24 June 2010

Book review: The Complete Hammer's Slammers (vol 1)

The Complete Hammer's Slammers (volume 1), David Drake. Baen, 2009. (Individual stories 1974-2005)

I enjoy reading space opera and books about people fighting in space. The stories I write are about people fighting in space. It's a good idea to read other books in your subgenre, to see what other people have done (so you don't repeat it, for one thing).

David Drake's Hammer's Slammers series was recommended to me by a friend, and a different friend gave this to me for my birthday. I went to a writers conference outside Charlotte in April, and Drake gave a seminar. Afterward, I asked him if he'd sign my copy, and he told me I shouldn't read it. I was perplexed: an author is telling me not to read his book. He elaborated: I would probably find it disturbing, because it's based on his actual experiences in Vietnam and depicts soldiers being soldiers in wartime.

That's what I was looking for in the book, actually, and that's what I got. I will admit that some of the imagery was unpleasant, if not outright disturbing (and, on one occasion, made me regret reading it while I was eating breakfast), but it wasn't shocking.

It's not pleasant. The men and women we meet in the Slammers are human, with everything that entails. They have flaws. They fuck up. They make bad decisions. They make good decisions. They love, they hate, they do their job.

Recommended for anyone who enjoys military science fiction or space opera.

Further reading: David Drake's official website

23 June 2010

Book review: Das Paradies am Rande der Stadt

Das Paradies am Rande der Stadt, Volker Strübing. yedermann, 2005. Paradies und Das, Zeitschock

In my quest for German-original science fiction, I managed to find one book, at least on a bookshelf and that didn't require ordering via amazon. I flipped through, found some humorous bits, read the flaps, and bought it.

In the not-so-distant future, a man invents a computer program that gives people ultimate joy. He calls it Eden. It's completely free, and anyone who wishes can cross the rainbow.

The German government (at least) has collapsed, and corporations have stepped in to fill the gap, while some free enclaves sprang up outside the corporate cities. Churches compete with each other for members. Soulcatchers take people to Eden for bounties (with a free-will loophole, of course.)

The Church of the True Name of God is a new denomination. God came to its founder one night, and told him his true name: Kein Schwein. It was originally founded as a protest and satire, but people came to it without the irony. (Kein Schwein means literally "no pig," but it's an idiom that means "not a soul" or "no one": As one of the founder's sermons states, if you don't believe in KEIN SCHWEIN, then KEIN SCHWEIN will punish you. Which, for the irony-impaired, means that if you don't believe in no one, then no one will punish you.)

Our heroes are a group opposed to Eden's existence, who wish to destroy it. They meet a woman who was in Eden but left (to rescue her Adam, who left) and get caught up in a war between the church, the corporate city, and a group of neo-Nazi thugs for hire.

If you think this sounds like The Matrix meets Snow Crash via Terry Pratchett, you'd be right. I recommend this for anyone who speaks German and likes their humor with a touch of sarcastic irony.

22 June 2010

Book review: Dear Shameless Death

Dear Shameless Death, Latife Tekin (trans Saliha Paker/Mel Kenne). 1st ed 1983, 1st translation 2001. Marion Boyars Publishers (UK).

Magical realism is not typically a genre I read. I wanted to find books about Turkey, written by Turkish people, that included folklore and traditional culture. This book has those in spades.

It's the story of a girl who was djinn-touched, almost cursed and unlucky, and her family, moving from a village to the big city, and how life in the city changed them. There were times when I wanted access to a handy google or wikipedia, to see what some of the untranslated Turkish words meant, or find out what a reference or concept meant, but I was on an airplane, so I couldn't. I don't feel it detracted from the story, though having more familiarity with it would have helped.

That's one tricky bit when translating a book for a different audience than the writer intended. The translator has to decide whether to translate, say, djinn as demon, when a djinn isn't exactly a demon in the Christian sense, nor is it a genie as seen in Aladdin. It's one of those things a translator learns to do, and it's often a call based on their professional judgement.

