the Little Red Reviewer

Zachary Jernigan imaveZachary Jernigan’s debut novel No Return received plenty of outstanding press.  Reviewers compared it to the epic scale of Frank Herbert’s Dune and the surreal strangeness of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, describing it as daring, hypnotic, and raising the bar.  The sequel to No Return,  Shower of Stones, hits bookstore shelves on July 7th.  Zachary was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his work.

 

Little Red Reviewer: No Return has been described as genre-defying, hypnotic, and a mixture of science fiction and fantasy. What inspired you to write No Return? Was it a challenge to blend genres and to have wizards and astronauts in the same world?

Zachary Jernigan: First off, thank you so much for having me! It means the world to be interviewed by invested fans and critics of the genre.

In answer to your question, my inspiration has always been other people’s writing. Authors like Samuel Delany, Roger Zelanzy, and Cordwainer Smith, specifically, are points of reference. With No Return, I wanted to re-create for a reader the same sense of wonder and possibility that I experience reading work that deals in big, world-shattering themes without restricting itself to just science fiction or fantasy. I love cool-looking characters doing impossible things in crazy places, but I also like those narratives to be written well. Hopefully, I’m paying proper homage to my literary idols and not embarrassing myself.

And yes, it was definitely a challenge. I mean, writing is always a challenge for me, but world-building is particularly taxing — perhaps especially so when mixing genres so obviously. Keeping all that crazy stuff consistent, in my own head but also within the story, was kinda hellish. Fun, but still hellish.

Some writers love all that creation and it doesn’t stress them out. I love it, too, but accounting for everything stresses me out.

 

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I read this stuff:

i read this stuff

 

I’m in the middle of reading this:

this alien shore

of those, here are the books I’ve already written reviews for:

empty

oh, none of them?  blergh.

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for exposureFor Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher, by Jason Sizemore

published June 20, 2015

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

 

 

 

Almost exactly a year ago, in an interview with Jason Sizemore, I politely asked him how Apex Magazine was  born. He must have realized what I was really asking was “were you absolutely crazy?”, because he answered tersely and politely. We both knew there was a lot more to that story.  For Exposure is the rest of the story.

 

We all know I don’t read much non-fiction, which is it’s own tragedy. So, a chance to read non-fiction, and learn about the dark underbelly and weird secrets behind the birth of Apex Publications?  Sign me up!

 

Full Disclosure:  I am a contributor at Apex Magazine, and Jason is a personal friend of mine. What does that mean for you? Not much, except that I’ve met most of people mentioned in For Exposure, yet I still missed half the jokes.

 

For Exposure starts with Jason’s childhood – his religious upbringing, watching horror movies with his mom, and falling in love with reading science fiction, horror, and fantasy. That little boy grew up, got a job in IT, had the worst 30th birthday ever, and decided there had to be something better than this. He dreamed big, and Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest was born. Shortly after that, Jason attended his first fandom convention with the goal of putting a promotional copy of Apex Digest into the hands of anyone at the con who would stand still long enough to talk to him. Didn’t he realize that con-goers love a)free stuff and b)con virgins? Also? Strange glitter covered ladies found in elevators should always be trusted and mysterious alcoholic drinks shouldn’t ever be trusted.  If you’re a con-goer yourself, you’ll get a chuckle out of these chapters. If you’re not a con-goer your mileage may vary.

 

For Exposure is full of the ups and downs of Apex, how it phoenixed through awful contracts, doomed distribution models, badly timed illnesses, the joy of socializing with amazing people at conventions, finding the right people for your team, and watching your risky decisions pay off.  Apex Magazine has been nominated for a Best Semi-Prozine Hugo three times, and novels, short stories, poetry and artwork published through Apex have won the Nebula, Aurealis, Rhysling, Stoker, and Chelsea. So you tell me if you think the risks Jason took have paid off.

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Brides Story 5 6 coverWith much thanks to Orbit and Yen Press for providing review copies of A Bride’s Story, our joint review series continues! And by joint review series, I mean who better to review a series about getting married than two love fools (that would be my husband and I), and by continues, I mean check out our review of volumes 1 and 2 here, and volumes 3 and 4 here.

Quick sum up for those of you just joining the fun: A Bride’s Story is a gorgeous manga series by Kaoru Mori (creator of Emma and Shirley). The story takes place in Central Asia in the early 1900s, and follows young women who have either just gotten married, are about to get married, or need/want to get married.  The artwork is amazing, the story is compelling the characters have depth, and there’s plenty going on behind the scenes too.  The title of the series directly translates to “Brides’ Stories”, but to avoid confusion, i’ll be referring to it as the translated title “A Bride’s Story“, so you know exactly what you’re looking for at the bookstore.  ;)

As we’ve done before with this series, the review is a discussion between my husband Michael and myself. We both wanted to focus on different things that caught our attention, so our review is basically us peppering each other with questions.  Let’s get to it!

the equally lovely back covers of the Manga

the equally lovely back covers of the Manga

Michael: So this time we are reviewing two very different volumes.  Volume 5 is the twin’s wedding and associated hijinks, while volume 6 is back to Amir and Karluk and a more dramatic, thoughtful story.

Andrea: Yeah, volumes 5 and 6 don’t really go together, because they are so different! Poor planning on my part! The twins wedding does have some laugh out loud moments, but I was really happy to get back to Amir, because she’s my favorite character. Not only is she awesome, but she’s got the best clothes!

