the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for May 2012

vN by Madeline Ashby

published July 2012 from Angry Robot Books

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher

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I could so easily start every paragraph of this review with “but the best part of the book was. . .” because are just so many incredible aspects of this book – the characters and their lives, the surprising way this future came to be,  the dark subtexts, and the easy to understand technology, just to mention the ones that quickly come to mind. With nods to Blade Runner, Ai, and of course Pinocchio, vN is for anyone who is sick of waiting for the future to get here already. I recently had the honor to interview Madeline Ashby, and if there is anyone knows what the future  brings, it’s her. It wouldn’t surprise me if she edged out Cory Doctorow as my favorite futurist. She’s canny on the uncanny valley, and I think after reading vN you will be too.

First off, the vast majority of the book is from the viewpoint of the vN’s. Ashby immediately puts us behind the eyes of Amy, a five year old vN who has been raised by her vN mother and her human father. Her parents have chosen to raise her as close to a human child as possible, so along with all the other five year old kids in the neighborhood, Amy is in kindergarden at the beginning of our story.

But Amy isn’t a regular human girl. She’s a von Neumann self replicating humanoid. And it’s the “self replicating” part thats only the first brilliant thing in this book. By consuming the correct amount of feedstock, a vN can iterate – create a clone of themselves. Amy is a clone of her mother Charlotte, and every vN of their model has identical physical attributes. Conversely, should a vN want to stay child-size or not iterate, they must literally starve themselves. Amy has been starving since the day she was “born”. So when her grandmother threatens Charlotte, Amy’s first reaction is to disarm her grandmother by eating her.

Kindergardner eats Grandma is a bit of an opening shocker, no?

why yes, yes that was a bit of a shocker.  But a brilliant one.

Read the rest of this entry »

I was gone for a few days, and someone started giving away some of my Very Good Books?  As much as I love getting and receiving VeryGoodBooks, it’s also great to share them and pass them on when I’m done with them.  Maybe I should do these long weekends out of town more often!

While I was gone, I devoured Madeline Ashby’s debut novel vN, which hits bookstore shelves in late July.  I did truly devour it. I had planned to read it a little bit here, a little bit there, over coffee, enjoying my Mom’s garden, and nope. Once I picked it up I couldn’t put it down. It was finished before I even got to my parents house. Alluring cover art and a fascinating premise of a future where self replicating humanoids live side by side with humans, marrying humans, being raised as human children, being told they are equal to humans, and well, sometimes not.

With nods to Bladerunner and AI, vN is what you should be reading if you’re canny on the uncanny valley. Suffice to say, I was thrilled when Ms. Ashby offered to answer a few questions for me. While you’re waiting for my review (it’ll post tomorrow if I can get my act together later today), let’s better get to know Madeline Ashby – Strategic Foresight Consultant, science fiction writer, lover of manga and anime, and the woman who proved you CAN do a masters degree on a science fictional topic. Twice.

L.R.R. You can find manga in any bookstore and anime on nearly any television station these days, but this wasn’t always the case. How did you get hooked on manga and anime? Where would you suggest someone new to those forms start?

M.A. I had friends in high school who were interested in anime. Specifically, someone who used the characters of Haruka and Michiru (Sailors Uranus and Neptune, respectively) on Sailor Moon to talk about her own sexuality. But she wasn’t the only one. I had friends who were into Evangelion and Utena and Fushigi Yuugi. I watched movies like Akira and Ghost in the Shell with them. That pattern didn’t change in university or afterward. I still watch anime with friends.

If I were suggesting anime titles to anyone, I would ask them what genres they like in the first place. If they want science fiction with a side of deep characterization and pulse-pounding action, Cowboy Bebop. If they want a thoughtful slice-of-life dramedy with a side of tender romance, then Fruits Basket. If they want something totally surreal, then FLCL or Paranoia Agent. If they want something meta, something that comments on a genre from within that genre, then Madoka or Evangelion.

L.R.R. vN opens with a  beautiful family scene between Amy and her parents; her vN mother Charlotte, and her human father Jack.  They have a healthy normal family life. I realize this is a loaded question, but do you think this is a possible future for humanity – mixed couples of one human partner and one synthetic/humanoid partner?

Red will be home any day now, better make this last give away count. I should totally do a double.  maybe two books that go together? two books with really sweet cover art that are a blast to read?

found ‘em!

today’s give away is for Mike Resnick’s wonderfully weird wild west steampunk adventures The Buntline Special and The Doctor and The Kid (ARC).  Get entered in the give away by leaving a comment down below. See the rules below, and get your entry in!

