Review: Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire

45418305._SY475_Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire

Published: October 31, 2019 by Subterranean Press

Buy this book at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis:

From fairy tale forest to gloomy gothic moor, from gleaming epidemiologist’s lab to the sandy shores of Neverland, Seanan McGuire’s short fiction has been surprising, delighting, confusing, and transporting her readers since 2009. Now, for the first time, that fiction has been gathered together in one place, ready to be enjoyed one twisting, tangled tale at a time. Her work crosses genres and subverts expectations.
Meet the mad scientists of “Laughter at the Academy” and “The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells.” Glory in the potential of a Halloween that never ends. Follow two very different alphabets in “Frontier ABCs” and “From A to Z in the Book of Changes.” Get “Lost,” dress yourself “In Skeleton Leaves,” and remember how to fly. All this and more is waiting for you within the pages of this decade-spanning collection, including several pieces that have never before been reprinted. Stories about mermaids, robots, dolls, and Deep Ones are all here, ready for you to dive in.

This is a box of strange surprises dredged up from the depths of the sea, each one polished and prepared for your enjoyment. So take a chance, and allow yourself to be surprised.

Rating: 4 star

Review:

***I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley and Subterranean Press!***

As with all short story collections that I read, I prefer to review them by the story. Inevitably I will love some of them and not care for others and this collection was no different. I am a big fan of the author but some of these stories were a miss. I also noticed that there were some formatting issues with the ARC, which meant that sometimes I didn’t get the complete story. On the whole, this collection was a solid four stars with a lot more hits than misses.

Laughter at the Academy: 2 stars. I am not sure if it was the formatting issue or if the story was really supposed to be that disjointed. We got a little snippet of something “official” about the disorder in question, and then we would jump into a scene, right in the middle of a sentence. A scene that is totally unconnected from the previous scene. If that if how it was supposed to be, I didn’t like it. The snippets were good, but I never felt I got a full story.

Lost: 5 stars. This was a very short story but wow it packed a wallop. It was inventive and whimsical. It was riveting and profound. It was fantastic.

The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells: 5 stars. This is probably one of the more twisted stories I’ve read in quite a long while. It carries very heavy themes in complacency as a species, being too convinced of our own individual superiority to listen to people superior in knowledge than us. The desire for things to be the same and to be easy than to listen to harsh lessons. It was profound and deeply, deeply twisted.

Uncle Sam: 2 stars. The formatting issue was present here too, the story started mid sentence and I could tell there was more to it that I didn’t get. I didn’t really like this one. The story was slightly interesting but I didn’t really invest in the narrative for some reason. It was a bit obvious where it was going and the political assumptions in it were rather annoying. For example, “well obviously, even though many people think X thing, we all know that Y is true.” Well no, Y isn’t objectively true in the real world. If it’s objectively true in this world then fine, or if it’s true to those people then fine, but telling me that it’s true without more context was annoying. The ending was obvious, which also was irritating.

Crystal Halloway and the Forgotten Passage: 3 stars. This story was okay. I would have liked a tiny bit more history on the story. I know it’s a short story but just thrusting someone into a fantasy world with no warning is a bit jarring, give me something to explain the things that are going on. The ending was good, I liked the conclusion a lot. Overall, it was fine but not as good as some of the others.

Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust: 4 stars. I love the land of Oz and stories about Dorothy’s adventures. This was definitely a darker story but I loved it. There wasn’t too much action, which disappointed me a little but the world introduced there was amazing.

Homecoming: 2 stars. I can honestly say I remember nothing about this story, even though I took notes. That says something I think.

Frontier ABCs: 4 stars. I can honestly say that I had no idea where this was going and it was a delightful little ride to find out.

We are all Misfit Toys in the Aftermath of the Velveteen War: 5 stars. Holy crap this story threw me for a loop. I had to take a break from the book for a day or two because it just sent me reeling. It’s something so profound that I could imagine happening in our world. I have often said, “How do you prepare the world for a child’s toy saying they don’t want to be turned off because they are scared of the dark?” I love the complexities offered to humanity by AI and this story explored that beautifully.

