the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for July 2014

apex book of world SF 3

You know I wasn’t going to keep you waiting forever, right?  yesterday I start talking about my favorite stories in the next Apex Book of World SF, and I just couldn’t jam all my favorites into one post!  So here’s the rest of my favorite stories:

 

“Jungle Fever” by Zulaikha Nurain Mudzar  was a satisfyingly enjoyable horror story which starts with a scratchy plant.  After reading this I’m going to wear garden gloves every day outside, even if I’m just watering the tomato plant!  Sailin gets a scratch, which turns into a wound, which turns her into something else all together. this is not how she planned on getting revenge on her abusive uncle, but well, what are you going to do?  As the disease progresses, she keeps enough of her mind to see what she’s doing, but it’s like she’s watching from outside her body.  Since she doesn’t narrate the worst parts, either she’s in complete denial, or she’s so detached that she’s not aware of what’s happening in those moments, or she doesn’t want the reader to know the gross details of what’s she’s done.  Someone has got to have a cure, but when she finds a physician, she’s terrified of what he might do to her. I appreciated that Sailin never became a mindless zombie. She might not be herself anymore, but the reader consistently sees her as a  human, as someone deserving of our compassion. Or at least, we might be compassionate towards her so long as she eats someone else. . .

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apex book of world SF 3The Apex Book of World SF 3, edited by Lavie Tidhar

published June 2014

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

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This newest anthology from Apex opens with  poetic visuals and then gently whirls around the planet – touching on ghost stories, political skewerings, the surreal and the horrific, and finally the whimsical. This is Lavie Tidhar’s third World Book of SF, and if you are looking to expand your international speculative fiction reading, this series of anthologies is a perfect place to start.

 

I love that we are getting more and more World Science Fiction. When I read the first Apex Book of World SF, I think I recognized two authors in the Table of Contents. I’m not suggesting you read a particular anthology only because you recognize names in the ToC, but my point is that it’s nice to see more and more non-anglo and non-Western authors known more widely every year. You’re sure to recognize a number of authors in the ToC of the third volume in this series: Benjanun Sriduangkaew is on this year’s Hugo ballot,  Karin Tidbeck garnered a lot of attention for her 2012 collection Jagannath, Xia Jia and Ma Boyong’s stories were originally published in Clarkesworld, and Biram Mboob and Uko Bendi Udo’s stories first appeared in Afro SF.

 

For the most part, the stories are subtle and understated, often with meanings that bloom in your mind a few hours or days after the reading, (excepting of course, City of Silence, which bashes you over the head in a darkly humorous way with what’s going on). The prose is often lush and poetic, with slang terms that taste exotic and  maywill have you googling a word to learn what it means. And it’s ok if you don’t know all the words you come across.  Aren’t we reading science fiction because we want to learn something new?

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julie dillon taking flight cropped

“Taking Flight”

Wanna hear this month’s best news? Of course you do!

One of my favorite artists, Julie Dillon, is making an artbook! Her Kickstarter for Imagined Realms: Book 1 was fully funded during it’s first week! It contains 10 all new pieces of fantasy artwork!

ok, that’s three really good pieces of news.  Also, you should totally head over to her Kickstarter page, and if you like what you see, put your  money where your mouth is and get yourself a copy of her book (and one of the print packs!).  If you can’t tell, I’m pretty excited about this.  I’ve been seeing Julie’s artwork here and there for a few years now, and it was always her images that pulled me in, asked me to trace the outlines, to triangulate where the person would be next so I could meet them there, to find something new in the piece every time I looked at it. Her artwork is full of movement and colors that stretch the spectrum, and characters that are yearning, reaching, and guiding. An opportunity to have some of her artwork in my home? To financially support her venture to create more of these visual anthems? Shut up and take my money.

Julie was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about Imagined Realms Book 1, and that there is so much more going on here than just a kickstarter about selling some artbooks.  Artwork can be and is so much more than just a cover on your book, frame on your wall, or a desktop background on your computer.  Let’s get to the discussion, shall we?

"Sun Shepherdess"

“Sun Shepherdess”

LRR: As I’m writing these interview questions, your Kickstarter has crashed through it’s first stretch goal of $20,000.  What made you decide to go the Kickstarter route for Imagined Realms, and do you have any advice for people looking to Kickstart a project?
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J.D.: Originally I was going to attempt to do it without the Kickstarter, and just take a chance with printing up a bunch of books and putting them up for sale. But that got progressively more cost prohibitive and risky, since I didn’t know how many books to get or how many people would want them. A kickstarter started to make more sense in terms of getting funding together. Plus, a Kickstarter campaign would let me gauge how much actual interest there was. I could print as many books as were ordered, rather than making a guess and hoping I didn’t print too many or too few. That said, setting up and running a Kickstarter has been a lot of work in itself, more than I’d even anticipated. I find myself just wishing it was done already so I could get on with things.

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My main piece of advice is that you really need to have a marketing and publicity plan. In my case, I have a modest following, and friends and industry connections who were able to help me out by spreading the word. I also got lucky getting features on major websites like Tor.com, TheMarySue.com, and io9.com. Some people have even bigger followings and do exceedingly well, and others don’t have enough of a reach yet and have a hard time gaining traction. Make sure you have a product people actually want, and a way to reach people who might want to buy it.

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"Scholars' Tower"

“Scholars’ Tower”

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Did you know Clarkesworld Magazine puts out yearly volumes, so you can get a year’s worth of all that edgy fantastical SFnal fiction all in one place?   And in case you missed it, I was recently over at SFSignal reviewing Clarkesworld Year Six.  if it strikes you fancy, check out all the Clarkesworld volumes here.

