the Little Red Reviewer

Yay for Deep Space Nine streaming on Netflix!  LOL, I guess it’s always been streaming on Netflix, I just didn’t realize it?  Something I appreciate about these older shows is the the older sound mixing technology, stay with me on this for a few sentences, ok?  You watch new stuff, and the people’s voices are a whisper, but the music and explosions blow you out the room. I’ve tried every setting on my sound bar, and the voices keep getting quieter and fuzzier and the sound effects keep getting louder.  I have ZERO patience for fucking with sound bar settings, actually, less than zero. The only solution I’ve come up with is to watch it with the subtitles on, so I can hear the characters whispering.  Older shows?  The sound technology is old enough that people speak at a normal volume, and the sound effects and music are also a normal volume. I can enjoy the show without having to spent 30 minutes fucking with the sound settings.  I still watch nearly everything with the subtitles on, but for a very different reason.

Anyway, let’s dish about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, season 4!  Time for some Klingons, politicking, diplomacy, and illegal use of cloaking devices! 

The Way of the Warrior (eps 1 and 2) –  Season 4 starts out with a political bang!  The Klingon Empire has convinced themselves that Cardassia has been taken over by the Founders, because of course no civilians could possibly oust the Obisidian Order without outside help. So they are going to invade Cardassia to expose the foreigners and also protect the Alpha Quandrant from the Dominion!  And before you know it, Deep Space Nine is crawling with Klingons, and everyone on the station  is increasingly nervous.  Worf comes aboard Deep Space Nine (Michael Dorn I love you so much!!!) as a sort of cultural ambassador between the Federation an the Klingons, and Worf himself is stuck between two worlds. He still hasn’t gotten over the loss of the Enterprise-D, he feels he has to tone down his Klingon-ness to be accepted by the Federation, and he feels that he can’t go home because too many Klingons view him as too human/gone soft.  Worf’s personal plight hits me right in the feels. Everyone wants Worf on their side because of who he is and what he knows, but he still feels the outsider.

The Klingons start to doubt their invasion plans after Sisko reminds them of the Federation-Klingon alliance they are about to jeopardize. Oh, and Sisko and Kasidy’s relationship is going so well!  So much happens in these two episodes!!  Technically, the Cardassians are the Federation’s enemies, or at least we aren’t in a treaty with them, so what obligation do we have, to warn them of a possible invasion by the Klingons?  But Sisko feels obligated to lower casualties if at all possible, so in a brilliant sneaky way, he manages to get the information to Gul Dukat.   The second part of this two-parter is solid action, space battles, high stakes diplomacy, and chases through space.  The Klingons are everywhere and harassing every ship they come across, Sisko is trying to get the remains of the Cardassian government out alive, and it becomes a game of how good is your cloaking device. Freakin’ fantastic season opener!

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I realized I’ve been watching Deep Space 9 Season 4, and not blogged any of that.  Need to fix that one of these days. 

I finished Hench, by Natalie Zina Walschots,  it’s fantastic.  I wasn’t expecting this book to be a leadership/management/career talk book, but it kinda is? 

Do you like author interviews? of course you do!  Over at Nerds of a Feather I interviewed Elly Bangs about her new book Unity,  and over at Apex Magazine I interviewed Annie Neugebauer about her short story “If Those Ragged Feet Won’t Run”. (earworm? you’re welcome!)

we’re still packing packing packing. 30-ish  boxes of books so far. Found some paperbacks that won’t be coming with us, and also found a good cause to donate them to:

appalachian prison book project

not sure what I’m going to do first at the new house. Should I:

grill everything because we’ll finally be able to have a grill outdoors

unpack

stare at the washing machine because I can now do laundry any time I want

meet the neighbors and offer them something off the grill

figure out what all each light switch is connected to

buy more food to grill




library at mount char

Sometime in the late 70s, the American military tried to kill a god. 

 

They failed. 

 

Thirty years later, the god’s children are all grown up. And one of them has a murderous intent to kill her Father. 

 

I came across Scott Hawkins’ 2015 debut novel The Library at Mount Char in some book listicle about “books that don’t make any sense until you’re half way through”, and yep, this book is exactly that.  If you’re the kind of reader who wants a prologue, wants a ton of history before the main plot gets going, if you want to know the character’s histories  . . .  yeah this is not the book for you. 

