the Little Red Reviewer

Author Archive

so, apparently I’m on Tumblr now.  Here’s my link:

Surprising no one, the name of my tumblr thing is I Said A Bad Word.  there are bad words there.  The text posts are mostly me being a snarky (and maybe tipsy) asshole, and photos of my handwritten notes I take preparing for book reviews so you can enjoy some of my “process”*.  I liked a cosplay tumblr and kept reblogging all the pretty pictures, so that stuff is there too.

Are you on tumblr? leave your link in the comments, or send it to me privately if you prefer, and we can be tumfriends.


I’ll probably eventually figure out how to make a side bar “follow me on tmblr” thingy, but for now, this will have to do.


so, uh, anyone know what the hell I’m supposed to do with this tumblr thing? besides have another outlet for my snark?


*most of that process seems to be trying to read my own handwriting.


stranger in olondriaA Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar

published in 2013

Where I got it: purchased new

Sofia Samatar is nominated for the Campbell Award in this year’s Hugo Awards.















So I’ve got good news and bad news about A Stranger In Olondria. The good news is that this is some of the most beautifully poetic writing I’ve ever come across. Open the book to any random page, choose any random paragraph, and you’ll be floored by the writing.  The bad news is that the story had absolutely zero hook for me. It took far too long for me to feel pulled into to what was happening.  It was a strange combination of dazzling poetry skillfully disguised as paragraphs, and a muddled plot where the scenes sluggishly melted into each other.  I imagine if Guy Gavriel Kay and Catherynne Valente teamed up to rewrite one year of The Adventures of Ibn Battuta, it might read something like A Stranger in Olondria.


Jevick’s family is from the southern island of Tinimavet. His father wants him to grow up to be a merchant of a new generation, so ensures the boy has an Olondrian tutor, someone to teach him the language and customs of that massive country to the north. Lunre teaches Jevick more than just writing and reading, he shares his immense collection of books, and is suspiciously silent about his past.  Tinimavet does not have a written language, which makes the learning of a different one even more magical for Jevick. Before taking ship to Olondria, he has already experienced the fountains in the squares, the bustling ports, the languorous rivers, the women who pull in admirers with a flick of the scarf on their wrists.  Jevick knows all of this through the books of prose and poetry that Lunre reads to him.


When the time comes for Jevick to go to Olondria, Lunre refuses to go with him. What broke that man’s heart so completely? His love for his homeland the people who reside there is obvious, why does he refuse to return?  On the ship, Jevick meets a sickly girl, Jissavet, who is from a neighboring island. They share a common language and religion. Her family has spent everything they have in hopes that healers in Olondria can cure her disease.

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I was maybe 20 pages in Six Gun Snow White when I wrote this in an e-mail to a friend:  “spending the morning of my first vacation day reading Cat Valente’s “Six Gun Snow White”.  the words are so pretty i am afraid if I touch them they will shatter into a million pieces and i will never hear the end of the story . . .  e-book words will surely be flatter and soulless, they won’t respond to my petting. might be safer that way.”  Those words on those pages, they were pretty, but they were also knife tip sharp, and with every page they clawed their way into me.


If you’re familiar with Catherynne Valente, you already know what she does with words. And if you’ve read other reviews I’ve written of her work, you might know what her words do to me. With every word I read, with every page I turn, a creature takes shape. Something that flies and dreams and takes me with it, a dragon made of velveteen words, and as you read those words, and caress those scales, the dream creature’s shape becomes clearer, this is what you’ve been looking for all this time. And the story is the breath of that dragon.


See?  reading Cat Valente makes me talk in ways my vocabulary can’t support.


So, “Six Gun Snow White”. No dragons to be found here.  Only a child who is forced to find her own way.  Valente takes the traditional Snow White story, and plunges it into the American frontier, the mines of the Dakotas, the mythologies of the Native Americans. A white man takes a crow woman as wife, and a baby daughter is born. For reasons unknown but guessed, the man treats his own flesh and blood daughter as an adopted ward, a novelty native girl, someone the maid can dress in doe skin and trot out for visitors to view and ask “is she real?” “Where did you find her?”.  The girl learns how to read, write, and be silent.  The name she uses for her father is Mr. H. He doesn’t treat her poorly, or unkindly, he simply doesn’t treat her like anything at all. She doesn’t know any better, she thinks this is love.  And then he gets married again.


The new wife, Mrs. H., sees this dark haired, dark skinned girl in braids and leather, and decides to make her into a true lady. Everything that makes the little girl what she is, Mrs. H destroys, even her name.  To remind the child of everything pure she’ll never be, Mrs. H. bestows on her the name Snow White. And she doesn’t know any better, so she tries to tell herself that being treated like this is what love is. This is the point you’ll start to recognize the original fairy tale, and this is also where Snow (who doesn’t remember her own name) takes the story in her own hands and refuses to allow it to be told in anyway except hers.  Mrs. H is a witch, and Snow can only take so much.

