the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘new weird

authorityAuthority by Jeff Vandermeer (Southern Reach #2)

published May 6 2014

where I got it: purchased new

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WARNING: there are some minor spoilers here for the first book in the series, Annihilation.  If you have not read that book (but are planning to), you may want to skip this entire article.  If you’ve read just the first book in the series (or are planning to), check out this unbelievably awesome annotated excerpt from Annihilation, complete with cool pictures and commentary!

all warned?  let’s get to the review.

 

Reading the Southern Reach books is a little like a fantasy visit to Area X.  Each turn of the page is another step closer to the lighthouse, each rock turned over is another secret unearthed.  It’s a fantasy trip to Area X because I can close the book and believe I am safe.  It goes without saying, but you need to read these books in order. Annihilation will tell you what to look for in Authority. Although there is very little overlap in characters, you can’t skip any steps here. You need the warnings from the first book to know what tics to look for, what patterns to watch for in the second.

 

Tics and patterns are a little like moles and freckles on your skin.  I don’t worry about the moles and freckles that have always looked exactly the same. But the ones that change, the ones that don’t match the pattern, those are the ones to show the doctor.  Annihilation taught me what to look for. Authority allowed me to put what I’d learned into practice.  Annihilation was the warning, Authority is the beginnings of a diagnosis.

 

The story follows John Rodriguez,  the incoming  Director for the Southern Reach, the government agency that maintains Area X. He’s no stranger to agency work, as his mother is a high ranking spook handler, and she’s helped him out of a few more pickles than he’d like to admit.  As a child, John’s grandfather nicknamed him “Control”, and the name stuck. As he’s introduced to the staff members of the office building, he tells everyone to call him “Control”, and they do.

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vandermeer annihilationAnnihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

published in February, 2014

where I got it: purchased new

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If you’re familiar with the works of Jeff Vandermeer, you know he enjoys playing with the theme of infection. How we’re infected by physical things, how we’re infected by ideas, how by the time we noticed we’ve changed, it’s far too late.  The word infection itself, it has negative connotations, but it doesn’t have to.  No, not infected, that’s not quite right for what’s happening here. The word I’m looking for is colonized.

Near the beginning of Vandermeer’s Shriek: An Afterword, when Duncan returns to the surface, covered in barnacle looking fungi, he’s glittering, glowing, changed forever, infected, colonized. It’s around page 50 I think, and I still remember the beauty of those paragraphs. Duncan was infected, his insides were possibly being changed against his will, but he was fascinated and curious by what was happening. The reader was, perhaps supposed to be disgusted. But instead, I found it completely beautiful, I was fascinated, I was curious, I wanted to go deeper into the caverns. Later, In Finch, characters are also changed, are infected. Finch is horrified by it, so the reader picks up on that disgust and physical horror too.

And now, in Annihilation, our protagonist, known only as the Biologist, becomes infected with something.  She has no way of knowing how exactly it is changing her, and she teeters on the triple razor’s edge of curiosity, disgust, and terror of what’s happening.  She is not the only one in the story to be infected/colonized.

So, how do you feel about being infected? Will you grab the antibacterial soap, or open your mouth wide? The answer lies in how you react to Annihilation.  Maybe you’ll see this as a horror novel, a nightmarish, unfathomable moaning thing to run from. Or maybe you’ll see it as something beautiful, something to explore further, a place not to be feared, or at least not much. Maybe you’ll feel like you’ve finally come home.

No characters are ever named in Annihilation, the characters are only known by their occupations: the psychologist, the anthropologist, the linguist, and our narrator, the biologist.  The only things that are ever named are within the context of Area X, a nameless place itself. There’s something telling in the fact that the only proper nouns are distinct places in Area X, the base camp, the lighthouse, the ruins of a village. As if only things that we believe won’t ever change deserve to be named and put on map. When someone asks the biologist what her name is, her response is to ask why that matters.

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Railsea, by China Mieville

published May 2012

where I got it: purchased new

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this is the story of a bloodstained boy.

A delightfully strange retelling of Moby Dick, Railsea has a number of literary nods on order – the asides that don’t have anything to do with our main characters but instead speak of the moler industry at large, the narrator breaking the fourth wall and teasing the reader, even a nice reference to Scylla and Carybdis.

Although Railsea is technically YA (no swearing, no sex, and no overt violence), Mieville never talks down to the reader. I suspect some fourteen year olds will put this book down after 50 pages, frustrated with coming across words they don’t know, whilst other fourteen year olds will simply find a dictionary or ask their parents what a certain word means. Sometimes the joy of reading is about the journey of the words, not the book you are reading.

We first meet our main character Sham ap Soorap when his moler train captures a giant moldywarpe and is chopping it up. The worst medical student ever, Sham is more generic helper on the train that useful physician’s assistant.  Young and unsure of where his life will take him, Sham seems to be going through the motions, hoping something will stand out as a sign of where his destiny lies.  The train travels its usual haunts, the captain constantly seeking information on the giant bone colored moldywarpe that took her arm.

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The rules for my “best of” post were simple: I had to have read and reviewed the book in 2011, and it couldn’t be a reread (otherwise this list would taken over by Lynch, Powers, Brust, and others).

