the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘science fiction


The more short fiction I read by Aliette de Bodard, the more I like her. It took me longer than it should have to “get it”, but now that I do, I just can’t get enough. Most of her short fiction (or at least most of what I read) takes place in her expansive Xuya Universe, and specifically in its space age, when humanity has conquered the stars.  If you’ve read “Immersion”, or “On A Red Station, Drifting” (both Hugo nominees last year) you’re familiar with the Dai Viet of Xuya, you’ve smelled their pungent food, you’ve been aboard their mind-ships that are someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s aunt, those ships that are painted inside and out with scenes and symbols from mythology, you’ve run your fingers along the slick, slimy, pulsing wall of the ship’s heartroom, you’ve seen how their culture has been attacked by the warlike and aggressive Federation.  There is more than enough space out there, but still we fight for planets, colonies, stations, insisting that there isn’t enough to share.


“The Waiting Stars” opens in a graveyard.


These are the Mind-ships that were captured by the Federation. Not exactly prisoners of war, the mind ships have been crippled and left to die. Hidden in a dark corner of space, the Federation assumes the graveyard will be forgotten. But how can Lan Nhen forget her great great aunt, The Turtle’s Citadel? Lan Nhen will bring her great aunt’s body home, to be buried properly.

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You can read “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” over at, and really, you should.  It’s a quick story, but that doesn’t really matter, because you’ll be hooked right away. But you might want to read it at home, with tissues handy. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


Such a beautiful, but painful story to read.  On a happy note, I got a kick out of the nods to  a The Wizard of Oz, which gave the story an ethereal, almost nostalgic feeling.  A little funny to read a scifi story about a Mars colony, and getting a feeling of nostalgia! But that’s all that is funny about it. “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” has a gravitas to it, a maturity, a wordless something I don’t often get to see in science fiction. It’s about a husband and a wife who love each other, who want to help each other, and they both understand one of them is dying.


It was nice to read a speculative fiction piece that stars an aging woman. We get male characters of all ages, teens, young men, 20s, adults, retired guys. But those female characters always seem to be in that nineteen to thirty two sweet spot – old enough to kick some ass, but not, like, old. And Elma York? She’s old.  She’s retired. No one recognizes her anymore. Her  body is not taught, her back is hunched, her arms and legs jiggle. But she still dreams of flying. Back in the 1950s, Elma was known as The Lady Astronaut of Mars. But that was thirty years ago. Now, living on Mars, Elma has a new life.  Yes, she still keeps in shape as best she can, yes, she keeps up with the physicals and the tests, anything to keep her name on the active list of astronauts, but she knows she’s not going anywhere.  She’s retired. Her dreams haven’t changed, but her priorities have.


Elma’s in good health, but her husband Nathaniel, his health is failing rapidly. Their life rotates around his medication schedule, when the nurse visits, how his tests come back, when the doctor expects the paralysis to set in. There are some undignified moments, but Kowal lays their story bare, gives us everything. Because that’s love, you know? It’s in sickness and in health, for better for worse.  Signing up for love means signing up for everything. You know those stories that after you read them, you suddenly find yourself across the room, holding your partner’s hand, and they when they ask if everything is ok you tell them you love them? This is that story.

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Wow, it’s been a while since I reviewed Hugo stuff! Moving in the Novelette category, I’m going to start with Ted Chiang’s “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”.  You can read this story over at the Subterranean Magazine site.

What should you follow? facts, or your feelings? It’s not a matter of which is better, it’’ a matter of which will make the world around you better.

Over his lifetime, the narrator has seen drastic changes in how people communicate, and how people record what happened to them. Everything from hand written journals and photography of his youth to the assistive software and subvocalization his daughter uses when she wants to “write” something. That is in italics because he doesn’t view what she does as writing. There’s no paper, there’s no pen, her hands aren’t moving. To him, it’s not writing. In this near future story there are also “lifelogs”, a googleglass meets blog thing, where you can record important moments of your life for the purpose of playing them back later. Some people record their entire lives, thus the market for a product called Remem, that helps you sift through your lifelog to find the moment you’re looking for.

Perfect factual memory, it’s the invention we’ve been waiting forever for, right? You could finally find out who laughed at you at your high school cheerleading audition, or if it was you or your spouse who forgot to lock the front door. This is the epitome of personal record keeping. The narrator is excited to use this new technology to repair his relationship with his daughter. He can go back and review their conversations and fights, see where everything went wrong. Is a perfect memory a gift? or a curse?

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inversionsTaking a bit of a break from Hugo stuff (but not really), today I’m talking about Iain M. Banks’ Inversions, which I’m reading along with kamo of this is how she fight start, Brittian from Two Dudes in an Attic, and Matt from Feet for Brains. Head over to their blogs to see what they think of the book so far.