The Lambs: 2 stars. Another exploration of AI and its uses in humanity but there was a problem here. I just didn’t buy it. I did not buy that this would be a reasonable alternative to the way things are right now. As a parent, I can’t imagine anyone seeing the technology presented and thinking “Yes, that’s a good idea for handling unruly, bully children”. And so, I didn’t enjoy the story because I couldn’t buy the premise.

Each to Each: 4 stars. Not too much to say about this one in particular other than it was really great.

Bring About the Halloween Eternal: 5 stars. Part of good sci-fi is using new formats to tell a story. This one used the backdrop of a GoFundMe project to tell the story and I loved that idea. It was playful, unique and wonderfully constructed.

Office Memos: 4 stars. I really loved this one because it takes the form of a bunch of company emails to narrate the story. Having been on the receiving end of many such mundane office emails I found it thoroughly enjoyable.

Lady Antheia’s Guide to Horticultural Warfare: 3 stars. This one was okay. It had some formatting issues at the beginning, so I missed out on the beginning of the story. It was a solid story, I just didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the others.

Driving Jenny Home: 5 stars. This particular story broke my heart. I cried all over my Nook. The sadness was palpable, the conclusion inevitable and all I could think at the end of it was “I’d do the same thing for the person I loved.”

There is no Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold: 5 stars. I can honestly say I’ve never read a retelling of Pandora’s Box, so this was a first and it hit the nail on the head. I loved every word and wanted the story to be longer.

In Skeleton Leaves: 4 stars. Speaking of retellings, Peter Pan anyone? This was also wonderful. I felt so sad for the characters and the ending I did not see coming, though I probably should have I was just too wrapped up in Wendy’s narrative to see it.

Please Accept My Most Profound Apologies: 5 stars. I have to say, I really love stories that are narrated as a letter from the bad guy, explaining themselves to the unfortunate sap who finds their manuscript before the end of the world. This was great and made my heart race in anticipation.

Threnody for Little Girl, With Tuna, at the End of the World: 3 stars. This one was an interesting concept and I liked the backdrop of the Monterey Bay Aquarium since it’s also one of my favorite places on earth. But in the end it was a little bland.

From A to Z in the Book of Changes: 3 stars. I liked this one, but it was just too disjointed for me. It seemed like unconnected threads that never came together to form a whole.

#connollyhouse #weshouldntbehere: 5 stars. I said earlier I loved playing with new mediums, this was a horror story told through someone’s Twitter timeline. I really liked that idea but wasn’t sure how effective it would be. Oh my God was it effective. It literally made my jump and feel uneasy sitting in my living room and continuing reading. It was superb. Probably the best one in the book.

Down, Deep Down, Below the Waves: 4 stars. We ended the book with the formatting cutting off a page or so from the beginning of this final story. It was deliciously twisted and well told.

Review: Our Dried Voices by Greg Hickey

23617219Our Dried Voices by Greg Hickey

 

Published: November 4, 2014 by Scribe Publishing Company

Buy this book at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: In 2153, cancer was cured. In 2189, AIDS. And in 2235, the last members of the human race traveled to a far distant planet called Pearl to begin the next chapter of humanity. Several hundred years after their arrival, the remainder of humanity lives in a utopian colony in which every want is satisfied automatically, and there is no need for human labor, struggle or thought. But when the machines that regulate the colony begin to malfunction, the colonists are faced with a test for the first time in their existence. With the lives of the colonists at stake, it is left to a young man named Samuel to repair these breakdowns and save the colony. Aided by his friend Penny, Samuel rises to meet each challenge. But he soon discovers a mysterious group of people behind each of these problems, and he must somehow find and defeat these saboteurs in order to rescue his colony.

Rating: 4 star

Review***Disclaimer*** I received a copy of this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Greg!***

This book was a delightful little read. Based on the synopsis it sounded like it would be right within my area of enjoyment and it turned out that it was. I had a few irritations with it, and there were a few struggles but I found that I did not mind those things too much because the story kept my interest well.

The book starts with a bullet pointed list of all the major accomplishments and failures of humanity in the 300-ish years leading from our present to the beginning of the story. While I found this information interesting, I would have preferred that the information was packaged in a different manner. Bullet points are not that enthralling to read. There was a short excerpt from a “history” of the same time period that we get at the end of the book and a lot of the same information was covered. It confused me why this was at the end and not the beginning. It would have been a better introduction to the story than an ending.

