the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for May 2019

After missing a week, Five for Friday makes a triumphant return!

Also, I got my garden in, FINALLY!  mint, basil, green onions, parsley, chives, lavender, and petunias.


Welcome to  Five for Friday. The concept is simple – it’s a Friday, and I post a photo of 5 books, and then we chat about them in the comments.

The only things these books have in common are:
– they were on my bookshelf
– I’m interested in your thoughts on them.

Want to join in? Post a picture of 5 random books you own, with the tag #5ForFriday and get your friends talking.

have you read any of these? if yes, did you like them? If you’ve not read them, does the cover make you interested in learning more about the book?

This week we have. .  .

Throne of the Crescent Moon  by Saladin Ahmed (2012) – oh, you thought Saladin Ahmed only wrote your favorite comics, like Spiderman, Black Bolt, and Exiles?  This fun fantasy adventure novel was Ahmed’s debut novel, and it’s a fun read!  I don’t remember the details, but I remember it had a sort of Indiana Jones feel and great characters.


Blood of Elves (Witcher #1) by Andrzej Sapkowksi (2018) – which came first, the video game or the books? I think the books?   I’ve not read any of these Witcher books, and my experience with the game is half-paying attention while my husband plays the game.   But these look fun.  Anyone read these? are they good?


Close Encounters of the Third Kind by Steven Spielberg (1977) –  first of all, I am an absolute sucker for movie novelizations, especially of movies I love, and i love this movie so much!  And second of all, this novelization was written by Spielberg and an author named Leslie Waller, and I’m betting the writing was 90% Waller. But his name isn’t on here, at all!!!    and third of all,  you will be sorely disappointed that this novelization does not come with a sound chip that has the famous musical notes at the end.


We Who Are About To . . . by Joanna Russ (1977) –  there is an accident in space, and the survival pod carrying a collection of random people makes it safely to the surface of a planet.  But no one knows they are  on the planet, no one knows they are alive! What now?? Some survivors have the romanticized philosophy that this is just another frontier to tame and that they can survive until rescue arrives. The main character doesn’t believe that long term survival with the scant resources they have is possible.  It was an interesting read. if you don’t want the plot spoiled, do NOT go to the wikipedia page! Also, I don’t understand this cover art, at all.


Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis (1938) – I’ve only read Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and I had no idea until recently that he had ever written science fiction. Has anyone read this? is it good?

My local book group is reading Exhalation, the new collection of short stories from Ted Chiang. All of the stories previously appeared in anthologies or magazines, this is the first time these stories are all appearing in one place, with story notes at the end. Chiang’s prose is thoughtful,quietly powerful, and without agenda. He is giving you characters, challenges, and environment, and leaves it entirely up to the reader to decide how (if at all) to react to what is presented. In my experience, much of his work reads like a diary, or a private essay, or a longform article. He is telling fiction, but in a way that makes it feel like you’ve travelled ten years into the future where this technology is just how life is, now. Or in the case of “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny”, that you’ve travelled into the past.


Exhalation gives me reason to return to two of my favorite Chiang stories, “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” (Subterranean Press 2010), and “The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling” (Subterranean Online, 2013), both of which I have written about before.  These two short stories have been in my brain for 5+ years now, it’s been fun to chew on them during the years, to discover all the layers as time goes by.

“The Lifecycle of Software Objects” reminds me of Blackberries and the online game Second Life.  It reminds me of people who don’t have children, but instead have spoiled pets referred to as “fur-babies”. It reminds me of Asimov’s Bicentennial Man.   At a SciFi Convention a few years ago, in a panel that I was on, we were talking about Artificial Intelligence, and this story came up (I may have been the one to bring it up).  I said the story “was about what happens when our children grow up, and discover adult things”, and a well meaning person in the audience let me know that “that’s not what that story is about.”


On the top layer,  “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” is about Ana, who is a programmer at a company that makes “digients”.  They want to make AIs that can learn, and are able to easily interact with people, so the programmers and others within the company “raise” the digients, much as you would the world’s smartest puppy – socializing them, teaching them games, teaching them to be patient  when an adult is busy. If you go on vacation, or get bored, just put your digient in suspension until you’re ready to play with it again. Remember Tamagochi’s? Like that, times a million. Technology changes over the years, and not only are the socialized and raised digients ready for sale to the masses, there are now robot bodies that your digient can be downloaded into, so it can experience the real world, and walk around with you.


