I was conflicted about The Girl in Red. On the one hand, I’d read (and reviewed) Christina Henry’s work before, and knew her to be an excellent writer; on the other, the idea of a “Red Riding-hood” themed novel seemed a recipe for silly cliché. As it turns out, The Girl in Red is hard-core dystopian science fiction.
Red, a young lady of mixed-race with a partial-prosthetic leg, is thrown into a post-apocalyptic world that is less like a fairytale and more like something dark and real that you might expect from Cormac McCarthy or Kazuo Ishiguro. Her mother named her Cordelia, but her father called her Red because of her penchant for red hoodies. The name fits because Red is inclined to action, has the attitude to drive her through hardships, and can “see red” when fueled by outrage. We find out in the very first scene that Red carries a hatchet and isn’t shy about using it.
Red’s world is the aftermath of a deadly virus that has reduced society, and her family, to a scattered few survivors. Like the fairytale, she is trying to reach grandmother’s house in the woods, but in this case it’s because the isolated home is likely untouched by the human-carried disease. The disease is frightening because it is ruthlessly effective, but the ruthless remnants of the human race are the real wolf in this story. She travels through the woods to avoid these human nightmares, who will seem all too real to all but the most innocent of readers. But the human remnants aren’t the only terrors here, the biological disaster that ruined the world reveals further horrors as the story progresses.
Christina Henry does an excellent job of developing Red as the story progresses. Red’s inclination to action drives the action up front, but this would soon seem one dimensional if that’s all there was to this protagonist. But we find out little by little of Red’s struggles between love and anger for her lost family, the anger mostly due to a perception that they might have been saved had they only listened to her advice, yet even this attitude evolves along with the story. By the end it is impossible not to care deeply for Red and suffer along with her.
I’m posting this prior to the 18 June release date thanks to an ARC provided by Berkley Publishing. If you want a story that starts with a quirky tie-in, carries you along with a fast moving plot, and leads you to love the protagonist, then The Girl in Red is a novel you shouldn’t miss.
William Tobias found a way to loop around space-time and meet a young version of himself. Can he change the destiny of his younger self?
My story “The Road Not Taken” is now published in the April 2019 issue of Bards and Sages Quarterly. I am so happy my story found a home in this fantastic magazine. So many great stories have landed here, by so many great authors.
A recent article talks about MIT researchers Steve Ramirez and Xu Liu, who successfully implanted a false memory into the mind of a mouse. This is the real world catching up with science fiction, where the possibility of implanted memories has been around since Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series in the 1940’s. In fact, I used a variation of this in my recently published short story, “A Matter of Nurture“. So now we have reached a point in time where all the social and moral questions raised by science fiction must be confronted in real life.
This is a “no brainer” for the positive implications, which include: mitigating painful memories attached to PTSD, depression, and other psychiatric disorders; potential Alzheimer’s applications; recovering lost memories; even aiding addiction disorders. The potential negative implications paint a much more troublesome picture. When false memories can be implanted, the potential for nefarious applications are easy to imagine: silencing dissent, tampering with witnesses, modifying behavior to create soldiers or assassins, are just a few that have been explored in fiction. Now that the breakthrough has been made, how long until these applications are being tested in a lab somewhere?
Dani Díaz is a virtuoso in a dark but necessary profession. Or is she? A job gone horribly wrong makes her doubt everything she thought she knew, including her own identity.
My story “A Matter of Nurture” is now published in issue 29 of Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine. I am honored to have my tale in this award winning magazine. So many great stories have found a home here over the years, and the authors of those tales include some of the legends of science fiction.
This article in Medical Xpress addresses a huge pet peeve of mine. Scientists largely suck at statistics! Especially for experimental scientists, this is insane. Yet I cannot express how frustrating it has been to me throughout my career as an experimental scientist to see study after study proven invalid because the statistics were botched. And I’m not just talking about bad scientists; even the very best are constantly caught in this trap. Many a brilliant scientist has treated statistics as an afterthought and been burned by it. In fact, I’d bet many non-scientists can name multiple times that some big breakthrough was announced in the media, only to fade away into nothingness. Virtually always this was due to the responsible scientists not understanding their statistics.
This article delves into possible causes for this. I myself was drawn into the fray a few years back, to try and stem the tide of poor statistics in my own field, nuclear physics. Yes, you heard that right: even nuclear physicists constantly botch statistics. I was asked by a government agency to write a paper concerning the right way to handle nuclear statistics, and the result was so often requested that I eventually posted it on this website for easy access.
My hope is that this problem will be taken more and more seriously, so that a larger emphasis is put on statistics when training scientists. Then, maybe, my head can finally stop exploding!
Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge is a book that defies category. This is too bad, because it will get categorized anyway, which means many people will miss it. I can’t express how sad this is, because Mary’s Monster is an otherworldly great book! If you were to ask me what type of book, well…that’s where things get confusing. It was announced in Publishers Weekly as a free verse and fully illustrated YA. Unfortunately, knowing this may turn you away, if that isn’t the kind of thing that sounds interesting to you, which would be a terrible misfortune. Personally, I don’t know what it is: fictionalized biography, graphic novel, dark children’s book? I only came across it because of my own personal obsession with Mary Shelley. But I do know I love it!
On the surface it is a biography of Mary Shelly told from her point of view in prose and poetry with illustrations on every page. But that says nothing! There is a magic about this book that draws you in from the first pages. Frankenstein’s monster reads you into the story, then Mary takes over her own tale. I’m well acquainted with Mary Shelley’s biographical particulars, and they are here with one-hundred percent accuracy, but it is the way Mary tells her tale that is so compelling. She pulls no punches and makes no attempt to paint herself as an angel. This is Mary Shelley, warts and all!
