Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Favorite Sci-Fi Prediction

Science-fiction writers make lots of predictions when they set their stories in the future. I love that we live in a time that is "the future" for a lot of great science-fiction, because we can see whether their predictions came true. The really mind-blowing part is that some of them DID!

I chose Ray Bradbury's imagery of "seashells" in Guy Montag's wife's ears because it took me forever to realize that they were something that existed when I was reading the book. My GameBoy came with the best pair of earbuds I've ever owned (hey Apple, take a page out of Nintendo's book on that one, they were seriously amazing... oh wait, I mean ARE because they still work great two decades later) and I didn't notice at first that that was exactly what Ray Bradbury was talking about when he wrote, "And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound." More importantly, he nailed the fact that having earbuds delivering your electronic audio media of choice whenever you want would make people... distant. Montag's wife is so absorbed by digital media (her Seashells or the wall screens she nags him about) that she's hardly even aware of her own husband's existence. Today, some people are so absorbed by whatever's on their phones or iPods or what-have-you, they don't notice the world around them. This was actually a pretty big theme of Bradbury's (he wasn't a huge fan of technology).

Mine actually came from our book this week, 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Clark talks about a electronic pad that has all the world news at just a drop of a hat, any newspaper you could possible want in an instant, eliminating the need for paper any longer.  Sound familiar?

I would wager that just about all you readers own one of these.  And what do you do with it?  Oh yea, you browse the internet where you have all the world's news articles at the touch of a button without wasting paper.  It's amazing how accurately Clark predicted we would be getting our information, considering he wrote the book in the 1960s.

"One by one he would conjure up the world's major electronic papers... Switching to the display unit's short-term memory, he would hold the front page while he quickly searched the headlines and noted the items that interested him."

Monday, April 27, 2015

Author Bio: Arthur C Clarke

The author of this week's review book, 2001: A Space Odyssey, is Arthur C. Clarke.

Yeah, that's the guy.

He lived from 1917 to 2008, and wrote science fiction. His most famous work was 2001, which was actually the first of a series (the others were 2010: Odyssey Two, 2061: Odyssey Three, and 3001: The Final Odyssey).

His writing helped popularize the ideas of space travel and futurism (he made lots of technology and science based predictions in his writing, as tends to happen in science fiction works set in the future).

Friday, April 24, 2015

Review Me Twice - Dune by Frank Herbert

I just wanted everyone to share in the awesome
1970s cover that I was experiencing.

I'm not sure if you know this, but Dune is a freakin' long novel.  Seriously guys.  I've been hardcore reading it for two weeks now and I'm still only about a little over halfway through it, which is INSANE.

But you know what?  I'm probably going to continue to diligently read it and finish it up as soon as I can.  I want to know what happens.  I am really invested in these characters and their lives and what's going to happen to them.

Not to mention the world building in this novel is insane!  This is Tolkien level of world building, complete with its own religions and legends and languages and solar systems.  HERBERT CREATED A WHOLE NEW SOLAR SYSTEM FOR THIS FREAKIN' BOOK!  It's really impressive.

So far, it's the book I've been most impressed with during our month of sci-fi, which I wasn't so sure was going to be the case.  Dune is a classic that gets a lot of hype and, often, the books don't live up to that hype.  So far, Dune completely does.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fiction is Leaking into the Real World

I could write on this topic for at least two dozen famous books and series (off the top of my head, I'm thinking of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Star Wars, and many DC and Marvel comics), but I think this one is particularly fun because it extends beyond Earth.

Dune is a huge series. Sure, this week, we're only reading the first novel. (Which is huge enough as it is.) But there are many other books, short stories, and don't forget the movies. Since it's set on a fictional planet, and lots of other fictional planets, you can imagine that the world gets pretty big.

Here's a list of the planets in the Dune universe (the Duniverse, if you will).

Go on, go read it. It's from Wikipedia. Check out the fact that a lot of those planets have information about real-life things in space that are named after them! Like Arrakis (the primary planet in the story) being the name given to a plain on Saturn's moon, Titan.

