Ricky's, whose paths cross unexpectedly at the mysterious Washburn Library, the home of the "Unlikely Scholars", a ragtag band of ex-thieves and drug addicts who've become paranormal investigators intent on listening to "The Voice". LaValle demonstrates here that he is among the best prose stylists in contemporary American fiction, and one who courageously uses his great literary gifts to delve into the nature of faith and the state of race relations in the United States, since these are underlying motifs that reappear throughout "Big Machine". If H. P. Lovecraft , Ralph Ellison and Sinclair Lewis had merged together their literary "genes", their offspring would still be Victor LaValle, who has wrought an exceptional blend of genre and mainstream fiction; one which truly deserves the ample critical and popular acclaim it has earned. While there are other mainstream literary Afro-American writers who think they understand genre fiction well, such as Colson Whitehead and Walter Mosley, LaValle may be the sole exception; a mainstream literary writer who truly understands and appreciates the conventions of genre fiction such as fantasy and horror, and can transform them successfully into high literary art.

The Quantum Thief
The Quantum Thief
by Hannu Rajaniemi
Edition: Paperback
22 used & new from CDN$ 0.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Fast-Paced Blend of Crime Noir and Space Opera From An Exciting New Talent, July 20 2012
This review is from: The Quantum Thief (Paperback)
A fast-paced blend of crime noir and space opera science fiction, Hannu Rajaniemi's "The Quantum Thief", is a bold, brash novel of ideas and action that represents all that is great about science fiction, coupled with a kinetic literary style which echoes Iain M. Banks' "Culture" and Alastair Reynolds' "Revelation Space" space opera science fiction in its descriptive, eloquent prose. It's a clever, quite entertaining, blend of Charles Stross' early post-cyberpunk science fiction and Dan Simmons' British literature literary-referenced space opera ("Hyperion Cantos", "Ilium" and "Olympos"), especially in its ample references to French and Hebrew literature, in a grippingly intense pace reminiscent of Richard K. Morgan's "Takeshi Kovacs" post-cyberpunk space opera novels. While "The Quantum Thief" is traditional hard science fiction in the mode of Alfred Bester, it is hard science fiction that is also highly literate and will make tremendous demands upon the reader. Rajaniemi draws extensively on his backgrounds in string theory and mathematics to pose difficult philosophical questions about life and the nature of human existence that will delight devoted Ayn Rand libertarian fans and infuriate the most militant of Marxists and other, less radical, Socialists. If nothing else, within the confines of what others may view as a more routine crime noirish-science fiction mystery in which protagonist Jean le Flambleur must come to terms with different versions of himself as he finds himself pitted against a Martian Hercule Poirot, Isidore Beautrelet, Rajaniemi dares to ask whether we, as individuals, are important because we exist, or because we've chosen to make ourselves important by virtue of whatever talents we possess. Without question, "The Quantum Thief" is among the most important debut novels of science fiction published in decades, introducing us to a brand new writer worthy of comparison with the likes of William Gibson, China Mieville and Neal Stephenson. Rajaniemi has definitely thrown down a literary gauntlet that few native speaking writers of Anglo-American mainstream literary and classic science fiction can ever dare to match.

Palimpsest
Palimpsest
by Catherynne Valente
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.27
18 used & new from CDN$ 7.30

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Literary Jewel of a Fantasy Novel Courtesy of Catherynne Valente, July 19 2012
This review is from: Palimpsest (Paperback)
"Palimpsest" is a literary jewel of a novel, not only of fantasy, but also of mainstream fiction too. Catherynne Valente writes as though she is an angel obsessed with creating high literary art, writing beautifully wrought lyrical descriptive prose that I have seen equaled by few. For no other reason, "Palimpsest" deserves a broad readership simply for its great writing as well as the critical praise bestowed upon it by notable literary critics such as Time Magazine's Lev Grossman. (To whom I remain indebted, as well as to Kelly Link - both compelling writers of literary fantasy and science fiction in their own right - for their high praise as recommended reading.) In a city that is visited by a lucky few in their dreams, who are passionate believers in a world beyond present-day reality, Palimpsest lures the most unlikeliest quartet of travelers seeking to transform their lives; New York City locksmith Oleg, beekeeper November, rare book binder Ludovicio and Sei, a young Japanese woman. Valente takes readers on epic journeys between fantasy and reality, between reason and faith, as the four travelers find themselves drawn irresistibly to both Palimpsest and to each other, and discover that they have uncovered wonders and fates far more compelling than what they had thought they had bargained for in making their separate treks to this enchanted city in their dreams. A most beguiling crafter of tales and an excellent prose stylist, Valente demonstrates just how relevant contemporary fantasy is to readers who value great writing, regardless of genre and setting, and that she is indeed a most worthy successor to the likes of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Ursula Le Guin, producing work that will endure as long as theirs.

The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.02
30 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Still Among the Masterpieces of Science Fiction Literature Courtesy of Ursula Le Guin, July 19 2012
One of the most overtly political science fiction novels - and one certainly deserving of the term "speculative fiction" - ever published, "The Dispossessed" remains Ursula K. Le Guin's literary masterpiece. It chronicles the journey of "post-relativistic" physicist Shevek from his home world of Arras to the planet Urras, seeking the answer to the puzzle that has eluded him, and one that will allow him to develop the ansible, the faster-than-light means of communication, that will bind humanity and other, closely related, sapient beings into a interstellar commonwealth known as the "Ekumen"; the setting for many of Ursula Le Guin's anthropological science fiction novels, of which "The Left Hand of Darkness" and "The Dispossessed" remain the best known examples, though the latter is set in a time prior to the Ekumen's founding. (In Le Guin's "Ekumen" series of novels and short fiction, humans and others are descendants of early interstellar colonization by the natives of Hain.) Hers is a political science fiction novel in the sense that it compares and contrasts the vibrant, politically Byzantine-like world of Urras, orbiting the star Tau Ceti, eleven light years from Earth, with the anarchist utopia on the barren, desert world of Arras. Originally a "Botany Bay"-like penal colony, settled by dissidents from Urras centuries before Shevek's birth; Arras is a world close to Urras, as an orbiting moon of the much larger planet, and yet, one that is distant too, since Shevek is the first Arras native to visit Urras in nearly two centuries. Le Guin offers readers a captivatingly poignant portrait of Shevek as he contends with the almost polyglot nature of Urras' governments, which are predominantly capitalist in orientation, rejecting the notion of "fairness" that is prevalent on Arras; a world where there are no laws that govern the behavior of its human residents. While Le Guin describes the vast inequities that exist still on Urras, she also emphasizes the importance of personal liberty, and by referring to both Arras and Urras as though they are the polar opposites, the "Yin and Yang ", of human political behavior she does imply that both are of equal importance, especially with regards to Shevek's quest toward developing the ansible. As a novel of both ideas and a riveting, insightful, character study of Shevek, blessed with Le Guin's elegant, often poetic, prose, "The Dispossessed" is a science fiction novel that has earned deservedly, ample critical and popular acclaim from those otherwise unfamiliar with the genres of fantasy and science fiction. Without a doubt, "The Dispossessed" is not only a great work of 20th Century Anglo-American speculative fiction, but one that should be viewed as among the most important novels ever published in the latter half of the 20th Century.

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