the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for April 2012

The Book of Skaith by Leigh Brackett

Published in 1976

where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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On the edges of explored space lies the dying planet of Skaith. Orbiting a dying ginger star, the cooling habitable areas of Skaith grow smaller and smaller, crushing her tribal populations ever closer to a boiling point. Minimal interaction with the Galactic Union has brought much needed resources along with one last hope of emigration. When the Galactic Union’s emissary, Simon Ashton, goes mission on Skaith, his adopted son Eric John Stark frantically plans a rescue mission.

Much of Skaith is ruled by the theocratic Lords Protector.  As with most religious leaders, once upon a time they had the best of intentions: feed the hungry, house the homeless, help the needy.  Many generations later, a large portion of the population has become “Farers”, homeless, hungry and resourceless, they demand food and shelter from the farmers and herders who have been virtually enslaved by the Lords Protector.  Every year there are more Farers and less food to feed them, and fewer farmers to grow the food.

Stark arrives on Skaith with a little money and the clothes on his back, and it’s not long before he gets a lead on Ashton’s location.  But it will take more than offworlder smarts to outwit Mother Skaith and her bounty of genetically modified tribal populations. Once upon a time, when the ginger star was younger, Skaith had knowledge and technology and many of her peoples chose to force genetic mutations, some to be able to live under water, others to fly, others to have telepathic abilities. In Dying Earth fashion the knowledge behind the mutations has been lost.

Skaith was ripe for revolt before Simon Ashton or Eric John Stark arrived.  To survive, Stark will need to call on the darker tendencies of his savage youth. Stark isn’t interested in being the savior the people of Skaith so desperately need. He isn’t interested in becoming the new leader for the tragically telepathic Northhounds. But we don’t always get what we want, do we?

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I don’t always read manga, but when I do, it’s usually Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa. I got my first taste of this way back in the early 2000’s, and I’ve been following it ever since.

Ten years and 27 volumes later, two anime series, a movie and more t-shirts and fake tattoos than I want to think about, my journey with the Elric Brothers has come to an end.  Nearly my entire adult life, a small part of my mind has constantly been revolving around this series: waiting for the next issue, getting frustrated when the story moved too fast or too slow, masochistically smiling when every issue ended in a cliffhanger and I had to wait 6 months (at least!) for the next one, my shifting character crushes, losing my squeamishness towards prosthetics and amputation, etc. And unlike the jerk at the grocery store who insisted on telling me what happens at the end even though I asked him not to, this post has no spoilers. Just lots and lots of background.

More than you ever wanted to know about:

The Story

Once upon a time, there were two brothers, the elder named Edward and the younger named Alphonse. They lived with their mother and were happy. Sometimes she got this sad look on her face, especially when she thought about their father, who had abandoned them. The two brothers would do anything to make their mother smile. They studied the alchemy book their father left behind, using their new found science based magic to fix things around the house, make new toys, and make their mother smile. Alchemical transmutation was so easy, all you needed was the parts of the whole – a broken toy, a bowl of sand, a lump of metal, and you could make anything of equal element and mass – a fixed toy, a piece of glass, a new frying pan.

And then she got sick. And when she died, the brothers blamed her illness on their absent father. If only he had been there, they could have afforded a better doctor. If only he had been there, her sadness and loneliness wouldn’t have led to illness.  In the alchemy books of their father was the secret and dangerous answer. Human transmutation: take all the elements and pieces of a human body, salt and carbon and phosphorus and blood and water and everything else, and transmute the pieces into the whole. Bring their mother back, see her smile again.

But there is a reason human transmutation is forbidden, a reason it is hidden in code words and secret symbols in the alchemy texts.  Edward and Alphonse were too naive to realize why it should never be attempted. I won’t go into the details of the disaster, but the alchemical accident left Edward missing an arm and a leg, and left Alphonse as nothing but a soul attached by blood rune to a suit of armor.

