the Little Red Reviewer

three bodyThe Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu

published in November 2014

Where I got it: purchased new

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This review contains minor spoilers.

 

I had a very tough time getting into The Three Body Problem.  In the first half of the novel, it’s hard to tell what’s going on, who or what is important to pay attention to. There are certainly interesting and important things that happen (and which are explained at the end), but I couldn’t understand how any of the dots were connected.

 

The story starts during China’s Cultural Revolution.  Professors, scientists, academics, anyone who is seen to be under the influence of western thoughts are persecuted and often psychologically tortured to the point of suicide. Ye Wenjie watches as her physicist father is murdered by teenaged Red Guards. Guilty by association, Wenjie is sent to the frontier to be politically rehabilitated through manual labor. A talented scientist herself, she is recruited to be part of the secretive Red Coast Base.  It will be years before anyone is allowed to talk about what happened at Red Coast.

 

The narrative jumps between Ye Wenjie’s life at Red Coast and modern day China, where nanomaterials researcher Wang Miao is pulled into a military investigation where he could be the key to stopping a dangerous enemy. Except no one will tell him who the enemy is, or where they are. He’s shown a list of scientists who recently committed suicide, and is exposed to a terrifying countdown that is counting down to, what exactly? Reluctantly, Wang becomes friends with Shi Qiang, the gruff police officer who had originally pulled him into the military meeting. A name on the list of dead scientists catches Wang’s attention, Yang Dong. He’s encouraged to visit Yang’s elderly mother, who turns out to be Ye Wenjie.

 

The connection between Wang and Ye Wenjie is a point of no return. For Ye, everything she’s worked towards is coming full circle. For Wang, he learns of a video game called Three Body, in which the goal of the game (or at least the first level of it) is to predict how long the next stable and chaotic eras will be in an environment in which the laws of orbital mechanics don’t seem to make any sense.  Players who understand what the game truly represents are invited to learn who made the game and why.

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ea_SoftApocalypseSoft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh

published 2011

where I got it: purchased used

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I’m not sure if this is the most recent book I finished,  but this is the book that got me out of the funk I’ve been in lately. I’ve barely been able to concentrate on a book for more than 15 minutes for the last few months, and Soft Apocalypse gently took me by the hand, and led me to a quiet room where there was no e-mail or texts pinging, no phone ringing, and no deadlines I’d missed. As the story was giving me the escape I so desperately needed, it coyly whispered in my ear “I’m going to give you something to care about. And then I’m going to make you watch it die”.

Soft Apocalypse was an experience in enforced escapism. And it was devastating.

And I did so desperately need this experience of escape. This is the book that forced me to put my perspectives back where they belong. Well done Will McIntosh – with your story of a society in denial, you talked me off my own ledge. Well done indeed.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching Robin Hobb deconstruct a character beyond the point of  no return (Forest Mage, I’m looking at you), Soft Apocalypse feels a bit like that at times, with McIntosh putting his characters through increasingly harrowing and disturbing events. And since everyone in the book assumes things can’t get any worse, they keep living their lives as if next year, or maybe the year after, everything will start to turn around.  But it doesn’t.  Things just keep getting worse, but so slowly that from day to day people barely notice. Resources slowly become scarcer, people become more afraid of strangers, and the police threaten people more than they help them.

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A few weeks ago I went to my first PenguiCon! it’s a tech/geek/DIY/Scifi convention in Detroit every spring. More techy stuff than i’m usually into, there was a soldering lab, a bunch of RFID stuff, 3-D printed hands, a guy talking about radiation safety, a solar telescope, and some fantastic astronomy panels. I was mostly interested in the Lit track – went to a panels on editing, genre mash-ups, and got to hang out with Ferrett Steinmetz and Matt Betts, and go to both of their readings.  There was of course the requisite dealer room, a ton of artists, a costume contest, and parties that made me feel like I’d fallen into a time warp.

and the best part? I got to spend the weekend with Lesley Conner! She also got to learn that I compulsively write things down. like, all the things, and all the time.

Lesley's the tall one.

Lesley’s the tall one.

here’s some more pictures!

robots who were programmed to dance

robots who were programmed to dance

The solar telescope. I saw sun spots!!

The solar telescope. I saw sun spots!!