I'd like to think that if Frank Herbert were still alive, he would think that's pretty darn cool.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Favorite Mythical character

Have we done this before?  Maybe, but I figure you'll forgive us if we have because, with our book this week, it's immensely relevant.  In Dune, there are these huge sandworms that are attracted to the spice (basically the biggest major investment in this book) and then they come and eat you.  So I figured this would be a good week to know about some mythical beings.

Hyrda is one of the coolest, most bad-ass mythical beings ever.  I mean, not only does the thing have 100 heads, but it JUST KEEPS GROWING THEM.  You just can't seem to kill the stupid thing hno matter how hard you try.  A blow tot he heart is the only way that you're going to get rid of it.

Hyra has also had some cool pop culture references, most recently on the Captain America movie.  Hydra was a specialty branch of the Nazis, a secret society meant to bred the best of the best, to take over the world.  It's a potent symbol, the idea that you can kill as many agents as you like, but Hydra will still always be there, persuing their mission.

Phoenix, hands-down. It has been over-used a bit in pop culture, but it's still pretty amazing. Plus, it was my school's mascot when I was in sixth grade. And Fawkes is awesome. A phoenix bursts into flames periodically and is reborn from its own ashes. If that isn't one bad-ass mythological creature, I don't know what is.

My favorite thing about the phoenix is that it's immortal, but not in the way most immortal creatures are. It gets to keep living a full life over and over, instead of being stuck as an adult forever. That's the way I would want to be immortal, I think. Fresh start every century or so. Phoenixes have got it figured out.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Author Bio: Frank Herbert

Frank Herbert - 1984.jpg

Frank Herbert (1920-1986) was best known for the Dune series, and we're reading the first book of that series (appropriately titled Dune) this week. That book is the best-selling sci-fi book in history, and is unquestionably one of the classics of sci-fi, so Herbert is kind of a big deal.

He's from Washington, but had a bad home life and ran away to live with family in Salem, Oregon. His first job was at a newspaper. He served in the Navy as a photographer during WWII, then went to University of Washington and did all sorts of writing, but he only took classes that interested him, so he never finished an actual degree.

Dune - along with Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, published a few years before it - helped turn sci-fi into a literary genre. Before that, all you really needed for a successful sci-fi story was a good technological idea; it didn't matter if you wrote a good story alongside it.

I always think it's interesting to see what an author thought of film adaptations of their greatest works, so I'm pleased to share that Herbert was overall pretty happy with the movie Dune (1984). There was also a TV series adaptation in 2000 but that was 14 years after Herbert's death, so I don't know what he might have thought of it. Since his death, Herbert's son Brian has added a few more books to the series using Herbert's old notes.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Review me Twice - Raptor Red by Robert T. Baker

Alex always seems to pick interesting books for us, and I was excited to see what she was going to for sci-fi month.  I had never even heard of this book (though, apparently it's kind of a big deal.)  I don't read a lot of dinosaur literature because, frankly, there's just not a lot out there.  I've read Jurassic Park and The Lost World and that's pretty much where it ends.

Raptor Red is a different beast entirely.  It's very much one of those non-fiction novel type books.  The book itself is based in fact.  Bakker has done a ton of research on these animals and the book is probably a pretty accurate portrayal of what life was like for a Utahraptor.  But we can't ever actually know for sure.  It's all a big educated guess, so it sets it very firmly in the fiction section of the library.

The book was well executed and interesting to read.  I feel like I learned a lot about dinosaurs without feeling like I LEARNED, laboriously, about dinosaurs.  But, as interesting and fun as it was.... it was still a book about dinosaurs, that were meant to BE dinos, not humanized characters.  So I found myself growing kind of bored at times because I couldn't really connect with the characters.  There are parts that I should have been sad and I just kind of wasn't.

I'm glad I picked it up, but I won't ever read it again.

Everything Cassy said, exactly. I can't really identify with a dinosaur (or any character, even) whose entire purpose is surviving and mating. So while everything was interesting and informative and definitely unique - I've never read another book like this - I didn't feel very invested in the protagonist. Although, I did feel more invested than I would have been in the hands of a less skilled writer, so that's something.

