the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for April 2014

I’m over at SFSignal this morning with a Mind Meld on “What webcomics should I be reading *right now*”? I love doing roundtables like this because I get to ask a bunch of experts about something that I don’t know very much about. Come on over and check it out!

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2014/04/mind-meld-webcomics-you-should-be-reading-right-now

It’s been a bit of a few days, so I only had time to look at a few of the links. One that I did click, however, was Prospect Park Dusk, Prospect Park Dawn by Mike Dawson, recommended by Carrie Cuinn.

Why you should click on it too:

1. it’s very short. Like one chapter. you can read the entire thing in 10 minutes, although I guarantee you you’ll go back to read it again.

2. it’s sort of about vampires, but mostly not.  and by “mostly not”, I mean I was a blubbering ball of crying by the time I got to the end of it.

3. I don’t usually care about gender stuff, but it was nice to read a webcomic where the main character is a modern woman who deals with modern ladystuff – childcare issues, marital issues, dreaded “Mom’s group”, anxiety about being a good parent and what happens when their toddler grows up.

4. well, Shit.  Is that entire story just a giant metaphor for parental anxiety that no one wants to talk about?  well . . .   goddamn.

childhoods endChildhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

published in 1953

where I got it: purchased new

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There’s going to be some spoilers, because I don’t feel bad about spoiling a book that was published the year my Dad went into kindergarten.

 

The novel opens with a momentous event: the day the aliens come.  Their giant ships hover over every major city, but they came in peace. Forced peace, actually.  The Overlords announce they will be taking over all of Earth’s governments, they will be stopping all wars, stopping hunger, disease and poverty, they will be making sure us Earthlings live peaceful lives.  This is the first step towards Earth joining a galactic community, and the Overlords have been tasked with making sure we take this first step.  The Overlords give us no choice in the matter, and any earthly warlords or take it upon themselves to violently disagree are shamed into submission.  No choice at all, really.

 

But no one has ever seen an Overlord, and humans aren’t known to be trustworthy of anything we can’t see. The Overlord spokesperson, Karrelen, tells us that in fifty years they will show themselves to us, it will take that long for us to be ready.  And they were right.

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dune messiahDune Messiah, by Frank Herbert (Dune, book 2)

published in 1969

where I got it: have owned forever.

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Why am I starting with the 2nd novel in this series? The first book in the series,  Dune, was one of my gateway books to science fiction, and I’ve read it so many times in the last 20 years, that I practically know it by heart.  I grew up reading this series. But you may not know Dune by heart.  You may not have grown up with it. It’s okay, I forgive you.  But since I’m not a total jerk, here are some reviews of Dune to get you up to speed (The Founding Fields, Fantasy Book Review, Best Fantasy Books, Looping Wor(l)d, Josh’s Fantasy Novel Reviews ), and if those are tl:dr, here’s the wikipedia cliffsnotes.

My goal is to get through the rest of the series during this year. It’s been a good eight (yikes, ten?) years since I attempted Chapterhouse, so I’m due for a reread of the entire series.  And who knows, maybe I’ll even rewatch the movie and miniseries, and we can talk about that too.

 

Will there be spoilers in this series of blog posts? yes. sorry, ‘tis unavoidable.

Will they wreck your enjoyment of these books? Nope. read ‘em, and you’ll see what I mean.

and as usual, these will be my weird, impressionistic, paint thrown at the wall style reviews.

Dune Messiah  opens with the planning of a conspiracy to dethrone Emperor Paul Muad’Dib Atreides. Before Paul ascended the throne, there had always been an unspoken rule of checks and  balances – the Corrino Emperor ruled of course, but often bowed to the needs of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, and the Spacing Guild. Compromises were made, powers were kept relatively happy, any embarrassments could be swept under the rug of money and power.  If Paul continues his refusal to compromise, he will have to be removed,  and a more suitable (suitable = controllable) person put on the throne.  The conspirators consist of Paul’s wife Princess Irulan,  Scytale the Tleilaxu face-dancer, the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, and Edric the Guild Steersman, representing a cross section of the political parties whose future stability relies on being able to influence and control the ruling family.  The plan they come up with involves nothing more suspect than a gift befitting an emperor.

