the Little Red Reviewer

In Jon McGoran‘s new novel Spliced, the newest bio-hacking trend is a dangerous form of permanent body modification. Who needs piercings or tattoos, when you can get animal genes spliced into your own body? This thrilling novel follows teenagers Jimi and Del as they fall deeper than they ever expected into the world of the spliced. The rich can afford legal and safe splices, other who want the procedure go to illegal back alley clinics.  And just imagine the political backlash!   Are these genetically modified people, known as chimeras, superhuman? or are they no longer human, and no longer deserving of human rights?

Paste Magazine named Spliced one of the ten best YA books in September, and Booklist calls Spliced“suspenseful and scary…timely [and] thought-provoking”.  Spliced hits bookstore shelves on Sept 29th, and the audio book, narrated by Sophie Amoss, comes out the same day.

Jon has been writing about food and sustainability for over twenty years, and when he’s not writing and publishing non-fiction and satire, he writes eco-thrillers to play with ideas about how all easily all our technological advances can go horribly wrong. Because, well, we’re only human after all. Jon was kind enough to let me pick his brain about Spliced, The Philadelphia Liars Club, his work in ecological sustainability, and more. And speaking of Philadelphia, if you live in that city you can attend the Launch Party for Spliced, Oct 6 at Parkway Central Library. Click here for more info.

Let’s get to the interview!


Little Red Reviewer:
Your new novel, Spliced, is a thriller that revolves around the trendiest underground body modification of having animal genes illegally spliced into humans. Why would someone want to have animal genes spliced into their DNA? Do I get a cat’s night vision, a rattlesnake’s venomous bite, the regeneration abilities of a starfish? Sell me on why someone would want to do this to themselves.

Jon McGoran: Even in the book, the science is still pretty new, and for the most part, the people doing the splices, the ‘genies,’ are amateurs, so you don’t always know what you are going to get. The effects are generally superficial, although sometimes profound. Some chimeras do pick up other traits from the animals they are spliced with, but it’s not like a super power.

As to the reason why someone would do it, that was one of the questions that I thought was most interesting when I first came up with the idea for the book. I knew people would do this, and I do believe they probably will if it becomes possible like it is in the book. There are all sorts of body modifications out there, from tattoos and piercings and gauges to some that are much more extreme and elaborate. So part of the reason would parallel why people get those modifications. But with something like this, there would be as many reasons to do it as there are people doing it. For some it is a fashion statement or a symbol of rebellion, for others it is solidarity with the Earth’s rapidly dwindling wildlife, especially the species that are endangered or extinct. And some look at what humans have done to the Earth, and at times to each other, and they want to make it clear, on some level, that they don’t agree with what humanity has become.

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xxxholic omnibus 1xxxHolic, omnibus #1

published in 2007 (I think?)

where I got it:  have owned it forever.

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I’ve been reading Manga on and off for probably ten years. I don’t mention manga much, because there are very few series I’ve liked enough to invest in.  One of the early reviews on this blog was for the first volume (or first few? I can’t tell) of xxxHolic, by CLAMP. The Manga section of Barnes and Noble is full of 3 volume omnibuses these days, but back in the old days, a three volume omnibus was an oddity. No one planned to make more than one of these monsters, so sometimes there wasn’t even a  number on the spine.  And speaking of “way back when”, xxxHolic has been floating around in one form or another since 2004 or there abouts.

 

I wrote a halfway decent review of this back in 2010, it’s nice to see I did a decent job of writing a plot based review!   It’s interesting to see what I got out of xxxHolic then, and what’s I’m getting out of it now. The surface stuff is always the easy stuff – Yuko’s hidden “shop”, the crossover plotlines and funny little jokes from other CLAMP works, the “monster of the week” episodic feel of these first three volumes, the gorgeous artwork.   If you’re used to American style graphic novels, Japanese manga, CLAMP works especially, may be a shock to you – everything is in black and white, there is far less dialog per page, motion is depicted very differently, and the human body is drawn differently than you might be used to.

are you the spacetime witch

Back in the day, I stalled out six or seven volumes into xxxHolic, I felt the story wasn’t really going anywhere.  At the time, seven volumes was a pretty big investment to make in a series if I wasn’t going to continue.  Yuko might be the space time witch who offers to help Watanuki get rid of his spirits problem, but I needed more than just urban fantasy slice of life.  I didn’t continue reading it, but my husband did, eventually trading in our single volumes for these hefty 3-volume omnibuses. And he let me know the story gets deeper, deadlier, and darker. So now I want to give it another try, because I like all of those things!  Watanuki might be getting dragged on Yuko’s errands, but it’s important later for him to have safely been exposed to all this urban fantasy type stuff. Even at the ghost story telling ceremony with Domeki, Watanuki might might not feel safe, but if Yuko is in the room she’ll never let anything permanent happen to him. Or at least I don’t think she’d let anything happen to him . . .

