the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for June 2019

Blackout by Connie Willis

published in 2010*

where I got it: purchased used

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I finished reading Connie Willis’s Blackout shortly after blogging about how much of a Lobster this book is.  When I wrote that blog post, I was about half way through the book, I am pretty sure I read the 2nd half in a non-stop reading marathon.

 

That post, and this post has minor plot spoilers for Blackout.

 

I’m a sucker for time travel thrillers,  and I especially love it when the premise of the thriller is “what could possibly go wrong?” and the author has correctly answered that question is “everything!”,  thus the thrilling storyline.

 

Willis’s Doomsday Book is one of my favorite time travel novels, and I’d heard the sequel was To Say Nothing of the Dog.  I recently bought a copy of TSNofD, and don’t tell anyone I said this, but i DNF’d that book about 50 pages in. I wasn’t getting any of the Three Men in a Boat jokes (yes, I am a midwestern heathen with no education. More on that in a bit, actually),  I wasn’t connecting with any of the characters. So back on the bookshelf that book went. But I still wanted my Connie Willis fix? So I picked up Blackout.

 

Blackout takes place about 5 years after the events of Doomsday Book, and who were the first two characters I met?  Dunworthy and Colin!! This was the sequel to Doomsday Book I’d been looking for!! Colin is nearly college age, and as adorable and puppy-like as always,  Badri knows not to let Colin anywhere near the net, and Dunworthy is his usually curmudgeonly and rushing all about self. Dunworthy cares deeply for his time traveling students, he’s just real good at showing it.  And he keeps rescheduling everyone’s drops and driving the net techs crazy.

 

Just joining us for Connie Willis time travel?  Here’s some context: It’s the year 2060, time travel exists (but somehow smartphones, e-mail, and pages do not**),  and Oxford University sends historians back in time for weeks or months, so the historian can embed themselves in the time and location they are studying.  The language and accent you need will be imported into your implant, you’ll receive tons of training on how to act and dress, and when your drop date arrives, you go to the Net with your props, and the net techs send you through. To avoid anyone being able to change history, the net simply won’t open to let you go through to a moment in the past where you’d have any ability to muck things up. To return home, you got to the “drop” site at specific pre-arranged times when the net will open for you. Pretty cool, right?

 

Minor spoiler:  Dunworthy and Colin are not major characters in Blackout. I think I cried with joy to get to see them again, and even 20 pages with them was enough for me to be OK with not seeing them for another who knows how many pages.  The novel follows four time travelers/historians who I hadn’t met before, and they have all gone back to different areas of England at different points during World War II. They each have an assignment to observe different places.  The good news is that while some things do go wrong, this book is nowhere near as brutal as what all went wrong in The Doomsday Book.

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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.

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?

 

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

 

 

This week we have two classics, to works of translated fiction and a surprise non-fiction book!

 

 

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny (1967) – Would you look at that cover art!  and would you believe I’ve never read a Zelazny novel?  yeah, gotta fix that. Good thing this book is my local scifi book club’s pick for July.  Might be scifi, might be fantasy, might be a mix of both.  a mix of future planetary colonization and Hindu mythology.  I love scifi, I love mythology, so I am super excited to read this!

 

Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist by Lola Robles (2016) – This was recommended to me by Rachel Cordasco, so I had to give it a try!  Human scholar (the titular linguist?) travels to an alien world to meet the locals. there is a friendly nomadic group and a cave-dwelling group that are blind.  From what little info I can find about this book, it sounds like it might be a little bit Left Hand of Darkness, a little bit The Sparrow?

 

The Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake (1946?) – this volume is all three novels together. This a classic, and at 1100 pages it looks intimidating.  Is this worth reading?  like, it looks fancy on my bookshelf, but if I’m never going to read it that real estate could be put to better use.

 

Koiminogatari by Nisioisin (2019) – Narrated by Kaiki Deishu!  If you’re familiar with the anime (or the books!) you’ll know Kaiki is the most brilliantly fucked up sympathetic villain  EVER!  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you should that Nisioisin is a best selling author in Japan, and that if you’re new to this series you shouldn’t start with this book.  Unforunately, you need to start somewhere near the beginning, which means starting with either Bakemonogatari or Nisemonogatari.  The books are paced MUCH better than the anime, but the anime is super stylish!