It took me a little while to get into the book. The style wasn't what I'm used to, and I couldn't understand the characters, but I put it down for a little while then picked it up again while I was traveling to Berlin, and I finished it on the way there. Once I adjusted to the style, it was hard to put down. The characters and their lives were engaging, while tragedy after tragedy struck, and they worked to deal with each new crisis.

Recommended.

(A review from The Guardian, 2001.)

16 June 2010

RetroSpec publication date & cover!

RetroSpec cover

While I was away, Karen Romanko, editor of the anthology my flash fiction piece will be appearing in, got the layout finished, and we now have a publication date! September 7, 2010.

I'll post links to where you can buy a copy when I know myself. :)

Been a long time.

Sorry for that. I was in Europe for 6 weeks, and I didn't have much interest in updating. I have 3 book reviews, a manga review, and some exciting news about RetroSpec to post in the next few days. For now, I'll just post a wrap-up of my trip.

May 2-28: Berlin, Germany. I took a class at the Goethe Institute. Even after many years of disuse, my German is good enough to land me in the highest-level class, where we spent most of the time talking about stuff and going over finer points of German grammar and learning new idioms and the like. There were about a dozen of us.

I still love Berlin, and if it were possible or practical at all to move there, I would. Even if the weather was terrible the whole month.

May 29-June 5: Vienna, Austria. I've always wanted to visit Vienna, and now I have. I took an overnight train from Berlin, and Ben met me there. It was the start of our 10th anniversary trip. The weather was pretty bad then, too. Coldish and rainy.

Vienna is more elegant than Berlin, and a lot more expensive. It's also a more "finished" city, I guess you could say. It's got all these grand buildings, and it's home to tons of culture and art and music and the like. We could have seen a different Mozart concert every night, if we'd had the money. (We saw a performance of the Requiem in the Karlskirche, by a group using instruments from Mozart's time and balance and seating charts from the time. It was really cool.)

We took a day trip out to Carnuntum, which is the site of a Roman border fortress-town. They've rebuilt two villas and are working on the baths. One they rebuilt using Roman-era techniques and replica tools, including firing the bricks in an earthen kiln. That was sweet.

June 5-7: Bratislava, Slovakia. Bratislava is pretty cheap, and there's not much else going for it. They've got a big monument on a hill with a bunch of Soviet graves, dedicated to the soldiers who kept the Nazis out of Western Slovakia in 1944 or 45, which has a great view of the city. Bratislava Castle is uninspiring, but Devin Castle, a 20-minute city bus ride away, is really awesome. The hill has been inhabited since about 950, by Romans, Moravians, Slovaks, and even (briefly) the Habsburgs. There's a good bit of archaeology there, too.

June 7-13: Budapest, Hungary. Budapest is so inexpensive! We could eat a modestly expensive meal for $35 total. It's also a very pretty city, but less finished. That's probably the remnants of communism. There was a lot of reconstruction going on.

Szechenyi Baths are amazing. So, Budapest has a bathing/spa culture, which may be a remnant of its 140-year Ottoman occupation. They've also got hot springs, so they've got a good location. Szechenyi Baths have both thermal spas and swimming pools, and your admission fee covers both. (All-day admission to this palace of bathing costs 3100 forint, or about $13.50 at today's exchange.) It's rather literally a palace, with frescoes, marble columns, and statuary. Bath temperatures range from 20C to 40C. I spent most of my time in the 36, 38, or 40C baths, then we went outside to the swimming pool for a bit, which was also amazing. (The gallery shows mostly swimming pool photos, and none of the spas.)

My favorite thing was watching the USA/ENG world cup match on a giant screen in Szabadsag Ter with a thousand or so people. I haven't been ble to watch any more games since then, because I don't get ESPN, and ESPN360 is blocked on my ISP. But a friend told me that Univision is streaming all the games online, so I'm going to go switch computers and watch me some futbol. This one can't handle it.