the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘fantasy

gleam tom fletcherGleam, by Tom Fletcher

UK Publish date: Sept 4 2014

US Publish date: March 5 2015

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Jo Fletcher books!)

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In the center of a never ending plain of machinery, abandoned factories, destroyed buildings, swamps, snails, and desperation lies the Pyramid.  And within the Pyramid lies civilization.  Alan grew up in the Pyramid, but he wasn’t born there.  He still burns with the pain and hatred of watching Pyramidders kill his family and destroy the village in which they lived.  His life was spared that day, and he was taken to live in the Pyramid, to be educated and trained, and eventually take up a station, to get married, and to have a child of his own.  But Alan never forgot what happened to him.  Forced to watch his son be indoctrinated into the beliefs of the Pyramid, Alan begins to educate the boy on what life is really like outside, out in the discard.  But the Pyramid will not suffer opinions and beliefs other than their own, Alan’s family is terrorized and he is banished, to survive if he can, back in the discard.

 

At a breakneck pace, Tom Fletcher zips us through Alan’s failing marriage and the challenges of being married to a born Pyramidder, and how he’ll do anything to see his son once he’s been kicked out of the Pyramid. He bribes guards with drugs and information, and hopes one day to rescue his son and wife from the lies and brainwashing of the Pyramid. But rescue them to what?  He knows his wife wouldn’t want to life in the Discard, no matter how safe parts of it is, so what is he rescuing them from, and where would he take them if he was successful?

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ursula vernon diggerDigger, Vol 1, by Ursula Vernon

published:  this volume was published in 2012, but the webcomic has been going since 2005.

where I got it:  purchased new

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When I peruse the graphic novel section of my local comic shop, I’m not interested in 99% of what I see.  I walk by, and very little of it catches my eye. No offense superheroes and dark noir, but you’re just not my thing. Could be that local comic book owner guy is really into superhero stuff, and not so much into other stuff. Different strokes for different folks.

 

Lucky for me, I ran into a copy of Ursula Vernon’s Digger Vol 1 at a Half Price Books store.   Having no idea what the story was about, and not quite sure what the critter on the front cover was (She’s a wombat, by the way), I bought the graphic novel because Ursula Vernon’s name was on it.

 

A few quick items of business before I getting into the nitty gritty:  It won the Hugo (and multiple other awards) for a reason, and I really gotta introduce local comic shop owner guy to this series.  Graphic novels that don’t look that interesting got you down? Digger is the cure.

 

it's Digger!

it’s Digger!

First off, Digger isn’t a what, Digger is a she. She’s a wombat, and she does what wombats naturally do: She digs and burrows and explores.  She’s also intensely pragmatic and practical.  When a pocket of bad air causes her to tunnel through someone’s floor and into a space that is decidedly not home, she decided to explore. Because how else is she going to find her way home? Perhaps whoever she meets can help her find her way home.  She quickly meets a Statue of Ganesh who can talk, a Hyena like creature whose name has been eaten, a shadowchild who doesn’t know what he/she is, a helpful librarian, the Ganesh statue’s overly enthusiastic guard, and a prophetic snail.  The story almost has an Alice in Wonderland feeling, except this Alice is a practical, no-nonsense engineer Wombat.

 

Actual Wombat

Actual Wombat

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city_of_stairs-cover1City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

published Sept 2014

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks!)

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Where to start with City of Stairs? To say this book has everything sounds so cliche, doesn’t it?  To say it is funny and subtle and daring and fascinating would also sound cliche. But I’m going to say all of those things anyways, because this is one of those comes-a-long-once-a-decade books that transcends. It’s like one of those Hubble images where scale is all but impossible, where you can zoom in or out, and continually find new structures that your mind tells you shouldn’t exist. That shiver you feel? It’s your worldview expanding.

 

hubble-carina-20th-anniversary-660x607

Hubble image of the Pillars of Creation, taken in 1995. click here for more info on this image.

City of Stairs is a sort of political book that’s got nothing to do with politics, it’s a fantasy where there are miracles but not exactly magic, it’s got romance that’s not traditionally romantic, not to mention culture and beliefs and history and archaeology being treated as if they are living things sitting right next to you waiting for the right moment to tell you their secrets. Like I said, it’s got everything.

