July 31, 2011

[Book Review] After Dark

by Haruki Murakami

Published: 2007 Knopf Doubleday
First published: 2004 (Japan)
Notes: English translation by Jay Rubin 
My rating:  4 out of 5

After Dark by Haruki Murakami reminded me of carefully-shuffled cards. Two decks representing two separate (yet ultimately and intimately related) stories are slowly merged, chapter by chapter, until they make one cohesive whole that is far more beautiful and evocative than either story would be if taken alone. Murakami is a master of this technique, and he is in fine form here. 

July 23, 2011

[Book Review] Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang

by Kate Wilhelm

First published: 1976, Harper & Row (NY)
Awards won: Hugo (1977), Locus (1977)
Notes:  SF Masterworks #67, original cover art by M.C. Escher
Full Disclosure:  I received my review copy of the 1998 Orb/Tom Doherty, Assoc. printing of this novel (ISBN 0312866151, different cover) via the Goodreads First Reads program. 
My rating:  5 out of 5

On one level, Kate Wilhelm’s Hugo-winner Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is a brilliant and insightful musing on one possible set of implications of cloning.  On another, it is an environmental/ecological cautionary tale.  But at its heart, it is a family saga spanning several generations.  I was immediately charmed by this story’s warmth and humanity. The first few chapters perfectly set the stage for what is to come, introducing the central family at a time when things are mostly normal, a time before the world began to disintegrate and life took on a thousand forms of adversity and complexity. I liked this family, appreciated their strong loyalties and values. I wanted things to go well for them.

But things do not go well, or at least not as planned. Ecological, economic, and environmental turmoil ensues, and the process is wholly believable to a modern reader. Wilhelm was remarkably prescient in her writing, and the book feels neither dated nor far-fetched in its allusions to these societal troubles. She writes as a realist, neither heavy-handed nor preachy. Yet she is unflinching in authenticity, and I was fully convinced that her future is not only plausible, but at least partially probable. This apocalypse makes a bang for the world at large, but in the microcosm of the world of the central family, the effect is more akin to a whisper spreading out through the generations, impossible to ignore, until finally it is the only sound left.

July 22, 2011

Welcome to SF Solitaire

Hello, and welcome to my little corner of the web.  I've been involved in discussions and reviewing on Goodreads.com since 2009, and while I adore Goodreads and the community of readers there, I wanted to have a central place to collect some of my reviews.

I also wanted to focus specifically on standalone speculative fiction in all its myriad forms.  There are so many wonderful series available, and although I certainly do enjoy some of them, I've never been a habitual series reader.  I have always preferred the self-contained stories of standalone novels, and I am particularly fond of many lesser-known gems.  There are many great SF blogs out there dedicated to general SF reading, as well as many themed around series reads, but I haven't personally come across many specifically geared towards discussing and reviewing standalone works.

It is my hope that visitors will find some great new reads here as well as suggesting some to me that I might not have read.  Please feel free to leave comments/discussion points on posts that capture your interest and/or connect with me elsewhere around the web.  (I'm not a Facebook gal, but many of the usual social suspects can be found linked at the top of the blog near the RSS feed .)  I hope you'll visit often and help spark some great discussions!