the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for August 2012

This weekend is WorldCon, in Chicago. I hear there were a record number of Hugo ballots received this year, and it’s expected to be a pretty big crowd, due to Chicago being a fairly accessible and get-to-able city for most folks in America. Twitter is afire with messages from my favorite authors and editors saying things like “heading to the airport!”, “ready for WorldCon!”.

I DEMAND blog posts from ALL OF YOU when you return, you hear me? I want photos too. Tweets are also appreciated.

Them’s my demands, and I’m sticking to them! You should also check out my most recent local radio segment, and let me brag about my guestpost on SFSignal.

In return, I agree to finally finish book reviews and post them of Maureen McHugh’s After the Apocalypse, and Steven Brust’s Jhegaala.

And while all the cool kids are chillin’ in Chi-town, I’ll be at a pizza party. But not just any pizza, it’s the third annual pizza cookoff, hosted every year by some foodie friends of mine.  Hubby and I have been experimenting with different pizza toppings and sauces, resulting in a possible cook-off winner (we knew it was a contender because we fought over who got to finish the leftovers), and one pizza that was so disgusting it went right in the trash after the first bite.

if ya’ll post WorldCon photos, I’ll post bizarro pizza photos. equal trade, right?  ;)

So last night, the husband says “you know what? we haven’t got enough books”.

I look around our small apartment. The bookshelves are bulging, the coffee table is covered in books, the floor under the coffee table has stacks of book, my bedside table is covered in books, husband’s desk is covered in books,  our apartment looks like a library threw up. It’s a miracle the kitchen table and chairs aren’t covered in books.

“you’re right sweetheart”, I responded, quite seriously. “I’ll have to fix that”

While I’m working on a review, here’s a few items that recently snuck into the apartment, while I wasn’t looking, of course. Most of this batch falls under the category of borrowed.

Have you read any of these? which do you recommend? which look interesting? what should I dive into first? what should I skip?

A Guile of Dragons – this is the new from from James Enge, creator of Morlock Ambrose. This appears to be first in a new series, although  connected to his previous Morlock books. I read The Wolf Age and Blood of Ambrose, and while I remember them being entertaining, I also remember Enge having some major pacing issues. Let’s hope he’s worked those out.

Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan – high priority to read, as it’s my local scifi bookclub’s choice for Sept. This seems to be a relativistic story of beating time by changing how fast it moves (in relation to you, of course). I have high hopes. Egan has about a dozen books out so far, anyone read any of them? This will be my first by him.

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Feed, by Mira Grant (Seanan McGuire)

published in 2010

where I got it: library

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Feed isn’t a zombie book. It’s an anti-fear, anti-stupid, pro-truth and pro-common sense story that’s cleverly disguised as a zombie book. It’s a story about the power of information, the power of censorship, and the paralyzing power of fear. The obsession with security and  blood testing is a mirror held up to our fears of terrorism, catching diseases, and general anxiety about, well, everything.  At times, Feed reminded me of some recent Cory Doctorow books, and that’s also a good thing.  Also, I find the title highly amusing as some nice wordplay on what the zombie virus makes a (dead) person do, and what we call a chronological listing of blog updates.

Feed is my first zombie book, so I could be completely wrong thinking most zombie books take place during the zombie outbreak, and focus on survival. The first trick that Mira Grant flawlessly pulls off is setting her story nearly a generation after the original zombie outbreak. We’re twenty some years into it, and cities have strict security,  blood testing for the virus is nearly everywhere, and society seems to run on a healthy dose of government promoted fear.

In Mira Grant’s future Earth, it was the combination of two supposedly harmless viruses that caused the zombie apocalypse. Trick number two that she pulls off is medical infodumps that are actually interesting. Bah interesting, they are downright fascinating. Everyone is infected with a sleeping version of the virus, and when you die, the virus comes alive, reanimating you.

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A Song for Arbonne, by Guy Gavriel Kay

published in 1992

where I got it: mah bookshelf

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The real story begins when the romance ends.

Once upon a time, a man loved a woman, and she dearly loved him back. They met for a secret tryst to make a child.  Of course, her husband found out about her affair with her lover, and when the child was born, her angry husband tore the child from her arms. A few hours later, she was dead. Neither her lover nor her husband ever recovered.

