the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for June 2012

Particle Horizon, by Selso Xisto

published in 2012

where I got it: received copy from the author

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How deep into the foundations of the universe can we truly observe? What will we see when we get there? Famous researcher Dr. Baghdarasian has made learning those secrets his life’s work. The phrase “particle horizon” refers to how far we can see with a microscope.

As the story opens, we get some minimal background about the current state of humanity. With Earth as the center of our civilization, we’ve colonized planets and moons all over the place, even hollowed out a handful of asteroids and very small moons. Once outside the solar system, humanity is generally split into two psuedo Empires: the Union which follows a strictly atheistic culture and has no room for any type of religious faith; and the Alliance, a very religious culture with no room for any kind of doubt in their deity and priests. The two cultures are polar opposites with no space for anything inbetween, so of course there is a lot of tension between them, not to mention the pressures their citizens are under to conform.

The space navies of both cultures have converged on the hollowed out asteroid of Angelhaven, where a battalion of Alliance Lightbringer troops have attacked the main city. Angelhaven is also  the home of Dr. Baghdrasarian and his android daughter Una. Una was designed with what amounts to a quantum computer for a brain, and until now she’s never really paid attention to the numbers she’s been crunching.  Her father has discovered something amazing. Something that could change the course of humanity’s future, and both the Alliance priesthood and the  Union governments desperately want to get their hands on it, or on Una, who stores the secret deep in her mind.

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Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

written in 1952

where I got it: owned

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Ever read a book that takes place in the future?  of course, we all have, and we love them. How much manual labor do you see in those books? Probably not very much. Robots or machines do all the hard work so humans are available to have adventures and experience fun plot devices. Sure, people work, but not fifty hours a week at a saw mill or light bulb factory or textile factory. In the future, everything is automated.

But how did we get there?

In 1952 Kurt Vonnegut couldn’t have known what the future would bring. he couldn’t have known how labor unions would protest over robots in auto plants, that humanity would automate everything we possibly could and glorify automation, calling it  Freedom, in our science fiction. All he knew in 1952 was how fascinating it was to see a punch-card programmed machine cut highly detailed parts for a jet engine. And I imagine he thought to himself “how far can I take this?”

Taking place perhaps ten to twenty years in the future, Player Piano imagines a world in which everything is automated. Dr. Paul Proteus is the manager of the Ilium Works, a factory that includes acres upon acres of machines and motors and pistons and belts, but employs less than a hundred people, most of whom simply watch the machines to make sure they don’t break down.  Dr. Proteus’s star is rising in society, he’s all lined up for a promotion, and yet, he yearns to escape the system.

When his old friend Ed Finnerty arrives, Paul thinks Ed may be able to help him.  Ed knows something, but he’s useless and vague, and would rather get drunk on the poor side of town than have an actual useful conversation with Paul. The factory is split by the river: on one side lies the Illium Works factory and the wealthy people involved with it, and on the otherside live everyone else. If you can prove that a machine can’t do a job better than you can, your employment destiny lies with the army, or the government run Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps.  No matter how you choose to interpret that, it’s a shit gig, and alcoholism and suicide is rampant.

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Long Live the Queen!

No, not that queen, this little queen!

She might be dressed like a school girl, but she’s royalty in the making, and through your decisions she can rise through the ranks, or get assassinated. Or poisoned. Or embarrassed. Or imprisoned. Or assassinated. Again.

A cross between a Choose your Own Adventure story and a visual novel, Long Live the Queen is the newest sim game from Hanako Games. This game may have a plucky and overly cute anime style and star a plucky and overly cute main character, but it’s much, much harder than it looks. Also, incredibly addictive.

You control the choices of teenaged Princess Elodie, whose royal mother has just passed away. She’s got to learn new skills, avoid dangerous neighbors, and win the hearts of the royal court. Every week you can choose two skills to advance in, but random events and interactions with other members of the royal court along with your social activities directly effect your mood and your skills bonuses. Did you spend your Saturday sneaking out of the castle? You gain some points towards willfullness, earning you a negative against earning skills in elegance, but giving you a healthy bonus towards learning magic.

