Tag Archives: Reviews

Hopeful Science Fiction: Woman on the Edge of Time

Last month, I blogged about my desire to step back from the dystopian genre and read hopeful science fiction instead.

The rules were simple. I didn’t require a story to start out in a hopeful or happy place, but I did want to read scifi that ended that way.

Since then, I’ve started to compile a list of books that fit this description. I’ll be talking about one of them today and plan to gradually blog about the rest in the future. If you have recommendations for this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Woman on the Edge of Time

Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time was first published in 1976. It was about Consuelo Ramos, a woman whose life had been forever changed by poverty, mental illness, prejudice, and violence.

Nothing I’m about to say is a spoiler. All of it was mentioned in the blurb for this book, and there are many plots twists and important details from later chapters that I’ll leave up to you to discover for yourselves.

I should warn you that the beginning of this book was filled with a great deal of pain. Consuelo’s life had been incredibly difficult for many years before the audience met her. She’d made choices that seriously harmed other people, and she’d been on the receiving end of other people’s terrible decisions as well. There were times when it read much more like a dystopia than anything else before the plot veered into other directions.

If you press forward through the dark beginning, though, you’ll begin to see what I’m talking about when I refer to this as a piece of hopeful science fiction.

Shortly before involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital early on in this story, Consuelo began telepathically communicating with Luciente, a person who was living in an utopian society in 2137.

As their unlikely friendship blossomed, Consuelo eventually travelled through time to visit Luciente and see how people lived in the 2100s. It was like nothing Consuelo had ever seen before.

In Luciente’s world, there was no poverty, racism, sexism, or violence. No one ever went hungry or was denied urgent medical treatment due to their lack of ability to pay for it. Everyone was given the opportunity to chart the course of their own lives regardless of who they were or what they’d previously decided to do with their energy and time. As long as it didn’t harm anyone else, you could do virtually anything you desired with your time, from raising a family to making art to experimenting with new ways of growing crops.

This wasn’t the only future world Consuelo visited, however. She later saw a dystopian society where the bodies and minds of poor people were used as a commodity by the wealthy. It was the opposite of the place Luciente lived in every way you could imagine. Roles were rigidly determined by who your parents were, and there was no way to switch from one part of that society to another. A person’s time was never their own. There was always someone looking over your shoulder and telling you what you must do next.

Which Future Will Be Ours?

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this tale was how much time it spent explaining why Consuelo had been chosen to see and interact with these two very different versions of the future of humanity. She wasn’t a passive player in these trips by any means. Her presence made a difference in ways she couldn’t even begin to imagine so long as she was stuck in the psychiatric facility.

As Luciente would tell her over and over again, the decisions Consuelo made in 1976 were going to play a critical role in which version of the future came to pass. The thought of someone as socially marginalized and powerless as Consuelo actually being the key to changing the fate of the entire world tickled my imagination. I’ve almost never seen anything like it before.

Most science fiction and fantasy heroes that I’ve read about have had at least a few advantages in life, whether it’s through being born with special powers or being apprenticed to someone who could teach them the skills they needed to defeat even their most powerful enemies.

The fact that Consuelo was expected to save the world without any magical abilities, mystical objects, all-knowing mentors, trusty sidekicks, or any other real sources of help in her battle made it impossible for me to stop reading. I had to know which version of the future would come to pass and if Consuelo would be able to improve the circumstances of her own life in the 1970s as well.

Hope Is the Thing with Feathers

With apologies to Emily Dickinson, I loved this story’s approach to the concept of hope.

When I first began researching possibilities for this series, I wondered how easy it would be to find hopeful examples in a genre that has so often assumed the worst case scenario is the one worth writing and thinking about. The dystopian sub-genre has become so popular these days that I knew I’d have to do some digging to find characters who didn’t live in that kind of world.

Since I’m also not the kind of reader who usually seeks out tales that attempt to be hopeful by brushing over – or even simply ignoring-  difficult topics like racism and sexism, my other concern was that I’d be left with stories that were hopeful only for readers who were able to suspend their disbelief and enter an imaginary world where no one ever dealt with serious, real world issues.

