the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for October 2020

The leaves are turning, the wind is kicking up, the temperature is plummeting, I’m making autumn food and planning for Thanksgiving.

 

that means it’s time to start planning Vintage Science Fiction Month with my co-host Jacob from Red Star Reviews!

 

Every January I go back in time and read/watch/listen to science fiction and fantasy that was created before 1979.  Why 1979?  it’s the year I was born.  You can choose to read/watch/listen to spec fic from before 1979, or from before the year you were born. Up to you!

 

Everyone involved with Vintage month spends January blogging, booktubing, tweeting, insta’ing, FBing, and booksta’ing about the vintage scifi they’ve been reading. We use super modern technology to talk about super old stuff!  If you read a Vintage book and you loved it, we want to hear about it! Did you watch a really old TV show or movie, or listen to an old radio play? We wanna hear about it!  Maybe that vintage book you are reading, it just isn’t doing it for you. maybe it didn’t age well? We wanna hear about it!   Use the hashtag #VintageScifiMonth on all the socials,  and if you’re on twitter, follow us at @VintageSciFi_ .

 

Years past have had bingo cards, blind-date-with-a-Vintage-book, giveways, read alongs, and more.  Not entirely sure yet what this year will bring!  What would you like to see?

 

I’ve got something different that I’m doing this January. Typically, I’d buy or borrow a ton of old paperbacks. I have a ton of old paperbacks that I bought used, over the years. Here’s the thing though – many of these books smell like they were in grandma’s basement for 40 years. My old-lady sinuses just aren’t having it anymore. If I open a book, and get an instant migraine because the book is musty or moldy . . .  I’m not gonna read it.

 

My big change for this January is I’m giving my sinuses a break from moldy old books. Everything I read for Vintage month this year will be a relatively new printing that wasn’t in grandma’s basement for 60 years, or a digital copy.  I have a copy of the Big Book of Science Fiction and the Big Book of Fantasy (edited by the Vandermeers) both of which have a ton of obscure short stories from befre 1979, I’m gonna go crazy downloading old stuff from Project Gutenberg, and there’s a good chance I’ll be buying some e-books of older anthologies.  Yes, I said e-books!   Yes, I have spent the last ten years railing against e-books and complaining about them . .  and I plan to spend at least the next ten years bitching and complaining about them. But? when given the choice between a musty, moldy, ratty paperback that gives me an insta-headache. . .  and an e-book, I’ll take the e-book.

 

I’m counting down the days till January!

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher is one of the cutest, most fun books I’ve read in a long time! Apparently it’s been a while since I read some Ursula Vernon/T. Kingfisher.

 

Ok, so the book isn’t all cutesy – people die, assassins go after teenagers, kids are homeless, adults act like idiots, there is some shit to be said about why we need heroes in the first place. . . ok, crap, this book is actually pretty dark, now that I’m thinking about it.

 

(the book doesn’t have any swear words, because Mona is a good girl. but #sorrynotsorry, this review has a lot of swear words.)

 

But I felt cute while I was reading it?  I laughed a lot while I was reading it. I loved all the characters, i loved loved LOVED Mona’s internal voice, i kept snarking “not my gumdrop buttons!” outloud, and reading this book really made me want to bake and hold my loved ones close.  Reading it made me feel hopeful.

 

So, after Mona’s parents died, she went to live with her aunt and uncle and work in their bakery. Well, she works there, but she lives in her own little room down the street. At fourteen years old, she leaves her apartment at 4am, goes to the bakery, and starts the ovens.  What were you doing at 14?   Mona is also an amateur wizard – she can make bread dough do cute things. The bakery customers (ok, some of them) love it when she makes the gingerbread men get up and dance (some of the customers think she’s a creepy witch).  There’s also this semi-sentient bucket of sourdough starter in the basement named Bob.  Bob eats the rats.  #teamBob.

 

One sleepy morning, Mona arrives at work, to find a strange girl in the bakery. The girl is also dead. Aunts are woken up, police are called.  And not too many days after that, when Mona gets to work in the wee hours of the morning, the assassin is waiting for her too.

 

Fourteen year olds shouldn’t have to escape from assassins at four oclock in the morning.

 

And I haven’t even had a chance yet to tell you about Knackering Molly and her dead horse Nag! I wonder what Bob and Nag would think of each other? Molly freakin’ rocks, by the way.

 

The assassin is obviously another wizard.  Why the heck would a wizard be hunting other wizards, especially someone like Mona, a teenager who has limited magical abilities?

 

Things happen, and then dear reader, you will read the funniest scene you have ever read in your life. It involves Mona and her new friend Spindle climbing up a, um, sort of drain pipe?  The, um, drain pipe that leads directly to the Duchess’s, um, garderobe.  Ain’t the Duchess in for a shock when she walks into her bathroom to find two shit covered teenagers. My friends, I was laughing so hard I fell out of my chair!