Teh rules:
– you can only enter once in each give away, but you are highly encouraged to enter in more than one!
– Give aways are open to all residents of Earth, keeping in mind that shipping outside the US takes a little longer.
– all give aways in this weekend series will close on Friday, June 1.

Red isn’t going to be back for another few days, I think it’s time for another give away, don’t you?  Let’s see, what other goodies has she got that everyone is hankering to read?

a HA!  Today’s giveaway is a gently read ARC of Mazarkis Williams’ non-western-world epic fantasy The Emperor’s Knife, even more valuable now that it’s sequel, Knife Sworn is scheduled to come out later this year.

See rules below, and enter to get your hands on a copy of this rare ARC by leaving a comment.  you know you want it!

Teh rules:
– you can only enter once in each give away, but you are highly encouraged to enter in more than one!
– Give aways are open to all residents of Earth, keeping in mind that shipping outside the US takes a little longer.
– all give aways in this weekend series will close on Friday, June 1.

Has this been the most amazing read along or what?  10 weeks,  over 30 bloggers, 6 organizers, 1300+ pages of delicious bookness, incredibleness all around! And people, all that brilliance? ALL YOU.  Before I get even more maudlin, I should get right to it.

This week’s read along questions were provided by Lynn over at Lynn’s Book Blog, and make sure to give a shout out to our other wonderful organizers, Dark Cargo, My Awful Reviews, and @ohthatashley from SF Signal.

I’m out of town this weekend, and may not be available to collect links on Saturday. Leave your link in the comments, and click on everyone else’s links in the comments. When I get back into town next week I’ll update the link list. Viva la family vacation!

Because this is the last post, with all the mega spoilers, all the questions, answers, and snarky images are after the jump.  If you see any weird grammatical errors it’s because I’m trying to write in present tense but this post is actually happening in the future and I’ve already written it.

ready to talk spoilers?  let’s go!

* Finally edited on 5/29 to add everyone’s links. I’ll visit everyone as soon as I have time later this week.

Lynn’s Book Blog
Coffee Cookies and Chili Peppers
Dark Cargo
Tethyan Books
Kaitharshayr’s Musings
All I Am – A Redhead
Hugo Endurance Project
Nashville Bookworm
Beware of the Froggies
Rose’s thingamajig
Genkinahito’s Blog
Scruffy Fiction
Books without Any Pictures
Real Books 4 Ever
Travels Through Iest
Paperless Reading
Central Neural Pathway Station
Booky Pony

Read the rest of this entry »

ppssst! yeah, you there!

Red is away for the weekend, and imma gonna give away a bunch of her stuff! ok, not a bunch, more like a handful of verygoodbooks that she doesn’t have room for.

look for new give aways all weekend, enter yourself in the drawing by leaving a comment.

today’s give away is a gently read copy of Nancy Kress’s wonderful post apocalyptic novella After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall. blunt and heartbreaking, this is the kind of story that sticks with you. See Red’s review here.

look like something you might be interested in? Read the give away rules before, and get your entry in!

Teh rules:
– you can only enter once in each give away, but you are highly encouraged to enter in more than one!
– Give aways are open to all residents of Earth, keeping in mind that shipping outside the US takes a little longer.
– all give aways in this weekend series will close on Friday, June 1.

saw some scenery not far from where I live, and thought “hey, this looks like what I’m reading”, only less imaginative, of course.

can you guess what I’m reading?

Tags: ,

She writes space opera, she writes fantasy, she writes young adult and even paranormal mystery. Even better, she’s a fellow mid-westerner. In the last year or so, Sarah Zettel has quickly become one of my favorite science fiction writers. Her space opera is phenomenal, with characters that leap off the page and show you they are real people with real challenges. I don’t envy any of her characters, but I feel like I can relate to them. I’ve recently enjoyed Zettel’s Fool’s War and Bitter Angels (written as C.L. Anderson), and her new paranormal Vampire Chef series is getting rave reviews as well. I was beyond thrilled when Sarah agreed to do an interview on my blog.

So let’s get to the fun stuff, the interview!

L.R.R.: Your debut novel, Reclamation, won a Locus award for best first novel in 1996, and more recently Bitter Angels (2010) won the Philip K Dick award for best paperback original novel. Between 1996 and now, how have you seen the writing industry change? As a writer have you felt pressured to change with it?

S.Z.: The big change, of course, has been e-books. There’s now, unquestionably an audience for e-books, and a whole infrastructure to bring readers what they want. That’s opened up a lot of new avenues for writers and publishers to get their work to those readers. Is there pressure to change and adapt? Always. But that can be a good thing. I’m been part of a professional writer’s co-operative (Book View Cafe) where we as authors got together to help each other get our backlists out in e-book form. It’s been a lot of work, but a tremendous experience.