 

This book is absolutely and gloriously bat shit insane.  

 

I spent the first hundred pages thinking things like:

 

Ok, that’s weird. 

 

Huh. that was even weirder. And gross. 

 

Damn that was a well placed joke!

 

Well, that’s creepy as fuck.

 

Wait, what? 

 

Good kitty. Stay calm kitty. You’re a really big kitty, sweetie, aren’t you.

 

Here’s a taste of the prose:

 

“On the morning after she murdered Detective Miner for the second time, Carolyn came awake on the floor of Mrs. McGillicutty’s living room.”

 

The prose, the dark humor, the characters who struggle to relate to each other but must work together, the forbidden knowledge, people with god-like powers, the long game, the author forcing the reader to be patient, the way everything (yep, that too!) is explained at the end. .  . you know what The Library at Mount Char reminded me of?  It reminded me of Gideon the Ninth, but with a lot fewer swords and a lot more guns.

 

If I even attempted to explain the plot of this book, I’d sound like I’m just grabbing random words in no order, but I’ll try.

 

Carolyn is one of twelve orphans adopted by Father. He set each child to study a different section of his vast library, such as languages or medicine, and the children were forbidden to share what they had learned with their siblings.  Break the rules, and punishment was swift, often including death. But that was okay, Father would just resurrect the dead child. He might then kill the child again, just to make a point.   This is how these children grew up, they forgot their lives before they were adopted. They adapted. They developed some truly epic coping mechanisms.  One of them figured out how to be invisible.

 

Now adults, and forced out of their home, the adoptees must figure out how to live like Americans. Which usually involves wearing shoes. And something called cell phones. Robbing banks is frowned upon.  Give Father’s children a break, they really are doing the best they can, even Margaret. It’s not entirely her fault she smells like death warmed over. 

 

And one impossibly painful piece at a time, Carolyn’s dangerous, crazy, and inevitable plan is coming together. The only person she can trust is that klutzy American Steve. He’s such a dork. But he has a pick up truck, and he knows how to break into houses. . . .  And oh yeah, what did eventually happen to Erwin? 

 

This books sounds super dark, and it is super dark and very, very fucked up, but it’s also super hilarious. Part of the humor is that there’s a chapter at the end entitled “So, What Ended Up Happening with Erwin?”

 

And OH THE LONG GAME!  Kage Baker would be proud!   the last few chapters of this book was a masterclass in invisible guns on tables.  it’s as if the entire thing was backwards origami, and then it unfolds, again.

 

The Library at Mount Char was written in 2015, and as far as I can tell, Scott Hawkins never published another book.   

 

If you’re looking for something weird AF and  brilliantly written, The Library at Mount Char is the book for you. 

but to start, has “classic editor” entirely disappeared from WordPress, and now I’m fully stuck with block editor? This post is all in one long block of text because I can’t figure out where the “more” button is, that means you have to click the “read more” link. that sucks. But, as you’ll read about in a bit, I have amazing decadent food in the fridge, which makes everything better.

I recently read Across a Billion Years by Robert Silverberg. Every time I read him, I remember what a fantastic writer he is. The pages just fly by, I’m immediately drawn in, he has the perfect balance between how much time to spend on worldbuilding, how much time to spend on characterization, and always always moving the story forward. Across a Billion Years was written in 1969, and other than one scene, it doesn’t feel dated. Open Road Media has been doing wondering printings of a ton of scifi from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, if you’re interested in reading some old stuff that doesn’t smell like it’s been in grandma’s basement for 40 years.

The story follows Tom Rice, who is an archeological grad student. He’s sheltered, priveledged, degreed, and his lack of experience with the real world (and women) make for humorous reading. When we first meet him, he’s on a ship travelling to the planet where the team will be digging up artifacts from an ancient civilization known as the High Ones. Tom spends the entire voyage writing letters to his sister about how dumb, rude, and worthless everyone else on the team is, especially team members from other planets. Yes, Tom does eventually get over his naïve stupidity as he takes the time to get know his fellow archaeologists. The title comes from that the artifacts they are digging up are approximately a billion years old, and that the High Ones are sending them all this cultural information, across a billion years. When he’s not being an idiot, Tom is actually quite the romantic, when it comes to why he got into archeology and his views on studying the ancient past.

