the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘alternate history

Like this stuff?

  • Civil War era alternate history
  • zombies
  • giant lizards
  • pop culture references
  • huge explosions
  • airships
  • airships with zombies on them
  • carnies

what if all that awesome stuff was jammed into one book?  well good news, IT IS! And I reviewed it, just for you!  head over to SFSignal to read my review of Odd Men Out by Matt Betts.

odd men out

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

published in 2010

where I got it: purchased new

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I’ve been avoiding this book for a while now. Alternate history is always fun, but I tend to shy away from War stories. When this book was chosen for my local book club, there was no getting around it.

The first few chapters were a little rough going for me, more because the time and place jumps around with little context than that I wasn’t sure I wanted to be reading this. A british boy is caught ripping plants out of a garden, another British child is hidden from his terrifying grandfather, and elsewhere two dark complected siblings survive a harrowing journey to an orphanage in Germany. Time jumps forward nineteen years, it’s 1939, and suddenly I wished I’d paid more attention in history class.

The young boy in the garden is Raybould Marsh. Mentored and then sponsored by John Stephenson, Marsh grows up to become a spy for Her Majesty. Sent to Spain in 1939 to meet an informant,  Marsh gets the clue that something strange is going on when the man bursts into flames, taking most of his evidence with him. The evidence that Stephenson’s team is able to reconstruct makes no sense, and to investigate it, project Milkweed is born.

The siblings are Klaus and Gretel, and the orphanage later becomes Reichsbehörde für die Erweiterung Germanischen Potenzials , the Authority for the Advancement of German Potential. For the glory of the Reich, Dr. von Westarp has spent twenty years trying to create supermen. The subject’s willpower, or willenskrafte, is augmented by battery power, allowing the person to fly, or set something on fire, or read minds, or disappear, or who yet knows what else. Klaus’s talent lies in dematerializing into an ethereal ghost capable of moving through walls and people, and Gretel’s talent lies in seeing the future. The surgical procedures are experimental and dangerous, and nobody talks about the rows and rows of child sized graves.

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I’m slowly making my way through more Hugo nominations.  The nominations for best novelette are:

  • “The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
  • “Fade To White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
  • “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
  • “In Sea-Salt Tears” by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
  • “Rat-Catcher” by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)

Today I’ll  talk about The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Dutch friends! Please help me with the correct pronunciation of his last name!) and Fade to White by Catherynne M. Valente.

boy who cast no shadow

The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Look is an especially odd child. He has no shadow. It’s not just that a shadow doesn’t form behind or under him, there isn’t one under his nose, or his chin, it’s that no darkness forms around him, as if the sun refuses to acknowledge his existence. He doesn’t have a reflection either, and can’t be filmed or photographed. The original invisible boy. Unless of course, you’re in the same room as him, and then there’s just a lonely child, seen by everyone but himself.

Look is the only weird kid at school until Splinter shows up and gives the bullies a new target. Splinter can’t help being the perfect fragile target for their verbal and physical abuse; he’s a boy made of glass, a child who reflects everything except himself.

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bennett_company-man-hcThe Company Man, by Robert Jackson Bennett

published in 2011

where I got it: received ARC from the publisher

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In an alternate early 1900s, in an amazing metropolis in the Pacific Northwest, a new industrial revolution has begun. In Evesden, The McNaughton Corporation holds patents for the most amazing technologies, everything from airships to subterannean trolleyways, to telecommunications. The Corporation holds their secrets dear, and at times has held the world hostage, and that same world flocks to Evesden and the McNaughton Corporation with dreams of a better life and a career with the company that is reinventing the world.

Found in an Indian prison and given a life of luxury in Evesden is McNaughton’s most valuable employee, a Mr Cyril Hayes.  Hayes works from the shadows, making the corporations problems disappear. He spies, he blackmails, he knows better than to ask questions of his superiors, and they know better than to try to keep him out of the opium dens or to let on that they know he shares information with the cops.

Hayes’ newest assignment comes with an assistant, the young and sheltered Samantha Fairbanks. She’s his secretary, but she’s also supposed to keep him under control and out of trouble. Their mission is to interview employees suspected of Union organization. No arrests, no threats,  no mention of Unions, just talk about how everything has been going lately.  Hayes sits in on the interviews, but he isn’t really listening. At least, not with his ears. There’s a reason Hays lives alone in a giant warehouse, there’s a reason he’s anti-social, there’s a reason he escapes into hazes of opium and alcohol.  The longer Hayes spends with someone, the more the person’s thoughts invade his mind. It becomes easier and easier for Hayes to talk like that person, act and walk like that person, become that person’s new best friend, their confidant, their confessor.  Hayes can count on one hand the number of people who know about his ability.

the way people react to Hayes when they find out what he can do gave certain scenes almost and X-Men type feeling for me.  Hayes closest friend Inspector Garvey is completely accepting of the fact that Hayes can “read minds”, while Hayes’ supervisor refuses to be close quarters with him for more than a few minutes. Others respond with anger, disgust and fear. There’s a point where in the eyes of the company Hayes ceases to be an employee, and becomes a thing, a tool, a weapon, a closely guarded and dangerous secret. The saddest thing, is that he knows it.