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I’m over at Apex Magazine today interviewing Kameron Hurley.   This is Apex Magazine‘s 100th issue!

https://www.apex-magazine.com/interview-with-author-kameron-hurley

 

While you’re over there, make sure you check out Hurley’s short story “Tumbledown”, and all the other wonderful content Apex Magazine has to offer.  Included in that wonderful content is my monthly interviews with featured authors!

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The Emperor and the Maula, by Robert Silverberg

available Sept 30th 2017

Where I got it: received advanced review copy from the publisher (Thanks Subterranean Press!)

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Robert Silverberg’s The Emperor and The Maula is exactly what it says on the tin: this is a space opera version of the story of Scheherazade – in which a woman is sentenced to die at dawn and purchases another day of living by spinning a compelling tale for the emperor with dawn as her cue for a cliffhanger.

 

I love the idea of a space opera Scheherezade. Just think of how far an author could scale things up!  A number of years ago, there was a scifi anime made of The Count of Monte Cristo, with aliens, and travel to other planets, alien technologies and a very cool artistic style.  The writers took an earthly story and scaled it way the hell up, and it was brilliant.

 

What gives this wonderful little novella the “more” factor are its publishing history and the galactic scale a space opera environ allows. If you’re one of those readers who always skips introductions offered up by authors or their friends, make an exception for this one.  The history of this novella as seen through the logistics of the publishing industry is an adventure itself – rife with cliffhangers, cancelled publishing projects, word count requirements, adventures in selling the same story twice, concluding with the original novella being shoved in a file and forgotten about.   And now after twenty five years,  Silverberg fans can finally read The Emperor and the Maula in its nearly original form.  Funny, compelling, suspenseful, and given the space opera scale-up, this is exactly the kind of story an Earth woman might tell to an alien overlord on a planet far, far, away.

 

The Ansaaran Empire, benevolent ruling power of the known galaxy, brings culture and civilization to all planets.  Races living on backward planets are known as maulas, a word that translates to “barbarian”. If these people can ever find it in themselves to become cultured, perhaps one day, hundreds of years from now, they may be welcomed into the empire as citizens.

 

As an Earthling, Laylah is a maula and as such is forbidden from stepping foot on the sacred homeworld of the Ansaarans.   Knowing that the punishment is death, she travels far and wide, every year getting closer to her goal, and finally stepping off a starship and on to the sacred planet. Where she is summarily arrested. And then passed from one bureaucrat to another in a bureaucratic comedy of errors, as all of them know the punishment for her crime is death, but none of them want to be associated with the poor loser who will actually be responsible for someone’s execution.

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The Gate to Futures Past (Reunification #2) by Julie Czerneda

published in Sept 2016

where I got it: rec’d review copy from the publisher (Thanks DAW!)

 

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The Gate to Futures Past is a tricky book to review, because not only is this the middle book of the Reunification trilogy, it is the penultimate book in Czerneda’s long running Clan Chronicles series. I actually read this book last summer when it came out, but I didn’t have time to review it. What better time for a review, than when the next book is about to come out? I also have the benefit of having already read the final book in the series, so I am cheating  more than a  little bit.   With the final book in this series releasing in just a few months, readers new to this series will have an opportunity no one else has ever had – you’ll be able to read all three Reunification books, This Gulf of Time and Stars, The Gate to Futures Past, and To Guard Against the Dark, one right after the other. That’s to your advantage, as these last three books do read as one long novel.  Click here to read my spoilery review of This Gulf of Time and Stars.  And by the way, both This Gulf of Time and Stars and The Gate to Futures Past are now available in mass market paperback.

 

Did you cringe when you read that phrase “long running series”?  I know some of you did! Yes, the Clan Chronicles is a space opera epic that spans three trilogies. If you’ve read any of Robin Hobb’s interconnected trilogies, you know you can jump in at any Book 1, and do just fine.  I’m sure there are readers and fans who will disagree with me, but I believe the same is true for Czerneda’s  Clan Chronicles series – so long as you jump in at any Book 1, you’ll be ok, with the added bonus that if you enjoy what you read, you can then start again at any other book 1!  It’s neat, because if you and your friend each start at a different point, you’ll have a different timeline and a different perspective of the entire story.

 

I preamble with all of that so you’ll be understanding that this review will involve references to events that occurred outside this novel, that there will be unavoidable minor spoilers. It’s all to the greater good though – if you enjoy space opera with healthy dose of romance, family drama, cosmic mystery, humor, and aliens that work, anything Julie Czerneda writes is for you!

