the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for October 2019

I’m slowly making my way through Death’s End by Cixin Liu.   I’m 250 pages in, and it feels like I’ve barely made it past the first few chapters. In a way, this is sorta feeling like Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle?  (if you’ve not read The Baroque Cycle – spoiler: it never freakin’ ends. like, ever)

 

I am LOVING the big ideas in this book!  How space faring races might find each other, why they’d be wise to avoid each other.  Of course I can’t find the section now, but the part about how there is a child walking through the Dark Forest, and the child makes a small campfire ot keep warm (or safe? Or makes the campfire just to have something to do?), and not only does the campfire allow any observers to show where the child is,  the child is made nightblind by the light of the fire, and can’t clearly see what’s happening away from the light.

 

And the scale of everything!

 

And holy shit the stuff that the Interstellar ships Blue Space and Gravity find, holy shit!!!

 

The ideas!  The scale! The cool outerspace stuff!  Everything about why it’s so quiet out there!

 

But.

 

But?

 

But I find my mind wandering, I find myself struggling to stay engaged with the story, I’m finding it difficult to care about all this amazing stuff because I’m not connecting with the characters.   Cheng Xin is cool, but I don’t feel like I know her as a person. I don’t feel like I’m invested in what happens to her. I’m going to keep reading, I just which there was more character driven stuff going on.

 

I’m that persnickety reader who wants cool big ideas and characters.  Because if I care about the characters, I’m gonna care triple about the hella awesome ideas.

 

Which got me thinking – which books have I really enjoyed because I loved the hella cool science ideas and the characters were really cool?

 

Darwin’s Radio  by Greg Bear – Big ideas about biology, evolution, human sociology, how we quantify and qualify scientific knowledge, how diseases work and what exactly makes something a disease (a rose in a corn field is considered a weed).  Characters were predictable but still very relatable.

 

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – the characters will grab you and pull you back into the story with them, but oh yeah there is freakin’ planetary geology! And plate tectonics! And like, literal earth science!!!!  And probably genetics? And i’m not entirely sure what else because I haven’t finished the trilogy.

 

The Quantum Magician – Big ideas on quantum entanglement, genetically modifying entire races of humans to survive on different planets, how religion and faith actually work, really hella cool characters. I’m still mad at the main character, Bel, for what he does to his friend William. I hope to see Stills again. The puppets still horrify me. Like, six months after I read this book I am still mad at Bel!  And I’m still in awe of all the cool science in this book!

 

Machineries of Empire trilogy by Yoon Ha Lee – seriously the best characters of the year, and big ideas about psychology, social engineering, something brilliantly terrible called Calendrical Mathematics, some fun observations on how language is connected to how a person thinks,  and a thing that happens between two characters that still makes me burst into tears. It’s been over a year, and I am still freaked out about this thing that happened – a thing that couldn’t have happened if not for the cool science and psychology concepts the story revolves around.

 

Blindsight by Peter Watts – Something I’m coming to love about Communication is that the better you think you are at it,  the worse you probably are at it. I’m coming to the conclusion that the worst possible way for human to interact with each other is through verbal communication. So, how many ways can we screw up talking with aliens?  A lot. This one takes social and psychological concepts behind how communication works (and yet, it totally doesn’t work), alongside excellent characters and a scientifically plausible explanation for why and how Vampires could really exist.

 

There’s a bazillion more big huge wonderful ideas and compelling characters books, but these were the few that quickly came to mind.

 

What are some of your favorites?

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You buy books that looked interesting at the time, or came highly recommended, or had some buzz when they came out. You buy them, the buzz settles down, you forget about them. And then  years later you find the book, it’s been shoved to the back of the bookshelf, but you find it decide to give it a whirl. I can’t be the only person who does this.

So I came across one of those books.  Once upon a time it had been advertised like a Steampunkish-Firefly.  And who wouldn’t want a Firefly type story told in a Steampunk world??  no one, that’s who!  Yeah, I’m half way through the book, and it happens to be a total dude-bro book.

Ten years ago I don’t think I would have noticed female characters who are barely given any page time, that ALL the “important people” in the story are guys, that all the places where “important deals go down” are populated by men, and the only women there are the beautiful waitresses. in some cases the only women in the room are the whores.

I do want a Firefly-Steampunk with pirates and cool magic.  Just not this book.

moving on . . .

Do you have Netflix?  Check out a show called “The Politician“.   The preview for the show felt like five different MTV music videos were playing at once, it seemed like none of the people in the preview actually had anything to do with each other’s story.  It looked over the top, technicolor, gorgeously designed, absolute FTWery.  it looked fucking ridiculous.  I couldn’t wait to watch it!

I’ve been binge watching this show since last weekend, and I just finished the last episode.

It might be one of the best shows I’ve seen this year.  (and I’ve seen The Good Place S3. I cried the entire time. So maybe I like The Politician so much because it didn’t make me cry as much as The Good Place?  anyway).  The Politician is basically a rich-kids soap opera that goes off the rails.  The premise is gloriously stupid:  a rich ambitious high schooler in California, Peyton, decides to run for President of his high school. Rich kids whine a LOT.   That is basically the premise. And a ton of satirical pretension.