Chapter 12 is the magic stopping point for this discussion, and sometime next week we’ll all post about the end of the book. I always like to guess what’s going on, so I’m sure this first post of mine will be mostly observations, guesses and predictions. Inversions is the “culture novel that isn’t”, which makes it an excellent first Banks novel if you’ve never read him before.


All the guys are gonna be talking sportsball references and other intelligentsia, and I am umm…. not going to be.


When kamo was first telling me about the book, he mentioned the phrase “hiding in plain sight”.  Now, he’s read this book before, so I was assuming he used that phrase for a particular reason.  Remember those Hidden Pictures games in Children’s Highlights? how one large “hey! that’s a duck!” would leap right out at you, but you had to stare a little longer to find the spoon that was in the bark of the tree, or the banana that was in the swell of the waves in the lake, or the hippo that was in the clouds?  Reading Inversions is a little like that, with secrets hidden in plain sight, and also simply disguised as things that wouldn’t be noticed by the other characters. For example, this is a complex science fiction novel disguised as a rather straight forward  epic fantasy novel, complete with kings, wars, torturers, apprentices, concubines and spies.


Lemme ‘splain.  Apologies that this sounds plot heavy, Banks is one of those writers who puts so much subtext in that there is about nine novels jammed into the 12 chapters that I read. So yeah, it’s kinda plot heavy, but that’s nothing compared to the subtext. And it doesn’t ever feel heavy. This isn’t a book that’s going to break your brain (at least what I’ve read of it so far won’t).


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All of the Hugo nominated short stories are available to read online, and you can read Rachel Swirsky’s lyrically haunting “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love”, from the March issue of Apex Magazine, here.    (I’ll be posting reviews of the Hugo Nom’d short stories all week)


Here are my thoughts on “If You Were A Dinosour, My Love”, by Rachel Swirsky.


Half song, half prose poem, half prayer, with each paragraph beginning with the last phrase of the previous paragraph, the story put me in the mind of how a masterfully composed symphony returned to variations on a theme.

The title is the first line of the story, and it builds so very slowly -  she’s going through a thought experiment of if he was a dinosaur.  That his singing voice would be beautiful, that the geneticists would be all over him, that so he wouldn’t be lonely they would clone a mate for him, and even though she’d have lost him to a lady dinosaur, she wouldn’t be sad for losing him.

This is not a story, this is a kaleidoscope, with each touch, each incremental move of the barrel bringing something completely different into focus, taking you somewhere else, taking you one step closer to where the narrator is, at first, afraid to go. She wants to give you the imaginative, the impossible, the fantastically beautifully absurd before forcing you down to reality. You’re not sure where the story is going, you’re spiraling towards something, obviously, but the pitch perfect imagery is such a distraction that you don’t really care where you’re going. And then the end smacks you like a T-Rex’s jaw clamping down on your neck, and you suddenly know, without a doubt, exactly where that first sentence came from, where every sentence and thought came from. But a T-Rex is not about to eat you, this is reality and you are unfortunately, doomed to live.

You’ll be lured in by the lyricalness, pulled in further by the inescapable emotion, and then profoundly moved by the haunting devastation. This story killed me a little bit, and then I read it again, and it killed me a little bit more.  A truly amazing piece.


madonna and starshipThe Madonna and the Starship by James Morrow

published in June 2014

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











With a cover like this and promises of provocative satire, how could I not read it?


Kurt Jastrow has the best day job a science fiction writer could ask for. In the 1950s, at the peak of live television, he’s the lead writer for Brock Barton and his Rocket Rangers.  A show every nine year old loves, Jastrow writes three shows a week (with Monday and Wednesday’s shows ending in cliffhangers, of course), and squeezes in a few minutes of actual science at the end of every episode.  It’s not a glamorous life to be sure, but Kurt has plenty of time to polish his science fiction stories, harass his shellshocked editor, and try to convince fellow writer Connie Osborne to go out on a date with him.


Everything was going swimmingly (if rather ho hum) for Kurt, until he gets a visit from extra terrestrial ultra-rationalists, who want to thank him for doing such an amazing job promoting scientific enlightenment via Brock Barton and the real science demonstrations at the end of the show. The aliens want to give Kurt his award on live TV! And oh, they want to punish anyone who isn’t rational like they are, namely the few million people who tune into the network’s religious programming every Sunday morning. Almost sounds like the alien invasion script someone like Kurt would write for a much better TV show than Brock Barton . . .

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This post is part of the Irredeemable blog tour!  Check out Tomorrow Comes Media to see other bloggers involved with this tour and learn more about other blog tours.

irredeemable coverIrredeemable, by Jason Sizemore

published April 2014

where I got in: purchased the e-book













Advertised as a horror anthology, Irredeemable has plenty of awful people who get exactly what they deserve in horrific ways with no hope of escape. But it’s also peppered with Urban fantasy stories, straight up science fiction tales, and the most horrific stories in which yes, someone did something bad, but surely not so bad to deserve what they get. And this deep in the Appalachian hills, where fear, religion, suspicion, and xenophobia run rampant, there’s always someone available to get what they deserve.

