Sep 28, 2018


Author Spotlight - Andy Weir

- About the Author -
Twitter: @andyweirauthor
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy

Andy Weir built a career as a software engineer until the success of his first published novel, THE MARTIAN, allowed him to live out his dream of writing fulltime. He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects such as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. He also mixes a mean cocktail. He lives in California.

You can read some of his short fiction here:

- Interviews -
[bookbrowse] What inspired you to write The Martian?
I was thinking about how best to do a manned Mars mission (because that's the sort of dork I am). As the plan got more detailed, I started imagining what it would be like for the astronauts. Naturally, when designing a mission, you think up disaster scenarios and how likely the crew would be to survive. That's when I started to realize this had real story potential.

[bookbrowse] Explain how the science in The Martian is true to life.
The basic structure of the Mars program in the book is very similar to a plan called "Mars Direct" (though I made changes here and there). It's the most likely way that we will have our first Mars mission in real life. All the facts about Mars are accurate, as well as the physics of space travel the story presents. I even calculated the various orbital paths involved in the story, which required me to write my own software to track constant-thrust trajectories.

[bookbrowse] So it seems you're a bit of a science geek.  You list space travel, orbital dynamics, relativistic physics, astronomy, and the history of manned spaceflight among your interests. How did you incorporate these passions into your debut novel The Martian?
Those interests allowed me to come up with the story in the first place. I love reading up on current space research. At some point I came up with the idea of an astronaut stranded on Mars. The more I worked on it, the more I realized I had accidentally spent my life researching for this story. Early on, I decided that I would be as scientifically accurate as possible. To a nerd like me, working out all the math and physics for Mark's problems and solutions was fun.

[bookbrowse] Do you have anything in common with your wise-cracking hero Mark Watney?
I'm the same level of smart-ass as he is. It was a really easy book to write; I just had him say what I would say. However, he's smarter than I am and considerably more brave. I guess he's who I wish I were.

[bookbrowse] In The Martian, Watney has access to his crewmates digital entertainment on Mars, including TV episodes of Three's Company, a variety of Beatles songs, and digital books including The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Any reason you chose to work those specific examples into the novel?
It's a selection of things I loved when I was growing up.

[npr] On the biggest scientific inaccuracy in the movie
The biggest inaccuracy in the movie is straight from the book, so it's also a big inaccuracy in the book. It's right at the beginning, the sandstorm that strands him there. (So this is not a spoiler; everyone knows he gets stranded there due to a sandstorm.)

In reality, Mars' atmosphere is 1/200th the density of Earth's. So while they do get 150 km/hr sandstorms, the inertia behind them — because their air is so thin — it would feel like a gentle breeze on Earth. A Martian sandstorm can't do any damage. And I knew that at the time I wrote it.

I had an alternate beginning in mind where they're doing an engine test on their ascent vehicle, and there's an explosion and that causes all the problems. But it just wasn't as interesting and it wasn't as cool. And it's a man-versus-nature story. I wanted nature to get the first punch.

So I went ahead and made that deliberate concession to reality, figuring, "Ah, not that many people will know it." And then now that the movie's come out, all the experts are saying, "Hey, everyone should be aware that this sandstorm thing doesn't really work and Mars isn't like that."

So I have inadvertently educated the public about Martian sandstorms. And I feel pretty good about that.

[writersdigest] Not only are your plots based on real scientific principles, but those principles are explained in an accessible way. How does knowing that what’s depicted in your books could really happen enhance the story for readers?
Well, I think it adds a lot of plausibility. It’s easier to suspend disbelief if you’re like, “Oh, that’s real science,” and if you believe that all the way down to the core, as opposed to more soft science fiction (which, by the way, I’m a huge fan of). With that, you’re just accepting there’s faster than light travel: I don’t know how it works but that’s not important.

[bookbrowse] How did you feel when your original, self-published version of The Martian became a phenomenon online? Were you expecting the overwhelmingly positive reception the book received?
I had no idea it was going to do so well. The story had been available for free on my website for months and I assumed anyone who wanted to read it had already read it. A few readers had requested I post a Kindle version because it's easier to download that way. So I went ahead and did it, setting the price to the minimum Amazon would allow. As it sold more and more copies I just watched in awe.

[sffworld] What does your typical everyday routine look like?
I usually wake up around 8am or 9am. I eat breakfast, shower, etc. Then I answer any and all fan mail I’ve received – usually takes about half an hour. Then I’ll deal with work emails (like answering your questions.) Usually, that stuff takes me until lunch. After lunch is when I do my actual writing.

[sffworld] In writing and researching, what do you struggle with the most?
Character development. I’m strong on science and pretty good on plot, but creating characters with depth and motivation is hard for me.

[sffworld] Do you find it easier developing characters for short stories or for novels?
Well, short stories, I guess. Because readers don’t expect nearly the depth for short story characters that they do for novels.

[writersdigest] Where did you find the wherewithal to keep writing in the face of challenges and rejections, and what advice would you give to others in that position?
What kept me going, and would hopefully keep other writers going, is that you get better at it. It takes a lot of time and effort to get good enough at writing to make books that are fun to read, and you just need to accept that. I don’t believe that there’s any such thing as a deep, natural gift at writing. Even writers who are famous for just one book did a lot of writing before they wrote that book. If you’re feeling discouraged, compare your recent writing to writing that you did a long time ago and see if you feel like you’ve improved. The answer will be yes, you’ve surely improved. [From when] you sit down and play the piano for the first time ever, you’re going to be a lot better when you play the piano for the thousandth time.

There’s this feeling in the world that artistic ability is just a gift and there’s nothing else to it. I think it’s a skill set. It’s no different than math. It’s a thing you need= to learn how to do—you need to practice it, you need to get better at it. The Martian was my third full-length novel, and there’s a reason those first two weren’t published: Because they sucked. But the second one sucked less than the first one.

[sffworld] What do you find appealing about the sci-fi genre?
I like the aspirational view of the future the best. I generally don’t like dystopian stuff – I’m in it for the cool future tech that humanity might see in the future.