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The Troupe, by Robert Jackson Bennett

published in March 2012 from Orbit Books

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher

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George is sixteen years old – proud, naive, too talented for his own good, and a little too coddled by well meaning old ladies. And he wants what all teenagers want: validation. He wants his musical talents to be recognized by an applauding audience, and more than anything he wants to find his father. Currently employed as a pianist at a local Vaudeville theatre, George resigns the moment he learns the Silenus Troupe is in town. You see, George believes Heironomo Silenus is his long lost father. The moment he meets the man, his suspicions are confirmed, as George could easily be a younger, thinner Heironomo Silenus. Never the fatherly type, Silenus attempts to offer George what familial feelings he can.

George isn’t the only one looking for Silenus, and a new audience isn’t the only reason The Silenus Troupe moves on every few days. Tight on their heels are strange masked men dressed all in grey, creatures that aren’t quite human, aren’t quite of our world. There is something frightfully strange going on, and if Silenus isn’t going to tell George the truth, young George will just have to investigate and learn for himself.

Beyond the odd performances no one can rightly remember, in the Silenus Troupe nothing is as it seems, and yet, everything is sort of, exactly, as it seems. Their puppeteer Tyburn loves his puppets the way a saner person might adore children, their strongwoman Franny couldn’t possibly be able to lift the weights she does with her tiny frame, their singer Colette is mighty sensitive to racial issues for a royal Persian Princess, and their cellist Stanley never says a word. Their musical numbers are far more than musical numbers, and their magic show is something far darker and deeper than sleight of hand or visual trickery. Silenus is travelling the country looking for something specific, something he has obsessed about nearly his entire life.

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We had so much fun with our The Lies of Locke Lamora read along, is everyone ready to dive into the sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies?  A very different adventure for our remaining Gentlemen Bastards, and even when they don’t go looking for trouble, trouble finds them.  you can read my not-too spoilery review here.

 

how to get involved, you ask?

If you participated in the Lies of Locke Lamora read along, congrats! you are already on my mailing list and don’t have to do anything, unless of course you don’t want to do this read along. If that’s the case you can a) ignore my e-mails, or b) e-mail me back and ask me to take you off the list.

If you didn’t participate in the Lies of Locke Lamora read along (srsly, you totally missed out), and you would like to participate in this one, just leave a comment on this post and I’ll add you to the list. no spam, I promise, just once weekly e-mails with that week’s discussion info.

Here’s the tentative reading schedule, and again, I’ve referred to chapter headings as the page numbers are different depending on which version you have (paperback, hardback, etc):

If you start reading right around April 20th, you’ll be all set :

Week 1 – beginning thru End of Chapter 3, discussion questions go out Thurs April 26, posts go up Sat April 28
Week 2 – Reminiscence “The Lady of the Glass Pylon” through end of Chapter 6, discussion questions go out thurs May 3, posts go up Sat May 5
Week 3 – Chapter 7 thru end of Chapter 10, discussion questions go out May 10, posts go up May 12
Week 4 – Chapter 11 thru end of chapter 13, discussion questions go out May 17, posts go up May 19
Week 5 – Chapter 14 to the end, discussion question go out May 24, posts go up May 26

Same schedule as before, you’ll get an e-mail on Thursdays with discussion starters, and posts will go up on Saturdays, after which we’ll all go crazy all weekend commenting and tweeting and generally ignoring our families and other obligations whilst being total pests on the interwebs.  Sounds like fun, right?

 

 

 

And because I am an attention whore who can’t help but brag:

it’s funny, because he’s not scruffy.

She Nailed A Stake through His Head: Tales of Biblical Terror, edited by Tim Lieder

published in 2010

where I got it: Interlibrary loan

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It being Passover/Easter week, what could be more appropriate reading than something biblical? I recently came across Tim Lieder’s blog, and he struck me as a swearing scholar (my favorite kind. of both). There was mention of an anthology that included old testament allegories and demons, and as I was already in a Haggadah frame of mind, so off to the library I went.

with a title like She Nailed a Stake Through his Head: Tales of Biblical Terror, it’s easy to think this is a one dimensional collection, that’s nothing but bible story retellings. You’d be wrong. While there were bible story retellings (which I admit, were my favorites) that don’t quite parallel what I’ve taught at Sunday school, but there were also vampires and Cthulhu monsters, and a Gilgamesh prequel and a parallel future where King David is a druggie rock star, and a few more vampires, and people, this is horrifically wonderful bizarro non-traditional stuff.