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Anno Dracula, by Kim Newman

published in 1992, reprinted by Titan Books in 2011

where I got it: purchased new

(and don’t you just adore that  cover art?)

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If you’ve never read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I’m going to spoil the ending for you – the good guys win. Dracula and his brides are destroyed by the silvered weapons and quick thinking of Van Helsing and his friends. (If you’ve never read Dracula, you really should. I don’t do so well with the classics, and even I found it highly engaging.)

But what if that wasn’t how the story ended? What if Dracula won? What he traveled to England to be “among the teeming masses”,  married Queen Victoria, and set London up as a safe haven for vampires? What if being reborn as the undead became acceptable, even fashionable? This is the premise of Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula, and a brilliant premise it is. The story has many of the trappings of Victorian literature, but with a number of deliciously dark twists. This was a book I absolutely couldn’t put down, Newman had me on page two. The premise was fascinating, the plot was engaging, and I adored the characters.

Under Dracula, who now styles himself the Prince Consort and Lord Protector, more and more businesses and society in London run from dusk to dawn, with socialites hosting “after-darks”, banks and merchants only being open at night, and a massive upswing in the sales of luxury coffins.  For many, receiving the dark kiss allowed them to rise even higher in society, but for others, the opposite has been true. Those of the lower classes still starve and prostitute themselves, drunks still beg for money (but to buy pig blood, not booze).

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The recently announced Locus Awards are awarded every year by a readers poll done by Locus Magazine. These have been going since 1971, and are often an influencial precursor to the Hugo awards, which will be awarded later this summer.

It’s only these last couple years that I’ve been blogging that I’ve paid much attention to awards. Honestly, for the most part, a list of award nominees more often than not elicits a mostly “eh” response from me. Maybe I’ve heard of the authors, maybe I haven’t, and there’s a decent chance I haven’t even read any of the books or short stories that are up for an award.

Good thing I have a scifi/fantasy blog, and have pretty much been reading nothing but scifi and fantasy for the last little while! For the first time, ever, I’ve actually read a small chunk of these. Ok, maybe not a respectable amount, but way more than in previous years. For the first time, ever, my mind is responding with a “sweet! I’ve read that!” or at least a “I’ve heard of that, and I really want to read it!” instead of “meh”.

Here are this years Locus Award winners (bolded) and nominees. If I reviewed the piece, I’ve linked to it. A few questions for you to contemplate as you peruse the list: how many of these author, works, editors, authors and publishers have you heard of? How many of them have you read, or are interested in reading?

The 2012 Locus Awards, as announced in Seattle Washington, June 15-17th 2012:

Science Fiction Novel

Embassytown, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
11/22/63, Stephen King (Scribner; Hodder & Stoughton as 11.22.63)
Rule 34, Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit UK)
The Children of the Sky, Vernor Vinge (Tor)

Fantasy Novel

A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin (Bantam; Harper Voyager UK)
Snuff, Terry Pratchett (Harper; Doubleday UK)
The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss (DAW; Gollancz)
Deathless, Catherynne M. Valente (Tor)
Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)

First Novel

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday)
Ready Player One, Ernest Cline (Crown; Century)
God’s War, Kameron Hurley (Night Shade)
Soft Apocalypse, Will McIntosh (Night Shade)
Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, Genevieve Valentine (Prime)

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Kiln People,  by Davin Brin

published in 2002

where I got it: purchased used

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If this had been published today, I’m sure it would have started a frenzy of golem-punk stories. And who isn’t fascinated by the idea of golems? A non-person who exists for a fixed amount of time to do your bidding, and then melts away when they are no longer needed. The perfect solution to jobs that are too dangerous or tedious for humans, Dittos are certainly a sort of salvation.