Twenty three years later, our story, and the song for Arbonne, can begin.

Blaise has recently come to the southern country of Arbonne. Worse than being an ignorant northerner and a savage mercenary, Blaise hasn’t a clue about or an appreciation of music and poetry, the foundation of society in Arbonne. In Guy Gavriel Kay’s fictional France, Arbonne is country where troubadours and poets are valued beyond gold, where a young duchess rules a Court of Love, and where political marriages are solved with very, very discreet evening visitors.  In the country of Arbonne, music, love and the appreciation of beauty are everything.

Coming from a male dominated society where a man’s prowess is proved on the battlefield, Blaise spends his first few months in Arbonne recovering from culture shock.  Hired by a famous troubadour, Bertran de Talair, Blaise is soon caught up in webs upon webs of intrigue, fights started a generation ago, and a ruling family carrying a heavy burden. Even worse, it’s not long before Blaise’s identity is exposed: he’s the youngest son of a ruling priest of the war hungry northern country of Gorhaut.

In the year that he spends in Arbonne, Blaise will have to learn that this a land of subtlety and intrigue, and what one says is just as important as  what one stays silent on, and how one chooses to stay silent. He could be the best thing to happen to Arbonne, or he could destroy the country from the inside. Blaise’s story is only one facet of the complex story, and the more I tell you of the plot, the less of it you will experience through your own eyes, and that would be a crime.

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No review for you this evening, but hopefully my post will still be entertaining.

I’m about half way through Guy Gavriel Kay’s A Song for Arbonne (working my way up to Under Heaven). It’s been about ten years since I read this, and it’s just a beautiful as I remember. It’s a long, rather dense book, but oh is it amazing. If you’ve never read Kay, I highly suggest starting for A Song for Arbonne, or The Lions of Al-Rassan.

There’s a tiny little scene, about half way through, in a tavern, during a country fair, where some foreign traders challenge the local musicians for a song. It’s a fairly tense scene, and everyone knows that war is on the horizon. I’ll go into it in further detail when I write the review, but understand that in the country of Arbonne, music is everything.  And most of their music is of the romantic / love song variety. So this elder musician gets up, apologizes in advance that he isn’t going to play a love song, and plays an older piece, about a famous musician of Arbonne who had traveled north and was missing his homeland. After finishing the song, the musician then states that he did in fact, play a love song.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen the movie The Sound of Music. Yes, that old Julie Andrews movie. You know that scene, near the end, at the music festival, where Captain Von Trapp plays Edelweiss*? When I was a preteen, I fell head over in heels in love with Christopher Plummer** thanks to that scene. When I got a little older, and understood what that scene was actually about, I cried right along with him. It’s that kind of love song that the elder musician is playing in the scene I described above. And he is singing it in a similarly tense political environment as well.

Speaking of love stories, I happened to be reading A Song for Arbonne while at dinner at restaurant. The waitress says “what are you reading?” and not wanting to get into it (because I’d just read the above mentioned scene and was feeling a little raw) I simply said “oh, something old”. She said she’d recently had a birthday and had received the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy, and even though she didn’t usually read romances, she was really enjoying it. The woman at the next booth saved me having to respond by turning right around and gushing that she too was reading 50 Shades, and wasn’t it, like, the best thing, ever? And, since she had just started dating a new fellow, she had asked him if he’d want to try some of the things in the book! The fellow she was sharing a table with visibly blushed, so I’m assuming he’s the guy she asked to tie her up and whip her.*** Dessert, anyone?

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Clockwork Phoenix (anthology) Volume 3, edited by Mike Allen

published in 2010

where I got it: gift from a friend (and she got it autographed for me!!)

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This is Mike Allen’s third volume of beautiful and strange short fiction. In previous volumes, he showcased new works by authors such as Mary Robinette Kowal, Saladin Ahmed, Catherynne M. Valente,  and Tanith Lee. And volume three continues in this vein, offering an intriguing collection of short fiction by well known authors such as John C. Wright, Cat Rambo, Gemma Files and Marie Brennan, along with works by lesser known folks that I am thrilled to have gotten to know a little better.  The theme to these anthologies is “tales of beauty and strangeness”, and Allen has certainly chosen works that match that description.  Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, we can look forward to a fourth volume of beauty and strangeness, the surreal and the fantastic.