 

Too loud, too bright, too fast, too tight by Dr. Sharon Heller (2003)  a non-fiction book in Five for Friday, what??   Sensory Defensive Disorder is an actual thing! it isn’t in my head,  I’m not making it up, i’m not doing these things for the purpose of being difficult.  i read the list of “common symptoms” of Sensory Defensive Disorder to my husband and he said I had every single one. I really can not wait for Sensory Defensive Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder to legit be on the autism spectrum.  although i do hate that it is called a “disorder”, it makes me feel broken and defective.  Cuz,  like, i don’t feel broken?  I just feel the way I’ve always felt?

 

 

 

 

 

For the first entry in this series, and more info on The Big Book of Classic Fantasy edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, click here.

 

This isn’t braggable progress through The Big Book of Classic Fantasy, but darn if I didn’t enjoy the hell out of this week’s stories!  This week I got to enjoy folklore, cautionary tales, and satire from 1819 to 1918.

When I was a little girl, my mom would tell me the story of Rip Van Winkle as a bedtime story.  I don’t remember if she ever read the story out of a storybook, but I know she didn’t need a book to tell us the story.  Washington Irving published “Rip Van Winkle” as a short story in 1819, and it has been part of New York folklore ever since. (Does anyone remember an animated movie of this? I can’t tell if I’m getting my cartoon memories mixed up with the old Legend of Sleepy Hollow animated movie??)   My parents grew up in New York, and Rip Van Winkle was the local story that everyone knew, and that everyone told to their children.  If you’re not familiar, it’s the story of a bumbling husband who shirks his obligations, and is one day walking through the woods with his dog and his hunting rifle.  He follows a strange man through the woods until the come upon the strangers friends, who are playing nine-pins. The sound of the pins is the sound of thunder. Rip drinks some of their beer, and on the way home he sits against a tree and falls asleep.  He wakes up and decades have passed. He was raised in the Catskill mountains as a loyal British subject, who the hell is General Washington, and where is his wife??? The story has a happy as possible an ending. I got shivers reading this, this, this was the story my mom told little me as a bedtime story! And now it is in this big book of classic fantasy?   I did not expect to have a personal connection with anything in this book, that is for sure!

 

Everyone has heard of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. Even if you’ve never read Frankenstein you surely have seen a movie version or at least have some concept of the story. I always knew that Shelley wrote other works, but never came across any. Until now!  Her short story, “Transformation”, first published in 1831, is considered an early example of “doppleganger” fiction. To be honest, the first half of this story was painfully boring, and I almost stopped reading. Businessman’s son gets everything he wants, is totally spoiled, flaunts his wealth. Dad dies, he inherits, and instead of buying a house for he and his betrothed to live in, he blows it all and makes a complete idiot of himself.  I was bored by this point, but good thing I kept reading, because the story got good! As he is walking along the beach having a pity party, he sees a shipwreck off in the distance, and who should float to shore, but a dwarf and chest of gold! The dwarf says “trade bodies with me for 3 days, and I’ll give you this chest of gold”. Figuring he has nothing left to lose, our hapless narrator agrees. Surprising no one, the dwarf in his body apologies to his betrothed, and is about to marry her, leaving our narrator in the dwarf’s body forever.  He attacks the dwarf who took his body, and this is where Shelley blew my mind. About to be mortally injured, the dwarf-in-his-body says

“Strike home! Destroy this body – you will still live many: may your life be long and merry!”.

If the narrator-in-dwarf’s-body kills his human body, he will never be able to return to his true body. What to do??? Boring start, fan-freaking-tastic ending.

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Stay Crazy by Erika L. Satifka

Published in 2016

Where I got it: purchased new

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Erica Satifka’s Stay Crazy came out in 2016, and while I was lucky enough to get to interview Erica back in 2016, I’ve not had a chance to sit down and read the novel until now.  Stay Crazy won the 2017 British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer, and Satifka’s short fiction has appeared in Clarksworld, Shimmer, Fireside, Lightspeed, Nature, and elsewhere.

 

If you’ve never read Philip K Dick, but you’re kinda interested in his stuff,  you should read Stay Crazy. (just like if you’ve never read H.P. Lovecraft but his stuff sounds interesting, you should read Lucy Snyder because she writes it better than he ever did). Satifka took her enjoyment of Dick’s working class characters, grey morality, unreality and paranoia, and put it through her own filter of sarcasm and dark humor.   I’ve just read that sentence, and it doesn’t sound like a fun thing to read, does it? Well, i’m a shitty sentence writer, because Stay Crazy was hella fun to read, so much so that I read the last 100 pages in one sitting because I needed to know what happened, and I needed to know right now! The book is a pleasure to read, it is paced very well, the plot is tightly designed, and every time I finished a chapter it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to read the next chapter.

