Tag Archives: Coronavirus

Stay Home, Stay Safe: A Review of The Machine Stops

Vintage Science Fiction Blog Challenge badge. It shows a rocket ship against a red background. There is a bubble city in the background. Vintage Science Fiction month takes place every January, and has a few guidelines:

 – read, watch, listen to, or experience something science fiction / fantasy that was created in 1979 or earlier

 – talk about it online sometime in January

 – have fun

If any of my readers are also interested in participating this month, let Little Red Reviewer know about your posts if you’d like them to be included in her official roundups. 


Title
: The Machine Stops

Author: E.M. Forster

Publisher: The Oxford and Cambridge Review

Publication Date: November 1909

Genres: Science Fiction

Length: 25 pages

Source: I read it for free on the UC Davis site 

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

“The Machine Stops”” is a science fiction short story (12,300 words) by E. M. Forster. After initial publication in The Oxford and Cambridge Review (November 1909), the story was republished in Forster’s The Eternal Moment and Other Stories in 1928. After being voted one of the best novellas up to 1965, it was included that same year in the populist anthology Modern Short Stories.[1] In 1973 it was also included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two.The story, set in a world where humanity lives underground and relies on a giant machine to provide its needs, predicted technologies such as instant messaging and the Internet.”

Review:

Book cover for The Machine Stops Here by E.M. Forster. Image on cover shows a big, red bow on an analogue clock. Who needs in-person contact when you have virtual gatherings?

There were some fascinating parallels between how Vashti had lived her entire life and what the Covid-19 pandemic was like for those of us who were lucky enough to work from home and order many necessities online. Vashti could summon anything with the touch of a button, from food to a warm bath, to an assortment of friends who wanted to hear a lecture on human history. She virtually never had reason to leave her home at all, and neither did the rest of humanity. It was supposed to keep everyone safe and content, and yet not everyone Vashti met was necessarily happy to live this way for reasons I’ll leave up to other readers to explore. What I can say is that staying home to reduce the spread of a pandemic is quite different from spending your entire lifetime in one room no matter how nice that room is. The various human reactions to them are similar, though!

The ending was confusing to me. I needed to google it to make sure that my understanding of what happened in that scene matched what the author was trying to convey. While I did find my answer, I do wish the author had been more forthcoming about what was going on there. He had several thought-provoking ideas he was working with throughout the course of this tale. All he needed to do was develop them a little more fully and I would have given this a much higher rating.

With that being said, I did think the conclusion was much more realistic than what typically happens with dystopian tales published in modern day. I appreciated the fact that the themes and hints embedded in earlier scenes were allowed to play out so naturally. While I did wonder if this twist was coming in advance, that was a good thing. It was nice to have a consistent experience even if it wasn’t something that most contemporary authors would do.

The Machine Stops was ahead of its time. Anyone who likes dystopias should check it out.

My Most Popular Posts of 2021

A drawing of a bar chart whose bars move up and down but mostly up.
Let’s pretend these are my proper analytics.

Every December I make a list of my most popular posts of the year. This is something I first began doing in 2017 with a roundup of my 10 most popular posts.

In 2018, I decided to double that number in response to my blogging friend Tom Williams doing the same thing. I continued that tradition in 2019 and 2020 and am back again today with this year’s entry.

This year’s list won’t be as accurate as it was for previous years because the Google Analytics on my site isn’t collecting information anymore and I’ve missed out on some data while trying to figure out why it stopped working.

What can you do? Nothing in life works perfectly all of the time, and I’m grateful for the information I do have about visitors to this site in 2021. Hopefully, my 2022 analytic information will be complete.

The other unusual thing about this year was that I blogged less often during it. I used to write posts on Mondays about fitness, speculative fiction, meditation, and other topics. This wasn’t something I had a lot of emotional energy for this year due to grief and other aspects of the pandemic, so most of my posts were of more structured topics like book reviews or responses to blog hops like Top Ten Tuesday (TTT) or the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge (WWBC). (Those acronyms are included below when applicable).

We will see if this changes next year.

With all of that being said, here are some of my personal favourite posts in no particular order:

. Search Engine Questions from 2020 

This is often my most amusing post of the year! People search for the oddest and funniest stuff online.

