Category Archives: Science Fiction and Fantasy

Wombs for Rent: A Review of The Farm

I’ve decided to start reviewing more books on this blog. All of the rest of the titles I’ve set aside for this purpose for the foreseeable future are indie, but I thought I’d start off with something mainstream. The star rating below is out of a possible five stars.

Title: The Farm

Author: Joanne Ramos

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Publication Date: May 7, 2019

Genres:  Dystopian, Contemporary, and a pinch of Science Fiction

Page Count: 326 pages

Source: I borrowed it from my local library

Rating: 3 Stars

 

 

Blurb:

Nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, personal fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you’re paid big money to stay here—more than you’ve ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds, your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. For someone else.

Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks—or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on the delivery of her child.

Gripping, provocative, heartbreaking, The Farm pushes to the extremes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.

Review:

The first time I heard of The Farm was a few months ago when another reviewer compared it to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, one of my all-time favourite books. As soon as I read that line, I was hooked. Like Ms. Atwood’s famous story, this one is also about fertile, generally lower-class women being used to gestate babies for the most powerful members of society.

Unlike the characters in The Handmaid’s Tale, Jane and the other surrogates chose to become impregnated. Whether they knew what they were really consenting to is something I can’t discuss much in this review without wandering into spoiler territory. Let’s just say that the glossy description of what this job was like didn’t necessarily match Jane’s actual experiences with it.

What I would have loved to see from this book were more details. The most frightening parts of it were glossed over so much that I had to make educated guesses about how they played out. While Jane’s perspective was a limited one, it was a little frustrating as a reader to get so far into the plot only to receive the same vague hints that were contained in the blurb and early chapters.

There was a satisfying payoff for a subplot involving the woman who first introduced Jane to the idea of gestating a pregnancy at The Farm. If only the other clues at the beginning were given the same treatment. Not every dystopia is necessarily going to include a government being overthrown or other major signs that a society has gone terribly wrong. I loved the more subtle approach Ms. Ramos took with the assumptions she made about how people might respond if they couldn’t find decent paying work and selling the use of their reproductive organs seemed like the best option to make some semi-quick cash. If only she’d developed these thoughts further.

With that being said, one of the things I liked the most about this storywas how realistic it was. Yes, there were little snippets of what could be interpreted as science fiction and dystopian content in it, but everything in it is either really happening in our world today or could easily occur with a few small tweaks to how science works and what society tolerates. This is the kind of soft science fiction that grabs my attention because of how close it is to our reality.

I can sleep easily at night knowing that little green men from Mars aren’t actually ever going to invade Earth. The thought that women could so easily be coerced or enslaved into producing babies for wealthy, powerful families, on the other hand, is chilling because it has happened in the past, it is currently going on in some parts of the world, and it will almost certainly occur again in the future.

That’s frightening. Despite it’s flaws, The Farm’s no-nonsense approach to this topic is why I’ll recommend it to anyone who finds the blurb interesting.

Second Chances: A Review of A Dog’s Purpose

Last year I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing certain speculative fiction films that I enjoyed and thought you all might like, too. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, CocoWinchester, The Little Stranger, Astraea, and The House with a Clock in Its Walls.

Content Warning: animal mistreatment and animal deaths. I will only briefly mention those aspects of the plot, and this will otherwise be a spoiler-free review. 

A Dog’s Purpose is a 2017 modern fantasy film about a dog named Bailey who was reincarnated mutiple times during his quest to find his original owner. It is based on a book by the same name.

The fantasy elements of this tale are light and contemporary. Think something closer to the magical realism genre than Lord of the Rings.

The Characters

There are quite a few characters in this film I can’t discuss without giving away spoilers because of the episodic nature of Bailey’s lifetimes. Every time he was reborn, he met a new cast of characters who taught him important lessons about what it means to be a good dog and to live a worthwhile life.

For the record, I discuss characters in the past tense in all of my film reviews in order to avoid giving my audience any spoilers for films that don’t involve reincarnation. Don’t read anything into it other than that if you happen to check out previous reviews at the top of this post.

Josh Gad as the voice of Bailey

Bailey was the main character of this story. He was an optimistic and friendly dog who looked for the good in everyone he met. With that being said, his personality changed a little bit from one lifetime to the next. There was always something likeable about him, but to my surprise he didn’t have the same quirks, habits, or preferences in every lifetime.

Dennis Quaid (right) as Ethan

Ethan was Bailey’s first owner and the first person to treat this dog with all of the love and the kindness he deserved. They originally met when Ethan was a child, and they spent many happy years together at the beginning of their friendship. The emotional bond between them was something that even death itself couldn’t break.

My Review

Let’s talk about the content warning I added for this review before discussing anything else about it. As I mentioned earlier, this tale follows one dog through several different lifetimes. Some of the lives he experienced were not happy ones, and there were scenes that showed him being mistreated by the humans around him. Since this was a children’s movie, none of those scenes were long or particularly graphic.