 

Dune Messiah takes place twelve years after Dune, and we really see the metamorphosis Paul and his family have been forced to go through. Paul rules as Emperor of the known universe, yet he is completely powerless to stop jihadists who kill  in his name.  By allowing his Fremen to call him Messiah, he has given up all personhood, becoming a prisoner of his own success.  Nearly overnight the known universe became a theocracy, and everything that’s happened, everything that will happen, Paul has already forseen.  The future isn’t written in stone, Paul has merely seen all the possible paths, with roads that narrow as events get closer.  He’s the most accidental Emperor ever, and he and his sister Alia sometimes joke about the tragicomedy of their whole situation. A renegade genetic success and his abomination of a sister, ruling the galaxy, what could be funnier?  it’s actually a little depressing, when you think about it.

Everyone in this saga is trapped. It is important to remember that.

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three parts deadThree Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

published in 2012

where i got it: purchased new

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What happens when your God dies? When your city, your world, depends on the protection of your patron god (in exchange for your prayers and devotions, of course) this suddenly becomes a very important question. I’m absolutely fascinated by cultures and stories in which the deities interact with normal people in a somewhat normal way. How would it change your outlook on life to have a conversation with someone who was all knowing and immortal? More on this in a future post, actually. It’s just too fun of an idea to leave alone.

In a bit of a mash up of Law and Order (or maybe Castle?) and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, Three Parts Dead throws us into the city of Alt Coulumb, where exactly that has happened: The patron god, Kos Everburning, God of the sun, of fire and of anything that could burn, has died. The Church does the only thing they can do: they hire the best there is, the necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao. Part lawyers, part investigators, part necromancers, and part thieves of godly powers, the necromancers job is to find out how the God died. And then the haggling over what’s left of him can begin.  The contracts of a god aren’t unlike those of a corporation. When the contract holder dissolves, who gets the properties? Who gets the contracts? This isn’t the first time something this has happened in Alt Coulumb.

Three Parts Dead is easily one of those most unique novels I have read in a long time. It’s one thing to give us a fully drawn world full of living Gods who make bargains and contracts with mortals (so much protection for so much devotion, and the like), but it’s a whole ‘nother story to show us the dark sides of those bargains. What happens when the Gods can no longer keep their own promises? What happens when they are quite literally, dismantled, as corporate lawyers might dismantle a bankrupted business? In that way, Gladstone weaves a surface plot that’s nearly mainstream. Got a friend who enjoys James Rollins style thrillers and won’t touch a fantasy novel?  This could be their gateway book.

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I’ve always been a little jealous of how fast my Mom can read. Books she zips through in two days will take me over a week to read.  She finally admitted  the other day that she’d taken a speed reading course in college, and I jokingly responded with “that’s cheating!”.  Another friend in the conversation defended the speed reading course, because she’d taken the same one, and she said that this particular famous speed reading course taught one how to quickly get the most important information out of sentences and paragraphs. Presumably so you weren’t wasting your time on the unimportant stuff.

 

so, that assumes there is unimportant stuff?

 

stained glass

 

And all I could think of was Catherynne M. Valente’s Prester John books,  The Habitation of the Blessed, and The Folded World. Her prose in those novels reads like a stained glass window, where as the sun moves through the sky, the colors shift in the window, giving an illusion of continual movement and shadow as the  story unfolds in the rainbow race of color across the floor and over your body.  And on the other side of that stained glass window a symphony orchestra, complete with leitmotifs, counterpoints and returns, movements, and five or ten minutes of that gorgeous grey noise of pure potentiality when everyone is warming up before the conductor takes to the stage.

800px-Orquesta_Filarmonica_de_Jalisco

 

I realize I sound little melodramatic and over the top. And I do understand that when I say “that sounds like a sunset”, or “that sounds like purple”, that I am not actually seeing a sunset or that color (or seeing them consistently), but my brain is telling me those are the only words in my vocabulary that match what I’m experiencing at that moment. There is certainly an element of metaphor happening here, but there is also my complete confidence that those adjectives and phrases are the rightest ones.

 

For example, Shania Twain’s singing voice sounds like the color orange.  I’m not seeing orange when I hear her voice, but in my brain, that is the adjective that best fits what I’m hearing.  Singing voices tend to sound orange or like shades of blueish-purple, and men’s singing voices often taste like metal. I think there’s something to it that orange and blue are complimentary colors. Although Maluka’s voice sounds like sandstone, which isn’t part of the color wheel at all, so um, there’s that.

sandstone 1

Yes! it sounds like this!

