the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for October 2015

china mountain zhangChina Mountain Zhang, by Maureen F. McHugh

published in 1992

where I got it: purchased used

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How to describe the plot of this book? Impossible. There are no grand quests, or enemies to defeat, or betrayals or heroes or world changing events or any of that. What China Mountain Zhang does offer is intimacy and intense subtlety in an SFnal world.  On the one hand, this is a quiet story of a man in hiding, who only lets the world see of him what they wish to see. If the safest thing for the public to see is a marriageable Asian with a decent job, that is what he will present to them. On the other hand, underneath the facade, underneath the social demands Rafael is crushed under, he is eternally screaming.  This is a story about how the only way to find yourself is to lose yourself.

 

Winner of the James Tiptree, Jr Award and the Locus Award for best first novel, and nominated for the Hugo and Locus award, China Mountain Zhang isn’t your typical SF novel.  Reading like literature, enjoyment of this novel is like discovering a new variety of wine you never knew existed and whose flavor you can’t describe, but you know you’ll be taking an entire case home with you.

 

China Mountain Zhang takes place about a hundred years from now, after America’s socialist civil war, after China came to our rescue and became the promised land, after Martian colonies were established. In America, to be Chinese means to get preferential treatment –  better jobs, better apartments,  easy acceptance to the top universities in China.  To this end, Rafael goes by the Chinese name Zhong Shan, and doesn’t tell any of his co-workers what he does after work. He can pass for Chinese, and that’s all that matters. No one needs to know that his mother is Hispanic.

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What are you doing Sunday November 1st?   You’re hanging out right here for the AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Julie Czerneda, that’s what!  She’ll be answering questions live in the comments, and i’ll be approving comments as fast as I can.  We’ll be celebrating her forthcoming novel, This Gulf of Time and Stars which hits bookstore shelves on Nov 3rd,  and picking her brain on all sorts of other fun things.

(Links! My review of This Gulf of Time and Stars,  Amazon pre-order link, Julie Czerneda’s website, facebook fan page, Julie Czerneda’s twitter)

I don’t know about you, but I want to know how she came up with the idea for the Dhryn, how she gets schoolkids excited about science and biology, how writing fantasy is different than writing SF, how she keeps such a huge cast of characters straight, what’s her favorite food, and about a million more questions.

Wanna submit a question early? E-mail them to me at redhead5318 at that gmail period com place.  I’ll get them pre-loaded for the big event.

What’s this you say about a give away?  why yes, yes there will be  give aways as part of the AMA! Ask a question on Nov 1st or comment that you’re interested in being entered, and you’ll be eligible to win an audiobook (international) or a Hardback (US or Canada) of This Gulf of Time and Stars. Stay tuned for more details!

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The AMA is part of the Blog Tour for This Gulf of Time and Stars.

station 11Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

published 2014

where I got it: published new

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Station Eleven thinks it’s about a woman named Kirsten who survives the apocalypse. But it’s really about those months and years that lead up to the awful events at the end of the world, those specific moments and events that will give Kirsten something to live for and keep looking for later, when she has nothing.  I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up Station Eleven. I certainly didn’t expect to love it as much as I did.

 

Mandel made a wise choice in telling this story in non-chronological order. If she’d told us the story in the exact order things happen, we’d know the ending right from the start. Things might be a surprise for Kirsten,  but they wouldn’t be a surprise for the reader. By giving us bits and pieces that happened now and then, the twists and turns are as equally a surprise for the reader as they are for the characters. Mandel teases all the connections out at just the right pace, with the starkness and sparseness of a placid planet that no longer has electricity or gasoline.

 

The center of the time line is a theater in snowy Toronto, a few weeks before a flu epidemic sends planet earth back to the dark ages. Kirsten is an eight year old child actress, doing Shakespeare alongside the famous Arthur Leander.  As an adult, Kirsten will remember very little of her childhood, but she’ll always remember the night Arthur had a heart attack and died on stage. This is the beginning of the end, in more ways than one. It was especially interesting, that a character who dies in the opening chapter  becomes a major character later on. It’s a trick you can pull when telling a story out of order!

 

Twenty years after the world ends, Kirsten travels with a caravan called the Traveling Symphony. She still performs Shakespeare.

 

Twenty years before the world ended, Arthur was enjoying the beginnings of fame. He was still in love with his first wife.

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51FDYgEMAsL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This Gulf of Time and Stars by Julie Czerneda (Reunification #1)

publishes Nov 3rd, 2015

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks DAW!)

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If you’ve been following Julie Czerneda’s writing career, the phrase “a new Clan Chronicles novel!” is music to your ears. I discovered Czerneda through her Species Imperative trilogy, and quickly fell in love with her invitingly conversational  writing style, her characterization, and the way she writes alien species. Seriously, this woman is the ultimate master of writing convincing alien species. Formally trained as a biologist, Czerneda’s plots touch on evolution,  biology, ecology, and how it’s all related.  She’ll introduce you to an alien civilization and then prove their population isn’t living on their planet of origin, she’ll give a species a strong evolutionary process and then prove that it doesn’t quite work as planned. It’s true, physics and math will get us to the stars, but it’s biology that will give us the answers to whatever and whoever we find living out there.