The difficult chapters of this dog’s existence were sugar-coated at times for the sake of the audience. I’d be happy to go into more detail about this part of the plot privately with anyone with needs more information before deciding to watch it, but I didn’t have trouble with it even though I’m generally sensitive to this sort of content. It was handled gracefully.

Bailey (right) in one of his earlier lifetimes.

One of the most interesting things about A Dog’s Purpose for me was seeing all of the changes to Bailey’s personality from one life to the next. Despite having the same soul, he evolved every time he was reincarnated.

To give one example, he was an active, energetic dog in some lifetimes and perfectly content to sit on the couch with his owners and watch television in others. I’ll leave it up to all of you to discover the reasons why he didn’t behave exactly the same way in every incarnation he experienced, but I did enjoy what the screenwriters were doing with these shifts in his temperament. They were all explained well.

There were times when I found this film a little too sentimental. This may have been due to the age group it was written for, but I would have preferred to see a more pragmatic approach to his journey in certain scenes. Bailey’s goal was a lofty one for a dog, and there were instances when it would have been nice to for him to run up against some more obstacles while he tried to find Ethan again.

With that being said, I was intrigued by the thought of a dog trying to figure out the meaning of life for his species. It wasn’t something I’d expect a canine narrator to think about, so it was interesting to see how he came up with his theories about why he kept being reborn and what he was expected to do with all of his lives.

This was a mostly lighthearted and uplifting movie that I’d recommend to kids and adults alike. Despite the occasionally sappy moments, I did enjoy seeing what Bailey’s various lives were like and how he made the best of each one of them.

 

A Dog’s Purpose is available on Netflix and iTunes.

4 Games You Can Play While Listening to Audiobooks

Someone found my blog recently by searching for games one can play while listening to audiobooks. This turned out to be a much better idea for today’s post than the one I was originally working on, so I decided to go for it.

Three of these games have science fiction or fantasy themes woven into them somewhere.  It wasn’t originally one of the criteria for this post, but I did think it was kind of cool. Most of them also don’t require the player to make any quick moves in order to do them well.

What I was looking for when I selected them were games that could be played by someone who was multitasking.

As always, this is an ad-free site. I am not being compensated in any way for what I’m about to discuss. They’re simple but enjoyable apps I’ve enjoyed quite a bit over the years that can be played while simultaneously doing something else with your time.

Monument Valley

Monument Valley is a puzzle game set in a magical world where all but one member of a society has disappeared. The physics and geometry of this place isn’t the same as ours, so some of the solutions can take a while to uncover. Your goal as the player is to solve the puzzles and gradually lead Princess Ida, the main character, closer to the truth about what really happened to her people.

The beautiful thing about this game is that there is no spoken dialogue or time limits on any of the sections. While there is background music, it can easily be muted.

Rarely, certain scenes will contain a small amount of written dialogue, but the vast majority of one’s playing time involves doing nothing but directing the main character around a map at your own speed in order to figure out how to get from the beginning to the end.

Cost: $4.99

Available on iOS and Windows.

Colorfy

Raise your hand if you loved colouring when you were a kid! I adored it so much that my grandmother kept a big stack of colouring books at her house so I’d always have something quiet and amusing to do there.

Of course, it helped that some of my aunts and uncles hadn’t grown out of using those colouring books yet by the time I was big enough to join in on the fun. Two cheers for large extended families that are used to keeping children amused!

Colorfy provides all sorts of designs for you to colour, ranging from flowers to animals to black-and-white prints of famous paintings.

Is this really a game, you might be asking? Well, I can’t help but to tell myself a story about the characters or scenes I’m colouring when I use it, so I think that’s close enough to a game to be included in this list.

Cost: Free

Available on iOS  and Windows

Minecraft* 

*Creative or peaceful mode only unless you enjoy living dangerously.

Minecraft is a sandbox video game I’ve been playing for so many years now that I don’t need to give it my full attention, especially if I’ve switched to a mode that prevents the monsters from attacking me as I build a house or explore a brand new seed in it.

There is something incredibly relaxing about doing repetitive tasks like that while also working on some other project.  You could even match these two experiences by:

  • Building a castle while listening to a epic fantasy novel
  • Exploring the ocean biome while listening to a pirate’s tale
  • Recreating a crime scene while listening to a mystery

The possibilities are endless, and I can’t praise this game highly enough. It’s one of the first things I turn to when I’m need a happy distraction. There is background music and other noises, but if you stick to creative or peaceful mode it won’t be necessary to hear the moans of a zombie or other monster behind you.

Cost: $9.99

Available on iOS, Mac, and Windows

Tetris

Is there anyone left on Earth who doesn’t already know what Tetris is?