It goes beautifully off the rails from there.  The art direction is perfection.

I don’t know if it’s called “art direction”??   it’s the thing in movies and TV, where someone decides if the shot should be symmetrical or not, where someone decides exactly what color blue someone’s suit should be, exactly when an actor should smirk or scratch their nose or nervously play with their hair to give a non-verbal signal of what’s going on,  where someone determines that a particular haircut matched with particular jewelry gives a very specific connotation, where it’s determined that certain characters need to be very tall, so that other characters have to literally look up to them. Where certain scenes are lit in specific ways to give a certain meaning, where how someone walks or how they hold themselves can tell you so much about them before they ever say a word.  maybe it should be called “Context direction?”  I don’t know, but I love it when a show does it just right,  and this show does it just right.  if this was a book, we’d call it worldbuilding, characterization, and “show don’t tell”.

I also like how things go so wrong for Peyton.   He’s got this plan, you see?  And if he can just stick to the plan, everything will go perfect for him.  Because he has the plan, he never has to be himself, he can hide his feelings behind the plan.

And then the plan goes to hell.  And he can’t hide anymore.   (And it’s a little bit hilarious, because all these actors look, dress, and act like they are 30, but they are high school seniors, and freaking out about high school senior things)

The Call Me By Your Name-ish romance didn’t hurt either.  I am also a sucker for handsome men with deep voices.

I feel bad for Peyton.  But I cheer when his plans go off the rails.   What he saw as pain, I see as freedom.  What he saw as the melodramatic end, I saw as the beginning.

I always saw a “plan for my life” as a recipe for regret.  If I plan to accomplish such and such by 30, and then I don’t, will I feel like a failure because I didn’t do some arbitrary thing? Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have goals – run a 5K,  eat better,  read 30 books each year.  Whatever the difference is between plans and goals, I’m good with goals, but am somehow allergic to plans.  I dunno, I guess goal feels like something I’m choosing to do every day, and plan feels like something where you just go through the motions with no emotional connection to anything you’re doing.

Anyway,  watch The Politician.  Pay attention to how perfectly designed it is, everything from haircuts to clothing to the pancake make-up, to the angle of people’s chins to the pitch of their voices.  And yes that is Ben Platt from Pitch Perfect.    He is an adorable puppy with the voice of an angel.  Ben Platt doing a Billy Joel cover album is what the world needs right now.

oh, you want an entire  blog post just about my too many feels about this show?  ok, i’ll see what I can do.  Darn, in that case I’d have to watch the entire show from scratch, poor me.

 

And last but certainly not least,

My husband and my dad have been enjoying Liu Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past series.   These books intimidate me,  but listening to the two of them talk about the books has kept me interested.  I enjoyed The Three Body Problem.   I liked the big ideas of The Dark Forest but struggled with the pacing and the characters.  I’ve not been super excited about the third one, Death’s End.  My dad said it had a slow start, but once he got into it he couldn’t stop reading it.  My husband said the end was traumatic, and that it reminded him of Sheri S Tepper’s book SideshowSideshow is one of my favorite books of all time.

Well, now I gotta read it so I can stay part of the family book club!  Also, I really really need to know what Cixin Liu and Sheri S Tepper have in common!

 

what is my second love after books?  cooking!

 

ok, here’s a riddle for you: What is the best combination of cookbooks (you know the photos are what drew you in!) and reading fictional stories (that also have wonderful pictures)?

 

Manga that is about food, of course!

 

I’m currently enjoying these:

if you’re interested in Japanese food culture,  Oishinbo is for you.  this long running series is fairly episodic, so if you see a volume BUY IT, doesn’t matter too much if you read them out of order.  Each volume discusses some different aspect of Japanese food culture,  such as ramen, pub food, sake, traditional vegetables, rice, etc.  The artwork is good if not great, and the sheer quantity of cuisine knowledge is just hella fun and enjoyable.

 

if it’s recipes and how to’s you want,  What Did You Eat Yesterday is the series for you.  I’m reading these in order.   Uninspired at his dayjob as an attorney, Shiro loves to cook elaborate dinners for his boyfriend Kenji.  Not only do we get Shiro’s inner monologue of instructions while he’s cooking, but we also get to follow him to the grocery store where he designs meals around what’s in season and/or on special at the store.  The celery was such a good deal. . .  but how much celery can you possibly eat before it goes soft in the fridge?    The way Shiro explains the dishes, he makes it sound so simple and effortless! And then you get to the page where all the dishes are laid out on the table, and I just want to lick the page.  and fire up my wok.

 

What stories, novels, graphic novels, and manga have you enjoyed that revolve around food, food culture, eating, recipes, or preparing food?

 

have you ever tried to cook a recipe that you found in a novel, graphic novel, or manga?  how did it turn out?

 


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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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