 

The story opens with Emmeline coming home from a mental institution. She’d had a mental break while at college.  She’s now at home, complete with stacks of medication for her diagnosed schizophrenia, twice weekly appointments with her shrink,  a sister who has immersed herself in the local cult church, and a mom who has no idea how to talk about mental health issues but does truly care for both of her daughters.

 

Em needs to get out of the house, so she gets a part time job at the local big box store, Savertown. Savertown is an over the top, gloriously ridiculous, patriotism obsessed satire of Wal-Mart.  Even so, Em finds a quiet peace in stocking frozen food. She can get in the groove of unloading pallets, no one is bothering her, no one at work stares at her like she’s just home from a mental institution.

 

It’s all going great until a box of frozen food starts talking to her, and telling her his name is Excodex and he is an intelligence from another dimension who needs her help to stop an evil entity. He promises her that if she helps him that he’ll tell her where her father is. Is she hearing voices again? Is a box of frozen food talking to her because she needs to up her meds? And then seemingly happy and well adjusted people at work start committing suicide.

 

There is a ton of “drinking the kool-aid” happening in this book, and my sick sense of humor always gets a kick out of this kind of thing.  There’s a sign in the breakroom at work that “no outside reading material allowed”. Long term employees at Savertown don’t seem to have any life (or want a life) outside of work. The work therapist who is brought into the store due to the recent rash of suicides seems to give worse advice than a talking box of frozen chicken nuggets.

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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.

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?

 

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

 

Woohoo,  all new (to me!) books this week!

 

The Bone Ships by R.J. Barker (2019) – the forthcoming fantasy from R.J. Parker (Age of Assassins) comes out later this summer. It’s got a map, the chapters have fun names, there’s a ton of stuff about dragons,   it looks to be nautical/military fantasy with snark?  I’ve not read any Barker yet,  what do y’all think of his stuff?

 

Stay Crazy by Erica Satifka (2016) –  I went on a book buying binge at Apex Books a few weeks ago, and this was part of my haul!  I’ve had this book on my radar since it came out, it looks weird and fun. I’m about 80 pages in, and yes, it is weird, and fun, and surreal!  If you ever wished Philip K Dick was more fun to read, this is the book for you.

 

Apex Book of World SF vol 5, edited by Cristina Jurado (2018) – yep, another Apex book! the newest volume in one of my favorite anthology series!  If you’ve been enjoying Rachel Cordasco’s SF In Translation and maybe you’re not sure where to start, or you don’t want to commit to some big novel,  you can’t do much better than any volume in this series.

 

Aetherchrist by Kirk Jones (2018) – you know,  once I started shopping on the Apex site, i kind of couldn’t stop. Also, I’m a sucker for a back cover copy that includes the words “surreal” and “analog”.  This book seems just over novella length, something I can blast through in a weekend.

 

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds (2019) – this is my book club’s pick for this month. I can’t wait to write a review of this book, it was so fun!!  so, it has a super weird start. . .  because the book starts at the very end of the story.  and there is time travel, my favorite!  and time travel paradoxes, my double favorite!  I love time travel stories that are all like “you can’t change the past, so don’t even try”,  but what if you could? then what?

Ann and Jeff Vandermeer have edited a handful of these “big books”.  My first one was The Weird Compendium. A glorious example of scope-creep, The Weird Compendium clocks in at around 1100 pages.  I remember that I got it, as a hardback, out of the library, and the book was too thick to fit through the book return shute. Once it came out in paperback, I bought it, and it was still too heavy to lug around the house.

 

Now, the Vandermeers are back with The Big Book of Classic Fantasy (available July 2nd from Vintage books), which they have somehow kept to only 850-ish pages.  Is this book the end all be all of Classic Fantasy? Oh goodness no. This book barely scratches the surface, and the editors know that.  Skimming through the table of contents, I see tons of names I’ve never heard off, I see names of authors I read in “world literature” classes in school,  skimming over this table of contents makes me feel like i’m in an international grocery store, and I want to try a taste of everything.