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I watched these episodes more than a week ago, and it’s taken me forever to write something up about them. You forgive me, right?

 

Anyway, let’s get further into Season 3!

 

Episode 9,  Defiant, is about 3 movies worth of action and planning and subterfuge crammed into a 45 minute episode.  The episode starts off as this light hearted flirty thing, and then before you know it, Sisko is teaming up with the Cardassians and learning that Gul Dukat is a dad too, and I’m getting ahead of myself!

 

Kira is enjoying some time off the clock, when who should start flirting her up at Quarks, but Will Riker! (I can’t help but refer to him as the slut of the Alpha Quadrant). He’s stopped off at DS9 on his way to Risa, because of course he has. He flirts up Kira, and before you can say Gamma Quadrant, the two flirty birds are alone on the Defiant.  I kinda thought something fishy was going on, but I didn’t want to harsh on Kira’s squee, since for ONCE someone is giving her attention that isn’t work/career related. But, um, doesn’t she have a boyfriend on Bajor? And then before you know it, Riker has pulled a phaser on her, stunned her, and beamed his buddies on board to steal the Defiant.

What, what? Riker, a command officer, stealing the Defiant???  Ah, I knew something was fishy! This isn’t Riker, the slut of the galaxy, this is his transporter error twin, who he left behind!  This less-slutty Riker wants to make a name for himself, he want to be someone, damnit! So joined the Maquis and is going to give them the Defiant, the only Starfleet ship with a cloaking device.

 

And now it’s up to Sisko to tell the Cardassians “oh, so you know my super awesome ship that can cloak, and you can’t track us? Yeah, um, some asshole stole it, we’re pretty sure he’s on his way to your shipyards to blow them up. Let me  help you locate the Defiant, let’s try not to blow it up, m’kay?”  Ok, so it doesn’t go exactly like that, but the rest of the episode is a super tense showdown between Sisko, who doesn’t want to give up any more information than he has to,  Gul Dukat, who doesn’t want to give up any more information than he has to, and Korinas (an Obsidian Order agent), who doesn’t want to give up anything she knows. SO TENSE!!! Goes without saying one wrong move could start a whole new interstellar war!

 

The opening scenes of this episode were pretty cheesy, but those scenes with Sisko, Dukat, and Korinas were fantastic!  Apparently I wasn’t alone, there is some hollywood rumors that the only person who liked other-Riker was Jonathan Frakes. Everyone else had zero interest in ever hearing about other-Riker again.

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You’ve probably already figured this out about me, but I don’t mind it when an author doesn’t explain everything.  I’d rather a story very slowly tease out the “what’s really going on”, rather than tell me all the fun stuff up front.   Sheri S Tepper’s The Family Tree, published way back in 1997, is very much this kind of story.  We meet some characters and get to know them . .  we meet a second batch of characters and get to know them. . .  and then, well,  you might want to duct tape your jaw to your head, as some insulation against how many times this book will make it drop.

 

Also, whoever wrote the back cover copy on the paperback I have, man, that person managed to take an amazing, charming, enthralling book and make it sound kinda blah. So don’t read the cover copy!!

 

As with most other Tepper novels I’ve read, I was drawn in to the story immediately. The characters caught and kept my attention, and Tepper showed me their environment without infodumping.  This is a very Tepper book, and by that I mean the characters are intelligent and persistent, there is a pro-environmental / live kindly with nature theme, and a long game.

 

We meet police officer Dora Henry as she’s realizing she needs to leave her husband Jared.  They have the absolute strangest relationship ever, more a marriage of convenience than anything romantic. And when she moves her stuff out he flips out. (later in the book, when Jared flips out even more, I described him as a mustache twirling dick. My husband’s response was “but was he a dick twirling mustache?”.  Dick twirling mustache is my new favorite way to describe a petty bad guy).

 

Even without the divorce and Jared’s drama, Dora has her hands full at work.  There are some murders that her department is investigating (who would kill a scientist?) and invasive plants and trees are taking over the city.  She doesn’t mind the invasive trees and plants, they are quite pretty, if you like that kind of thing (which Dora, and I, do)

 

So,  just as I’m getting super invested in Dora’s plotline,  the story shifts to this sort of quest fantasy plotline.  My first thought was that Dora was telling this story to someone? Or that someone was telling this, as a bedtime story, to Dora in her childhood? Because it did have the trappings of a fantasy story – among other characters is the young harem slave, Nassif,  who is told to dress like a boy and be a servant for Prince Sahir who is going on a quest,  there is also Prince Izakar who has access to secret library and is told he needs to solve the great mystery of his time, there is a farming family whose humorous children only care that their grazing animals are safe,  there is a countess, there are a few other characters. All these people end up meeting and deciding they should continue together, in hopes they can help each other on their possibly connected quests.

