Wanderers

WanderersSo……Wanderers by Chuck Wendig is a great book, but I probably should not have read it in May of 2020 (though it was first published in July of last year). Simply because the state of the world is kind of shit right now. Though I am recommending this book, I am also recommending that you put it on your TBR list and read it when the world gets back to some form of normal (especially if you live in the United States). I will, as always, keep this spoiler free. Here is a look at the back cover:

“Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange illness. She appears to be sleepwalking. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. Soon Shana and her sister are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And, like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family. As the sleepwalking epidemic awakens terror and violence, and as civilization collapses, the secret behind this phenomenon will either tear society apart–or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.”

On V.E. Schwab’s No Write Way interview series, Chuck Wendig called this novel his love letter to Stephen King’s The StandWanderers was often compared to The Stand since its publication and I can see why. (I have not yet read The Stand but will likely read it at some point. I started it once and gave up after about 70 pages. Apparently the first 150 pages are character introductions and I kept waiting for things to kick off. Granted, the book is 1200 pages. I just couldn’t get into at that time.)

One little warning though: this book does take a bit of a dark turn. It was somewhat expected to happen, but a certain scene really rattled me. A friend of mine really likes Stephen King, he has read The Stand and he did state it also gets really dark, and I’ve already recommended this book to him. Because despite the dark times, there is a lot of great things happening and the story is worth the read.

Wanderers is a large book at 800 pages, but the pacing is extremely well done and the writing, much like Stephen King’s, is easy to read. Not simplistic, just easy to dive into and keep going (the true mark of a master of the craft). Of course, I liked some characters more than others and at times didn’t much care about one or two story-lines, but they all wrap together to make one overarching, impelling story. The characters are also not all introduced at once, but brought in at various stages and without creating a overwhelmingly large cast. Again, this ties back to the great pacing and intrigue of the story.

You can tell Chuck put a lot of research into making this story plausibly realistic in regards to how diseases spread, impact the world, and how organizations like the CDC combat and investigate such threats. It’s always crazy to be reminded that a tiny virus or disease can threaten a species, including the human race (even while we are living it, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic though of course the book’s disease is much worse). I can almost guarantee you will not be able to predict what happens throughout this book, which is a good thing.

My uncle actually bought me a copy of this book, of which I am thankful, and I read it in about a week and a half (the story/writing will pull you in). My reading speed has really increased this past year. If you are up for an epic, apocalyptic-esque mystery, then pick up Wanderers. Maybe just wait until the current pandemic has passed.

Happy Reading.

12 Science Fiction Books to Help You Escape Earth for Awhile

There is nothing quite like exploring the universe. Since we can’t physically go take a vacation among the stars, here are some books to let you do so from the comfort of your own home.

The Martian

Andy Weir’s The Martian is a great getaway, even if it means being stranded on Mars. Despite the serious predicament, Mark Whatney keeps a fun attitude as he tries to survive. If you liked the movie and prefer another story by Weir, he does have another novel titled Artemis that is also a fun read. It takes place on a colonized Moon and is also filled with fun, scientifically plausible events.

The Forever War

Joe Haldeman’s story of intergalactic warfare against an unknown enemy includes the realistic effects of time versus traveling near the speed of light. This story follows William Mandella as he tries to survive the war, and learns to survive with how the war has changed him.

Dune

With the new Dune movie set to release at the end of the year, I suspect many people will read this book for the first time within the next several months. Unfortunately, some people will also forego reading the book and only watch the movie believing it will be just as good. The book is almost always better. I have high hopes for the new movie, but I know how good the book is. I only read the first book since it can be read as a standalone story. I am uncertain if I will read the entire series, but there is more story out there if you find yourself wanting more after the initial book. The first six books were written by Frank Herbert. All other sequels were written by his son, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson. Though this book came out in 1964, it reads like it could have been written last year.