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It’s that wonderful time of the year again! When we bake cookies and get cards in the mail and forget that we need extra time to warm up our cars in these cold, cold mornings.

It’s also time to talk about the best books we’ve read this year. I confess, I cheated a little on my list, I didn’t limit myself to books that came out in 2012, I’ve even got a reread on the list. Mostly space opera, a little fantasy and time travel, even a YA book made the list! In no particular order, here are my top  books that I read this year, with review excerpts and links to the  review should you feel so inclined to learn more about the titles that rocked my world this past year.

Redhead’s Best of 2012

224_large Faith

Faith, by John Love (2012)  – I read this all the way back in February, I knew right then it would make my best of the year list.  An amazing debut from author John Love, Faith is a dark and tense stand alone science fiction novel. The pages drip with a danger and fear that doesn’t quickly dissipate after you’ve put the book down.  This isn’t a book for everyone (that’s a polite way of saying it has lots of violence, amorality and swear words), but for those of us that like this sort of thing, Faith is quite the hidden gem.

(full review here, and I got to interview the author here)

Silently and Very Fast, by Catherynne M. Valente (2012) – has anyone been putting out short stories, novellas and full length novels as fast as Valente? she’s the hardest working writer I know, and this year she got to walk away with Hugo for Best FanCast to show for it.  it’s no secret that Valente is one of my favorite authors, and the Hugo nominated Silently and Very Fast is certainly her most science fictional piece.  With her signature flair for poetic metaphor and lyrical storytelling, this novella follows the life of Elefsis, a house AI who was told fairytales by the human children in the house. To Elefsis, life is a fairytale, and it should have a happy ending.

(full review here)

Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht (2012) – I don’t read a lot of urban fantasy, but when I do it’s a treat for it to be a beautifully written as this series (the 2nd book And Blue Skies from Pain came out later in 2012).  Northern Ireland, the 1970s, Liam Kelly would prefer to live a normal life. He’s not interested in getting arrested or learning secrets about his heritage. But all of those things are very interested in him, and in destroying everything in his life that he cares about.  Leicht spoiled me for urban fantasy.  I am eagerly awaiting future novels in this series.

(full review here)

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When Tim Powers’ recent novel Hide Me Among The Graves became available, half the speculative fiction fans I know cheered, and the other half said “Tim who?”. Have you enjoyed the recent Burton and Swinburne steampunk trilogy from Mark Hodder? How about Connie Willis’s time travel books? Did you like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, or maybe Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon? If you answered Yes to any of those questions, Tim Powers is an author you should be reading. Also, he’s got some major street cred – when you and I were in pre-school, he was chillin’ with Blaylock and Jeter and helping define what many of us now know as steampunk. Tim Powers is truly one of my heroes of literature, one of the authors I go to when I need a comfort read, something I know I’m going to enjoy, something that is guaranteed to knock my socks off. When I first read The Anubis Gates around 10 years ago, I didn’t know who Powers was, but I knew I wanted more.

Powers writes primarily alternate history, but he does it in a way no one else does. He likes to use what I call the “pockets of I-don’t-know” theory, where he finds pockets in history where something odd was reported, where someone was reported acting very unusual, or went missing for a few days and wouldn’t tell anyone where they’d been, or just something strange happened. The fiction of Tim Powers lives in these pockets, he’s writing the secret history of what really happened. or as he puts it:

“I made it an ironclad rule that I could not change or disregard any of the recorded facts, nor rearrange any days of the calendar – and then I tried to figure out what momentous but unrecorded fact could explain them all.”

Intrigued? Here’s a few more reasons you should be reading Tim Powers.

He’s a “gateway” author. Go the bookstore or the library, and Powers will probably be found in fiction, not science fiction. He’s perfect for people who “aren’t really into all that weird scifi stuff”. Do you like spy thrillers? Try Declare, about Kim Philby’s true mission, which might have involved genies, and something horrific living on Mount Ararat. Prefer contemporary dramas with some suspense and maybe a smidgen of mythology? Try Last Call, which takes place in Las Vegas, and touches on some of the mythological opportunities that might have helped the luckiest city in the world, because destiny is the ultimate gamble, right?

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Heart of Iron by Ekaterina Sedia

Published in 2011

where I got it: library

why I read it: have heard very good things about the author

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In an alternate 1850’s Russia, Alexandra Trubetskaya takes too much after her unorthodox Aunt. Aunt Eugenia may have the ear of the Emperor, but she is a brash spinster, too clever by half, and sees marriage as a waste of a good woman. Torn between tradition and opportunities that are suddenly available to women (such as attending University), Alexandra plans to have it all: an education, possibly a career, and marriage if she meets the right man.

On the train to the University, she meets a young Chinese man, Chiang Tse, who is part of an Asian contingent of students also invited to study at the University. The plan of course, is for the women and foreigners to fail miserably, thus allowing the university to ban their attendance in the future.  Along side the verbal abuse from other students and instructors, the women get top grades. Chiang Tse and his compatriots however, are quickly arrested for petty crimes, with one of them being thrown in prison and the rest deported back to China.

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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.