the Little Red Reviewer

As many of you know, I’m a non-fiction contributor at Apex Magazine. I  interview authors, and occasionally do some other fun stuff. If you’re a spec fic reader who is always looking for something a little weird, a little different, something unexpected, Apex Magazine is for you!  Jason and Lesley get this incredible magazine out the (digital) door every month, jam packed with surreal and atmospheric fiction, speculative poetry, author and artist interviews, and essays.  But that’s not enough for Jason and Lesley. No, they want to bring you more fiction! more poetry! more non-fiction!  For the next 2 weeks, the Apex Subscription drive aims to do just that:  gaining more subscribers means more people will enjoy this magazine every month, which means funding for more Apex awesomeness.  But why don’t I let Jason and Lesley tell you more? And why don’t we do that while surrounded by gorgeous Apex cover art?

oh, and by the way, there is something really awesome (and a little crazy) coming later this week. It involves you putting your thinking caps on, and me giving away a subscription to Apex.


Andrea: First things first. How did you each get involved with Apex Magazine? What are your responsibilities at the magazine?

Jason Sizemore: I’m the creator, owner, editor-in-chief, and He Who Writes the Checks. I started Apex in response to an early midlife crisis. Here I am, truly in midlife, and I’m still doing it.

Lesley Conner: I’d been working on the book side of Apex Publications for a few years when Cameron Salisbury decided to step down as the managing editor of Apex Magazine. Jason had recently stepped back into the editor-in-chief role and we already knew that we work really well together. He asked me if I’d be interested in filling the vacancy, and I immediately said yes.

As for what I do … a little of everything. Except write checks! That is all Jason!


Andrea: What goals are you hoping to reach with this subscription drive?

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darwiniaDarwinia by Robert Charles Wilson

published 1998

where I got it: purchased used




In spring of 1912, something so incredible happened, many people believed it to be a  divine miracle. That march, a circle of land enclosing Western Europe, much of the Mediterranean, and some of North Africa disappeared, and was instantaneously replaced with . . .  something new. The land was still there, but all the people, cities, buildings, animals, technology, everything was gone, replaced by strange new plants and animals. It was as if evolution had gone down a slightly different path countless eons ago. Rivers were in slightly different places, mountain ranges not exactly as they had been.  What was once Europe has now become Darwinia.


This world would never have a World War, the Titanic would never leave port, The Russian Revolution and Spanish Flu would never happen. Edgar Rice Burroughs publishes a novel called “Lost Kingdom of Darwinia”.  Alternate history indeed.  Scientists, biologists, naturalists and frontiersmen across the planet become nearly obsessed with the new world.  New species to categorize, a whole new frontier to explore and dominate.


Guilford Law was twelve years old when the “miracle” occurred. Now in his twenties, he and his family travel to what was once London where he has been hired on as a photographer for a scientific expedition. London is now a frontier town, population a few hundred.  The expedition starts out well enough, with the scientists arguing about the plants and animals they find that have obviously been around longer than the land has been like this. They find trees with decades worth of rings,  animals and insects that have evolved through countless generations, giant midden heaps around insect hives, the evolved skulls of predators.  If this new world has only existed for eight years, where did all the plants and creatures do their evolving?  As this line of inquiry gets more and more fascinating, the expedition hits some bad luck, and Law barely makes it back to London alive.  (I’d thought the expedition was going to be the main plot of the book, I couldn’t have been more wrong!) And don’t even get me started on the strange dreams the expedition members have, and what else they find in the jungle.

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the-starlit-woodThe Starlit Wood, edited by Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien

published Oct 18, 2016

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







I grew up with the standard mix of fairy tales that most American kids in the 80s were probably familiar with – Jack in the Beanstalk, The Pied Piper, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rumplestiltskin, The Red Shoes, Hansel and Gretel,  and more. They were a part of my childhood, in everything from Disney movies to bedtime stories. Most of these stories were cautionary tales: be a good/obedient/quiet  child, otherwise something bad will happen to you. In a handful of the stories the child was good and obedient, but their parent wasn’t, so the child paid the price. Moral of the story? Being a child is garbage, you better grow up as fast as possible.

Playing with fairy tales is fun, it always has been. Turning them on their side, fracturing them, giving them a modern take, taking them apart and putting them back together again. I’m not sure who has more fun in this situation – the author retelling a fairy tale, or the reader who gets to enjoy the finished product. The original stories were always so sparse, so light on the details. What happened before the story started? What happened after it ended? Did the person really deserve what they got? Maybe the witch had a really crappy childhood, maybe the little girl really hated her grandma, maybe “magic beans” means something different, maybe Rumplestiltskin was just really socially awkward. And don’t even get me started on the Pied Piper of Hamlin (Thanks Cooney!).

