the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for November 2012

I’m now around 400 pages into Existence, and it’s like I’m reading a completely different book by a completely different author.  The pace has drastically picked up, the plot now has every bit of my attention,  the characters are getting interesting, it’s damn good.   And the reveal? damn.  and the second reveal? holy shit, hotdamn! I now care about what is happening in Existence, and the scales are quickly tipping from “disappointed” to “this is pretty damn cool!”

But will they tip enough?

As my interest in the plot has increased, so has my appreciation for the asides and commentaries on near-future technologies and society’s reaction to them. Things like crowdsourced journalism and whistle-blowing, theories about autism, gene manipulation, self replicating machines, our growing interactions and dependence on the internet, the possibility of uploading the minds and personalities of people who are trapped in severely damaged or disabled bodies,  so many things that many of us are talking about right now.

Even better, reading the book now feels like enjoyment rather than work.

Still, some severe annoyances keep rearing their ugly heads, such as a wordplay trick that quickly feels gimicky,  loose ends that don’t go anywhere, and writing mechanics.

minor spoilers ahead:

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It is a dark time in the northern hemisphere.  Although Black Friday has been survived, the upcoming holiday season drives bookworms from their hidden libraries, and pursues them across the galaxy. . .

Evading the dreaded TV toy commercials, a group of bloggers led by yours truly  established a secret plan for January reading.

It will be known as Vintage Science Fiction month, and many vintage books will be read, into the far reaches of the blogosphere. .. . .

I suddenly kinda feel like watching Star Wars.  hey, the first one came out before 1979, so it’s vintage. . . right?
Ok peeps, here’s the deal: A while ago I realized I was horribly underread in the classics of Scifi.  Sure, the stuff is dated and sexist and clunky and sometimes the language is archaic, but damn if I don’t enjoy reading about Martians and black holes, and old Star Trek books and Jules Vernian adventures, and stories from back when everything was possible because no one knew what might not be possible.  The more of the stuff I read, the more I liked it, but I was so distracted by new shiny stuff that,  well, you get the idea.

So last January I hosted Vintage Science Fiction month, and a whole ton of ya’ll participated by reading Vintage-y stuff and blogging about it, and we linked it all together here.  My definition of Vintage is anything before 1979, and my definition of Scifi is pretty loose: scifi, sci-fantasy, sword and sorcery, robots, magical swords, near future, far future, pulp scifi adventure, satire, War of the Worlds, Jules Verne, Mary Shelley. . .

And guess what?  It was buckets and buckets of fun! I had the opportunity to read obscure out of print goodness, met a bunch of new blogger friends, researched some authors, worked and read my butt off, and had the best month ever! On a more serious note, I gained a deeper appreciation for books that were written in the last 30 years by reading what came before them.  From a genre-evolution standpoint, it’s truly fascinating.

Vintage SciFi month was so much fun, in fact, that I’m doing it again this year!  Same month, same channel, same badge. Start your countdown to interstellar adventure and  link to your January reviews in the comments of the Vintage Scifi tab at the top of the page.  But this time, there’s a twist.  I’ve got some surprises up my sleeves for you!

comments? questions? thoughts?  shout ‘em out!

I’m about 200 pages in to David Brin’s Existence, and I can already tell this isn’t the kind of book that I’ll just be able to kick out a 700 word review. Hopefully doing a few blog posts as I get through the book will help me organize my thoughts, and see if my predictions and concerns were at least in the right direction.  It’ll be fun to go back and reread these posts once I’ve finished the book. I will do my best to avoid major plot points and spoilers. I picked this up because I’ve been a David Brin fan for years and I was thrilled to learn that he had a new book coming out. this is one of those writers that I will pick up anything with his name on it. I trust him to deliver.

Existence is dense, it is sprawling, it’s sometimes completely unfocused, parts of it read like a thesis. God help you if this is your first David Brin, or if you picked this up thinking it was something to read casually.

First off, there are a ton of POV’s to keep track of. half a dozen people, not to mention the interludes and asides that serve as world building and convenient spots for infodumps. Many of the interludes are from something called Pandora’s Cornucopia. I’m not sure what exactly the Cornucopia is, but so far it seems to be a list of all the man-made and natural ways humanity could come crashing to an end – nuclear winter, flooding brought on by climate change, asteroid impacts, all sorts of morbid things, and then it goes on to say how we have or could survive them. there are some interludes by a deep autistic, and I had trouble understanding the syntax in them (perhaps that’s the point?).  there is a metric-tons worth of people and places to remember, and stuff to keep track of.

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I’ve been doing a lot of traveling for work lately, so MP3 player and free short story downloads to the rescue!  Here are a few that proved very enjoyable, maybe you will like them too. These are all less than an hour, so perfect for your commutes, holiday travels, or if you are stuck waiting somewhere, or would just like to listen to something nice.

These are from Lightspeed Magazine and Podcastle. do you listen to them? which other short story podcasts do you listen to?

