the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for December 2017

It’s been a weird year.

 

It’s been a year of comfort reads, more so than in years past. I reread some favorites, and they were still amazing.

 

It’s been a year of ignoring hype, a year of  #selfcare, a year of finding stability.  I probably DNF’d more books this year than I actually finished.  DNF’ing is a form of selfcare that I highly recommend.

 

I lost a job that I hated, and three months later  I landed in a dream job that I love.

 

I read Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun and discovered the Alzabo Soup podcast. It has made my commute to work much more enjoyable!

 

It was a year of ignoring other people’s expectations, and selfishly focusing on my own wants. I learned what the word “sanctuary” really means.

 

I am happily addicted to the computer game Stardew Valley. It is therapeutic.

 

It’s been a good year.

 

In no particular order, here are my favorite books I read this year, with a link to the reviews I wrote.

 

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

 

Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

 

Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

 

Cold Iron by Stina Leicht

 

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett

 

The Skill of Our Hands by Steven Brust and Skyler White

 

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

 

 

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Imprinted (available January 2018) is the forthcoming novelette in Jim C. Hines’s Libriomancer series, and The Squirrel on the Train (November 2017, Subterannean Press) is Kevin Hearne’s latest Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries novella.  Two super fun and funny little stories!

 

Jim C. Hines concluded his Magic Ex Libris series with the fourth book in the series, Revisionary.  The magic of this series sounds rather basic at first – the world’s collective love for books, stories, and the items found therein allows Libriomancers to pull physical items out of books. Urban fantasy awesomeness and characters who will absolutely shred your heart ensue.  Because character relationships, people’s abilities, and the danger ramp up pretty quickly, this is a series that needs to be read in order.  But. . .  with an itty bitty spoiler (that really doesn’t spoil anything) you can read Imprinted even if you are not caught up on Magic Ex Libris.  That’s me, by the way. I’m the person who isn’t caught up on Magic Ex Libris.

 

Revisionary was supposed to have been the end of the series, right? Well, it wasn’t for Jeneta. She still has a story to tell!

 

Seventeen year old Librariomancer Jeneta Aboderin has a unique libriomantic ability, it’s an ability Isaac might never even thought of had he not met Jeneta. But her power brings risk with it. What if she isn’t strong enough to control her ability? What if she is able to control it, and ends up disrupting the foundations of libriomancy?

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Winterglass, by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Published in December, 2017

where I got it: Received e-ARC, then immediately ordered the paperback

 

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I have been a fan of Benjanun Sriduangkaew since I read her short story of “The Bees Her Heart, The Hive Her Belly”, which appeared in Mike Allen’s Clockwork Phoenix Vol 4, in the summer of 2013. That story involved a grafting of animal habitat into human (literally), and the prose was poetically effervescent.  I’ve been seeking out Sriduangkaew’s  work ever since, knowing that every time she puts out new fiction that I am in for a unique treat.   Oh, you’ve never read her before? That’s no problem, as Winterglass is a stand alone novella available in print and e-book format.  You can catch up on everything else later.

 

For such a slender novella, Sriduangkaew deftly weaves a number of unspoken conversations into a story that at first blush, is simply a story of political intrigue laced with romance.  There is the conversation about  General Lussadh, who was once a crown prince, and is now a traitor to her homeland, yet still believes she can be redeemed.  There is the conversation about the gladiator Nuawa, who has been speaking and thinking in doubletalk so long now that it no longer matters who the spies are. There are unspoken conversations about assimilation, shame, and jealousy.

 

Simmering just beneath the surface, and so obvious that not a single character needs to (or will risk) mentioning it, is the conversation of colonialism and forced assimilation through climate change.  At first, you won’t even see these conversations, as they are slippery and easily hidden by characters who would prefer to speak of anything else. And thanks to the symphonically beautiful prose, you’ll think you’re just reading some fairy tale type story that takes place in the fantasy city-state of Sirapirat.

 

Did I mention this is a retelling and re-interpreted version of the fairy tale The Snow Queen?  And that the descriptions of food are so amazing that I am waiting with baited breath for the companion cookbook?

 

If  Yoon Ha Lee’s Raven Strategem, Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, and Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Blades had a love child, that booklovechild would flirtatiously steal glances at Winterglass from across the room.  I imagine they would communicate their interest in each other through a system of cybernetic hummingbirds.