 

“Aliens that work”, that’s a weird phrase.  You ever read a book with aliens and think to yourself these are just humans with blue skin, or elephants that talk and think just like a human?  A biologist by trade, Czerneda’s aliens act differently than humans because they have biological evolutionary histories completely different from anything that evolved on Earth.  They have different physiologies, different brain patterns, different reasons for doing what they do and how they do it. If you want to write aliens that aren’t humans in disguise, quit watching Star Trek and start reading Czerneda. (Actually, keep watching Star Trek. I keep hoping Huido will show up in an episode of DS9 or Voyager)

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The Emerald Circus, by Jane Yolen

Available Nov 17th 2017

Where I got it: Received advanced reading copy from the publisher (Thanks Tachyon!)

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Are kids still reading fairy tales and older stories? I wonder.  What need do the ten year olds of today have for Alice in Wonderland when they can play video games instead?  What use is a Hans Christian Andersen story book when you can watch a Disney movie instead?  I think a lot of younger readers who get their hands on Jane Yolen’s The Emerald Circus  will find themselves yearning to learn more about Hans Christian Andersen, Emily Dickinson, The Once and Future King, Charles Perrault, J.M. Barrie, Edgar Allan Poe, and more. My favorite kind of fiction is the kind that makes me want to read non-fiction.

 

The Emerald Circus showcases Yolen’s  range of talents in re-imagining classic stories and fairy tales,  and how being exposed to classics such as The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Arthurian legends, and the works of Hans Christian Andersen, Emily Dickinson, and Edgar Allen Poe shaped the lifelong joy she finds in storytelling through prose and poetry.  If you are a fan of poetry, the story notes and poems section at the end will be your favorite area, as the vast majority of the poems showcased are new to this volume.  Long time fans of Yolen’s work will see many familiar friends in the Table of Contents, as a number of these stories were previously published in other anthologies over the years.   The gem of the table of contents most certainly is “Sister Emily’s Lightship”,  which means a whole new generation of readers will get to enjoy this famous award winning short story.

 

The collection opens and closes with the very strong Hans Christian Andersen origin story “Andersen’s Witch”, and the Nebula award winning short story “Sister Emily’s Lightship”.  “Andersen’s Witch” is an excellent set up for the rest of the collection, as the story takes place when Hans is but a child – poverty stricken, lonely, and unsure of his future.  He makes a deal that affects the rest of his life,  and he doesn’t realize the price of that deal until he lies on his deathbed.   I loved how ambiguous this story is – did these things really happen? Did Hans imagine them? Does it matter?  This beautifully told story gave me wonderful flashbacks of being a kid and reading The Snow Queen out of a massive (or it seemed massive at the time!) Andersen fairy tales book I had as a kid. The illustrations in that book got my attention, and the stories kept me coming back to it.

 

“Sister Emily’s Lightship” is the big draw for this collection, and although it appears last in the table of contents I’m sure most people will read it first.  Described by Yolen as “Emily Dickinson meets a Martian”, the story is told in a very different style than the other entries in this collection. Could an interaction with an alien have triggered Emily’s withdrawal from society?  What need would she have of salons and social calling, when she’s seen what the Earth looks like from space? How could local society possibly compete with her inner life that is so full of fireworks and supernovae?   These two stories make excellent bookends, as they have an odd mirroring of each other – the main character’s experience with something alien helps them to create unparalleled works of literature, but at the same time pushes them both towards a life of perceived  loneliness and reclusiveness.

 

And in between those two short stories any reader will find plenty more to enjoy:

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Let’s see, what new book goodies have come into my collection lately?  So much good stuff I don’t even know where to start! What looks good to you?

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin is the last book in her Broken Earth trilogy.  Oh, I should probably mention that both book 1 and book 2 of this series won Hugo awards. I’m kinda waiting for the right time to read this one, because I expect it will break my brain (in a good way!) more than a little bit. I don’t know too much about Noumenon by Marina Lostetter, but I know I’ve got till Sept 20th to read it because that’s when Book Club meets to discuss it.

To Guard Against the Dark by Julie Czerneda doesn’t come out until October, but expect the internet to collectively lose its shit when we are finally allowed to talk about this book.   Yes, I know, the cover says “Reunification #3”, and yes, this is the final book in the Reunification trilogy. However, that trilogy is the final trilogy in Czerneda’s long running Clan Chronicles. You know how Robin Hobb does interconnected trilogies? Clan Chronicles is a little bit like that. But in outer space, and with aliens. The end of this story has been 20 years in the making, and this long reaching series coming to a close is truly the end of an era.  I can’t tell you much except I’m about 1/4 way through To Guard Against the Dark and that my spoiler-y (#sorrynotsorry) review of The Gate to Futures Past (Reunification #2) will be posting soon.  We can of course, talk about Gate to Futures Past as much as we want, since that book came out last year.

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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.