The beautiful thing about Woman on the Edge of Time was how it found hope even in the midst of all of the prejudice Consuelo fought against during her life. Her determination to radically improve the future for the sake of every person who had been or will be born was rooted in part in her hope that all forms of bigotry could be vanquished for good if she made the right decisions.

Final Notes

There are so many other things I want to say about this book, but I don’t want to give away spoilers about it for anyone who hasn’t read it before. If you have read it, I’d be happy to discuss it in much greater detail somewhere other than the comment section of this post.

Do keep in mind that this tale has many twists and turns along the way to the final scene. It’s not something I’d recommend to anyone who needs to avoid any references at all to complex topics like abuse or how destructive habits can be passed down from one generation to the next. Consuelo and many of the other characters had many difficult experiences in their lives. This wasn’t the sort of universe where someone swoops in and saves the good guys in the nick of time before anything terrible happened to them.

These characters knew more than their fair share of pain, but all of the hope they found along the way more than made up for it in my mind.

What hopeful science fiction stories have you been reading recently?

 

Dangerous Mutations: A Review of Annihilation

This review is spoiler-free. As always, the only time I’d share spoilers in a review would be if I needed to warn my readers about potentially triggering themes or scenes in the source material. This was one of the films I talked about wanting to watch in this post. So far, I’ve also reviewed Into the Forest from that list.

Annihilation is a 2018 film based on a book by the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. It’s about five military scientists who travel into the heart of a rapidly-expanding anomaly called “The Shimmer” in order to discover what caused it and why every other team of explorers who had been sent into it had disappeared without a trace.

There were a large enough group of characters that I feel the need to introduce all of them in some detail before diving into my thoughts on the story itself. I’m discussing everyone in the past tense in order to avoid accidentally giving away any hints about what happened to them or who may or may not have made it to the final scene.

 

The Characters

Natalie Portman as Lena.

 

Lena was a biologist, professor at Johns Hopkins, and former soldier. Her husband, Sergeant Kane, had disappeared on a top secret mission about a year before the events of this story took place, and she was still overcome with grief over her loss due to the fact that the military refused to tell her anything about where he’d been or what might have caused him to go missing.

She was a brave person who knew how to react quickly and appropriately in a crisis. Most of the scenes in this film were shown from her perspective.

 

Gina Rodriguez as Anya Thorensen.

 

Gina was a paramedic from Chicago.

She was an intelligent and cautious person who always put safety of herself and her crew first. I also enjoyed her subtle sense of humour.

 

Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dr. Ventress.

 

Dr. Ventress, a psychologist, was the team leader of this group. She had been responsible for performing psychological evaluations of and assembling all of the previous groups that had been sent into “The Shimmer.”

She was a stubborn, serious, and determined person. Once she set her mind to accomplish a goal, no one could dissuade her from pressing forward to achieve it. At times, she did come across as ill-tempered to me because of how unwilling she was to listen to the concerns of the other women in her group when their mission started to go awry.

 

Tessa Thompson as Josie Radek.

Josie was a physicist.

She was an intelligent and trusting woman whose natural inclination was to assume the best of everyone she met. If you forced me to pick a favourite character in this story, Josie would be it. I only wish the adventure had been told from her point of view instead.

 

Tuva Novotny (in centre) as Cassie “Cass” Shepherd.

 

Cass was a  geomorphologist. Her responsibility on this mission was to test the magnetic fields around the boundary to determine why drones, cellphones, and other types of technology malfunctioned so often within “The Shimmer.”

She was a quiet and hardworking person who seemed to have no interest in drawing attention to everything she did for the group. There’s something I admire about that.

My Review

One of the biggest reasons why I was so excited to see this film had to do with the fact that it had an all-female cast. I have never watched anything in the science fiction genre that was so centred on the experiences of women in an unfamiliar and dangerous environment. At most, I would have expected to see two women in this sort of tale. It was thrilling to have an entire team of women hiking into “The Shimmer” to discover its secrets. If you’re listening, Hollywood, we need many more stories like this in the future!

The beginning of the mission.

 

The diversity of the cast only drew me into the plot more. From age to race to sexual orientation, these characters were from a wide range of backgrounds.  It was a breath of fresh air to see them working together to reach a common goal without any of these labels being a source of conflict for the plot.

