the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for August 2019

I recently picked up a copy of Steven Brust’s Vallista,  a book that came out a few years ago in his  Vlad Taltos series. If you like dry humor, witty banter,  the long game, a series you can dip into and out of, and long running in-jokes, this is the series for you.  If you don’t like any of those things, this is probably not the series for you.

 

There’s like 15 books in this series so far. . .  i’ve read the first handful, the most recent handful, and I’m still catching up on the middle handful.  When I go to a used bookstore, I always check the B’s for a Steven Brust book that I don’t already have. If I see one of his books and I’m not sure if I have it. . .  i usually buy it anyways. I had three copies of  Dragon at one time.

Because I’m smart,  I decided to reread Hawk, which is the book that came out prior to Vallista, so that I could have recent plot points fresh in my mind.    Hawk is a super fun book – it reads very fast, there is tons of plotting and dialog, lots of contingency plans that end up not being needed and somehow end up sounding kind of funny. The entire book is a massive smirk. My favorite bit of banter was

 

“ . .  I’m working on something and he’s liable to get in the way.”

“What are you working on?”

“I’m trying to set up a store to sell baskets of none-of your-fucking-business at wholesale prices”.

 

Something I love about this series is how big the world is.  No author can cram an entire world’s worth of worldbuilding into one novel (and when they try to, the book ends up being 900 pages and miserable to read).   But you can do nearly unlimited worldbuilding when you’ve got 15 novels to play in. Brust will have his characters mention a place, or another person, or some event that they know about (but the reader doesn’t), and the place, person, or event isn’t important to that particular plot line and isn’t mentioned again in that novel. But. . .  it leaves the door open to explore it in further detail later, and that’s exactly what Brust does a lot of the time. And I don’t know why, but I fucking love it.

 

So anyway,  Hawk was a ton of fun. I finished it a couple of days ago,  and picked up Vallista.

 

Because I’m smart,  that’s the moment I remembered that one of the other things that makes this series so fun is that Brust doesn’t write the novels in chronological order.  Chronologically, Vallista takes place before Hawk (maybe right after Tiassa?). In Hawk, Vlad mentions a particular psuedo-abandoned house on a hill. He  holds a particular negotiation in that mansion, for some specific reasons. He mentions something about how the house is weird.  Also, i’m not all that concerned about the specifics of the chronology.  I find I prefer stores that aren’t told in chronological order.

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It’s been a busy work week, and a slow-going reading week.  Yep, no five for Friday for you last week, I was exhausted. Don’t worry, the stuff I’ve been busy with has been all good stuff that is keeping me out of trouble!

 

I’ve been slowly making my way through All Clear by Connie Willis, and I finished it about an hour ago.

 

some thoughts:

OMFG was the never ending scene to get to St. Paul’s annoying!  If she had just told Binnie and Alf to bugger off, and ditched the doctor and the ambulance, maybe she’d have gotten to the church on time!   Those were seriously THE MOST annoying 50 pages I have ever read.  oh, it was only 5 pages? It felt like 50.  I very nearly DNFd this book because that scene was so annoying!

 

The short scenes with Ernest and Fortitude South. I am embarrassed that it took me a gazillion pages to figure out where everyone’s names were from.  come on, I haven’t read that play since high school!  and now I want to know everything about Fortitude South, because holy shit so brilliant!

 

It also took me FOREVER to figure out that people we meet in 1944 are people I’ve already met.  thanks for Agatha Christie’ing me, Willis!

 

Are Connie Willis and Ann Perry friends, or was that just a coincidence?

 

Connie Willis and Robin Hobb must be friends,  they both subscribe to the philosophy of “imagine the worst possible thing that could happen to your characters, and then do it”.

 

That’s who Colin is??  WHAHHHH?????

 

now that I’ve finished the duology, the only thing I want to do is reread them both, so I can pick up all the hints I missed the first time.  I have a feeling this duology is just like that painting that everyone in the book is always going on about – that you see something different every time you look at it.

 

Also, I suddenly feel really bad about  bitching about that interminable-seeming ambulance / chase scene / split up  / climb the rafters / everyone ends up at the hospital even though they are trying to get to St. Paul’s scene.  Every minute was important, and I was a whiny bitch about it.

 

maybe I should take a break from time travel books?  HAHAHAHA, no.

 

Oxford needs to do a “Connie Willis literary tour”.

 

this book was so fucking hopeful it makes me want to cry.  Everything I’ve read by Willis is so damn hopeful. It’s like she’s saying to me “People are capable of so much good. Here, let me show you”. I kinda need that right now.  Is this what hopepunk is?  Please say that it is.

 

that is all.

 

have a great week everyone.

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.

 

 

Upgraded, edited by Neil Clarke (2014)  –  I bought this anthology because of one or two stories it had in it that I wanted to read at the time.  I thought it was worth buying, just for those stories, at it was!   I picked this up again recently. . .  only to realize that in 2014 I had no idea how many other wonderful authors are hiding in this anthology!  This is a cyborg/robot themed anthology.   I think I might dip back into this collection in the upcoming weeks, just to see what Yoon Ha Lee was up to in 2014.