Mostly very short stories, this anthology was nice and easy to swallow, the whole thing is barely 150 pages long.  I read the entire thing in two sittings. And you don’t need a biblical education of any kind to enjoy these. There are no inside jokes for you to figure out, no parables to puzzle over. Just deliciously creepy and sometimes heavily sexualized fiction. That word “Terror” in the title? yeah, there for a reason. And if you have any kind of Judeo-Christian education, you’ll be even more creeped out, which for me, made it all the better.

Here are some of my thoughts on a few of the entries:

Whither thou Goest, by Gerri Leen – With the death of their husbands, Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth head back to Naomi’s homeland. In this version, it isn’t that Ruth doesn’t want to follow, it’s that she’s bound to follow. Not bound by anything Naomi has done, but bound, beautifully and powerfully, by her own words “Wherever you will go, I will go”. This Ruth survivies and lives off Naomi’s lifeforce. Naomi is trapped forever, for Ruth will never let her escape. And when they reach Naomi’s hometown, Ruth sets her sights on a new patron, someone new from whom she can steal lifeforce and energy.

Swallowed! by Stephen M. Wilson – told in reverse order, at first it’s easy to be disgusted by the man’s actions. He follows the voice in his head and does the horrible things it commands. He kills a few people, violently, needlessly, and viciously. But then we get an inkling of who he might be. that he was on a ship, fleeing something, and was thrown overboard by Cthulhu worshipping sailors, and was swallowed into warm darkness, where he didn’t die. The absolute creepiest retelling of the Jonah story I have ever had the pleasure of reading, this Jonah is deformed and mangled, possessed by something hungrier and more murderous than even himself.


Babylon’s Burning
, by Daniel Kayson – taking place right here, right now, nerdy Daniel gets dragged to a corporate company party by his brother. Daniel is disgusted by the kind of money this company throws around, their parties populated by high end call girls, their filthy government contracts that land them headlines about civilian deaths. And then he arrives at the party, and oh, the girls, the beautiful girls! A translator by training, Daniel witnesses something at the party that changes his life forever. He knows what those words mean, and he knows they will eventually point right at him. When you are the prophet, the translator, the high priest, there is no escape.

Psalm of the Second Body, by Catherynne Valente – Ya’ll know I love me some Valente. Although this anthology was published in 2010, this short story was originally published in 2005, it was Valente’s first. An almost prequel to the epic of Gilgamesh, it had me running to Wikipedia for a refresher course. I haven’t read Gilgamesh since high school. This is the story of Shamhat, the harlot who was instructed to seduce Enkidu, and took seven days to complete her mission. The story is from Shamhat’s point of view, and she is very good at what she does. I get the impression she’s offended to forever be known as the harlot, the prostitute, that the pains she took to help Enkidu become just slightly more human would never be acknowledged as important. I do love me some Valente, so it kills me that this story did nothing for me. The whole thing felt overwrought and overly ornamented just for the purpose of being overdone. Is she perhaps telling me that a harlot covered in the gaudiest golden jewelry will still always be seen by history as nothing but a woman who spreads her legs for money? The only story in the collection that I read twice, and the only one that didn’t do it for me.

Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

Published in 2012

where I got it: Library

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Would you just look at that cover art? I would have a poster of that artwork on my bedroom wall in a heartbeat.

Strong female characters who kick ass without having to give up an ounce of their femininity? check. Creepy bad guy? check. A protagonist you actually want to root for? check. Worldbuilding that goes the extra mile? check. Mythologies that come alive on the page? double check.  Everyone is going apeshit over this book, and for good reasons.  If anything I mentioned earlier in this paragraph got your attention, Range of Ghosts is probably a book for you.