[sffworld] As an avid reader of classic sci-fi, what book would you say has inspired you the most?
If I have to pick just one, I’d say “I, Robot” by Asimov. But there are many books from that era that inspired me.

[writersdigest] You’ve mentioned being inspired by sci-fi authors of the ’50s and ’60s: Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke. What about those authors and their writing has influenced your work?
[I love those classic books where imagined societies] still have their problems, but you’re like, I’d rather live there than here.

A lot of [contemporary] science fiction has become this dystopian nightmare stuff. The whole young adult market is all these bleak, dismal futures, and I don’t get why that happened because, to me, it’s clear that the future is almost always better than the past. I mean, at least in the long term. Ask yourself: Would you rather be alive right now, or in 1917? Or 1817? Or 1717?

I’d take now, and my guess is if you ask somebody from 2117 if they’d rather be alive then or go back in time to 2017 they’ll say, “Oh lord, no, I want to stay in 2117.” I think it’s clear that in the real world the quality of life for people goes up and up over time. We have our dips and valleys—I’d rather live in 1923 than 1943, especially if I were European—but I would rather live in 2023 than 1923.

I guess circling back, Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke wrote largely aspirational stuff. Their vision for the future was like, it’s cool. There’s regular space travel, you can just go to Mars and that’s awesome, [or] here’s a story of a couple of teenagers who are on an adventure out on the surface of Mars. I just don’t see a lot of that nowadays, so I wrote it.

[writersdigest] I love that. You look at pop culture, and you look at all the TV shows, and movies, and a lot of the novels, and it does seem like everybody does have that dark view. It’s kind of refreshing to have a bright form of futurism.
Yeah. I’ve always thought that Star Trek was a good example of that. There’s always all sorts of crap going on that’s really dangerous and stuff like that, but Star Trek itself, that future, would be pretty cool to live in.

It would actually be pretty cool to live on Earth during the era of The Federation. It’s a nice place to live, the quality of life is high, they’re a post-scarcity society. I think it kept that aspirational view of the future, but I think a large part of that is because that’s where Star Trek began, and it’s 50 years old now. If Star Trek were invented today, I’m guessing it would be a lot more bleak and miserable; a dark and foreboding galaxy with an evil … The Federation would be a fascist government that people are trying to overthrow.

Yeah. I think that’s a good point.

We’ve still got Star Trek fighting the good fight of optimistic sci-fi.
[bookbrowse] You're stranded on Mars and you can only take one book with you.  What is it?
It's always hard to pick one "favorite book." Growing up, I loved early Heinlein books most of all. So if I had to pick one, I'd go with Tunnel in the Sky. I do love a good survival story.

[sffworld] In your own lifetime, what space program or achievement has made the most impact on you?
I was six months old when Apollo 17 landed on the moon. So I can honestly say my lifespan encompassed the Apollo program. So that’s my answer.

[bookbrowse] Are you an advocate for a manned mission to Mars? Are you hopeful we'll actually make it out there sometime soon?
Of course I'm a huge fan of space travel, manned and unmanned. I would love to see people land on Mars in my lifetime. However, do I think it will actually happen? I'm not sure. Unlike the 1960s, we're not in a race with anyone to get there, so it's not a priority. Also, computer and robotics technologies are leaps and bounds better than they were during the days of Apollo. So logically, you have to ask why we would risk human lives rather than just make better robots. Still, it would be awesome, and maybe that's reason enough.

[sffworld] If you had the opportunity to travel to Mars in your lifetime, would you go?
Nope! I write about brave people, I’m not one of them. I am not a frontiersman.

[bookbrowse] How long do you think you'd last if you were left in Mark Watney's position?
Not long at all. I don't know how to grow crops, nor how to jury-rig the solutions he came up with. It's a lot easier to write about an ordeal than it is to experience it.

[bookbrowse] You have the chance to meet any astronaut living or dead: Who is it and why?
John Young. He is the quintessential astronaut. Competent, fearless, highly intelligent, and seemingly immune to stress. When Apollo 16 launched, his heart rate never got higher than 70. Most astronauts spike to at least 120 during launches.

[sffworld] When it comes to entertainment, do you usually prefer reading a story in a book or watching it play out on screen?
I like watching it on the screen. I just don’t have much time these days for reading.

[bookbrowse] Watney seems to be able to maneuver his way around some pretty major problems with a little duct tape and ingenuity! So he's a bit like MacGyver in that way. Did you watch the show as a kid? Any favorite episodes?
Indeed I did! I loved that show. My favorite episode was the one where engineering students had a barricade contest.

[bookbrowse] Star Wars or Star Trek?
Doctor Who.

[sffworld] As a fanfiction contributor to the Doctor Who universe, which actors do you like the most in their portrayal of the Doctor?
Peter Davison is my favorite – he’s the Doctor I started with. David Tennet is my second fave.

[bookbrowse] Your idea of the perfect day . . .
Sleep in. Meet Buzz Aldrin for brunch. Head over to Jet Propulsion Lab and watch them control the Curiosity Mars rover. Dinner with the writing staff of Doctor Who.


Book Review - The Martian, The Martian #1 (by Andy Weir)

Title: The Martian
Series: The Martian (book #1)
Author: Andy Weir
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group 
Release Date: February 11th, 2014  (first published September 27th, 2012)  
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 384

"Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills — and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit — he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?"

(click to read an excerpt on Barnes&Noble)

- Review -
What Made Me Read It
They had me at astronaut stranded on deserted inhospitable Mars, trying to survive the red planet while waiting for a rescue that may never come.

The Plot
In the near future, NASA's Project Ares is sending manned missions to explore planet Mars. Mark Watney is Ares 3 (the 3rd manned mission) botanist and mechanical engineer. On the 6th day after their arrival, an unexpected violent dust storm forces the crew to scrub the mission and evacuate the planet. On their way to the MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle) Mark Watney is hit by a wayward antenna and left for dead on the red planet.

Ares 3 team of astronauts races back to Earth aboard the Hermes, reeling with the failure of the mission and the loss of one of their own, while at NASA's headquarters the director of operations and his team analyze the repercussions to the future of the program.