The beginning was a little confusing to me due to how much it jumped around from one time period to the next without much explanation about how all of the pieces fit together.  This is the only negative thing I’ll be saying about this film, and I’m mentioning it because it’s a storytelling device that I don’t generally find appealing. The writers did an excellent job of framing all of these seemingly-disparate scenes in ways that grabbed my attention, though, and I soon decided that I simply had to know how everything fit together.

In some ways, this wasn’t necessarily a typical science fiction movie. The pacing always remained steady, but the storyline was far more interested in encouraging the audience to ask probing questions about what was really happening to the characters as they marched deeper into “The Shimmer” than it was in surprising the audience with jump scares. I loved the fact that I was expected to think instead of bracing for the next monster leaping out of the shadows.

The apprehension I felt while watching this tale grew slowly. I wasn’t as frightened as I’d normally be while watching something from the horror genre, but I was more scared than I’d typically feel in a normal science fiction environment. With that being said, I’d still hesitate to include it in the horror genre despite what I’ll say about the gore in the next section of this review. The vast majority of the plot was centred on science fiction themes instead.

“The Shimmer” was not a safe place to visit regardless of how strong one might be or how many pieces of equipment they brought in to study this phenomenon. As beautiful as this area of land was at times, it was also full of dangers that could not always be predicted or avoided. The conflict between the peaceful setting and the anything-but-peaceful things that happened in it fascinated me.

The preview at the end of this post will show you a few examples of the types of things the characters experienced once they entered “The Shimmer”. Combining the DNA of species that would normally never be combined created all sorts of living beings that have to be seen to be believed. I was fascinated by how all of this worked and how far the storytellers ran with this concept.

I can’t go into any further details about what else the characters discovered without giving away spoilers, but I will tell you that it was quite creative and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. This was one of the major reasons why I’d recommend Annihilation so highly to anyone who has the slightest interest in checking it out.

The metaphors in this story were well written. I adored the fact that it could be interpreted from so many different angles, especially since the writers didn’t feel the need to nudge the audience in any particular direction. There was material to support multiple interpretations of what “The Shimmer” could be. One of the most popular theories about what it meant isn’t actually something I thought of when while I watching it, but it made perfect sense in retrospect.

I can’t say much else about this without giving away spoilers, but I would strongly encourage everyone to pay close attention to what is happening in the plot so you can come up with your own theories before wandering around online later on to see what other people thought.

A Note on the (Brief) Gore

There were two short but graphic scenes in this film. I was glad I’d been warned about them ahead of time so I could avert my eyes once they began. As I believe I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been losing interest in violence and bloodshed in fiction this year.

I’d be happy to privately share more information about when these scenes occur with anyone who would like to watch Annihilation but who might be hesitant about the gore factor. This is something I can discuss without giving away major spoilers, although I would have to share minor ones with you.

Should You Watch It?

Yes! I would heartily recommend watching Annihilation. It was a thought-provoking film that refused to spoon-feed its audience. I loved the process of figuring out what was really happening in “The Shimmer” and coming up with my own interpretations of how certain scenes should be understood.

Annihilation is available on iTunes.

A Dangerous Shortcut: A Review of The Ritual

Arsher Ali as Phil, Sam Troughton as Dom, Rafe Spall as Luke and Robert-James Collier as Hutch.

The Ritual is a British horror film based on Adam Nevill’s book by the same name. It was released on October 12, 2017 by Netflix.

This review is spoiler-free. As always, the only time I share spoilers about a movie or tv show on my site would be if I needed to warn my readers about potentially triggering material in it. There was nothing like that in this film.

The premise of The Ritual is a simple one. After losing an old university friend to a random act of violence, Phil, Dom, Luke, and Hutch went hiking and camping in a remote corner of Sweden to spend time together and honour the memory of their deceased friend.

About a day into their trip, Dom tripped and accidentally injured his knee. The group still had many kilometres to go through the mountains on their hike, and none of their cellphones could get a signal in such a remote location. The four characters decided to take a shortcut through the woods so that he could rest and get proper medical attention as soon as possible due to these factors.

