the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for April 2011

Yesterday, I led you to believe that blogging/reading can lead to anti social behavior.  It wasn’t a lie by any means, and we had a good laugh, and many of you hit on where the next direction I was taking this.

We’ve all had the experience of asking our friends and acquaintances what they read, often to have half of them say they haven’t finished a book since college, and the other half reads authors that don’t interest you in the slightest. And don’t worry, they feel the same way about your  M John Harrison, Tim Powers, and Cathrynne M. Valente. We’ve all been known at one point in our life as that weird person who reads those kinds of books

Our homes and apartments are often overflowing with books, many of us are on a first name basis with local librarians and probably carry more than one library card. We’re often fluent in the language of interlibrary loan.  There isn’t much we won’t do for our fix.

Bibiophiling and blogging the results can often highlight our genre specific tastes, sometimes making it even more difficult to make book friends “in real life”.

But we’ve got WordPress, blogger, twitter, facebook, and tumblr, who needs old fashioned socializing in real life? In some ways, us bloggers are the pioneers of the new social. We’ve massaged wordpress to find new bookfriends for us (yay tag surfer!), we know the ins and outs of twitter beyond following Jon Stewart and Perez Hilton.

Our main goal in this blogosphere experiment is to find people who have similar interests as we do. People who like vampire steampunk, or new weird, or alternate history or epic fantasy or hard SF or whatever. Beyond the hours of reading every week, we’re spending additional hours writing blog posts or podcasts (or both!), commenting on the articles written by friends, and communicating via twitter. Many of us have had personal conversations with the authors that got us addicted to our genre of choice in the first place. We send fanmail, we go to conventions, we’re active in forums.

Yes, I said hours. That’s in, more than one hour, every single day. And if that’s not a commitment to being social, I don’t know what is.

Blogging isn’t anti-social: it’s the new social.

I know i’m not the first (or second, or third or tenth or hundredth) person to come up with this, but does reading (and then book blogging) enable antisocial activity? Sure, we talk about books we read and enjoy, and often start conversations with strangers over the summer reading table at Barnes & Noble, but that’s like a 10 minute conversation only after 8 hours of reading.

I’m already a fairly non-social person, does my love for reading (a solitary activity if ever there was one) enable me to be even less social? I’m not a complete hermit, I do hang out with friends quite often (well, often for me). I do get out of the house. But compared to a lot of people I know, I’m pretty non-social.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the company of others. Just sometimes I enjoy my book more.

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 Yarn, by Jon Armstrong

Published in 2010

Where I got it: borrowed from a friend

why I read it: I loved Armstrong’s Grey.

How to categorize this? scifi?  dystopian? fashionpunk? craftpunk? socio-political satire?  I think I’ll go with mindblowing.   If you are looking for something unique and original and strangely wonderful, I highly recommend Jon Armstrong. His vision of a future America is as frightening as it is exotic.

Not a sequel to Grey, but taking place in the same world, in Yarn  Armstrong brings us back to a futuristic west coast America where cities are vertical, GMO crop corporations are  integrated down to the clothing their workers wear and the food they eat, and in the cities, fashion is life. Information and secrets can be embedded in a single thread, and competing fashion houses are known to bring guns to a knife fight. The city of Seattlehama teems with salesWarriors, tourists, sex workers and fashionistas.

In Yarn, Armstong again takes his knack for taking things to the nth degree to the next nth degree.  Business is war, and fashion is life. For a salesWarrior,  a day without a sale can quite literally mean death, and for the fashionable (and who isn’t?) bad fashion is akin to social suicide.  SalesWarriors swarm through the tourists spewing their dramatic slogan filled warTalk, while violently keeping the competition at bay, and jobbers take whatever contracts they can.  Conspicuous consumption is the name of the game, and if your jacket is a week old it’s already 6 days out of date.   In a world like this, how far will people go to obtain power over business and fashion?

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A Chicago public school has banned lunches brought from home (exceptions made for students with allergies).   I’m really, really hoping this is a hoax, but it’s looking pretty legit.

