How A Classics Nerd Came to A Sci Fi World

For as long as I could remember, I was guilty of dismissing Science Fiction as frivolous, if not tacky reading. I was convinced that it would contain all characters called Beep Boop 123 or Zphldiznmike and have generic plot lines difficult to relate to. I dwelled instead between the pages of Classic Literature and Contemporary Fiction with many vacations to the shores of Crime and Mystery, and I was happy.

That was, until my brother bought me Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein for Christmas. I was less than enthused, but I really try to read recommendations. This was the gateway drug to my beloved niche of Science Fiction, which I call Early to Mid-20th Century Sci Fi. There is probably a better categorical name, but I am still a newcomer!

Robert A. Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Philip K Dick and Arthur C Clarke have become pillars that I worship at. They generally write from a period just after World War II, and a lot of the fiction extends expectations and predictions as to what life would look like in the era that we now inhabit. The writing and narrative lends itself in the same way as a lot of the classic literature I was used to, a la Hemmingway and Fitzgerald, which let me dip my toe in with comfort.

The writing is rich and beautiful, and I was fascinated and satisfied, in a way, to compare our modern time to what these writers expected from the future all those years ago. The characters are complexly drawn, and still relatable as we currently sit on the brink of new technology at all times. We are still the humanity that could reach deep into the galaxy, could go to war with robots, could be wiped out by alien forces and buy the farm. These works are philosophical, beautiful, haunting and comedic. They encourage forward thinking, demand empathy with their characters, and are no less entertaining for it. They are diverse and wonderful; some will have you yearning for the future they describe, and some will break your goddamn heart.

So now, readers, I implore you. Read Science Fiction. Just try it out, take it for a test drive. It doesn’t have to be the same sub-genre that I prefer, however I do think it a good starting point for literary enthusiasts that mainly read Classics.

If you are interested in some of the readings that drew me in, here a couple favourites:

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
Starship Troopers – Robert A. Heinlein
Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert A Heinlein
2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clark
Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep – Philip K. Dick
I, Robot – Isaac Asimov


Books Read in 2017 (45)

1.Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
2.The Intern’s Handbook – Shane Kuhn
3.Franny and Zooey – J.D. Salinger
4.Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne
5.The Bachelor Brother’s Bedside Companion – Bill Richardson
6.Perfume – Patrick Süskind
7.Ariel – Sylvia Plath
8.No Country For Old Men – Cormac McCarthy
9.Death of a Salesman – Arthur Miller
10.All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
11.Talking About Detective Fiction – P.D. James
12.Ablutions – Patrick deWitt
13.The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher – Kate Summerscale
14.Among the Ruins – Ausma Zehanat Khan
15.We Are What We Pretend To Be – Kurt Vonnegut
16.2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke
17.Born A Crime – Trevor Noah
18.Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
19.First Among Sequels – Jasper Fforde
20.Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K Dick
21.Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation – Judith Mackrell
22. One Of Our Thursdays Is Missing – Jasper Fforde
23.A Few Figs From Thistles – Edna St. Vincent Millay
24.The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
25.One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
26.I, Robot – Isaac Asimov
27.The Fellowship of the Ring – J. R. R. Tolkien
28.Animal Farm – George Orwell
29.The Two Towers – J. R. R. Tolkien
30.Return of the King – J. R. R. Tolkien
31.Difficult Women – Roxane Gay
32.The House at Riverton – Kate Morton
33.Hunger – Roxane Gay
34.Slow War – Benjamin Hertwig
35.Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury
36.Moving Forward Sideways Like A Crab – Shani Mootoo
37.Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay
38.Reconstructing Amelia – Kimberly McCreight
39.Altered Carbon – Richard Morgan
40.Y is For Yesterday – Sue Grafton
41.Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
42.Lady Susan and Other Works – Jane Austen
43.This Side of Paradise – F. Scott Fitzgerald
44.4,3,2,1 – Paul Aster
45.The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane – Lisa See

Favourite 5 Books Read In 2016

5.A Dirty Job
This was my introduction to work of Christopher Moore, and I loved it. He is hilarious and his writing reminds me so much of Kurt Vonnegut. The story follows bumbling Beta-male Charlie Asher as he struggles to raise his infant daughter as a single father after his wife dies. What makes it a little more difficult is his having to reap souls on the side. I definitely laughed out loud during this book, by myself and in public. Definitely recommend for those that like a cheeky bit of literature!

4.The Little Paris Bookshop
A sweet read about a middle aged man named Monsieur Perdu and a younger, newly celebrated writer that set off on a boat trip to find the former’s lost love. This book is rife with literary references and flowery prose about life and the French countryside, but not so far as to make it ridiculous. This book is heartwarming and celebrates a love of literature as being central to a love of life.

