published in 2005
where I got it: purchased used
Hard to believe I haven’t read any Brandon Sanderson, isn’t it? His name has been a buzzword for quite a while now, I’ve seen more than a few Sanderson read-alongs pop up, the dude is like, everywhere. One afternoon at my local indie bookshop, I asked “got any Sanderson that isn’t in the middle of a series?”, and I came home with a copy of Elantris.
We open with some history of the world, where the god-like citizens of Elantris never wanted for anything, and kept everyone safe. Their magic suffused everything, allowing Elantrians to glow and magical creatures to wander the world. Then something horrible happened, there was a short war, and now the grand city of Elantris sits abandoned. Only those who have no one else to go, those who have been afflicted with the horrifying Shaod disease now live in Elantris.
In nearby Kae, Prince Raoden awaits the arrival of his fiance Sarene. By the time she arrives, the King has already announced the Prince has died of a wasting disease. Sarene can’t go home, so she sticks around, and learns as much as she can about her new family. Also, when can she stop wearing black to mourn a husband she never met? She’s not the only one new to the court. There’s a religious war brewing, and Hrathen, a high priest of Fjordell is on a mission to convert the citizens of Arelon before they can be viewed as heretics.
A while back I got talking about my cookbook collection. The husband and I have been on an Asian food kick lately – Pakistani food, Thai Food, Malaysian curries, fancy Ramen, Chinese dumplings. We’ve been exploring the joys of curries thanks to this cookbook:
and one of our favorites out of here is Japanese Curry Rice. I think I explained it to my parents as “imagine your favorite beef stew kicked up with curry spices and then served over rice. It’s not as spicy as it sounds”. Well, I lied. it IS as spicy as it sounds. That’s what the rice is for. Plain full-fat greek yogurt on the side is good for cooling your mouth down.
I called this blog post “One way to make Curry Rice” because I’m sure there are a million ways. This is our way, slightly adapted from the Curry Cuisine recipe.
Ready for lots of badly lit photos of delicious food? Are you prepared to dirty every saucepan and measuring spoon in your kitchen? let’s go!
Bone Swans, stories by C.S.E. Cooney
published July 2015
where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Mythic Delirium Books!)
Gene Wolfe wrote the introduction to Bone Swans, and describes her writing style simply as “pure Cooney”. He then offers a challenge to any reader of this collection: to define “pure Cooney”.
The tl;dr version of this review is my answer to Mr. Wolfe’s challenge:
Claire Cooney’s writing style is lyrical, playful, poetic, and gleeful. It reflects the pure joy she gets from the act of storytelling. You know that look on a child’s face when they’re telling you a new joke they’ve learned? they get this “boy are you gonna love this!” look on their face? You almost don’t want to hear the end of the joke, because you want that child to be that happy forever. that look on their face? That moment is what Cooney writes. You don’t want the story to end, because you don’t want that feeling of gleefulness to end. To sweeten the deal, she writes prose that begs to be read outloud, offers up word plays and alliterations, and her metaphors shamelessly flirt with the literal. This is prose that would tap out it’s own rhythm if given a set of drums or a page of staff paper. The greatest trick Cooney ever played is convincing the world that storytelling like this is easy.
However, these are not gleeful or happy stories. Yes, they are poetic, playful, and witty and darkly humorous, but they are not happy. These are stories of revenge, human sacrifice, a side of fairy tales even darker than Grimm’s, and the damn fucking creepiest version of an afterlife (if that’s even what it was) that I have ever seen. Cooney seems to return over and over to a theme of “you can’t escape what you are”. How does someone who oozes joyfulness write this dark, disturbing violence? Let me show you:
I had so much I wanted to stay about The Apex Book of World SF Vol 4 edited by Mahvesh Murad that I couldn’t possibly jam it all into one blog post. Last week I talked about a few of my favorite stories in the anthology, and today I’m going to talk about a few more. With over 24 stories in the anthology, it was easy to have a very long list of favorites. I took the list of stories I really enjoyed, and cut it in half. Because I need to leave you something to discover on your own, don’t I?
Here are my thoughts on yet more of my favorites out of The Apex Book of World SF Vol 4.
Single Entry, by Celeste Rita Baker – Written in dialect, it was all I could do not to read this entire story out-loud. You can feel the energy of the carnival in the rhythm of the words, hear people singing and cheering. Dressed as the planet Earth, the protagonist is a single entry in the carnival. But where is the music coming from? How does their costume swell and shrink to fit through every door and fill every plaza? Momentarily so big people can see themselves and their homes on the planetary surface, the walking dancing planet loses steam and shrinks back down to human size. And then keeps shrinking. Just a beautiful story to read, it feels like a song whose time signature changes as time flows.