The Princess of Mars

This is the first book in a series most commonly known as John Carter of Mars. I discovered these books after watching the movie John Carter back in 2012. I thought the movie was entertaining but it differed greatly from the books. Interesting fact, the movie was released exactly 100 years after the first book/story was published. They were written by Edgar Rice Burroughs who is best known for his Tarzan books.

Ender’s Game

This is another series of which I have only read the first book. Orson Scott Card wrote plenty of sequels to keep you satisfied if you are left wanting more, but I was okay reading just the first one. I may try more of the series at another time. I first read this book when the movie was set to release in 2013. I thought the movie was a great adaptation of the film.

The Hunger Games

Okay, this one technically takes place entirely on Earth, but it is an interesting series. Suzanne Collins’s dystopian trilogy recently had an addition, released last week, titled The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes which takes place 64 years prior to the events of the original The Hunger Games book.

Solaris

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem is a psychological ride originally published in 1970. It takes place above the planet of Solaris which contains a sentient ocean. Kris Kelvin is sent to the planet in an attempt to understand what this alien life, which envelopes the entire planet, could be and what it can do.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

What’s better than an escape? An escape that let’s you laugh. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an absurd journey that will not only get you away from current events, it will remind you how crazy things can be when viewed objectively (and at a slight angle). The Earth is destroyed to make way for an intergalactic bypass? What? Douglas Adams was a treasure.

All System’s Red

All Systems Red is the first book in The Murderbot Diaries. Murderbot, as it calls itself, is a machine/human construct designed to protect humans who are surveying new planets. Murderbot would rather watch TV than even be around humans, but it must do its job so the company that owns it doesn’t find out that it hacked its governor module (the thing that makes sure it follows every order). The first four books are novellas. The fifth book is a full novel and was released earlier this month. There will be another novella continuing the series slated to be released next April. I adore this series.

The Shadow of the Torturer

Gene Wolfe’s series The Book of the New Sun begins with The Shadow of the Torturer. This series is unlike anything I have read before. Once you get into it, you can’t help but keep reading to know where Severian’s adventures will lead him. Each chapter gives a better glimpse into the world Severian inhabits. But is it a distant future version of Earth, or is it perhaps one of a distant past, or is it Earth at all? It could be any of the three. The real question is, how did humanity end up like this?

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

I recently saw some posts floating around stating that the book version of the third Star Wars film is actually superior to the film itself. I read the book a long time ago, shortly before the film released, and I remember it being great. Matthew Stover did a great job bringing the characters to life and the book delves more into the psyche of Anakin. I read a lot of Star Wars books when I was younger and there are some great stories. Yeah, I know, most of the books are considered non-canon now because of the new movies and stuff, but who cares if they are/aren’t cannon if they are good. Some of my favorite Star Wars stories are technically still cannon and they are in book format. These being the Republic Commando series. If you like Star Wars at all, and haven’t read any of the books, check some out.

Neuromancer

William Gibson gives readers an amazing ride with Neuromancer. Published in 1984, this book has influenced many other science fiction stories. This is the The Matrix meets The Ghost in the Shell before either existed. Though the iconic first line has already become dated, this book remains a great read for any science fiction fans.

Network Effect

Murderbot, Network Effect

Oh Murderbot, how I’ve missed you. Martha Wells’s The Murderbot Diaries continues with Network Effect. If you have not read any Murderbot books yet, do so immediately. This series is phenomenal. The first book in the series is titled All Systems Red. I recently discovered that the first four books (all of them novellas) will be published in a one volume collection. It is supposedly scheduled to be available later this year.

Network Effect is the fifth installment of the series and the first novel. 350 pages of glorious Murderbot fun bringing back many characters and introducing a few new ones. We get a greater understanding of the Preservation and Corporate territories thus bringing this universe into better perspective. We also get to see our beloved bot continue its journey of understanding other humans, itself, and its place in the universe. Murderbot has come a long way since hacking its governor module.