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Aurora KSRAurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson

On bookstore shelves: July 7 2015

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

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As science fiction fans, we can easily list novels, movies, or TV shows that focus on the design, building, and eventual launch of a colony or generation ship.  The unquantifiable hope that goes into such a project, the reasons it is being built and launched, the wonder around what we’ll find when it arrives where it’s going. The end of the movie or TV show is typically the launch of the ship, people’s tearful goodbyes, the successful launch.  There are also the stories of people on board such a ship, people who have no connection whatsoever to the families and scientists who left a blue planet. But what of the last chapter of this story? What happens when the ship gets where it’s going, and the people onboard say “ok, now what?”.  What happens when life has become a destination instead of a journey? Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora is that story.

 

By the tone of the opening chapters, it’s easy to assume that Devi will be our main character.  She is a head engineer of a generation ship hurtling towards the Tau Ceti system, possibly the only person who really understands how the ship works, how to fix what breaks, and why the farms are dying. Whoever built and supplied the ship couldn’t have known what challenges it would face hundreds of years down the line.  Early in the story, Devi demands that the ship’s interface, later known as “Ship”, write a narrative account of the colonist’s journey. Ship doesn’t understand that humans have a finite life span, and Devi only has so much time to teach Ship about how to write a story. Ship is never taught about characterization, subtlety, or romances that burn slowly.  One of my favorite things about Aurora was watching Ship evolve.

 

While Ship is recording everything it can think of (which is what you are reading, by the way), Devi’s daughter Freya comes of age.  She overhears a heartbreaking conversation about island genetics and potential, yet grows up to be a prophet of sorts. Prophet is a terrible word, but it seems to fit. Later in her life, everyone comes to Freya for answers, assuming that since she is Devi’s daughter, of course she knows everything Devi knew.  Freya does, after all, have access to Ship’s vocal interface.

 

And when the ship arrives at it’s destination, then what? What happens then is the big idea of Aurora, it is what readers will dissect and argue over. There is so much I want to say here, about genetics and bacteria, and central nervous systems, and evolution, and so much more, but I can’t, because it would be a spoiler. The big question that goes with that big idea is “Is this novel optimistic or pessimistic?”  Is this a hopeful novel or a sad one?

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voyage basilisk coverVoyage of the Basilisk, by Marie Brennan

published March 2015

where I got it: purchased new

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Voyage of the Basilisk is the third book in Marie Brennan’s “Lady Trent” series. If you’re just joining us, I suggest skimming or skipping this review, as there are unavoidable spoilers. But do take a look at my reviews for the earlier books in the series!

For the last six years, Isabella Camherst has been second guessing some of her decisions in Eriga, allowing her townhouse to become a gathering place for the intelligentsia and curious, and raising her son Jake.  She pours over research and samples, trying to understand how to categorize the known species of dragons. There is quite a bit of talk of what makes something a dragon, or simply a reptile (if Pluto is a planet, why is this larger thing not a planet?). Is it the extraordinary breath? having wings? having a bird-like bone structure?  Are sea serpents not quite dragons since they don’t have wings, or even legs?  She’ll simply have to study them more!

Her plans come to fruition, and along with Jake and his governess, and fellow researcher Tom Wilker, she finds herself on the Royal Ship Basilisk, which is captained by Dione Aekinitos, known as the mad Captain.  Tiny quarters will be their home for at least the next year, but who cares? Isabella and Tom will have the chance to study sea serpents, fire lizards, and other species the most Anthiopians have only ever heard about second or third hand. Part of her funding has come from a local society, so part of her letters home include dispatches, essays, and researches to be published publicly.

Of course, things do not go as planned. She does see sea serpents. and fire lizards.  And meets a handsome and engaging archeologist. And has a secret marriage.  And there are politics and pirates and volcanoes. And references to Linear A, the Rosetta Stone, and how to translate untranslatable languages. And like in the first two books, there is much in the way of Isabelle the elder taking pains to “set the story straight”, and to make sure the reader knows that when she was traveling she had no way of knowing what people were saying or doing back home.

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superpositionSuperposition, by David Walton

published April 2015

Where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Pyr!)

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Imagine a fast paced thriller mashed up with a quantum physics book for a layperson. Now throw in family dynamics, a suspensful murder mystery/police procedural, and an unexplainable monster.  That’s Superposition. Ignore the terrible cover art, this is a pretty good book.

 

For such a short and ultra fast book, I liked how Walton developed the characters, especially Jacob and his family. Through conversations with Jacob’s wife Elena, and their kids, we immediately know a lot about the particulars of their family situation (one of these details becomes incredibly important later). As he spends more time with his daughter Alessandra, it was fascinating to watch him realize he might not be the amazingly perfect father he always thought he was. I won’t go as far to call the book heavy on “feels”, but Walton crams a ton character development into very little space. Other characters too, are quickly given depth – his friend Jean’s marital issues, his brother in-law Marek’s deep seated morals and loyalty. This is a science driven thriller, yet it read like a character driven novel. that’s a good thing.

 

To get the story off and running, Jacob’s old co-worker Brian randomly shows up at his house one night, terrified. Trying to prove a point, Brian shoots Elena, who suffers no ill effects.  The next thing Jacob knows, he’s on trial for Brian’s murder. Brian had been alive the evening he shot Elena, found dead the next morning in his lab, was seen alive that afternoon, and then was never seen again.  Jacob’s family has also disappeared, will he soon find himself on trial for their murders too?

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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.