The Language of Knives by Haralambi Markov – I’m not sure how much I enjoyed reading this gory, grisly story, but i certainly won’t ever forget it. In a bakehouse, a loved one is prepared to be fed to the gods. His family strips his body, dries his bones, makes him into meal. A death rite combines with a coming of age rite, wrapped in a story of love both romantic and familial. That this story is really a love sonnet makes swallowing the subject matter a very strange experience.
Pepe by Tang Fei – Pepe and her brother are at an amusement park. But they aren’t real children. Created with springs inside, Pepe, her brother, and all their siblings were created to tell stories. But oh, the stories they tell! They were born many years ago, and in the time since, their siblings have been destroyed. Such a dichotomy in this story, Pepe and her brother are lightheartedly enjoying the amusement park, the rides, the lights, the laughter of children. But her brother dwells on their dark past, the memories of watching the other storytelling children pulled out of crowds and forced to talk, forced to expose their identities. Remember the movie AI: Artificial Intelligence? this story feels a little like that, but completely from the kids points of view. They never asked for this life, they were never given a choice. They were designed and programmed, and are now locked in a life they wouldn’t choose for themselves. But Pepe’s brother has one last choice to make, one last opportunity for freedom.
Today I’m thrilled to have my friend Lesley Conner visit Little Red Reviewer. Lesley is an author, the Managing Editor of Apex Magazine, and all around amazing person. A wrangler of slush readers and girl scouts, Lesley somehow manages to find time to write her own fiction. Her debut novel, The Weight of Chains, comes out today from Sinister Grin Press. A historical thriller of power, torture, and escape, The Weight of Chains is the story of Gilles de Rais and the woman who defied him.
Lesley was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about her new novel. Let’s get to the interview!
Little Red Reviewer: Congratulations on your forthcoming novel, The Weight of Chains! What can you tell us about the novel?
Lesley Conner: Thank you! I’m extremely excited!
So what can I tell you about The Weight of Chains … I could go the old boring route and tell you it’s an alternative history horror novel inspired by the crimes of Gilles de Rais.
That’s true, but it doesn’t really get to the heart of it.
The Weight of Chains is about power and control. Gilles de Rais is nobleman who has absolute control over every aspect of his life. He’s also a killer with very dark desires, and he uses his status and power to make sure that he can play out his every fantasy. It is a novel full of torture and death. It’s also one that examines what happens to the people who get swept up in that world, who have no control and no choice, but have to fulfill their master’s wishes for safety and security, or just to make it through one more day. But what happens if Gilles’s control begins to slip? What if another power comes into play and the carefully constructed life that Gilles has built begins to crumble?
The Weight of Chains is full of murder, deceit, magic, desperation, a demon, and a little girl who wants to figure out how to do more than just survive. She wants to be happy.
LRR: The novel takes place in medieval France. Tell us about some of the research you did to get the historical details just right.
LC: Gah! Research! By the time I was finished with the novel, I was to the point of telling any who would listen that if I EVER said I wanted to write another historical novel to smack me. And then I immediately got an idea for a novel heavily influenced by the 1920s New York speakeasy scene and fell right back down the research rabbit hole.
Researching a novel set in 1436, France was difficult to put it mildly. First, Gilles de Rais was a real person. I spent a lot of time reading about him, the crimes he committed, and the people who were involved. The facts of his life have been twisted – he really did hire a wizard named Prelati, but the real Prelati was very much a conman, whereas the one in my novel is a victim of Gilles cruelty – but anyone who knows about the historical figure will see little details that point to the real man.
Second, a major character in my novel is an eleven year old peasant girl. There is little detailed information about the peasantry at this time. So much what is out there seems to focus on nobility. Finding information about peasant children – girls in particular – was even harder. I wanted details like footwear and what they would eat to be as accurate as possible, so I ended up contacting some historical re-enactors. When all else fails, ask an expert! They were fantastic about answering my questions. Plus, they were always in character and would begin emails with “Dear fair lady,” which is kind of fun.
LRR: Without giving us any spoilers (if possible), what is your favorite scene in the novel?
LC: There is a scene where Jeanetta is serving Christophe a bowl of soup. It doesn’t seem like much, but something happens that makes her realize that life could be good, it could be more than the drudgery of moving through each day doing what needed to be done so she and her family could survive, she could be happy. It’s a very small moment and isn’t incredibly flashy, but it is integral to Jeanetta having the will and the strength she needs at the end of the novel. I don’t know that it’s my favorite scene (can a writer really pick a favorite?) but it always makes me smile because it’s a sweet moment, and I’ll be honest, there aren’t a whole lot of sweet moments in The Weight of Chains.
published Aug 25, 2015
where I got it: receive review copy from the publisher (thanks Apex!)