3.The Unquiet Dead
I requested this book after a chance reading of a review by Quill and Quire and I was absolutely blown away. I love police procedural murder mysteries, especially with a strong, female-fronted character that is badass and witty. This story is set in and around Toronto and explores issues concerning Muslim/non Muslim relationships within the community and abroad. The author has a PhD in International Human Rights Law and this novel is so immensely Canadian, and hauntingly beautiful. I’m looking forward to her new novel in February!

2.Wuthering Heights
This has been one of my brother’s favourite books for as long as I can remember but for some reason I had yet to read it. I finally did, and it places among my top Classics of all time, which is saying a lot. The writing style is so wonderfully beautiful and there are so many lines that just tug at your heart. The story of Catherine and Heathcliff is so unhealthy and at times grotesque but for some reason you can’t help being drawn into it.

1.The Eyre Affair
I can’t believe I had never heard of this book before a friend recommended it. This story is set in an alternate reality England in 1988, where the Second World War resulted in a long lasting Crimea conflict that is still ongoing. England prioritizes literature as both culture and commodity (ie: there is a specific department of the police that investigate forgeries and fraudulent first editions) and a scientist has developed a way to actually enter stories and change them. When someone kidnaps Jane Eyre and threatens to change the story of the novel, literary detective Thursday must rely on her book smarts and street smarts to take down a psycho. I have continued reading on into the series and have loved each book more than the last.

A Dirty Job Review

A Dirty Job Review
To be read with: a straight shot of your choice of gin, followed by Excel gum, because you know… Minty Fresh.

I am an acknowledged newcomer to the circles of Christopher Moore fandom. For my birthday I requested that my family members send me their favourite books as gifts. This resulted in A Dirty Job coming through the post from my lovely sister-in-law Jenny. I had seen the book covers before and written them off as heavy-handed satire, quite literally judging a book by it’s cover. I must say, I am a changed woman.

To say that I am a diehard Vonnegut fan would be an understatement, but so it goes, and I have found a new kindred spirit in Christopher Moore. He employs the same model of hiding incredibly insightful world and philosophical views  under a veil of sarcasm and wit. It will be the most unlikely plot imaginable and you will read the way that Moore phrases something and think to yourself, that describes humanity perfectly. Also in keeping with Vonnegut are the concepts of the vastly flawed hero, and the of creating universes between books.

Charlie Asher as a human is a huge mess, but he is also profoundly likeable. The story is about an everyday man dropped unwittingly into an extraordinary set of situations and a lot of the time he reacts exactly as I would. As Asher’s wife dies shortly after childbirth, he happens upon a Death Merchant reaping her soul. He then becomes a Death Merchant himself and has to balance being a single father, a small business owner, and apparently a harbinger of doom while navigating his Russian and Chinese nannies and still trying to find time to date. Moore pairs sweet with crass in a lovely way, and I was hooked from the very first pages. The book also exists as a love letter to San Francisco, taking you on a tour of the city’s brightest and darkest places. This is my first foray into Moore’s constructed universe, but I’m sure I’ll explore a little further.

Because the book covers are so distinct, I was approached many times while reading in public, with people telling me how much they enjoyed the book, asking if I liked it and had read others, or even just which part I was at. This is how I discovered that minor characters in this book overlap with other books and that Christopher Moore has created a verifiable universe of moving parts and characters. This is one of the many aspects I liked of reading Vonnegut- the feeling that a beloved character from another book you liked may show up at any point in time.

This book was witty, gory, and hugely enjoyable. I am glad to have been finally brought into the fold of Christopher Moore fiction. I can’t wait to read the new sequel to A Dirty Job and find out even more of my friends enjoy him as well.

Just Kids and M Train Review

JustKidsMTrain Review
To be read with: shots of tequila while you’re riffing a song with Janis Joplin at the bar of the Chelsea Hotel in New York, man. 

Nothing can be as resolutely true about Patti Smith than she’s had an interesting life. I chose to do a double books-and-booze review for these two because I read them in close succession and also because together they cover the majority of her life, to date. Just Kids takes us to the Beat Generation of New York and Paris in the 1960’s; the Chelsea Hotel and the elite Andy Warhol crowd reigning supreme. Concentrating on her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and her beginnings in the poetry scene, this book is about a girl trying to find herself in the midst of chaos. M Train was published in 2015 and takes place in Michigan amongst a few other places from the mid-2000’s until the point of publication. It is similar but also contrasting, now Patti is a woman, trying to find herself in the midst of silence, after her husband Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith’s death. 