Man struggling to open a jar of pickles. The man is not wearing a shirt.  What I Read in 2020 

A Photo Essay Update on Damaged Toronto Trees 

How I Changed My Mind About Weightlifting 

My Interview at Ginger Nuts of Horror

My Goals for 2021 (WWBC)

What I Include In My Content Warnings and Why

 

 

And here are my 10 most popular posts of 2021 according to the data that Google Analytics was able to collect:

A cellphone. Someone has searched for Google Analytics in it’s browser. 10. My Greatest Weakness (WWBC)

9. Places in Books I’d Love to Live (TTT)

8. Colourful Book Covers (TTT)

7. Books That Made Me Laugh Out Loud (TTT)

6. Books I Loved That Made Me Want More of Them (TTT)

5. LGBT+ Book Quotes (TTT)

4. Bookish Gifs (TTT)

3. Books With Mountains on Their Covers (TTT)

2. Books I’d Gladly Throw Into the Ocean (TTT)

1. Books About Fresh Starts (TTT

 

I love that fact that Books About Fresh Starts was my most popular post of 2021.  May 2022 be a better year for us all!

 

No Space of Regret: A Review of A Covid Christmas Carol

Book cover for A Covid Christmas Carol by Evan Sykes. image on cover shows a Christmas tree wearing a mask and some googly eyes. Title: A Covid Christmas Carol

Author: Evan Sykes

Publisher: Junco Books (Self-Published)

Publication Date: December 19, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Holiday, Paranormal, Retelling, Contemporary

Length: 88 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

 

The 2020 Holiday Season might have been cancelled by this year’s super-villain, Covid-19, but fear not! Good cheer is at hand in this hilarious, satirical retelling of one of the season’s most loved stories: A Covid Christmas Carol.

Mr. Anatole Gasper and Dickens’ Scrooge have a lot in common: Both their business partners are dead; both are curmudgeonly, solitary and mean; and both get their wake-up call in a series of wild, haunted dreams on Christmas Eve. For Gasper—as the year is 2020—these dreams include a huge, orange, Covid-spreading turkey that tweets, a doddering phantom riding a decrepit blue donkey without direction, and Santa, of course, whose red-nosed reindeers for once shed an unwelcome light over the festivities.

There’s nothing more heartening than seeing a dyed-in-the-wool grouch change into a merry, old soul, and Gasper’s ghostly dreams promise to do just that.

So, while this Holiday Season might be like no other, spend an hour in the company of this modern Scrooge and let the festive cheer flow!

Review:

Content Warning: Heart attack and Covid-19.

Don’t let the cover of this book fool you. This is just as much a Thanksgiving tale as it is a Christmas one, and the lessons in it can be applied to many other winter holidays as well!

I appreciated the author’s light touch on the social messages he included in this tale. Mr. Dickens writing style worked well for the nineteenth century, but the modern approach to gently nudging readers in certain directions in this retelling was perfect for the twenty-first century. Mr. Sykes’ decision to write it this way was an excellent one. While this wasn’t my only reason for choosing a five-star rating, it certainly influenced it heavily.

It’s rare for me to come across speculative fiction stories that occur during Thanksgiving, so I was excited to read this one. Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that showed what Thanksgiving was like for Gasper when he was a child. They went a long way in explaining how and why he’d become such a greedy and socially isolated man as an adult. I simultaneously wanted to hug the person he was as a child and encourage his adult self to seek professional help for his often dysfunctional behaviour. The mixture of emotions he stirred up in me made me want to learn more about him, too. He was a complex and interesting character for sure.

I loved the way the author included Covid-19 in the storyline as well. While I can’t go into much detail about that without giving away spoilers, it felt perfectly natural. The foreshadowing for it was subtle and well done. It had a timeless feeling to it as well. This could have been set at nearly any time during the pandemic due to how carefully it was written, and I think it will also age nicely over the next few years at bare minimum, too.

The writing style was descriptive but never flowery. It gave me the exact right amount of details about the characters and settings. I could picture all of them clearly in my mind, but the formation of them never interrupted the fast-paced storyline. Once again, the author’s homage to Mr. Dickens style was undeniable, and his attempt to modernize such a familiar old tale couldn’t have been done any better. I was quite impressed by all of the work Mr. Sykes put into this and will be keeping an eye out for more of his stories in the future.

A Covid Christmas Carol was a thought-provoking read that is as relevant today as it was in 2020. I will end this review with a quote from both the original Christmas Carol as well as this retelling of it: “no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity missed.”

Top Ten Tuesday: Halloween Picture Books

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

Candies made to look like a pumpkin and a ghost. Happy Halloween to those of you who celebrate it! If you live in a country where it is a big deal, I hope you find some amazing Halloween candy for sale on November 1.

I will be on the lookout for a bag or two of it myself in the near future. Do you think I’ll be successful?

