Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Basics Challenge – Exploring Speculative Fiction

My Goal:

To attempt to read 100 books within a 5 year span, less 25% forgiveness rate, which is a total of 75 books. Divided down it’s 15 books per year. Which ultimately translates to a little over 1 book per month.

This challenge will be an overlap with The Fill in the Gaps Challenge listed here.

I have chosen to use a “reading pool” method. All the books are within the Speculative Fiction Genre – Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror.

Overlapping Challenge Books

Science Fiction:

  1. Dune - Frank Herbert
  2. Children of Dune - Frank Herbert
  3. Dune Messiah - Frank Herbert
  4. Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut
  5. Foundation - Isaac Asimov
  6. Foundation Empire - Isaac Asimov
  7. Second Foundation - Isaac Asimov
  8. Do Androids Dream of Sleep - Phillip K. Dick
  9. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
  10. 1984 - George Orwell
  11. Animal Farm - George Orwell
  12. Rendezvous with Rama - Arthur C. Clark
  13. Ringworld - Harry Niven
  14. Time Machine - H. G. Wells
  15. The War of the Worlds - H. G. Wells
  16. The Island of Doctor Moreau - H. G Wells
  17. The World Treasury of Science Fiction - David G. Hartwell
  18. The Day After Tomorrow - Robert Heinlein
  19. Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham
  20. Midwich Cuckoos - John Wyndham
  21. Trouble with Lichen - John Wyndham
  22. Chrysalids - John Wyndham
  23. The Godmakers - Don Pendleton
  24. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream - Harllan Ellison

Feminist Science Fiction:

  1. Herland - Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  2. New Eves - ed Janrae Frank
  3. The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin
  4. The Robber Bride - Margaret Atwood (not sure if this is speculative)


  1. Interview with a Vampire - Anne Rice
  2. The Vampire Lestat - Anne Rice
  3. The Queen of the Damned - Anne Rice
  4. Cry to Heaven - Anne Rice
  5. The Locus Awards - ed Charles N. Brown
  6. Great Tales of Horror - Edgar Allen Poe
  7. The Hunter of the Dark - H. P. Lovecraft
  8. Dracula - Bram Stoker (completed but needs to be posted)
  9. The Inferno - Dante
  10. The Metamorphosis - Frank Kafka (completed and linked below)
  11. The Historian - Elizabeth Kostava


  1. The Middle Window - Elizabeth Goudge
  2. The Hobbit - J. R. R. Tolkien
  3. Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring - J. R. R. Tolkien
  4. Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers - J. R. R. Tolkien
  5. Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King - J. R. R. Tolkien
  6. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
  7. Dragon Flight - Anne McCaffrey
  8. The Crystal Cave - Mary Stewart
  9. The Last Enchantment - Mary Stewart
  10. The Hollow Hills - Mary Stewart
  11. Dandelion Wine - Ray Bradbury
  12. Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone - J. K. Rowling
  13. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J. K. Rowling
  14. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Ascaban - J. K. Rowling
  15. Green Mansions - William Henry Hudson

Books will be reviewed and linked below:

  1. The Things That Keep Us Here - Carla Buckley (adult apocalyptic)
  2. The Magic Warble – Victoria Simcox (children’s fantasy)
  3. RELEASE by Nicole Hadaway – (horror, vampire)
  4. Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan – (dark fantasy, fairytale retelling )
  5. Soulless by Gail Carrigan – (urban fantasy, steam punk, vampire, werewolf)
  6. The Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka (horror, classic, literature)
  7. - needs to be posted.
  8. Life As We Knew It
  9. The Dead and The Gone
  10. This World We Live In (all linked here in one post) – (apocalyptic, young adult)
  11. Inside Out by Maria Snyder (young adult – girls science fiction)
  12. Cursed by Jeremy Shipp (horror- bizarro)
  13. Keeper by Kathi Appelt (children’s mythic/fairytale, magical realism)
  14. The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight by Gina Ochsner.

14 completed, 61 more to go.