On the small chance that you exist, know that it’s a puzzle game that requires you to arrange various shapes of tiles into solid horizontal lines in order to earn points. It requires concentration but not much thought. There are usually more chances to repair an unfinished line if you keep going.

I’ve played it while simultaneously listening to all sorts of things, from music to audio books. It’s a great way to completely shut out the world and concentrate on something fast-paced but fun for a while.

This isn’t a game I’d play while listening to something dense or hard to understand, but I think a lighthearted plot would work well for it.

Cost: Free

Available on iOS and Windows

What games do you like to play while listening to audiobooks? I’d love to get more suggestions!

What to Read If You Liked The Clan of the Cave Bear

I’ve decided to start another series on this blog. Just like with the interviews with people who love speculative fiction that I’ll begin publishing here next week, Hopeful Science Fictionfilm reviews, Questions from the Search Engines, and Blogging Advice, this series won’t be updated on a specific schedule. Once I’ve come up with several similar titles to recommend to people who enjoyed a certain book, that post will be added to the queue.

The Clan of the Cave Bear is a prehistoric novel written by Jean M. Auel in 1980 about an orphaned human girl named Ayla who was raised by Neanderthals. It has four sequels about Ayla’s life as an adult.

Part of the reason why I picked this specific tale to start this series off with is because I’ve been getting a spike of visitors coming to this site looking for information about Auel, her characters, and whether there is going to be a TV show or movie made about  the Earth’s Children books.

No, it doesn’t look like there’s anything in the works. I’ll be the first to shout it from the rooftops if that ever changes! In the meantime, why not talk about something I enjoyed quite a bit?

The Clan of the Cave Bear is one of those stories that I’ve returned to over and over again. The plot is an intriguing blend of adventure, romance, mystery, and even a touch bit of the paranormal genre at times.

Life wasn’t exactly easy for hunter-gatherers 30,000 years ago, so there were also plenty of subplots about gathering food, making weapons, preserving medicinal herbs, and doing everything else necessary to survive the cold, long winters of an ice age.

I’ve spent years on the lookout for books that are comparable to this one and its sequels. The following list is the cream of the crop of everything I’ve read so far about Neanderthals and how they might have interacted with Homo sapiens tens of thousands of years ago or in modern times.

The Inheritors by William Golding

This was the first well-written book I discovered when I went to the library as a young teen in hopes of finding more storytellers like Jean M. Auel who had clearly done their research about life in the prehistoric era.

It was fascinating to see how Mr. Golding imagined Neanderthals might have behaved as their culture began to bump up against a stronger one. The Neanderthals in this world were caring, but they had trouble competing in a world where a more intelligent and dangerous type of human was beginning to move into their territory.  I’d argue that this twist says just as much about him and the era he lived in as it does about one of the possible reasons why this species might have gone extinct.

Ember from the Sun by Mark Canter 

I read this title soon after finding The Inheritors, and it’s something I’ve been recommending to likeminded readers for many years now. It’s by far the most science-fiction oriented part of this list because of how much time the narrator spent setting up the storyline and explaining why the things he imagined could possibly happen with the use of science instead of magic to explain them.

In short, the main character was a scientist who found the body of a frozen Neanderthal woman that was so well-preserved he actually found a viable embryo in her womb. (Yes, there was a somewhat-scientific reason why this was possible in this universe, but I can’t tell you specifics about that scene without revealing an important part of the plot).

He implanted that embryo into a human volunteer, named the resulting baby Ember, and raised her as his own. As she grew up, she began to explore her unusual past. She had many of the same questions that people who are transracially adopted have about their identity, and those questions lead to some very interesting developments in the plot that I still mull over to this day.

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron

The title of this one gives away its subject matter. We know that eventually all of the Neanderthals died out (or interbred with a much larger group of humans until their genes almost completely disappeared). There are so many things that bones can’t tell us about an individual or their culture, however!

What was the life of the last obvious Neanderthal like? How were they different from us? I can tell you almost nothing about this protagonist other than the fact that I found her delightful. Everything else I want to say would wander too close to spoiler territory because of how long it took the author to explain some of her character’s most enduring traits.

There is a film by the same name that is currently in the works. I can’t figure out if it’s supposed to be based on this book. Either way, I’m tentatively hoping to review it when it comes out!

Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson

One of the things I wish had been different about the Earth’s Children books was how far they eventually strayed away from describing all of the hard work that people needed to do in order to survive in such harsh climates. This novel always stayed true to its setting in that way. Life as a hunter-gatherer is never something that should be romanticized even if there are certain parts of it I wish I could incorporate into my own urban lifestyle!

I also loved the friendships the characters in this tale developed with Neanderthals. They worked together to survive in an unforgiving climate. As much as I respected Mr. Golding’s take on this topic, I’d like to think that the past was a cooperative place.

