Yes, you read correctly. Actor Jamil Walker Smith, Stargate: Universe’s explosive Master Sergeant Ronald Greer, has kindly agreed to swing by the blog and field your questions – in exchange for my recommending him a couple of good local French restaurants with the understanding that if they fail to impress, he plans to call me out during his Q&A.
I’ll be gathering questions for Jamil over the next few days and plan to send him the batch sometime next week so that he’ll have something to do…besides learning his lines. Oh, and acting!
For a while there, I lost my reading mojo – and just when it seemed like it was gone for good came a succession of pretty damn fine books that restored my mojo AND ensured many more nights would be spent finishing “just one more chapter” instead of getting some much-needed sleep. So what follows are my stand-out reads of the past month (excluding Book of the Month Club picks I’ve already covered), titles I would STRONGLY recommend to all you avid readers out there…
One of the things that makes SFSignal.com such a terrific site is that it is entertaining yet informative across a broad spectrum of genres and works, offering everything from articles dealing in science fact to feature op. ed.’s from some of the most fascinating people working in SF, Fantasy, and Horror today. One of the latter – specifically, SFSignal’s ongoing Mind Meld – is a terrific source for book recommendations, like Jonathan Barnes’ The Somnambulist which would have never made my reading radar had it not been suggested by Eos‘s Executive Editor Diana Gill.
Edward Moon, a former grand illusionist suffering through the ignoble tail-end of his career, is enlisted by dark forces in London’s shadow authority to investigate a conspiracy hatched by even darker forces in London’s underbelly. With the help of his hairless, seemingly indestructible stage assistant, The Somnambulist, Moon must save the city from a nefarious plot that threatens to overturn established society and usher in a horrific new order.
At turns macabre, bizarre, thrilling, and hilarious, Jonathan Barnes’ first book is a superb read. It’s weird yet wonderful, one of those books that’s so much fun it keeps you up into the wee hours of the early morning. The unique nature of the narrative makes for some surprising and rewarding developments although, ultimately, the unreliable narrator also yields some unsatisfying returns. Still, a book head and shoulders above most first-time novels. Devilishly witty.
In my opinion, Stephen King is under-appreciated. “What’s that?”you say. “Under-appreciated?!” Yes, under-appreciated because despite the innumerable awards and the 350 million + books sold worldwide, I still run into people who dismiss him as a hack for no other reason than the fact that the man is prolific. I say “no other reason” because if anyone has ever read Stephen King, they’d be hard-pressed to deny he is an incredibly talented writer. Granted, his work may not be to everyone’s tastes (I, for one, didn’t like his Dark Tower series), but you’ve got to give credit where credit is due and King deserves credit for crafting some of the best fiction being written today.
Just Before Sunset is a change of pace for King, his first collection of short stories since 2002’s Everything’s Eventual. Surprisingly, the first tale off the top, Willa, is the weakest of the bunch, but the ensuing stories go from strength to strength. The Gingerbread Girl focuses on a woman’s harrowing encounter with a potential serial killer. Harvey’s Dream is a disquieting peek at one family’s potentially prophetic experience. The Things They Left Behind is a touching story that focuses on a survivor of the 9/11 attacks who must come to terms with the haunting memories of his deceased former colleagues while, in a similar thematic vein, The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates tells the tale of a recent widow who receives a phone call from beyond the grave. Capping the collection is my favorite of the bunch, A Very Tight Place, that delivers a terrifying account of the ordeal suffered by a man trapped in a toppled outhouse. Not for the faint of heart!
Probably the most frightening dystopian novel I’ve ever read owing not so much to the hardships faced by the survivors of a global catastrophe but the lengths these people will go to in order to survive, sacrificing their very humanity to ensure the safety of their loved ones. Published back in 1956, the book paints a scenario so deeply unsettling that it rivals any contemporary work of apocalyptic fiction.
A virus has wiped out grass and crops in Asia leading to mass starvation and civil unrest, but the English authorities appear to have things under control, assuring the populace that they are close to perfecting a counter-virus that will leave them unscathed. But when those best-laid plans come for naught, panic sets in. As the government wrestles with the ethical dilemma of bombing major cities in order to pare down the population and ensure food and social order for the survivors, a desperate group, tipped off to the looming danger, escape London in a bid to reach a distant farm in a remote, defensible valley.
This morning, I swung by the post office to pick up a package. I was surprised to discover that it was from my friend and former house-guest Akemi (presently in Perth studying English), then even more surprised to discover the contents: a very heartfelt card thanking me for being such a wonderful host and – these…
The package also contained business cards for the Hotel Okura – conveniently enough located in Akemi’s hometown of Osaka, should I just happen to find my way to Japan later this year. I’d say chances are good.
What a sweetheart!