Lock In by John Scalzi

I was pretty excited to see that John Scalzi would be visiting Joseph Beth in Lexington to promote his new science fiction novel Lock In. Scalzi had acted as the guest emcee and introduced Neil Gaiman at a local signing for The Ocean at the End of the Lane and I was intrigued enough to follow Scalzi on Twitter. As I became more familiar with this author’s social media presence, I decided to pick up Old Man’s War as my first foray into straight up science fiction in a long time. I loved the realistic dialogue, the trademarked technology, and the mysterious Colonial Defense Forces. For one reason or another I had not had the chance to read any more books in the series but I thought it would be cool to go get my worn, second-hand copy of Old Man’s War signed by this neat author who seemed like a real human being on social media. And since he was there to promote a new book, I’d probably pick that up as well to support a great local bookstore.

It turned out to be a really great move on my part to attend this signing. I knew Scalzi was relatively local to this part of the country, as it was mentioned at the Gaiman signing, but the booksellers were on good enough terms to bring him an unsolicited ukelele to tune, which I thought spoke very well of all parties involved. Scalzi then proceeded to open his talk with his ukelele cover of “I melt with you.” I was pretty much charmed from that point on. After some great Q&A and authorly advice, I left with my shiny new copy of Lock In and a Modern English song on loop in my head.

Rookie FBI Agent Chris Shane is one of the most famous locked in survivors of Hayden’s Syndrome, a three stage infectious disease that emerged when Shane was a child that left behind not only personal physical complications for victims of the disease but also initiated broad social, political, and technological movements in response to the ubiquity of the disease. The first stage of illness is characterized by serious flu-like symptoms with a high risk of mortality. A percentage of first-stage survivors progressed to a second stage of disease with symptoms similar to viral meningitis. A portion of second stage patients develop lock-in, a permanent loss of physical mobility in spite completely normal brain function. A much smaller number of second stage patients, known as Integrators, recovered from Hayden’s but with significant alterations in brain structures allowing them, with the aid of technological augmentation, to carry another person’s conscience within their own body. Shane, and other Hayden’s operate day to day operations via robot-style personal transports or Integrators.

Shane’s first case is a murder in which the main suspect arrested at the scene is an integrator. This sort of setup would usually suggest a pretty typical police procedural or buddy cop story. However, Scalzi frames the crime in the context of a complex political and social setting in which Hayden’s and non-Hayden’s alike are responding to recent legislation ending government subsidies for Hayden related projects. While need is only growing, resources are drastically reduced by this law, resulting in protests, hate crimes, and market recoil. While the unique and original technology is often stereotyped to be the most impressive part of science fiction, I was most intrigued with the Hayden related legislation, culture, and political movements ranging from one extreme to the other. Scalzi has fully developed this world and I found myself entirely immersed in it.

I loved the interactions between Shane and his senior partner Vann. She seemed like an intense coworker to have and they shared some incredibly entertaining dialogue. Her backstory was pretty interesting too. I’d like to know more about her previous partner and why she has such an antagonistic relationship with the local Metro police detective Trinh.

I highly recommend checking out this book. If you would like to know more about the context of the world, you should check out the novella available online at Tor’s website. It’s like reading a well-directed documentary on the subject. I am hoping there will be additional books in this world but even if there are not, I will be reading more Scalzi in the future.

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MapleCroft or What Cherie Priest Wrote for Sara’s Birthday

It’s possible anyone I’ve spent any time talking to in the last year about books or entertainment in general knows how eager I have been to get my hands on MapleCroft by Cherie Priest. I ordered it for myself months ago as I knew it would drop on my birthday. As it happened, I was home in bed with a fever the day it arrived so I got to devote my undivided attention to it. And finished it within 48 hours, wholly unwilling to put it down for more than a few hours of sleep.

Ahead of release day, the premise of MapleCroft appealed to me from every angle. In this universe, Lizzie Borden is undeniably guilty of murdering her parents who had succumbed to an inexplicable Lovecraftian blight. Priest’s solid storytelling proves the appealing premise worthy of all the buzz ahead of release date. As always, Priest’s characters are revealed to be driven by their own unique mixture of motivation and flaws. When Borden is acquitted of murder, she retires with her invalid older sister in reclusive notoriety to a mansion Lizzie custom outfits with a state of the occult laboratory purposed to better understand the unfathomable threat to her family and seaside community. While Lizzie experiments with blighted specimens and delves deeply into related lore, her sister Emma continues to solidify her reputation as an eminent expert in marine biology by publishing high impact papers and corresponding with other scientists under a male pseudonym. Her scientific endeavors unearth a mysterious sea creature with strange radial symmetry and a bizarre aura of influence over susceptible populations. Once unleashed into the academic community, the influence of the creature permeates the surrounding populace with a miasma of madness and malady forcing Lizzie’s experimental theories to phase three clinical trials.