Murderbot is an introvert. They don’t like interacting with humans (though it is getting better at it), they would prefer to spend all their time watching media/shows, and they are trying to figure out their existence in the universe. This is why I think so many people have fallen in love with this character. Most of us can relate to one (if not all) of these areas. If you have ever canceled plans to stay home and do nothing, you can relate to Murderbot. Murderbot can also be a snarky asshole even when it is inadvertently creating attachments to humans and other constructs (which may also be another level of connection to the character).

There is so much I want to discuss, but I try to keep all book recommendations spoiler-free, so I’ll wrap things up.

Even though Network Effect came out a few weeks ago, the next installment has been confirmed. Fugitive Telemetry is the next story and will be released in April 2021. It will be a novella similar to the first four. More information about this new book, and the 1-4 collection, can currently be found at Macmillan’s website. I am already looking forward to Murderbot’s next adventure.

Happy Reading.

Writing is Like Baking a Cake

This may seem like a weird analogy, but hear me out because I think it has a lot of merit. Writing is like baking a cake, in many ways, with books being the end result. Books are cake. We have all eaten some cake well before trying to bake one and therefore are exposed to what cake is and how delicious it can be before we even think of making our own. Many people enjoy cake without ever having the desire to make one. This is why I am comparing the consumption of cake to reading.

Eating Cake

We learn to read before we learn to write and all writers fall in love with storytelling through reading before they ever desire to create their own stories. Reading is kind of like research, just like eating cake can be research. You can of course simply enjoy the cake without making note of anything, but bakers will look for what makes the cake good or bad or figure out why they or others like it. The same goes for writers. We read extensively and often will break a book down to figure out how it works. We read a lot of different authors, genres, etc. to better know how to craft a good story. Bakers try different cakes to experience the different flavor combinations, density, icing styles, etc.

Through eating cake, bakers can study and learn all there is to know about cakes and what makes them great. They will know why some cakes are more popular than others but they also have their own taste. They may think a chocolate cake combined with chocolate icing is too sweet. They may prefer a white cake with fruit filling. There are cakes for different occasions or moods and, though we do have favorites, it is very hard to eat the same thing over and over without mixing things up every once in a while.

Exploring the possibilities of cake through eating is essential and can be done without ever having learned what a recipe is.

Finding the Best Recipe

Recipes are great. They are structure and, if followed correctly, will produce what they promise. It is best to follow a recipe when first learning how to bake a cake because you learn the basics. After several attempts, there will likely be a few mistakes such as adding too much flower or forgetting the butter or accidentally using baking soda versus baking powder. You learn what each ingredient adds to the cake and how to tweak recipes to get the kind of cake you are wanting. After many attempts, you’ll have the basics down and may start experimenting. You’ll also know exactly how long to bake the cake to make sure it doesn’t dry out.

This is where many essential lessons are learned. First, not all cakes will come out exactly as you plan. You may picture a perfect three-tier cake with a cool icing pattern but may end up with some distorted Leaning Tower of Pisa. Secondly, baking cakes is a lot of work. Because you realize the hard work that goes into baking cakes, you now better appreciate the great cakes you get to eat. You are also able to determine why you don’t like some cakes. Not just the easy reason, such as the icing and cake combo or ratio doesn’t seem right, but specific reasons like they didn’t use enough eggs. You realize that a lot of the early work in learning to bake ends up with a lot of cakes in the trash. Many aspiring bakers may give up at this point. They realize the work needed to become a master of this craft, and they either are too impatient or too lazy to perfect their practice. Those who stick with it will eventually be able to make the cake they always dreamed of, and you are still baking.

This is when you move to the fun stuff. You have learned recipes and know exactly what is needed to bake the cakes you want to make. You are free to deviate from the recipes or make your own. After all, following a recipe is simply baking a cake someone else created. You can start experimenting and bake some really good cakes. Sometimes you will try things that don’t work and need to start over. You may try making cupcakes and venture into a few baking items outside of just cakes. You will explore and continue to learn. The important thing is that you are still baking. You are still creating and are learning how to make great cakes.

