the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for April 2012

Fool’s War, by Sarah Zettel

published in 1997

where I got it: borrowed from a friend (thanks E! I’ll get it back to you right soon!)

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With so many new books that feature female protags who kick ass, sometimes it’s hard to believe books like that have been around for a while.  Sarah Zettel’s Fool’s War is one such book,  and in classic Zettel fashion, this is a space opera that will get you thinking about things you weren’t expecting, and keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time.  If you are a fan of Kameron Hurley or Elizabeth Bear, or just looking for some damn good space opera, this will be right up your alley.

In this far future, we have colonized a number of star systems, and we have FTL ships and Artificial intelligences. Due to a large enough number of AIs that have gone rogue and slaughtered entire colonies, many ship owners are leery of allowing any kind of untethered AI access to their systems.

Katmer Al Shei is a partner in a timeshare transport ship. Basically, she has the ship for 8 months, and then her brother-in-law has the ship for 8 months. The beginning of the book and the set up for our main plot line has her taking possession of the ship, collecting her small crew, recruiting a new pilot, and accepting the gift of a contracted Ship’s Fool.  Fools – part  entertainer, part psychoanalyst, part ship’s counselor, these are the only people who are guaranteed to keep your tightly wound crew members from going crazy in their tight quarters.  Katmer’s new Fool, Evelyn Dobbs, promises that she’s one of the Guild’s best.

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“When you can’t cheat the game, you’d best find a way to cheat the player”

Hi Everyone, welcome to the first part of our read along of Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies. This is the second book in the Gentlemen Bastard series, and so far Locke and Jean are already up to their regular tricks. This week’s questions were supplied by My Awful Reviews. Please be sure to visit him and my other read-along co-hosts, Dark Cargo, Lynn’s Book Blog and OhthatAshley at SFSignal.  If you are writing up a discussion post on your blog, leave your link on everyone else’s blog comments as well, so we can all visit each other.

here are this week’s discussion starters, with my answers after the jump!

1. The Sinspire. It looks like our heroes (can they really be called that?) find themselves in search of a way into an unbeatable vault. Do you think they have what it takes to make it happen?

2.  Anyone want to guess how they’re going to make it happen?

3. It’s a little different this time around, with us just being focused on Locke and Jean. Is anyone else missing the rest of the Bastards as much as I am?

4. I love the section where Jean starts to build a new guild of thieves. It really shows just how well trained and tough he is. Do you think the Bastards will end up training others along the way again like Bug?

5. For those of you looking for Sabetha, we still haven’t spotted her yet. Anyone else chomping at the bit to see the love of Locke’s life?

6. It’s early on, but the Bastards are already caught up in plots that they didn’t expect. How do you think their new “employer” is going to make use of them (The Archon, that is)?

all the other great discussions:

Genkinahito’s blog
Dark Cargo
Lynn’s Book Blog
My Awful Reviews
Books Without Any Pictures
Travels Through Iest
Booky Pony
Nashville Book Worm
Paperless Reading
Scruffy Fiction
Coffee Cookies and Chili Peppers
Kaitharshayr’s Musings
Just Book Reading
Updates to the Theory of Everything
Real Books 4 Ever
The Sleepless Reader
I Want Life In Every Word

*NEW*!
All I Am – A Redhead
Central Neural Pathway Station
Tethyan Books

Even NEWER!!
Beware of the Froggies
Akki’s Arcanum

(I will be away from my computer most of Saturday morning. . .  so if you are waiting for your link to show up, worry not! I will link everything up as soon as I can)

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this is about two weeks worth of book hauling. and goodies in the mail from publishers who I want to give a giant hug to:

Let’s see what we got.  in an attempt to actually read the stuff I acquire, I’ve prioritized these. We’ll see how well I stick to my “rules” after a few months and another book haul. Don’t expect to see reviews instantly, I just this morning got back into town and haven’t started on any of these (just finished Sarah Zettel’s Fool’s War and then picked up Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies for our read along). I’ve also got few library books not mentioned here that I need to eventually get to as well.  Le sigh, the life of a book lover!

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (May 2012) I’ve been a fan of Kim Stanley Robinson since Red Mars. His science fiction is deep, detailed (really, really detailed. Like Neal Stephenson detailed) and realistic feeling. Ok, sure, Antartica was kinda boring, but I appreciated the concept. I am really looking forward to diving into 2312. Priority – high.