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Two weeks from today:

If you live in the northern hemisphere the days will finally be getting longer (omg, FINALLY).

Many people will have a stack of things that are destined to be returned for a different size/color/completely different item

I will have already posted my Favorite Books I  Read This Year blog post

we will all be saying “2018 can’t possibly be worse”

Vintage Month readers will be drafting their first Vintage blog posts of the month!!

 

I like to figure out ahead of time what  I’m going to read for Vintage Month. Or, to be more honest, I like to figure out what I plan to read. I rarely am able to get to it all.  This January will be unique, as everything I plan to read are books (and magazines) that people gave me.  These are all items that someone thought “I bet Andrea would like this”.  All of these items have been curated for me by people who care about me.  That makes them extra special!

 

Here’s what my friends knew I’d be interested in:

From my friend Andy comes Starman Jones and A Requiem for Astounding. Starman Jones is one of Andy’s favorite Heinlein juveniles, and it looks like a fun, easy, breezy read.   A Requiem For Astounding is a rare find, written by fan and historian Alva Rogers as a biography of Astounding magazine. I don’t know that I’ll be reading requiem cover to cover, but I’m sure I’ll dabble in it.  I worry I don’t have the context to get everything out of Requiem that Rogers hopes.

 

Just arrived the other day from my friend Richard at Tip the Wink, is among others, Nova by Delany, and the 9th Annual Year’s Best S-F edited by Judith Merrill.  I very much enjoyed Delany’s Babel-17, and Dahlgren looks intimidating, so Nova looks like the perfect book for me.  I’ve enjoyed other anthologies edited by Merrill, so I’m thrilled to pick up anything she edited. I glanced through the TOC to see a number of familiar names, and “Drunkboat”, which is one of my favorite Cordwainer Smith short stories. And this particular little paperback is my favorite kind of paperback – hundreds of onion skin thin pages,  economically tiny print, ultra cheap printing. It is the kind of paperback that screams “I was built to be thrown in your bag, read on the train and handled roughly.  Sneak in a few pages at every opportunity you can”.  Yes I personify and anthropomorphize books. I regret nothing.

My friend Elizabeth sent me these random Analog magazines shortly after  we met.  She is an uncanny reader of people, as the January issue includes a serialized portion of Frank Herbert’s Dune!!  When we get to those chapters in the Dune Read Along over at Red Star Reviews, I’ll be reading it from this magazine. And who knows how the text changed in the editing for the magazine to the editing into a novel?  I get a kick out of the advertisements and editorials in these magazines.  It is weird for me, to be reading these magazine issues so far removed from their context.  the editorials and letters to the editor won’t make any sense, the items that are being advertised no longer exists.   If all goes well, I’ll feel like an anthropologist.

 

That is my January plan!  what’s on your Vintage Plate?

 

 

So, I finally finished The Citadel of the Autarch, the 4th book in Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun.    The days after I finished felt like going through tangential stages of grief.  First, I was mad “that’s how it ends!? I’ve got to read the entire damn thing all over again from start to finish now!”.  Then I was confused, by a whole tone of WTFery at the end, then I was curious and got some helpful spoilers online.  Then I experienced acceptance that Gene Wolfe is, as always, a brilliant mastermind of storytelling. Even better – these aren’t the stages of grief, but the stages of awakening.

 

As I’ve done in previous entries in this little series of blog posts,  we’ll start with new words

 

Bacele     Graisle        Orphicheide        Orpiment

 

I didn’t take much notes while reading this fourth book, but I’m laughing at something I wrote down on my scribble sheet –  “I know it is gross and taboo, but I’m surprised Severian doesn’t get more people’s memories the way he got Thecla’s (although he hadn’t planned to get hers). It seems a simple way to learn about a person’s world. Wait a minute. . .  is this narrator just someone who got Severian’s memories?”

 

Once I’d finished the book, my comment became hilarious. And only half right.