 

I was recently listening to a podcast about Cordwainer Smith, and one of the Karens mentioned something about how Smith had come out of nowhere, that he wasn’t building on what other writers had done, and it was as if he was reinventing science fiction. Robert Jackson Bennett is a modern day Cordwainer Smith in a similar fashion. But, if forced to make a connection comparison (because we all like those!), to say “this book is like this other book”, the only one that comes to my mind is The Scar, by China Mieville, and only because of the depth of secrecy involved and the ultimate and intimately personal goals of some of the characters.

 

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City of Stairs starts with a courtroom ruling, followed by a train arriving in the middle of the night.

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issola BurstIssola, by Steven Brust (Vlad Taltos series, #9)

published in 2002

where I got it: purchased used, or maybe paperback swap, I don’t remember.

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A friend of mine was going to read Dzur, and I hadn’t read that one before, so I decided to read it too. I picked up the book, and instantly learned two things:  It opens with the famous restaurant scene, and the story picks up immediately after the end of Issola, which I also hadn’t read.  So, promising to come back to Dzur as soon as possible, I grabbed my copy of Issola, which opens with the famous Klava scene.

 

It turns out Lady Teldra has been sent to seek out Vlad, who has been living rough for the past few years, in hiding from those who would do him or his family harm.  She needs his help, because her patron Lord Morrolan has disappeared, along with Aliera. Patron is certainly wrong word, but we’ll maybe get to that later.  There is nothing to imply Morrolan or Aliera were kidnapped or harmed, yet they are nowhere to be found. Lady Teldra is so very polite when she asks Vlad for help, and she’s come all this way, and if Sethra Lavode is involved he’s sure to be protected, and really, it would be very rude to say no to the Lady.

 

Peppered throughout the book are Vlad’s thoughts and his and Teldra’s conversations about manners and the unseen value of observing and respecting the etiquette and formalities of the culture in which you find yourself. An overly basic example is in the East, where humans like Vlad live, it is perfectly acceptable to “knock” on someone’s door to announce your arrival. But in the Dragaeran Empire? such a thing would never be done.  This is most certainly not a comedy of manners, but it is a commentary on how they are so ingrained in our culture that after a while we barely notice them, and when practiced, they become second nature.  It begs the question of what else becomes second nature while we weren’t paying attention?

 

There may not have been any overt signs that Morrolan and Aliera were kidnapped, but when Vlad and Teldra do eventually find them in a world that is not ours, they are chained to a wall, as guests of the Jenoine. And did I mention, there is a river of pure chaos flowing right outside their prison?  If you know anything about the Jenoine, you know this can’t end well.

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and when I say “goodies”, I mean books.   It’s been one of those weeks where I just want to curl up in a ball with a book (or six) and hibernate.  So i did.

nexus

A business trip last week with lots of down time (not to mention 2 hours stuck on an airplane each way) meant I had plenty of time to read. Finished Tobias Buckell’s Hurricane Fever, and got half way through Nexus by Ramez Naam.  Was craving laziness, comfort reads, and aliens when I got home, so zipped through Issola by Steven Brust and got a good start on Migration by Julie Czerneda.

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2014-08-25 20.43.44

then I checked the mail, to find these beauties:

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Echopraxia I won from a giveaway over at Bibliotropic, and I’d requested Gleam from Jo Fletcher Books. The Watts I’ve been drooling over since I first heard about it (Blindsight will, as one blogger put it, will “blow your mindhole”), so yeah, I’m just a little excited about Echopraxia. And this Gleam book just looks hella fun.

Scale-Bright - Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Then I checked my e-mail and the twitters.  Accepted a review copy of Bastion Science Fiction Magazine #6, and was in the right place at the right time to get a review copy of Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s Scale-Bright.  And Scale-Bright? it’s gorgeous.  Do you like edgy, gorgeous prose, mythology that shimmers and glints like the surface of a summer stream, and frustrated deities? If yes, you’re gonna want Scale-Bright.

bastion-SciFi August

What does all this mean for you?  That hopefully I’ll be kicking out some smart reviews soon!  oh, and did I mention I’m frying my brain over my review of Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs?  Sometimes when I’m reading a galley, I’ll dog-ear a page that’s got something I want to remember. Here’s what the book looked like after 1st reading. 2nd time through I wrote down a list of page #s I wanted to remember. That list was very long, and didn’t include any of the already dog-eared pages.