A violent thunderstorm began soon after they entered the woods, so the characters sought refuge in an abandoned cabin for the night despite their deeply uneasy feelings about the property. They broke up a piece of the house to start a fire, and then settled down for a good night’s rest before hopefully continuing their journey in the morning.

As they were about to discover, they should have listened to those feelings. The cabin wasn’t abandoned after all, and the person/entity/thing who lived there wasn’t pleased by their trespassing at all. (I must be purposefully vague on this point in order to avoid giving you too many hints about who or what these characters angered).

The Characters

My main criticism of this film has to do with how similar all four of the characters were. Phil, Dom, Luke, and Hutch all had fairly outgoing, sarcastic, and jovial personalities that tended to blend into one another.

There also wasn’t a lot of information given about their backstories.  What were their occupations? Were they married or otherwise in longterm relationships? If they weren’t single, were their partners men or women? Did they have kids? The references to their adult lives were so sparse that I still don’t know the answers to these questions for all four of the main characters in this storyline. As nice as it was to have some of these questions answered for some of them, I thought it was odd that such basic information wasn’t provided for everyone.

I had a difficult time thinking of them as individuals because of this. While I’d certainly expect such a tight-knit group of old friends to share many common interests, it would have been nice to have more character development before the plot picked up so that I could remember who was who when they did make rare references to their personal lives. Sharing details about who they shared their lives with and what occupations they had would have gone a long way to separating these characters in my mind.

There’s nothing wrong with a plot-driven storyline, but I do think this one would have been even better if it had taken more time to show who the characters were before putting them into terrible danger.

The Antagonist

There isn’t much I can say about the antagonist without giving away major spoilers, but I was much happier with how this portion of the plot was handled.

The backstory was well-developed and fit into the storyline nicely. I especially liked the fact that it took the characters as long as they did to learn anything at all about what was lurking in the woods. This wasn’t a case of characters knowing in advance that a particular spot had a bad reputation and deciding to explore it anyway.

They had no idea what they were about to stumble into after the thunderstorm began, and that made the later events of the plot even more exciting than they would have otherwise been. It also provided plausible deniability for why they didn’t immediately leave the cabin they were staying in the first time something frightening happened in it.

In my opinion, horror movies are most enjoyable when the characters genuinely had no idea what they were getting into before the first bizarre things happens to them.

The Horror

One of the things I always want to know before I watch something from this genre is what sort of horror we’re talking about.

Is the plot gory? Does the fear the characters and audience feel mostly come from anticipation, or will we actually see whatever it is that seems to be roaming around in the woods and hunting them down? Do the characters react sensibly the first time they sense something is horribly wrong?

Once again, I’m dancing around spoilers here, so bear with me if I don’t fully answer all of your questions.

The first thing I’d say about the plot is that it is firmly planted in the horror genre. If you love being scared, there are plenty of spine-chilling scenes to come when you begin watching The Ritual. I had to watch a couple of scenes from the corner of my eye because of how scared I was for the characters in them.

As far as the gore goes, it definitely existed. This isn’t something I’d recommend to people who have a phobia of blood or gore even though the scenes that included those things were only a small part of the storyline overall.

I don’t like slasher movies, and this wasn’t one of them. The build up to the moment the characters realize the cabin they’ve broken into had never been abandoned at all was handled nicely. Honestly, the storyline was just as much about that moment as it was about everything that happened afterwards.

This isn’t the sort of tale that has any sort of profound messages about death, grief, or friendship woven into it. I’m not criticizing it by saying that, either. Not everything in life needs to be deep in order to be enjoyable. This is a classic horror film in every way, and the characters fit into that genre beautifully.

Should You Watch It?

If you love the horror genre and are in the mood for a satisfying scare, I would recommend this film.

It’s More Than Just Survival: A Review of Into the Forest

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the never-ending list of films I’d like to see someday. Into the Forest was the first movie from that list I’ve watched since then, and I liked it so much that I decided to review it today.  This story does include a rape scene that I will be discussing briefly later on in this post, so consider this a spoiler warning and a trigger warning (if needed). 

 Into the Forest is a Canadian film based on a young adult book by the same title by Jean Hegland. It followed the lives of two sisters, Nell and Eva, after the west coast of the United States permanently lost power for unknown reasons and society fell apart.