The entire novel is Tom’s letters home to his sister Lorie. Due to a lifelong illness, Lorie is paralyzed and lives in a hospital. Lorie is also a telepath, and part of the telepath communication network, which is a very, very cool technology that Silverberg has a lot of fun with. Lots of discussions of alien races, and what if the High Ones are still alive somewhere? I liked how the characters are thinking about how cultures change over time, and what does it mean if your race dies out after a billion years? I really enjoyed this book, and it was am enjoyable fast read. I’d happily read it again, and I recommend it.

Not a scifi book, I also recently read The Hundred Foot Journey, by Richard Morais. I’d seen the movie version (Helen Mirrin! so good!) a few years ago, and I had no idea the movie was based on a book! So of course when I saw the book at the library I grabbed it! Hassan Haji and his family move to London after fleeing violence against Muslims in Mumbai. They first land in London, and then in rural France, where they open a restaurant with Hassan as head chef. Their restaurant just happens to be across the street from the Michelin starred traditional French restaurant Le Saule Pleureur, with the intimidating Madam Mallory at its helm. Mallory is shocked and offended by the loud cheerful music from across the street, and even more offended at the Haji’s casual family restaurant. She gets over herself when she tastes Hassan’s cooking, and agrees to take him under her wing and train him in French cooking. The novel takes place over 25 years of Hassan’s life, of his time with Madam Mallory, of working in restaurants in Paris, of finally opening his own restaurant, of changes in what French diners expect. It is a beautiful story of a love affair with food. There is also a lot in the story about how do you grow as a chef in the culture in which you find yourself (Hassan didn’t choose to go to France!), yet still stay connected to your roots? The Hundred Foot Journey is just a lovely book to read. Although it will make you hungry!

hmmm . . . maybe it was The Hundred Foot Journey that inspired me to go a little overboard for Saturday night’s dinner? It was the first night of Passover, which means traditional foods like matzah ball soup and charoset (and apple and nut mixture), and beyond that I like to get as creative and international as possible. My philosophy is Passover food should be so decadent and delicious, that you look forward to it every year, instead of dreading a week without bread. The stand out dish was the chicken roasted with thyme, sumac, and pomegranate molasses, and our dessert of pavlovas with lemon curd. And my mother was right! make your matzah balls with seltzer instead of water! My fridge is full of delicious leftovers.

and packing! we are so, SO close to buying a house! at ages 51 and 41, my husband and I are about to be come first time home buyers. what sold us on this house was the beautiful kitchen, the back patio, and the spacious backyard that backs up to woods. we have so, SO many books to pack. I’ve already packed 19 boxes of books, and that made a small dent.

how many boxes do you think we’ll end up with?

also, if you are getting ready to pack a metric shit ton of books, go to Walmart and get diaper boxes. They seem to be the perfect size for books!

Horror might be too scary for me, but I love satire.  The more biting, the better. 

 

If you enjoy satire, if you enjoy laughing your head off, if you enjoy hollering to your spouse “honey get over here, i have to read this out loud to you, it’s so funny!!!”, Qualityland by Marc-Uwe Kling is the next book you should read. 

 

Published in Germany in 2017, the novel finally came to the English reading world in 2020. From the bland cover, my first thought was this was a book about agriculture? Maybe about sustainable agriculture?  Yeah . . . .  no!  If Facebook and Amazon were algorithm steroids pumped into the movie Idiocracy if written by Douglas Adams, you might be getting close to the make fun of everything free for all that is Qualityland. I can only assume Southpark has made their version of this too.

In the nation of Qualityland, it isn’t the government that watches your every move, it’s the algorithms that run everything from the countrywide communication devices to TheShop (knows what you want before you do!) to QualityPartner (matching you with the top person for you!).  There’s no government big brother here, only algorithms that watch and record your every move, every preference, every conversation, and every internet click. So the programs and systems you count on can serve you better! Can bring you more of what they know you love!

 

If Cory Doctorow wrote this book, it would be terrifying. 

 

But Marc-Uwe Kling wrote it, so it’s hilarious. 

