the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for December 2019

I wrote some cool blog posts this year.  Consider this post the ultimate “in case you missed it” link post to my fave blog posts that I wrote this year.  If you’re new to my blog (hi!), these posts will tell you everything you need to know about my writing style, my “brand” (HAHAHA! brand! omg, that’s hilarious), and the types of things I like to talk about.

 

These are posts I wrote in 2019 that I am most proud of:

 

halfway through reading Connie Willis’s Blackout, I wrote this post, in which Hans Zimmer music, well timed naps, and tense scenes collide.

 

To celebrate SciFi Month in November, I recommended a bunch of my favorite first contact stories.

 

You can’t talk about first contact without talking about language and communication, so I had a blast getting all thinky about China Mieville’s Embassytown. Also? I am a little obsessed with language and communication.

 

Had a bucket-list moment when I found myself in the same room as an Astronaut.  Note to self: get on the mailing list of your local Community College!

 

I may have thought a little too much about Star Trek: Discovery.  Still scared shitless of Jason Isaacs.

 

I had a really visceral reaction to Derek Kunsken’s abso-fucking-lutely brilliant novel The Quantum Magician.  Oh, you wanted to read my review for that book? here you go.

 

You loved the tv show GLOW, right?  and you love Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos books? hey guess what? they are connected!

Behold! my favorite things of the year!  I didn’t formally review most of these items,  my brain just hasn’t been wanting to write reviews for a while.   But I read (or watched) them!  And loved them!  and maybe you’ll enjoy some of them too.

 

The Quantum Magician (2018) and The Quantum Garden (2019), by Derek Künsken.  Space opera, con artists, human asshole-ness and hubris write large, genetically modified sub-species, and really old anger, what’s not to love?  The Quantum Magician got such an emotional reaction out of me (the kind of reaction that makes me want to hug the author because they are brilliant!) that beyond the review I had some shit I needed to unpack. After that first volume, I wasn’t sure the author could top it, so I went into the sequel, The Quantum Garden with worries it would just be more of the same.  Spoiler: the second book is even better than the first! it is super different than the first,  it’ll blow up your brain in the best way possible. I don’t know how many books are planned for this series, but these first two remind me a little of Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastard books. the first book focuses on the con and the crew and their mission, and has you cheering on every page. The second book has a tighter focus, and that “I thought winning would taste better” moment, and it hits you smack in the feels the whole way. And then holy shit that twist!!!!     Anyway, if you like books that are smart AF, this is your series.

 

 

And Shall Machines Surrender (2019) by Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Apparently I like quiet stories.  I don’t know if this novella is meant to be a quiet story, but it was lovely and quiet for me.  AIs don’t have to raise their voices to show you how powerful they are, you know? An ex-lover doesn’t have to raise her voice to tell you she’s sorry, or that maybe she isn’t, right?  I like the idea of a city that is run by and designed for AIs, and they let humans live there because, I dunno, they think we are entertaining? Oh yeah, and they like to become hybrids with us, sometimes.  It’s the highest honor to become a haruspex – a person who is a physical host for an AI mind.  So why are haruspices committing suicide?  Orfea came to the AI city to start her life fresh. All she wants to do is get a job, pay her rent, and live a quiet life. And how is she supposed to do that, when the two people who know all her secrets waltz back into her life?  If you like quiet romance / mysteries that are beautifully written, this is the novella for you.  Yes! this is a romance! and a very hot one at that.

All Clear (2010) by Connie Willis – If you remember the entire scifi community screaming their heads off in spring of 2010, it’s because Connie Willis published Black Out in February of that year.   It ended on a cliff hanger.  There was no way of knowing if anyone was going to survive the next few chapters, and people were apparently, super pissed.  In October of 2010, the 2nd part of the duology, All Clear, was published.  I like to imagine that the world was quiet for a week or two, as scifi fans devoured All Clear, and laughed at their friends who were fans of the show “Lost” (oh, you think that’s a cliffhanger?).  After that week, after everyone read it,  everyone wept.   All Clear had me so pissed off. not because i had to wait to read it, but because of that never-ending chase around the church / drive to the hospital / what other stupid things can get in our way because this is starting to feel like a farce scene.  it couldn’t have been more than 50 pages but it felt like forever.  And then at the very end, at the museum.  I cried buckets, it was like I was gripping this stuff so inside me, and then it all came rushing out and I couldn’t control it.  I was also really mad at myself for getting all worked up over that scene that had annoyed me so much, I felt like by complaining about it, I was shitting on someone’s memory.  Anyway, if you love perfectly researched history, beautiful writing, characters you will care about so much that you get pissed off when things get in their way, if you crave stories that show you how wonderful humanity can be, Blackout / All Clear is for you.  Did you read Willis’s The Doomsday Book? Did you cry at the end? You’ll cry more at the end of All Clear.   Oh, you read all of those books and didn’t shed a tear? um, ok.