Not only did I love the premise, but the horror elements also captivated and unsettled me. One of the most persistent images for me was the behavioral characterization of a young beachcomber whose initial sign of affliction was an uncanny tilt of the head toward the sea at all times. So simple but so unsettling.

Many others have already noted it, but I also appreciated the epistolary style of storytelling Priest utilizes to give a comprehensive account of the events from multiple primary sources. In case you are like me and wasn’t aware there was a word for it, epistolary refers to the book’s composition of a series of documents and letters detailing the plot from different points of view. Stoker most notably framed Dracula this way and Priest is able to build horror over time, instill a growing sense of urgency, and illustrate firsthand the mental deterioration of main characters under the influence of the Lovecraftian horror.

It took me some time to settle on how I felt about the final solution Lizzie and her companions employ to defeat the palpably solidifying sense of malignancy. At first, I really wasn’t sure about it. I felt like I should love it but resisted. Later, it really grew on me quite a bit. Finally, I liken it to a solution that wouldn’t be out of place on an episode of Supernatural, a show I’m deep into the seventh season of and highly recommend. So, I guess the bottom line there is that I would love to discuss it with anyone who has read the book and hear their gut reaction to it. I just hope if any of my friends decide to read it that they clear a couple of days for for an engrossing read that demands resolution. Also, for the record I’m definitely considering dressing as this version of Lizzie Borden for Halloween this year.

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I’ve been trying to write for two weeks now…

and I have nothing but “fail” to put here.  Not that I feel personal failure, not really…I just have been jumping from one subject to another and can’t seem to focus on one theme.  Finally, I’ve decided that I’m not going to focus on a single theme.  We are going to do some free-form writing baby – watch out!

Let me share how excited I am to have finished Pete Townshend’s autobiography, Who I Am.  Pete Townshend, and the Who, have long been a part of my musical holy trinity (the Beatles and the Kinks round out my analogy).  This book provided an insight into the life of one of rocks most private individuals.  Reading about the man’s thoughts on how he created some of the most amazing music EVER and how he dealt with issues that haunted him throughout his life was inspiring.  A side note, it proved my paper I wrote as a freshman at UK that dealt with how Tommy was about Pete Townshend’s spiritual journey – bonus!!
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The Last Great Game…..A Review

I think it would be safe to say that out of the three Errant Easel members, I am probably the biggest University of Kentucky basketball fan – if not the biggest than I am definitely the oldest.

Please accept my following small review with a large flashback and insight into my family’s love of Big Blue for what it is – my best attempt to write about something surprisingly emotional.

Let me take you back….

March 28. 1992 – I had been 11 for a whopping 1 month and 10 days.  Kentucky was playing Duke for a chance to go to the Final Four.  The television was against the wall in the living room of our log house.  We were actually watching the game in the living room as opposed to the T.V. room which could only mean one thing: this game was HUGE!  I would be lying to you if I said “I can remember the whole game.”  I can’t.  I do remember jumping from a small chair, recently reupholstered and busted at the base, to the floor in front of the television and the brown brace holding our roof up.  I remember we, UK and the faithful following them, were ahead and all we had to do was hold them…just please hold them…there is only two seconds we have this!   More

Errant Easel Reviews: Tim Akers’s The Horns of Ruin

The friend who lent me The Horns of Ruin promised me plenty of badass Steampunk fantasy and this book delivered. Horns of Ruin is set in a world where three mortal brothers, a scholar, a warrior, and a leader, ascended to godhood in a war against an ancient race. Centuries later, cults have formed dedicated to the paths of each brother. This tripartite pantheon crumbles when Amon the Scholar assassinates his warrior brother Morgan and is put to death for his betrayal by Alexander, who is left to assume the role of god-emperor of mankind. Amon’s cult is disbanded and cultists imprisoned in their own library of knowledge by the Morganites.

Centuries later, the cult of Morgan has dwindled to but a few who have been largely relegated to ceremonial roles. Eva Forge is the last child to be dedicated to the cult and finds herself the final paladin of Morgan to battle along side the elder Fist of Morgan, the aging leadership of the group. Eva is tough and no-nonsense, brandishing a magicked sword and gun, always reasoning as a warrior, which in this case means acting instinctively even if not prudently.

At the beginning of the adventure, Eva accompanies her elderly Fratriarch on a puzzling and secretive mission to consult a young Amonite prisoner named Cassandra. On the return escort, the three are beset by undead bionic automatons, by which a plot to end the Cult of Morgan is revealed, the young Amonite is able to escape, and the Fratriarch is kidnapped.