I also got the impression that the author struggled with his narrator a bit, which is understandable and I think anyone would have struggled with it but overall it was handled well. I could tell at times that the author really wanted Samuel to be able to describe things better but he couldn’t because he lacked the language or awareness for it at that moment. At times this led to a bit of an inconsistent narrative but not often enough that it got on my nerves.

Warning: There may be some spoilers beyond this point.

As I read other reviews for this book, I saw a lot of people wondering how humanity could get to a point of being so lazy that we experience a regression in all cognitive functioning and lose the vast majority of our language and ability to communicate. I wondered that too for a while. But then I got on social media for a few minutes and it all made sense to me. We already are practically communicating only in pictures these days with memes, GIFs, selfies and emojis. And plenty of people are so lazy that they can’t be bothered to seek out answers for themselves and instead of spending 30 seconds on Google figuring something out will instead spend an hour asking other people to do it for them. So, to me at least, I can completely see this as a future for humanity.

I really liked the series of tests that Samuel encountered trying to help his community but I also got frustrated with him at a certain point. Clearly, his efforts were going to waste. The rest of the colonists didn’t appreciate, nor even notice, his efforts to keep them content and happy so after a point I was wondering why he was still trying. This also leads me to the ending, at first I didn’t understand it. Staying with the other colony seemed like a natural step. These were people like Samuel. He could improve his own life and be with people who valued their minds, like he did. So why didn’t he?

I thought about that a lot since I finished the book last night and I think I came to a conclusion. Just like Samuel decided that he no longer wanted to waste his labor on colonists who would never progress, he equally didn’t want to waste his labor toward an effort that was directed for someone else’s benefit. He wanted to use his ingenuity, his mind, and his labor to forge his own way not just trade one master for another. In the end, I really like that message. It was an enjoyable book that I liked more than I first expected that I would.

Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian

cobweb brideCobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian

Published: July 1th, 2013 by Norilana Books

Buy this book at: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Books A Million / Book Depository

Synopsis:

Many are called…
She alone can save the world and become Death’s bride.

Cobweb Bride is a history-flavored fantasy novel with romantic elements of the Persephone myth, about Death’s ultimatum to the world.

What if you killed someone and then fell in love with them?

In an alternate Renaissance world, somewhere in an imaginary “pocket” of Europe called the Kingdom of Lethe, Death comes, in the form of a grim Spaniard, to claim his Bride. Until she is found, in a single time-stopping moment all dying stops. There is no relief for the mortally wounded and the terminally ill….

Covered in white cobwebs of a thousand snow spiders she lies in the darkness… Her skin is cold as snow… Her eyes frozen… Her gaze, fiercely alive…

While kings and emperors send expeditions to search for a suitable Bride for Death, armies of the undead wage an endless war… A black knight roams the forest at the command of his undead father … Spies and political treacheries abound at the imperial Silver Court…. Murdered lovers find themselves locked in the realm of the living…

Look closer — through the cobweb filaments of her hair and along each strand shine stars…

And one small village girl, Percy—an unwanted, ungainly middle daughter—is faced with the responsibility of granting her dying grandmother the desperate release she needs.

As a result, Percy joins the crowds of other young women of the land in a desperate quest to Death’s own mysterious holding in the deepest forests of the North…

And everyone is trying to stop her.

Rating: 2 star

Review:

I received a free copy of this book by the publisher in order for an honest review.

I have literally no idea what to make of this book. It just….I don’t know. The idea behind it was just so interesting and intriguing. I read the synopsis and thought, wow this sounds so good. And it just wasn’t. It had its good points to be sure, which is why I gave it two stars but at the end I was just left shaking my head and wondering what the hell was going on.  Be warned, BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS!!

The characters in this book were really good. I fell in love with them and wanted to hear more about them.  Well, okay, most of them. Some of the characters seemed completely useless but most of the main ones were good ones. Percy was fun, though I think she was trying too hard to be philosophical and that got old after awhile. Grial was funny and amusing so I liked having her around and frankly I thought she was around for much too short a time. Beltain was alright but he struck me as a complete wuss. He caved in to his father, he caved in to the Princess, he caved in to Percy…this man is an expert flip flopper. And most of the other characters were so vacant that I hardly noticed or cared that they were there.

