the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for July 2017

I used to struggle with short stories. I had no idea how to read anthologies.  How hard could a themed anthology be, right?  I’d overthink the entire thing, and make myself miserable.  I’d finish stories I didn’t enjoy because some part of my brain was telling me that these stories were chapters in a larger universe, and if I missed the end of the story, I’d have missed some important plot point. No wonder I didn’t get it! For the life of me, I could not understand why anyone thought short stories were worth a damn.

 

Luckily, I finally my hands on some anthologies that weren’t crap, and I came across some fantastic single author short story collection, and I found some fantastic short story podcasts (if you’ve not listened to Kate Baker tell you a story, you are in for a treat!).

 

Also? that table of contents? I completely ignore it.   The editor spent days or maybe weeks putting that table of contents together for goodness sakes, they are telling me something with that table of contents, I should respect their message, right?

 

The first time I realized I could read an anthology in any order I pleased was a revelation.  Since then, I’ve been reading the shortest stories first, and working my way up to the longest stories. Or, I’ll read the interesting sounding titles first. Or I’ll read my favorite authors first.  If I read two or three short stories and I’m still “meh” on the whole deal, I’ll probably put the book down and never pick it back up again. What I’m getting at is that when I started allowing myself to have control over how I read an anthology and read it however I damn pleased, I started enjoying them a lot more.   Sorry editor,  all your work on your perfect table of contents was wasted on me.  Can I buy you a drink or dinner when I see you at a convention, to make it up to you?

 

How about you?   Are you into short stories?  How do you imbibe them? Anthologies? single author collections? short story magazines and/or podcasts?   If you’re like me, and you used to struggle with short stories, how did you get past the struggle?

 

It’s been a good week for reading!  A little too good, actually, as I keep wanting to start new books even though I’m enjoying what I’m currently reading.

I finished Pilot X by Tom Merritt, and need to write a review of it.  If you like Doctor Who, you’ll like Pilot X.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been on and off reading The Physician, by Noah Gordon, and can you believe I’m reading a book that is not a scifi or fantasy book!!  Straight up historical fiction, it’s like an Edward Rutherford only way more focused and far more enjoyable to read.  My mom lent me the paperback, and it sat unread until I saw the movie version on Netflix. The movie of The Physician is very good, and they completely smashed up the plot and characters to jam what is a ten year story into a 3 hour movie.  Also? the movie got me interested in reading the book, so mission accomplished. I’m about halfway through the book, and while I am enjoying myself and the book is very readable, I am losing steam.

Peter Watts’ Blindsight is one of my favorite hard scifi novels, and I’ve had a copy of Echopraxia for at least 2 years and I haven’t picked it up until now. What is wrong with me?  Anyways, Echopraxia is a sort of companion novel to Blindsight. Same universe, same time period, but one is not the sequel or prequel of the other.  Now that I’m about 2/3 of the way through Echopraxia,  wow the paranoia and visceral terror is just ramped all the way up!! If like me, you are still trying to get the terrible taste of the movie Prometheus out of your mouth, read some Watts.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, this unassuming volume came into the house by way of loan:

A Requiem for Astounding is part history of the magazine, part love letter to the golden age, and part pure nostalgia.  I come across all these “classic” short stories all over the place, in raggedy “best of” volumes, as reprints, but I have no context for any of it. Here’s hoping this book of essays will give me some much needed context.  I enjoy non-fiction scifi related stuff like this, these older ones are getting near impossible to find!

 

And in the department of new ARCs that have arrived, we have these:

Emerald Circus is a collection of re-imagined fairy tales and includes Yolen’s famous short story “Sister Emily’s Lightship”.  I’m excited for this one, and as it is all short stories that means I can read it a little at a time and not be asking myself “who are these characters again? What were these people doing?”

Like Yolen, Ann Leckie needs no introduction.  Provenance is Leckie’s new novel, out in September. I was not a fan of her famous awards sweeping Ancillary trilogy, but I like what she says on twitter, I respect her editing philosophy, and I’m interested to try Provenance, if only to see how much range her writing has.

Unbreakable by Will McIntosh

published June 27th, 2017

where I got it: received ARC from the author

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Celia makes it look easy, but she’s been training so long to break records that to her, all the training has begun to feel hum-drum.  She figured out the trick to conditioning her body years ago: all she has to do is suffer, and the hardest part of breaking a record is the unceasing boredom. Most minutes holding your breath under water, longest time being buried alive, most number of hours spent without sleeping, she’s done it all and she knows it’s 99% sitting around waiting.

 

She’s lived in Record City for as long as she can remember, and for nearly as long she’s lived with her adoptive parents and a few house mates. They eat together, train together, cheer each other on, and help each other recover. When the team breaks a challenging record, it’s cash rewards all around and better housing.  Losing out to another team means having to move to a dingier apartment with fewer windows.  It might sound weird to you and I, but to Celia this is what family and love and friendship means.  When you’re surrounded by people who live their lives the same way you do, there isn’t anything to tell you that this is all very weird.

 

Part Hunger Games, part Lost, and part other things I can’t mention because I don’t want to wreck the twist, Will McIntosh’s new novel Unbreakable will grab you by the neck and won’t let go. Longer than a novella, but shorter than a novel, McIntosh self published this very strange, ultra fast-paced, narrowly focused, and addictively readable novel.  It is currently available as an e-book or paperback on Amazon.