I was prepared to love Just Kids, and I did. There is something enthralling about the sexual/moral/creative freedom of New York in the 1960’s. This idea probably comes from being able to romanticize the thoughts of being a starving artist without actually having to starve. This is also from the point of view of young, middle class white kids that have moved to the city to share in this experience. I think there would be some harsher truths if this was the story of someone dealing with the racial conflict that was rife in that time, or anyone that could have been potentially drafted into the Vietnam war. That being said, Patti Smith does relate the personal losses of the AIDS epidemic, of drug overdoses, and suicides that occurred within her moving group of wannabe world-changers. 

Patti Smith name drops and references famous Beat Generation hang outs quite frequently and it is to wonderful effect. It gives technicolor to a time that none of us alive now could ever experience, and it gives the reader a foothold into the world through known parties. There are parts about sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, poetry, and art. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol make appearances. At times it is gritty, and at times it is glamorous, exactly what you would want in a memoir about the 1960’s and creative awakening. Patti Smith has an overarching positive view of most things, and is blatantly honest about herself and the experiences she’s been through. It’s refreshing and it’s easy to relate to. 

M Train takes place roughly 20-25 years after Just Kids. She recounts the opportunities awarded to her having since become an international icon, successful poet and rockstar. The tone to the book is leaning toward the melancholy side, since it’s after the death of her husband Fred. She’s trying to find a way to write and create again, and in doing so she revisits periods of her life in anecdotal excerpts. I enjoyed the writing in this memoir as well, even though it is different. She is no longer the starving artist, and references getting a hotel room in London at a moment’s notice without any sense of entitlement or any indication that this is out of the ordinary. This book also concentrates on her travels and different international circles that she has become a part of, which is very cool. It’s almost as if a friend is catching up with you at a café after having not seen each other for a long time, which is fitting because that is where Patti Smith spends most of her time in this book.

This memoir is not the crazy, chaotic ride that Just Kids is, and that’s okay. They both stand on their own in terms of writing style and content. I would recommend both of these two books to anyone interested in art, poetry, rock n’roll or the whirlwind lifestyle of the Beat Generation/Counterculture Revolution. Patti Smith possesses a talent for relaying events and interactions with people without passing judgement, which I really liked.  

*Disclaimer: although I enjoyed reading about New York in the 1960’s, my preferred era is still the Expat Era of Paris in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Room Review

Room Review
To be read with: a cup of black coffee, spiked with Kahlúa. Like the drink, parts of the book encompass dark, bitter, and sweet flavours.

One of the most unique things about this book is that the author, Emma Donoghue, chooses to tell the story through the narration of her five year old protagonist Jack. I have mixed feelings about this as a reader. I will use the “sandwich method” of delivering my criticism, that is, one negative ‘sandwiched’ by two positives.

First I will say that it takes an incredibly talented writer to be able to delve into the linguistics and thought patterns of  such a young human being and have it come across as credible. After finishing the book, I looked through the acknowledgements and saw that Donoghue did enlist the help of child psychologists and experts. Jack’s intellect is noted a few times as being quite high, which allows the narration to take some liberties with conveying certain things that perhaps the average kindergartener would not be able to do. I also think that if you have children, this style may appeal to you for the novelty of being able to see the world through a child’s eyes. 

While I do acknowledge the talent that goes in to being able to write like this, I am not the type of reader that enjoys narration by characters that are children or animals. For example, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, or The Art of Racing In The Rain. These are all acclaimed novels and I don’t doubt that they are well written or that they resonate with a lot of people, I just find it tiring to be reading something written in a childlike way that could be far more succinct and accurate.

Another positive is that having a young narrator in a book with such uncomfortable subject matter means that Donoghue ensures that the point comes across without it having to be graphic. The reader understands certain things without having to cross the threshold into deeply dark and disturbing imagery, and I think that it’s another sign of Donoghue’s talent that the impact of the story is not lost without this.  

I definitely do recommend this book. The plot was very well constructed, if a bit slow for the beginning. It’s a quick read with a happy ending. If you’re planning on seeing the movie, I would recommend reading the book first. 



The Unquiet Dead Review

Unquiet Dead Review
To be read with: tea that is both caffeinated and soothing; you’ll be reading this all night and you’ll be trying hard to remain calm.

This book was everything I could have hoped for from a crime thriller (which is one of my favourite genres). It was fast paced, well written, and the clues were woven in so that some are obvious and make you feel as though you could also be a detective, and others have you slapping your forehead later, since you never saw the twist coming! The bonus of this book is that it is written by a Canadian author and set in and around Toronto. Double bonus in normalizing having a non-white lead detective/dealing with cultural differences and in an every day way and not having it be the climax of the plot.

