the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for September 2020

And my Deep Space Nine watch-a-thon continues!  Such comfort TV!

 

I’m even having fun with the filler episodes. Because me, I’m reading way, way too much into the throw away scenes.  Who knew that Deep Space Nine was such a cornucopia of writing prompts, and so many filler scenes that actually have buckets of depth?

 

Here’s the next four episodes of Season 3. I didn’t think to snap some pictures while I was watching, so all photos were stolen of the Memory Alpha Wiki for Deep Space Nine.

 

Second Skin (S3 Ep5) – If you really love Nana Visitor, this is the episode for you!   Kira gets some confusing communications, someone wants to talk to her about a prison that she was never at, but the records clearly show she was there. How could she be at the prison, but also with her rebellion friends at the same time?   Kira gets kidnapped, and wakes up in a strange room, surrounded by Cardassians.

 

When she looks in the mirror, she sees an impossibility – that she now a Cardassian.  Is it a trick? A hallucination?  I’m sure her cosmetics are supposed to be the height of Cardassian fashion, but wow, not a good look. Her captors explain that she was a Cardassian special agent, who volunteered to undergo some kind of memory technobabble to infiltrate the Bajoran rebellion. And isn’t it wonderful, that they’ve retrieved her and brought her home? Her memories of her Cardassian life should resurface anytime now!  Kira has become something she abhors.  There are tons of psychological tricks played on Kira to get her to doubt that she is Bajoran.  This could be a Black Mirror episode?!

Kira and her “dad”

She’s is stuck in this Cardassian house, with her “dad”.  He tries to comfort her because that’s what dad’s do, but he also respects her enough to give her space and time, because that’s also what dad’s do.  It’s got to be weird for Kira, to have faith in the “the only good Cardassian is a dead Cardassian”, but then she meets this middle aged guy who is a dad. Who cares about his daughter.  This guy, who knows that his daughter doesn’t have to agree with him on everything, and that he loves her, so it doesn’t matter that they have disagreements. Basically, he’s the perfect dad. Kira’s got to reconcile the fact that Cardassians have fathers, and those fathers are sometimes okay people.    The whole big thing that’s going on?  Yeah, it’s not about Kira, it’s about the dad.  I feel so bad for dad!

 

And then . . .   Garak to the rescue!

 

The Abandoned (S3 Ep6) – 16 year old Jake is dating a 20 year old Dabo girl, and since Sisko isn’t sure how he feels about that, so he hosts the two lovebirds for dinner. It’s funny, me calling them “love birds”, because they never do anything more than hold hands and kiss with their noses (nose kisses are THE cutest).  Sisko can’t believe his son is growing up so quickly, he misses taking care of a child.

 

Meanwhile,  Quark purchased some salvage sight unseen.  The salvage is mostly junk, except for an incubator thing with a baby inside it!!  Uh, so it’s a good thing he bought this salvage, otherwise the baby might have died!

 

The humanoid baby goes to sickbay, where no one can figure out it’s race or planet or origin. The child very, very quickly grows into an adolescent, and my first thought was “hey, when this kid grows into a teenager next week, he can be a new friend for Jake!”.   Well, he does grow into a teenager a few days later, and now it’s obvious where he’s from – this is a young Gem Hadar, the Gamma Quandrant soldiers of the Dominion! And now he’s loose on the station! And oh by the way, the Gem Hadar are enslaved by the Dominion through a genetic modification causing an addiction to a enzyme only the Dominion can supply. The Dominion created biological slaves who could never rebel.

this kid has some hella awesome hair!

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I met author Tom Doyle years ago at a science fiction convention, and I was lucky enough to stay in touch with him afterwards.   He’s the author of the American Craftsman trilogy, and his short fiction and non-fiction essays have appeared in Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, Perihelion, Paradox Magazine, Kasma SF Magazine, and elsewhere.

 

Many years ago, when Doyle was at Clarion, he wrote a short story which was later sold to Strange Horizons.  And now, he’s expanded that short story into a full length novel!  You can learn more about Tom Doyle and his work at his website TomDoyleAuthor.com or by following him on twitter or facebook.