Quick! how many anthology series can you count on one hand! Some of you probably need both hands and a foot. If you’re looking for a new anthology (or just want to read some compelling and fun fiction), allow me to introduce you to the Apex Books of World SF Volume 4, which showcase speculative fiction from around the globe. Lavie Tidhar edited the first three volumes, and he’s passed the reigns to Mahvesh Murad. I’ve read and reviewed the first and third volumes of this series (and I’ve got Vol 2 around here somewhere), and Lavie, I gotta tell you, Mahvesh put one helluva book together. You better make sure you’ve contracted her for at least three more of these! In more than 24 stories, this volume takes us from Pakistan to Israel to Mexico to Iceland to Bangladesh to Uganda to Singapore to Kenya and beyond.
Reading science fiction from elsewhere feels a little like reading mythology from elsewhere. Mythology doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and neither does speculative fiction. Both are affected by current and previous cultural mores, ecology, weather, local resources, politics, rivals, etc. Well, so is any kind of story telling, and science fiction is just another type of story to tell. And like mythology, people everywhere use fantastic fiction to explain something that seems like magic to the uninitiated. I used the term fantastic fiction because these stories bleed through and beyond the assumed limitations of science and even speculative fiction – in this collection you’ll find magical realism, mythology retellings, the languages of artificial intelligences, mourning practices, experimenting scientists, families torn apart, and more. A handful of these stores are available online, if you want a sample:
The Good Matter by Nene Ormes (at Io9)
Six Things We Found During the Autopsy by Kuzhali Manickavel (Apex Magazine issue 76)
The Four Generations of Chang E by Zen Cho
My absolute favorites in this anthology were Like a Coin Entrusted in Faith by Shimon Adaf and The Four Generations of Chang E, by Zen Cho. Here are my thoughts on those and a number of others. I’ve split this review into two parts, because I just had so much I wanted to say!
Setting up Home by Sabrina Huang – a very quick and very effective story in which an amnesiac man’s empty apartment slowly fills up with furniture, gifts, and household items. It’s quite magical actually. The final item is accompanied by a note from his father, explaining how this final gift should be “used”. There is a lack of overt context and background, but you’ll figure out what’s going on pretty quickly. I do wonder though, how the man will react when he figures out what’s happened.
In Her Head, In Her Eyes, by Yukimi Ogawa – young Hase is a servant girl at the compound of wealthy indigo dyers. She does her job, but everyone treats her cruelly. She claims to be from a mythical island, and here to learn about patterns, that she’s been tasked with bringing home as many patters as she can. What makes Hase so weird is that she wears a metal helmet that she never takes off. It covers her face, and can’t be pulled or pried off. Hase also seems to love being teased and treated badly, as to her, this is just another pattern. What’s really on her home island? When someone finally does she her face, that’s when the story really gets weird. Hase certainly did learn something from her time with the indigo dyers, and it’s not what anyone expected.
published in 2014
where I got it: purchased new
If this is the first you’ve ever heard of the Laundry, I advise starting at, or at least near, the beginning. Start at the beginning with The Atrocity Archives (book 1) and then pick up Jennifer Morgue (book 2), or read book 2 and then book 1, and then you can generally hop around a bit once you’ve gotten a feel for what the hell is going on. Fanatics will disagree, but I say yes, you can hop around in this series, and read the books as you come across them. Anyways, the premise is that Bob Howard, unassuming IT professional, saw something he shouldn’t’ve, and suddenly found himself working for a secret British Intelligence service known as The Laundry. When things go bump in the night, these are folks who bump back. And by “bump in the night”, I mean otherworldly horrors of the deep who see us as a snack, and by “bump back” I mean employ computational demonologists, zombies, and enslaved demons. It’s a good time, and you can’t tell your friends or neighbors what you do for a living, ever. Bob’s wife Mo is also employed by The Laundry, and she is responsible for one of their most powerful weapons – a violin that screams and kills. Hard to tell if she owns the violin or if the violin owns her. It gives her nightmares and makes her fingers bleed. I guess it comes down to what moves faster? The Laundry? Human stupidity? the hunger of Cthulhu? Or the planets and stars aligning in such a way that none of it will matter any more.
I have always loved the narrative voice of this series. Bob is sarcastic and smart, and the only color his humor comes in is black. When you know the end of the world is right around the corner, gallows humor is where it’s at. But where his wife Mo is concerned? Bob is a puddle of caring, heartfelt goo for her. It’s quite adorable, actually. Bob could read me the advertisements in the phone book, and I’d probably be happy. Actually, Bob really needs to read me the instructions of how to do my taxes. Because that would be fucking awesome.
To shift gears ever so slightly, all it takes is looking at formulas and certain mathematical equations in just the right way for something awful to happen. Maybe you let a demon through. Maybe you let it take a chomp out of your brain. Maybe the side effect is a scorching allergic reaction to sunlight, and gaining an addiction to human blood. It’s really too bad, as that’s exactly what happened to a bunch of code monkeys who work for a bank. With no one to guide them, what are these baby vampires to do?