 

In Qualityland, children are named after the occupation of their parents, so you get funny names like Melissa Sex-Worker,  Cynthia Helicopter-Pilot, Sandra Admin, and Tim E-Sportsman. Melissa’s current career by the way, is making sure online news articles have the right comments. And she comments on everything. Sandra’s job is writing click-baity headlines. Doesn’t matter what the article is actually about (an algorithm wrote the actual article, no one cares if a human ever reads it), Sandra’s job is to make sure as many people as possible click on the headline.  

 

The story follows Peter Jobless, who runs a scrap metal shop.  After Peter’s girlfriend Sandra Admin left him (at the prompting of her QualityPartner profile), his social score dropped below ten and his horrified friends unfriended him.  Peter’s secret is that his basement is full of slightly malfunctioning robots, which is a much longer story than this blog post has time for.  Peter may not have many friends IRL, but his robot friends include an e-poet/novelist, a drone who is afraid of heights, an obnoxious older model tablet, a hulking military robot who Groot-like only says the word “Kaput”, a heartbroken male sexbot, and a handful of others. 

 

The story begins when TheShop delivers something to Peter that he most definitely doesn’t want, and doesn’t need.   The algorithms of TheShop are never wrong! Even if he doesn’t think he needs this item, deep down he must need it! Surely even he can find a use for this item!  Does TheShop have a returns department? Of course they do! But their algorithms are never wrong, surely Peter must want this item! 

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I’m reading The Only Good Indians, by Stephen Graham Jones. All I heard online was how good this book is.  And it is damn good.  It is also scary AF.   Apparently while people were talking about it online, my eyes kept glossing over people saying it was a horror book.  And that it’s, ahhh, kinda gruesome. 

 

And I love that people love horror! 

 

But I don’t love it.   It’s just too scary for me, it always ends up feeling like something I can’t escape, like an itch that I can’t rub off because the itch is on a phantom limb.   And the thing in the world I fear the most is not being able to get away from something that is freaking me out. (it makes sensory overload super fun. And by fun, I mean super awful) In scenes in books or  movies where someone is powerless and can’t escape, I am flat out terrified to the point where I may not even register that other, happier plot points are happening.  

 

And sometimes I fall so deep into stories that I find myself at the bottom of a deep well. And sometimes it takes me a while to climb out.  

 

As I write this blog post, I’m most of the way through The Only Good Indians,  I just finished the sweat lodge scene.

 

Spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.   (any of you remember that rambling not-a-review blog post I wrote about Artificial Condition by Martha Wells?   Yeah, this post is kinda like that).

 

The plot of The Only Good Indians goes something like this:  ten years ago, four friends did something really, really stupid. Cassidy, Lewis, Gabriel and Ricky knew what they were doing was wrong, and they got in trouble for it, and they thought they’d paid the price, and they tried to get on with their lives. 

 

This is a story of revenge. 

 

The tribal authorities punished the men for their poaching.

 

But the spirit of that mama elk, she answers to no human authority, and she will have her own revenge, in her own way. She will take what was taken from her.

 

What I need to keep reminding myself, is that in any horror story, the fate of the characters is already sealed.  Doesn’t matter if I haven’t gotten to the last page yet,  the author wrote that last page months or years ago, hundreds of thousands of people have already read that last page.  That character I’m reading about? Their future is literally set in stone. Mine isn’t.  It’s a difference between us: my future isn’t written yet, theirs is. 

 

But something we have in common is that our pasts have already been written, and that character can’t escape their past mistakes in the same way that I can’t escape mine. 

 

To be crystal clear:  the “dumb shit” I did as a teen and in my early 20s was 99% thoughtless and selfish things.  I never did anything stupid enough that someone got hurt. But they could have. I could have, and a couple of times I did.  That thing parents say “what were you thinking? Oh yeah, you weren’t.”, yep, that was me.  Did I do plenty of good things? Of course I did! But all can I remember is the thoughtless  and selfish things that I can’t escape.  I don’t usually beat myself up about these things, but I can’t forget that I did them.

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Oh hi!  I haven’t forgotten about this blog, i swear! I fact, at least 3 times a week I say to myself “I really oughta write something for my  blog”, and then before I know a week has flown by. I keep saying “I’m going to get up early on Sunday and blog!” and then instead, I sleep. Life is funny like that. 

 

I’ve read a LOT, and I got a lot going on right now*,  so you get mini reviews!

 

And what a selection do I have for you! Epic fantasy, scifi short stories, and contemporary thrillers!