The Starlit Wood, edited by Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien joins a fine literary tradition of inviting authors to give an old story a new twist. While I was reading this book, my husband asked me if it was like one of it’s famous predecessors, Snow White, Blood Red, edited by Datlow and Windling, and I said this new one was a far more modern take. Granted, it’s been years since I read Snow White, Blood Red, but I don’t remember quite as much recreational drug use, post-human characters, 3-d printing, or humor. Yes, some of the stories in The Starlit Wood are laugh out loud funny, but others are just as horrifying, disturbing, and cautionary as the original tales. The sheer variety of types of stories and styles of storytelling in The Starlit Wood sets this anthology apart from others in the same vein. It’s as if the editors told their authors “I trust you. Now go do your crazy magic”. And the authors did their magic, and suddenly witches became caretakers and advocates, giants became not-so-godly post-humans, parents forced their losses on to others, children told themselves stories to escape their own awful childhoods, stories intertwined and diverged and then and found each other again, fortunes were made, and some people even got a happy ending. If the original tales were cautionary, these new ones are about throwing caution to the wind.

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I’ve really struggled with the blog in the last year. Fewer posts, fewer book reviews.  You’ve noticed.

and NO, this is NOT a “I’m retiring as a blogger!” post. Although it is a very long, rambling post.

This is a post about how I figured out why I was struggling with the blog. It’s easy to know what’s going on. A little harder to know why something is going on.

Here’s the what:

I’d read a book, I’d enjoy the book, I’d have plans to write a review.  I’d sit down at my computer, or sit to write some notes longhand, and nothing would happen.  I’d have thoughts about the book, I’d have things I wanted to say, but I absolutely did not care about saying those things. I was completely apathetic. I’d play candy crush for hours, watch cartoons, bingewatch whatever on Netflix, read cooking blogs. Three hours later, it’s the middle of the night, and I haven’t started a book review, or put together interview questions, or comment on anyone else’s blog, or anything. And I didn’t care.

Ya’ll know the spoon theory?  It’s where you have a finite amount of “spoons” to spend on physical and mental energy expenditures. Stressful activities take more spoons. If you have chronic pain, you’ll use a lot of spoons just to get dressed in the morning. The phrase “I haven’t got the spoons” is a polite way of saying participating in whatever activity will cause you to go into an energy deficit, and because #selfcare, it’s best if you don’t schedule that activity.  When it came to blogging, I was out of spoons.  When it came to a lot of things in my life, I was out of spoons.

I know what I write on this blog doesn’t matter. I know none of this counts as “writing” or as anything, really.  But in my mind, I put a lot of energy into this.  I like pretty metaphors, ornamented sentences. I like to write book reviews and other articles that I am proud of.  It’s not art, by a long shot, but I am creating something out of nothing. for the purposes of this particular blog post, let’s call what I do here art.  And art requires mental energy. or at least it does for me.

So, where were all my spoons going?  And was there any way to get them back? And thus, we get to the why.

My first thought was maybe I was depressed.  But I didn’t feel sad, I didn’t feel tired, I had very very few of the checklist things you find on those “do you suffer from depression?” internet quizzes.  What I did have was  anger and frustration, and heightened anxiety because I felt I couldn’t control the anger. I wasn’t depressed, I was Angry with a capital A.

I was angry at things in my life that were frustrating me. Things that made me feel helpless. Things that made me feel like I was bashing my head against a wall. Things I had no control over.  Those things aren’t going to be going away anytime soon, but here’s the thing the anger and anxiety was blinding me to:  I am in full control of how I respond to them.

I heard a great news story on NPR the other day, unfortunately I missed the beginning. It was a woman police officer talking about a time earlier in her career when she had lost control of a situation, it escalated, and the motorist she had pulled over spent the night in jail, and for about 15 minutes she felt like “she’d shown him!”.  But then she said that the moment he made her angry, she had lost control of the situation. And as a police officer, she should never have lost control, she should never have gotten angry, that it was her anger that allowed the situation to escalate. Had she not gotten angry at things this man had said to her, she simply would have kept calm and written him a ticket, and they both would have gone on their way and no one would have ended up in jail that night.

Anger and anxiety did nothing for me but eat my spoons. It took and took and took, and gave me nothing. Because I was so angry, I didn’t have spoons left for art.  Anger and frustration and the resulting anxiety was like a curtain that fell in front of me. I kept thinking if I just tried to create art on that curtain, everything would be fine. What I didn’t realize was the art was behind the curtain. My anger was keeping me from the bloggy art stuff that has brought me so much joy and satisfaction for the last six years.

at last, we come to moment of clarity:

I can have anger or I can have art.

I can realize that I am in control of how I respond to frustrating situations, or I can allow those situations to control me.  Thoughtlessly spending spoons on anger means there are barely any spoons left for art.


And you know what?  I’d much rather have art.


It’s been about two weeks since I had this little epiphany, and while those frustrating things in my life are still there,  they’ve become noticeably less bothersome.  And when they do reach the bothersome level? I’ll just reread this post, and know that I am in control of them, and not the other way around.


tade-thompsonTade Thompson’s work has appeared in Apex Magazine, Interzone, Escape Pod, African Monsters, and in numerous anthologies. Most recently, his horror novella “The Murders of Molly Southbourne” was acquired by His work combines thrillers with horror, first contact with mythology, and a voice that is purely Tade. His newest  novel, Rosewater, out of Apex Publications, will be available in November.  Part alien invasion story, part psychological thriller, and all intelligence, this novel is sure to make an impression.