I was really pissed off by the only romantic angle in this book. So basically the Princess (Claere) is stabbed to death by a Duke who believes that his family has been hard done by her father. But she can’t die because Death is no longer taking souls. So she talks to him and takes him with her on her journey to Death’s castle and…..falls in love with him. Dear God seriously? This goes so beyond the YA addiction to showing abusive love relationships. This is violent from before they ever even talk!? He killed her for the love of God! I was so angry about this I couldn’t even speak. I predicted that it would happen and it pissed me off when it did.

I was thoroughly confused about many aspects of this book and frankly, I still am puzzled. It makes no logical sense at all. For example, Death shows up and says that he is not taking souls anymore until they find his Cobweb Bride and brings her to his keep. So I tried to think why everyone in the world wouldn’t just say, alright fine we’ll just live forever then. Apparently the author wondered this too so decided to force the world’s hand by making animals unable to be slaughtered or cooked…which makes sense because animals have living souls. But then also says that plants can’t be cooked….um why? Do plants have souls in this book too? That was never addressed. And there are plenty of plants and vegetables that don’t need to be cooked to be eaten so why are we not eating those instead? And even if you couldn’t eat why would the world still not just say screw off we’ll live forever? I don’t understand this at all.

But then it gets even more confusing when they arrive at Death’s keep. Death says that he can’t keep taking souls because every time he takes a soul he gives them a part of himself and then when they die that part comes back to him. But this woman, his Cobweb Bride, was supposed to die and he gave a piece of himself to her and then she didn’t die. Which rendered him incapable of taking souls until she returns that piece of him. So, if he is incapable of taking souls then why did he say that he was CHOOSING not to take souls? Which is it? I still don’t know. But then he manages to give a piece of himself to Percy so that she has some of his powers and can go find his Bride and bring her back…and somehow that means she can take souls. How? If Death isn’t capable of taking souls then how can he give that ability to Percy? Or if Death really was choosing not to take souls then why would he give that ability to Percy and why would he say that it was because he couldn’t?

I am just so confused by this book. I wanted to like it, I did like certain parts of it, and the rest just confused me. I won’t be reading any more of this trilogy, even if I was promised to get some answers.

Movie Reviews: Oblivion & Side Effects

Not very often do I do movie reviews, I leave that to my husband who does plenty of them at the dinner table. But we got both of these movies as RedBox the other night and the contrast between the two was astounding so I had to comment. And let’s just get one thing straight right out front, Side Effects was my pick. Oblivion was my husband’s pick, I am not a fan of Tom Cruise and made quite the face when he suggested it. Oh and there will probably be spoilers, so walk away now if you don’t want to be spoiled. Anyway, onward!

 

Side Effects

Side Effects is a psychological thriller released earlier this year. It stars Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherina Zeta-Jones, and Channing Tatum. The film centered around a young woman who was prescribed a brand new, and fictional, drug for her depresion called Albixa. She experiences some rather intense side effects from the drug and ends up murdering her husband while sleepwalking. If you are like me and not a fan of Channing Tatum you’ll be happy to hear that he plays the husband, so he’s not around for long. This movie did a great job in making me feel sorry for poor Emily. She had everything and it was all ripped away from her. She miscarried a baby, her husband is imprisoned for insider trading, then he gets back out and she can’t bear to tell him how depressed she is because she wants to start fresh with him. She drives her car into a brick wall in what appears to be a suicide attempt and thus our story begins. This starts her on a rocky path to find the right medication with minimal side effects and she insists on continuing to take Ablixa even after she starts sleepwalking. Unfortunately for everyone it is in one of those sleepwalking episodes that she stabs her husband to death and is put on trial for his murder. But everything is not as it seems in this world.

This was a very devious little plot. Admittedly I found myself getting a bit bored in the beginning because it seemed like not a lot was going on. But once the story got started, holy crap did it get started. After that, the plot twists and turns were thrown at you quicker than you can process. Even though part of the plot was a teensy bit predictable I think it was meant that way. We were supposed to be yelling at Jude Law that she’s a lying sack of garbage and not to listen to her. That kind of predictable little plot point made it so that the real twist was totally unexpected. At a certain point in the film my husband and I just turned to each other and raised our eyebrows in unison as if to say “well that was different!”.  It didn’t even end there either. It got weirder and darker after that turning point too.