Only Mark Watney is very much alive and wakes up to find himself stranded on a deserted inhospitable planet, with no way to communicate with Earth, minimal supplies that will only last a couple of months, and the next planned mission Ares 4 (his only possibility of being rescued) still 4 years away. With little more that a sack of potatoes and duct tape, Watney must use all his skills and ingenuity to survive on a planet that is out to kill him in every possible way.

The Good
"The Martian" is an exciting, highly intense, hard sci-fi thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat wanting to know what happens next, feeling and  rooting for the main character until the last page. The plot is well thought out, with plenty of scientific information to back it up, explained in a clear and accessible language that makes the events seem entirely plausible and believable. It has a healthy amount of humor and tongue-in-cheek dialog that provides the necessary comic relief for the seriousness and danger of the main character's predicament.

The story is mostly told from the POV of the protagonist Mark Watney, through a series of daily log entries in which he retells each successive catastrophe faced and how he tries to science himself out of it alive. But we also get to see the struggle of the Hermes crew and NASA headquarters to find a way to rescue Watney, as well as the media uproar around Watney's situation.

Mark Watney is a well developed, charismatic and very likeable character. He's smart, imaginative and resourceful, giving MacGyver a run for his money, dauntless in the face of impossible odds and driven by his desire to survive and return to Earth, with plenty of irreverent humor and snark. An eternal optimistic, his outlook is never pessimistic or self-pitying - "The Martian" is an uplifting feel-good novel, not a deep probing of the human psyche under extreme conditions. The side characters are also solid and add an emotional dimension to Watney's survival story.

The Not So Good
"The Martian" is packed full of scientific information - chemistry, biology, physics, math... you name it. It testifies to the amount of research the author put into this novel to make it believable and as accurate as possible. Even though he makes an effort to use an accessible, easy to understand language, it's still all very technical. If science isn't your strong suit you might feel overwhelmed and tempted to skim over the technical jargon.

Final Rating
"The Martian" is a compelling, humorous sci-fi thriller, with realistic science problems and a lovable main character. Recommended for those who enjoy hard science fiction, space exploration with survival against the odds and smart snarky protagonists.


Sep 26, 2018


Book Review - Geisha, A Life (by Mineko Iwasaki)

Title:  Geisha, A Life
Series: -
Author: Mineko Iwasaki (author), Rande Brown (translator)
Genre: Autobiography & Memoir, Cultural Japan
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: October 1st, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 304

"No woman in the three-hundred-year history of the karyukai has ever come forward in public to tell her story. We have been constrained by unwritten rules not to do so, by the robes of tradition and by the sanctity of our exclusive calling...But I feel it is time to speak out."

Celebrated as the most successful geisha of her generation, Mineko Iwasaki was only five years old when she left her parents' home for the world of the geisha. For the next twenty-five years, she would live a life filled with extraordinary professional demands and rich rewards. She would learn the formal customs and language of the geisha, and study the ancient arts of Japanese dance and music. She would enchant kings and princes, captains of industry, and titans of the entertainment world, some of whom would become her dearest friends. Through great pride and determination, she would be hailed as one of the most prized geishas in Japan's history, and one of the last great practitioners of this now fading art form.

In "Geisha, a Life," Mineko Iwasaki tells her story, from her warm early childhood, to her intense yet privileged upbringing in the Iwasaki okiya (household), to her years as a renowned geisha, and finally, to her decision at the age of twenty-nine to retire and marry, a move that would mirror the demise of geisha culture. Mineko brings to life the beauty and wonder of Gion Kobu, a place that "existed in a world apart, a special realm whose mission and identity depended on preserving the time-honored traditions of the past." She illustrates how it coexisted within post-World War II Japan at a time when the country was undergoing its radical transformation from a post-feudal society to a modern one.

"There is much mystery and misunderstanding about what it means to be a geisha. I hope this story will help explain what it is really like and also serve as a record of this unique component of Japan's cultural history," writes Mineko Iwasaki. "Geisha, a Life" is the first of its kind, as it delicately unfolds the fabric of a geisha's development. Told with great wisdom and sensitivity, it is a true story of beauty and heroism, and of a time and culture rarely revealed to the Western world.

(click to read an excerpt on Barnes&Noble)

- Review -
What Made Me Read It
While reading Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha" I learned that the author had interviewed a real geisha named Mineko Iwasaki, famous in the 50's and 60's and now retired, as part of his extensive research on the subject. After the novel was released in Japan, Iwasaki sued Golden for breach of contract and defamation of character. Iwasaki claimed Golden had agreed to protect her anonymity due to the traditional geisha code of silence about their clients, but then specifically named her as a source in the book's acknowledgments section. Iwasaki also accused Golden of falsifying facts and portraying an offensive view of the geisha society, specially regarding the "mizuage" ritual. As a way to set the record straight, she went on to publish her own biography with an accurate account of what the world of geisha is really like. I was curious to see just how much truth there was in Iwasaki's accusations and if Golden had indeed misconstrued the geisha society in his novel.

The Plot
Mineko Iwasaki was born Masako Tanaka, from a family of high social standing from the father's side and wealth from the mother's. At the age of three, the owner of the Iwasaki okiya, one of the most prominent okyia in the Gion district, proposes to adopt her as the future heir of the Iwasaki okiya. Mineko promptly moves to Gion and at the age of 6 (according to Japanese culture the day a child is born counts as year 1 so Mineko was actually only 5 years old by Western standards) officially starts her training to become first a maiko (apprentice geisha) and eventually a full fledged geisha (though Mineko prefers the term geiko, meaning "woman of art").

"Geisha, a Life" is the autobiography of Mineko Iwasaki, following her life journey from the day she moved to Gion until her retirement at the age of 29, recounting her love for traditional Japanese dance, her training and rise as one of the most popular and successful geisha in Japan, her relations with her clients (including a failed love affair and a successful marriage) and all the members of the geisha society and Gion community.