L.R.R.: There’s been a lot of attention, recently, on strong female lead characters in Speculative fiction, something you’ve been doing for years. Can you speak to any barriers you’ve experienced (or broken!), being a woman who writes speculative fiction with strong female characters?

S.Z.: When my 2nd novel Fool’s War came out, I had so many women come up to me and say “Thank you!” for writing protagonist who is a married woman. I think traditional literary science fiction is perceived as a male-oriented genre, and men are perceived as not being interested in reading about women or “women’s issues” read: relationships. There has always, always been SF by strong women, about strong women. Ursula K. Le Guin, Vonda McIntyre, Julie Cznerda, Octavia Butler, are just a few of the authors. But that’s not the perception of the genre, and so they don’t get talked about a whole lot. However, what has happened and what’s been interested is how speculative fiction that features strong women and relationships moved beyond the SF genre. It’s on the romance shelves, on the mainstream shelves, on the manga shelves, and, hurray, hurray, on the Young Adult shelves.

 

L.R.R.: One of the many things I loved about Fool’s War is that one of the two main characters is a devout Muslim woman. I don’t claim to be well read, but come on, how often do you run into science fiction that stars a Muslim woman? When you were working on that novel, how did her character come to be, and what type of research did you do get all those cultural details just right?

S.Z.: Fool’s War came from a short story I wrote for Analog Science Fiction & Fact called “Fool’s Errand.” I wrote that story during the first Gulf War. At that time, some, well, idiots, beat up a Sikh man because they couldn’t tell the difference between a Muslim and a Sikh. And this wasn’t a lone incident. I was angry, but what could I do to help combat the prejudice? It occured to me I could show competent, strong Islamic characters in the future, and so I made the ship’s engineer a Muslim woman. When I started out on Fool’s War, I realized it made sense for the person who maintained the ship to also be the person who owned the ship, so Al Shei became one of the major protagonists.

L.R.R.: You write in multiple genres – science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and more urban fantasy (American Fairy trilogy) and paranormal mystery (Vampire Chef series). Does it ever get confusing to be working on different projects in different genres at the same time? Are different genres more fun to write in than others?

S.Z.: Actually, I find writing in mulitple genres not only helps keep me fresh, it keeps me learning. Each genre has a different focus and a different set of expectations, and each focus teaches you something new about the craft of writing. All genres are fun. I will say that of them all, science fiction is probably the most work, because of the nature and the level of the world building you have to do to create a solid, complete SF story.

L.R.R.: Speaking of The American Fairy Trilogy, can you tell us a little about the first book in the series, Dust Girl, which is scheduled to hit bookstore shelves this summer?

S.Z.: June 26, to be exact (VBG). Sure. It’s my first Young Adult series, and I’m very excited about it. It’s about a girl named Callie who lives in the heart of Kansas during the Dust Bowl. Callie’s father disappeared before she was born, and she always suspected he was African American. He was. It turns out he’s also a fairy prince. Callie’s inherited his magic, and a world of trouble as a result, especially when the fairies come calling to her dust bowl home.

L.R.R.: Do you have any plans to be at any upcoming conventions (WorldCon perhaps?) or bookstore signings? Where and how can your fans connect with you?

S.Z.: I am going to be at McLean & Eakin in Petosky Michigan on July 13. I’ll also be at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor July 25. I’m not going to make WorldCon this year, but I will be at BoucherCon in Cinncinati, OH.

L.R.R.:  Hear that midwesterners?  I don’t know about you, but I’m planning a field trip to Ann Arbor!  Thank you so much Sarah, for spending some time on this blog.  I’ve enjoyed everything of yours that I’ve read, and I can’t wait to read more!

As the end of the book gets closer and closer, the plot lines get more confusing and intertwined. Will Captain Drakasha’s fellow pirate captains betray her? How will Locke and Jean finish out the Requin game? Will they get back to the Archon in time for the poison’s antidote? Will Jean opt to stay with the beautiful Erzi? and who are all these incompetent assassins that keep getting snagged on a certain someone’s stilettos everytime they touch land in Tal Verrar?

So many questions, but the ones we’re most interested in right now are those supplied by nrlymrtl from Dark Cargo. Be sure to give her a shout out along with our other read along co-hosts, Lynn’s Book Blog, My Awful Reviews, and @ohthatashley from SF Signal. This week’s reading section was Chapter 11 thru end of chapter 13, and wow was a lot happening!  The Parlor Passage (creepy!),  trust issues up the wazoo (gulp), and generally learning how to be a pirate. good stuff.

