the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for March 2014

gemsigns USGemsigns by Stephanie Saulter (®Evolution Book 1)

published in the UK April 2014, US May 2014

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Jo Fletcher books!)

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Plagued by an often fatal syndrome, it was the miracle of genetic manipulation that allowed humanity to survive and to ensure that future generations would live in a world safe from disease, from birth defects, and from congenital conditions. The corporations known as Gemtechs who developed these life saving technologies were quick to realize that their boon to society was directly linked to vast profits and additional technological developments. Children born under the auspices of the Gemtechs were designed with vast genetic manipulations, everything from extended eyesight to super strength, to savants of all kinds. The property of a Gemtech from the day of their birth, they knew nothing except a life of indentured servitude.

Until now.

Gemsigns takes place  a year after the Declaration, the piece of legislation that gave the Genetically Modified People (known as “gems”) a modicum of human rights and the legal ability to separate themselves from their parent Gemtechs and integrate into regular society. Forced to display their “gemsigns”, usually naturally florescently colored hair,the gems know every instant of every day that they are different, and that normal humans see them as inferior, dangerous, and other. The big question is, are they as human as you and me? Because if they are, don’t they deserve human rights?

Dr. Eli Walker has been hired to research the situations of gems who are integrating. After generations of forced servitude (let’s just call it what it is: slavery), how are the gems handling finding a job that meets their abilities, or paying their rent? Are they becoming too dependent on social services? After one particularly violent interaction where a norm child was killed, can any gem even be trusted around normal children? Dr. Walker has his work cut out for him, and the European Conference on the Status of Genetically Modified Humans is right around the corner. This will be a landmark moment for the gems, either providing them full human rights, or solidifying their legal permanent status as slaves. Legal status aside, is humanity ready or even able to accept as equals those they have seen as inferior?

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tropic of serpentsThe Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

published March 4, 2014

where I got: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Tor!)

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This is the second book in Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent series. As such, there may be some plot spoilers for the first book in the series, A Natural History of Dragons, which I reviewed here.   This is a case where you shouldn’t worry about plot spoilers, because while the plot of the first book is engaging and compelling, it’s nothing compared to the glorious characterization and detailed worldbuilding.

In her first adventure, I imagine the younger Isabella thought she was being so adventurous, so very daring, so avante-garde (see how I talk about her like sh’’s a real person?). She had no idea how safe she was playing it. She was traveling with her husband on an expedition where everyone assumed she was the dutiful wife who simply had a hobby of drawing. Their assumptions were quickly proven patently false, but it was those exactly assumptions that protected Isabella from the cruelties of her peers.

It’s been three years since Isabella Camherst’s trip to Vystrana. Not yet Lady Trent, she is but a widow with a young son. With few friends, yet class and money on her side, she’s able to continue funding research into the preservation of dragonbone. In this pre-industrial world, there is some sly foreshadowing that preserved dragonbone would make the ultimate material for aeroplanes and other flying machines. With her patron’s granddaughter Natalie at her side, Isabella is nearly as happy as can be.

But she’d be much happier if she could study dragons up close. For the most part, the dragons won’t come to her, so she’s got to go to them. With Lord Hilford’s blessing and funding, a new expedition to the tropical jungles of Eriga is planned. It’s so helpful that there’s a Scirling fort at the bay, so Isabella and her fellows will have at least some compatriots to speak their own language with. But this is far more military force that could possibly be needed to protect some trade goods. Brennan not so subtly  embroils Isabella in the politics of the Scirling colonial intrusion into Eriga. She thinks that her Naturalist and Scholar status insulates her from the politics.

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survivalSurvival (Species Imperiative #1), by Julie Czerneda

published in 2004

where I got it: purchased used

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Just because we’ve traveled to the stars and met with aliens doesn’t mean everyone wants to travel to the stars and hang out with aliens. Evolutionary biologist Dr. Mackenzie Connor  is perfectly happy to study salmon at the Norcoast research facility, working with other quirky research scientists and grad students.  Why should she care about aliens, outlying human colonies, or a dead spot in the galaxy, when all her salmon are doing just fine?

Let me save you a lot of reading by simply saying Julie Czerneda’s Survival is damn near perfect. There is no possible way to cram all the awesome of Survival into one review, so I won’t torture us by trying. But by all means, keep reading. Excellently researched and presented hard science fiction, characters in difficult situations, betrayal, aliens, and genocide, it took me a while to write this review because my brain was so Wow’d by the implications of what I’d read.

As there’s a big blue alien on the cover of the book, it’s no spoiler to tell you that an alien, a Dhryn to be specific, visits Norcoast. Instead of being flattered that the first Dhryn to ever visit the Earth has chosen her research facility to visit, Mac is less than thrilled to have her meticulously timed research interrupted by a huge alien name Brymn.  When I first met her, Mac reminded me of Dr. Ellie Arroway from Carl Sagan’s Contact. Both women are so very focused on their fields of research, that they take it as a personal insult whenever someone tries to interrupt their studies.  And it’s not just an alien who visits Norcoast, it’s the entourage of political hanger ons and the media, all stomping all over the place. So much for this season’s salmon spawning research.

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attack on titan 1AAttack on Titan, volume 1, by Hajime Isayama

published in 2012

where I got it: purchased new

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It’s been ages since I reviewed a Manga.  Been watching plenty of anime lately (or to be honest, half-watching. Other than Eccentric Family and Silver Spoon, much of what my household watches doesn’t interest me. But that’s a totally different blog post), but I haven’t read much new manga.