 

As a friend lies dying, Celia escapes Record City on a quest to find a life saving medicine she’s heard about on television. And what she finds are . . .  more walled cities full of single minded citizens who shush her every time she tries to ask questions.  Even in Record City, the rule was “follow the rules sand shut up”, and the TV and movie characters who inspire Celia to  be curious about the world were bound to get her into trouble eventually.

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The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

published in 1969

where I got it: purchased new

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I was intimidated to read this book. I doubted my ability to “get it”. What if I read and said “ok, that’s nice”? What if I didn’t understand the author’s intent? Endless doubts and what if’s. At my local book club a few months ago, instead of having us all read the same book, the club organizer put a stack of Hugo winners on the table and told us all to pick one.  I grabbed The Left Hand of Darkness off the table.  Doubt can go screw itself.

 

The big idea in The Left Hand of Darkness is how would culture and society be different if there was no gender? Unique among the planets that support human life, the people of Gethen have no fixed gender – they are neither male nor female, and have the ability to both father a child and give birth to a child. These people have never heard the phrase “traditional gender roles” and sexism and gender bias don’t exist in their culture. In their language, the pronouns “he” and “his”, simply mean “person”, and titles and offices that sound male to our ears are inclusive. This book is full of “he” and “his”, but there is only one male character in this book.

 

Genly Ai, Envoy of the Ekumen, has travelled to Gethen to invite the planet to become a part of the Ekumen, which is an interstellar trade federation of sorts.  He has now been residing in the kingdom of Karhide for over a year, and he will stay until the planetary leaders voice their wish to join the Ekumen, or until they tell him to go away (them killing him might also happen). Genly is in some ways incredibly patient, but in other ways impatient.  Not only does he not in anyway understand the local politics, but he also struggles with the idea that his hosts are not men and not women, but potentially either, and always showing traits of both femininity and masculinity, often at the same time.  In return, they view him as a sexual deviant, a genetic freak.

 

Gethen isn’t just a planet of no fixed gender, it’s also a planet that is actively trying to kill you.  Nicknamed “Winter”,  this is a place of never ending ice and snow, with a narrow band near the equator that can support life. No large mammals, no birds, no apex predators.  LeGuin does magic with how the planet shapes the society and culture of the Gethenians – no birds to be curious about means no interest in airplanes,  no large animals to eat means many meals and snacks during the day and strict rules of socializing that revolve around eating. On a planet where frostbite can kill, hospitality towards the stranger is the norm. On a planet where the populace appears to have no fear or distrust of the “other”, there are plenty of arguments, but there has never been an all out war between Karhide and their bureaucratic neighboring country Orgoreyn. Sprinkled through the novel are interim short chapters that include both local folklore and  helpful commentary from anthropologists who visited before Genly.

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Mightier Than the Sword, by K.J. Parker

published June 30, 2017

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

 

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Recently out from Subterranean Press is K.J. Parker’s newest stand alone novella, Mightier than the Sword.  Parker fans will delight in the dry humor, banter, and plot twists of this fast paced story, while readers new to the Parker style may be left scratching their heads a bit yet at the same time itching to read the book again.  At 130 pages and mostly action and dialog, this novella can easily and happily be devoured in an afternoon.

 

Presented as a translation of a historical document from a nation that never existed, the environments presented here could be ancient Rome, could be early Britain, could be anywhere in between. The story may be fast paced, but it takes place  in a time when communication was as fast as the horse under the messenger and a two week journey in a wagon barely got you across the country.

 

Our unnamed narrator, the nephew of the Empress, is given a mission to discover just what the hell has been happening to the monasteries at the border of the country. Harried by pirates, burnt by raiders, no survivors, and hardly anything of worth has been stolen.  Is the empress trying to get one more heir killed? Is she trying to get him out of the capitol for some reason?  But off he goes on his errand, but not before proposing marriage to the woman he loves, after purchasing a house for them to live in and a doctor to save her life.

 

His rounds to the monasteries is also a convenient excuse to visit relatives he hasn’t seen since childhood.  Nobles who piss off the royal court can’t exactly be banished or excommunicated, so monasteries seem as good a prison for them as any other place – it’s cold,  boring, and out of the way. The abbots and abbesses tell our narrator who they think he can trust (no one), and what they think they know about who the raiders might be. Our narrator, wisely, pays close attention to what everyone says and  stays quiet about the knowledge he collects.  He has money to buy whatever he needs along the way, but more often than not, knowledge is of far greater value than coin.

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June, where did you go? Last I checked it was June 2nd, how is it already July??   I didn’t post many reviews in June, but I did get a lot of reading done.  Some of these I’ll write reviews for, some of them will get a capsule review in this post.  Here’s what I was up to this month:

 

I finished this fun little gem:

Spock Must Die is the famous novel where thanks to a transporter malfunction, the Enterprise now has two Spocks. Which one is the “real” one? What will they do with the other one? When war breaks out at the Klingon border, the importance of solving the mystery ratchets up. Even when Kirk is sure which Spock is the true, original Spock, he insists on calling his friend “Spock Two”. When questioned why, Kirk responds that by saying “two” every time he says his friend’s name, it forces him to remember how important it is to solve the problem at hand.  Fun little book, right around 200 pages.  Great beginning, satisfying end, a little slow in the middle.

 

then there was this other little gem:

Mightier than the Sword is the new novella out from K.J. Parker.  I’m not going to say much because I do plan to write a review, but it was fun, smart, snarky, and a joy to read. I’ve read it at least twice now, maybe three times?  I read these quick little novellas, and then I get ready to write a review, realize I don’t remember the details, so I read the whole thing again.  If you like Parker, you will love Mightier than the Sword.

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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.