 

Zodiac by Neal Stephenson (2007) – bet you didn’t think Stephenson could right something that was just over novella length and tightly plotted!   Damn is this book good!  Annoyed with Baroque Cycle and Stephenson’s newer stuff?  give this little guy a try.

 

Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds (2004) – This is the sequel to Revelation Space. . .  which I think I have maybe read? I don’t remember.  I’m pretty sure I haven’t read Redemption Ark.  This is a series,  have you read it? did you like it? Should I scare up a copy of Revelation Space and give it a whirl?

 

Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov (1988) – ok, so it is SUPER weird for me to see a 1980s publication date on a Foundation book!  so, SO WEIRD!  I’ve not read these new fangled Foundation books, I also think there were some co-written with some more contemporary authors?  I’m old school, anyone read these new ones? how are they?

 

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1945) NOT SCIENCE FICTION OR FANTASY.  this is the book everyone reads in high school.  You see that paper bookmark in the photo?  believe it or not, that is the receipt from when I bought this book, to read in high school, in 1995. I must have used the receipt as a bookmark.  I wrote some notes in the back of the book, something about ducks, and hats, and kings in the back row.  Anyone know what those mean? I literally have not read this book since 1995. What in the heck is this book doing on a five for Friday with a bunch of science fiction books?  This lovely story on NPR about Salinger’s books finally being available in e-book and audio, that’s what.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

published in 2018

where I got it: purchased used

 

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Occasionally, people ask me for book recommendations.  I try to recommend something the person will like, so if they ask me to recommend something poetic, something beautifully written, something strange but glorious that gets better every time I read it, without pause I will recommend Catherynne Valente’s The Habitation of the Blessed.  I will talk your ear off about this book, and it’s sequel, and the tragedy that the publisher is no longer in business so the books are no longer in print, and yadda yadda.

 

If I could only read one book for the rest of my life, I would choose The Habitation of the Blessed.

 

Knowing that, doesn’t make writing this review any easier.

 

Artists are gonna art, people should write the book they want to read, the world needs something happy right now. Space Opera is up for a number of awards, I hope it wins some of them, for sheer uniqueness, weirdness, and unapologetic over-the-top audaciousness.

 

Your mileage may vary. Remember this post?  I was 50 pages into Space Opera when I wrote it.

 

The concept behind Space Opera is, simply,  Eurovision Song Contest, in SPAAAAAACE!!!!! All the sentient races in the galaxy participate, and every so often an upstart race is invited to participate. If said upstart race wins (or at least places decently), they are welcomed into the galactic community. If they lose, they are deemed non-sentient / a danger to the galaxy, and summarily annihilated.  This “win or die” premise is presented in rather a Douglas Adams fashion, so all feels like fun and games. But the big question remains: Does Humanity Deserve to Survive?

 

Representatives are sent to Earth to find humanity’s best musicians. They were hoping for Yoko Ono.  Instead, they got Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes.

 

If you like over the top humor, if you like a narrative style that blows you off the page, if you’re looking for something really different, if you like wacky aliens and over the top descriptions, and a heartwarming ending, this book is for you!

 

I’m a buzzkill.  I’m a killjoy. I hit sensory overload around the time most people get out of bed in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, i get a kick out of short term sensory overload. In  the right circumstances, I quite enjoy it.  But long term sensory overload? something that puts me into overload too quickly?  It’s, um, not good.

 

I DNF’d this book, twice.

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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.

 

BUT!!   before we get to this week’s five books, TWO COOL RANDOM THINGS!

This week marks the release of Julie Czerneda’s stand alone fantasy novel The Gossamer Mage!  Really cool magic system, wonderful world building, and other really cool stuff! You can read my review here!

And! my guest post about book mail was featured at Novels and & Waffles as part of their BiblioSmile Project!  check it out!

 

now let’s get to Five for Friday!

 

Dune by Frank Herbert (196-something) – this is one well loved paperback, pages are stained and dog eared, the pages are so soft they almost feel like fabric.  If you look closely, you’ll see this is the paperback that was printed for the 1984 movie.  I thought that movie was hella cool before I was old enough to read the book.   This books has been in my possession since I was around 14 years old, making it the book I have possessed for the longest time of my life.  This series has been my companion for over 20 years.  Oh, there’s a new Dune movie coming out?  you don’t say!

 

Griffin and Sabine by Nick Bantock (1991) – please tell me I’m not the only person who knows what these books are? I need to reread them, because I think I’ll appreciate them more now, than I did in the 90s.  I really hope they’ve aged well.   The twist that I remember from the end. . .   i hope I am remembering the right twist, or I’ll sure be in for a surprise when I read it!  y’all interested in me reviewing some random weirdo new-age-y trilogy from the early 90s?

 

Illusion by Paula Volsky (1992) – I don’t remember exactly what this book is about, but I remember enjoying it.

 

All Clear by Connie Willis (2010) – on loan from a friend of mine, and FINALLY i can find out what happens to Polly, Mike, Eileen, and that other guy!!   the first  book in this series, Blackout, ends on a serious cliffhanger, I can understand why fans were so pissed off when the first book came out!

