Tag Archives: Robert J. Sawyer

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Books That Need a Sequel

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

I struggled with this week’s prompt because I’ve seen so many examples of genuinely great story ideas that were stretched out into more books than their premise actually required in my opinion. If they’d stopped after the first or third or fifth book they would have been much better.

This isn’t to say that I dislike sequels in general. Some of my all-time favourite stories were written in this format! There simply needs to be enough conflict and character development to actually warrant two or more books in any universe if I’m going to keep reading them.

Due to this, my list is going to be shorter and quirkier than usual.

Christy by Catherine Marshall

This is one of the very few inspirational novels I’ve ever read, and it’s been many years since I read it. The plot was loosely based on the real life experiences of the author’s mother when she was a schoolteacher in a rural Appalachian community in the early 1900s. Christy, the main character, had been quite sheltered growing up, so she was horrified by the poverty, dysfunction, and terrible living conditions of her new home when she accepted this teaching job.

As smart and energetic as Christy was, I didn’t like how judgemental she was of the families of her students or of how quick she was to meddle in their lives. She seemed to have good intentions, but I would have been pretty offended by her attitude and how much she thought she should have control over what other adults did if we’d lived in the same area.

There was still a lot of room left for her personal development by the final scene. It sure would be nice to revisit this character later on in life to see if she’d overcome these flaws.  Part of the problem was that she was a very young teacher when she accepted this assignment. With some more life experience, I think she would have reacted to this culture quite differently.

Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer

This book was written by one of Canada’s best science fiction authors, and it’s about a Royal Ontario Museum palaeontologist who meets a friendly sentient alien.

They strike up a friendship and begin to share information about their cultures, histories, and physiologies. There are far more similarities between Earth and the alien’s planet than should be possible.

Both the main character and his alien friend have their own opinions about why their planets have so much in common. I can’t give away what those theories are without sharing spoilers, but I really liked seeing how they debated the evidence and came to their own conclusions. (No, this is not an inspirational book despite what the title may hint at. It’s far more science and philosophy based).

Oh, and The R.O.M. is a real museum here in Toronto. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re ever in the area. They have everything from Egyptian mummies to rare gems to dinosaur fossils there. If you do visit, I can even tell you how to get in for free no matter how big your group is if you have some flexibility as far as the date and time of your visit goes.

Well, this was a short list this week. I hope all of you were able to come up with lots of books to talk about on yours.

Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question. The image below is the list of upcoming prompts for this blog hop.

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.

Characters I’d Invite to Thanksgiving Dinner

Happy Thanksgiving, Canadian readers! I’m enjoying a nice, quiet Thanksgiving this year while also wondering what it would be like to celebrate this holiday with characters from some of my favourite books.

If I could, I’d sure love to share this holiday with the following people:

1. Anne Shirley from the L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series.

She’d be welcomed to bring her legal guardians, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, along as well. As someone who is almost always quiet, I’d love to listen to her chatter about whatever it was that had happened to her recently.

It would also be interesting to get more details about her life before she was adopted if she was willing to share them.Some of my favourite scenes in this series were the ones that showed how they all enriched each other’s lives.

2. The entire Weasley family from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

Yes, I’d need a much bigger table to include all of them, but I’d love to see this huge, loving family in action. I’d bet their Thanksgiving dinners would be joyful (and quite noisy) every single year, especially once there were grandchildren in the picture.

3. Afsan from Robert J. Sawyer’s Far-Seer trilogy. 

Not only would it be cool to see what a Tyrannosaurs would want to eat for Thanksgiving, I’d love to talk to this character about his impressions of human customs in general. (His species was sentient and quite intelligent in this series). He’d almost certainly be as horrified and/or amused by some of the things we do as we would be by certain Tyrannosaurs customs.

4. Starr Carter from Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give.

Starr was such an easy character to love. My sympathy for her only grew stronger after she watched a police officer kill her best friend in one of the earliest scenes of her story. I’d want to fix her a big plate of food and offer her any comfort I could over the holidays.

5. Anna from Claire Cameron’s The Bear.

Anna was a six-year-old girl whose family went on a camping trip in a remote section of a national park. After her parents were killed by a bear, she had to figure out how to get her younger brother and herself to safety.

This was one of the most intense things I’ve ever read. I wish it were possible to catch up with characters years later to see how they’re doing. She was so young when the attack happened that she didn’t understand what was going on. While I would never ask about the deaths of her parents specifically, I’d love to know what her life was like after the events of the final scene.

6. Patricia Cowan from Jo Walton’s My Real Children

Patricia might have lived in one of two different timelines during the course of this book depending on which memories of hers you tend to believe are the genuine ones.

Not only did the course of her life take radically different turns in each timeline, the course of human history did as well. I can’t say much else without giving away spoilers, but I’d sure like to talk to this character so I could find out which version of the events she remembered actually took place.