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I’m really not sure what to say about this story, so I’ll start by discussing the plot:


In a generic western European low fantasy world, a lone elf pays a visit to a Dioscurine monastery. Abbot Walderan can’t figure out why a soulless elf (a high elf from the royal elven city at that!) would be interested in the simple lives these monks live. Turns out, the elf Bessarias is one of the most talented sorcerers at the elven Collegium.  A monk of the Tertullan order had visited the collegium, and before his death the man made a profound impression on Bessarias, who has been searching for the monk’s God ever since.


Walderan allows Bessarias to live in the monastery and study with the monks, with the promise that the elf won’t use his magic. Bessarias finds peace in the library, learns how to do illumination, and offers to create a complex illuminated manuscript for the order. The years pass, and Walderan soon finds it hard to see his elven friend as a soulless savage.  The two men have countless conversations on the nature of faith, religion, corruptibility, and the like. I think deep down, Walderan is thrilled to have a friend who challenges him, who forces him to think, instead of just agreeing with everything that’s already been written.

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Fact is, I tend to shy away from Military Science Fiction. I find it’s rarely something I relate to, rarely a mentality I connect with.  Have there been MilitarySF or War Story SF pieces I’ve connected with? Yes.  But this wasn’t one of them.


Told through the eyes of Chief Dan Jaraczuk,  he and his proxy partner Mavy Stoddard are up on Grissom Platform, and the platform is being attacked by the Chinese.   Dan and Mavy’s physical bodies are safe down on Earth, but for the time being, they see, feel and hear exactly what their proxies up in space are experiencing.  While the two of them try to figure out what the Chinese are after and how to save the platform, the story jumps back in time to Dan and Mavy’s first meeting, their different military backgrounds, training, etc.  There is a lot, and I mean A LOT of infodumping done via dialog, where Dan and Mavy are training in simulators, and their trainer has to give an entire background of world politics and the budget of the US Military, things I’d expect our two characters to already be aware of.


I liked the technology, that someone can climb into a proxy booth and be the eyes, ears and hands of a robot somewhere. There’s a fun scene where they are training in the proxies, and Dan takes a tumble, and his proxy does to, it was a nice light moment. But enjoyable moments like that were few and far between. I didn’t relate to Dan at all, the dialog was annoyingly clunky, the politics embarrassingly old fashioned, I simply wasn’t interested in what  was going on.   And the in-joke about Mavy’s callsign being “Chesty”?   Completely lost on me. Also, really? If you are going to have a character smile at that that kind of nickname, at least explain the joke, ok?  And while we’re on the subject of explaining, this is simple ignorance on my part: why are they called exchange officers? Is it because a different branch of the military is borrowing them? some other reason? help a girl out here, will you?

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This break in hugo nominee reviews is brought to you by me being on TV!

Every so often I’m invited to be on a local access TV show called Monday Night Live.  Keith Roe is the usual host of the show, and while he’s on vacation, Gloria Tiller (owner of Kazoo Books, my local indie bookstore!) hosts the show.  Being a bookstore owner, Gloria’s shows often have some kind of literary theme. And when she invites me on, I take over, and won’t shut up about recent science fiction, fantasy, and graphic novels I’ve been reading.

In our most recent show, we discussed Diversity in Speculative Fiction.  I don’t know how to embed video into WordPress, but click right on the image, and it’ll take you to the website to watch the show. or click here. It’s an hour long.

Monday Night Live 7-7-2014

And here’s the best thing:  After a little bit of unfair ripping on fantasy (sorry!), I got to talk about some recent books, anthologies, authors, and columns that are important to me, including Long Hidden, Francesca ForrestSarah Zettel, Lightspeed Magazine’s Women Destroy Science Fiction, Sarah Chorn’s Special Needs in Strange Worlds column on SFSignal, Catherine Lundoff’s Decade by Decade LGBT columns on SFSignal, N.K. Jemisin, Leigh Brackett,   a confession of how much Star Trek changed my life, and that I couldn’t remember the word epistolary.







The more short fiction I read by Aliette de Bodard, the more I like her. It took me longer than it should have to “get it”, but now that I do, I just can’t get enough. Most of her short fiction (or at least most of what I read) takes place in her expansive Xuya Universe, and specifically in its space age, when humanity has conquered the stars.  If you’ve read “Immersion”, or “On A Red Station, Drifting” (both Hugo nominees last year) you’re familiar with the Dai Viet of Xuya, you’ve smelled their pungent food, you’ve been aboard their mind-ships that are someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s aunt, those ships that are painted inside and out with scenes and symbols from mythology, you’ve run your fingers along the slick, slimy, pulsing wall of the ship’s heartroom, you’ve seen how their culture has been attacked by the warlike and aggressive Federation.  There is more than enough space out there, but still we fight for planets, colonies, stations, insisting that there isn’t enough to share.


“The Waiting Stars” opens in a graveyard.


These are the Mind-ships that were captured by the Federation. Not exactly prisoners of war, the mind ships have been crippled and left to die. Hidden in a dark corner of space, the Federation assumes the graveyard will be forgotten. But how can Lan Nhen forget her great great aunt, The Turtle’s Citadel? Lan Nhen will bring her great aunt’s body home, to be buried properly.