Read all about it in the Chicago Tribune.  It’s been getting tons of well deserved negative press, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the school changes their tune.  I can understand that the school wants their students to eat healthy lunches,  but have you actually seen school cafeteria food lately?  YUCK.

(by the way, that photo is from Fed Up With School Lunch, a blog by a public school teacher who does NOT teach at the school in question.  )

My personal political feelings on the issues don’t matter (well, they do, I’m on the internet, and my opinion is important, damn it!), and this post ISN’T ABOUT MY OPINION on this particular issue.  What does matter, is that this sounds like perfect science fiction story fodder. And that’s what this post is about. 

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Contra Alliance, by Tom Kolega

Published: 2010

Where I got it: Received review copy from the author

Why I read it:  I don’t read much military SF, and this was an opportunity to read something outside of my usual comfort zone.


In the late 1800’s, a space-faring race called the Nerrial discovered Earth and made it their mission to secretly help us find a peaceful way into the future. They had already seen what warfare can do to a civilization, and they wanted to save Earth from that fate. Able to pass as humans, Nerrial emissaries raised their children and passed their secrets down. As the years went by, and warfare on Earth evolved from dangerous to brutal to nuclear, the Nerrial philosophy became one of influence, rather than observation. The emissaries worked their way high into the militaries of the Earth superpowers, and stopped educating their children about who and what they were. One day, soon, the time will be right for the Emissaries to reveal their secret.

Jump ahead a few more generations, and it’s Earth, during the 2030’s. Embittered America is no longer the superpower she once was, and International peacekeeping missions have their hands full dealing with South American drug cartels, the Russian mafia, and corrupt dictators on a handful of continents.  A worldwide anti-civilization, anti-establishment terrorist organization known as The Revolution has started funding criminal organizations and providing high tech weapons to anyone willing to ally with  them.   NATO knows it’s time to bring in their three teams of the most skilled and most talented soldiers, the strike force known as CONTRA.

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or as I like to call it “I didn’t finish anything yesterday, so I don’t have a review for today”.

You’re looking at Contra Alliance, by Tom Kolega, which I’m about halfway through, and Yarn, by Jon Armstrong, which I’m about 70 pages into.

I’ve been reading a boatload of Fantasy lately, so it’s nice to have two pure SF books going at once.

Contra Alliance has a fun comic booky cover, and was a good opportunity to try something that’s a little out of my comfort zone – YA military SF.  It’s easy reading, but a little too YA for my tastes, so of course, I had to balance it out with Yarn, which is shockingly NC-17 at times.  perfect balance, if you ask me.

so, what are YOU reading?

Midnight Riot  (Rivers of London/UK)  by Ben Aaronovitch

Published in 2011

where I got it: library

why I read it: Rivers of London was all anyone was talking about a few months ago! And it’s the book for my local SF book club.

Not unlike Isaac Newton, Probationary Constable Peter Grant asks too many questions. As I’m having flashbacks of Newton’s obsession with Alchemy in Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, Peter is getting marked down on performance reviews for being too easily distracted.  It’s not that he can’t focus, it’s that he’s interesting in everything. How everything works, why it works, what to change to make it work differently or better. Newton would be proud.

(by the way, go have some fun with some Midnight Riot themed madlibs here.

When Peter finds himself talking to a ghost at a murder scene, he’s either going crazy, or he’s got a touch of the gift for the supernatural.  Shortly after, he’s assigned to a special branch of the Metropolitan Police. So special in fact, that other than Peter there is only one member, an Inspector Nightingale, who eschews modern technology, dresses too formally, and has a tenuous relationship with the rest of the Met, only partly because he happens to be a wizard.   So Peter’s new life begins:  copper by day, magical apprentice by night.

The pop culture jokes are hilarious, I found myself laughing out loud every few pages.  There’s pop culture references, puns galore, and buckets of British slang that had me heading to Wikipedia for the translations (and boy does Austin Powers suddenly make more sense!). Don’t let the unfamiliar slang concern you, there really isn’t that much of it and you can figure it all out contextually.

I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy and historical fiction recently, so it was very refreshing to read something that takes place right now.  Didn’t hurt either, that Midnight Riot is the most fun I’ve had in a while!

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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.