The Company Man, by Robert Jackson Bennett – SF Noir? Perhaps some kind of mix of Dark City and Sam Spade? looks good to me! I loved Bennett’s The Troupe, so am excited to read more of his works. By the way, have you seen his recent book trailer? priority – medium

The Mongoliad book one (April 2012) by a multitude of cool people – I’m really not sure what this is. rumors were swirling around the interwebs a few years ago about some kind of subscription where beta-readers could interact with the authors about the story while they were writing it. Woah, totally meta! And Neal Stephenson’s name is on it. I therefore want to read it. Also stars this decade’s favorite historical character, Richard Francis Burton.    priority – high

vN – by Madeline Ashby (July 2012) Looks sort of like the author took Asimov’s three laws of robotics and removed them from our main character android. Also, she’s part human? and the environs are kinda Bladerunner-ish? Sign me up for some of that!!    priority – high

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Of Blood and Honey, by Stina Leight

published in Feb/March 2012 by Nightshade Books

where I got it: the library

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Against the backdrop of The Troubles of Northern Ireland in the 1970s, Liam Kelly just wants to live his life.  He’s a teenager at the beginning of the book, and like all teenagers, he finds trouble.  In casual support of the local riots, he’s arrested.  I was addicted to this book on page 2, and less than 30 pages in I was directly invested in Liam Kelly’s future.  In and out of internment camps, and hoping to return to his betrothed, Liam  trust that his Confessor, Father Murray, will help plead his case.

Through little fault of his own, Liam gets a reputation during his time in the camps. His friends at home always knew he was a little off, always knew he had a temper. But now, people who hurt him, people who threaten his safety or the safety of his family are later found dead and mutilated. Liam didn’t hurt them, but somebody did.  And every day, Liam gets closer to turning into that something.

The word that kept coming to mind while I was reading Of Blood and Honey was “sharp”.  Leicht’s prose style is sharp, and I mean in that in the most basic dictionary definition – sharp like a razor. Her words cut and punch and bite at the most vulnerable parts of your body.  And I couldn’t stop reading, I couldn’t stop letting these stabbity little sentences have their way with me.

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I recently reviewed Robert Jackson Bennett’s newest novel, The Troupe, and it was absolutely incredible. Seriously, go read my review.  I’ll wait.

Mr. Bennett’s debut novel, Mr. Shivers was published in 2010, and while that novel was winning  literary awards left  and right, he was busy publishing his second novel, The Company Man.  His fourth novel, American Elsewhere is scheduled to hit store shelves this coming winter.   And beyond all of that wonderfulness, he agreed to let me ask him a bunch of strange questions. What a gentleman!

Everyone, please give a big round of applause to Robert Jackson Bennett!

LRR: The Troupe focuses around Vaudeville performers and troupes that traveled the country in the early 1900′s from theater to theater. Did you spend any time in the theater when you were younger? Are you a fan of music and theater of the early 1900′s?

RJB: I was a musician, actually – a classically trained violist. So I know a fair bit about prodigies like George, having met a few in my time. Some were hilariously self-involved, like George, and others were like the little circus dogs who only know how to perform, and haven’t ever done anything else. It could be a bit sad, in a way.

I’m a huge fan of early 20th century comedy – the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton… I still haven’t seen that many comedians who can do so much with so little.

Some people don’t get the Marx Brothers. Personally, I don’t get people who don’t get the Marx Brothers.

LRR: Did you always want to be a writer? If not, what got you started down the path to “Hi, I’m an author!”

RJB: I kind of think so. I think my parents might have raised me to be a writer without knowing it. My first word was “Melville,” if that gives you any idea, because that was our dog’s name. They were always giving me books and discussing them with me. It was expected of you to be culturally informed. And at some point in time I started thinking up variations of the things they were showing me or books I read on my own, trying to make them better and make them the sort of story I wanted to read, and eventually this just translated into writing.

LRR: What authors and books have inspired you over the years?

RJB: Oh, geez. A bunch. I grew up reading Stephen King, Madeleine L’Engel, Roald Dahl; then it translated into Neil Gaiman, John le Carre, Susana Clarke, David Foster Wallace; and lately I’ve been reading a lot of David Mitchell and Katherine Ann Porter.

I’m chiefly fascinated by work that examines one idea or a set of ideas. I still think of a novel as the most fun kind of thought experiment, trying to glean truths from fabulous lies, setting things in motion and smashing them together and seeing what’s left and what isn’t. I’d say most of my novels fall under this category.