 

The Poppy War (2018) by R. F. Kuang –  Little orphan girl qualifies to attend an elite school where a)she won’t have to see her awful adoptive parents ever again if she doesn’t want to and b) she gets to learn magic and how to fight her country’s enemies.  What is this, Harry Potter? or maybe Name of the Wind? hahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!  oh, that was a good joke!   Poppy War was my Baru Cormorant, my Machineries of Empire of this year.  That it to say, this is the book that broke me.   I appreciated the super fast pace of the book,  that every scene, every sentence moves the story forward in a meaningful way. Doesn’t hurt that I loved the characters and loved the world. This book is brutal, in every sense of the word.  The beginning got plenty of chuckles out of me, the end made me want to puke and crawl into a cave and never come out.  If you’re a Rin who wants to grow up to be a Jiang, this is the book for you.  if that made no sense at all, go read my review.  If you’re interested in knowing what my reviewing style is, that review will show you.  There is a sequel!  One day I’ll  be ready to read it.

Ivory Apples (2019) by Lisa Goldstein – This was one of my feel-good books of the year.  well, it isn’t a “feel good” book, but I felt really good while I was reading it.   Eldest sister Ivy is barely a teenager when her father dies,  and she and her sisters are given into the care of her father’s friend Kate. Ivy and her sisters know their family harbors a secret, they were just so young when they learned about it that they don’t really understand what the secret is. Kate will do anything to learn the family’s secret.  I’m purposely being super vague, can you tell?  If you like mythology, and stories about sisters, and magic that can be beautiful ,and gorgeous storytelling, if you want a story that leaves you feeling better about the world instead of worse, Ivory Apples is for you. I had fun with hot takes in my review, too.  I must have been feeling very snarky that day!

 

Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist (2005, translated to English in 2016) by Lola Robles – I love language.  I love how we shape how we communicate, and how our languages shape us.   This short novella is basically a plot that has been written around a thought experiment.  Rachel Monteverde, a terran linguist, is sent to visit a colony planet that was separated from the rest of human civilization for generations.  There are two human cultures on the planet,  one of whom revels in the bright colors of foliage and nature patterns and have the verbal mannerisms to match, and another culture where everyone is blind due to a genetic defect.  The groups just do not understand each other at all!  Rachel doesn’t care about their trade squabbles, what she does care about is getting recordings of their languages, and thinking about how and why the two groups have such different languages and experience the world in such different ways.    If you are a language and communication nerd like me, this is the book for you. I even reviewed it for you!

 

 

Vigilance (2019) by Robert Jackson Bennett – Gah, this is a hard book for me to talk about, even though I reviewed it.  It’s everything I hate about violence stories,  turned on it’s head (which is a good thing), and talking about this book gets me too close to the knife’s edge of getting pulled into political conversations. (but it’s just a book! Andrea, why are you getting so worked up about this?? Can’t you just enjoy things for once?)  Vigilance is what happens when businesses realize they can monetize fear and mob mentalities.  Where Capitalism and “you too could be the star of a reality show!” meet, you have Vigilance.  This novella is vicious, you should read it.  I really hope that reality tv producers and tv network head honchos never get their hands on this book.  Because then they’d make a movie out it.  And then someone else would be like “this is a damn brilliant idea! Let’s make this a real TV show!”, and that would, um, not be good.

Death’s End gets an honorable mention for the last hundred pages or so. It was SUCH a slog to get there, but the end really was so, so, SO, amazing.

 

Another last minute honorable mention is Yoon Ha Lee’s short story collection  Conservation of Shadows.  I’m only about half way through the collection, but damn, every page is perfection and I’ve already come across stories I can’t wait to read again.  Also, the word escritoire needs to come back into fashion.

 

And here is my Favorite non-book stuff of this year. Also, I watched  a lot of Netflix this year.

 

The Politician (tv show) – ah, this show is so ridiculous and so over the top!  it makes fun of soap opera tropes, it makes fun of how in tv shows high school students never seem to have homework or classes, it makes fun of rich California kids, and the best part?  Ben Platt singing.   Also? the art direction (i don’t know if that is the right word) was pure perfection.   If you’ve got Netflix, watch this show.  After the first episode you’ll be like “what the hell did I just watch?”.  keep watching.

 

The Good Place – Season 3 hit Netflix this summer, and you bet I binged it.  Janet and Jason forever! thanks to this show, I’m now more than a little obsessed with The Trolley Problem.  This is my fave show because when I saw the first season, I badgered my parents to get the discs on Netflix, and they did.  and then because they have cable, they got to see the 3rd season on tv before I did, and we badgered each other about it and teased each other about episodes we hadn’t seen yet.  My parents have drastically different tastes in what kind of TV shows they like to watch,  so I loved that this show let me bond with both of them.