The Good
The cynical in me doesn't see Iwasaki as the victim of a lying disrespectful American author, but a child born of privilege and riches (even if the family lost both social position and wealth a generation before, the family motto "The samurai betrays no weakness, even when starving. Pride over all." says a lot about her beliefs and her stance in life), raised as an heiress of a prominent business house and trained as a consummate artist and entertainer. Someone who at first didn't feel threatened to be interviewed by an obscure first time writer (whose work would probably never see the light of day), but after the huge success of both the book and the movie wanted her share of the profits; and after realizing the potential of a Western market hungry for stories about geisha, decided to write her own version of that secretive society, like any shrewd business woman would do.

That being said...

"Geisha, a Life" gives us an insight on traditional Japanese culture, the world of geisha and the role they played in society. It provides a very clear and detailed picture of what it took to become a geiko/geisha, and the tremendous amount of work, dedication and money invested. Iwasaki's description of the kimono ensembles and the whole industry around their design and creation, hairdos and jewelry, the rigorous daily schedule and the various traditions, rituals and rites of passage are powerful and evocative. The book also dwells on the history of traditional Japanese dance, the nuances of the power structure inside the geisha society,  the inner workings and politics of the tea houses and the various relationships that sustain the entire "flower and willow world".  (note: yes, Willow... not Pillow)

The biography is written in a simple straightforward style, with no literary embellishments or formal structure but disconnected elements and events put together seemingly at random. It might be due to the fact that Iwasaki isn't a writer but it could also be the result of a narration lost in translation.

If you've read Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha" you will recognize a few similar elements in both books - certain people and events depicted in "Geisha, a Life" were certainly the base and inspiration for some of Golden's fictional characters and plot. Despite that fact, both books have very different and unrelated stories and could be considered more like companion books. "Memoirs of a Geisha" is a work of fiction, based on extensive research but with all the Hollywood drama and hijinks meant as pure entertainment, set before, during and right after WWII. "Geisha, a Life" is more of an informative textbook. Set entirely after the war, when the act of selling young girls into the slave-life of a geisha was outlawed; when geisha/geiko didn't need to rely on a danna (a wealthy male patron) to provide for their lifestyle, but were able to earn and save enough money to gain their independence from the okiya and even live in apartments of their own. Also, as Iwasaki makes a point of clarifying, the mizuage ritual in the geisha world is merely a traditional ceremony in which a maiko becomes a fully recognized adult and earns herself the title of geisha/geiko; as opposed to the world of oiran (courtesans) and tayu (high-class prostitutes) where the same term refers to the sale of their virginity to the highest bidder. Golden combined the two different rites of passage in his book as belonging both to geisha society, which Iwasaki considers highly offensive and thus one of the reasons that led to the lawsuit.

The Not So Good
Because I have no knowledge of the Japanese language, other than a couple of words caught here and there while watching anime, all the different Japanese terms and names got very confusing and distracting. I frequently had to go back a few pages to remind myself just what exactly they were supposed to mean. So I would suggest you keep a list at hand of all the terms used in the book and their meaning. Trust me, it will make your life easier and your reading experience more enjoyable.

While the biography is an enlightening book on Japanese culture in general and the geisha world in particular, when it comes to the personal element Iwasaki herself is annoying and unlikeable and her life story a little hard to swallow. Her attitude and the way she comes across in the book is that of an arrogant, self-entitled and self-absorbed child/teenager/young woman... but considering her family's origins and motto, and the way she was raised by the okiya's owner, it's not really that surprising. But there are a lot of anecdotes that just don't sound right or even contradict themselves and you start to wonder how much is true and how much is pure fantasy and boastful exaggeration. For one, she was an exceedingly precocious toddler who, at the tender age of 5 (by Western standards), was fully capable of deciding for herself what she wanted to do with the rest of her life and taking every necessary step to make that happen. Also, many of the stories told seem handpicked to showcase her perfection at anything she does - whether fending off drunken men on the street by Macgyvering whatever she carries on her purse at the time, physically attacking and scarring a client that humiliated or harassed her or learning and mastering any new skill like golf or telling jokes. On the other hand, while these stories are rich on details, others are barely explained or even talked about because she either failed or those events don't present her in a good light. A very human thing to do but very irritating when the pattern repeats itself non stop throughout the entire book.

Final Rating
"Geisha, a Life" is an interesting and insightful book on the real life of geisha/geiko living and working in post WWII Japan. Recommended for anyone who has an interest in traditional Japanese culture in general and the geisha world in particular.

• • • •

- About the Author -
Mineko Iwasaki (born Masako Tanaka) is a Japanese businesswoman, Geiko and author. 

Mineko Iwasaki was one of the most famed geisha of her generation (and the chief informant for Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha"). Born in 1949, Mineko began training in the arts of dance and etiquette when she was five years old. Soon after becoming a full-fledged geisha, Mineko was lauded as the star geisha of the Gion Kobu of Kyoto. She held that position until retirement at the age of twenty-nine. Known for her performances for various celebrity and royalty during her Geisha life, Iwasaki was also an established heir or atotori to her geisha house (Okiya) while she was just an apprentice.

Now in her late sixties, Mineko has one daughter and lives with her husband in a Kyoto suburb. 


Sep 24, 2018


Short Stories - This Is as I Wish to Be Restored, by Christie Yant

Lightspeed Magazine is a science fiction and fantasy magazine. Each monthly issue includes eight science fiction and fantasy short stories, author interviews and Q&As, book and TV/movie reviews - all of which are available online for free. The ebook edition includes extra novellas and novel excerpts.

"This Is as I Wish to Be Restored" short story was published on Lightspeed Magazine issue #79, December 2016 (click on the link to read all the online features). The narrator is an employee of a cryonic facility, tasked with digitizing soon-to-be-destroyed files from the first clients, too damaged to be revived back to life. One day s/he comes across the file of a young cancer victim woman. Something about her photo and that one handwritten note with a single line - "This is as I wish to be restored" - catches the narrator's attention. Unwilling to let that woman be destroyed according to the company's new policy, s/he steels her cryogenic unit and keeps it in his/her basement apartment until s/he can find a way to revive her. "This Is as I Wish to Be Restored" is a dark tale on humanity's pursuit of immortality and the extremes of obsessive love.

- This Is as I Wish to Be Restored -
by Christie Yant
(© 2014 by Christie Yant. Originally published in Analog. Reprinted by permission of the author.)