In the near future described in Kiln People, technological advances are in the arena of the weighing and measuring of the human soul. “Ditto-ing” yourself has become so mainstream that many families have a private kiln and storage unit for clay blanks that are delivered daily. Simply lie down on the copier with your head between the tendrils, and a few minutes later a clay “you” sits up from the other table, ready to do manual labor, run errands, run your business, attend your classes, do your homework, or a myriad of other activities you might do during your day. The golem may be clay, but it’s still you. A you with your memories, your soul, your voice, and your mind. At the end of the day hopefully you return home to yourself for inloading, so the original flesh and blood you can get the memories your golem collected during the day.

Color coded to denote internal quality, golem society has it’s own stratified classist attitudes. Designed to only last 24 hours, if the golem can’t get home to inload at the end of the day, it reflexively seeks out a public recycling dumpster, to return to that which it was. The society Brin has created is incredibly fascinating, and was probably my favorite part of the book.

“Maybe we should suggest a 24 hour lifespan to the professor” “Nah, he’d never go for something like that. besides, what could possibly go wrong?”

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It isn’t news to any of you that I’m completely old fashioned. I ain’t into hand-made doilies or anything, but nostalgia and I are very good friends.

it’s not news to anyone that I have a total “book as object” fetish.  The feel of the paper, the marks on the spine, the condition of the book as a physical and visual record of its journey. Don’t get me started, I could seriously talk about this until the cows come home. Oh wait, I have.

but thanks to a few recent experiences I’m rethinking my “they are evil!” stance on  e-readers and tablets.

shocked?

Here’s how it happened:

A while ago I donated some money to a Kickstarter project called Save the SciFi that is buying up the rights to vintage Scifi and reprinting them. Yay for old books getting new life! For my donation, I get a handful of free books. But the organization is only doing ebooks. So if I want to actually get anything for my money (other than supporting something I believe in), I aughta get with the program.

Met an author at an airport over Memorial day weekend.  I didn’t know who he was, he didn’t know who I was, our flight was delayed, we randomly got talking. I said I was into Scifi, he was a SciFi author on his way to a con. He’s a happy mutant, his stuff is digital only. If I want to read him (and I’d like to), I better get with the damn program already.

I subscribe to a few print magazines.  Sometimes they show up mangled or rain soaked  in my mailbox. Sometimes so mangled that they are in an oversize Post Office envelope with an apology from the post office for destroying my mail. Apology is nice and all, but it’s still really hard the read the articles when the magazine is torn in half and the front cover is missing.  most print mags offer a free online subscription if you buy the print, or you can just buy online version a little cheaper.

I don’t even care that ebooks are a little cheaper than print. I truly don’t believe that an e-reader would be a more convenient reading device for me than a print book. I don’t find books heavy or expensive or cumbersome. I find their weight in my handbag to be quite comforting, actually.  ( it was funny on the airplane, the flight attendant told everyone to turn off all electronic devices, and there was an audible groan as people were forced to turn off their e-readers. I pulled a paperback out of my purse and enjoyed the flight.)

This is all about accessibility.   If it’s an out of print title that hasn’t been printed since 1945, yes, I’m still going to be on the search for a print copy. Chances are, an iffy condition, binding glue flaked, moldy copy. I’ll  buy it (hello, nostalgia fetish!) but an electronic copy would be nice, so I can actually read the damn thing without having an allergic reaction.  Print magazine? I like the print versions, and  they make great packing material and liners when i’m done with them. But electronic sure would be handy for when the act of mailing the stupid thing to me destroys its readability.

I will never stop buying print books. I will never get rid of my print books. My home will always look like a library exploded.

I don’t believe print books or brick and mortar bookstores will ever go away. I don’t believe electronic publishing is a credible threat to traditional publishing. They are simply two different modes of production and communication.

but again that magic word pops up: accessibility. A growing list of things I’m interested in (hello Lightspeed Magazine!) are primarily available electronically.  The only person getting hurt by my obstinacy is me.

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First things first:

Have you seen the movie yet?

do you plan to?

If your answers were “No”, and “Yes”, do not read this post. It’s cup runneth over with ridiculous quantities of snark and epically major spoilers.  I suppose you could scroll all the way to the bottom and just read the last few sentences for the whole point of the post. But even that might spoil the film for you.