The Neanderthal Parallex trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer

In Hominids, the first book of this series, humans from our Earth meet a modern-day Neanderthal from a parallel universe where their species survived and humans died out tens of thousands of years ago.

The cultural differences between Neanderthals and humans were vast. To give one of the least surprising examples, all of the Neanderthals in this universe are bisexual and have two spouses, one man and one woman. It was fascinating to see how these two worlds collided once the characters realized just how many assumptions they made about life didn’t fit the other society in any way.

I can’t believe no one has turned this into a TV series yet. Robert J. Sawyer has written dozens of worthwhile books, but this world in particular really needs to be shared with a wider audience. It was so thought provoking.

Respond

If any of you have recommendations for other prehistoric tales or a request for a book I should feature next in this series, do speak up. I’m always open to suggestions.

If You Love Speculative Fiction, I Want to Interview You

I’ve decided to try something new on my site. This was loosely inspired by what Downright Dystopian started doing with her interviews earlier this spring. I’m hoping I’ll be able to tap into a new audience since I’m focusing my questions on people who like speculative fiction and have multiple social circles that don’t seem to overlap much with Krystianna’s sphere of influence at all.

What do I mean by speculative fiction? Well, if you read about, watch, listen to, or write about:

  • Fantasy
  • Science Fiction
  • Fables, Fairy Tales, and/or Folklore
  • Alternate History
  • Superheroes
  • Myths
  • Horror
  • Monster Movies
  • Utopians
  • Dystopians
  • Magical Realism
  • Supernatural/Paranormal Tales

Or any combination of these types of stories, I want to hear from you.

Yes, this includes people who prefer, say, paranormal romances that only have the slightest touch of fantasy added to them or mysteries that are pretty hardboiled until the final scene when the audience discovers the killer was an 900-year-old vampire. TV shows and films count, too, especially if they are in any way tied to a book or graphic novel.

Everyone is welcome.

If you’re interested in being interviewed, I’ll need the following things from you:

 Answers to the Following Questions

  1. What was the first speculative story you ever remember reading?
  2. Who is your favourite author? Why?
  3. What do you like most about the genre(s) you read?
  4. More and more authors seem to be writing cross-genre stories these days. How do you feel about this trend?
  5. If you could name a pet after one character, which character would you choose? Why?
  6. What fictional world would you never want to visit?
  7. What fictional world would you want to visit?
  8. Sharing spoilers with people who haven’t read the book or seen the film/show is a hot topic on Twitter and across many fandoms. How do you feel about sharing or overhearing spoilers?
  9. Which series do you think should be made into a TV show or film next?
  10. Which TV show or film do you think should be turned into a book?

If you are an author or other creative person, feel free to substitute some of these questions for a few of the ones above or answer them all for extra credit:

  1. What is the most unusual or interesting way you’ve come up with an idea for one of your creative works?
  2. Sometimes characters don’t do what their creators want them to do. If this has ever happened to you, how did you deal with it?
  3. What is your favourite trope?
  4. What tropes do you try to avoid in your stories?


A Short Biography 

Tell us who you are in a few sentences. Feel free to drop links to your website/blog, social media accounts, or similar pages if you’d like to.

A Photo 

Send a photo of yourself, the cover of a book you’ve written (if applicable), the logo from your site, or any other bookish subject matter.

Email your answers to interviews@lydiaschoch.com

There is no time limit on this offer. I will share your submissions once they begin to arrive and continue on for as long as there continues to be interest in this project.

These interviews have tentatively been assigned to Thursdays, although this may change depending on how many of them are sent in.

I’m looking forward to seeing what you all come up with!

The Joy of Writing Six-Word Stories

How many of you have ever written a six-word story, twitterature, dribble, minisaga, drabble, or other piece of flash fiction? What all of these terms share in common is the idea of fitting a full-formed story in a much smaller amount of space than is generally used for even short forms of storytelling. It might be… Read More

The Evolution of My Reading Habits

My reading habits have evolved a lot over the years. In today’s post, I’m going to start with my earliest memories and share some stories about how my interests and habits have changed over time. Most of these genres are still things I like to read at least occasionally. With that being said, I do… Read More

How Science Fiction Can Keep You Out of Trouble

I’ve been thinking about Star Trek a lot lately, especiallyThe Original Series. The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine were the parts of this universe I grew up watching. It wasn’t I was an adult that I actually sat down and checked out the series that started the Star Trek franchise back in the 1960s. If you’ve never… Read More

My 4 Favourite Fantasy Tropes

Last year, I had a blast blogging about my favourite science fiction tropes. It occurred to me recently that I’ve never given the fantasy genre the same treatment, so that’ what I’ll be talking about today. Reluctant Heroes Example: Bilbo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” If someone were to knock on my front door… Read More