 

Have you seen this fricken gorgeous cover art on Rebecca Roanhorse’s novel Black Sun? Are you kinda bored with Euro-based epic fantasy, but want your politics, your intrigue, your religion, and your insurrection? This is the book for you!  Also! Excellent characters, fantastic world, paced perfectly, damn enjoyable read. I zipped through this book. I was a little worried at first, because the first chapter is brutal and kinda gross, but the rest of the book isn’t like. And? Is this epic fantasy with a female gaze? Yes, yes it is. And it was nice. Also Mesoamerican epic fantasy may be my new groove. Forget grog and stew, I’m more about chocolate and corn and squash!

Something I really liked about Black Sun was that people are constantly asking other people “yeah,  but what next?”.  I feel like a lot of epic fantasies suffer from this weirdness of a time vacuum, that the characters only exist for this specific story, and no one has a “what’s next” in their life, the characters aren’t even thinking about the rest of their lives, they should have taken that note from Samwise!  Anyway, I appreciated that characters in Black Sun are always thinking about the future, and pestering other people “yeah, but what are gonna do, after that?”.  It makes them all seem more like real people.

 

The issue I had with Black Sun isn’t a Roanhorse problem, this is a me problem. I 100% suck at keeping track of lots of characters. Black Sun doesn’t have tons and tons of point of view characters, but just enough that it was too much for me. Anyways, my OTP is Xiarapio. I was itching for their chapters because that plasma hot sexual tension between the two of them! And I feel bad for them, because they’ve got, well, other things going on, definitely not a good time to get into a relationship, but damn, those sparks!! 

A very good friend gifted me with a copy of Behind her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough, and like the jackass friend I am, I put it on my bookshelf and forgot about it.  Then someone mentioned it on twitter, and I was in the mood for a contemporary thriller, and BOY DID THAT BOOK DELIVER! I’m not even going to compare it to other thrillers for fear of giving stuff away.  Let’s see, what can I tell you?  Divorced Louise meets a nice guy, David, at a bar one evening. Next week she finds out he’s her new boss! (that sounds so cliché, I know, but stay with me, ok?)  They both know it’s wrong because he’s married, but he’s miserable in his marriage, and she misses the feeling of being wanted. Then she befriends David’s wife, Adele, who is sweet and lonely.  The story flip flops between Louise’s and Adele’s point of views, and how they are both trying to keep David from finding out they are friends. Louise is flustered by the entire thing, Adele is just a smidge manipulative, and David treats Louise like a queen but is super controlling with his wife Adele.  

 

What these two women are going through, and how Louise questions everything she does, and how Adele seems to over plan things, and what isn’t said, I couldn’t put this book down! I loved Louise’s inner monologue, she’s vibrant and complicated and loves her son and is frustrated her first marriage didn’t work out and she just wants to be loved. She’s torn between “my son is the only man I need in my life!” and wanting an adult relationship where she’s appreciated and loved. I loved that this book had Louise’s emotions and complexities front and center. 

 

The twist had me falling off my chair. 

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Much thanks to Annorlunda Books for providing an ARC of Lagoonfire by Francesca Forrest, out March 3, 2021.  You can read my interview with Francesca Forrest here

 

On the surface, Lagoonfire is a mystery starring an investigator whose best friends are retired gods. 

 

And underneath that first mystery was a garden that unfurled into verdant blossoms, as an entire world unfolded in front of me.  One of the many things I loved about Lagoonfire is how it felt like opening my eyes.  You know how you feel when you walk into a bookstore, or a library, or a museum you’ve never been in before and your face just lights up? Yeah, Lagoonfire feels like that.

 

Hmmm . . .  now that I really think about it, Lagoonfire isn’t a mystery. 

 

It’s about how the stories we tell shape us and our world and our beliefs. It’s about how the people we love will lie to us, to protect us. It’s about how love makes us selfish.  It’s about how easily the present can erase the past, if we let it. And we always let it.  It’s about how if we tell ourselves a story enough times, it becomes our truth, and a fact, and how facts are not always the truth, just the version of history we were convinced of, so we live as if the story was real, because that’s easier/safer than the alternative.  I really love stories like this, and I love how Forrest tells this story.

