the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘mythology

bridge of birdsBridge of Birds by Barry Hughart

published in 1984

where I got it: purchased new

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In a rural village in the shadow of the Tang dynasty, the parents are all weeping.

 

They weep because their children lie dying from a mysterious illness. A matriarch of the village gives her life savings to their strongest young man, Number Ten Ox, and tells him to go to the city and purchase the services of a wise Sage, for certainly a learned man can divine the reason for the children’s plague and help develop a cure.  Number Ten Ox is soon to discover that a peasants fortune doesn’t go very far in the city.   However, he returns with Master Li Kao, who is able to understand how the children became sick, and give instructions regarding the herbs needed to cure them.  Knowing what they need, the elderly Master Li climbs onto the back of Number Ten Ox, and across China they go.

 

 

 

They rather quickly find the first portion of the cure, and set out immediately for the rest. One clue leads to another, each adventure feeding into the next. Stealing money (to fund their quest, of course) from a corrupt business owner leads to tricking a dowager,  which eventually leads to the most expensive woman in the world, which leads to visions of pleading ghosts lead which lead to phantom paintings on mountain tops which lead to heartless men, which lead to following a dragon through hell and back. Which leads to Master Li asking the all important question of why do children play the games they play? And through it all, they keep running into people they’ve met before in a curious pattern.

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Scale-Bright - Benjanun Sriduangkaew

As I mentioned in my review of Scale-Bright, there are three short stories that are connect to and have been included with the novella. Some of you have already seen these, as “The Crows Her Dragon’s Gate” was published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies in 2013, “Woman of the Sun, Woman of the Moon” was published in GigaNotoSaurus in 2012, and “Chang’e Dashes From the Moon” was first published in Expanded Horizons in 2012.   The short fiction take places chronologically before Scale-Bright, and they are the mythological foundations for what occurs in Sriduangkaew’s newest contemporary urban fantasy.

 

The too long didn’t read of this review is that if you aren’t reading Benjanun Sriduangkaew, you need to be.

 

No bones about it, these short stories are gloriously bewitching, and the more I read them, the more they glowed. As with all mythology, these are stories are that coming to me through the eras of history. Like the dying light of a super nova that takes generations to reach me,  being warped and dimmed by clouds of dust and time along the way. But this light, was different.  These are characters who are saying “this is my real story, this is what really happened, this is the true color and depth of my light, of my life”.  In these retellings of how Xihe gave birth to the sun, of how Houyi the archer God shot down the suns, and of how Chang’e became the Goddess of the moon, Sriduangkaew has done the impossible: she’s convinced Goddesses who exist on high to tell us lowly mortals the silken secrets that shine deep within their hearts.

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Scale-Bright - Benjanun SriduangkaewScale-Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

published August 2014

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

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Niall Alexander’s recently reviewed Scale-Bright on Tor, and  he suggested reading the accompanying and related short stories first. Benjanun Sriduangkaew recommends reading Scale-Bright first.  I followed both of their advices.  I read the short stories first, but I’ll review the novella first. Check back next week for a review of the short stories that are published along side and birthed Scale-Bright, because they are glorious all on their own, in a completely different way. Let me give you a little teaser right off the bat: if you like Catherynne Valente, you’re gonna love Benjanun Sriduangkaew.

 

Those familiar with Chinese mythology will recognize characters and words, will smile out of the corner of their mouths because they know what’s coming. Woefully ignorant (yet less so, now) of Chinese mythology, all these characters and words were new to me. Wikipedia answered my most basic questions about Houyi and Chang’e, but the words I didn’t know, words like banbuduo, mowhab and daihap, had to be figured out contextually. Those were the words that tasted the best.  For those readers who would prefer some background before diving in, Sriduangkaew wrote a great guest post over at SFSignal that is a cheat-sheet of sorts.

 

The stories she was raised with are real if not always told correctly, and the movies and plays only told the tiniest part, and Julienne, a mortal woman in Hong Kong, has been invited into mythology. Orphaned and then found by her aunt Chang’e and Chang’e’s wife Houyi, Julienne knows no one would believe her if she said her aunts were Immortals.  It’s a tenuous yet amusing dynamic between the three women – Julienne is a little embarrassed about what she sees as her personal failings, and her aunties are fiercely proud and protective of her.  They give her the tiniest of sacred protections, and she unknowlingly helps them navigate the concept of “family”.  There is more than the barest undercurrent that this is the first time in Julienne’s life that her sexuality has not been questioned or judged, that she’s being completely and unconditionally accepted for who she is.

 

Julienne knows she is on the edge of mythology, that her aunties are the women to whom these stories actually happened to, that to them they are not stories but history, that Houyi is still paying for the crime of shooting down the suns, that Chang’e is making up for all the time she lost when she was imprisoned on the Moon. But  I’ll talk much more about those two ladies later, as Scale-Bright is Julienne’s story.

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Six_Gun_Snow_White_by_Catherynne_M_Valente_200_311

 

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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the-broken-kingdoms-by-nk-jemisinThe Broken Kingdoms (Inheritance trilogy, book 2) by N.K. Jemisin

published 2010

where I got it: purchased new

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A quick warning: this review contains unavoidable spoilers for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the first book in the series.