As I’ve mentioned here before, Halloween is my favourite holiday of the year! Normally, I’d be sharing something like free horror stories, or spooky urban legends from Toronto, or free ghost stories.

This darn pandemic has sharply reduced my interest in anything that’s more than about 1% scary, however, so this year I’m going to stick to the light and fluffy side of this holiday by sharing some cute Halloween-themed picture books instead.

Hopefully, my response to this prompt next year will be closer to my usual patterns.

Behind the Mask by Yangsook Choi Book cover. Image on cover shows an Asian child wearing a mask.

1. Behind the Mask by Yangsook Choi

 

Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara Book cover. image on cover is a drawing of several ghosts flying out and around a house. There is a young girl and a cat standing in front of the house smiling slightly.

2. Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara

 

You Are My Pumpkin by Joyce Wan Book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a smiling pumpkin.

3. You Are My Pumpkin by Joyce Wan

 

The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman Book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a child drawing on a wall.

4. The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman

 

 

Halloween by Salina Yoon Book cover. Image on cover shows a pumpkin with the word Halloween carved as its mouth.

5. Halloween by Salina Yoon

 

Be Brave, Baby Rabbit by Lucy Bate book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of two rabbits wearing costumes and going trick or treating.

6. Be Brave, Baby Rabbit by Lucy Bate

 

Mouse and Mole: A Perfect Halloween by Wong Herbert Yee Book cover. Image on cover shows forest mice dressed as ghosts and other spooky creatures going trick or treating in the woods.

7. Mouse and Mole: A Perfect Halloween by Wong Herbert Yee

 

Candy Corn! by Bea Sloboder Book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a bag filled with candy corn.

8. Candy Corn! by Bea Sloboder

 

Celie and the Harvest Fiddler by Valerie Flournoy Book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a girl dancing in a field near a fence. A drawing of a man playing the fiddle is superimposed on top of her.

9. Celie and the Harvest Fiddler by Valerie Flournoy

 

Halloween ABC by Jannie Ho book cover. Image on cover shows various Halloween monsters sharing a bag of candy.

10. Halloween ABC by Jannie Ho

 

 

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Scariest Books I’ve Ever Read

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and here to see the full list of topics for the year.

Drawing of man wearing a business suit and lookign scared
The least scary horror image I could find.

I read a lot of horror before the Covid-19 pandemic began, but that changed as the reality of it sunk in.   Maybe someday I’ll be able to dive back into this genre again?

In the meantime, here are some of the scariest tales I’ve read and my (non-spoiler-y) reasons why I found them so frightening.

Cujo by Stephen King

Why It’s Scary: Rabies is a horribly real disease, and just about everything in this book could actually happen in real life. I was bitten without provocation by a (non-rabid) dog many years ago, so there’s also the added horror of knowing how unpredictable some animals can be.

 

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Why It’s Scary: The link above will direct you to a free pdf of this tale. It started off so gently that I had no idea what was coming, but the ending made me shudder. I actively look for the good in everyone and assume the best of their intentions, but some can be persuaded to do terrible things under certain circumstances.

 

Annihilation (Southern Reach, #1) by Jeff VanderMeer

Why It’s Scary: These characters entered area X knowing that communication with the outside world would be severed and that the rules of physics and biology in that area were wildly unpredictable at best. I would be terrified to explore a place like that, but it did make for a fantastic book and film.

 

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Why It’s Scary: Not only is everything in this book entirely possible, similar things have happened to other school/mass shooters before. There’s something about realistic stories that makes them a thousand times more frightening.

Haunted in Quarantine: A Review of Safer at Home

Title: Safer at Home – a Ghost Story Author: Zoe Cannon Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: July 4, 2020 Genres: Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary Length: 41 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 5 Stars Blurb:   Quarantined in a haunted house…​ March 2020. With the world in the grip of a deadly… Read More

A Photo Essay Update on Damaged Toronto Trees

Last year I shared photos from one of the parks in Toronto once a month to show my readers what our landscape looks like throughout the year. This is an update to two trees in that series that were badly damaged in a winter storm in early 2020. Click on February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October,… Read More

On Finding Scope for Imagination During Uncertain Times

“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive—it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?” – Anne of Green… Read More

A Photo Essay of Toronto in September

Each month I share photos from one of the parks in Toronto to show my readers what our landscape looks like throughout the year. This is the eighth instalment of this series. Click on February, March, April, May, June, July, and August to read the earlier posts. It was  13 Celsius (55 Fahrenheit) and slightly cloudy during this… Read More