 

The sequel to Forrest’s 2018 novella The Inconvenient God, Lagoonfire works perfectly well as a stand alone. That said, The Inconvenient God (read my review) is an absolute treat, and absolutely worth reading, and worth reading first, because Lagoonfire has so many big reveals.

Lagoonfire was so good, it took me a few hours to come back to myself after I’d finished reading it. It took me a few hours to remember how to form words into sentences.  (Books literally floor me, ok?)

 

Decommissioner Thirty-Seven prefers that people call her by her formal title, not her real name. Her friends know her name of course, but she cringes when they use it.  If she has to, she’ll allow people to call her by her childhood nickname, Sweeting. 

 

She’s worked at The Polity’s Ministry of Divinities most of her adult life, and I should be very clear about what her profession entails. As a decommissioner, her job is is literally decommission, or “retire”, deities.  They become mortal, to then live out a regular mortal lifespan, and then die.  Gods no longer worshipped become truly forgotten. In the name of unity and progress,  the Polity has the ability to give mere mortals power over any god who roams the earth, as prayers to a multitude of local harvest gods and goddesses now become shiny modern devotions to the Abstraction of the Harvest.  The Polity views this as bringing harmony and equality to all. And should you forget that harmony and prioritizing the common good are virtues, the Polity’s job is to ensure that you remember.

 

The story opens with a freak flood at a new shoreline construction project. Decommissioner Thirty-Seven is asked to check in on her friend Laloran-Morna and make sure he wasn’t responsible.  He’s not just a retired guy that she’s friends with, Laloran-Morna was an ocean god that she decommissioned, she botched the job, and they became friends afterwards (long story).  And how could he be responsible?  Laloran-Morna lives in a 4th floor apartment, requires nearly 24 hour home care, and is practically on his death bed.  There’s no possible way he can make it to the seashore, so he asks Sweeting to go to the shore to pray in his place, to his lost lover.

 

Why does Sweeting seem okay working for The Polity? They seem authoritarian and kinda horrible!

 

Why do these retired gods seem okay with being mortal, and no longer having worshippers?

 

Why doesn’t Sweeting want anyone to know her real name?

 

If you’ve ever read a Francesca Forrest, you’ll know that what the story is “about” isn’t what the story is about. 

 

What if you were the god of a particular place, and that place no longer existed?

 

Calling Lagoonfire a mystery is like calling Buckinham Palace a building. Like, yes, it is a building, but it’s so much more than a building! 

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I love absurdity.  A flying angry bear,  talking animals, weird creatures, intelligent fungi, guns that shoot bears (the bullets are bears. Live bears come out of the gun when you pull the trigger!). Absurdity, I say bring it!

 

I’d been hearing about Vandermeer’s A Peculiar Peril for a while now, and I knew nearly nothing about it. I knew that it had something to do with Thackery T Lambshead, I knew it had Vandermeer’s brand of weirdness, and reading the back cover copy made me laugh out loud, so we were off to a good start!  If you mashed up Mieville’s Perdido Street Station with a Neil Gaiman,  you might end up with something on the same plane as A Peculiar Peril.  

The book has an wryly funny, if tragic beginning.  Young Jonathan Lambshead is officially now an orphan. His mother disappeared in the Alps and is presumed dead, and his grandfather Dr. Lambshead has passed away. The novel opens with Jonathan arriving at his grandfather’s mansion and no one is there to greet him.  Through letters and a phone call (delivered through a phone that isn’t plugged in), Jonathan learns that if he can only organize and catalog his grandfather’s collectables, he will inherit all!  Well, It’s a good thing Jonathan invited his best friends Rack and Danny to help him. (Rack and Danny are brother and sister, “Danny” is short for Danielle, “Rack” is short for something much longer)

 

If you thought this was to be another adventure through Dr Thackery T Lambshead’s Cabinet of Curiosities. . . you’d be wrong. But that’s ok!   By way of a strange map, an even stranger marmot, and yet stranger doors that go elsewhere, Jonathan, Rack, and Danny find themselves in an alternate Earth called Aurora, where Napoleon is a literal talking head,  Aleister Crowley hasn’t realized he’s not in control, monsters abound, animals talk, shadows do as they please, and thanks to one particular bridge, you’ll be scared of puffins for the rest of your life. 