In no particular order (saving me the impossible task of choosing my utmost favorites), here are my top reads of the last 12 months. I’m surprised so many of them are new-ish books, as that wasn’t really part of the plan. Enjoy the little teaser then click on the title for the full review.

Grey by Jon Armstrong (2007)  frantic, insane, completely over the top, hilarious, refreshing, and at times completely sick.  This is dystopia like you’ve never read before. This is body modification and mortification, life imitating art to the nth degree, and performance art like you’ve never imagined. This is fashion punk.

The Third Section by Jasper Kent (2011) The third in Kent’s Danilov Quintet, one of the most brilliantly frightening books I have ever read, and brimming with betrayals and violence, seductions and patience, this is the series you’ve been waiting for if you prefer your vampire fiction to be more Bram Stoker than sparkly.

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m The Bible Repairman and other stories, by Tim Powers

Published in 2011 by Tachyon Publications

where I got it: purchased new

why I read it: if Tim Powers wrote it, I want to read it.

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Tim Powers has long been a favorite speculative fiction writer of mine.  I describe him as a spec fic writer and not a “SF” writer because most of his books take place in the past. For decades, he’s been writing alternate history with a paranormal twist.  Ghosts, voodoo, body switching, trapped souls, ancient demons, and mythological creatures abound. He’s writing what might have happened, what could have happened, what no one will ever tell you happened because no one would ever believe it.  But if it comes from Powers, I’m happy to believe every word.

I’ve read a handful of his novels over the years, my long time favorites being Last Call, The Anubis Gates and On Stranger Tides.  I’m sure I knew he’d written some short fiction, but I’d never come across any of it. When I saw a copy of his collection of short works The Bible Repairman,  it was a no brainer to buy it.  With 6 short stories (two of them really novellas) on the nature of souls and ghosts and things man perhaps was not meant to know, and a little blurb closing out each where he talks about how the story came into being, The Bible Repairman and other stories is a must have for any Powers fan.

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The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

Published July 2011

Where I got it: rec’d  a review copy from Harper Voyager

Why I read it: have been following this doctor for a while, and I want to get my hands on anything Jeff VanderMeer is involved in

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In homage of the Neatorama game that would have an utter nerdgasm if faced with Dr Lambshead’s Cabinet of Curiosities, I offer you the ultimate meta’d “What is it?” game: The Thackery T Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities itself.

Well, what is it? Exhibition? Self guided museum tour? Self referential satire? A massive inside joke? Eulogy? An unearthing of the madness of a harmless eccentric? I think a line from the movie Catch Me if You Can, (which coincidentally came out the year before Lambshead’s death) sums it up nicely: “people only know what you tell ‘em”.

Dr Thackery T Lambshead was born in 1900. Trained as a physician and scientist, but a true renaissance man, Dr. Lambshead travelled the world, collecting things here and there, making sure other things got back to their home countries, filling countless diaries with descriptions along the way. Briefly married in the 1950’s, the doctor may have never fully recovered from his wife’s tragic death in a car accident. Filling his home with collectibles and oddities, and occasionally culling the collection by permanently lending items out to museums, he became more and more eccentric. After his death in 2003, appraisers made their way through his home, discovering wonder after bizarre wonder, and trying to connect the objects to descriptions and references found in Thackery’s diaries. And then they happened on the secret underground bunker, a cabinet of curiosities that made the upstairs collection look like nothing more than a museum gift shop.

The Thackery T Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities then, is a collection of remembrances of the doctor himself, descriptions (and some outright guesses) of the strange items found in his home, and most importantly it is an attempt to discover what would cause a man to fill his home with such strange and disturbing things. With entries by Ted Chiang, Rachel Swirsky, Charles Yu, Michael Cisco and Reza Negarestani, Lev Grossman, Naomi Novik among many, many others, along with corresponding artwork and photographs, this is a book that’s more than a book. It’s a curiosity unto itself, an experience, a portal, a self guided tour through the mind of someone whose collection created him as much as he created his collection.

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Viriconium, by M. John Harrison

published in 2005

where I got it:  library
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I first read M John Harrison’s Viriconium about 5 years ago. I was browsing the library, and the silvery book leapt off the shelf and into my arms. If it could have spoken, I imagine it would have confidently told me to read it. No pleading, no begging, no “if you please”, just simply “I have to be read”. And I did. And at the time, I thought it was the most incredible thing I had ever read, and I said so loudly to anyone who would listen. Brimming with gorgeous metaphors, and populated by multiple versions of recurring characters, Harrison’s stories of the ever changing city of Viriconium are considered sci-fantasy/ new weird gold.

Good books deserve to be reread, and although I own copies of a few other Harrison titles, Viriconium still lives at the library. So I got it. and read it. From the introduction by Neil Gaiman to the final story in the collection, I was surprised at how much  I remembered, nearly word for word: the sunsets that bled to death, the making of dwarves, the artist’s quarter, the masked abduction attempt, and the search for the mirror that will take you there. Harrison’s surreal and dreamy style is science fiction that reads like fantasy.