 

Dark – if you want a time travel thriller that might also give you nightmares, or if you want to scare your kids into never going into dark caves by themselves, this is the TV show for you. An import from Germany, the dubbing is just so-so, but I was able to get used to it pretty quickly.  Now that I’ve seen both seasons and am reminiscing on the first few episodes of season 1,  the only spoiler I’ll give you is the people who are quietest, those are the people you should be listening to.   The characters who seem to be in love with the sound of their own voice?  don’t listen to them.

 

Into The Spider-Verse – So far I’ve only gotten to see this movie once, it’s gonna be one of those movies that I just keep adding back to my Netflix DVD queue. I should remind everyone that I’m not into Superhero stories or Marvel or DC stuff,  that stuff just isn’t my thing.  That said, I loved every single thing about Into The Spider-Verse.  Every scene,  every line,  every detail, even the references that I didn’t get, even the famous people whose voices I didn’t recognize, I loved every second that I got to spend watching this movie.   Also?  OMG the visuals and the music and how perfectly it worked together.   That scene at the end?  It was a supernova ballet, and I loved it and I can’t wait to watch this movie again!  I don’t even care about Spiderman, and I loved this movie!!

There you have it!  That’s my favorite stuff that I consumed this year.

Can’t wait to see what 2020  brings!

 

 

I wish there was more snow on the ground, so it could actually look like winter out there.  I’m not minding this mild and sunny weather,  but it’s just brown out there. I want the sunlight to be able to glitter and glint off the icy layer on top of the snow, I want to hear the snow crunch under my feet, I want to see snowmen in people’s front yards, I want to see Christmas lights shine through snow on shrubs and roofs.

 

I don’t want polar vortex, I just want some snow.

 

At least I’ll get one thing I want – which is longer days!  Woohoo solstice!  The sun is setting as I type this blog post.  in the upcoming weeks and months, it is always heartening to watch the sun rise earlier and earlier on my commute to work, and to have a few more minutes of daylight on my commute home.

What’s exciting?

I’m working on a Best of Year blog post for you, which as usual will not be solely  books published this year! It will be my favorite stuff I consumed this year, regardless of when said stuff was created.

Vintage Science Fiction Month is nearly here!!

Feel free to use this Interstellar Patrol badge for any of your Vintage posts.

Need a bigger goal? here’s a Bingo Card if that’s your thing:

 

 

What have I been reading?

It’s been a slow reading month. I am reading Hild by Nicola Griffith. There’s nothing wrong with this book, and it has plenty of interesting moments, I’m just having trouble staying engaged with it.  Did you read this? did you like it? Gonna pick up A Conservation of Shadows, Yoon Ha Lee’s short story collection, with higher hopes. Short space opera stories with math, ghosts, and culture? YES PLEASE.

 

What have I been cooking?

everything!   I’ve never been a squash fan, but if you put enough butter and spices on anything, it’s good. Sliced acorn squash brushed with (lots of) butter, sage, and thyme, and then tossed with cooked sorghum. It’s like an earthy, buttery, herby, grain salad that tastes much better than it looks. Gonna make another batch.   Have been cooking  baked sweet potatoes covered in everything,  home made gluten free chicken tenders, gonna make some ricotta pancakes (latkes!) tomorrow.

 

What have I been watching?

Watched the first episode of The Witcher last night!  Enjoyed it and will be watching more!

 

it’s been 8 minutes since I started typing this blog post. . .  and the sun is down.

Woah! How did it become December, like, when did that happen?

I could put myself under a ton of pressure to write thousand word reviews that won’t get read . . . or I could write some low-pressure mini-reviews.

Mini reviews it is. (I mourn my loss of review-writing motivation. I really do)

Here are some mini-reviews of books I read this year and enjoyed. If you read them, I’d love to know your thoughts! If you aren’t familiar with them, do they look interesting?

The Quantum Garden by Derek Kunsken – the direct sequel to Kunsken’s break out novel The Quantum Magician. I am a sucker for heist stories, and I am a sucker for when the con artist gets conned. This second novel in the series is quieter than the first, less action, less gigantic set pieces. And in the quiet spaces, we really get to know Bel and Cassie, and the family they came from. I’m not going to give away any plot points, because if you haven’t read the first book they won’t make any sense. If you like smart science fiction, if you like physics that is on the edge, if you like stories about science meets capitalism and human greed, and oh, if you’re looking to scratch your Locke Lamora itch, this is the series for you.  Seriously excellent in every possible way. Def gonna want to reread this and tease out all the cool dimension hopping physics and cultural and family obligation stuff, and just totally cool shit on every page.