One of the animes that caught my eye recently was Attack on Titan. I had some issues with the pacing of the anime, but because I like the overall storyline I decided to give the Manga a try. One of the major reasons the anime didn’t work so well for me was the uneven pacing. Scenes that felt important to me were quickly over, and overdramatic scenes were drawn out too long.  By reading the manga, I can set my own pace. I can spend as much (or as little) time as I want studying each page and conversation.  The scripts of the manga and anime are pretty much identical, but I did much better with the manga because I controlled the pacing.

Attack on Titan takes place on what can be described as a post-apocalyptic Earth, but this isn’t an apocalypse caused by nuclear war, or smog, or an asteroid hitting. This is a monster apocalypse.  About a hundred years ago, humanity started being attacked by giant humanoid creatures, called Titans. The size of a small  building, the Titans destroy homes and cities, and often eat any humans they come across.  Humanity came up with plans to survive, which mostly included retreating behind tall stone walls.   The designs of the walled cities lure the Titans into attacking the more outlying parts of the walled complex, so they won’t be interested in the less defended areas. Pretty shitty deal for the people living in those outlying areas.

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While I’m enjoying Marie Brennan’s The Tropic of Serpents, you should go enjoy this interview I did with her at SFSignal. (enjoying is the understatement of the year, by the way)

and while you’re over at SFSignal, check out the podcast interview with Jeff Vandermeer.

There’s also a fun and funny Epic Geek Debates and Rants Mind Meld. I love those!

elsewhere in the blogosphere:

Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings is starting his 8th annual Once Upon A Time reading experience (wow. eight years? just WOW).

Remember the Tim Curry voiced adventure video game “Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father”? Squeee!!  They are releasing a 20th anniversary edition!

My Bookish Ways has a copy of Lockstep by Karl Schroeder up for grabs

Get ready to laugh your ass off with these YA mad-libs. According to mine, “Hippo’s Ovaries” is some kind of compliment?

 

those reviews I was working on at the beginning of the week? Yup, still working on them.  eh, it’s been one of those weeks.

2014-03-11 21.05.42The Door Into Summer, by Robert Heinlein

published in 1956

where I got it: paperback swap

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I’ve been in a reading slump lately.  Books seem to feel the same, not much has grabbed me lately, I seem to have burned myself out on epic fantasy for a while, and damnit, there is still two feet of snow on the ground. I need some nice weather, and  I need a book that reads like a sunny day, something that’s fun as hell and won’t demand anything of me in return.  I need a door into summer.

Does that cover art look familiar? if you’ve got this printing, do NOT read the blurb on the back. It spoils the surprise.

Dan’s cat Pete hates the snow.  In the winter, the cat still wants to do his business outside, and will insist that Dan open every door in the house. Because Pete’s pretty sure that one of these cold winter days, one of those doors will  be a door into summer.

The year is 1970, and Dan Davis is a brilliant engineer, but a horrible judge of character. Knowing he hasn’t got a head for business, Dan and his friend Miles go into business, with Miles doing all the accounting and paperwork, and Dan making all the inventions.  It was going swimmingly until the gorgeous Belle showed up. It was hysterical to me how Dan describes Belle in engineering-talk.  Belle plays both men for fools, gets Miles to do her dirty work, and in a sneaky round about way convinces Dan to go for Long Sleep. Dan is happy to leave this sorry, heartbroken world behind, so long as his beloved cat, Pete, can go in the coffin with him.  He even comes up with a foolproof plan to make sure the one human being he still cares about, a little girl named Ricki, will be taken care of financially.

The Long Sleep isn’t death, it’s a hypethermia of sorts. You pay an insurance company to put you in hypothermic hibernation, and you wake up 5 years later, ten years later, or whatever period of time you choose. Maybe the world won’t suck as bad, maybe a cure will have been found for whatever is killing you. Doesn’t matter the reasons, companies have found they can make a fortune offering the service, and consumers are drawn in by the idea that they can invest some money, take the long sleep, and be millionaires when they wake up. What could possibly go wrong?

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exodus towersThe Exodus Towers by Jason M. Hough (Dire Earth, book 2)

published in 2013

where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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This is the second book in Jason M. Hough’s Dire Earth Cycle, and due to some very important plot points revealed at the end of the first book in the series, The Darwin Elevator, there will be unavoidable spoilers in this review for the first book.

 

The Darwin Elevator was fun, but it certainly wasn’t my favorite book. Friends of mine kept telling me to give The Exodus Towers a try, that the series got better.  And they were right.  This second novel is far and away better than the first. The pacing is tighter, the characterization is better, the alien technologies are described better, the stakes are higher, the tension is built in a more effective way, it’s just a much better written book all the way around.

 

At the end of the first book, a second elevator plunged to earth, landing in Belem, Brazil.  The stations and levels that escaped the Darwin elevator were able to attach to this new elevator, and since then, Tania Sharma and Skyler Luiken have been slowly but surely building a new colony.  Hampered by a low population but helped by  mobile towers that protect from the Subs virus, it’s slow going.  Skyler spends most of his time on the ground scouting, and Tania is up in the elevator.  She takes comfort in group decisions, being cautious with their limited resources, and not taking action until a sure course is decided on. Skyler on the other hand, is comfortable making snap decisions with incomplete information.

 

Tania has lived the protected life of an orbital scientist, where if it takes two weeks to come to a decision it won’t really matter, whereas Skyler is more used to running from Subs and needing to grab scavenged cargo as fast as possible.  I enjoyed watching the two of them play off of each other, and I appreciated the time Hough took to really develop their personality differences.  So many times, they are both right, or both wrong, and sometimes they even see it.  There is some obvious chemistry between the two of them, but Hough keeps their relationship complicated instead of taking the easy route of allowing them an easy or simple romantic relationship.  

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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.