 

Death’s End by Cixin Liu (2016) – on loan from my Dad.  I struggled to get through the 2nd book in this series, is this third one worth reading?  this tome looks like it is something like 800 pages long. is it worth my time?   (also, have you seen The Wandering Earth on Netflix? it was AWESOME! 13 out of 10, would watch again!)

 

We watched the Netflix movie I Am Mother the other day.    Deceptively simple, the movie takes what looks like an unbelievable simple plot, and actually doesn’t do a ton with it.  This movie isn’t going to win any awards, but it was a good use of my 2 hours, and I’d watch it again.  The robot was hella cool!

 

And yet.

 

The movie is more about what isn’t ever said, and what isn’t ever explained.

 

I keep thinking about this movie, and I can’t get it out of my head.  I like that I’m thinking about it, and i like that i’m thinking about everything that was never explicitly mentioned,  all the negative space, all the showing instead of telling.

 

In my opinion, the best stories are hiding in plain sight, in the negative space.

 

Do you have teenagers in the house?  Have them watch this movie, and then ask them what the movie is about.  Younger kids can watch it too, but they might get bored. Adults can watch it too! But I categorize I Am Mother as great for teenagers, as this really is a YA story.

 

don’t know what I’m talking about?  I Am Mother is a netflix original movie.  A young girl, known as Daughter, is being raised in an underground bunker by a robot, known as Mother. They are alone in the bunker,  Mother will not allow Daughter to go outside due to dangerous contagions.  Daughter is a happy, well adjusted, obedient child.  You know immediately that Mother is hiding information from Daughter, perhaps waiting for the right time to tell her.   As Daughter is preparing for an important exam, there is a knock on the front door of the compound. A woman is begging to be let in, she has been shot in the leg, and is hoping there is antibiotics in the compound.  When the woman sees Mother, she freaks out.  Daughter is pulled between curiosity of the outside world, the strangeness of their visitor, and her love of Mother.

The movie feels a little like the movie Moon – as in for most scenes you only see a human character and a robot character. . .  and that’s it.  It also felt a little like a sanitized version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – very sparse, very quiet, a parent protecting their child.

 

I don’t feel like writing a review for this movie, but for some weirdo reason I feel like writing a study guide / guided discussion questions?  Not sure how that happened, but here you go!

 

(Spoilers ahead!)

 

 

I thought it was neat that none of the characters have names.  The robot is “Mother”, the child being raised by Mother is referred to as “Daughter”, and the woman they give limited refuge to is never named.

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The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

published May 2018

where I got it: purchased new

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I don’t know what I was expecting when I bought this book.  I’d heard good things about it, it got some buzz when it came out, and then it fell off my radar. I knew it was about a kid who attends an elite military academy, gets embroiled in a war, and has to risk everything.

 

when I read the back cover copy, my first thought was “is this a fantasy version of Ender’s Game?”   Hahahahah!!!!  yeah . . . . nope. More like Name of the Wind if written by Robin Hobb and then half way through Ian Tregillis took over in the vein of the Bitter Seeds books.

 

I meant to keep this review light and happy and talk about the plot and Rin’s adventures at school and how cute it is that she has no idea how to talk to boys she likes, and that she’s great at memorizing facts but shitty at martial arts.  I meant to write a super happy funtime book review.

 

That didn’t happen.

 

Good news first!  The Dragon Republic (book 2) is already out!  You can read books 1 and 2 back to back!

 

The Poppy War  does start out fairly light and happy – a war orphan, Rin, needs to escape her opium smuggling foster family before they marry her off, so she studies for the imperial exam and hopes for a scholarship.  Not only does she do well on the imperial exam, she has the highest score in her prefecture and gains a full scholarship to Nikan’s elite military academy Sinegard. Rin doesn’t care what she studies, she doesn’t care about dorm life, she just knows that school means she won’t have to marry a stranger and that she’ll get three meals a day, and that after graduation she won’t have to go home.

 

She’s by far the poorest most provincial kid at the school, and is relentlessly bullied by wealthier upper class students and a few teachers as well. But, like I said, none of them are forcing her to get married or get involved with opium smuggling, so she shrugs it off.  I thought it was so cute that Rin has no idea how to talk to boys she likes – she thinks they are cute, she ends up staring at them, but has zero idea how to talk to them. It was funny and adorable. And as dark as the end of this book gets, I was thankful for these cute light scenes at the beginning.

 

This is not one of those long, drawn out school chronicles, where each book is one year at school.  The Poppy War is ultra fast paced. Kuang deftly uses a few school scenes for worldbuilding, where the students are discussing world history, with the professor telling them what really happened.   Oh, and a whole shit-ton of other awesome stuff happens that I won’t spoil for you.

 

Before you know it, Rin’s first year of school is over and she’s pledged to study Lore under the school’s weirdest professor, Jiang. Doesn’t hurt that she easily recognized the hallucinogens in his garden.   He is saddened that her goal is to become a good soldier.

 

So, Jiang and Lore.  why would a military school offer classes on lore, mythology, and shamanism?  Why indeed.

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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.