 

It’s been about a week since I finished reading The Broken Kingdoms, and it’s taken me this long to put into words what I experienced. Put shortly, I loved every word of it, and I know no review I write will come close to doing this book justice.  As I neared the halfway point of the book, I began avoiding picking it up, because I didn’t want to face that moment where I’d have to turn the final page and have it be over forever.  I knew the end was going to be heavy, and I wasn’t wrong.

 

The Broken Kingdoms picks up about ten years after the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.  Sky is now colloquially referred to as Shadow, due to the shadows caused by the huge tree that now dominates the city.  When once only three enslaved gods roamed the palace, now the city is full of godlings who have returned from the realm of the gods, some of them living rather normal lives, while others still aren’t used to be being around mortals.

 

At the beginning of this second installment, we meet Oree, who moved to the city ten years ago, after her father died. At first blush, this sounds a little familiar – country girl moves to the city, gets very surprised by what she finds there.  And that’s where the similarity ends. Oree isn’t interested in learning about the royal family, and she could care less about the differences between the gods and the mortals for the most part. Her first priority is selling her artwork and paying her rent.

 

Oree is an artist, and she’s blind. Well, mostly blind. She can’t see me, or you, or her mother, or the house she grew up in.What she can see, is magic, and Shadow is lush with godlings, so she can get around halfway decently most of the time. One night, she finds a dead guy outside her house. It’s a little more complicated than that, and he’s not quite dead. She takes him in, cleans him up, and lets the strange, silent man crash at her place until she figures out what to do with him.  At sunrise he glows with a godling hue, and he seems to be invulnerable to pain and injury. No one knows his name or where he came from, and in an attempt to elicit a reaction from him, she starts calling him Shiny. To his face.

 

If you’ve read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, you know who Shiny is, and that he’s probably not all that offended by the nickname. But Oree has absolutely no idea who he is, and in all honestly she just wishes he’d stop being such a pain in the ass.

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King David Spiders from MarsKing David and the Spiders From Mars, edited by Tim Lieder

published March 2014

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

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I don’t know about you, but I love mythology. I especially love it when authors take liberties with unexplored details. What was the backstory of that minor character? That other person must have had a good reason to do something strange/wonderful/awful/unexpected, right?  When I think “mythology”, I often think Greek, Roman, or Norse mythos.  But there is a mythology that’s even closer to me. One that I grew up with. One that’s rarely referred to as mythology, but that’s what it is. The Bible: history, literature, mythology, and faith, all rolled into one,  mythology in the most revered definition of the word: stories of the days that created a culture.  It’s books like King David and the Spiders From Mars that make me want to open up my big fat Myths and Legends of Ancient Israel book, or go to the library and find some dusty tome that will tell me the ending of the story they only told the beginning of in Sunday school.

King David and the Spiders From Mars is the second anthology in editor Tim Lieder’s series of Biblical Horror stories. I enjoyed the hell out of the first one, She Nailed A Stake Through His Head, (read my review) and I’ve been looking forward to more of the same ever since.  Same as with Nailed a Stake, you don’t need any kind of Biblical or Judeo-Christian education to enjoy these short stories. In fact, you’d be better served by being familiar with Chthulhu mythos.

Starting at the literal beginning, the first story is nicely tragic, but not end-of-the-world destructive. And then everything slowly ramps up, with the last two stories having the potential to really fuck you up.

here are my thoughts on a few of my favorites:

Moving Nameless, by Sonya Taaffe – How many wives did Adam have? According to myth, God made a woman right in front of Adam, built her from organs and bone and muscle and sinew, and Adam was so disgusted (you might be too, seeing a person built from the inside out!) that he never again looked up her.  And she’s been wandering the Earth ever since, looking for an Adam who might be able to love her.  Her name isn’t Eva, but that’s what her current boyfriend, Adam Loukides, calls her.  He’s a book collector, has a fondness for out of print books, can’t wait to show her around his apartment, he never questions the fact that she doesn’t talk about her family.  It doesn’t matter that this latest Adam doesn’t believe in God, or doesn’t believe her story, that doesn’t make her story any less true or the curse any less painful. He will come to be disgusted by her, no matter if he believes in her story or not. Shunned forever, for something that was outside of her control, it makes me wish the nameless woman got another opportunity to interact with the original Adam.

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clarkesworld4Curious about the original fiction published by Clarkesworld?  This series of posts, reviewing every story published in Year Four should give you an idea of their flavor of speculative fiction. these stories are strange, unexpected, sometimes humorous, sometimes melancholy. Every single one of them will get some kind of reaction out of you.   Check out the Clarkesworld website to get more. Like what you see? Become a citizen of Clarkesworld, get a subscription, spread the world. Speculative Fiction ‘zines like this are a rare beast.

I’m going through Year Four in no particular order. Click to read the first, second, and third posts in this series.  In the stories in today’s post, we have virtual reality gone wrong (or maybe very, very right), reincarnations who kill their originals with the best intentions, the downside of discovering a new intelligent species, and Cat Valente has fun with creation myths.

ready? let’s go!

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Spacetime by Catherynne M. Valente – I recently had the pleasure of reading this in Valente’s latest collection, The Melancholy of Mechagirl. In that review, I didn’t go into much detail of Thirteen Ways, so I’m thrilled to have received another chance to talk about this wonderfully odd tale.

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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.