I think the biggest question surrounding This Gulf of Time and Stars is can readers new to this series jump in here? The answer is it depends on the reader. If you don’t mind feeling a little in the deep end (some of my favorite authors have thrown me into the deep end, to fantastic results – looking at you China Mieville and Iain M. Banks!), or you’re willing to take 5 minutes to do a little research by reading Czerneda’s informative and entertaining Big Idea post over at Scalzi’s Whatever, you’ll do fine. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers to have everything explained right off the bat, you may prefer to start earlier in the series. Generally speaking, Czerneda is the kind of author who simply doesn’t explain things right away – part of her character’s journeys involves discovering for themselves what’s going on, and how, and why. and when I say “discovering for themselves”, I don’t mean coming of age (although some of her novels would qualify as coming of age), I mean discovering genetic secrets and information that  could tear apart an entire society and species. We’re talking big picture here.

This review does have SPOILERS for the first books in the series, and some SPOILERS for This Gulf of Time and Stars.

Here’s the very quick and dirty background of the series, the characters, and the world, in which I have grossly simplified everything in the name of brevity:

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binti nnediBinti, by Nnedi Okorafor

published Sept 2015

where I got it: purchased new

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In a way, Binti is a completely traditional scifi/hero’s journey story – young woman gets an opportunity to leave home, does so, finds herself in a situation far beyond her control, and ends up single handedly stopping an interstellar war. A perfect dove-tailing of tribal and futuristic, of sentient space ships and ancient cultural traditions, Binti was a beautiful story to read.  For some of you, this will just be a story that you read and forget about two days later. For others of you, it will be a door that opens and never closes. File me under “others of you”.

 

Binti is from Earth, from a traditional family in a traditional village. Her people are curious, but they don’t travel. Her family is famously innovative,  but inward looking.  Her acceptance to a prestigious university is as thrilling to her as it is horrifying to her family.  She leaves in the middle of the night.  Just by leaving she has shamed her family, so she might as well go all the way and get on the damn shuttle.

 

She wasn’t surprised to learn she was the only Himba on the shuttle, nor is she surprised to be the only Himba student at the university. However it was a shocked, shameful silence that blanketed her when strangers poked and prodded her protective hairstyle – can I touch it, does it smell, why do you put mud in your hair, that’s so weird, don’t let the mud touch anything on the ship. What they are telling her is that she is different from them, and that she should be ashamed of her difference. That to be accepted, she needs to assimilate, and look and act like them.  That when she reaches civilization, she’ll understand. Yes, all that in a facial expression and a few words spoken at her, not to her. People are just this crass in real life, too.

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annihilation scoreThe Annihilation Score, by Charles Stross (A Laundry Novel)

published 2015

where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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This is the sixth Laundry novel, but in a way, it’s the first of its kind (By the way, Start Here).  Laundry novels have always starred Bob Howard, IT programmer turned computational demonologist. No matter how shitty his day is at work, he can usually come home to his wife Mo. She works for the Laundry too, and sometimes it’s her coming home from a crappy trip to be soothed by her well meaning husband. Bob might be an apprentice (and possibly heir) to The Eater of Souls, but Mo has him beat. You see, she is the handler for what is known as the Pale Violin.  the “This violin kills demons” sticker on the violin case is no joke.

I rushed through The Rhesus Chart, the Laundry novel that comes right before this one. I really, really wanted to get to The Annihilation Score,  because this book is told from Mo’s point of view. Yup.  Barely any Bob in this baby, this novel is all Mo, all the time. Oh, and let’s not forget the semi-sentient violin that creeps into her dreams and wants to kill her husband.  can’t forget that.

 

For those of you just joining us, Mo’s instrument is made of human bone, her fingers bleed when she plays it, and she can’t let it out of her sight because it gets very lonely, and very, very hungry. Remember Elric’s Arioch?  You’re on the right track,  just crank the demon eating darkness up to eleven.  Mo calls her violin Lecter, and if you listen very closely, you can hear his whisper. He doesn’t want much from you, yet, but if you’d only listen to his voice ….

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Elantris_coverElantris, by Brandon Sanderson

published in 2005

where I got it: purchased used

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Hard to believe I haven’t read any Brandon Sanderson, isn’t it?  His name has been a buzzword for quite a while now, I’ve seen more than a few Sanderson read-alongs pop up, the dude is like, everywhere.   One afternoon at my local indie bookshop, I asked “got any Sanderson that isn’t in the middle of a series?”, and I came home with a copy of Elantris.

 

We open with some history of the world, where the god-like citizens of Elantris never wanted for anything, and kept everyone safe. Their magic suffused everything, allowing Elantrians to glow and magical creatures to wander the world. Then something horrible happened, there was a short war, and now the grand city of Elantris sits abandoned. Only those who have no one else to go, those who have been afflicted with the horrifying Shaod disease now live in Elantris.

 

In nearby Kae, Prince Raoden awaits the arrival of his fiance Sarene.   By the time she arrives, the King has already announced the Prince has died of a wasting disease. Sarene can’t go home, so she sticks around, and learns as much as she can about her new family. Also, when can she stop wearing black to mourn a husband she never met?  She’s not the only one new to the court. There’s a religious war brewing, and Hrathen, a high priest of Fjordell is on a mission to convert the citizens of Arelon before they can be viewed as heretics.

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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.