The story jumps ahead –  most of Ana’s friends move on,  they have children of their own, and no time or interest in what to them was never more than a digital pet they were being paid to raise. A friend who is planning family says she doesn’t need digients anymore, because “now she has the real thing”.  Ana feels left behind.


Technology changes yet more – the online server where the digients are hosted is so far in the technical past that its user must self fund it. And there are only a few people left.  Is the digient experient over? Should Ana give up on the digient she has raised for over 15 years? If software is not of use, if it can not be monetized, what is the purpose of its existence?  What if you, the “parent” of the software, don’t agree with how it is being monetized?

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Last month,  Book Forager and I read Lauren Beukes’s Broken Monsters. This book came out a while ago, but we both realized it was a book we had been meaning to get to. . . and just needed a nudge to finally read.   As we each got through different portions of the books, we’d email back and forth our thoughts and questions for each other.  Our conversation morphed in a shared Google Doc for us to chat back and forth about our favorite characters, the weirdness of this book, the ending (holy crap that ending!!), and that a book that is ostensibly about a serial killer made me cry.


Below, is one half of our conversation,  head over to Book Forager this weekend to read the other half!



Who were your favorite characters?

Book Forager: I’m torn between Layla, TK and Clayton. Layla is such a badass and I still think she’s the hero of the book. Yes, she’s a teen who’s trying to sort everything out in her head and work out who she is, but she’s got some serious backbone. She takes on VelvetBoy and Travis (which was awesome!), and she seems to understand better than anyone else what’s going on in the factory at the end. She admires Cass without realising just how frigging awesome she is herself.


I loved TK from the moment he found those red shoes and handed them over to Ramón instead of keeping them for himself. Everything about his story breaks my heart. At the end of my copy of the book there was an interview with Beukes (was there in yours, Andrea?) and in both that and her acknowledgements she mentions James Harris from the NOAH project at the Central United Methodist Church in Detroit, who allowed her to use details from his personal history. I’m guessing that’s why TK feels so real. Real or not, he’s loyal and smart, an incredibly sympathetic character, and has an odd super power involving chairs.


And Clayton. He’s just so well written. I have a soft spot for characters who struggle to interact with the world in an acceptable way. He’s incredibly creepy, and deluded, and I’m not sure I can scrape up that much empathy for him, but I still have a little. At least I did at the beginning. I feel like he’s not quite fully formed, if that makes any sense? I’m guessing he may not be on your favourite characters list Andrea, but how did you feel about Clayton Broom?


Andrea:  You guessed right, Clayton totally creeped me out! And yes, I 100% get what you mean that he didn’t feel fully formed. Do you think that was on purpose?  That he’s looking for something that will make him feel (or literally be) fully formed? I’m such an idiot, I thought my book didn’t have the interview in the back. . . .  and I just looked again, just now, and of course it’s there. How did I miss that before??


At first I really liked Jonno, more on him in a bit.


It’s funny, at the beginning of the book, it looks like Gabrielle and Jonno are being presented as the main characters. And yes, they are both important, but I felt like as the book progressed, Layla, and by extension, Cas, become the main characters.  It is awful that this thriller about a freaky AF serial killer is really Layla’s coming of age book? She starts as this quiet “don’t look at me” kind of girl who is overshadowed by her boisterous best friend, and the tables kind of turn by the end, in a good way.   The crazy shit Layla and Cass do to Velvetboy? Holy crap! And like, I don’t think Layla figures out exactly who she is by the end, but she sure figures out who she isn’t. And wow, what a bonding experience between her and her mom!!!


Layla has a unique way of looking at the world,  and I think for teenagers, that unique way is totally normal.  But us adults, we’ve forgotten how to look at the world in such a unique way. If she hadn’t been at the warehouse at the end, the book would have had a much more gruesome ending, I think.  I wonder if Beukes sort of wrote the lead up to the end backwards? Like, she knew Layla had to be there . . . so how to engineer the scenes before to make sure Layla is there? I bet all authors do something like that, where they know certain characters need to be in certain places for certain things to happen, so how do to you make sure people have a legit reason to be where they are supposed to be at the right time?


Book Forager: Huh … this is going to sound dumb, but it never occurred to me that Clayton’s not-quite-fully-formed-ness was something deliberate. But that makes complete sense (I feel a real wally!) of what happens to him in the woods (even though I think Beukes is deliberately vague on that score, perhaps to keep the reader guessing about the supernatural elements until later on), and why.