The plot was sometimes sexy and always dangerous, but it’s really the characters that will keep you invested and reading on into the series. I was thirty pages in and I logged on to the library website to order literally any other book by Ausma Zehanat Khan. The lead detectives are character foils Rachel and Esa: one a tough, hockey player from a dysfunctional home and the other a tall, gorgeous, talented detective that never fails to catch the eye of both suspects and fellow police officers. First, I love that there is a hockey player in the novel, a nice touch of Canadiana without being cheesy or unrealistic. Second, I love that Rachel is the hockey player and Esa is the beauty. Their dynamic together is wonderful. The crime their investigating is stirring for Canadian life, exploring some international roles Canada has played, as well as what life is like here for immigrants rebuilding after a crisis, mainly in reference to the Bosnian refugees of the mid-1990’s. The suspects, witnesses, and peripheral characters in the novel are a clever blend of likeable, provocative and downright loathsome. The interactions between the characters was maneuvered just as skillfully and just as absorbing as the actual mystery itself. I found that at the end of the novel, I wasn’t satisfied with the solving of the case. I wanted to know where the characters were going to go from there. 

This novel did not shy away from  having a Muslim lead character, nor did it exploit it. It did not make Muslims out to be extremists, or to be saints. Rather, it showed that some people are inherently good, some are bad, and most fall somewhere on the spectrum of both, regardless of religion. We need more literature like this. Literature that chooses not to whitewash things but instead show that characters are far more complex than just their religions. Religion definitely comes in to play, it has since its inception and will continue to for the foreseeable future, however there needs to be depth and tact where this is used and this novel delivers on every level.

If the above paragraph isn’t stimulating for you, this novel is exceptional just in terms of being a crime thriller. The mystery has plenty of suspects and moral ambiguity, things I love in detective fiction. There are twists and turns and expertly used back story that keeps you hooked and turning the pages. I think Ausma Zehanat Khan does a great job of slowly unravelling the mysteries of the detectives private lives, to the extent that the next book could be a precursor about either of the main characters and I think it would be wholly satisfying. I recommend this book entirely, as anyone who has come in contact with me while reading it can attest to. Great Canadian fiction needs to be celebrated and I’m excited for more great works from the author! 



Fahrenheit 451 Review

Fahrenheit Review

To be read with: any hard liquor shot lit on fire; the incendiary liquid heating your face and pushing you towards revolution.

I had no idea what Fahrenheit 451 was about. I had heard the title, and liked the book cover, so I bought it at a library book sale a while back. Since then it had been in repose on my bookshelf, collecting dust. After forgetting my current read at work over the weekend, I selected Ray Bradbury off the shelf, and my world was ignited (honestly, this is going to be a very flammable review).

This book had so many things I could connect with. Even though it was written in 1953, it reads like it could be modern. The world is solely focused on the consumption and regurgitation of mindless entertainment and dangerous recreation that they do not realize they are living in a society devoid of intelligence and genuine feeling. The reader explores this depressing (and suicidal) dystopia through the eyes of the main character Guy Montag. Guy Montag is a fire fighter, who does not put out fires, but starts them instead. The firemen of this future society are alerted to citizens that keep secret caches of banned or forbidden books and torch their homes and arrest them. The general idea is that books can never agree on anything, therefore by wiping them out completely, society is then sanitized of conflict. This is not exactly what ends up happening, as seen through the high numbers of suicide attempts and the very disturbing pastimes of the futuristic youth.

The core message of Fahrenheit 451 really resounded with me. I am, of course, an avid bibliophile and the thought of a world where books were hunted and ignited really shook me. I think it shook me because there have always been banned books and book burnings in society, so this novel lets the reader see what would happen if that were a majority institution. You cannot ignore, then fear, then hunt intellect and scholars, the alternative of a world without those things is much worse. I can also understand the stress of trying to write without offending particular sects or groups, which is a theme that Bradbury comes back to a couple times. For this, I can offer no solution. It’s been 63 years since this was written, and we’re still dealing with this issue.

I was really inspired by this novel, and I am amazed that no one had ever recommended this to me before. I am now going to be that annoying person pushing this book on anyone and everyone. The concept and the writing were both so clear and beautiful, this novel flies by and is such a short read. Pick it up if you haven’t already. Read it again if it’s been a while. All I want is a future with Shakespeare and Voltaire and Hemingway, and I mean if it comes down to it, whoever the heck wrote Twilight. Let all the books live, so that we can have the opportunity to choose what we read, what we believe, what we fight for.