I love when fiction like this is heavily anchored in fact, but there's one very easy trap to fall into. I first noticed it in the Earth's Children series by Jean M. Auel... the author seems to want to make sure they put every bit of their research to good use in the writing. So even if it doesn't really matter exactly what that plant she stepped on is good for, we're going to hear about it. Possibly for a paragraph, or a page. Bakker's execution of this seems more natural, so it's not nearly as much of a problem. For example, one chapter begins with saying the raptor doesn't want to bed down in moist earth, and no raptors do, because they evolved in a dry climate and too much moisture encourages fungal growth which is bad for them. Interesting, related to the plot in the sense that this is the reason she doesn't want to sleep in the mud, and possibly a little more info than we strictly needed, but then we move on to bigger and better things. I think the difference is probably that dinos were Bakker's first thing, then writing, whereas Auel started with writing and then started the research on primitive humans. Either way, it's not a deterrent for this book; I just thought it was interesting to note.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Non-Verbal Characters

I love a good non-verbal character. Not being able to have your character say something seems like a disadvantage, but really, it opens up a lot of other possibilities.

Take this week's review book, for example. Our protagonist is a Utahraptor. Bakker did not create a world where dinosaurs magically have the ability to talk like humans. Instead, he uses other mechanisms to describe what she is thinking and doing and communicating. Some of these methods are better than others. A clunky example is when he says, "If she could speak like a human, she would say..." A much better example is, "She knows her mate is smart. She trusts that he knows what she knows."

You can also describe non-verbal types of communication, like body language (posture, gestures, gaze, facial expressions, etc.) or narrate their internal monologue.

It's easier to work with non-verbal characters in visual media (like graphic novels, movies, and video games) because you don't have to spend a lot of time describing how they're standing or what their face looks like; you can just show it. I'm quite fond of Chell from the Portal games, because she's non-verbal but still has personality (although it's in a way that you can still project yourself onto her... she's a well-done everyman character). Side note: I learned the other day that Blink from X-Men: Days of Future Past has no verbal lines as a little nod toward Chell (since Blink also uses portals).

Who's your favorite non-verbal character? How do they express themselves best?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Favorite Dinosaur

This week, we're going to deviate a little from literature-related favorites to talk dinosaurs.

I know the velociraptors in the Jurassic Park movies are inaccurately portrayed. And I don't care, because they're REALLY COOL. They should be smaller, and feathered, or called Utahraptors, but I love them just the way they are.

They're so smart. They hunt in packs. They communicate with audible language. They're fast (see the name "velociraptor"). They're terrifying. They're an excellent way to judge the safety of any place you find yourself. Perhaps the best part is, they're humanized in the third movie (with the whole stolen egg ordeal).

If they weren't so deadly, I'd want to hang out with these dinosaurs. Because they're the cool kids of Jurassic Park.

Close runners-up for me: gallimimus (who doesn't love a dinosaur whose name means "chicken mimic"?) and the pteranodons (flying dudes in JP3) and parasauralophus (the ones with the swoosh thing on their heads that get chased down by the hunters with the horribly designed Jeeps in JP3) because they look pretty awesome too. I know, they all come from Jurassic Park 3. But Spielberg does amazing work; what can I say?

I love the brontosaurus.  He's big and bad ass and, let's face it, there were very few herbivores that put up any sort of fight.  The fact that they could take on pretty much everything thing (really, only T-Rex and Utahraptors gave them any real competition, and not even very often) just makes them that much cooler in my book.

Now I know what you're going to say.  "Cassy, there is no brontosaurus; they're all the apatosaurus."

Not true!  Earlier this year, the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History discovered that the huge set of bones that they said WASN'T a brontosaurus? Turns out, it actually was.  The bones are a different branch of the apatosaurus line, a dino all their own.  So, just like Pluto, looks like the bronto is back.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dinosaur Books

Dinosaur books isn't exactly a book topic you come across everyday, and it's a fairly small genre, let's face it, but there are some really great ones out there.  And, since Alex decided to introduce me to one of them this week, I'm going to introduce you to a few more of my favorites.