Anthologies tend to run hot and cold for me. It’s like buying an album (did I just date myself?). You buy the album for one song, and hope the rest of it doesn’t suck. I’m the same way with anthologies. Out of the fifteen  short stories, maybe 3 of them were just okay for me. And the rest? The rest were pure winners.

In no particular order, here are my thoughts on a handful of my favorite short stories in the collection:

Murder in Metachronopolis, by John C. Wright – one of the longer works, and purposely presented in an unusual way. Jake Frontino has been brought to the city outside of time, Metachronopolis, the city of the Masters of Time, to work for them as a Private Investigator. They’ve sent him through time on missions to stop terrible things before they happen – to kill the mothers of dictators, to foil marriages and stop meetings from taking place. The Masters of Time supposedly have no enemies, but Jake has met those enemies, been party to their plans for a coup. The story is written in numbered portions, so the reader immediately knows we are not getting the story in chronological order, we are not getting “the truth” in the right order. And you know what I did the moment I finished this story? I read it again, flipping the pages back and forth so that with the help of the section numbers I could read it in chronological order, in the order that things happened to Jake. And it was a completely different story. I love it when that happens, when I can experience the same story in a completely new light.
The Gospel of Nachash by Marie Brennan – This is a retelling of the story of the Garden of Eden. I’m a sucker for any kind of old testament mythology, so this tale was right up my alley. Among its other twists, is the story of the Expulsion is told from the serpent’s point of view.  The serpent, Nachash, was also a creation of God, was also in the garden for a specific reason. Nachash and God’s Daughter watch Adam and Chava’s lives after the garden, and they witness the birth of Chava’s two sons. How will this tiny mortal family populate the earth, with no other women? God’s Daughter has a plan, and Nachash is at the center of it. But that’s not the twist, oh no, Brennan’s got an ever better trick up her sleeve.

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Last night I went to the Jim C. Hines booksigning at a local bookstore. To help him not think about the upcoming Hugo awards ceremony at Worldcon, where he’s nominated for best Fanwriter, Jim read from the short story that inspired Libriomancer (same Smudge, different Isaac), teased us about what we can look forward to in the second book in the series, and answered questions about what it was like place his book in rural (and urban) Michigan, what a person can, can’t, and really shouldn’t do with Libriomancy.   And if you haven’t heard of Libriomancer, go read my review, then go read Justin Landon’s review, then go read some more about it, and then seriously, go get a copy. If you love books, if you are a geek at heart, this is the book for you. Libriomancer is just an all around wonderful read.

Recently famous for being this guy, there was some talk about cover art. One of the characters in Libriomancer is Lena Greenwood. She’s a dryad, and she ain’t a skinny lady. She’s perfectly rounded and curvy and unbelievable sexy. At the moment, she has a dark complexion.  Jim Hines is poking at the expectations of the love triangle so often found in urban fantasy, and Lena is his sharp stick.

So he was telling us about a recent conversation he had with his publisher, where they were asking for a plot summary of the second book so they could start working on the cover art.  Part of Jim’s response to them was that Lena needed to be on the cover, and a few days later he received in his e-mail some headshots of models they were thinking of using to portray Lena.  When he complained that all the models were far too slender to be a realistic Lena, the response was “How about this one, she’s a size 6?”.   Jim had already been through this conversation four times with his Princess books, begging for one of the characters complexions to be darkened to match what she actually looks like.

I’ve already had this discussion with Sarah Zettel about cover art not matching what the character looks like because publishers have the final word on cover art. Cover art white washing and “sexy-izing” isn’t anything new.  The fact that it has become not unexpected means we are not talking about it enough.

Yes, I understand that “sex sells”, and the publishers know that people make a quick judgement based on their first look at a book.  But if they could put a fat old guy on the cover of Throne of the Crescent Moon, what’s so terrible about putting a beautiful, pleasantly plump dark skinned woman on the cover of an urban fantasy?

I imagine publishers are asking themselves which book people are more likely to spend their money on – a book with cover art showing  young-ish super skinny sexy woman wearing really tight pants and showing plenty of skin, or a book with cover art showing a beautiful plump lady?

so, reader, I ask you: how likely are you to buy a book where the cover art shows a plus-size lady whose skin tone doesn’t match yours?

do we want our cover art to portray an unrealistic expectation of beauty and perfection, or do we want our cover art to portray what the characters actually look like, and what real people (and possibly even the reader!!) actually looks like?