 

Which the long way around brings me back to:  If I was speed reading, how much of  would I miss? Would the stained glass window become simple clear leaded glass? Would there be no sun moving behind it, no movement of colors on the floor for me to chase after?  Would the symphony be reduced to only the brass section, or just a string quartet, or one very bemused yet confusingly lonely oboe?

 

My Mom gets through way more books that I do. But I’ll keep my slower pace, thanks.

the-habitation-of-the-blessed

installing-linux-on-a-dead-badger-by-lucy-a-snyder-largeInstalling Linux on a Dead Badger, by Lucy Snyder

published 2007

where I got it: purchased (and she signed it!  awesome!)

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How is anyone supposed to say “no” to a book with a title like that??   And I promise, you do not need to know anything about Linux, or be an IT geek or professional (same thing?) to enjoy this book.  All you need to enjoy this  book is a sense of humor.

Weighing in at barely a hundred pages, you can easily read this collection in an evening.  It might only take you an hour or two to read, but you’ll be reading snippets of it out loud to friends and family for at least a week afterwards. The opening chapter is exactly what the title refers to: how to install Linux on a dead badger, with details instructions of which shareware to download for which devices, how to draw the blood rune, what to do with the origami, and most importantly, what to do if something goes wrong (take shelter in the nearest church. You may require an exorcist). I can already see the side of your mouth curling up.   Did I mention the book is illustrated?

Following the technical writing opening is a collection of journalism style articles about the new state of the world. With titles like Dead Men Don’t Need Coffee Breaks, Unemployed Playing Dead to Find Work, and the gut bustingly hilarious Trolls Gone Wild, Snyder takes aim at corporate bureaucracies, human resources departments with good intentions, how to make a fortune with a video camera, jobs you’ll take when you’re really *really* desperate, and how businesses  keep up with the fast pace of changing technology.  There are a few short stories right at the end, but I liked the business magazine article-esque pieces much better.

Satire. This is how you do it.

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Apex Aug 2013

As part of Apex Magazine’s Operation Fourth Story this is the second part of a two part series talking with a few of the slush readers of Apex Magazine. read part one here.

Today I’m joined by Michael Matheson for a guest post on his experiences as a slush reader for Apex Magazine. The question I posed to him was this:

What’s your favorite part of slush reading, and why is having a slush team important to the success of a short fiction magazine such as Apex?

I’m not entirely certain I would restrict myself to one thing that I love about slush reading. Part of what I enjoy about the process is the thing that, I would think, most slush readers/submissions editors enjoy: that extraordinary rush one feels at finding something absolutely brilliant in the submissions pile of whatever magazine we work for. Being able to find a wider audience, or at least vie for the work to do so, by bringing it to an editor’s attention. That’s especially true if it’s the work of someone who’s not yet had their fiction (or poetry, or critical non-fiction, depending on venue) published, or who hasn’t managed to crack a semi-pro or pro venue yet (which is a more arbitrary goal in terms of publication, but which does bring with it a much larger audience than smaller, less visible venues—and the monetary incentive is also nice). That discovery of brilliant work that the world needs to see, right this very moment, is always worth the wait.

Now, saying that can potentially sound dismissive of the rest of the submissions pile. Which is absolutely not the case. Everything that comes through the pile is someone’s hope, or aspiration, toward having something of theirs published. Perhaps it’s a particular story they badly want to share with the world; something quite personal they need to talk about and start discussion with. Perhaps they just want to be published for the sake of being published. Some will be looking to just get that one piece published to see if they could, while others want to build a career out of the thing and this is their jumping off point, or even another step along the way. All of those stories are worth seeing. They’re all parts of someone’s journey toward wherever they’re going with their writing.

apex April 2013

At a venue like Apex where we don’t currently offer feedback, reading submissions is more of a tacit acknowledgment of someone’s hard work, before you send them back on their way without really having a chance to speak to them when they’re being rejected. It’s not quite as involved a process as a rejection is from a market that has the time to offer feedback. Unfortunately, like most pro markets, Apex receives far too many submissions to write feedback for each. Even with more than a dozen (I believe we’re currently at fifteen, or sixteen submissions editors) people working the slush pile, there simply isn’t enough time to do so given the number of submissions we see in the course of a month. Let alone the bulk of material that comes in over a year’s time.

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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.