It wouldn't be a list of dinosaur books if I didn't include Jurassic Park and The Lost World by Michael Crichton.  They're the first ones anyone thinks of (mainly because of the movies) and there's a good reason they've become literature staples.  They're intense and interesting and exciting and just plain fun to read.

Tea Rex by Molly Idle is one I actually came across just recently at my job.  It's a children's picture book about a T-Rex coming to a tea party and the proper manners you should have when having a dinosaur at your house.  It's an adorable book and incredibly well illustrated and, I think, subtly teaches something like manners without beating the kid over the head with it.  Since the book is being so silly about the whole thing, the kid reading it doesn't feel like they're being talked down to.  They just think it's a funny book about dinosaurs.

You can't have dinosaurs without a little bit of humor somewhere.  All My Friends Are Dead by Avery Monsen is a short little picture book that starts out with a dinosaur saying "All my friends are dead" and the second page has a picture of an old person saying, "Most of my friends are dead."  You can guess where it goes from there.

Those are just a few of the dinosaur based books out there.  What are your favorites?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Author Bio: Robert Bakker

Chances are pretty decent that the first time you heard Robert Bakker's name, it was here:

In this scene of Jurassic Park, Dr. Alan Grant is trying to find a seat in one of the Jeeps without having to sit next to either of the kids, but the boy (Timmy... classic 1990s boy name) is a huge fan of Dr. Grant's work, so he's following him around asking questions about his theories. He references a couple other sources, including "this one book by a guy named Bakker..." Well, that guy is this week's author here on the blog.

He actually gets referenced again in The Lost World, since this guy (Dr. Robert Burke) is supposed to be an affectionate caricature of him:

And this is really Bakker:

Robert T. Bakker #3

Bakker has been publishing studies on dinosaurs since 1968. He advised Jurassic Park, published his seminal work (The Dinosaur Heresies) in 1986 (which presented evidence to support his theory that dinosaurs may well have been warm-blooded), and is currently the Curator of Paleontology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Bakker was born in New Jersey in 1945. He's an ecumenical minister, and doesn't believe that religion and science are mutually exclusive. To him, the Bible is a moral guidance system, not a literal timeline of events, and does not disprove evolution or geologic history.

A friend of mine suggested Bakker's novel Raptor Red when he found out that I'm a big fan of the Jurassic Park trilogy, and that's why I chose it for us to review this week. It's told from the viewpoint of a Utahraptor (which is actually what we think of as Velociraptor, thanks to the Jurassic Park movies... Velociraptor was closer to the size of a big turkey, whereas Utahraptor was the height of a rather tall human).

Friday, April 10, 2015

Review Me Twice: Stardoc by S L Viehl

At first glance, when I pulled this book off the holds shelf at my library, I thought it had to have been published in the 1970s. Back in the decade where "star-" was a prefix that magically made any topic exponentially cooler. And my copy is in pretty sorry shape... "well-loved," you might say. But actually, it was published in 2000.

It's... better than I expected. I thought it would be horribly cheesy and overwrought and medically unsound, but this is definitely an instance of a time you should not judge a book by its (1970s-sci-fi-ish) cover.

Sometimes the first-person narration sounds a little haughty... but Cherijo Grey Veil (our protagonist) has good reasons to think like a dictionary, like isolation from peers from a young age, intense academic study forced upon her by her father, etc. And I admit to thinking with a large vocabulary sometimes, so it's not like it's impossible. It just sounds a little awkward every once in a while.

The alien names and words take a little getting used to, but I think that's part of the experience. Cherijo is getting used to them too. And they're not impossible (though the charge nurse at the FreeClinic has a name I never could sort out how to pronounce in my head).

All in all, I think Stardoc was fun to read. I don't think I'll run out and grab the next book in the series, but I might go back and read them someday, if I run across them.

When I first read this series, I actually read the third one, not realizing it was the third one in the series.  Let me tell you, it's not the type of series that you can jump in at book three and know what's going on.  But I liked it enough to go back and pick up the first two books in the series and figure out what the hell was going on.