The illustrations are dark and gothic, like her famous novel. The text is sparse as you’d expect for a young persons’ book, but in no way immature; this is compelling for adults without a doubt. The rhythm of text and illustrations is fast and immersive; you are deep within this book before you come up to take a breath. One moment you’ll find your brow furrowed in concern at some of her actions, and the next moment your heart will be aching for this bruised and battered young woman.
When she finally reveals that her famous monster is indeed based on herself, you will be certain without a doubt of the truth of this statement. You will also marvel how this very personal creation of an impossibly young woman could have lasted over two-hundred years and spawned the entire genre of modern science fiction. Bringing Mary to life in this way is a masterwork by Lita Judge. I don’t care what type of book you normally read, you’ll love Mary’s Monster!
I recently saw a banner headline on a social media site (which shall remain nameless) that said: “Mars Terraforming Not Possible.” This instantly annoyed me. I am familiar with the science, and happen to know that terraforming Mars is within the realm of future science. So, I followed the link and found an article titled: “Mars terraforming not possible using present-day technology.” A very different message! The article refers to a lack of CO2 sources on Mars, which isn’t news. In fact, the article is based on a study published in Nature Astronomy titled: “Inventory of CO2 available for terraforming Mars.” It is merely a more accurate assessment of potential greenhouse gas sources on the planet. So, not news; it has long been understood that terraforming Mars would almost certainly require an outside source of CO2, among other problems like its lack of a magnetic field. Schemes exist to address these issues, but require a more advanced technology than what we have today. In summary, terraforming Mars remains what it always has been, a someday project, not a now thing.
So once again, social media deceives us with sensationalist headlines that distort the truth. If the point was simple click bait, then congratulations, you made me click. But what is the deeper reason we are flooded with a constant barrage of such distortions? Modern Luddites? Talk about oxymorons! Or is it simply unhappy people getting a kick out of fooling people? It seems there is a rich vein of psychology to be mined here. Perhaps it already has been. Anyone want to share a theory?
I must admit that I was first drawn to this title because I’m a physicist and I inadvertently read the title as Planck’s Law, the law of physics involving blackbody radiation. I was curious to see how somebody could make fiction out of this physics principle. Of course, the title is actually Plank’s Law, and has nothing to do with physics. I didn’t realize this until I was reading the plot blurb about the book. When I realized my mistake, I was momentarily annoyed that someone would try to trick physicists in this manner. Until it occurred to me that the ‘fiction for physicists’ market would be so infinitesimal that the author would have to be nuts to seek it out on purpose. By this time, I’d read the blurb and was interested anyway.
The book concerns a teenager, Trevor, dealing with a fatal Huntington’s diagnosis. Given that this is a YA book, this is pretty heavy subject matter. The novel opens with Trevor on the edge of a cliff, beginning to at least imagine what suicide would be like, and if it might be a better option for everyone. This is when Plank shows up, a quirky 93-year-old with a snarky manner that interests Trevor and distracts him from his morbid thoughts. They begin a friend/mentor relationship that advises Trevor throughout the book. Plank’s Law turns out to be a personal philosophy to “stop trying to make sense of things and bloody well live your life.”
Key characters as the story develops are contemporaries Sara and Antonio. Antonio is a reckless best friend who disappears from the story, much to Trevor’s dismay, because of a move far away. Sara is a cancer patient with an easy beauty, both inside and out, who embraces Plank’s Law with Trevor as they deal with their diseases together. She eventually helps Trevor get back in contact with Antonio. The way these relationships develop is engaging and convincing and drew me along through three-quarters of the novel. Near the end, things seem rushed and less convincing. I found myself feeling unsatisfied by the end, probably because I expected a better wrap-up after such an artful build-up. Nevertheless, this is a worthwhile novel dealing with very serious subjects.
This story exists within a dystopian future America, where the central portion of the country is a political and economic wasteland know as the Tropic of Kansas. The story follows Sig and his foster sister Tania in separate narratives through this harrowing tale of a broken America.
Brown paints the picture of this grim future with unrelenting realism. It is a cruel world that feels like the natural evolution of today’s vitriolic political climate. Perhaps because of this, it can be a hard story to read sometimes; the sense that this might be the world our children inherit is depressing, and always close to the surface of the narrative. It is a testament to Brown’s skill as a writer that the story pulls you onward despite this grim milieu. There is no doubt after only a few paragraphs that you are in the hands of a master storyteller.
Sig is a feral youth on the outside of the law. At the story outset he is deported from a Canada standing apart from the chaos in America, and is delivered into a detection center. He escapes and heads south, fighting and fleeing the whole way. Through his eyes we encounter the desperation and ugliness of the dispossessed people on the fringe of this dystopia. Tania, on the other hand, begins the tale as a government investigator, but with no illusions about the compromised nature of the politicians she serves under. As her story progresses, she learns more and more of the ugly innards of this system, and finds herself increasingly ostracized.
As you might guess, the narrative threads of Sig and Tania eventually come together. I won’t add any plot spoilers as to how this all wraps up, but I will say that there is no neat and tidy happy ending. In fact, such an ending would be a poor fit for this tale. This is a clear cautionary tale that has no room for joy. This might be a novel to avoid if you’re prone to depression; however, if you can handle the bleak possibilities of this possible future, you’ll be treated to a gripping tale by a skilled writer.