And Shall Machines Surrender by Benjanun Sriduangkaew – I loved this book. It was fun, it was super sexy, the characters were great, I enjoyed the story, I loved the idea of a sanctuary community that is run and governed by AI’s who rebelled against their human owners. But this isn’t a story about AI’s, it is a romance. Orfea and Krissana have history, oh do they have history. And the only thing they have more of than history is chemistry. If you don’t like romance and sexytimes getting all squished up in your scifi, this isn’t the book for you. Enjoy ultra smart scifi characters who also get to have romantic relationships and sexytimes? This novella is the gift you give yourself. Even better news? Sriduangkaew recently published Then Will the Sun Rise Alabaster, which is same world, different characters. This is a huge sprawling space opera world that Sriduangkaew has created, there are endless stories she could tell.

Indelible Ink by Matt Betts – Ok, so I read this one a few months ago, and don’t remember a ton of the details. I remember that it had a rough start, but found its bearing pretty quickly, and that I enjoyed it enough that I’d read it again. Deena has some hella cool superpowers that she can sort of control, her story line felt X-Men and edgy, as if she was some mutant kid who got recruited into Magneto’s crew and didn’t really know what was going on. I remember really liking her as a character and rooting for her. And there was this crazy twist at the end that came out of left field, but at the same time made a ton of sense because there had been some clues all long. Yep, just gonna have to read this one again. If you can find a copy of this book, I recommend it.

Read the rest of this entry »

I have finally had a chance to read “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” by Jorge Luis Borges,  and so many puzzle pieces have finally clicked into place.  Reading the story sent me to Wikipedia, which sent me down a glorious Gene Wolfe rabbit hole, and also reminded me of the weirdest story I ever read in Apex Magazine, and now my brain is having the best time ever!

 

Wait, what?

 

ok, so if you’re anything like me, you’ve come across references to the famous Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges (did you know he was from Argentina? me neither), and maybe, like me, you’ve assumed his work a)has nothing to do with your fave scifi/fantasy and b)is probably too literary for you to understand.

While writing a December guest post, I was flipping through The Big Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, and why have I never flipped through this book before, what is wrong with me? This ginormous collection is sold gold! ah, maybe the fact that it weighs 38 pounds was a turn off? I’m sure it is available as an ebook for those who are interested. Anyways,  I came across Borges’ “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” in the table of contents and the story didn’t look very long . . .

 

And 30 minutes later I was sitting on the sofa, glassy eyed, and so many questions about stories I had read suddenly made sense.  So much of what I’ve read has referenced this story, so many authors I’d interviewed about their “made up worlds” were referencing Tlon, or other works by Borges (because reading 3 paragraphs on Wikipedia apparently makes me an expert? HA).

 

Some random thoughts after reading “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”  –

The introduction to the story mentions that, among other authors, Gene Wolfe was influenced by the work of Borges.  The second paragraph of the story begins:

“Bioy Casares had come to dinner at my house that evening, and we had lost all track of time in a vast debate over the way one might go about compsing a first-person novel whose narrator would omit or distory things and engage in all sorts of contradictions, so that a few of the book’s readers – a very few – might divine the horrifying or banal truth”

and all I could think was “oh, so that’s what was going on in Gene Wolfe’s An Evil Guest?”  I remember when I was reading that book, that i didn’t understand what was going on, and I was so angry that I didn’t get it! I felt left out.  I still don’t get that book, and I don’t plan to read it again, but i feel better about not getting it, even if my guess is completely wrong.

 

Now that I think about it tho,  I’ve been reading the grand children of this short story for decades. A place that doesn’t exist, but if we can convince people that it does exist, it will exist?  Reference books with editions that don’t match?   Life’s grandest wild goose chase?   And what I love even more about this, is that it doesn’t even matter if the place exists or not, it doesn’t matter that you can’t get there from here. The joy is in the creating, the joy is in the fun of the thing.

 

And I’m thinking about more short stories I’ve read over the years that had echoes of Borges, that when the authors said his work influenced them, I just politely nodded and hoped it wasn’t too obvious how under-read I was.  It was obvious, trust me. And they were very kind about it.

 

Borges was way ahead of his time, wasn’t he?

 

It’s like Borges’ work is an orchard, and nearly everyone has eaten from it, has their favorite trees, their favorite beehives, knows exactly when the apples, plums, cherries, and peaches are at their ripest, knows how to get the perfect photograph of the sun rising through the mist and the shadows of the trees.

 

Anyways, I have a ton of unread books on my bookshelf, stacks upon stacks of books that are in the “give away” pile, and all I want to do is going to the library and get some Borges, and keep falling down this rabbit hole.


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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.