the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for August 2017

The Tourist, by Robert Dickinson

published June 2017

where I got it: received review copy from the published (Thanks Hachette!)

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Welcome to the 24th century, where the most exotic vacation a person can take is to a 21st century mall.  Experience germs and cell phones, risk mild food poisoning and interactions with sullen gothy teenagers, and then spend the night safely ensconced in a resort hotel.   There are tons of travel companies that offer these types of tours.  The companies and their employees choose to ignore all the smuggling that often takes place right under their noses. Time travel has become so easy and common, it’s not even called “time travel” anymore, it’s just called “travel”,  and you get to your destination via a high energy technology called translation.

 

“It’s the logic of travel: the past is just another country, and, if you can afford the translation, you can always go back. Nothing is lost, nobody really dies. You die, of course: but, if they have the right resources, other people can always come back and see you. You remain alive.”

                                The Tourist, page 310

 

The opening chapters of The Tourist fall somewhere between Kage Baker’s Company novels and the movie Twelve Monkeys, complete with a shadowy future century no one is allowed to see, rumors of a genocide in recent history, a near extinction event, and the challenges of how to tell someone you are from the past or the future.  There is a “map” of sorts in the front of the book, that on first glance looks like a map of a shopping mall, but then you realize it’s a chart of a time line. The time line is U shaped, with the character’s lives jumping back and forth all over the place. Ahh, the tricks you can play in a time travel book!

 

Spens is a rep with one of the travel agencies, his job is to shepherd his charges to the mall, show them how paper money works, and warn them against 21st-ers who know how to trick naive idiots.  For shock value, he buys a muffin at a coffee stand and eats it.  This is just a job for Spens, he lives at the resort and gets together for drinks with the other reps at night to share stories of their idiot clients.   He’ll work at the resort forever if it means he never has to work the tunnels again.

 

And then one day he loses a client.

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The Habitation of the Blessed, by Catherynne M. Valente

where I got it:  purchased new

published in 2010

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I first read and reviewed Catherynne M. Valente’s The Habitation of the Blessed in 2011, and it blew my mind. I had no idea jeweled prose like this existed, I had no idea stories could be told like this. I didn’t know an author could do these things in a novel. I remember trying to give someone a 30-second elevator pitch about this book, and I knew I couldn’t boil the entire book down into a few sentences so I simply said something like Have you ever come across a metaphor that wasn’t a metaphor, it was the truth? That’s this book. The person looked at me like I was crazy, but I think I did Habitation justice with that pitch.

This is a hard book for me to talk about, because reading it has become a sort of religious experience for me. Not religious in the way of temples or praying or god or heaven or any of that stuff, but religious in the way of looking up at the night sky, seeing the Milky Way, and feeling very small and realizing you had no idea the universe and everything in it could be this beautiful and understanding that you are a part of that beauty, you are in it, you are of it. Religious like that.

I don’t so much talk about this book as fan-girl about it.

The blurb on the back of the book reads:

“This is the story of a place that never was: the kingdom of Prester John, the utopia described by an anonymous, twelfth-century document which captured the imagination of the medieval world and drove hundreds of lost souls to seek out its secrets, inspiring explorers, missionaries, and kings for centuries. But what if it were all true? What if there was such a place, and a poor, broken priest once stumbled past its borders, discovering, not a Christian paradise, but a country where everything is possible, immortality is easily had, and the Western world is nothing but a dim and distant dream?”

I call it a “surface plot”, because this is not a book about some simple plotline. Is a book about the power of story, the power of time, the power of faith, and the beauty of being destroyed and created by those powers.

Prester John had originally been on a mission to find the grave of Thomas the Apostle when he found instead the land of Pentexore, and five hundred years later, Brother Hiob is on a mission to find the possibly immortal Prester John. Where Hiob’s journey ends, he finds a tree. A tree whose fruit are books. Hiob is allowed to pluck three books from the tree, and he finds to his luck one of the books is in the voice of Prester John himself. The second is from John’s wife Hagia, and the third is from the famous storyteller Imtithal. No matter how fast Hiob and his assistant copy and transcribe, the books turn to rot faster. The residents of Pentexore may have had immortality, but it only takes hours for their stories to decompose. (and what does it mean when someone’s story dies?)

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Echopraxia, by Peter Watts

published in 2014

Where I got it: I don’t remember

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Echopraxia, from dictionary.com:

  1. the abnormal repetition of the actions of another person.
  2. the involuntary imitation of the actions of others

 

Daniel Bruks is a regular human.  Living out in the desert after committing career suicide, Bruks is just a regular guy. And by regular, I mean he has no augments and his DNA and brain haven’t been mucked around with. By regular, I mean humanity is, in general, leaving him behind. But so long as they leave him alone, he’s fine with that.

 

Bruks keeps saying he doesn’t understand what’s happening, or why the Bicamerals even took him along on their mission when it would have been much easier to leave him behind. He’s not alone, as for the first half of this book, I had no idea what was happening either.  Watts certainly throws the reader into the deep end, and it was a frustrating first hundred pages.  Luckily, about a third of the way in, there are some conversational infodumps that tell you exactly what all these augmented humans are, and what Bruks is not.  And maybe  Bruks will eventually come to realize all the mean names the augments call him, names like roach and baseline, aren’t insults at all.

 

Echopraxia takes place in the same universe as Blindsight, and if you haven’t read Blindsight it is 1) one of the most incredible hard scifi novels ever written, and 2) won’t much prepare you for Echopraxia, as these two novels are those distant cousins who see each other at weddings and funerals, but can’t think of a reason to speak to each other.  That said, I couldn’t stop thinking about Blindsight while reading this novel. There is so much discussion in Echopraxia about how you can’t trust your own brain, you can’t trust your own perception. Blindsight was ALL ABOUT perception, and we see that story from Siri’s point of view, and of course he trusts his perception.  It makes for a fascinating dichotomy between the two novels!

 

Plotwise, I’m not 100% sure what is going on in Echopraxia. Bruk’s desert home is under attack by zombie drones, so he takes refuge at the nearby monastery of Bicamerals.  The Bicamerals are a sort of hive mind type thing, they have souped up synapses spiked with genetics from our ancient ancestors, genetics homo sapiens evolved away from because we “didn’t need that stuff anymore”.  Turns out, it isn’t Bruks the zombies are attacking, but the monastery. When the Bicams escape, they take Bruks and their “pet” vampire, Valerie, along with. What the hell do they need Bruks for? For that matter, what the hell do they need a god damn Vampire for?  Once out in space, the story takes a turn for the visceral horror, because Valerie is the smartest predator the Earth has ever seen.  (What are vampires doing in a hard scifi novel, you ask? Fantastic question!  And the answer is in Blindsight, and also in that novel’s appendix, where Watts brilliantly discusses how Vampires are genetically viable and possible on Earth, and why it was a really terrible idea for us to bring their genetics back)

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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.