 

Some other notes I wrote down –

 

  • Love hearing Thecla’s voice, in first person. When Severian gets tired, it seems easier for her to come to the surface.
  • The Ascian in the field hospital, is he satirical?  I love the stories that were told in the field hospital. Once it’s the Ascian’s turn, Severian learns how language, story, and communication actually work.
  • The Anchorite’s house!!!  The top layers are in the future, that is SO cool!
  • One of the very last scenes, where they go back to the Inn near the Sanguinary Fields, and talk with the guy there.  Oh, that made me cry!

 

Like i said, it’s been two weeks, and I should have written this blog post when the end of the book was fresh in my mind, as everything is a little fuzzy now. Although now I better understand why everyone says you need to read this series multiple times to get all the pieces. It’s a little like walking through where Rudesind is cleaning the paintings – only a few paintings are perfectly clean at the same time, so if you want to see them all, you better walk through the galleries every few weeks, because each time, you’ll see something different.  Everytime you read this series, I imagine you’ll catch more and different things, everytime you read it you get more of a foundation for the next time.

 

Warning: major spoilers ahead.  If you haven’t read this series, stop reading now. Not only will this spoil the series for you, but our of context it makes zero sense.

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I’ve barely been getting any reading done. Ok, that’s not exactly true, as I finished the fourth book in Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun,  I’m about halfway through a new anthology from Subterranean Press, and I’m about 50 pages into a new space opera novel from Tim Pratt.   But that hour every evening that I’d usually be reading?  I’ve been spending it playing Stardew Valley.

 

the simplest description of Stardew Valley is that it is a farming simulation game.  You can roll your eyes, it’s OK.   In the short introduction, you are a burned out corporate employee, and then you inherit your grandfather’s farm.  You move to the farm, which includes some cleared property, some woods, and a small cabin. A few people who live in the town come by to say hi, you’re given some basic tools, you are given a “quest” to introduce yourself to as many people in the town as possible,  and then the game starts.

 

Stardew Valley is a sandbox, and every decision is the right decision.

 

Want to grow a ton of corn?  go for it.

Want to chop down some trees as use the wood to build a bigger house? go for it.

Want to grow mushrooms and make your living off of foraging? go for it.

Want to befriend the dwarf who lives in the mountain and mine for minerals?  go for it.

Want to raise animals and make artisan cheese? You can do that too.

Not my farm. this is a random image from online.

All of those are correct answers, because every way to play Stardew Valley is the right way.  The designer of the game built in seasons, and seasonal changes to the landscape. Certain crops only grow in summer or fall, there is different fish in the river and ocean at different times of year, acorns and hazelnuts are plentiful in the fall, but maple seeds are more plentiful in spring. You can make things, upgrade things, buy and sell things, befriend people if you want to, tap for maple syrup, raise farm animals, stay in the woods if you feel like doing that.  In the fall, you can just watch the trees sway in the wind and the leaves blow across the screen, and watch the squirrels and birds if you feel like it.  Every so often there is a community event that you can participate in.

there is no wrong way to play Stardew Valley.

And right now, I need something in my life that is un-screw-up-able.  I need something where whatever decision I make is a good decision.  I need something where if I just stand around and enjoy nature, that the game will tell me that was an OK use of my time.   I’m sure there are players who play Stardew Valley with the goals of having the most lucrative farm, the biggest house, the most animals, the most friends, etc, and that is also the right way to play the game!  because every and any way you want to play this game is the right way.

I did fix this bridge.

the hours i play Stardew Valley are judgement free hours.   It’s the perfect remedy to the real world, to the news, to politicians bickering, to everything.

 

so, if you’ve been wondering why I’ve been quieter than usual, less social than usual, it’s a combination of me telling the world to fuck off, and the therapy that is Stardew Valley.

 

and in case anyone is wondering:

  • I have a very small farm, mostly vegetables.  I make pickles and jam out of most of them.
  • I decided early on that I wanted to live off the land. I do a lot of foraging. I have a mushroom cave, I’m slowly getting better at fishing, and I forage a lot of nuts, acorns, berries, mushrooms, plums, and other wild foods.
  • I love having a pet cat.
  • One of my favorite activities is doing a loop of the town, foraging whatever I find, and saying hi to people

I love how immersive this game is. Summer feels like summer. Autumn feels like autumn.  the kids in the town aren’t interested in talking with me unless I give them ice cream.  The ocean is peaceful.  People are at peace with each other.

 

it’s winter!

 


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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.
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