 

All Jonathan wants is to understand what the hell is going on.  Why does he need to find the Golden Sphere? What is he supposed to do when he finds it? Why do people seem to talk in code whenever he’s around? Is Danny hiding something from him? What the heck is the Chateau Peppermint Blonkers (I LOVE that absurd name, don’t you?), and who can he trust? 

 

This book truly is absurdity piled on top of absurdity, and mostly in a good way. Let’s start with Aleister Crowley, because this poor guy is just so apeshit cray cray.  Vandermeer’s Crowley rules Aurora with an iron fist, a creeptastic familiar named Wretch, and increasingly nonsensical pronouncements involving household trash and rabid animals. Or well, Crowley thinks he runs the show, but as the story progresses we learn more about how Wretch is, well, keeping Crowley under control. One of Crowley’s advisors is Napoleon’s head. Just his head. And when Napoleon gets to chatty, Crowley puts him up on a tall pedestal where no one can see or hear him. There’s also a mechanical elephant with an escape hatch under its tail, involving a conversation that screams to be read out loud in your best Monty Python voice. 

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much thanks to Erewhon Books for providing an ARC!

 

 

The opening pages of On Fragile Waves includes a short visual poem.  

 

At first, I was worried, was the whole book going to be poetry of this style? Because while I respect poetry, I’m not so good at “getting it”.

 

Ah, but this particular visual poem!  As it tap-danced across the page, I “got it”! And in a way, I hoped the entire book would be like this.  

 

The entire book is, and isn’t, like those opening pages.   That opening poem gives sound and texture and context to a small family,  two parents who first have a daughter, and then a son, and then the relief that the war is finally over.  

 

The rest of the book is them realizing they were wrong, and that the only way to escape war is to escape Afghanistan.

 

You know how poetry can by design feel a bit detached, in a good way?  Because words or meter or space is in someway constrained, the poet only puts in what is most important.  Emotion gets put in over exposition, experience gets put in over worldbuilding. Gut punches get put in over grammar.  On Fragile Waves isn’t weighed down by the ornaments of expected story telling grammar, the open and close-quotes around dialog, the verbs that give rise to how the person spoke those words. Yes, they are ornaments that are designed to, among other things, add characterization and impact to dialog, and yes, without them the dialog can float like dreamy clouds.   The only punctuation in On Fragile Waves is the bare minimum necessary to get the story across.  

 

When I’ve come across stories with the bare minimum of punctuation, the bare minimum of worldbuilding, first of all I tend to really like it, and second I tend to wonder what were these characters going through that all they had was the bare minimum? Were they exhausted? Hungry? Terrified of being noticed?   Obviously, writing prose in this manner is nothing more than a deliberate choice the author makes, knowing they’ll just need to do other things to make sure it’s clear who is speaking, and to help the reader get to know the characters better. In a way, writing like this is like writing a huge prose poem – because of preset constraints, you have to remove things that aren’t necessary. 

 

I think readers will either love Yu’s style, or be very turned off by it. 

 

I loved it on the first page, and I was weeping by the end. I found Yu’s writing style, and the story that she told to be very, very effective.   There’s hardly any worldbuilding or visual descriptions in this book, yet I could see everything, I could hear the storms, I could see the fear on people’s faces.  There’s hardly any overt characterization, yet I knew Nour’s yearning to play with other kids, I heard everything their father wasn’t saying.  

On Fragile Waves is a masterwork of negative space,  of using only a few words to communicate everything.  When I find myself unable to express my feelings, I tend to complain that English is worthless, because words aren’t the language that works for what I want to communicate. I have so much in me, and using English means I have to crush all those things into boxy words that don’t mean what I’m trying to say, and so often, in the end, I end up saying nothing, and having people describe me as “quiet”.  In On Fragile Waves,  Yu showed me there is a way to say what I’m feeling, it is possible!  Huh.  sounds like I need to find all the authors that write with minimum punctuation, and read them. Looks like this writing style really, really speaks to me!

 

Most of the story is told by Firuzeh, who I think is around 8 years old at the beginning of the story, and maybe around 10 or 11 by the end. And what’s fascinating about telling most of the chapters from her point of view is that all the adults know what’s going on, and some of them speak quite plainly. And she has absolutely no idea what’s going on. Her younger brother, Nour understands even less.  Her lack of understanding is partly that her parents are trying to shield their children from the horrors of war, and partly because she’s only nine years old!

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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.