If straight up, nail biting, edge of your seat horror is your thing, be sure to read “City Hall”, in which a human resources department employes a very unique method of saving taxpayer dollars; “Ice Cream At the Falls”, an open ended story in which you’ll probably be cheering when this particular asshole gets exactly what he deserves after learning the truth about a false conviction; “Sleeping Quartet”, in which “what could possibly go wrong?” is taken further than you’d expect, and  “The Dead & Metty Crawford”, which is the absolute creepiest most disturbing zombie story possibly ever written, among many others.

Quite a few of the stories have an urban fantasy and science fictional twist, and it didn’t surprise me in the least that those were the ones I was most drawn to.  Throw in aliens, or zombies, or voodoo, or robots, or space stations, and I am all over that. And Science Fiction horror? Now we are talking!  If this paragraph is sounding like more your cuppa tea, “Plug and Play”, a darkly humorous story about a drug mule; “Mr. Templar”, in which robots are all that’s left on Earth after an apocalypse; and “Sonic Scarring”, in which what’s left of humanity hides in the hills after an alien invasion were written just for you.

With everything from gothic horror to post apocalyptic science fiction, the connecting thread is that of characters trying to escape the consequences of their decisions, and nearly begging the reader to forgive them.

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In case you ever need to talk me into doing something, the magic words are Iain M. Banks.

Kamo over at This Is How She Fight Start is organizing a read along of Banks’ Inversions for later this month. Join Kamo, Two Dudes in an Attic, and myself, as we convince the rest of the universe that Iain M Banks was the best thing to ever happen to said universe.  Because you’ll be joining us, tweet Kamo or comment on his announcement and let him know you want the deets. Come on, it’ll be fun!

The first sentence of the Wikipedia for Inversions page states

Banks has said “Inversions was an attempt to write a Culture novel that wasn’t.”

I didn’t scroll down any further, didn’t want spoilers.


I’m only about 50 pages in so far, and at least twice I have already audibly exclaimed “damn I love you Banks” while reading.  If I don’t respond to tweets or e-mails for the next 24 hours, this book is why.



The Hugo Voter’s Packet was released a little over a week ago.  For 24 hours, voters across the globe downloaded, unzipped, transferred to devices, and prioritized.


Out of sheer luck I have already read a few of the Campbell nominees, so down near the bottom you’ll see my links to my reviews of their novels. As I review more Hugo nominated works, I’ll link everything back to this post so it will all be in one place later. Ideally, by July 31, this post will be chock full of links.


Click here for the full  ballot, you see how much is on there? holy cow! Ain’t no way I can read all of that by the July 31 voting deadline. Many of these works are available online for free (no Worldcon membership? no problem!), click here for a clickable ballot over at SFSignal. Reading and reviewing wise, here’s what I realistically* think I can get through:

(it goes without saying, but images shown do NOT imply bias, they are just the covers I found quickly)


Six_Gun_Snow_White_by_Catherynne_M_Valente_200_311Best Novella

  • The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells (Privateer Press)
  • “The Chaplain’s Legacy” by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)
  • “Equoid” by Charles Stross (, 09-2013)
  • Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean Press)
  • “Wakulla Springs” by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages (, 10-2013)


Best Novellette


Best Short Story

wonderbookBest Related Work**

  • Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It Edited by Sigrid Ellis & Michael Damian Thomas (Mad Norwegian Press)
  • Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary by Justin Landon & Jared Shurin (Jurassic London)
  • “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)
  • Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer, with Jeremy Zerfoss (Abrams Image)
  • Writing Excuses Season 8 by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Jordan Sanderson

girl geniusBest Graphic Story

  • Girl Genius, Volume 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colours by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
  • “The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who” written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Jimmy Broxton (Doctor Who Special 2013, IDW)
  • The Meathouse Man adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Raya Golden (Jet City Comics)
  • Saga, Volume 2 written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
  • “Time” by Randall Munroe (XKCD)


three parts deadJohn W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer not-a-hugo


An observant reader would notice I have left the very prestigious “best novel” off of my list of Hugo nominated works to read. Why would I do that? Time and interest.  Of the five nominated novels, I’ve read one of them, and I wasn’t a fan of it. the rest of the Best Novel nominees includes an author whose works rarely interest me; an author who does interest me, but I don’t much care for the universe in which this nominated novel takes place; a third book in a series I’m not that interested in; and the entire Wheel of Time saga. With Wot, do I read just the first book? just the last book? the first and the last? all of them? I read the first one years ago, and found it decent, but not good enough that I was interested in continuing.  Time and interest: two things I have a very finite amount of.


*definition of “realistically” subject to change

** Some of these I may read selections of.

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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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.