On twitter? use #lynchmob. And on to nrlymrtl’s great questions!

1) I was much relieved when Jean and Locke made up, which started with Locke’s gesture of a cup full of honesty with Cpt. Drakasha. Do you think that was hard for Locke? Or was he using this bit of honesty like any other weapon in his arsenal to get what he wants in the end?

2) The Parlor Passage: We still don’t know Locke’s true name, but whatever was in that mist does. What do you think it is?

3) There was an interesting section of the book that started about where Locke assisted Drakasha in selling the Red Messenger; he put on the persona of Leocanto Kosta and used the alias Tavras Callas and then Drakasha was still thinking of him as Ravelle….. Did using all those various aliases in such a short amount of time have your mind spinning a little? Do you think Lynch did this on purpose to give the reader a sense of Locke’s mind?

4) That was a sweet little kiss between Cpt. Zamira and Cpt. Jaffrim at the end of the Captains’ Council. Do you think they have some history, or is it just innocent flirting that’s been going on for some time?

5) Jean and Ezri. Cue dove-cooing and little winged hearts with sparkles. Do you think Jean will stay with the Poison Orchid or that Ezri will leave her ship to pal around with Jean and Locke?

6) What is Utgar up to? What are his motivations?

7) So last week we hashed over that Merrain killed some of Stragos’s guards on Windward Rock. But when Jean and Locke visit him, he doesn’t mention it. What is up with that?

8) This week’s section left us where the book began – Jean pointing a crossbow at Locke’s throat. Do you think Jean knows who sent these crossbowers? Is he on their side? Is it a clever ploy to get him and Locke out of this predicament? Did you find it excruciatingly hard to stop here?

other wonderful conversations:

Real Books 4 Ever
Kaitharshayr’s Musings
Akki’s Arcanumn
Dark Cargo
Genkinahito’s Blog
All I Am – A Redhead
Travels Through Iest
Paperless Reading
Just Book Reading
Coffee Cookies and Chili Peppers
Tethyan Books
Lynn’s Book Blog
Hugo Endurance Project
Booky Pony
Beware of the Froggies

NEW!
Books Without Any Pictures
The Bente Way
Nashville Bookworm

Read the rest of this entry »

If you had to communicate without written or spoken words, how would you do it?

Sign language is fine, music and sound is fine, body language, facial movements, whistling, grunting, mewling, crying out, tapping with your fingers and feet,  creating different colors or shapes, wearing different colors or styling your hair a certain way or tattooing different images on different parts of your body all are fine. You can make noise, but you don’t have to. Just no actual words, and nothing that could be construed or translated as what we define as “word”.

A bit like how animals communicate, but upped to the cerebral level of humans.

what non-verbal and non-written methods of communication would you use?

 

How would our conversations change? How would communication change? Would we lose subtleties? Are subtleties and connotation a direct result of spoken language?   But with no spoken or written language, communication would almost have to be done face to face (no books or signs or internet forums. no libraries.), so perhaps the subtleties would be even more complex? wow, that got badly circular!

would communication sans written or spoken words cause more or less misinterpretation?

 

on a similar note, but in a different key, how do different styles of written communication change your experience with a piece of writing? Here are some specific examples that got me thinking about this:

Gene Wolfe’s Shadow and Claw – this volume includes Shadow of the Torturer and Claw of the Conciliator, the first two books in Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. I really, really want to read these again, but the print in this edition is infamously small, to the point where it has affected my decision to reread these, as in, I haven’t. Although I did smarten up and purchased the 3rd and 4th books in the series in editions with normal sized print.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 –  focusing on just a tiny bit of the story,  gender has evolved, and part of that evolution is that if someone doesn’t make their chosen gender obvious, it is considered very rude to ask before you know them well. So the book is missing a lot of he’s and she’s, her’s and him’s. Twice I guessed someone’s gender incorrectly.  It was a new way to experience characterization.

China Mieville’s Railsea – I’m not that far in, but he uses “&” instead of “and”. Other than making my eyes trip over the & a bit and using 2 fewer characters, what’s the point of using the ampersand? the visual effect was odd, almost a musical upswing as my eyes scanned each line.

three random little prose tricks, and they all affected my reading experience in different ways.

For one final random question – if we communicated in a non-word based fashion, would everyone experience all communication in same way, since we wouldn’t have any “prose tricks” like using & instead of “and”, skipping gender specific words, or different typefaces and font sizes?


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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.