Monthly Archives: May 2016

Adapting The Handmaid’s Tale – Thursday Thoughts #3

Thursday Thoughts

On Thursdays, I take a break from reviewing books to share my thoughts on all things books, fandom, and random. All opinions are my own. Yours may differ. Feel free to respectfully disagree and discuss in the comments.

There’s always a sense of excitement I feel when I hear that a book I’ve enjoyed is being adapted for the screen. Not only does it mean there will be more attention for the book and the author, but I know I get to experience the world of the story brought to life. So I can’t let news like The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood getting a small-screen adaptation go by without comment.

I make no secret that I love dystopian fiction. In fact, I don’t think I could make a secret if I wanted to. And The Handmaid’s Tale is quite simply one of the best I’ve ever read. It’s a true gem of a work, and those who haven’t read it should run to their nearest library and check it out. (And I suggest doing so before the show airs, since we know adaptation rarely does justice for the book.)

There are reasons I should be worried, I’m sure. Every book-to-screen adaptation has its problems. It’s inherent in adapting a book to a film that things need to be cut. I remember lamenting the things that were cut out of the Harry Potter series of films. There are things I think are critical to the story that are only to be found on the page.

But that’s to be expected in a film adaptation. A book that takes several hours to read would be a film of a similar length if everything stayed in. And while people are willing to go see 20+ films featuring James Bond, there’s something different about an episodic series of films than a seven-volume telling of a single novel.

What one really needs to worry about is when those responsible for the production take too much creative license. I’m thinking of adaptations of books like Geography Club where I felt like I was watching a different story–just set in the same place with the same character names. And there’s the equally troubling adaptation of The Scorch Trials from The Maze Runner series. So many liberties were taken there that I remain completely perplexed about how they will be able to do The Death Cure without writing a completely new plot.

What has me excited about this particular adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale (it was previously adapted for film; a decent production but nothing stellar) is that it’s for the small screen. A television show offers more space and time to deal with the story. A ten-episode season of one-hour episodes gives around 450 minutes versus the 120 minutes where movies tend to top out.

That’s not to say television is the answer to true-to-book adaptations. Examples like The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars showed clear deviations from the book series early on. Part of the reasoning for changing things up is to give the story something new for fans of the books. Of course, sometimes it’s fans of the television show that influence production. True Blood (which was always presented as being based on the Southern Vampire Mysteries) notably kept a character alive, deviating from the books, due to popularity with the show’s fans.

Even with the tendency for television to explore different avenues of the story, I’m ready and waiting for The Handmaid’s Tale. Due to the ability to explore so many layers with more time, I think I’m just more ready to forgive deviations on the small screen.

But, as a friend of mine says, “At the end of the day, any adaptation is a crap shoot.” That may be true. But every once in a while the dice land in our favor…

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Giovanni's Room

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Published by: Dial Press in 1956 (original publication date)
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

What do you do when you want something so badly it scares you half to death? And when you don’t understand why you want it in the first place?

David is an American who has run off to Europe to explore and learn new things. (Though some might say he’s running from what his life would be if he stayed in the states.) While on his travels, he’s met Hella, a woman from Minnesota, and he expects he’ll marry her someday. That’s what he should do.

But while Hella is off exploring in Spain, David does some exploring of his own. He meets Giovanni, a young bartender, one evening and the two hit it off. Before long, David moves in with Giovanni, sharing the small room he’s renting, and what the two of them have goes well beyond friendship.

For David, this all feels so right but so incredibly wrong at the same time. He cares dearly for Giovanni, but the thought of being with him forever is frightening. And there’s still Hella. Hella feels safe for David. And she will be coming back someday.

David will need to make a choice, and he knows what the easy decision would be. But it’s all complicated by the fact that Giovanni has fallen in love with him. And David just might be too frightened to admit that he loves Giovanni back. If he abandons Giovanni, he knows his world will fall apart, but what’s his responsibility to this other man anyway? He can live with the guilt, right?

The 1950s were certainly not an easy time to be gay. But that’s true for much of history. And the struggles that some men went through, trying to reconcile who they were with society’s expectations, were certainly heart wrenching. And we get a good glimpse of that here.

When reading this, it’s easy to think of it as historical fiction. But that diminishes the significance of James Baldwin writing this contemporary to the time it takes place. In that regard, it’s a truly groundbreaking work, although it’s not exactly the most uplifting piece of literature.

I definitely give this one a recommendation, though I need to put a caveat that it’s not a happiness and sunshine story. It’s gritty. And it will definitely make you think.

Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer

Clarkesworld 100

Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer

Published in: Clarkesworld, Issue 100, January 2015
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

As we’ve become increasingly reliant on the Internet to fulfill our needs and desires, we are now feeding it more information about ourselves than ever before. And we simply assume it just sits there where we put it. But what if the Internet was self-aware? What if it took that information and used it for its own purposes? We can only hope that the Internet would be a benevolent AI, right?

But if the Internet was a benevolent AI, would it really impact us? Would we just continue to assume we put information up on the Internet and that’s where it stays? If the Internet tried to use that information to help us, would we listen? Or would we just continue to see it as a repository for our Tweets, our rambling Facebook statuses, and cute pictures of our cats?

The idea of sentient AI and self-aware technology is not a new one in science fiction. But Naomi Kritzer’s “Cat Pictures Please” is a unique and somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at what it would be like if the Internet was that technology. With as much of our lives as we make public these days, it might not just be the government we need to worry about seeing and using the information. And while it’s fiction, it’s still a sobering thought as one thinks about how someone could do these same things on their own by accessing the right feeds for an individual person.