 

My second thought, after a few chapters of these fantasy style characters was how nice they were to each other. Sure, people disagree, but there was no backstabbing, no betrayals, no intrigue, no bloody wars of conquest. All these folks are, for lack of a better term, decent human beings who show kindness and compassion. (how sad is that, that I’m shocked to run into decent human beings in a sci-fantasy novel??)  There does seem to be this thing about accusing people being cannibals, which was disconcerting and threw my idea of this being a bedtime story out the window.

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Hey, so my WordPress Editor just an hour ago spontaniously switched to the Block Editor. which means I have NO IDEA how this post is going to turn out, because everything is super weird.

I met John on Twitter a while back, and we’ve chatted back and forth a few times. He’s a fellow science fiction and fantasy fan, a writer who loves mythology, a writer who seeks out wonder.

What started off as a project between friends, for their family, has turned into something much, much more. Several years ago, John and his wife Carol started a tradition of creating a Christmas book for their friends and family, with John writing the prose, and Carol doing the illustrations. These stories are now ready to shared with everyone, and every year, starting in 2020, Story Plant will publish one of John and Carol’s books. The first one, Raven Wakes the World, hits bookstore shelves next week. (Indiebound ordering link)

A tale of an artist rediscovering her own strength, Raven Wakes the World is a magical realism with a touch of romance, and the unforgiving environs of Alaska. If you are looking for a unique holiday gift for someone who loves modern mythology, this could be it! Click here to read a free preview.

You can learn more about John and his work at his website, JohnAdcox.com, and by following him on twitter, where he is @JohnAdcox.

ok, so funny story – when I emailed John these questions, I knew the illustrator’s name was Carol, I didn’t know that was THE Carol, John’s wife! That’s what I get for not doing my research, that’s for sure!

Little Red Reviewer: Congrats on your new novella, Raven Wakes the World! What inspired you to write this book?

John Adcox: That’s hard to answer. I’ve always had a fascination with mythology, and I love stories where myth bleeds out to enchant and maybe even heal our own more mundane world. I truly do believe that stories have the power to change and heal us. Sometimes, story might be the only thing that does. Not too long ago, I heard a pastor friend define religion as communal response to a story. Why not? After all, the language of God is parable and story. I think other people’s stories might have a power to reach us in a way that our own, more familiar ones can’t. And it’s telling, I think, that so many of our most sacred stories have echoes in cultures all around the world. The inspiration, I think, was to look at Christmas, and healing or rebirth, through a different cultural lens.

LRR: Tell about this story – what’s the elevator pitch?

JA: Katie Mason is an artist wounded in the soul after the end of a broken relationship. She’s fled all the way to Alaska to heal and to make art, but she hasn’t been able to do either. She’s cocooned herself, like the world in winter. But in the town of Aurora, Alaska, she meets a mysterious stranger who wakes her passions, and who has secrets. Soon she finds herself caught in an Inuit myth made real, and in a world where winter seems to last forever. If you’d like to know more, the opening chapters are online at http://ravenwakestheworld.com/.

 

What was your favorite scene to write in Raven Wakes the World? Where there any scenes that were unexpectedly difficult to write?

J.A.:Wow, that’s also really hard to answer! I think my favorite scene is the one where Katie first hears the story about how Raven stole the sun, the moon, and the stars and brought light to the dark world. It’s also the scene that inspired my favorite of the illustrations. The hardest to write, I think, was the end, when Katie faces her pain and starts to make hard choices. It’s always hard to write about pain and heartbreak. Sacrifice isn’t especially easy either, especially when it is for love.

LRR: I read on your blog that you and your wife have a family tradition of creating original Christmas stories. How did the tradition get started? Has it changed over the years? What are the elements that all Christmas stories must have, to be a good holiday story?

J.A.:My friend Carol Bales — she wasn’t my beloved wife yet; we weren’t even dating back then — and I had the idea to collaborate on a book to give our friends as a Christmas gift. I’d write a story and she’d draw the illustrations. We bound those first books by hand. People seemed to really like them. Raven Wakes the World was the first of them … although this version is extensively revised and expanded. Over the following years, we tried a number of different genres, including drama, an urban legend/ghost story, action/adventure, and even screwball romantic comedy. If there’s a connection between these books (aside from the fact that they take place in winter, which is absolutely my favorite season to write) it’s has to do with people who are somehow isolated and hurting, and who find their way back to home, family, community, and joy. Christmas is about birth and rebirth, and homecoming, and that seems almost universal in so many cultures. I think all of these stories have to do with people who are broken finding a way to be less broken, sometimes through a miracle. I’m not sure that’s true of all Christmas or holiday tales, but it’s certainly true of a lot of them, from A Christmas Carol to Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

John and Carol

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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.