X Review

To be read with: cheap white wine from your favourite local haunt, where a cold glass is always waiting for you to come unwind. (This brand name actually makes sense with one of the story lines as well!)

I am wholly unapologetic about my love for Sue Grafton. At a young age I picked up one of her alphabetized crime novels and fell in love with the main character, private investigator Kinsey Millhone. I enjoy crime/suspense/thriller novels, and it’s a bonus when the lead character is a strong woman. However in opposition to other female crime novel leads ie) Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta or Iris Johansen’s Eve Duncan, Kinsey doesn’t have an independently wealthy boyfriend backing her, or an entire police department at her beck and call. She’s a lone wolf who is socially awkward and gets her face punched a lot. She relies on her own guile and strength to unravel the mysteries she’s hired to sleuth.

One of my favourite things about this series is that it is consistently set in the 1980’s. Grafton started the series around that time and Kinsey ages slowly as the books keep coming and coming. While we’re on our smart phones trying to get spoilers for the latest book or movie, Kinsey must still hoof it to the library to examine microfiche rolls in order to find old newspaper articles. She has to call a telephone operator to requests numbers and addresses, and use old photos to try and recognize perps and witnesses. I find this to be the genuine art of gumshoe detecting. Oh and all of her reports are typed on her portable Smith-Corona. My girl crush just compounded.

The characters in each of these novels are compelling and multi-faceted. For the reader, it’s not just about finding out who committed the crime; it’s about finding out why. ‘X’ is certainly no exception in this, and provides quite a lovely twist ending in one of the crimes that Kinsey is investigating. Murder and intrigue abound, with classic Kinsey sarcasm, Henry’s good nature of course being taken advantage of, and plenty of trips to Rosie’s to sip on cheap white wine and discuss investigation details. New enough to keep the reader interested, but also weighted with the characters and places that long-time readers have come to love.

In regards to the fact that the series will be coming to its end within a couple years, I am not of the ilk that believes Grafton will kill Kinsey off when we get to Z. I will concede that Henry may die, or even Ed the cat, which will be terrible but not devastating (the man is 89 for goodness’ sake) however I would be pissed if she killed Kinsey at 39. I’m predicting that her rarely-touched savings account and the gorgeous Robert Dietz will come into play. I think Kinsey will grudgingly ride into the sunset, snarky comments the whole way to her happy ending.

I recommend this book whole heartedly. For those who haven’t read the series, please do. You definitely don’t need to have though, as there is always a brief exposition explaining Kinsey’s backstory and all the relevant characters. Maybe this is the one that hooks you and then you’ll go back and read the series!

Books Read in 2016 (50)

1.X – Sue Grafton
2.Candide – Voltaire
3.Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
4.The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Leguin
5.Yes, Please – Amy Poehler
6.The Unquiet Dead – Ausma Zehanat Khan
7.Room – Emma Donoghue
8.Life After Death – Damien Echols
9. Just Kids – Patti Smith
10.The Language of Secrets – Ausma Zehanat Khan
11.M Train – Patti Smith
12.Jane Austen: A Life – Carol Shields
13.A Dirty Job – Christopher Moore
14.Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer
15.The Clocks – Agatha Christie
16.The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
17. Waiting For Godot – Samuel Beckett
18.The Sorrows of Young Werther – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
19.Welcome To The Monkey House – Kurt Vonnegut
20.Mr. Gwyn – Alessandro Baricco
21.Revelation Space – Alastair Reynolds
22.Last Exit To Brooklyn – Hubert Selby Jr.
23.Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
24.Ukraine Crisis: What It Means For The West – Andrew Wilson
25.One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
26.Ghosts of the Gothic – Judith Wilt
27.The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde
28.The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
29.A Fine Balance –  Rohinton Mistry
30.Lost In A Good Book – Jasper Fforde
31.Still Mine – Amy Stuart
32.The Well Of Lost Plots – Jasper Fforde
33.The Little Paris Bookshop – Nina George
34.The Trial – Franz Kafka
35.Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
36.I am Malala – Malala Yousafzai
37.The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo – Amy Schumer
38.1984 – George Orwell
39.Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
Something Rotten – Jasper Fforde
41.Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling
42.In Our Time – Ernest Hemingway
43.The Heavenly Table – Donald Ray Pollock
44.Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? – Mindy Kaling
45.The Island of The Sequined Love Nun – Christopher Moore
46. The Bachelor Brothers’ Bed and Breakfast – Bill Richardson
47.The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
48. Waiting For Gertrude – Bill Richardson
49. Slapstick – Kurt Vonnegut
50. Siddhartha – Herman Hesse