You are now a baker in your own right. You love baking and you want to make cakes forever. But that isn’t enough. Baking takes a lot of time and effort and you want others to eat and enjoy your cake.

(I could go into choices of ingredients and cake pans and styles and icing and prolong this analogy forever, but I’ll wrap things up soon.)

Serving Cake

Some bakers are okay making cakes out of a box instead of really getting into it and learning how to bake from scratch. Some bakers perfect their recipe and make the same cake over and over. Both of these bakers do well and many people eat their cakes. But you want to make many different cakes and you want people to eat them. Letting others eat the cake can be hard at first because you put a lot of work into it and want people to enjoy it.

You may try a local bake sale. You may send some cakes out to shops to see if they are interested in selling your cakes in their stores. you may get responses like “this cake is good, but it just isn’t right for our store” or “we are interested in your cakes, can you send us another sample”. You may get a few irrational responses like “this is the worst cake I’ve ever eaten” and even though you know your cake is good, and everyone’s taste buds are different, that response will dig in a bit and try to convince you that you are not a good baker. This fear of rejection may prevent you from getting into the kitchen, but you will later realize that you actually make great cakes and, yeah, some didn’t turn out perfect, but you know your efforts aren’t wasted and that one prick is an outlier. Your cakes have value and you will persist, because you know that you will eventually bake a cake that will change someone’s life.

You keep baking and make several cakes that you know are phenomenal, but for some reason no one wants to buy them. You keep baking and keep trying to find the people who will like these awesome cakes you made. You start to wonder if your cakes will ever get the appreciation they deserve. You know a lot of people will love them if they only give them a try. But also, in the end, even though you have tasted your own cake thousands of times, you will be happy knowing that you made that cake. It was the cake you needed and no one else will make that exact cake.

Then the dream happens. Someone has tried your cake and they like it. They commission you to bake a cake. Not just any cake either, but a wedding cake. You accept because it is something you always wanted. You bust your ass and make the perfect cake. It gets served and a majority of the guests like it, some don’t, and a few rave about it which lands you with a new request. You are ecstatic and accept. Then you realize you have to repeat all of that hard work to make that great cake. But it can’t be the same cake because this is for a different wedding. They want some of the same flavors, but they want some new ones. They want a unique cake. So you begin again.

Every so often, while working hard in the kitchen, you realize that you are now baking cakes for a living and fully appreciate this. Other times, you see other cakes or eat a cake that is so good that you realize you are an amateur who will never become a master cake-maker. You still compare your cakes to those made by people who have been baking for decades, and you need to remember all the trashed cakes and mistakes you made in the beginning in order to realize how far you have come.

You continue baking because you love to bake cakes. Even if you don’t sell many or even any, you will keep baking because you love it even when you curse your passion while standing over a ruined cake or dropping an egg on the floor. You keep baking and you keep eating cake.

My Cake

Now I bring the analogy home and use it against myself. I have been eating cake for years. I first enjoyed cake when I was a wee lad and have devoured hundreds of cakes since. Large cakes, small cakes, trays of cupcakes, you name it. I’m still trying different cakes. I started looking at recipes at a fairly young age, but I never really started baking cakes until I was older. Even now, I have not made a full cake. I have part of a batter made. I need to determine what else it needs before I put it in the oven. I’ve started a new cake and hope to finish it in a reasonable time. I hope it turns out well and that a few people will try it. I have made one cupcake that I am proud of which did get sold to a store.

I spend a lot more time eating cake than I do in the kitchen, but I will one day make a great cake that others will enjoy. Hopefully, I will get to make many. I only need to ignore my doubt and just start baking.

MasterClass

I love learning. I love learning about anything and everything, but (like everyone else) I love learning about the things I’m most interested in. I was fortunate to have been gifted an all-access pass to MasterClass for my birthday last year by my incredible wife. I originally wanted to take the class offered by Neil Gaiman, which I did, but then I began taking classes by other authors then by other professionals in different fields. I have had nothing but great experiences with every class I have taken, so I thought I’d share them here.