 

Doyle’s newest full length novel, Border Crosser, (Amazon link) available Oct 1 tells the story of Eris, who is smart, sexy, and can’t remember her loyalties. She has a type of purposeful amnesia – because she can not remember her loyalties, nothing shows up on the “emotional scanners”, allowing her to infiltrate anywhere she needs to go, or chooses to go. Able to trick the scanners, she’s the perfect undercover secret agent.

 

Eris’s employers are quite sure that her emotional  amnesia means she won’t survive long enough to learn about her past.  Maybe they shouldn’t underestimate her!

Doyle let me pick his brain about how emotional amnesia could benefit someone, how Eris handles her mental health condition, his favorite scenes to write in Border Crosser, his writing process, his band, and more!

Little Red Reviewer: Congrats on your new novel, Border Crosser! Is this novel connected to your short story “Crossing Borders” which was published at Strange Horizons?

Tom Doyle: Thanks! Yes, “Crossing Borders,” my science fiction tale of Eris, a border personality secret agent causing interstellar chaos in the far-future, was the kernel for this novel. That story was my first pro sale. I wrote the story during the emotionally most intense part of the Clarion Workshop, and I think it shows.

LRR: When I read the description for the book, I was intrigued by Eris’s “emotional amnesia”, and how her memory issues allow her to get past emotional scanners. Scanners at the border that detect your long-term intentions? That’s wild! I’ve got to know more about how these scanners work, how to get around them, and how you came up with this idea!

TD: The idea for border scanners emerged from choosing to write about a borderline personality character. Emotional amnesia is a common aspect of borderline personality disorder (BPD). This means that someone has difficulty remembering how they felt before about events, things, and people. Eris’s emotional amnesia has been amplified by her secret employers, who want her loyalties to be extremely flexible.

In the original short story, I didn’t give Eris a particular skill set that fully explained the label “border crosser” – it was more a statement about personality type. But the novel required something more. So I thought more about situations in which emotional amnesia could be an advantage and came up with the border scanner.

The border scanner is a minimally intrusive look at intentions (this future has good reasons to fear anything more intrusive). Such scans are standard when crossing one of the many far-future borders; for example, boarding a starship or landing on another inhabited world. It’s the equivalent of our airport security or passport control and customs.

The person administering the scan asks some standard questions, like “Do you intend any harm toward me, the government, the planet, etc.?” A person without Eris’s version of emotional amnesia would be caught by the mental scanner. But Eris’s mind has been conditioned to idle in an emotionally neutral setting during such scans. At those moments, she doesn’t intend harm, though she may want to get closer to certain people.

LRR: Tell us some interesting things about Eris. What makes her a compelling character?

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You know how you read a short story, like it but maybe don’t entirely get it, and then years later that story pops back into your head and everything about it hits you like a ton of bricks?

 

Or, you read a story and then forget the details.  And then years later, something happens, and you’re reminded of that story, but you can only remember bits and pieces, and you’re not even sure if you are remembering it correctly?

 

What I could remember, was that the woman in the story likes living by herself. She liked cooking. She’s not good with people. She’d left her old life, the one where she felt she didn’t fit in, for a few life where things (to her) felt balanced, where she understands the rules and things make more sense. Where there were no people. Except people keep trying to rescue her? This weird, creepy (maybe imaginary?) guy protects her.  He can’t possibly be imaginary!

 

I think I was supposed to be scared of the creepy guy with the filthy hat? I wasn’t.  He took care of the woman, he didn’t try to make her change, so he was “good peeps” in my book.

 

I remembered the story being fairly ambiguous. There were practically no details on the page, as if the characters knew that saying something would make it true, so they just don’t say certain things. And I like ambiguous stories. I don’t need all my questions answered, I prefer questions to stay unanswered, so that I can chew on them, well, forever.  I remembered feeling like I could relate to the woman, to the fact that she was OK with her quiet life.

 

Thanks to Lesley Conner’s help, the story that’s been rattling around my brain non-stop for about five months now is “She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow”, by Sam Fleming. It ran in Apex Magazine in December of 2015.  Go read it.