Tade’s debut novel, Making Wolf, won the Golden Tentacle Award at the Kitchies.  He’s taught science fiction writing classes, loves the Netflix show Stranger Things, and suffuses his longhand manuscripts with arrows, flowcharts and doodles. All this is to say he’s an author you need to keep your eye on.  Be sure to check out Tade’s website and his twitter feed @tadethompson.


Tade was kind enough to let me pick is brain about Rosewater, the joys of writing and brainstorming longhand, and his favorite writers.

Little Red Reviewer: Congratulations on your new novel, Rosewater! What inspired this story, and how did the characters and plot come together?

Tade Thompson: Thank you! The ideas came first. I spent ages ruminating on a particular theme, almost as an exercise. Why would aliens come to Earth? I wrote a short story in the universe many years ago, and kept extrapolating. Then my main character, Kaaro, presented himself, and I started on the first draft. The plot grew around him and it changed quite a bit over subsequent drafts. At one point, for example, it was going to be a dark love story. Let’s just be grateful that didn’t happen. The most important aspect of Kaaro was his flawed character. His personality has been scored and mutilated by life. I fractured the story because that’s what I enjoy. Alejandro Inarritu, when talking about the film “21 Grams”, said that stories are rarely told in a linear fashion in real life. There are always digressions and culs-de-sac. I subscribe to that idea.

LRR: Aliens are so much fun to write, that authors have been writing alien invasion and first contact stories since the beginning of literature. I know there is something that makes Rosewater different, but my blog readers may not. So, what makes Rosewater different from other alien invasion and first contact novels?

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I’ve been dabbling in a few books lately, reading a few pages or a few chapters here and there, not really committing to any of them for the long haul. Book Attention Deficit Disorder? that’s badd.


Here’s what I’ve been reading:


Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson was written in 1998, won the Prix Aurora, and was nominated for a Hugo. The premise is that in 1912, a large portion of Europe and Northern Africa disappeared overnight and was replaced with alien flora and fauna. A new age of discovery and exploration begins.  I’m maybe 40 pages in so far, and having a good time.  It’s the little details so far that are really pulling me in – momentary discussion of Europeans living in America and Canada who realize they may be the last people on Earth who speak their native language, characters mention reading Tarzan like stories in pulp magazines,  it’s just a ton of fun all around. I hope the rest of it is as good as the beginning!


Terra Incognita by Sara Wheeler is about her experiences in Antarctica. I’m reading a non-fiction book, can you believe it?  In the early chapters that I’ve read so far, she’s mostly talking about early explorers who went to the poles, people who got stranded, areas of Antarctica that were named after who, etc. Many years ago, I read an article (or maybe short novel? or excerpt?) that described the two kinds of people who are interested in Antarctica: those who have never visited the continent, and those who are trying to get back. Basically, once you go, all you want to do is go back. It’s been interesting jumping from this book to Darwinia. They are both about exploration, survival, and the unknown.


Red Rising by Pierce Brown was written in 2014. It’s the first of a trilogy, and the final book in the series, Morning Star, came out earlier in 2016.  Imagine if Hunger Games took place in the world of Gattaca, throw in a lot of Machiavellian social expectations and a very angry teenager who has lost someone he loves, and you’ll have something approaching Red Rising. I really want to like this book, but it’s just way to YA for me. That isn’t a knock against YA, it’s just me saying there are things I enjoy reading and things I don’t enjoy reading. And I’ve read some great YA, this just isn’t one of those great YA books. I’ll probably DNF this one. If you’ve read this book, or this series, what did you think of it?

So, apparently I’m on a Star Trek kick?

ishmael-hamblyIshmael by Barbara Hambly

published in 1985

where I got it: purchased used





When I saw this book at a used bookstore a while back, I  couldn’t say no. I mean come on – Spock playing what looks like chess in what looks like it could be the wild west? Also? Any Spock story is a good story. And Barbara Hambly? Shut up and take my two bucks.

At Starbase 12, Kirk and Spock observe a Klingon transport ship behaving rather oddly. Spock manages to get aboard, and the next thing everyone knows, the ship has entered the mysterious storms of the nearby Tau Eridani Cloud and disappeared. Kirk blames himself for Spock’s disappearance and fears the worst.

Suffering from amnesia, Spock wakes up in the woods under the blue sky of a planet. The year is 1867 and he’s in Seattle, which is a muddy logging town on the frontier. Injured and weak, Spock is taken in and nursed back to health by Aaron Stemple. Nicknamed Ishmael, and introduced around as Stemple’s nephew, Spock’s memories very slowly return to him. He knows his homeworld is elsewhere, he has bits and pieces of memories of technology. Meanwhile, Stemple give Ishmael a job at his mill, and helps him learn about the politics of the Seattle community. The story rambles a  bit, with Ishmael sharing his contemporary and progressive worldview, and inadvertently widening the worldview of those he befriends in Seattle. It doesn’t matter what Spock is doing, it’s always fun to watch him interact with humans who act impulsively and irrationally. And of course, I heard every line in my head in Leonard Nimoy’s voice.

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FTC Stuff

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.