7. Hattie Shepherd and her descendants from Ayana Mathis’ The Twelve Tribes of Hattie.

The first chapter of this tale showed Hattie desperately attempting to save her first two children, a set of twins who were dying from pneumonia in 1923 when such a disease was much harder to treat than it is today. The rest of the storyline showed what happened to this woman and the nine other children she had after the deaths of her first two babies.

Her extended family as a whole wasn’t a particularly emotionally healthy one. I believe that Hattie would have been diagnosable if she’d lived in a time and place where seeing the doctor for mental health concerns was socially acceptable. As it was, her undiagnosed illness damaged her relationships with all of her surviving children and their families.

Sometimes dysfunctional ways of interacting with the world can be passed down for generations when people either can’t recognize the harmful patterns in their family or aren’t willing to try to change them. I’ve seen it happen both in real life and in fiction. It’s as sad as it is fascinating. I’d love to invite different combinations of people from this family to various dinners to see if I could figure out how they’ve changed over the years.

Which character would you invite to your Thanksgiving dinner?

My Favourite Canadian Books

Happy belated Canada Day!

One of the most interesting parts of moving to Canada was getting to read some of the amazing books that have been written by Canadian authors over the years.

From what I’ve observed, there seems to be a lot of Canadian literature that isn’t necessarily that well-known in the United States. While I can’t say for sure if this is true for other countries as well, I hope that all of my readers, Canadian and otherwise, find something that piques their interest on this list.

On one final note, I narrowed this list down to books and authors that I hadn’t heard of at all before I moved up north. This meant leaving out some fabulous writers like L.M. Montgomery and Margaret Atwood simply because so many people across the world have already discovered their work.

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

The Stone Angel has actually become one of my favourite books of all time even though Hagar, the main character, was often a pretty unpleasant person to those closest to her. What I enjoyed the most about the storytelling was how real it felt. As I believe I’ve mentioned on this site before, Hagar went through some incredibly difficult experiences throughout her long life. She was treated poorly by both her parents and the much-older man she married as a young adult. It was so interesting to get to know this character and come to understand why she was so stubborn and prickly at the end of her life.

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

Raising an intersex child can come with some additional challenges, especially for a family that decided to keep this part of their child’s identity top-secret. I knew almost nothing about this topic before I read this book, but I was impressed with the way the author explored everything from how gender identity is formed to how a secret can take on a life of its own.

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

It took me a couple of tries to get into this story, but once I did I couldn’t wait to find out what else Saul remembered about his life as he lay dying in a hospice bed. There is something about looking back on one’s life and finally attempting to put all of the pieces together after years of ignoring them that really speaks to me.

The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy

 I was especially interested in discovering how the three youngest siblings in this tale compared their childhoods. There is something fascinating about seeing all of the similarities and differences siblings will remember when they were raised in the same home. My family only had three children in total, but I’d say that all of us would still describe our childhoods in different ways based on how our family culture evolved as we grew older.

I also enjoyed this peek into Chinatown, Vancouver from so many decades ago. The families who moved to such a faraway place that often rejected them were very brave.

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

Reading about an eleven-year-old girl being kidnapped in Africa before being sold into slavery in the United States isn’t an easy experience. I can’t recommend this book to anyone who is triggered by violence or sexual assault, but the storyline is well worth the read for everyone else. Aminata was an incredibly brave character. I loved seeing how she changed over the years as well as how her yearning to return home and be with her family again never wavered no matter how many years she spent far away from her birthplace.

Missed Her by Ivan E. Coyote

Not only is Ivan a gifted storyteller, she’s hilarious as well. I’d especially recommend this book to members of the LGBT+ community who grew up in small towns or anyone who has ever wondered what that experience is like.

Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer

Longterm readers may recognize this author. I’m  a huge fan of his writing, and I’ve talked about his books here several times before. Someday I might have to dedicate an entire post to him.

Calculating God was the first thing I ever read from Robert. At the time, I was quickly growing uninterested in religious themes of any sort in novels, so it took me a while to decide to pick this tale up. I made assumptions about it’s content that turned out to be pretty off the mark. While it did ask questions about the nature of faith and why sentient beings choose to believe a wide variety of things about the existence (or non-existence) of any deity, the vast majority of the plot was actually about a palaeontologist who was stunned when an alien wandered into the Royal Ontario Museum, his workplace, one day and asked for help.

This is the sort of thing I’ve since been recommending to people who might think they’ll never like science fiction. Not only was it an excellent story, it was thought provoking and a smart introduction to my favourite genre as well.

What are your favourite Canadian books? If there are any fellow immigrants or longterm world travellers following this site, what authors were you most excited to discover when you settled into your new country?

Saturday Seven: Series That Should Be Turned Into TV Shows

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

A friend of mine is absolutely obsessed with Game of Thrones. I’d guess that at least a third of the conversations we have somehow include a reference to this show. Even though I’ve never actually watched Game of Thrones, I’m beginning to understand a lot of her references to it because of how much she talks about it.