 

Rereading it, the woman on the island’s name is Chancery.  Hedron, the creepy guy in the dirty hat, is most definitely not “good peeps”, but I’m still not afraid of him.  Chancery lives a quiet life, she can hear herself think. She can put her coping mechanisms in a jar and put the jar on the shelf, because she finally lives somewhere where she doesn’t need her coping mechanisms.  I was a little jealous, that she no longer needed her coping mechanisms, she seems to be living an introvert’s best life.

 

I still love how hazy the story is, like the entire thing happens within a fog bank. Is Chance starving to death? Is she eating a few thousand calories a day? Can both of those statements be true? Is one of her coping mechanisms avoiding the truth about what’s going on?

 

Sometimes you have to sit with a story for a while, for you to understand why it clicks so much with you.  I had to soak this one up for five years.

 

Rereading the story, the thing that pisses me off most is how Kay treats Chancery. How could she?

 

I’m still not afraid of Hedron. But I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be.  I guess if Chance isn’t afraid of him, then I won’t be. I trust her judgement.  LOL, maybe I’m a little like Chance’s dog?

 

I like that this story has been rattling around my head for 5 years. It’s a little strange, but not surprising to me, how much I can relate to Chance. I’m happy she’s found a place to live where she doesn’t need her coping mechanisms anymore.

 

Anyway, go read the story, let me know what you think of it.

 

And you can also read my interview with the author.  I didn’t understand the significance at the time, but in the interview, when Sam Fleming says “what if there weren’t?”, that line has stuck with me, all these years.

 

Dear Sam Fleming:  Thank you for writing this story.  It is what Introvert-me needed to read, and reread, and reread.  Letting this story rattle around in my head, has been good for me.

 

I think telecommuting has also been good for me.  It’s been nice to not be five seconds away from sensory overload all the time.

I had plans to talk about more Vandana Singh short stories, I swear.  There’s also a Sam Fleming short story that I really need to blog my way through my feelings about.

 

But? DVDs.

 

One of my BFFs lent me all of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 on DVD, and I can’t not watch it. First of all, this is the perfect comfort TV to watch during *gestures at everything* and second off all, I’m pretty sure I never saw the end of this series, and third of all, Avery Brooks is freaking amazing.   The last few seasons ran from 1997 – 1999, and those were my first years in college, which mean: School, really good libraries, jobs with weird hours, college parties, and worst of all, for the first time in years I had access to cable TV.   why watch DS9 when I could watch MTV?  Also, pretty sure I was too broke in 1999 to even own a TV. So yep, pretty sure I never saw the last seasons.

 

I wasn’t sure where to start, in this cornucopia of ALL THE SEASONS, so I started at season three.  There’s 4 episodes to a disc, so yep, I’mma blog about the first four episodes of season three.  And who knows? Maybe this is the start of a series of blog posts about Way. Too. Much. Deep Space. Nine.

 

You’re welcome.

 

And no, I don’t feel bad about spoiling a show that ran on TV 20 years ago.  Stuff I say in these blog posts? I might be remembering stuff not-exactly from the episode. oops.

 

And as per my usual, it’s the throw away lines that make the biggest impression on me. And a few other things that made me chuckle.

 

The first two episodes of season three are a two parter, “The Search Part I”, and “The Search, Part II”.  There is an obvious threat on the other side of the wormhole, the Dominion.  It’s decided that the best way to avoid all out war with The Dominion is to locate the founders of that civilization, and convince them that The Federation isn’t a threat. We’re friendly! We like to trade! We just want to be friends! We come in peace!

 

At the opening of the episode, Sisko introduces around a new Federation security officer, to the bristleling of Odo. He feels he’s being pushed out, fired, betrayed, and he is mad AF. That isn’t exactly what’s happening? But? The Federation likes team players, they like people who “think like them”, and well, Odo isn’t, and doesn’t. It’s a very subtle “fit in or fuck off”. And boy is Odo pissed off!!  I’m on his side here, especially when the new Federation security officer starts flirting with Odo’s BFF Kira.  You know, it’s not like Odo had much of a choice. The Federation showed up, took over his space station, offered him a job one day, and he said “ok”. Sisko treats Odo with respect, but the rest of the Federation doesn’t. Those jerks.