Review by Shellie: Cursed by Jeremy Shipp


Mini Non-Spoiler Synopsis:

Nick is a conflicted and slightly damaged person; although a good guy he has a past linked to alcohol abuse. With a number of colorful friends and family members, Nick sees his life and his relationships as a series of lists; indeed he thinks in lists. As he moves awkwardly through his difficulties, self doubt, and hilarious quirkiness, we see the “horror” of his insecurities through these lists. While he is connecting with family and friends he comes to realize through a series of related events that he has been cursed. A few of his friends share this curse too, so naturally drama, psychological distress, and some paranormal horror and dark humor ensues.

(This short novel was nominated for the Bram Stoker 2009 Award.)

My Thoughts:

This is not your typical horror book, since there is only a slight amount of gore. The true horror in Cursed is actually the internal struggle within the main character’s mind and in his day to day life. Reading about it is bearably funny because of the subtle and quirky humor around Nick’s hilarious and relatable lists.  Be aware that it is an uncomfortable humor which many of us may relate to, though some will not. It has a dry, offbeat, almost Monty Python-esque feel, only it’s very American rather than British. I was giggling while reading this novel, so John (my husband) kept asking me what was so funny. I read him a few bits, and he agreed that the book sounded extremely quirky. Perhaps that is the connection to the Bizarro fiction, which, after reading this I am beginning to define. I would say that Cursed is unusual, as well as complex and layered.

Looking for a literary reference, I see a parallel between Nick and Gregor, the main character from The Metamorphosis (title links to recent review). Both characters are caught within some difficult life circumstances mostly beyond their control, yet remain reflective and sensitive almost to a fault. Another example of a connection is where The Metamorphosis has a sort of periodic angst; it has an emotional discord which can only truly be defined within the early 1900’s. Cursed too is periodic but has a contemporary feel. Reading Cursed was like reading a book by a friend whose experiences are based during the present day, and whose guilt, self doubt, abandonment issues, and alcohol abuse all bunched up into a story that could only be set recently.

I do think that the book could be paralleled and contrasted with The Metamorphosis more, but will leave that to the scholars. In summary I immensely enjoyed this creative, quirky book. It is thoughtful, original, disturbing, sensitive, and funny and rate it at 4 Stars. It was a needed humor break.

Review by Shellie: Soulless by Gail Carriger


Genre: Urban Fantasy; Steam Punk; Alternative Reality… and more

Set Up:

In an alternative Victorian London within a steam punk setting, this story depicts a society which is very much like it would have been 130 years ago – excluding the steam punk of course. The only difference is that it includes Vampires, Werewolves, and Ghosts as an accepted part of society.

The main character, Alexia, is special. She is a preternatural, which actually means she is soulless. This has special circumstances for all the supernatural beings in the story. Besides that, she is a spinster, curvy, feisty, and intellectual. All being characteristics which have not been looked upon as positive for a woman living during this time period.

The story includes a set of supernatural characters including a hunky Alpha werewolf, a swishy male vampire with an 18th century fashion sense, and a delicate friend with a love for bad hats. They are all mixed up within a mystery where some intense romance ensues, combined with an amazing mishmash of sub genres –  mixing urban fantasy, steam punk, and alternative reality.

 My Thoughts:

Amazingly this was my first steam punk novel, and second urban fantasy. What a great fun read. It made me laugh out loud, giggle, and blush. It has some very interesting yet tasteful romantic interludes, as well as a few evil and funny entanglements. I love feisty women with parasols.

The language is intelligent and felt just enough like the period in which it was set, but understandable for a modern reader. It is also wryly funny, and Alexia is determined to go against the societal norm for women. Which makes her a wonderful and strong female character. My favorite.

Highly recommended for an intellectual, humorous, and fun read. I give Soulless - 4 stars. I am looking forward to the next book in her series which is called Changeless, and then Blameless.

Review by Shellie: Tender Morsels ~ by Margo Lanagan

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Tender Morsels ~ by Margo Lanagan, is the co-winner of the World Fantasy Award for 2009.