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photo gallery of books, a.k.a. double stacking for the win.

except i don’t like books. or reading. #LOL

we had delusions of organizing our books as we unpacked and shelved them. We also had delusions that we had enough bookcases. I think a roadtrip to Ikea is in our future. Because the only thing better than more books is mismatched bookcases.

see how much i don’t like books? or reading?

this bookshelf has so many pretties!

this bookshelf has so many pretties!

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My goodness it’s been a long time since I did a post!  and today isn’t a real post, it’s just me, stopping by, saying “Hi! I’m still alive!”.  It’s been a stressful couple of weeks, but I am hopeful that things are on the upswing. and then, maybe i’ll have bloggy stuff for you (and photos for Richard).

erm, i got some silly owl pictures off the interwebs for you? Cuz I like silly owl pictures.

This owl looks like a muppet.

This owl looks like a muppet.

this owl looks like a muppet too.

this owl looks like a muppet too.

this owl looks like a fluffy muppet with a mustache.

this owl looks like a fluffy muppet with a mustache.

 

Um, a muppet-y owls, like, a thing?

american craftsmen coverAmerican Craftsmen, by Tom Doyle

published in 2014

where I got it: received review copy from the author (Thanks Tom!)

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Is it possible to really enjoy a book, but to at the same time be incredibly frustrated with it? It’s completely possible, and doesn’t stop you from enjoying the hell out of something. And it’s the experience I had with Tom Doyle’s debut novel, American Craftsmen.

 

The book starts with a bang, and gets off to a fantastic start. US Army Captain Dale Morton has his mission switched at the last minute, and something goes terribly wrong, pushing him to contemplate leaving the military. But, he’s a Morton. He *can’t* leave the military. This is where I fell in love with the premise of the novel. Morton is a Craftsman. Passed down through the generations, his family has held magical powers since the creation of the United States. Through agreements with the government, the Craft families have always protected the land and the country.  Along with the other Craftsman families, Morton is part of a secret unit in the US Military.  Unlike other Craft families, Dale can never escape his own family’s past.

 

Dale was a great point of view character, he’s brave but vulnerable, someone willing take risks and bend the rules when circumstances allow.  And oh, didn’t I mention? He has daily chats with his late grandfather’s ghost, and the house they live in has a personality all it’s own. I loved house!

 

House protects the Mortons, and keeps the older ghosts trapped in the basement. A few generations ago, a branch of the family, known as the Left Hand branch, went bad. They allowed their magic to be corrupted by greed. Dale knows their power surges through him. He just has to keep it at bay and not fall into the trap of their promises.

 

You’re gonna love House. You’re also gonna love the Sanctuary and The Gideons.

 

Ok, that’s most of what I liked. Let me tell you what frustrated me.

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2015-04-05 20.33.31The Gabble and Other Stories, by Neal Asher (short story collection)

published 2008, Night Shade Edition published 2015

where it got it: received review copy from Night Shade Books (thanks!)

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My first Neal Asher novel was The Skinner, an edgy  space opera that I’ve lovingly described as “magnificently disgusting”.  In that novel, the name of the game is adapt or die, and the denizens of the planet Spatterjay take full advantage of evolutionary opportunities. Even visitors who stick around long enough can watch their bodies change into something not quite human.  The Skinner made me an instant fan of Asher, and I’ve been watching for his titles ever since.

Many of Asher’s novels take place in his Polity Universe, which in a similar fashion to Banks’ Culture novels,  the novels all take place in the same universe, and occasionally characters from one book show up or are mentioned in another, but you can generally jump around in the order the books were published.   Not sure Asher is for you? Not sure you want to dive into a new universe? The Gabble, a short story collection of stores from the Polity will answer both of those questions for you.  If you ask me, you can just answer those two questions with a resounding Yes and be done with it.

What I loved about how Asher does alien planets and aliens is that everything is so damn alien. Why should aliens have two arms, two legs, a head, a nose and a mouth? If that configuration is unique to Earth, it follows that every planet will have a unique configuration based on evolutionary needs, the planet’s unique environs, and any one of a million other variables in how life works. No one we run into is going to look like us, think like us, or communicate like us. There is no gentleness here, no Star Trek style diplomacy.  Some species simply do not communicate with others, and humans are quite tasty.  It might sound harsh, but this is how nature works.   When it comes down to it, we are just animals in a food chain.

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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.