Yeah, I felt like Gabrielle and Jonno were going to be the key players too, and I liked the way Layla and Cass slowly moved into the spotlight, how the whole book starts out feeling like a typical procedural and slowly twists into something much more.

Did your favorite character(s) change by the end of the book?

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Last Friday, I went to a local speaker series where retired astronaut Fred Haise Jr. was speaking.  Remember that movie you loved and have seen a million times, Apollo 13?  you remember Bill Paxton?  Paxton portrayed Fred Haise Jr.  Who I saw, in real life, last Friday.  and it was freakin’ AMAZING.


Being in the same room with someone who flew to the moon?? Talk about a bucket list moment!


His talk was part of the Viking Speaker Series, which was hosted by a local community college and other community organizations, and he spoke at a local high school.  The front of the auditorium was reserved for students and their families, and college students (photos are crappy because I was sitting so far away). Most of the room was not old enough to understand who they were seeing.  The rest of us has tears in our eyes.


I’d planned to take wonderful notes and write up an article, but I forgot to bring paper!!  So I did the next best thing and live tweeted the whole thing.  He talked about his years as a Navy test pilot, what Ron Howard got wrong in the move (But Haise still enjoys seeing the movie), how many people on the ground were really involved with Apollo 13, what his favorite snacks to eat in space were, how he recovered from a horrible flight crash that caused 2nd and 3rd degree burns on 50% of his body, the dangers of flying the Space Shuttle Enterprise,  and his hopes for future generations.


I’ve not yet figured out how to storify (or whatever) my tweets, so the rest of this blog is post is literal screen shots of my twitter feed from that evening. This is image heavy and may take extra time to load.  If you’re on twitter, click here for the thread.

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On a lark, I picked up China Mieville’s Embassytown to reread.  I read this back when it came out in 2011, and it blew my mind. (I even wrote a pretty good review!) I remember being intimidated by the vocabulary, of having open while I was reading. I remember that at the time I wondered if half the words were made up, or if Mieville was trying to prove that he was smart and I was dumb.  I was the girl who read what was given to her.  Maybe Mieville was just telling me to pick up a damn dictionary already.


On this reread, pen in hand, I decided to underline every word I didn’t know.  I underlined maybe five words? All of which I could figure out contextually. That girl, the one who got all defensive because she ran into words she didn’t know? Eight years later that girl is a stranger to me.  These days, words I don’t know are like eating a fruit i’ve never had, or a dessert i’ve never heard of, or gaining access to the rare book room at the library. They are a joy.


Speaking of weird words I don’t know Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun tasted like mochi and illuminated manuscripts .  To put that in context, the first time I tasted Mochi I cried with joy.

(Words you don’t know is like rehearsing with a jam band. You want to be the worst musician in the room, because that guarantees you’ll learn from the other musicians. Being the best musician in a jam band is boring – you risk not becoming a better musician)


I can’t talk about Embassytown without talking about language, and how spoken communication is both more and less about the actual words that come out of our mouths.  My fave subgenre of scifi is books that deal with language, linguistics, first contact, communication. I hate the word “communication”, it is such a bland, cheap sounding word for something that encompasses basically everything.


This post  has minor and major spoilers for Embassytown. Consider yourself warned.  But like any Mieville book, i can tell you what happens at the end, and it won’t spoil any of the good parts of the book for you.


In the book Embassytown, the aliens, the Ariekei, speak with two mouths, two voices at once.  If what they are saying is two syllables, they say both syllables at the same time. The way this is presented within in the text fantastic, it looks something like this:



It takes two humans, speaking at the same time, to speak in Language that the aliens will understand.   One human talking just sounds like white noise to them. They hear sound (maybe?) but the sounds are just noise.

(spoilers, and hella cool conversation on language ahead!)


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Welcome to  Five for Friday. The concept is simple – it’s a Friday, and I post a photo of 5 books, and then we chat about them in the comments.

The only things these books have in common are:
– they were on my bookshelf
– I’m interested in your thoughts on them.

Want to join in? Post a picture of 5 random books you own, with the tag #5ForFriday and get your friends talking.

have you read any of these? if yes, did you like them? If you’ve not read them, does the cover make you interested in learning more about the book?


This week, a whole ton of stuff I haven’t read!  but a lot of stuff that I’m excited to read!