One of the things that made this story unique was how few characters it has. While there were a handful of people who were briefly part of the time in Eva and Nell’s lives that was covered in this film, the vast majority of the storyline was about the complex relationship between these sisters and how hard they worked to survive on their own at their rural home.

Eva, the older sister, had been studying to become a professional dancer before the blackout. Nell, the younger sister, was preparing to take her SATs and apply for college. They were smart young women, but neither one of them had any experience in practical skills like hunting, first aid, farming, or self defence before this adventure began.

 

Ellen Page as Nell and Evan Rachel Wood as Eva in Into the Woods. ©Elevation Pictures.

 

One of my favourite parts of this  film was the strong pacing of it in the beginning. The electricity went out a few minutes into the story without any advanced warning, so the characters almost immediately needed to make major adjustments to their lifestyle. Nell and Eva had been so loved and sheltered that neither of them really understood how much their lives changed in that moment, but they were about to find out.

I’ll be honest with you: it took a while for these characters to grow on me. They were young and a little entitled in the beginning. I didn’t appreciate the way they complained about small inconveniences like not having enough spare power to play music when there were far more important things in be for them to be worried about.

With that being said, I adored the complex relationship between these sisters. Eva and Nell argued, played, dreamed, and schemed with each other just like all siblings have since the beginning of time. They had a bond that was stronger than anything else in their little world. Watching them both mature from girls into confident women together was a highlight of this story for me.

Since they hadn’t known that the blackout was coming, there was no logical way for their family to stock up on food, basic medical supplies, gasoline, or anything else that would have made their lives easier once all of the stores shut down. The few items they were able to buy shortly after the power grid failed were precious, but they were a drop in the bucket when compared to what this family actually needed in the longterm.

While I would have liked to see a little more character development, I did end up liking Nell and Eva quite a bit by the end. They proved just how resourceful they could be in a world where they could only rely on themselves and each other to stay safe. As young women who were living in an incredibly isolated area, they either had to learn to work together or risk dying alone from starvation, injuries, or the violent urges of other human beings.

Yes, that was a reference to the rape scene. I hated the fact that one of these characters had to add that traumatic experience to all of the other awful things they went through as they struggled to survive, but this is something that  regularly happens to people even when police officers still exist and can be called for help. From what I’ve read, the risk of sexual assault skyrockets after disasters of any kind.

The foreshadowing in this film was really well done in general. It was subtle, but any attentive viewer could find satisfying hints about what will happen later on if they paid close attention to the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the storyline. Since this was originally written for teenagers, I liked the fact that there were so many hints about what these sisters were about to experience. It was the right choice for this age group.

I also appreciated the fact that Nell and Eva knew almost nothing about what was going on in the outside world. As much as I wanted to know what caused the power outage and whether cities and towns had begun to get back to normal after a year or two had passed, it made sense that two young people who were living in a house in the woods far away from the nearest community wouldn’t have any way of knowing for sure what was happening elsewhere or whether the few vague rumours they’d heard were at all true.

 

Potentially Sensitive Content

As I mentioned earlier on, this film does contain a rape scene. While it was shot in an artistic manner that focused on the victim’s face instead of more graphic material, this is something that viewers who are sensitive to this topic should be aware of in advance. The rape played an important role in what happened later on in the storyline, and it was referenced later on multiple times as the characters reacted to it and the victim healed from it.

The gore factor was pretty low in general, although one character did die in a brief but bloody accident early on and there was a hunting scene later on that showed a wild animal being butchered after it was shot.

Should You Watch It?

Yes, I would recommend watching Into the Forest to both teen and adult viewers. Due to the mature themes, I wouldn’t recommend to anyone under the age of fourteen.

5 Reasons Why You Should Become a Reviewer for Long and Short Reviews

Today’s post is a little off the beaten path when compared to the topics I normally blog about here, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about discussing with my followers for a while now.

First of all, you might be asking yourself what this site is and why I’m telling you about it. Well, Long and Short Reviews is a book reviewing site that I’ve been a huge fan of for many years. They are the most professional, trustworthy, and well-run review site I’ve discovered so far, and I’ve spent countless hours researching this topic.