This story has made it onto the list of finalists for this year’s Hugo Awards. And I can definitely see why. It’s a fresh and unique take on an science fiction standard. It’s well-written, entertaining, and thought-provoking. It’s the kind of work that I think should be recognized by the Hugos. And I’m glad that it’s a finalist.

Murder at the Windsor Club by Stephen E. Stanley

Murder at the Windsor Club

Murder at the Windsor Club by Stephen E. Stanley

Series: Jeremy Dance Mystery, Book 1
Published by: Stonefield Publishing on February 19, 2012
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Jeremy Dance is a successful private investigator in 1930’s Boston. Not only does he always get the job done, but he is also discreet. And that’s exactly what the wealthy families of Beacon Hill are looking for. But Jeremy has a few secrets of his own, so it’s his own understanding that makes him willing to let people’s business be their business.

When a nice dinner among Jeremy, his assistant (Roscoe), and his best friend (Judy) is interrupted by a call to investigate a murder, he gets one of his most interesting cases yet. And he soon finds he’ll need to tread carefully. Many have something to lose if the circumstances of the case are leaked. And just as many might have something to lose if the case isn’t solved quickly.

But as Jeremy knows quite well, some people will do anything to protect their secrets.

This was a fun mystery, reminiscent of a classic detective novel. There were several smaller side cases during the course of the book that provide added context and opportunity to observe the characters in action. It definitely provided for a much richer world, drawing me in as a reader.

While Jeremy and his assistant are gay (not with each other) and Judy is a lesbian, this isn’t really a romance. Those are just facts that are a part of their character. And even though it’s not really acceptable at their time in history, they make it all work quite well.

Definitely an enjoyable read. Highly recommended to fans of mystery and/or historical fiction.

Phase Shift by Jenn Burke & Kelly Jensen

Phase Shift

Phase Shift by Jenn Burke & Kelly Jensen

Series: Chaos Station, Book 5
Published by: Carina Press on May 2, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Zander Anatolius has been through a lot. More than any one man should have to go through. And the same could be said for Felix Ingesson. So Zander’s decided to ask Felix to marry him and finally get them both to settle down. Felix isn’t ask keen on the idea of marriage, though Zander thinks he might be able to convince him. But as their past should have warned him, something’s always going to come up at the worst possible moment.

What worse is that what’s come up this time might be the worst possible thing to come up. After a security breach on the ship, Zander catches up with the culprit. And the culprit shifts. That shouldn’t be possible; Zander’s the last of those who should be able to do that. And considering that data about Project Dreamweaver–the experiment that made Zander what he is–is what was taken, things don’t look good. One thing’s for sure, everything else will need to be put on hold until they find the person responsible and stop them before things get worse.

I’ve read this series from the beginning and I have loved every minute of it. It’s an action-packed science fiction story with a m/m relationship between the main characters–what’s not to love? What’s even more great about it, though, is that no aspect of the plot feels forced. I’ve read many m/m sci-fis where the relationship feels thrust into the story. I’ve read m/m romance that tosses a sci-fi background up but doesn’t have it fully developed. You won’t get either of those with this series, for sure.

The final installment takes Zander and Felix back to the beginning. Much as Felix had to confront some of the hardest moments from his past in the previous book, Zander comes face to face with his demons here. And both of them are faced with choices that neither is comfortable with under normal circumstances. But the way they work together is what makes it clear just how much they need each other…on multiple levels.

I must say I will miss these characters, but I’m glad I got to spend five books with them…

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Ocean of Secrets by Jerry Sacher

Ocean of Secrets

Ocean of Secrets by Jerry Sacher

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on April 29, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

After he’s caught in a compromising position with the caretaker’s son, Andrew Elliot finds himself boxed into a corner. His father will not stand for that kind of relationship for his son. So Andrew finds himself engaged to a woman he barely knows. And he’s about to set sail to America with his fiancée and her brother–who makes Andrew uncomfortable. Andrew isn’t exactly resigned to his fate, but he sees no way out. He hopes if he goes along with his father’s wishes to a point, he can make him see reason. And maybe he’ll learn more about his betrothed on their trip, which might provide him the ticket to break this match.

Matthew Ahearn has always dreamed of being a cowboy in Texas. It’s a bit of a pipe dream for a lower class Irishman. But that doesn’t have to stop him from pursuing it. And if he can get a job on a ship sailing to America, he’ll be halfway there. A brief run-in with the law in London on his way to set sail isn’t enough to hold him back. He’s on the ship as he intended, and he’s leaving his past behind him.

These two men come from different worlds. But there’s something they have in common that might have the power to bring them together. If they happen to run into each other on the maiden voyage for the RMS Titanic, that is…

I know I’ve shared in my reviews before that I am a fan of historical fiction. And I really enjoy well-written historical m/m because I feel like it allows us to get a glimpse of stories that have been lost. The real stories weren’t written down because most of them existed in the shadows. And the stories we do have are mostly extrapolations from euphemisms. So a nice m/m spin on a major historical event like this definitely appeals to me.

The cast of characters here is pretty great. There’s a richness to their histories and personalities that really comes through. And the author’s inclusion of real passengers alongside the fictional characters helps bring the story to life. It also shows an attention to detail and level of research that is appreciated when one takes on such an iconic moment in history.

To me, this was an excellent twist on the historical romances I typically read from this period. There were many layers to sort through beyond just the “it’s not okay to be gay so I either have to hide it or be miserable” idea. And at the same time it acknowledges the tragedy of the Titanic and the lessons we learned (and can continue to learn) from what happened on that fateful night.