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Hi Ya’ll,

just a quickie reminder (quiche, anyone? if you know that joke, raise your hand!) that our read along of Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies starts this week.  Hosted by Dark Cargo, Ashley at SFSignal, My Awful Reviews, Lynn’s Book Blog and yours truly, our first discussion will be next weekend.

Get the details (reading schedule, etc) here.

AND to add to your wonderful weekend, Jennie Ivens (@Autumn2May), staff member at Fantasy Faction, went to the Lynch & Bear reading the other night in New York, where she got a recording of Scott Lynch reading from The Mad Baron’s Mechanical Attic, a prequel of sorts to The Lies of Locke Lamora.

yes, you read that right: reading.  prequel. novella.

Also, infuriating guards and a very odd courtyard garden.  just go click the link, watch the reading, and we’ll all start going nuts for Red Seas Under Red Skies next weekend.

And thanks to Bente from The Bente Way of Life for providing us with the great read-along graphic!

Six Easy Pieces, by Richard Feynman

Based on lectures given in 1963, the version I have was published in 1996

where I got it: owned

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I was never a very good formal student. Sure, I always liked school, and I liked learning and didn’t mind studying, but when it came to math and science it felt like the information was going in one ear and out the other. The learning of those subjects never felt like a conversation, it never felt like an interaction. It just felt like work.

The greatest teachers of whatever they are teaching make it feel like a conversation. They make physics and chemistry and “how things work” feel like you are witnessing something between passion and magic. Their love for the topic makes people want to learn more. If we are lucky, those passionate teachers record their thoughts.

I discovered the writings of the famous physicist  Richard Feynman when I was in high school, but it would be years before his books made much sense to me. That’s not to say high schoolers shouldn’t read him, they most definitely should, it’s just that the material was beyond me when I was that age.  My first book of his was Six Easy Pieces (and yes, I did eventually go on to purchase  the follow up Six Not so Easy Pieces).   The Six Pieces are the nearly exact dictations of lectures Feynman gave at CalTech in the early 1960’s.  Instead of focusing on formulas and so and so’s law of such and such, Feynman uses easy to understand examples and his vibrant personality and pure love of the subject to invite us into his conversation.

no, the other kind of strange quark!

Originally planned as lectures,  Feynman breaks down the basics of physics, both classical and quantum in six short chapters.  The lectures include stories, improvisations, approximations, and hypothetical conversations on everything from gravitation to strange quarks to perpetual motion and how physics relates to the other sciences. Free of heavy math and scientific jargon, the Laws of Physics are generally compared to learning to play chess by watching two other players,  Conservation of Energy is shown through a story about Dennis the Menace hiding his toys (and his mother having to find them), the concept of “partricles with zero mass” is actually explained in a way I could understand, and the chapter on quantum particles starts by describing them as “not like anything you have ever seen”.  In that final chapter on quantum physics, Feynman is obviously torn between continually having to refer to the classical “laws of physics”, and confusing the student by having to say “yes, but those laws don’t work here, and now I have to figure out a simple way to show how things really work”.

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The Book of Skaith by Leigh Brackett

Published in 1976

where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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On the edges of explored space lies the dying planet of Skaith. Orbiting a dying ginger star, the cooling habitable areas of Skaith grow smaller and smaller, crushing her tribal populations ever closer to a boiling point. Minimal interaction with the Galactic Union has brought much needed resources along with one last hope of emigration. When the Galactic Union’s emissary, Simon Ashton, goes mission on Skaith, his adopted son Eric John Stark frantically plans a rescue mission.

Much of Skaith is ruled by the theocratic Lords Protector.  As with most religious leaders, once upon a time they had the best of intentions: feed the hungry, house the homeless, help the needy.  Many generations later, a large portion of the population has become “Farers”, homeless, hungry and resourceless, they demand food and shelter from the farmers and herders who have been virtually enslaved by the Lords Protector.  Every year there are more Farers and less food to feed them, and fewer farmers to grow the food.

Stark arrives on Skaith with a little money and the clothes on his back, and it’s not long before he gets a lead on Ashton’s location.  But it will take more than offworlder smarts to outwit Mother Skaith and her bounty of genetically modified tribal populations. Once upon a time, when the ginger star was younger, Skaith had knowledge and technology and many of her peoples chose to force genetic mutations, some to be able to live under water, others to fly, others to have telepathic abilities. In Dying Earth fashion the knowledge behind the mutations has been lost.