Every night I come home and I drink. I trade away the hope, the guilt, the fear, even the love—I think it’s love, crazy as it seems. I trade them for oblivion, because otherwise I won’t sleep at all. I drink until there’s no life left in me, until I’m able to forget for just a little while the chrome vessel in the corner and what’s at stake. Sometimes I hope that I’ll dream of her. Sometimes I’m afraid that I will.

I have two things that belonged to her. The first is a photograph, taken at a party in what looks like a hotel. Her hair is dyed red—it doesn’t quite suit her, so you know it isn’t hers, like an unexpected note in a melody where you thought you knew where it was going and then it went sharp. She’s holding a glass of something pink and bubbly. Maybe it’s her birthday. If so, it’s probably her twenty-eighth. She’s laughing.

She was really young to be a client. Especially back then, most of the people who thought about life extension were retirees. Mortality was very much on their minds, and they’d had a lifetime to accumulate their savings—suspension was expensive. I wonder where she got the money. Her file doesn’t say.

So in this picture she’s laughing. She’s seated, supporting herself with one hand braced against the carpeted floor. Her head is thrown back and her back is arched, and she’s just the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. There are other people around her, behind her, just smiling blurs holding drinks, but you get the feeling that she’s the reason they’re smiling. She’s the star they’re all in orbit around. Like me. I fell into her orbit years ago and can’t break free.

The picture moves with me through my bleak basement apartment, from room to room—sometimes it turns up on top of the half-size refrigerator, sometimes absent-mindedly left on a shelf in the medicine cabinet where I discover it again later and take it with me to the bedroom. I’ve found it between the sofa cushions at least half a dozen times. She follows me, or I follow her—it’s been a lifetime since she smiled that smile, and I’m still completely, utterly taken.

The one place it never goes is on the dewar in the corner. That would just be too macabre, considering.

This is the only photograph she left. I often wonder what it was about this moment, this time in her life, that she could have looked ahead and known that this was as good as it gets. In this picture the cancer’s already killing her, she just doesn’t know it.

She died less than a year later. Pancreatic cancer. It’s in her file.

• • • •

I was given her file four years after I started with the company, in a crumbling box of data that needed to be digitized.

Those poor bastards, they had no idea what would happen to them fifty or a hundred years on. I wondered at the time whether they might have changed their minds about being cryopreserved at all. Probably not—they were in the immortality business, like we are. They would have paid any price.

“All early conversion cases,” my boss said. “We don’t know what’s really there anymore. The risk of fracturing was high in those days.”

I’ve seen the results of fracturing. It’s not pretty. The early full-body cases were bad, which was one of the reasons they went to neuro in the first place. The splits in the elbows, the back of the knees, the buttocks, the groin—anywhere there’s a fatty fold, the frozen flesh split wide open. When they realized it was happening, and that there was almost no chance of a full-body patient getting out of it without severe damage, they were all converted to neuros. The procedure is executed with a power saw.

I flipped through the files, brittle and yellowed with age. The metal prongs that held the files together had rusted, and some of them snapped off when I tried to free the pages for scanning.

Her file was near the end. I scanned it and put it back in the box with the others to be destroyed. I didn’t even really think about why I went back for it. I just wanted to see her smile again.

• • • •

The other thing I have of hers is a note—hand-written, on a 3×3-inch faded yellow square. The writing runs across it at a diagonal. She wrote it with a fountain pen; I can tell by the way the width varies in the strokes. They are bold strokes, no-nonsense strokes. The ink is a whimsical green. Was that important to her? This was her last message to anyone who mattered.

There is a small stain at the bottom of the paper now, a droplet of liquid that the ink bled into and spread like lichen. Brandy, if it was from five years ago; whiskey, if it was more recent. I’ve had this file for a long time. I can’t read it now, not really, not in the state I’m in. It swims in front of me through a bourbon haze. But I know what it says.

This is as I wish to be restored.

Her wishes were clear, written there in green ink, spattered and smeared from my ministrations, and that’s what keeps me up at night, keeps me drinking. What would she want me to do? The note is all I have of her, aside from the picture, and the file, and the file says nothing.

That’s not strictly true. It’s just all I know of her. I have all of her. All that’s left, anyway.

• • • •

From what I’ve read, her actual last words were nothing to write home about. She wanted her cat looked after. She wanted water, and was cold. That’s pretty normal. “Cover my feet,” she said to the nurse. “I’d like a drink of water,” she said. “My mouth is so dry.” Usually there is no wisdom imparted, no grand finale—we’re cold, and we want to sleep. It was no different for her.

Her final moments were uneventful, if you discount the cadre of specialists outside her door. It was after she died that things got serious.

That was all a very long time ago.

When the money ran out and it became clear that we couldn’t sustain them all, we had to decide which patients we couldn’t save. I’d been with the company for the better part of a decade by then. I remember Melanie breaking down in tears during the board meeting, and Bill having to excuse himself to be sick in the restroom. This was a failure that we took personally, so personally that for a while I was spending nights taking calls from colleagues and talking them out of suicide. You can see why they would consider it—it would have been a poetic kind of atonement. Generations of patients had placed their lives in our hands, and we’d failed them.

The earliest patients had the lowest probability of success, due to the imperfect vitrification processes they used in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Eighty-three early patients were selected, their polished chrome dewars stacked against a cinder block wall and their data files updated. Distant descendants were tracked down and contacted, most of whom neither knew nor cared that they had an ancestor in suspension and weren’t much interested in the disposition of their remains.

She never had children, never got married. There was no one to call, and no one to care that the count had changed by one when I turned them over for disposal.

• • • •

The unit is fairly easy to maintain. The temperature isn’t as well regulated as I’d like, and I can’t get it as cold as we had at the facility, but I do what I can.

Three years ago last August, I nearly lost her to a storm that kept me away from home longer than expected. In my mind I could see the sweating canister as the temperature climbed, I could see that crimson hair hanging in lank wet strands, while decomposition set in—autolysis, cell rupture, her skin blistering, slippage, irreversible damage—everything we as mortal beings fear and everything that we had protected her from for the better part of a century.