It’s worth it just for all that award nominated/ winning fiction from Cat Valente, Kij Johnson, Aliette de Bodard, and more.  Bottom line – if you want cutting edge science fiction, Clarkesworld has it, and Year Six is one of the strongest collections of science fiction I’ve read in a while.

 

clarkesworld-year-six-250

 

You can read Equoid over at Tor.com! and I should have mentioned in my earlier review of Wakulla Springs that that novella is available to read over at Tor.com as well.

 

If you’ve enjoyed any of Stross’s Laundry novels, you’re sure to get a kick out of this novella. Oh, you haven’t read any of his Laundry novels? In that case you might feel a little lost (until of course, Bob gives you some background. Then you’ll be fine). Also, you are missing out on some hella fun novels. Here’s the gist of the world: The right mathematical equations call up Cthonic horrors from the deep, and   a  British secret agency exists to make sure that doesn’t happen. Bob Howard is an involuntary agent for the Laundry (because really, does anyone have a childhood dream of growing up to face unspeakable soul destroying horrors?), and even after years on the job he still gets the shit work.

 

One thing I love about the Laundry novels is the narrative voice. It’s what I’ve come to call “The Stross Sentence”, where many passages start out completely normal, but conclude in a sotto voce that’s purposely scathingly sarcastic. I’m that reader who just can’t get enough of that.

 

So anyway, the novella.  It’s about unicorns. And H.P. Lovecraft’s previously unpublished rambling letters that prove (again) just how dangerous a little bit of knowledge can be.  Bob’s newest assignment takes him out to a muck filled country horse breeding farm, where he’s to investigate some kind of animal health issue? Something involving a, erm, infestation?

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The story follows three generations of an African American family in Florida over the course of about 30 thirty years. While I was very satisfied with the complexity of the characterizations and the historically accurate details put into the narrative, the story itself seemed oddly lacking in speculative elements.

 

Starting in 1937, we  meet Mayola, who at fifteen is interested in attending Texas A&M, she reads all summer and saves her nickels so she can reach her dream.  She gets a job as a maid at an all white resort at Wakulla Springs.  It pays so well, she’ll have her college funding in no time. The springs are natural, obviously, but since it’s private property, only white people are allowed to swim there. They are filming a Tarzan movie, and Mayola inadvertently spies on the movie folks while sitting at her favorite shady lunch spot. she knows all about Tarzan, she’s already read all the books. The star, Johnny Weissmuller, had been an olympic swimmer. This acting crap pays the bills, but he’d rather be swimming. On a moonlit night, Mayola and Johnny go swimming together. She’s terrified of losing her job, he’s desperate to go swimming with someone who can keep up with him. He doesn’t care that she’s a stranger, or a girl, or an employee of the hotel, or black. He’s only interested that she’s interested in swimming.

 

The next section follows Mayola’s teen aged son, Levi. It’s 1953. Mayola never made it to college, she’s still working at the hotel and trying to keep her son interested in his studies, so he can go to college. Another movie crew is at Wakulla Springs, this time filming The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Levi soon befriends the actor who plays the creature, Ricou Browning, who is more than a little impressed with Levi’s ability to swim underwater for minutes at a time.  Levi becomes Ricou’s apprentice, of sorts. It’s better than sitting at home listening to Mayola go on about her boyfriend, Jimmy Lee, who has just returned from Korea.

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This is the story of how a monster known as The Butcher came in existence. And it’s got a nice little hook at the beginning: big scary crazy guy walks into a bar, and treats his axe as if she’s a flesh and blood woman.  Good hook, followed by tight pacing, we’re off to good start!

All monsters start out as little boys, and as a youth Orsus always felt he was to blame that he couldn’t save his family. Conveniently, he grows up to be about seven feet tall, and he’s got the right combination of body strength and gullibility to be a basic gang thug. The fantasy narrative jumps back and forth in his life, from that horrible day in his childhood when his family was killed in front of him, to his employment with a criminal organization, to the loss of his wife, to his ordering of a slaughter at a border village, to his judgement day in front of the queen.

 

I think it’s great that tie-in fiction is showing up on the Hugo ballot, but in all the ways that matter, this story just didn’t work for me.

 

Orsus  will pretty much do anything to ensure he can be violent with little to no consequences, and the violence simply became too much for me at a certain point.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read plenty of violent fiction, and I’m usually okay with it, but part of being okay with ultraviolent is understanding *why* the character is doing what they’re doing. you’re buying in to the character’s mentality, sympathizing with them.  And i never bought in to Orsus, I never felt like I got inside his head enough to sympathize with what he does during the story.  Okay, yes, I understand that he blames himself for his family being killed, and that he blames himself for horrible things happening to his wife. But beyond that, there wasn’t any “there” there. The guy just didn’t have much of a personality and I didn’t find his story to be very compelling.  There had to be something else going on here that I was missing.

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Feeling lost and confused, I did some research. Turns out this is a tie in piece for the Warhammer 40K library.  Dan Wells has been into Warhammer for a long time, and had been invited to write an origin story for Orsus, a character who is a fan favorite. I’m sure if I was into Warhammer 40K, this story would thrill me. Now, if someone would just write a decent origin story for Liet Kynes and get it on the Hugo ballot, I can be one of those people cheering for a story that will have most readers scratching their heads in confusion.


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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.