the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘historical fiction

The story follows three generations of an African American family in Florida over the course of about 30 thirty years. While I was very satisfied with the complexity of the characterizations and the historically accurate details put into the narrative, the story itself seemed oddly lacking in speculative elements.

 

Starting in 1937, we  meet Mayola, who at fifteen is interested in attending Texas A&M, she reads all summer and saves her nickels so she can reach her dream.  She gets a job as a maid at an all white resort at Wakulla Springs.  It pays so well, she’ll have her college funding in no time. The springs are natural, obviously, but since it’s private property, only white people are allowed to swim there. They are filming a Tarzan movie, and Mayola inadvertently spies on the movie folks while sitting at her favorite shady lunch spot. she knows all about Tarzan, she’s already read all the books. The star, Johnny Weissmuller, had been an olympic swimmer. This acting crap pays the bills, but he’d rather be swimming. On a moonlit night, Mayola and Johnny go swimming together. She’s terrified of losing her job, he’s desperate to go swimming with someone who can keep up with him. He doesn’t care that she’s a stranger, or a girl, or an employee of the hotel, or black. He’s only interested that she’s interested in swimming.

 

The next section follows Mayola’s teen aged son, Levi. It’s 1953. Mayola never made it to college, she’s still working at the hotel and trying to keep her son interested in his studies, so he can go to college. Another movie crew is at Wakulla Springs, this time filming The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Levi soon befriends the actor who plays the creature, Ricou Browning, who is more than a little impressed with Levi’s ability to swim underwater for minutes at a time.  Levi becomes Ricou’s apprentice, of sorts. It’s better than sitting at home listening to Mayola go on about her boyfriend, Jimmy Lee, who has just returned from Korea.

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long hidden anthology

Welcome to the third and final part of my review of Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older. With over two dozen pieces of fiction, I would have been cheating everyone if I tried to talk about all of my favorite stories in just one post. If you like what you read here, check out part one, and part two.

 

To unpack the subtitle of the anthology just a little bit, what are “the margins of history”?  Among other things, it’s the edges, the background, the stories that haven’t been told, the viewpoints that were pushed aside. We’ve all heard the phrase “history is written by the winners”, and those “winners” often only tell their side of the story, their interpretation. The margins are what the writers of the history books left out, most often women and minorities. the writers of the history books may call themselves the winners, but look at what they’ve lost! By pushing people and cultures and religions and stories into the margins, we get such a narrow view of the world. And isn’t this exactly what speculative fiction is supposed to be about? Widening our horizons, seeing everything that’s out there?

 

While you are chewing on that I’ll give you some thoughts on some of my favorite stories that were in the final third of the anthology:

(Knotting Grass, Holding Ring), by Ken Liu – Easily one of my favorites in the collection, as I am a huge Ken Liu fan. in the mid 1600s, in Yangzhou China, two women are on the way to their client. Half porter, half assistant, Sparrow’s job includes carrying instruments and parcels, and making sure the client pays up. Green Siskin on the other hand, is the beautiful entertainer, carried through the city on a palanquin, as walking with bound feet is very difficult. Green Siskin offers the military men she has been hired to entertain a Tanci story, one of a prince who decided to save his father’s favorite concubine. Sparrow burns with jealousy, but even she’s got to admin that Green Siskin knows a thing or two about how to flatter men, how to get them to do exactly what she wants. The men flatter her back, but they see her as a lowly whore. The Manchus are on the march, and soon the city is under siege. With the subtle elgance of a tanci song, Green Siskin quietly saves all the women she is able. She knows what she’s capable of, she knows how to get men to do what she wants.  As always, Liu’s prose is as gorgeous as blossoms falling from a tree on a perfect day.  Green Siskin knows exactly what people think when they look at her. She knows the women in the prison courtyard want her to feel ashamed of herself, to be disgusted by what she does. She never complains, never brags, never asks for pity, never even asks to be seen as anything more than a whore with bound feet.  She just saves as many people as she can from death and violence.

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long hidden anthology

The Long Hidden anthology edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older is diverse, globe spanning, fascinating, inspiring, and gloriously long. so long in fact, that it would be impossible to talk about my favorite stories in just one blog post. So I’ve split it into three.  This is part two, click here for part one.

 

If you’re just joining us, Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History includes over two dozen stories that aren’t usually told, or at least don’t typically make it to the mainstream. If you’re looking for some variety in your reading, and looking to support a worthy project of one of the smaller publishing houses, this is the anthology for you. Global points of view, characters of all genders and preferences, characters who maintain their dignity in front of the worst humanity has to offer, people who were brutalized and/or executed for standing up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves.  These are the stories of people who stood up and were heard, when surrounded by people who told them to shut up and sit down, if they deigned to speak to them at all.

As I mentioned in the first article on Long Hidden, many of the stories had me doing web searches to learn more about what really happened. To that end, I have included some weblinks in the hopes that you too will be interested in learning more about the contexts in which these stories swim. Some of the characters might be fictionalized, but none of their circumstances are.

 

Here are some thoughts on my favorites of the middle of Long Hidden:

“The Witch of Tarup” by Claire Humphrey (Denmark 1886)  – Dagny has just recently come to the hamlet of Tarup, and a few weeks after she wed Bjorn Moller, he suffered an apoplexy (perhaps a stroke?) that rendered him unable to speak. The wind has stopped blowing, the windmill has stopped moving, and with no way to grind it the wheat will rot. Dagny is desperate for the assistance of the village’s local witch, and visiting the local wives for information. On a lyrically repetitive wild goose chase they send her, offering hints and suggestions, of who to get a scarf from, and who to have coffee with, and the like. A method of communication with her husband is finally suggested, and she learns who the witch is. This is one of the more light hearted stories in the collection, and quite fun to read.