Exhalation by Ted Chiang (2019) – this is his newest short story collection. I’m not sure if everything in this volume has been printed elsewhere before, but I did recognize a few titles in the table of contents. the timing is uncanny,  a reread of his novella The Lifecycle of Software Objects has been itching the back of my mind for a few months now. . . and guess what is in this collection! I finished Lifecycle last night, it was even better than I remembered it. This book is my local book clubs book for this month.


The Gossamer Mage by Julie Czerneda (2019) – this book comes out later this summer, and HOLY COW would you look at that gorgeous artwork!!!!  like, i want a poster of that on my wall!  Also, the book look freakin’ awesome. lots of scriving type magic, forbidden stuff, maybe something about killing a god?  I can not wait to start reading this!!


The Wolf’s Call by Anthony Ryan (2019) – unsolicited ARC, this doesn’t seem like a book for me.  It looks like something my husband would like, so he’s gonna give it a try, and let me know what he thinks, and from his opinion I’ll see if it is something i want to try.   Anyone read this author? what do you think of his work?


I barcon’d at StokerCon in Grand Rapids Michigan last week, and snuck into their dealer room (the dealer room was 90% BOOKS by the way, which is what a con dealer room should be!!), and picked up these titles:


The Garden of Eldritch Delights by Lucy Snyder (2018) – this collection of short stories seems hella cool, I’ve been loving short stories lately, and how am I supposed to say no to something with a title like this? I’m not.


Indelible Ink by Matt Betts (2015) – I really did mean to buy this book a few years ago when it came out,  it’s got a criminal underground, a young magician, sorcery out of control, sisters who protect each other – sounds like a “shut up and take my money” kind of book!  this book is super high on my priority list!


The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, by H.G. Parry

Available July 2019

where I got it: received ARC (Thanks Hachette!!)









Since the beginning of ever there has been this thing that readers and writers of literature don’t read or write genre fiction, and readers and writers  of genre fiction don’t read or write literature. That’s all bullshit by the way, but there are always authors who are offended that people call them “science fiction writers”, and readers of literature who look down on us speculative fiction readers.


Yet, it begs the question – how to get lit readers and genre fiction readers to see how much they have in common? That we all love a story well told, that we all love characters who go  through hell and back, that we all love the feeling of falling headfirst into a book? The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry could be the book that brings us all together. This book stitches together a scholar’s love for classic British literature with the scifi/fantasy joyful gleefulness of fictional characters who literally come alive out of books and then someone’s got to help them figure out how to live in the real world, or shove them screaming back into their dry paper pages.


If you’re a scifi/fantasy fan, and you enjoy Jim C. Hines’ Libriomancer books, or if you secretly loved those ST:TNG episodes where the holodeck went haywire and some poor Ensign found themselves face to face with Moriarty, you’ll enjoy this book.


If you have no idea what libriomancy or a holodeck is, but you love Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, and anything involving Sherlock Holmes, and/or if you intimately know the beauty and the power of literature,  you’ll enjoy this book.


For nearly 30 years, Rob has helped keep a dangerous family secret.  The secret is that his little brother, Charley, can literally pull story book characters out of books.  When then were little boys, Charley pulled the Cat in the Hat right out of the book! Now that Charley is back in Rob’s life,  Rob’s got to once again get used to middle of the night phone calls of “help, it happened again. Can you come over?”. The family fears the worst if anyone where to find out about Charley’s secret power. Would he be thrown into some secret prison lab somewhere, never be to be seen again?


Much of the story is told from Rob’s point of view, and he’s the classic frustrated older sibling, as loyal to and protective of his little brother has he is annoyed by being constantly dragged into his brother’s problems. How long can Rob keep this a secret from his fiance? And who the hell is this Uriah Heep look-a-like who has shown up as an intern at Rob’s workplace??


The plot thickens right away, when Charley and Rob are told of a secret “street”. Through an alleyway, they find a secret door, behind which lies The Street. Storybook characters who have been given life (by Charley???  By someone else?) eventually find their way to the Street, where they can live safely. The White Witch of Narnia is here, as is the Implied Reader, along with Heathcliff, Matilda, five versions of Mr. Darcy, Miss Matty,   Dorian Gray, and Millie Radcliffe-Dix, among others. I’ll need a pulp mystery expert’s help here, but I believe Millie Radcliffe-Dix is an actual fictional character made up for this novel, she’s a 1950s Girl Detective – full of moxie and smarts, and never in any actual physical danger.


Rob is astounded and rather terrified to see all these fictional characters wandering around, and Charley is full of wonder and glee. The Street is the first place where Charley has felt safe.

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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.