The most interesting fantasy aspect of this setting is the paladin’s recitation or invocation of historical feats of courage, stamina, speed, or armor that Morgan utilized in the key battles of his life and now grants to his cultists when they invoke him. This is when promised badassery is delivered. In one scene, Eva is investigating the disappearance of another elderly member of the Fist with a peculiar proclivity for gardening. As Eva tracks the movements of a battle, she winds her way through dozens of slain assassins with peculiar wounds. At the end of the gruesome trail lies the body of her elder clutching a small garden implement, implying that the aged warrior had taken dozens of assassin lives with nothing but his invocations and a trowel prior to dying a confirmed badass.

While I have only touched on the fantasy aspects of the novel so far, the Steampunk aspects were important as well. While the reanimated assassins were kind of like zombies they also required a mechanical aspect leading me to describe them as automaton-like. Also, the city of Ash seemed to be a Wonder of Steam which relied tenuously on the work and research of the imprisoned Amonites, masters of technology.

While the story was an extremely fast paced unraveling of conspiracy and false accusation, there were some really interesting hints at backstory that teased entire other fascinating stories that I would like to read, Eva’s backstory in particular. Why was she dedicated to a dead god? How was she trained as paladin? What were the members of the fist like when they were younger? There were hints and light explanations of each of these but the stories would be so cool, I’d love to see them expanded. In the meantime, I highly recommend giving this book a chance. The setting is cool, the theology well-developed, and the narration feisty and noir-ish. I definitely plan on checking out Tim Akers’s other books, two parts of a trilogy The Heart of Veridon and The Dead of Veridon.

Went in Afraid – Walked Out Impressed

He just looks like he's tired of our crap and really, I don't blame him.

Now, before I begin, I really am still working on my art, school lesson plans, and my desire to knit.  If should also be known that I went through a HUGE Planet of the Apes phase at the end of my high school years and the beginning of my university studies.  I distinctly remember walking through the W.T. Young library at the University of Kentucky searching the top most floors for this one, small book by Pierre Boulle thinking I was the only one on campus wanting it.  I was wrong.  Planet of the Apes was out BUT, I was also on an Alec Guinness/William Holden kick as well and was happy to see that the same author wrote The Bridge on the River Kwai.  So, I checked Bridge out, went back to my dorm and watched Planet of the Apes.  (as an aside, The Bridge on the River Kwai was a really good book, and movie – movie may be better –  and I highly recommend it – sadly, I’ve still not read Planet of the Apes).

With the release of The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I was, like many others (i.e. my friends) concerned about what they were going to do to a series I love.  I felt the familiar rise in my stomach that I get now every Star Wars – Original Trilogy – is released.  You know, the whole “what did they do now?!” moment that just hits you in the gut.  With the Planet of the Apes series, that came when Tim Burton did his big re-do of the original movie.  While I thought the way the apes were portrayed was interesting, it’s not a movie that when I see it on T.V. I get excited about – not like I still do about the original Planet of the Apes…or Escape From the Planet of the Apes...heck, even Conquest of the Planet of the Apes!  Okay, I like all of the Planet of the Apes movies.  They are good watches that reflect the time period they were filmed in – late 60’s early 70’s America.  It doesn’t hurt that I love Roddy McDowall and have loved him in film since How Green Was My Valley – but I digress.

I’m happy to report that not only did Rise of the Planet of the Apes go above my expectations, it was a really, REALLY, good film.  James Franco does a wonderful job of playing the scientist searching for a cure to Alzheimer’s, a disease that his father is affected by, that has to take in a baby chimpanzee after its mother is killed trying to protect said baby.  That baby chimp is Caesar.  Caesar was exposed to the drug that Franco’s character is wanting to begin human trials with because no one realized that Bright Eyes (a reference to the nickname given to Charlton Heston’s character Taylor in the original PoA) was pregnant.  Due to this exposure, Caesar is extremely intelligent and learns at a rate higher than his human counterparts.

Now, I don’t want to give the film away.  I really just want everyone to know that this movie is worth your time and it will not poo on your memories of the original Planet of the Apes series.  The most impressive thing, to me, was believing in the characters – ape and human both – and believing in the possibility.  The plot isn’t ridiculous and the way the rise is explained was interesting.  It really made you think as a movie goer and I appreciated that.  It really has stuck with me all day today and I’d like to see it again.  Oh, and if you were wondering, yes, there are some references to the original movie, including the famous “Get your paws off me you damn dirty ape!,” but most were subtle and if you weren’t paying attention you might miss them (look for the Statue of Liberty reference – it was my favorite).

This scene broke my heart.

Now, go out there an enjoy some Planet of the Apes fun.  Whether it’s the original series or this new take on a great idea, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed….unless you watch the Tim Burton one…that one went to some weird places.  OH! Tom Felton, yeah, Malfoy, was good in the film as well.  That being said – Goodnight!

Quick question:  Why is Brian Cox so good at playing a complete ass?  Just wondering.