And her face, while achingly beautiful, was not the worst of it. If her brain began to thaw, what part of her would be lost first? Language skills? Motor function? Impulse control? Memory? I could imagine her life as a map, traced in sepia on immaculate folds of gray matter: the roads, waterways, borders, and landmarks of her heart erased one ruptured cell at a time. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. I had to get to her and stop it.

I nearly knocked the basement door off its hinges, my heart pounding like a hammer, but there she was—enclosed, sealed, regulated, cold. Liquid nitrogen levels low but not dry. Cold enough. If I had been another six hours it might have been too late.

That was the moment, knowing that I’d almost lost her. I could no longer pretend that I could store her here forever. I had to start planning for her revival.

The next morning I came to on the floor, empty bottle just out of reach, my head pounding and my gut in revolt. When I opened my eyes in the half-light, there was a face in front of me, like I’d woken in a bed beside someone meant to be there, and in my half-conscious state I thought it was her. I reached out to touch her, and my fingers struck the hard, cold steel of the dewar.

I haven’t traveled since.

• • • •

I bought a green pen. I wrote the words over and over again in a notebook that I used for nothing else, and I carried the picture of the laughing girl from room to room as I thought about what it meant to revive her.

I practiced until I couldn’t tell the difference between her handwriting and my own. I try to put myself in her place—young, unafraid, confident that the future will be better, brighter, and that she will be welcomed there. I write the words, and for the six seconds that it takes, I think I can feel what she felt in those moments. The stroke across the T is emphatic, the flourish on the d is full of anticipation of a day when all of her dreams will come true.

They’ve been working backward, last-in-first-out. The synthetics are good, I’ve seen them. Like Lassiter. He was a neuro suspended not too long after her—thirty years, maybe—and he’s taken to it fine. Everything about her that matters is still there. The memory of her first kiss, her last goodbye, all of the events that made her or broke her. All of the things that made her smile. What she really wanted, I tell myself, was to come back.

I’ll probably be fired. Who am I kidding? I’ll definitely be fired. But once they know I have her, they’ll have to do it, won’t they? We don’t talk much about what happened all those years ago. When we do, we refer to it as the Crisis, and we don’t look each other in the eye. If they know that she’s still here, and that they can bring her back, they won’t have a choice. And they can’t have me arrested, not when they would have destroyed her. If we believe our own marketing material, I stopped them from committing murder.

I comfort myself with this thought and the last of the bourbon. I’ve laid in a bottle of something pink and bubbly. It seemed like the right kind of welcome. Whether or not she’ll be able to taste it is another matter.

Tomorrow. Tonight I’ll pass out like I have every night, with her picture nearby and her words echoing in my head.

It made about as much sense as wishing on a star. It could never be done. People who had never even heard of a stem cell thought we’d grow them brand new bodies just like their old one. We’re not going to grow anencephalic clones in tanks and age them to their twenties. That’s not how revival works. It’s not how it’s ever going to work.

Her future was a place, and I am a native of it. I know the terrain; I know the weather. And I know that this isn’t the future she wanted. This isn’t what she meant.

This is as I wish to be restored.

It was a naïve hope on her part. I have a lot of hopes of my own, equally naïve. But the main one, the one that I cling to as consciousness fades away with her picture pressed against my heart, is this:

I hope that she forgives me.

• • • •

- About the Author -
Twitter: @inkhaven

Christie Yant writes and edits science fiction and fantasy on the central coast of California, where she lives with a dancer, an editor, two dogs, three cats, and a very small manticore. 

Her stories have appeared in anthologies and magazines including Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2011 (Horton),  Armored, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, io9, and, and has received honorable mentions in Year’s Best Science Fiction (Dozois) and Best Horror of the Year (Datlow). In 2014 she edited the Women Destroy Science Fiction! special issue of Lightspeed Magazine, which won the British Fantasy Award for Best Anthology. 

She is presently hard at work on a historical fantasy novel set in 19th century Paris, and is learning more about architecture and urban planning than she ever thought she would need to know.

You can find more of her work here:


Sep 17, 2018


Author Spotlight - Joanne M. Harris

- About the Author -
Twitter: @Joannechocolat
Genre: Literature & Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers, Mythology & Fantasy

Joanne Harris (MBE) was born in Barnsley in 1964, of a French mother and an English father. She studied Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge and was a teacher for fifteen years, during which time she published three novels, including Chocolat (1999), which was made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp.

Since then, she has written 15 more novels, two collections of short stories, a Dr Who novella, guest episodes for the game Zombies, Run and three cookbooks. Her books are now published in over 50 countries and have won a number of British and international awards. She is an honorary Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, has honorary doctorates in literature from the universities of Sheffield and Huddersfield, and has been a judge for the Whitbread Prize, the Orange Prize, the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science.

Her hobbies are listed in Who’s Who as: “mooching, lounging, strutting, strumming, priest-baiting and quiet subversion of the system”, although she also enjoys obfuscation, sleaze, rebellion, witchcraft, armed robbery, tea and biscuits. She is not above bribery and would not necessarily refuse an offer involving exotic travel or pink champagne. She works from a shed in her garden, plays bass in the band she first joined when she was 16, is currently writing a screenplay and lives with her husband and daughter in a little wood in Yorkshire.

- Interviews -
[qwillery] Tell us something about The Gospel of Loki that is not in the book description.
It features a giant cow; an eight-legged horse; a talking head; an enormous snake; some teenage werewolves; several factions of warring gods and a pair of magical crows who like cake.

[qwillery] What inspired you to write The Gospel of Loki? What appealed to you about writing in about Norse mythology? And why tell the story from Loki's point of view?
I’ve been writing stories based on Norse mythology for a long time. I loved the myths as a child, and I’ve been researching them ever since. There are so many really strong characters there; so much humour, drama and conflict; such a powerful portrayal of a community; and yet the myths are fragmentary - so much has been lost and omitted. I think this, in some way, is why writers and artists have come to them again and again; we are drawn to complete the stories in our own way, to re-imagine the characters in ways that fit our changing times. Loki is very much an anti-hero for our times. He’s defiant of authority; a rebel; a misfit, both racially (he’s not one of the gods, but a kind of fire-demon) and in terms of his gender (he’s bisexual, gender-fluid, and even gives birth, which doesn’t sit well with the gods at all). He’s also clever, getting the gods both in and out of trouble in classic Trickster fashion. But although he’s probably the most active character in the myths, there’s very little about Loki himself – his past, thoughts, his motivation in acting as he does. I wanted to explore that, and to give a little insight into how the mischievous trickster becomes a character so dark and troubled that he finally brings about his own destruction, as well as that of the world itself...