Ridley Scott got me a present. Something he’s been working on for a while. Something old skool Alien fans such as myself would certainly be excited about.

By “old skool Alien fans”, I mean those of us who were weaned into science fiction horror  by Ellen Ripley and H.R. Giger. A series of films ripe with suspense, movies you only watch in broad daylight with all the lights on. Sure, the plots are simple (another distress call? didn’t this end really badly for the last ship that answered a distress call?), but the people were smart. They talked about what they planned to do, made contingency plans, found appropriate weapons, and they intelligently went about their business. Thanks to spot on direction and creepy sets, the suspension was through the roof.  Thanks to well written dialog and plotting, the films were peppered with lighter moments and small talk, quickly giving depth to characters. This was a film franchise that was all about show instead of tell. Remember that scene with Ripley at the very end of Aliens (granted, that was one directed by James Cameron) when she’s in the nest with the queen? Not a word is spoken, and no words are needed.

So, with baited breath, I opened the gift Ridley Scott had made for me.

This is where the spoilers start, btw. You’ve been warned.

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And Blue Skies from Pain (The Fey and The Fallen, book 2), by Stina Leicht

published in March 2012 from Night Shade Books

Where I got it: the library

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And Blue Skies from Pain is the sequel to Of Blood and Honey (reviewed here), and thus this review will involve some spoilers of the first book.  You’ve been warned.

The super simple fast review is if you like your urban fantasy intelligent, powerful, and heart wrenchingly beautiful, this is the series for you. I lost sleep over this book. I was late to work due to sitting in my car, reading just a few more pages. If you are not reading Stina Leicht, you are missing out on some of the best urban fantasy being written today.

Northern Ireland, 1977, and for once Liam Kelly has something more pressing to worry about than The Troubles. He’ll do anything to avoid returning to the prisons, and he isn’t interested in working for any side again. He’s seen enough pain and enough death. With the help of Father Murray, Liam has learned to separate the shape-changing part of him, known as The Hound, and crush that portion of himself into the back of his mind. But the more he separates himself from who and what he truly is, the more dangerous he becomes to himself and others. At least his Fey father, Bran, is finally speaking to him.  But the Fey have problems of their own, and Bran may not be able to drop everything every time his son calls to him.

As part of a truce agreement between The Church and the Fey, Liam is offered up to the inquisitors so the Church can determine what exactly he is. The inquisitors were the most gut wrenching, frightening part for me. While the Hound in the back of his mind is telling him to get out, the voice in my head is screaming RUN. This is beyond Danger Will Robinson. My emotional reaction was pure animal, pure visceral, pure and utter lizard brain fear, telling me to run until I ran out of earth to run on.  Other readers certainly may not experience it quite as ripely as I did, but still, this is some successfully scary and worrysome shit.

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Redshirts by John Scalzi

published in June 2012 by Tor Books

where I got it:  borrowed ARC from a friend

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If you grew up watching Star Trek TOS or TNG, if you fell in love with discovering new worlds and new civilizations on the back of suspiciously shoddy science, if you wondered were those relief ensigns on the bridge came from (ensign closet?), if you derided TNG for its pathetically formulaic and episodic set up (Data is training his cat in the opening? He’ll totally still be training the cat in the closing, and wow they sure solved that mystery fast!) yet still loyally watched and rewatched every single episode, Redshirts is the book for you. I haven’t laughed this hard in a long, long time. The franchise that Bakula nearly destroyed and Tim Allen inadvertently nearly saved has been saved again.

Way to wreck the franchise, Bakula.

Ok, you don’t have to be quite as much of a trekkie geek as I am to enjoy Redshirts. Scalzi starts out spoofing science fiction shows that feature terrible science, but ends up faithfully honoring the spirit of those same shows while at the same time boldly going completely meta and self-aware.

I found Redshirts to be hysterically funny, completely off the wall, full of sarcastic wit and absolutely brilliant. Also? it’s fucking hilarious.

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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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