What prompted me to write about MasterClass is the class I am taking right now: Space Exploration by Chris Hadfield. This class has proved extremely beneficial and I seem to have started it at the perfect time. With all the weirdness happening now on Earth, escaping into space (or learning how humanity has been able to do it) has been a huge help in maintaining my flickering flame of hope in humanity. The class has been a reminder of how humanity continues to dream and is trying to better understand our place in the universe. This, I think, is easily forgotten when we are squabbling among ourselves or worrying about the day-to-day. It’s always great to be reminded that we are striving for greater things. I just hate that I have to need the reminding. 

Space has always interested me. In fact, I began my university years studying physics and engineering. I ended up with a degree in English Literature and proceeded to get an advanced degree in Writing, but I’ve maintained my interests in the sciences and other fields which is why I like to read and write science fiction.

MasterClass offers a plethora of subjects including film-making, cooking, music, writing, and business to name just a few. I have completed all classes related to writing. These were taught by Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Dan Brown, David Baldacci, Malcolm Gladwell, James Patterson, Judy Blume, David Mamet, R. L. Stine, Joyce Carol Oates, Aaron Sorkin (screenplay writing), Billy Collins (poetry), and the latest to be added being David Sedaris. 

I’m ashamed to admit that I discovered two of these authors specifically because of their courses. These two being Malcolm Gladwell and Margaret Atwood. I was aware of Atwood’s work, slightly, without knowing about her or being able to associate her name with that work. This work being the television adaptation of her novel The Handmaid’s Tale which I have not seen but I have since read the book. I find Margaret a delight as a person. In the past six months or so, I have listened to all of Gladwell’s books (he reads the books himself which made the audiobook more appealing). David Sedaris’s class was only recently added and I was hesitant to try it. I had read a short essay of his in a college course and liked it. I tried a book of his last year in audio format, also read by the author, and I was dismayed to come away from the book simply thinking of him as an asshole. But I took his class and my perspective changed. I learned more about the craft and about how David comes to it in a way that attracts so many people. He is, like most authors, an observer of human behavior, and he puts his own unique spin on things. I’m happy to say I “understand” how he operates and can therefore better appreciate his work.

There are several authors whose classes I have completed but still have not read any their work, but I plan to read something by them soon(ish). The most surprising one may be Dan Brown. I initially took his class just to learn about writing in general and not specifically about thrillers since I don’t read or write thrillers. I believe you can learn important things from areas you would otherwise not consider even if it falls in the same field. I was thoroughly surprised and elated to find his MasterClass to be one of my favorites. Aaron Sorkin’s screenwriting class is another of my favorites. I’ve dabbled a little into writing for the screen and I learned a lot from him.

I’ve only taken a few classes outside of the ones focused on writing. The first was by Hans Zimmer simply because I am a fan of his work and it is related to film. I will never be a music composer, but it was fun learning more about that field. I have started Itzhak Perlman’s class since I’ve always been interested in learning to play the violin and I hope to at least learn the basics some day.

I plan on taking Neil Degrasse Tyson’s class soon and then delve into other areas. Perhaps I’ll try Penn & Tellers simply because magic is fun. I’ll likely try some classes from actors and directors to learn more about film. Ron Howard, Samuel L. Jackson, and Helen Mirren are ones I am currently wanting to see. Perhaps I’ll try Gordon Ramsey’s cooking classes. I could definitely expand my knowledge to become a better cook.

But for now, I am continuing to learn about space from Chris Hadfield. I’m loving every second of it and am learning a lot about how we are actually doing things outside the atmosphere. I’d never thought of orbiting the earth as being a continuous free-fall over the horizon. I’ve had several little changes to thinking like that so far and I look forward to the upcoming classes on spacewalking. 

If you find yourself interested in MasterClass, I highly recommend it. Perhaps it is the very thing you have been looking for during these uncertain times.