The more she gushes about it, the more I think about all of the series that I’d love to see brought to the small screen. All of them are so full of dazzling details about their worlds that it would take a few seasons of a TV show to even begin to fully explore what they have to offer.

 

1. The Earths’ Children series by Jean M. Auel. 

This series has it all: adventure; action, mammoths, romance, unsolved mysteries, Neanderthals, and even a stubborn pet wolf that occasionally refuses to do what he’s told.

Ayla, the main character, was a human who was orphaned at the age of five in an earthquake. She was discovered and raised by Neanderthals. The Clan of the Cave Bear told the story of her highly unusual childhood. The sequels showed what happened after she was disowned by the folks who raised her and forced to eke out a living alone while she searched for signs of other humans.

Without giving away any spoilers, I was not happy with how the final book ended due to how many conflicts were still left unresolved in the last scene. If this were made into a TV show, we’d have another chance to resolve those issues for the characters.

 

2. The Neanderthal Parallax trilogy Robert J. Sawyer.

If only all of you knew how tempted I was to talk about nothing but Neanderthals today! I love stories about them, and there are a lot of great ones out there. I might just have to blog about them on a future Saturday Seven post.

The unusual thing about this series is that it’s set in the present day. Ponter Boddit, the main character, accidentally pierced the veil between his Earth and our own early on in the plot and ended up accidentally getting transported to our universe. On his alternate version of Earth, humans died out tens of thousands of years ago while Neanderthals like him had become the dominant species.

I can’t tell you anything about the Neanderthals’ version of Earth without giving away major spoilers, but I was fascinated by all of the cultural and physiological differences between them and us. Some of them were things that I never would have thought of as a possible difference between our two species.

 

3. The Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.

This series immediately came to mind when I saw the film The Martian a few years ago. Colonizing Mars would be an incredibly expensive and difficult endeavour for the first few generations to do it.

Based on how much audiences loved watching Matt Damon’s character figure out how to survive alone on such a harsh planet, I think there would be an audience out there who would like to see Nadia Cherneshevsky and her team struggle to create the first Martian settlement.

Future generations in this trilogy even eventually terraformed Mars into something very Earth-like with lakes, forests, and everything else you’d expect from a habitable planet. How cool would that be to see on the small screen!

 

4. The Xenogenesis trilogy by Octavia E. Butler.

This series began with a massive nuclear war that (supposedly) killed every last human on Earth. The main character’s husband and son were among those dead.  When she woke up in an unfamiliar place hundreds of years later, she had no idea why or how she was still alive. It turned out that an alien species called the Oankali had intervened at the last possible moment and saved a small percentage of humanity from certain extinction.

That paragraph alone could provide enough fodder for the first season of a TV show, and that barely scratched the surface of everything that happened in this trilogy. Not only did the main character have to grieve the loss of her family, she had to figure out why the Oankali had saved a small percentage of humanity and what they wanted from us in exchange.

 

5. The Quintaglio Ascension trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer.

I have five words for you: intelligent dinosaurs who can speak.

Afsan, the main character, was about to go through a rite of passage that would make him an adult in the eyes of his society when this tale began. His species worshipped a heavenly body known as the Face of God. Every Quintaglio (which is their name for their reptilian species) must go on a quest to observe it when they become an adult.

The problem was, Afsan noticed something about the Face of God on his journey that contradicted a major tenant of his religion. He then had to decide whether to reveal this knowledge or keep it to himself.

The world building was extremely well done. Afsan had a deeply reptilian understanding of the world, and it showed in how he responded to all kinds of situations that a human would have a completely different response to. For example, the way his species treats their young is nothing at all like how humans treat their young. He would be as horrified by some of our practices as we would be of his, and that would make for must-watch television in my opinion!

 

6. The Avalon series by Marion Zimmer Bradley. 

I was never particularly into any Arthurian legends, but I loved this series immediately. The Mists of Avalon retold the legend of King Arthur from the perspective of his sister Morgaine. While The Mists of Avalon was technically made into a mini-series many years ago, the next six books in the series have never received the same treatment as far as I know.

They really fleshed out this world, though, and I think it would be wonderful to finally see the entire story from beginning to end on the small screen. One of them, Ancestors of Avalon, even described how and why Stonehenge was created. Sadly, I’ve forgotten most of the plot of that book, but now I really want to reread it. I am just a little bit obsessed with Stonehenge in general, so it would be really cool to see those scenes come to life.

 

7. The Watership Down series by Richard Adams.

Anyone who has read this blog for a long time and remembers how much I love rabbits won’t be surprised by the final entry on my list at all. I can’t imagine many things more interesting than an entire TV show about a warren of rabbits who are desperately trying to find a new home.

While there were cute and fuzzy moments just like you’d expect from this species, there were also a lot of heart-pounding action scenes. Life is frightening and dangerous for prey species. This is even more true when a large group of rabbits are trying to move to a new home through completely unfamiliar and often dangerous territory. I think this book would make a fantastic TV show because of that.

Have you read any of the books on my list this week? What series do you wish would be turned into a TV show?