Our story starts on a battlefield within the Khaganate lands, where Prince Temur has been left for dead. Under The Eternal Sky, a tiny moon shines for every heir. Once, there were over a hundred. But the great Khagan died, and his heirs fight for his throne, shattering alliances and slaughtering brothers, sons, friends. As Temur looks to the Eternal sky, fewer and fewer moons remain. His brother’s moon has gone dim, but his uncle’s still shines bright.

After leaving the carnage of the battlefield, Temur heads for the safety of the mountains, and meets up with the refugee clans of his people. Many of the families lost all their young men in the battles, so a young man of marriageable age is far more valuable to them than a prince. Happy to live out his life as a simple man, Temur wisely keeps his mouth shut regarding his lineage, and is soon unofficially betrothed to Edene, the great granddaughter of a clan matriarch.  When Edene is stolen away by the ghosts of the battlefield slain, Temur vows to rescue her.

As the Khaganate falls under the weight of too many heirs, far to the West someone is breeding filth. Through the dark arts of a glass book, the Al-Sepehr has learned the magics of binding the dead to his will. The more deaths in the Khaganate lands, the larger of an army of dead he will have under his power. All that is left is to sew more and more discontent and anger among the few remaining heirs to the Khaganate.  Why fight a war of territory with your barbaric neighbors when you can make them kill themselves for you?

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* * * Edited to add * * *

now that you’ve finished the book, you want to know more about Scott Lynch, right?  leave it to Bryce, of My Awful Reviews to take care of your every need!  check out what Sam Sykes, Elizabeth Bear and Myke Cole are saying about everyone’s favorite firefighter.

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Were these not some of the best weeks of your life, or what?  false-facing, banter, brass balls and everything going horribly, horribly wrong.  Glass towers, bondsmagi, mobsters, the best friends anyone could ever ask for, and of course, bloody and tear streaked revenge.  This is what the best books in the world are made of.

And that’s the wonderful thing about books. the adventure is never over. All you have to do to see your friends again to is open the cover and dive in. It’s also nice to know I won’t have to climb into the damn book and take care of a certain someone, if you recall my bloodlust from last week.

The book may be over, but this isn’t goodbye. It’s “I’ll see you later, you bastard”.  Watch your e-mail for information on an upcoming Read Along for Red Seas Under Red Skies.

For our final discussion posts, the questions were supplied by our newest read along team member Lynn, from Lynn’s Book Blog. Make sure to visit her and tell her how great of questions she came up with! And huge, massive thanks to all our other co-hosts, Dark Cargo, My Awful Reviews, @ohthatashley posting at SF Signal and Dark Cargo Explorer!    Leave your link in the comments below, and I’ll add you to the link list.  With the holiday weekend, don’t worry about posting on Saturday, I think everyone is going to be netsurfing around for the next five or six days, digesting the outcomes of one of our favorite books.

And don’t just comment here, we’ve got over twenty bloggers participating. Yes, you read that correctly: over TWENTY bloggers traveled the same road with us these past five weeks. Go give ’em some blogger read along love!

Yeah, these guys!
Lynn’s Book Blog
Nashville Bookworm
Books Without Any Pictures
Genkinahito’s blog
Kaitharshayr’s Musings
Scruffy Fiction
Tethyan Books
Coffee Cookies and Chili Peppers
Travels Through Iest
Just Book Reading
Rose’s thingamajig
Paperless Reading
I Want Life in Every Word
Beware of the Froggies
All I am – A Redhead
Dark Cargo
The Hugo Endurance Project
My Awful Reviews
RealBooks4Ever

*** NEW discussions! ***
John Ayliff
A Blog Thinger
Booky Pony

More new discussions!
Updates to the Theory of Everything
The Bente Way of Life

Due to massive amounts of spoilers, Lynn’s questions and my answers are after the jump!

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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.