You get a strong female lead, who is just a little more genteically badass, making it her fit right into the sci-fi world she lives in.  And it's very sci-fi her world.  She is a doctor who heals aliens of every sort and travels to another wold.

I have read (almost) the whole series, and her asshole father becomes a big deal as it goes on, along with Duncan Reever (the linguist she continually runs into).  I'm not going to sit here and tell you it's an intellectually stimulating story, but it's fun with good characters and is a fast read.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Medicine in Fiction

My husband is in med school. Our relationship and my interests are such that I tend to help him study quite a bit. This calls for a lot of tricky pronunciation (one of my new favorite words is "phosphotidylethanolamine") and it also means I learn a decent amount of what he's learning.

This had made me more skeptical of any portrayal of medicine and related topics in fiction than I used to be. For example: I've just started watching "The Walking Dead." (I know, I'm so far behind.) There's nothing spoilery here, but in the first season, you see an "MRI" of a walker brain. I had to put the quotation marks there because it is so unbelievably not an MRI. It's not vital to the plot that the MRI be accurate, but it is particularly distracting when you know better.

When I was in marching band, one of our techs said that ever since he had started writing drill, he couldn't sit back and enjoy other bands' shows, because he was too busy analyzing their drill. You probably know the feeling. Whatever your expertise or hobby or passion is, when you encounter it in a show, movie, or book, and it isn't done properly, it's distracting.

I am not nearly as distracted by medical terminology or procedures while reading Stardoc, though, because it's in the future and on an alien planet. Alien anatomy and physiology can be whatever the author wants it to be. Procedures can be very advanced, even things we would currently consider impossible, because who knows what we'll discover between now and when we master interplanetary travel? In fact, there are some jokes that refer to current best practices as antiquated, practically primitive, and they're the opposite of distracting; instead, they're engaging.

I don't really know where I'm going with this, other than perhaps to point out that if you can, you should shut off your expertise switch if you find this sort of thing distracting like I do. And also to show off the fact that I can spell and pronounce words like "phosphotidylethanolamine." (Just don't ask me what it is.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Favorite Fictional Doctor

I might like Bones (Leonard McCoy) from Star Trek more because of the characters he's surrounded by, the fictional universe he's set in, and the excellent casting choice of Karl Urban (a true chameleon... seriously, go look at his filmography in IMDb, you'll be surprised by at least one thing, I'm sure). But I still love the character, too.

He's funny, he's genuine, he's a loyal officer and friend to Kirk, and he gives pretty good advice when called upon to do so. On top of all that, he also seems to be a great doctor, in a time when that means knowing not only all the anatomy/physiology/epidemiology/etc. about humans, but also all that stuff about dozens of other more-or-less andromorphic species. (Bear in mind that I'm only talking about the Abrams version... I don't know the original well enough to make any comments on his character.)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Author Bio: S L Viehl

That's not actually S L Viehl. Well, she is, but she's actually Sheila Kelly, who writes under a number of different pseudonyms, one for each genre she writes in. S L Viehl is her science-fiction pseudonym, under which she writes the Stardoc series.

Since part of the point of having a pseudonym (or many) is to stay more anonymous than people who publish under their own name, there isn't a lot of publicly available information about her. I know she's American, and I know she has pretty typical hobbies (knitting, for example).

So we'll have to let her writing speak for itself later this week! We'll be reading the first book in the Stardoc series.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

National Poetry Month 2015!

Hey everybody! As you can probably tell, I've been a little absent lately. (Life getting in the way of blogging, as it sometimes does.) But I'm back to remind you that it's National Poetry Month again! And although poetry is not the April theme here on Review Me Twice, it's still worth mentioning.

Check out to join in the daily poem-writing fun (yes, you're a day behind, but that's no reason not to try the other 29 days!).

Visit to learn more about the month-long celebration, order a free poster, find out what National Poem in Your Pocket Day is, and read about the Dear Poet project.

And find and read and enjoy other poems, in your local library or bookstore or online!

Yay poetry!