The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species, by Ken Liu, from the August issue Lightspeed magazine (click here to download)
read by Stefan Rudnicki

I don’t know what I was expecting with this story, but I never thought so much imagination could be put into something that on the surface, sounds so very simple. This story is about what the title implies: book making habits. Of  aliens. All creatures record events and thoughts, perhaps the desire to make recordings is a sign of civilization.  With softly sure descriptions, Liu talks about a handful of alien civilizations, both organic and inorganic, creatures who record entire streams of consciencness, creatures whose records are slowing destroyed through use, and all sorts of other amazing, imaginative methods in which beings who are completely different from humans, but delight in the same things we do – storytelling.

This story had a surprisingly large impact on me.  We communicate more than we can possibly know through storytelling, and the methods of that storytelling is a communication unto itself. I couldn’t get this story out of my head. As a lover of books, stories, and the methods we use to record our stories for future generations (and the speed at which those methods are changing), this story struck me in a very personal way.

A Hole to China, by Catherynne Valente, from the May Issue of Lightspeed Magazine (click here to download)
read by Stefan Rudnicki

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This post  was inspired by this post over at Dark Cargo, in which Lady Dark Cargo talks about her new city, Columbus OH. She specifically talks about the Columbus Library system, and the local art museum.  I live in a much, much smaller city than Columbus, but I’m pretty darn proud of our library and museum, and beyond being proud of these places, and happy to pay taxes that support them, I am sincerely and truly thankful for them.

Sometimes the best things in life are free.

observe, my local library freakin’ rocks. A main branch downtown, a handful of neighborhood branches, I can put stuff on hold on their website, do interlibrary loan, read in the park across the street, admire the stained glass, buy old paperbacks in the basement, use the computer lab on the 2nd floor, and chill in the basement lounge that looks three stories up to the rooftop atrium. Also? library is staffed only by cool people.

Sit in the lower lounge and look up. this is what you see. pretty much: rainbows everywhere.

We’ve also got two pretty cool museums. Okay, they are teensy, but pretty sweet. You can get through our art museum in about an hour, but I always find myself taking ages in the lower level, admiring the portraiture collection. Once the security guard had to let me know the museum was closing in 15 minutes. They offer a gazillion classes, but when I could afford the classes they didn’t work with my work schedule, and when I didn’t have to worry about a work schedule, well, I couldn’t afford the classes.  there’s also a ginormous Chihuly blown glass sculpture in the lobby.  Also? The museum is surrounded by a sculpture garden.  Has so much artistic awesome ever been crammed into one small city block? Museum is free, but it’s nice to put a few bucks in the donation box, since I sure can’t afford any of the kitchy stuff in the gift shop.

Ok, so maybe it’s not such a ginormous Chihuly, maybe it’s just a small lobby?

I haven’t got a photo, but we also host a smaller, family museum. Most of the exhibits are aimed toward kids, and my favorite part of the museum isn’t even inside the museum, it’s up by the road in front of the front door – it’s a functioning sun dial, where your shadow tells the time. My Dad things this is the coolest thing ever, and I wish I could that photo of him standing in the sun dial, he’s got this look of utter surprise on his face that the time is accurate.

 

Now it’s your turn. tell me about something where you live that your thankful for.

along with science fiction luminaries like David Brin, Neal Asher, Julie E. Czerneda, Charles Stross and other writers, researchers and bloggers, I’m part of SFSignal’s most recent Mind Meld about Optimistic Scenarios for Our Future World.   In no universe did I ever imagine I’d be in the same post as any of these amazing people.

the question we were asked was:

Q: It’s not unusual to hear negative things about what the future might bring for the Earth and humankind, and dystopian narrative certainly makes for entertaining futuristic sci-fi scenarios (environmental disaster, overuse of technology, etc). In the spirit of optimism and hope, what are a few of your far future scenarios that speak to the possible positive aspects of our evolving relationship with our world?

I especially liked the responses from Guy Haley,  Charlie Stross, and Sharon Lynn Fisher. Everyone’s responses were wonderful, but those seemed to speak directly to me.

Go take a read, and then let me know in the comments here – what are YOUR optimistic scenarios for our future existence?

Swords and Deviltry (Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser, book 1), by Fritz Leiber

published in 1970

where I got it: purchased used

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On the very long (and growing longer) list of books and authors who were before my time and influenced entire genres is Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser series.  Born in 1910 in Chicago, Leiber spent his youth following in his actor parents footsteps. He later studied philosophy, religion, copy-editing, chess, and fencing.  He started publishing short stories in science fiction and fantasy magazines in the late 1930s, and would continue to publish until into the 1980s. His writings are highly influenced by spending his youth around Shakespearian actors, his formal studies, his love for Lovecraftian literature, and a passion for all things unusual.  Having just finished my first Leiber, two things have obvious to me: his potential for weird, and his influence on the sword and sorcery / dark fantasy genre.

The Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser series was originally a large smattering of short stories published in multiple magazines, which follow the two titular rogues on countless adventures. Later, Leiber figured out the chronology and wrote some additional stories to help bind everything together. Starting in 1970 and going until the late 80’s, the short stories were published into larger volumes, and the first of those volumes is Swords and Deviltry.

Swords and Deviltry is split up in three parts – the first part,  The Snow Women, introduces Fafhrd, the second part, The Unholy Grail, introduces The Grey Mouser, and in the third part, Ill Met in Lankhmar, the two meet for the first time and the bonds of friendship are secured through tragic events.

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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.