Something I love about these Big Books, is that there is no need to read the stories in any kind of order. I mean you could if you wanted to, but you can also jump around to whatever looks interesting.  I also don’t feel the need to finish the book in any specific period of time. The table of contents might be like walking through the world’s best international grocery store . . . but it also feels like reading through the entries of an encyclopedia.  You don’t read the encyclopedia cover to cover, do you? Well, I don’t. I’ve had a copy of The Weird Compendium for I don’t know how many years, and I still feel in no hurry to finish it. These are books you have with you your whole life, that you dip your toes into whenever you want. I guess in a good way, they sort of all like encyclopedias.

 

The Vandermeers purposely looked far and wide for this collection –  grabbing the edge of the envelope of fantasy, looking for more translated fiction than ever before.  The table of contents is like looking up at the stars on a summer night – you see hundreds of stars, you know there are millions more out there just waiting for you to find.  I think a lot of readers will read these stories and say to themselves “this is fantasy???”, and well yes, it is. Fantasy is far more, and wider than you thought!

 

I’m not going to review this collection as a whole, as I don’t have the patience to read and think about 100+ stories, and I believe it would be pointless to try to distill 850 pages of 200 years of fantasy into 2000 words.  Instead, I’ll dip my toes in, and let you know about a handful of stories from random locations in the table of contents, time period, theme, and location. Were they fun? Were they fantastical? And you know, I do have the Weird Compendium and The Big Book of Science Fiction,  so who knows, maybe this is the start of a long series of blog posts about short stories!

 

Let’s start at the very end. The very last story in The Big Book of Classic Fantasy is “Leaf by Niggle”, by J.R.R. Tolkein, written in 1945.  This story starts out very Hobbit-y – with a man who enjoys his quiet time, but also always helps his neighbors with anything they need. Niggle paints in his spare time, and the time, effort, and resources he puts into his paintings are not valued by his community.  He has a painting he has been working on for years, and to make the painting look bigger, he puts his other paintings around it, completely changing the environment of the image in the original painting. This is fun for him. What is the value of art? What is the value of the time you spend on your hobbies?  And what if the art you create isn’t very good but brings you unending joy? This gently written story was an absolute joy to read! I’m pretty sure I cried at the end. There is this weird, wonderful, fantastical thing that happens to Niggle, and I’m sure there are many ways to interpret what exactly is going on.

 

And because I’ve mentioned Tolkien, I’m bound by the laws of the internet (and my goofy sense of humor) to post this:


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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.

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?

 

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

 

 

Secret Life by Jeff Vandermeer (2004) –  I love Vandermeer’s stuff.  It’s weird as hell, doesn’t offer answers, it’s just totally there, being all apologetically weird!  I’m a shitty fan, because I say how much I love his stuff, and I buy his stuff . .   and then it takes me YEARS to read it.  like, maybe i’m hoarding it?  long way of saying I’ve not yet read this short story collection of his.  tbh, i blame the publisher a little. the print in this sucker i like font size negative two. One evening, I started reading a short story near the beginning of the book, and I SWEAR every ten lines or so the print got smaller. I chalked it up to that totally being something that would happen in a Vandermeer.

 

Last Night at the Blue Alice by Mehitobel Wilson (2015)  –  ok, so you go back in time, and successfully change the past. What happens to the future you return to?  That is one of the premises of this pleasant little novella.  It’s her job to change the past, to allow angry ghosts to finally rest in peace.  There’s more going on of course,  I should really reread this!

 

American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001) – this book needs no introduction!  I LOVE THIS BOOK! i don’t know how many times I’ve reread this, it gets better every time.  I’ve not see the TV show, it’s on a channel that I don’t have.

 

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke (1968) – Not quite a novelization, this novel was written by Clarke with and while Stanley Kubrick was making the movie.   I remember watching this movie with my sister when I was a kid (we had it on VHS, I suppose?), and i was way too young to understand the plot, but I remember loving the outer space stuff, and the Hal stuff, and my sister and I learned the Daisy song.  I could quote Hal’s lines, but I had NO IDEA what he was doing or why. And ladies and gentleman, that is how I got into science fiction when I was 8 year old.

 

Podkayne of Mars by Robert Heinlein (1963) – So, funny story. This book has two really different endings, and I didn’t know there were two different endings.  I have a fond feeling for this book, and i was talking to someone about it, and I couldn’t understand why she was so angry about this book. When she angrily said “at the end! such and such happens!!!”, and I remember thinking to myself “did I read an entirely different book?  i don’t remember that at all???”.    I won’t tell you what the endings are, you can easily look up the book on Wikipedia and find out the two endings.


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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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