It is a dark and disturbing retelling of a fairytale for young adults which is wonderfully creative yet one which not everyone will enjoy.

Set Up:   This story is a version of the tale Rose Red and Snow White. A story with two young sister whose names are in the title live in a forest with their mother and become friends with a bear. According to the link there is no connection to the American version or any other version of Snow White.

Unlike the actual tale, and with some artistic license,Margo Lanagan gives it depth and interest with the inclusion of an actual bear event set in Europe. The author apparently viewed a festival on television prior to writing the story and therefore included it in the retelling. Also unlike the original the setting is within two parallel worlds connected by magic. Where the “real world” is a version of our past being lit only by fire. The second world is “the false world” or that “of the heart’s desire”,  and is an idealized version or our world. All created in desperation by the main character Liga (the girls’ mother), through personal trauma, her inability to deal with reality, and to keep her daughters safe.

My Thoughts: There are many things I like about the book. The writing is evocative and disturbing; the language used is set in period with an English/Australian bent, making it feel old and rural; the book cover renditions support some of the major themes within the story (I am highly visual); and the evil characters are given a perspective which helps the reader to sympathize with them – because that's what happens in real life.

It is a wonderfully complex rendition of the original story. It is multilayered where the author brings in some important themes, two of which are Women’s issues around social oppression and strength.

Here is a quote which shows the oppressiveness of the social structure of the real world compared to the “heart’s desire” world:

Annie peered and grinned. “Heh-heh. There is nothing like upbringing up in a heaven to give a girl a false confidence.”

“False, you think?” said Liga anxiously, dropping the lace back across the windo.

“The size o’ that mob, Liga? I say false. Get yourself dressed, girl, in your very best; we will need to summon all the menfolk and all the respectability we can, if she’s not to be whipped in the street.”

To be raised in an environment with no constraints one may have a false confidence about one’s ability to counter social mores of a present society, no matter how warranted they are.

Another quote regarding one woman’s strength:

…She, Urdda, must see that place someday, where women dressed so beautifully yet so plain, rode about alone. No one would dare spit upon this woman, or call out at her. She had a different kind of boldness, a strength that did not defy that of men so much as ignore it, or take its place without question beside it – Urdda wanted some of that boldness.

A wonderful role model for young women.

Be forewarned this is not a light story, and addresses some very very dark and difficult issues. It is not a story which everyone is going to enjoy or even like.

Tender Morsels won the World Fantasy Award for 2009  covering the year 2008. Personally, I can see why. I love dark fantasy which touches on important social issues and  is also well written. This is exceptional. I have given this story a rare 5 stars.

Review by Shellie: Inside Out by Maria Snyder


Basic Set Up Info: 

Set somewhere in the future, within an enclosed world which has advanced technology, Trella lives in a crowded space where she is one of two factions - Uppers and Lowers. Trella is a Lower and because of this “lower” status she is required to clean the complex pipe systems of this metallic world and is designated a “scrub.” Trella is strong teen, slightly damaged, and prefers to keep to herself. As the story progresses and we become introduced to its dystopian society and its apparent class structure imbalance, drama and light romance ensue.

My Thoughts:

This is a wonderful introduction to science fiction and dystopian society for young adults and especially girls. I would have loved this as a “tween” in the 1970s. We had the Nancy Drew series, and authors like Laura Ingalls Wilder and Zilpha Keatley Snyder giving us mystery, historical fiction, and paranormal. Sadly, I remember no role models for girls within science fiction; goodness knows, I tried devouring the boy’s preteen section on science fiction from our local library. 

Another  positive element in this book is that Maria Snyder includes some basic concepts around political dystopian concepts for a younger reader. This I feel is important, since it can be then be a basis for understanding more complex worlds, as well as world history and current events. Highly recommended for adults interested in a light read, but especially for intrigued and intelligent girls (and boys too, since it is light on the romance). I give it a 4 star rating and am also excited that it is a first in a series. I believe the next is called Outside In and will be released at the beginning of 2011.