Skaith was ripe for revolt before Simon Ashton or Eric John Stark arrived.  To survive, Stark will need to call on the darker tendencies of his savage youth. Stark isn’t interested in being the savior the people of Skaith so desperately need. He isn’t interested in becoming the new leader for the tragically telepathic Northhounds. But we don’t always get what we want, do we?

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I don’t always read manga, but when I do, it’s usually Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa. I got my first taste of this way back in the early 2000’s, and I’ve been following it ever since.

Ten years and 27 volumes later, two anime series, a movie and more t-shirts and fake tattoos than I want to think about, my journey with the Elric Brothers has come to an end.  Nearly my entire adult life, a small part of my mind has constantly been revolving around this series: waiting for the next issue, getting frustrated when the story moved too fast or too slow, masochistically smiling when every issue ended in a cliffhanger and I had to wait 6 months (at least!) for the next one, my shifting character crushes, losing my squeamishness towards prosthetics and amputation, etc. And unlike the jerk at the grocery store who insisted on telling me what happens at the end even though I asked him not to, this post has no spoilers. Just lots and lots of background.

More than you ever wanted to know about:

The Story

Once upon a time, there were two brothers, the elder named Edward and the younger named Alphonse. They lived with their mother and were happy. Sometimes she got this sad look on her face, especially when she thought about their father, who had abandoned them. The two brothers would do anything to make their mother smile. They studied the alchemy book their father left behind, using their new found science based magic to fix things around the house, make new toys, and make their mother smile. Alchemical transmutation was so easy, all you needed was the parts of the whole – a broken toy, a bowl of sand, a lump of metal, and you could make anything of equal element and mass – a fixed toy, a piece of glass, a new frying pan.

And then she got sick. And when she died, the brothers blamed her illness on their absent father. If only he had been there, they could have afforded a better doctor. If only he had been there, her sadness and loneliness wouldn’t have led to illness.  In the alchemy books of their father was the secret and dangerous answer. Human transmutation: take all the elements and pieces of a human body, salt and carbon and phosphorus and blood and water and everything else, and transmute the pieces into the whole. Bring their mother back, see her smile again.

But there is a reason human transmutation is forbidden, a reason it is hidden in code words and secret symbols in the alchemy texts.  Edward and Alphonse were too naive to realize why it should never be attempted. I won’t go into the details of the disaster, but the alchemical accident left Edward missing an arm and a leg, and left Alphonse as nothing but a soul attached by blood rune to a suit of armor.

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The Troupe, by Robert Jackson Bennett

published in March 2012 from Orbit Books

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher

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George is sixteen years old – proud, naive, too talented for his own good, and a little too coddled by well meaning old ladies. And he wants what all teenagers want: validation. He wants his musical talents to be recognized by an applauding audience, and more than anything he wants to find his father. Currently employed as a pianist at a local Vaudeville theatre, George resigns the moment he learns the Silenus Troupe is in town. You see, George believes Heironomo Silenus is his long lost father. The moment he meets the man, his suspicions are confirmed, as George could easily be a younger, thinner Heironomo Silenus. Never the fatherly type, Silenus attempts to offer George what familial feelings he can.

George isn’t the only one looking for Silenus, and a new audience isn’t the only reason The Silenus Troupe moves on every few days. Tight on their heels are strange masked men dressed all in grey, creatures that aren’t quite human, aren’t quite of our world. There is something frightfully strange going on, and if Silenus isn’t going to tell George the truth, young George will just have to investigate and learn for himself.

Beyond the odd performances no one can rightly remember, in the Silenus Troupe nothing is as it seems, and yet, everything is sort of, exactly, as it seems. Their puppeteer Tyburn loves his puppets the way a saner person might adore children, their strongwoman Franny couldn’t possibly be able to lift the weights she does with her tiny frame, their singer Colette is mighty sensitive to racial issues for a royal Persian Princess, and their cellist Stanley never says a word. Their musical numbers are far more than musical numbers, and their magic show is something far darker and deeper than sleight of hand or visual trickery. Silenus is travelling the country looking for something specific, something he has obsessed about nearly his entire life.

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About this redhead, etc.

Redhead is a snarky, non-politically correct 30-something who reviews mostly science fiction and fantasy and talks about all sorts of other fun scifi and fantasy geekery. She once wrote a haiku that included the word triskaidekaphobia.

This blog contains adult language and strong opinions. The best way to contact her outside of this blog is twitter, where she is @redhead5318 .

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.