[unboundworlds] Why did you decide to tell this story from Loki’s point of view rather than Thor or Odin’s?
Because Loki’s perspective is, for me, by far the most interesting. He’s an outsider, neither Aesir nor Vanir, which means he is never quite accepted into Asgard. He’s both racially different and genderfluid, which makes for interesting parallels with certain contemporary marginalized groups. He’s by far the most articulate of the inhabitants of Asgard, which means that he’s the most likely candidate to tell their story, and most importantly, although he plays such a significant role in the myths, he’s the only character whose history, motivations and psychological workings are never explained – which leaves an interesting gap in the myths, and raises a number of questions I wanted to try and answer. No-one – not even Loki – sets out to be a bad guy. How did he make the transition between the likeable trickster of the early myths and the dark, self-destructive character of the later ones? No-one seems to know – and who better to tell that story than Loki himself?

[qwillery] Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Loki himself is both the easiest and the hardest to write. The easiest, because he sounds a lot like a version of me; the hardest, because all the other characters are seen through Loki’s eyes, which makes for some very skewed perceptions...

[rifflebooks] The Gospel of Loki is the story of mythology’s most notorious trickster. How did you go about taking such a famous character and making him your own?
We all make characters our own in one way or another. What I did with Loki was to try and reclaim the humor and the subversion from a character assimilated by Christian culture and forced into the role of Lucifer. I wanted to take him out of the world of epic poetry and bring him back to where he belongs; right here, right now, in the dark chambers of the human heart.

[fantasy-faction] I flew through the novel in just under 2 days. Although it isn’t short, it isn’t one of those 400,000 word tomes that fantasy is famous for either. With so much material available to you, how did you go about choosing which myths to include and add a ‘Loki-ish’ twist to?
Norse mythology is different to Greek and Roman myths, in that comparatively little of the original material has survived. Most of the myths are from the Prose and the Poetic Eddas, and I’ve tried to use as much of the source material that fitted by narrative structure. In some cases I’ve had to rebuild timelines and remove inconsistencies, but I’ve tried to stay as close as I could to the original text, whilst giving it a unique character. As for Loki’s involvement, he’s such a pivotal character and such a catalyst for drama that he’s nearly always in the thick of whatever action is going on. It was quite easy to select the myths in which he plays a role…

[qwillery] Which question about The Gospel of Loki do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
A lot of readers have commented on Loki’s use of modern slang, and have asked themselves (though not me) why I chose to write in such a contemporary voice. Here’s why:

All myths, when they were first told or written down, were told in contemporary voices. This is no exception. In the original myths, Loki speaks in a very informal voice, often insults the other gods, often speaks with defiance. Rather than write his dialogue in the mock-heroic language used by Snorri (which even then was dated and inappropriate), I’ve used modern slang – besides which, there’s a strong hint in the narrative that Loki has somehow survived the end of the world and even his own death, and is therefore addressing us as the recipient of his tale, right here, right now, in the 21st century.

[rifflebooks] During your writing, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you or turned out different than you expected it to?
Loki is full of surprises. Once I’d found his voice, I let him say more or less what he wanted with it – which meant that I was constantly being surprised, both by his cruelty and dismissiveness (especially to his poor wife), and by his lack of self-awareness. Loki’s clever, but he isn’t given to self-scrutiny, and there’s a lot he doesn’t know about himself and his feelings. I rather enjoyed the fact that, while his narrative is filled with untruths, he’s actually revealing all kinds of things about himself – especially in the lies he tells.

[starburstmagazine] Given your success with Runemarks and Runelight, was The Gospel of Loki something you had always planned? Or did the idea develop as you wrote the aforementioned novels?
No, the idea came to me as I realized that a lot of my readers weren’t as familiar with Norse myth as I’d imagined. I found myself getting requests for more details of what happened before Ragnarók, and it occurred to me that it might be fun to re-invent those stories and to give them a different angle...

[starburstmagazine] What keeps drawing you back to writing about the Norse deities, and this world in particular?
It’s a wonderful source of material. In spite of the fact that Norse myth is sparse, in comparison with the wealth of material about, let’s say, Greek or Roman, the stories seem to have a fresh and strangely contemporary appeal. Part of this comes from the characters, which are lively and well-drawn, with very believable human flaws and complex interrelationships. I’m particularly drawn to the small community of gods in Asgard, their understandable tensions, their rivalries. And of course, the world picture is so very different from our own; I love the challenge of trying to work within a universe that was basically licked out of a block of ice by a giant cow...

[fantasy-faction] In addition to being a fantastic fantasy novel, The Gospel of Loki is informative and, I am sure, will leave readers feeling they have a better understanding of Norse mythology upon completion. How much research did you need to do going into this book and how true to the mythology did you want to remain?
I’ve stayed pretty close (almost geekily close) to the original material. I’ve been interested in the Eddas and Sagas since I was very young, and I’ve brought all kinds of things into this book – kennings and references to the Sagas, runic verses, even a partial verse translation of Voluspá – but I’ve expanded some of the original material (which is sometimes incomplete) and added details of my own, as well as trying to give the whole thing a kind of linear structure.

How much of this book is actual mythology, and how much is your own invention?
I’d say it’s about 75% true to the original source material. The rest has been elaborated, expanded, reshuffled and otherwise shaped from a collection of fragments into a more or less coherent whole.

[qwillery] You've written more than a dozen published novels. What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
The challenge for me has always been to find something that I haven’t already done, or to find a new entry into a subject that has been covered many times before. I like to surprise the reader; and to do that, I’m aware that I have to surprise myself. Sometimes that means taking risks, or playing with narrative, voice and form. Sometimes it’s experimental, but I think taking risks is part of the fun...