Long and Short Reviews comes to mind every time one of my author friends talks about their need for more book reviews. There are so many amazing stories out there that really deserve more recognition. One of the best ways for them to be discovered by people who would love them is if reviewers take the time to write about them. The more reviews an author can get, the more chances they have to find their perfect audience.

There Are Many Books to Choose From

Long and Short Reviews receives more requests for reviews than it’s current pool of reviewers can read.

Whether you’d like to read erotica, romance, mysteries, science fiction, paranormal, horror, fantasy, young adult, or children’s stories, there’s something for every reader there.

They have short stories, novellas, and full-length novels in all of these genres, too. The vast majority of the books they have available for review are e-books, so it doesn’t matter what part of the world you’re from. Any reviewer who is comfortable writing in English is encouraged to apply.

Every volunteer reviewer is also free to review from as many or as few genres as they please. Some of them only read one genre while others are known to write reviews from a wide variety of genres. No one is ever assigned a particular story. They are always free to make that decision for themselves.

All of the Reviews Are Honest and Snark-Free

One of the biggest reasons why I like Long and Short Reviews is their policy of only posting honest, snark-free reviews.

If one of the reviewers notices an issue with a story, they aren’t afraid to speak openly about what didn’t work for them and why that part of the plot, character development, pacing, or other aspect of the storyline could use some more development.

Nothing is sugar-coated, but it’s also never snarky. Any criticism a book might receive is always written with the goal of helping the author become a better writer in the future.

The kindness of their reviewers is seen in every review, from the ones that receive the highest possible score to the ones that receive the lowest possible score. I’ve seen multiple examples of authors thanking reviewers there for pointing out the parts of a story that didn’t work for them and explaining their reasons for feeling that way.

It’s a Great Way to Support Authors

As I alluded to above, writing reviews are one of the best ways to support authors. I have a wide circle of friends who are writers, and many of them talk about the difficulties of finding potential fans out there.

Every review that is published increases the chances of someone stumbling across an author they’ve never heard of before but are going to love.

I always read the reviews before I buy a new book or borrow it from the library. Doing this has steered me towards certain titles and away from other ones on many occasions.

Not every story is going to appeal to every reader. By taking the time to type up reviews of the types of books you like, you increase the chances of them being discovered by other potential fans.

Yes, I’m including less-than-stellar reviews here as well. While some criticisms that are objective like not using standard punctuation marks, many other parts of the reviewing process are highly subjective.  One person’s pet peeve in a particular genre might be stuff that another reader doesn’t mind or even really likes.The more reviews a book has, the higher the chances are of it being found by new fans who are in the market for that exact kind of story.

The Community Is Warm and Supportive

The comment sections of the reviews and blog posts on Long and Short Reviews are a wonderful place to browse if you have some free time this week.

I’ve met so many interesting people as a result of spending time on this site.

Some of the authors there have been submitting their books for years. They’ve built up relationships with the reviewers and their readers over that time that occasional spills over into the comments section.

There are also relationships being built in Saturday Seven, the weekly book meme this site created a few weeks ago that you may have noticed I’ve been participating in. It’s going to be a lot of fun to see how that community grows in the future.

You May Discover New Favourite Authors

This is by far the most subjective point on this list.

I obviously can’t promise when it might happen for you or even if it will happen at all. So much depends on what you like to read and what kinds of tales are sent in for possible review in any given month.

With that being said, Long and Short Reviews has many Indie authors and small publishers who are regularly featured there. I’d never heard of most of them before I began following this site.

A few of the authors I first discovered on this site have since been added to my very short list of authors on my I Must Read Everything They Write list.

Given how much of my free time I spend reading and how high my standards are for my must-read list, this is a pretty big compliment. If an author makes it to that list, they’re virtually always bound to stay there for good.

If You’re Interested…

If any of my readers are interested in signing up to become a reviewer, this page has all of the rest of the information you’ll need to apply. Go check them out on Twitter or the book reviews section on Long and Short Reviews to get a feel for the kind of casual, conversational writing style they’re looking for.

Don’t hesitate to speak up if you have any questions. The people who run that site are quite friendly and helpful. Of course, I’m happy to help you out, too!

A Spoiler-Free Review of Alias Grace

“When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless… Read More