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mendoza in hollywoodMendoza in Hollywood, by Kage Baker

published in 2000

where i got it: purchased used

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This is the third book in the company series, and it’s my third favorite.   Some quick non-spoilery background on the The Company for those of you that don’t know: 350 years from now, time travel is possible.  But you can only go back in time, you  can’t bring anything back to your “home”  time, and history can’t be changed. Ok, so how to get rich quick if artifacts can’t be brought back? Easy.  Send some crews and technology into the past, have them build safehouses and a staff of employees who will set aside your artifacts, and wait, patiently, nearly forever. Company operatives are cybernetically immortal, given an education about everything that will happen, ever (because this is the past for their instructors and doctors, who are from the future), and programmed to be fanatically loyal to the company.

 

Thus, we get science fiction/historical fiction. Which, if you ask me, is one of the best genre combos EVER.

 

Anyways, in the first the book in the series, we met Mendoza, who is rescued from the Spanish inquisition by a company operative. She’s raised and educated within the Company, and completely bombs her first assignment. The second book follows different characters with Mendoza as a very minor character, and in this third book, we are back with Mendoza.  She’s gotten over the raw, raging anger of what happened all those years, but she’s far from healed.

 

Mendoza has been by herself for a very, very long time, and I get it, she hates people, I’m ok with that (some days I hate people too).  So she’s used to very quiet days, very little interactions, not much going on, just being one with nature. Introvert, indeed. Her new assignment is to a post in the Cahuenga Pass in Southern California in 1862, with the mission of collection valuable plant specimens before the drought (and grazing animals) kills (and eats) everything.  Mostly unaffected by the Civil War, it’s an interesting time to be in Hollywood’s backyard.  Mendoza has no choice but to take the assignment, and besides, maybe some conversation would be good for her.

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neat! My review of Pete Rawlik’s Reanimators posted over at SFSignal. If you’re up on your Lovecraftian canon, this is the book for you. Me, on the other hand, prefers what other authors have done with Lovecraftian mythos, rather than within in (Charles Stross, I am looking at you).

Here’s a teaser:

Odd things are afoot in the sleepy new England town of Arkham. Strange creatures stalk the night, and even stranger research is happening at and around Miskatonic University. Dr. Stuart Hartwell is determined to get his revenge on Dr. Herbert West, the twisted man whose reanimation experiments were responsible for the deaths of Hartwell’s parents. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft (and certain fans of some early 80s cheesy horror flicks) may recognize the title of the book and the name Herbert West.

Pete Rawlik’s Reanimators is certainly not a retelling of the original story “Herbert West – Reanimator“, but more a revisiting. When they first meet, Stuart Hartwell is a colleague of West’s, and suspects the strange medical student is up to no good. He spies on West and his friend Daniel Cain, sabotages their experiments and steals their research. Hartwell is determined to develop a safer reagent, one that won’t turn the resurrected people into violent zombies. After receiving his medical degree, Hartwell runs his physicians practice out of the first floor of his home, and it becomes more and more difficult to keep his co-workers from finding the basement laboratory that is nearly overrun with lab rats.

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Sky Coyote (The Company series,  book 2) by Kage Baker

published in 1999

where I got it: purchased used

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What’s your favorite beer or cocktail?  What’s your favorite drink at Starbucks or coffee shop of your choice?  How many drinks did you have to go through to find the perfect combination of hops and malt, or soy milk or foam or espresso shots? What I’m getting at here is that feeling of when you’ve got something just right, that this coffee has exactly the right amount of cream and is exactly at the right temperature, that feeling of “if only every drink could be this perfect”. That feeling of finally finding out what you like and the perfect combination of ingredients? I found it in a book. A book with perfect combination of sly dialog and sarcasm, great characters, sex jokes, painful introspection, and a feeling of running, running from the truth.  I was the crazy girl whispering to herself over breakfast because I was reading large portions of this book out loud to myself.

And since a book review that consists simply of metaphors that makes sense only to me followed by “this book was incredible, amazing, everything I wanted it to be and more” is useful only to me, I’ll get to the more comprehensible portions of the review, just for you.

Sky Coyote is the second book in Kage Baker’s Company series, and it’s told from the point of view of Joseph, who we met in In the Garden of Iden.  It’s been about a hundred and fifty years since Joseph last saw Mendoza, and she’s still mad at him. When you’re an immortal cyborg you’ve got all the time in the world to stay angry and hold grudges. They’re going to be working together again, and they meet up at the decadent  Mayan Lost City also known as New World One, where Mendoza has been researching New world grains and where Joseph is preparing to become a god.

Well, imitate a god at least.

It’s 1699, and the white man will be making permanent inroads into the New World any day now.  The native tribes of the west coast of the Americas don’t know the disease and horrors that are on their horizon. Usually company operatives are tasked with acquiring objects, technologies, or even plant samples that will be valuable in the future.  This time Joseph has been tasked with acquiring and entire native village. Armed with research of their beliefs and multiple prosthetics, Joseph is about to convince an entire village of Chumash that he’s their trickster god, Sky Coyote.   Joseph has a tough time at first, of course they tell stories about their gods all the time, but they have no idea how to respond with a god shows up on their doorstep.

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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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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.