This has a current score of 84% fresh on Rotten Tomatos and I think that it is richly deserved. This was a delightfully dark little film.

 

 

OblivionOblivion is a sci-fi post-apocalypse flick starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman. It occurs in the year 2077 where the earth has been attacked by people/creatures they have dubbed “Scavengers”. The “Scavs” blew up the moon which sent the Earth into chaos with flood and earthquakes destroying half the planet within hours. After those initial hours it turned into all out war with the world eventually turning to the only logical solution…nuke the hell out of the other half of the world. All remaining humans have evacuated Earth to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Tom Cruise stars as Jack Harper who is a technician (Tech-49 to be exact) that is tasked with repairing the drones that are protecting the ocean borne fusion power generators before he and his partner will finally be evacuated to Titan as well. At least that’s what I thought the plot was. Then I read a synopsis and apparently the people of Earth have evacuated to the Tet, a space station orbiting Earth, and the generators are only to be used until they have enough power to make the trip to Titan. I honestly don’t know which is correct, the story was so convoluted that my husband had a completely different third idea of what the plot was. So this one might have to remain a mystery.

I hated this movie, it was SO BORING! Tom Cruise’s characters is a whiny bitch through most of the movie. Seriously, stop reminiscing! I get it, you miss old Earth but it ain’t coming back pal so get over it already. I was immediately suspicious that things were not as they seemed when Jack Harper says it had been 60 years since the end of the war….yet he remembers Earth from before the war and doesn’t appear to be older than say 40. Yeah, something was not right about that. But the movie was so horrendously boring that I quickly forgot about that bit of dialogue until I thought about it after the movie had ended. Here’s the things that bug me about this movie:

1. Jack Harper is a clone, yes a clone. There is no colony of human beings and there are no attacking Scavs. What attacked the Earth was the Tet, which appears to be some kind of artificial intelligence complex. They captured Jack Harper and his partner (the red head, can’t remember her character’s name) and cloned them. The Scavs are actually the only remaining human beings on the planet who are trying to bring down the Tet. Okay, with me so far?  Apparently Jack Harper was recreated as thousands of clones and those clones are the ones who launched and won the war on Earth.  Now they have new clones of Jack and what’s her name to keep everything in order and try to exterminate the rest of the humans. Still with me? Don’t get too cocky, it gets worse.

2. If they have thousands of clones of Jack who were, and I quote, “mindless killing machines”…why did they not continue to use those clones? They were apparently perfect mindless soldiers. Where did they go? Humans lost the war so they couldn’t have killed them all, where are those clones now? And since they were so effective at taking over Earth there would be no reason to deactivate them or kill them so I repeat, where did all these clones go?

3. The Tet tells Jack that he and his clones have a “history of insubordinanation”. Okay, that explains why he goes rogue all of a sudden but why didn’t he before? Some might argue it was because in this case his old wife from Earth was back and it prompted him…well then what history of insubordination could there have been? And if Jack keeps rebelling, why is the Tet, which was smart enough to annihilate Earth, not smart enough to alter the clone so that this doesn’t keep happening? If Jack keeps tapping into the original Jack’s  memories then why not make the next Jack clone a “mindless killing machine” like the old ones?

4. At the end of the movie we see that Jack has impregnated his wife before he killed himself for the greater good of humanity so they have a daughter. Why do clones need to reproduce? He was created to maintain the drones, and we know he was screwing the red headed clone so how were there not more little clonelets running around? Why did the Tet create the clones with the ability to reproduce? Why is that necessary?!

5. Oh hell, I don’t even know what five is because I’ve gotten so pissed off about numbers one through four.

6. If the Tet can create clones and had thousands of drones that are not in use, wouldn’t it be more logical to just replace the drones that are getting attacked? Why do you even need the clones to repair them? Just make more drones and then you don’t have to worry about Jackclone and his “history of insubordination”! Complete and epic logic fail.

7. This movie borrows 95% of it’s plot from sci-fi movies that are much better than this one was. I suggest watching Tron: Legacy, Blade Runner and Planet of the Apes instead of this crap..just to start.

In closing, the 54% rotten rating from Rotten Tomatoes is all you need to know. Believe the 54% they are not lying.