Book Review: The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures by Aaron Mahnke

The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures by Aaron Mahnke
The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures
by Aaron Mahnke
Del Ray, 2017

Aaron Mahnke’s Lore podcast is one of the more fascinating and informative podcasts available. He explores the world of lore: folktales and legends—usually creepy or macabre—and shares the interesting things he finds. He’s an accomplished and entertaining storyteller.

Podcasts are subject to time constraints: there’s only so much you can fit into each episode. While the stories he shares with his listeners are clearly well researched, he doesn’t go into much depth with them. And that’s OK for a podcast—the point of these stories is to share them and entertain his audience. While he occasionally asks the Big Questions (“Why are we drawn to myths and legends like these? What purpose do they serve?” etc.) he never offers much more than cursory, broad strokes answers. Again, that’s fine for a podcast—he needs to focus each episode on telling the cool stories he finds.

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Better Business through Sci-Fi? Better Futures through Storytelling

A coworker recently shared the following article with me. She knows I love SF and that I’m perennially fascinated by all things storytelling.

Better Business through Sci-Fi by Nick Romeo
(published by The New Yorker, July 30, 2017)

I admit, I do find this idea fascinating: using storytelling techniques to envision new products and services, craft new vision and mission statements, new marketing campaigns, new strategic initiatives. I’d be interested to see what, if anything, comes of it.

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The Challenge of Setting in SF

I had a roommate once who had never read any SF before we moved in together. She saw my collection of science fiction and decided to give it a try.

She grabbed a book off my shelf at random—a far future, hard scifi title. Pretty advanced for her first exposure to the genre. She found it very frustrating.

She had no problem getting into the characters or the plot. She understood the science well enough and enjoyed how the author extrapolated it. She didn’t get too tripped up over the genre-specific vocabulary, either, although she did have to ask me what some of the acronyms stood for.

The problem was the setting. She couldn’t make sense of the world of the story, the environment. She didn’t know what things were and couldn’t picture them. Presented with an imagined far-future, alien setting, she felt lost and disoriented.

She was frustrated because she thought she was supposed to understand it. She felt like she was missing something, some key that would bring the world of the story into focus. Something to make it all make sense.

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“Remembrance of Earth’s Past” by Liu Cixin: A Critical Follow-Up

Shortly after I published my review of the “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” trilogy by Liu Cixin, I tweeted a link to it and @ referenced both the author and the two English language translators of the series, Ken Liu and Joel Martinsen. Shortly after that tweet, Ken posted a series of tweets in response.

I’m incredibly grateful that Ken took the time to respond. His tweets are insightful and his critique of my review is helpful. I’ve included them here with his permission. Please read through them.

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Book Review: “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” by Cixin Liu

Remembrance of Earths Past by Cixin Liu

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
(translated by Ken Liu)
Tor, 2014

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu
(translated by Joel Martinsen)
Tor, 2015

Death’s End by Cixin Liu
(translated by Ken Liu)
Tor, 2016

In my review of Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey, I compare reading it to reading Asimov’s Foundation when I was a kid.

I’m going to make the same comparison with the “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” series by Cixin Liu. Reading this awakens the same sense of discovery and amazement as reading Asimov when I was a child. Liu gifts us a story that’s astounding in scope and vision, with some of a biggest Big Ideas in science fiction.

The English translations of Liu’s work boast an admirable level of stylistic polish. There’s a spare and refreshing lyricism at work here. I’m as impressed with the quality of the translations as I am with Liu’s story.

This is what science fiction should be. I’m in awe of Liu’s imagination and accomplishment.

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Unreliable Narrators

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn & The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Crown, 2012

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Riverhead Books, 2015

In 2012, Gillian Flynn published Gone Girl and kick-started our current craze for unreliable narrator stories. 2015 saw the release of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and the unreliable narrator novel was firmly ensconced.

Rarely have I witnessed two books compared to each other more than these.

Not only was The Girl on the Train trumpeted as “this year’s Gone Girl,” not only did every critic and reviewer on the planet compare the two, but just about everyone I knew picked a favorite and took a side in the which-is-better debate.

Most people I know like both but have a clear preference for one or the other, and there are more than a few who love one and hate the other.

For most, their preference seems to boil down to which narrator appealed to them best. It’s not a matter of which you like best, as neither narrator is intended to be likeable. But both are meant to be intriguing.

I’m convinced that character appeal isn’t all that’s going on here. I think focusing on which narrator appeals the most is circling around a deeper issue.

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Practicing Empathy

I recently heard a story about a guy sitting in a public place, clearly wearing a wedding ring and clearly scrolling through a dating app. What’s disturbing wasn’t just the fact that he was cheating on his partner, but that he was doing it so obviously, right out in the open where anyone could see.

What a bastard.

It’s times like this when I’m reminded most powerfully of David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” speech (*). He challenges us to try and do better when we make assumptions, to think better. We have a choice whether to assume or not, and if we choose to make assumptions, we get to choose what we assume.

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