[sfsignal] You’ve been writing since you were very young. What’s one of the first things you can remember writing?
A little book (of about 15 pages, with illustrations) when I was nine. It was called Flesh-Eating Warriors of Magic Mountain. I got my best friend to help me copy it out a dozen times, and we sold it for sweets, to the kids in our class. It was the best publishing deal I was to get for 30 years.

[rifflebooks] Describe your writing process—are you an outliner, or a pantser?
I generally start with a vague destination, but I’m never sure how I’m going to get there. I find I prefer to allow for some surprises along the way – if I can’t surprise myself, then it’s unlikely I’ll be able to surprise the reader.

[sfsignal] Your favorite read of all time is the Gormenghast trilogy. I’ve eyed this one up a few times, but am a bit intimidated by it… What book, or books, do you think would make an accessible starting point for an “epic fantasy newbie.”
I think the first thing for any reader anywhere is to forget the expectations, ditch the labels and just read what appeals to you. There is no starting point: Gilgamesh is epic fantasy. So is Beowulf. So are the Norse myths. Enjoy them.

[rifflebooks] What books do you still enjoy re-reading/would you recommend to your readers?
Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes; Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle; Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop.


Book Review - The Gospel of Loki, Loki #1 (by Joanne M. Harris)

Title: The Gospel of Loki
Series: Loki (book #1)
Author: Joanne M. Harris
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tales/Folklore & Mythology
Publisher: Gollancz
Release Date:  February 20th, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 320 

"The novel is a brilliant first-person narrative of the rise and fall of the Norse gods - retold from the point of view of the world's ultimate trickster, Loki. It tells the story of Loki's recruitment from the underworld of Chaos, his many exploits on behalf of his one-eyed master, Odin, through to his eventual betrayal of the gods and the fall of Asgard itself. Using her life-long passion for the Norse myths, Joanne Harris has created a vibrant and powerful fantasy novel.

Loki, that’s me.

Loki, the Light-Bringer, the misunderstood, the elusive, the handsome and modest hero of this particular tissue of lies. Take it with a pinch of salt, but it’s at least as true as the official version, and, dare I say it, more entertaining.

So far, history, such as it is, has cast me in a rather unflattering role.

Now it’s my turn to take the stage.

With his notorious reputation for trickery and deception, and an ability to cause as many problems as he solves, Loki is a Norse god like no other. Demon-born, he is viewed with deepest suspicion by his fellow gods who will never accept him as one of their own and for this he vows to take his revenge.

From his recruitment by Odin from the realm of Chaos, through his years as the go-to man of Asgard, to his fall from grace in the build-up to Ragnarok, this is the unofficial history of the world’s ultimate trickster."
(click to read an excerpt on
- Review -
What Made Me Read It
The Thor trilogy is my favorite of the MCU (Marvel's Cinematic Universe, if you're not familiar with this franchise) so this book seemed like a good way to get more stories from the Norse Gods.

The Plot
Loki was a child of Chaos, a demon wildfire. Tempted by Odin, the Allfather, into joining the Aesir and the Vanir against the Ice Folk, the Rock Folk and other enemies of the Gods, Loki abandons his home in Chaos and follows Odin to Asgard.

Learning and experiencing all the new sensations and aspects of his new physical being (pain, pleasure, emotions...), Loki brings chaos and deception to Asgard, rising as the Trickster God while trying hard to impress and be accepted by the other Gods. But because he was originally a demon and not a god, the other Gods distrust and despise Loki, blaming him for every wrong in the realm.

Betrayed by the Gods and unable to return to Chaos, Loki plots his revenge which ultimately leads to Ragnarok and the fall of Asgard and all the Gods.

The Good
I knew almost nothing of Norse myths. What little I knew came from the Marvel movies, which I seriously doubt are a reliable source of information, movie adaptations usually aren't. Most reviews say "The Gospel of Loki" is a retelling of the original saga, with a few creative liberties here and there to expand on the source material. Being new to this particular mythology I can't say either way. The characters and events in "The Gospel of Loki" are certainly different from the ones depicted in the movies, which didn't stop me from visualizing the actors and listening to their voices while I was reading the book. But accurate or not, to me this book still provided a good introduction to the Norse saga.

"The Gospel of Loki" is told in the first person through the POV of Loki himself, as he looks back over his life after the end of Ragnarok and the lessons he's learned since he left Chaos. The book is structured in a series of short stories from the creation of the Nine Realms to Ragnarok, with each chapter presenting a tale taken from the mythology and headed with the epigram of the corresponding lesson learned by the Trickster God. And because Loki is the narrator, the story is packed with schemes, humor and chaos as the God of Mischief puts his own self-serving and hedonistic spin on the events as they unfold.

The author uses a contemporary language instead of the usual archaic style, which makes the book an easy, accessible read. It's an intelligent, well-written and entertaining novel with a healthy dose of wit and humor. It's also original in that the author chose to tell the mythology from the perspective of the villain instead of the heroes and Loki's personality shines and comes across well throughout the book.

Almost all the characters are one-dimensional and archetypal: Thor is fat and stupid, Freya is vain and self-centered, Idun is gullible, Heimdall is arrogant and always suspicious... they're also very unlikable, arrogant, moody and deceitful. But I guess that's expected from mythological figures, regardless of the pantheon. It also adds to the humor and it's probably a conscious decision on the part of the author, since the novel is told from Loki's perspective and he's not particularly partial towards the gods.

Odin and Loki are the exception, coming out as complex and 3-dimentional characters. The author does a wonderful job at turning Loki into a sympathetic narrator with the right balance of fatalistic sarcasm, irony and wit. He's smart, mischievous, cunning, unreliable and narcissistic but also lonely and with a soft bruised core on the inside. We alternate between feeling sorry for his misfortunes and despise him for his cruelty.

Final Rating
"The Gospel of Loki" is a brilliant, contemporary retelling of the Norse myths. Recommended for those who are new to this mythology and interested in learning more about it, but also those who enjoy epic fantasy with intelligent witty humor.

About the Author (interviews)