Orbital Resonance, by John Barnes

published in 1991

where I got it: the library

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Melpomene Murray sees herself as a completely normal twelve year old. She looks up to her older brother, argues with her Mom, has plenty of friends at school, has just discovered boys, and enjoys math and low-g sports. And like all the kids in her class on the asteroid-turned-space colony known as The Flying Dutchman, Melpomene is fluent in five languages, and studies physics, cybernetics, and calculus during her ten hour schoolday. Yup, she’s a completely normal kid, right?

One of the brighter students in her class, Mel has been asked to write a book about life on The Flying Dutchman, something to help the people on Earth realize that the spacers are regular people, just like them.  Orbital Resonance is in effect, her first draft. Mel might be forced to watch news from Earth with her classmates, but it’s the sanitized version. She has no idea of the disasters of post-collapse Earth, of the horror of life outside the domed cities, of the different pressures that children raised on Earth face. And she has no idea that she’s been conditioned to specifically play well with others.  She has no idea of anything, until a boy from Earth transfers into her class and opens everyone eyes.

You see, the scientists of the The Flying Dutchman had a plan. They needed a fully operational and successful colony in the Earth / Mars orbit in the shortest possible time. The social plan for the colony was to raise the children in such a manner that they would be conditioned to love the colony, to want to work for the colony, and to be educated at a young age in fields that the colony needed.  Most citizens take their “full adult” exam at fourteen or fifteen, and are expected to work full time and begin a family shortly after that. There’s a creepy dissonance happening here – Melpomene is a supremely likeable kid, but how much of that likeability is brainwashing?

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hey you! Yeah, you with the teetering stack of books to read and the book blog that I read all the time.

I need to talk to you for a minute.

Your blog is an awesome way to promote the books you love. Thanks to you, my “books I want to read” list explodes weekly.  Thanks to you, I’m spending far too much money at the local family owned bookstore, demanding they carry the newest titles of my favorite authors, putting books on hold before they even hit the shelf. I’m sure you’ve done the same.

Bloggers.   Bookstores.  where’s the connection? 

Many of you already know about the rockin’ awesome project I’ve started with Elizabeth of Dark Cargo. Some of you have even already started participating. A few of you were even part of my little trial experiment a few months ago! It’s called Bookstore Bookblogger Connection, and it’s for bloggers (like us!) and bookstores (you know, those peeps we give all our money to!), to have a connection.

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Dust Girl (American Fairy Trilogy, book 1), by Sarah Zettel

published June 2012

Where I got it: purchased new

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In a small town in Kansas, in the dustbowl of the 1930’s, young Callie lives with her mother in the hotel her family owns. As the dust storms intensify, more and more families move out of the town, and Callie’s dust pneumonia gets worse.  Callie’s mother refuses to leave town, insisting that Callie’s father will return to save them. But it’s someone, or rather, some thing, else that comes to town with the next storm, and soon Callie is all by herself. She needs to find her mother, and the father she’s never known.

This is the American Fairy Trilogy, so it’s no spoiler to say that Callie discovers she is half fairy. Her mother had told anyone who would listen that Callie’s father was a traveling salesman. But the truth is that he was a black jazz musician. And even more of that truth was that he is a Fairy Prince. Callie may be royalty in the fae world, but in the plains of the 1930s, she’s now just one more biracial orphan, dependent on keeping her skin as light as possible so as to pass as caucasian for as long as possible.

With her new friend Jack, Callie begins a journey across the country to find her parents, and to find her destiny.  And when she does meet her fairy relatives, will they be happy to see her? That’s the thing with fairies. Their goals are not human goals. Their promises are not human promises.  They have something very different in mind for naive Callie.

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About this redhead, etc.

Redhead is a snarky, non-politically correct 30-something who reviews mostly science fiction and fantasy and talks about all sorts of other fun scifi and fantasy geekery. She once wrote a haiku that included the word triskaidekaphobia.

This blog contains adult language and strong opinions. The best way to contact her outside of this blog is twitter, where she is @redhead5318 .

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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.