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You can read “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” over at, and really, you should.  It’s a quick story, but that doesn’t really matter, because you’ll be hooked right away. But you might want to read it at home, with tissues handy. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


Such a beautiful, but painful story to read.  On a happy note, I got a kick out of the nods to  a The Wizard of Oz, which gave the story an ethereal, almost nostalgic feeling.  A little funny to read a scifi story about a Mars colony, and getting a feeling of nostalgia! But that’s all that is funny about it. “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” has a gravitas to it, a maturity, a wordless something I don’t often get to see in science fiction. It’s about a husband and a wife who love each other, who want to help each other, and they both understand one of them is dying.


It was nice to read a speculative fiction piece that stars an aging woman. We get male characters of all ages, teens, young men, 20s, adults, retired guys. But those female characters always seem to be in that nineteen to thirty two sweet spot – old enough to kick some ass, but not, like, old. And Elma York? She’s old.  She’s retired. No one recognizes her anymore. Her  body is not taught, her back is hunched, her arms and legs jiggle. But she still dreams of flying. Back in the 1950s, Elma was known as The Lady Astronaut of Mars. But that was thirty years ago. Now, living on Mars, Elma has a new life.  Yes, she still keeps in shape as best she can, yes, she keeps up with the physicals and the tests, anything to keep her name on the active list of astronauts, but she knows she’s not going anywhere.  She’s retired. Her dreams haven’t changed, but her priorities have.


Elma’s in good health, but her husband Nathaniel, his health is failing rapidly. Their life rotates around his medication schedule, when the nurse visits, how his tests come back, when the doctor expects the paralysis to set in. There are some undignified moments, but Kowal lays their story bare, gives us everything. Because that’s love, you know? It’s in sickness and in health, for better for worse.  Signing up for love means signing up for everything. You know those stories that after you read them, you suddenly find yourself across the room, holding your partner’s hand, and they when they ask if everything is ok you tell them you love them? This is that story.

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Wow, it’s been a while since I reviewed Hugo stuff! Moving in the Novelette category, I’m going to start with Ted Chiang’s “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”.  You can read this story over at the Subterranean Magazine site.

What should you follow? facts, or your feelings? It’s not a matter of which is better, it’’ a matter of which will make the world around you better.

Over his lifetime, the narrator has seen drastic changes in how people communicate, and how people record what happened to them. Everything from hand written journals and photography of his youth to the assistive software and subvocalization his daughter uses when she wants to “write” something. That is in italics because he doesn’t view what she does as writing. There’s no paper, there’s no pen, her hands aren’t moving. To him, it’s not writing. In this near future story there are also “lifelogs”, a googleglass meets blog thing, where you can record important moments of your life for the purpose of playing them back later. Some people record their entire lives, thus the market for a product called Remem, that helps you sift through your lifelog to find the moment you’re looking for.

Perfect factual memory, it’s the invention we’ve been waiting forever for, right? You could finally find out who laughed at you at your high school cheerleading audition, or if it was you or your spouse who forgot to lock the front door. This is the epitome of personal record keeping. The narrator is excited to use this new technology to repair his relationship with his daughter. He can go back and review their conversations and fights, see where everything went wrong. Is a perfect memory a gift? or a curse?

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So I recently posted about a bazillion photos (part 1, part 2, part 3. that’s almost a bazillion, right?) from Anime Midwest. Yes, the people watching and cosplay was the highlight of the weekend, but I did things other than sit in the lobby and photograph people!  The convention had tons of programming, there were panels about cosplay, about specific shows and fandoms, Q&As with famous voice actors, concerts, there was so, so much to see and do.   Hubby and I went to a few panels together, but there were so many good panels that were all occurring at the same time, that it was mostly “You go to this one, I’ll go to this other one, we’ll compare notes later”.


Here’s a recap of what we saw and did:




The first  panel we went to was called Dialects of Kansai. The woman who hosted the panel studied and lived in Japan, and was doing a series of panels over the weekend about Life in Japan. Students who study Japanese learn the “standard” Kyoto dialect, but Osaka uses a much older dialect and language patterns and casual slang that goes about about 1,000 years.   I didn’t understand most of the Japanese she used, but it was a really cool panel. She also did the Kimono panel I went to later Friday evening.


I caught the last 20 minutes of the Q&A with voice actress Caitlin Glass, who anime fans know as the voice of Winry Rockbell, Haruhi of Ouran High School Host Club, Evergreen of Fairy Tail, Petra of Attack on Titan, among many other roles. She is such the perfect nerd!  She said that as a child she loved the movie The Little Mermaid so much that she’d walk around imitating Ariel’s voice.  She studied classical theater in College, and took the “never close any doors” advice to heart, later auditioning with Funimation in her home town in Texas.  It was a huge crowd, and she was great about answering everyone’s questions and having a lot of fun.

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2014 Hugo Awards

I reviewed some Hugo nominated stuff. Click here for the list.

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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.