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Here’s to hoping my brain is in high gear review writin’ mode pretty soon!

kaleidoscope anthoKaleidoscope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios

published in August 2014

where I got it: received review copy from the editors (Thanks Alisa and Julia!)

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The tagline for Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios’s new anthology Kaleidoscope is “Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy stories”, but what’s in this collection goes much deeper than that.  I really wasn’t sure what to expect, and I very much appreciated the depth of variety of the stories, everything from contemporary fantasy, to parallel universe, to futuristic schools for shapeshifters, to ancient Chinese mythology, to accidental humor,  to a superhero story, and to one so ambiguous it could take place anywhere or anytime. As promised, the characters are diverse, (mostly female, some are queer, some with disabilities or disorders, many are ethnic minorities), and while some of them have already found acceptance, others have a tougher road to travel. A number of the stories deal with being an ethnic and/or racial minority, and being torn between doing whatever it takes to be accepted by your peers, and keeping to the traditions of your parents. Even as horrible things are sometimes happening and characters are in dark places, these are incredibly hopeful, optimistic stories.

 

I think many readers will agree that the two finest  stories in the collection are “The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon” by Ken Liu and “Walkdog” by Sofia Samatar.  Multiple award winning Ken Liu is with good reason famous for his short fiction, and Sofia Samatar is a rising star, and in fact just won the Campbell Award.  In Liu’s “The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon”, Yuan and Jing are struggling with saying goodbye as Jing’s family prepares to move away. The two young women “fall” into the Chinese story of Zhinu and Niulang, who fell in love and were then forced to live apart (their stars are on the opposite side of the Milky Way). The story of the ancient lovers is beautiful in a way only Ken Liu can do, and if you’ve never read him, this is a wonderful introduction to the magic he does with words.  “The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon” is a story of first love, and how to accept that your first love isn’t forever.

 

When I stop to think about it, Sofia Samatar’s “Walkdog” is also a story of first love, or at least about realizing you care deeply for another human being.  Yolanda is writing a paper for school, and you’re going to get a smile on your face reading this, because it looks like every research paper everything 9th grader has every had to write, complete with introduction, thesis statement, discussion of research and conclusion. Samatar has left in all of Yolanda’s spelling errors, unnecessary footnotes, and other errata, which just adds to the fun. So you’re smiling, and maybe laughing, and you wonder why Yolanda keeps going on this tangent about her classmate Andy, when her paper is supposed to be about the urban legend creature the Walkdog, which steals kids. This is not a very long story, and Yolanda realizes what’s happening as she’s writing the research paper, and she’s practically begging her teacher to help her, asking why someone didn’t do something earlier so the horrible thing didn’t have to happen. How can something that starts off so goofy turn so tragic so quickly? A testament to Samatar’s prowess, “Walkdog” will be on my Hugo nominations next year.

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Lynne and Michael Thomas

Ya’ll know Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, right? Even if you’re not sure if you know who they are, I’ll  bet you know their work. Editors of Apex Magazine, Chicks Dig Time Lords, Glitter and Mayhem, Queers Dig Time Lords, among others, it’s no surprise these two amazingly talented editors have a brand new project up their sleeve.

Lynne and Michael were kind enough to answer a few of my questions about their newest venture, Uncanny Magazine, which they are funding the first year of via a Kickstarter campaign.

uncanny logo

 

LRR: Your newest venture is called Uncanny Magazine.  Tell us all about it!

L & M: We’re a professional Science Fiction and Fantasy online magazine, dedicated to sharing the kinds of work that stays with you after you’ve read it. We think that the best Science Fiction and Fantasy literature combines strong characterization, elegant prose, and diverse voices from around the world. We love stories that make us feel.

LRR: How did you decide that now was the time to start a new speculative fiction magazine?

L & M: Well, we stepped down from Apex Magazine due to our daughter’s major surgery in January of this year. She’s completed her recovery, and we felt ready to get back into the industry that means so much to us.

LRR:  You are currently doing a kickstarter to fund the first year of the magazine. When can readers expect the first issue, and will readers who missed out on the kickstarter still be able to subscribe or purchase single issues?

L & M: We plan for our first issue to go to backers and subscribers at the beginning of November. Readers who missed out on the Kickstarter after it closes August 28th will still be able to subscribe or purchase single issues, hopefully through all of the major online ebook retailers (we’re just beginning to work on that now, but we’ve already committed to working with Weightless Books (http://weightlessbooks.com/) for example.)

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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.