 

Because Quark has previously done some profitable trade with a few Gamma Quandrant families, he’s brought along on the Gamma Quandrant “Find the Founders!” mission as a sort-of-trade-negotiator.  So, it’s Sisko, Dax, Odo, Kira, Quark, and maybe Bashir goes too? I don’t remember, it’s been a few days since I watched the episodes.   It’s sort of “who cares” who goes on the away mission, because apparently everything in the Gamma Quandrant is only 3 hours away from the wormhole, and the really important thing is that Odo feels drawn towards a certain nebula.

 

Odo ends up stealing a shuttle (dude. That “not a team player thing”? You just proved the Federation’s point!), and he and Kira explore the nebula and find a rogue planet, and land the shuttle.  Of course they can breathe the air on some rando planet! Where do you think this is, southern California?    They are able to land on the planet, and come across an ocean of . . .  goo?

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Someone on twitter (thank you, whoever you were!)  recommended Vandana Singh’s short story “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination”, and offered a link to the story on Tor.com.  I gave it a whirl, and was immediately hooked. In reminded me of Ken Liu’s short story “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”, and I recognized my favorite method of story telling, which at first glance can seem to be stories that dance around a plot and characters while resolutely refusing to be trapped by said plot. And yet, so much is communicated about what is happening and sometimes why those thing happen, and what those things mean to the people they are happening to.

 

I guess it’s more like a fantastical story telling version of future archaeology?

 

Let me unpack that a little.

 

In Liu’s short story, there is no plot, there is no characters, there is no conflict. If you’re zipping through the story, you won’t recognize the beginning, middle, or end, but if you read a little closer, it’s all there. It’s just a story that gives a few paragraphs about a bunch of space-faring alien civilizations, and how they make books – how they ensure others can access their stories and their thoughts.  Within the story, there are no human interactions with the aliens, no earthly judgements of  their societies. It is as if to put a human character in would a barrier between the reader and the records of these cultures.    Singh’s “Ambiguity Machine’s” felt like that too – no barrier between the records of events and the reader, no “main character” to pass judgement or offer opinions,  just records of what had happened, along with a request that someone interpret the records.

 

For my brain, these two stories, read 8 years apart from each other, were like hearing two pieces of music that were different, but seemed to be talking to each other, even though they had never met. (yes, I know I’m weird) (and i don’t know, maybe Signh and Lui are good friends? I have no idea)

 

Suffice to say, after reading Signh’s story,  I immediately ordered a paperback copy of her collection, Ambiguity Machines and Other Select Stories. And when the book arrived, the first words out of my mouth were “oh, shit”.

 

 

You see, I like to read before bed.  Usually, i’m already half asleep when I crawl into bed, so I’m looking to read something that if I find myself reading the same paragraph 5 times, or fall asleep halfway through, it won’t matter too much.   A short-ish story, something 5-10 pages, out of an anthology or collection is perfect for this.

 

None of the stories in the Singh collection were short, and none of them looked like “easy reads”. As I got further into the collection I realized these were not stories to drift away to, while falling asleep at night, these were stories to read in the morning, with strong coffee, and to spend the day absorbing and thinking about them, so as to then dream about them at night.

 

Everything I have read so far in this collection has been heart achingly beautiful,  each story requiring me some time afterwards to come back to myself. These stories are vistas.

 

(I feel really bad for whatever I read next. No matter how good it is, I fear it will be mediocre in comparison to this collection)

 

I’m going to tell you about “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination”, and about “Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra”,  even though I have more favorites.  Those others will have to wait for another blog post, I supposed.   “Ambiguity Machines” had me globetrotting via googlemaps, and “Somadeva” had me falling down the world’s best internet rabbit hole.