An author known to abhor the idea of world building, it’s the world he creates, and how he presents it that is the most intriguing part of this book. An unknown number of generations after we have destroyed the Earth, either through over mining of resources or nuclear holocaust (or most likely both), humanity still survives. It is not a pretty place, but Harrison makes  Viriconium reflect his prose: beautiful, alluring, seductive, and manipulative.

when I say beautiful and alluring language, this is what I’m talking about:

“East and South of Monar runs a string of heathland whose name, when it still had one, was a handful of primitive syllables scattered like a question in the damp wind. It is a deserted and superceded country, that one, full of the monuments and inarticulate ghosts of a race older than Viriconium, younger than the Afternoon Cultures, and possibly more naive than either.”

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Embassytown, by China Mieville

published in May, 2011

Where I got it: the library

Why I read it: I is a Mieville fangirl.


This article got way too long, way too fast.  and then it got spoilery.  And then I edited the crap  out of it. So stay tuned for a super spoilery part 3 that talks more about Mieville’s worldbuiling and how truly imaginative this novel is, and possibly a part 4 as well. Embassytown is turning into that kind of book.  blame Mieville. it’s his fault.

In the far future, humanity has discovered a not-hyperspace and not-lightspeed style travel (I was temped to liken it to how the Spacing Guild pilots of Herbert’s Dune travel) and we’ve started colonizing both empty and alien planets.

Avice is the narrator of our story, and she is the first admit there is nothing special about her life.  A local Embassytown girl who makes good after her 15 minutes of fame, she leaves her home town to explore the world and returns years later, husband in tow, marriage in shambles.  Suddenly awkward, Avice is no longer native, but not foreigner either.

A colony of Bremen, on the planet Arieke, Embassytown in a ghetto on the edge of the Ariekei city. There have been occasional whispers of a revolution for independence, but the Embassytowners know they depend on the financial support of Bremen, and the bio-tech support of the Ariekei.  Embassytown exists on the sufferance of their Bremen governors and the hospitality of the Ariekei, known colloquially as The Hosts.

It’s not that The Hosts can’t lie per se, it’s that their language has no method for allusion, or metaphor, or reference in general.  Their methods of verbal communication refer to the literal only.  The humans believe that since they have figured out a way to communicate with the Hosts, that they understand them.  The entirety of Embassytown is an unforgiving metaphor of the risks of getting lost in translation.

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I’m about ⅔ of the way through China Mieville’s newest novel Embassytown, and although I truly haven’t a clue how this book will end, I feel the need to talk about the way this book is written, and Mieville’s writing style in general. That way, my review of Embassytown can actually focus on the wonderfulness that is the book, instead of the everything else.

Over the years I’ve heard fans and critics alike describe Mieville’s habit of using 50-cent and sometimes overly obscure words in his novels as a not-so-subtle “fuck you, ignorant uneducated peasant”. His word choice has caused many a reader (myself included) to wonder if some of these are real words used for  cultural effect, or made up words, also used for cultural effect. It’s narrative interruptus until a dictionary is found. But for once, I choose to be the optimist.  I choose to believe Mieville’s not-so-subtle message is one telling me that having a dictionary at hand will only add to my literary experience, not detract from it.  I choose to believe that he’s saying “don’t know what this word means? the only thing stopping you from grabbing a dictionary is you”.    Enticing me, inviting me, seducing me into learning,  into building my own confidence? China Mieville, you are one brilliant fucking bastard.
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Infernal Devices, by K.W. Jeter

copyright 1987, republished in 2011 with a new introduction and afterword

where I got it: purchased new

why I read it: it’s the April book club book for my local SF reading club. and who doesn’t like Steampunk?

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Interested in Steampunk but not sure where to start?  Looking for some adventure?  I’ll save you the trouble of reading this entire review by simply saying that K. W Jeter’s Infernal Devices is one of the best executed novels I’ve read in a long time, and I easily expect it to be one of my top reads for the year.  I guarantee you will enjoy it.

In a handful of recently published “steampunks” that I’ve read, the steampunk elements are simply window dressing. The story is an adventure, a mystery, and in more cases than not a thinly veiled romance, with a handful of gears, airships, and steam engines thrown in so it can be called steampunk. I’m an elitist snob: pulling shit like that is a major turn off.  So, as an elitist snob, it thrills me to say that Infernal Devices is the genuine article.  No window dressing, no airships just for the sake of airships, no thinly veiled anything. Infernal Devices drips with authenticity, invokes a proper Victorian gentleman’s strong dislike of the unknown, reeks of dank dark drinking dens, and invites you to get lost in a watchmaker’s workshop brimming with beautifully constructed clockwork devices.

George Dower never knew his father well. Raised outside the city by an Aunt, he knows his father, the famous inventor, through reputation only. After a churchly disaster, George keeps his head down and merely attempts to keep his father’s workshop in business.  This proves difficult, as although George can fix a basic watch that needs nothing more than winding, the workshop collects more dust than commissions.

When a strange looking man delivers a complex clockwork device that needs fixing, and offers payment in advance with a strange gold coin, George takes the man’s money before realizing this commission is far beyond his understanding, and that the dark skinned man never gave his name. Read the rest of this entry »


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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.