 

Ambiguity Machines was original published at tor.com in 2015, here’s the link:

https://www.tor.com/2015/04/29/ambiguity-machines-an-examination-vandana-singh/

Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra was originally published in 2010 at Strange Horizons, here’s the link:

http://strangehorizons.com/fiction/somadeva-a-sky-river-sutra/

 

warning, if I interpreted something correctly, there are major spoilers ahead for “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination”, and I guess maybe spoilers also for Somadeva? so hey, click on those links and enjoy some gorgeous fiction before reading the rest of this blog post.  😉

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I’ve been dipping my toes into Made to Order: Robots and Revolution, edited by Jonathan Strahan.   The cover led me to believe this is all robot stories, but what I found was more a spectrum of cyborg, to disembodied AIs, to actual robots.  As with all anthologies, some stories are forgettable, and some shine like supernovas.

 

I’ve not read everything in the antho yet, and maybe I never will.

 

But here are some stories that have already made an impression on me.

 

The Hurt Pattern, by Tochi Onyebuchi – What is this doing in a fiction anthology? Other than the “connect yourself to your computer at work, and then literally unplug”, the rest of this sure doesn’t feel like fiction.  To pay off his student loans, Kenny gets a job sorting data. Obvs, his job is more complicated than that, but he’s good at the work, and he makes friends. He makes some dangerous connections involving why certain cities are more violent than others, and how the uptick in violence is connected to, well, that’s spoiler territory. This story gonna make you mad.

 

Brother Rifle, by Daryl Gregory – A Marine suffering from PTSD alongside his traumatic brain injury. He doesn’t understand how this therapy is supposed to work, and worse, he feels like he is imposing on his family.  How exactly, is this implant supposed to safely let him start feeling emotions again? What’s the deal with the patterns on the cards? What’s the difference between a robot and someone who lost all emotion through a brain injury and now has no power of attorney over their own self? Story is a bit of a slow burn, that kind where you think you know where it’s going, and then that last scene hits you like a ton of bricks. Lots in this story hit close to home for me – how mental illness and PTSD is handled, how we expect people to magically get better after a few months of therapy. If i read this again, i’m gonna cry.

 

Bigger Fish, by Sarah Pinsker – quite the comfort read, which was sorely needed. A private detective is hired to investigate the death of a “gazillionaire water tycoon”. The man was home alone, with only his personal robots. This was a nostalgic Asimov-esque I Robot style story – obviously the robots killed the guy, but how to prove it, when a robot can’t harm a person? When you’re ready for a unicorn chaser, read this story.

 

A Guide for Working Breeds, by Vina Jae-Min Prasad –  super cute story, told entirely through online messages between two robots who become friends through a mentorship program.  They have drastically different personalities, so it’s super adorable when the “killer” starts buying gifts  for the young upstart. Sometimes even a teacher can learn a thing or two. This story is the perfect one to open the anthology – it is bright, optimistic, and laugh out loud adorable.  Maybe it’s because one of the ‘bots mentions dogs right at the beginning, That i couldn’t help but view both of these characters as robotic dogs, the young one as a cheerful, floppy eared puppy, and the older one one as a grizzled guard dog.

 

Fairy Tales for Robots by Sofia Samatar – just an absolutely beautiful story. As the protagonist spends one entire night telling fairy tales to her sleeping robot, she realizes how much fairy tales maybe do belong to robots, what with all the sleeping without dying, and the constant drudgery, and the ability to eat something poisonous and not die, and the oddities of how fairy tales allow characters to do superhuman things. We learn a few things about the narrator, how she sees herself compared to how the world sees her. And why shouldn’t robot children be told stories about impossible things? This story  is buried in the back of the anthology. My advice is that you read it first.

 

I like this idea of there being a spectrum between human and robot. Does a pacemaker make you a cyborg? What if you have a steel pin in your leg? How about an artificial limb, or a wheelchair that moves based on your brain waves?

 

Based on the cover art, I was worried this anthology was going to be “Robot Adventures!”, luckily, it isn’t. It’s mostly about humans who are on the cusp of something, and choosing to deal with those feelings, or suppress them.


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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.