the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for March 2021

but to start, has “classic editor” entirely disappeared from WordPress, and now I’m fully stuck with block editor? This post is all in one long block of text because I can’t figure out where the “more” button is, that means you have to click the “read more” link. that sucks. But, as you’ll read about in a bit, I have amazing decadent food in the fridge, which makes everything better.

I recently read Across a Billion Years by Robert Silverberg. Every time I read him, I remember what a fantastic writer he is. The pages just fly by, I’m immediately drawn in, he has the perfect balance between how much time to spend on worldbuilding, how much time to spend on characterization, and always always moving the story forward. Across a Billion Years was written in 1969, and other than one scene, it doesn’t feel dated. Open Road Media has been doing wondering printings of a ton of scifi from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, if you’re interested in reading some old stuff that doesn’t smell like it’s been in grandma’s basement for 40 years.

The story follows Tom Rice, who is an archeological grad student. He’s sheltered, priveledged, degreed, and his lack of experience with the real world (and women) make for humorous reading. When we first meet him, he’s on a ship travelling to the planet where the team will be digging up artifacts from an ancient civilization known as the High Ones. Tom spends the entire voyage writing letters to his sister about how dumb, rude, and worthless everyone else on the team is, especially team members from other planets. Yes, Tom does eventually get over his naïve stupidity as he takes the time to get know his fellow archaeologists. The title comes from that the artifacts they are digging up are approximately a billion years old, and that the High Ones are sending them all this cultural information, across a billion years. When he’s not being an idiot, Tom is actually quite the romantic, when it comes to why he got into archeology and his views on studying the ancient past.

The entire novel is Tom’s letters home to his sister Lorie. Due to a lifelong illness, Lorie is paralyzed and lives in a hospital. Lorie is also a telepath, and part of the telepath communication network, which is a very, very cool technology that Silverberg has a lot of fun with. Lots of discussions of alien races, and what if the High Ones are still alive somewhere? I liked how the characters are thinking about how cultures change over time, and what does it mean if your race dies out after a billion years? I really enjoyed this book, and it was am enjoyable fast read. I’d happily read it again, and I recommend it.

Not a scifi book, I also recently read The Hundred Foot Journey, by Richard Morais. I’d seen the movie version (Helen Mirrin! so good!) a few years ago, and I had no idea the movie was based on a book! So of course when I saw the book at the library I grabbed it! Hassan Haji and his family move to London after fleeing violence against Muslims in Mumbai. They first land in London, and then in rural France, where they open a restaurant with Hassan as head chef. Their restaurant just happens to be across the street from the Michelin starred traditional French restaurant Le Saule Pleureur, with the intimidating Madam Mallory at its helm. Mallory is shocked and offended by the loud cheerful music from across the street, and even more offended at the Haji’s casual family restaurant. She gets over herself when she tastes Hassan’s cooking, and agrees to take him under her wing and train him in French cooking. The novel takes place over 25 years of Hassan’s life, of his time with Madam Mallory, of working in restaurants in Paris, of finally opening his own restaurant, of changes in what French diners expect. It is a beautiful story of a love affair with food. There is also a lot in the story about how do you grow as a chef in the culture in which you find yourself (Hassan didn’t choose to go to France!), yet still stay connected to your roots? The Hundred Foot Journey is just a lovely book to read. Although it will make you hungry!

hmmm . . . maybe it was The Hundred Foot Journey that inspired me to go a little overboard for Saturday night’s dinner? It was the first night of Passover, which means traditional foods like matzah ball soup and charoset (and apple and nut mixture), and beyond that I like to get as creative and international as possible. My philosophy is Passover food should be so decadent and delicious, that you look forward to it every year, instead of dreading a week without bread. The stand out dish was the chicken roasted with thyme, sumac, and pomegranate molasses, and our dessert of pavlovas with lemon curd. And my mother was right! make your matzah balls with seltzer instead of water! My fridge is full of delicious leftovers.

and packing! we are so, SO close to buying a house! at ages 51 and 41, my husband and I are about to be come first time home buyers. what sold us on this house was the beautiful kitchen, the back patio, and the spacious backyard that backs up to woods. we have so, SO many books to pack. I’ve already packed 19 boxes of books, and that made a small dent.

how many boxes do you think we’ll end up with?

also, if you are getting ready to pack a metric shit ton of books, go to Walmart and get diaper boxes. They seem to be the perfect size for books!

Horror might be too scary for me, but I love satire.  The more biting, the better. 

 

If you enjoy satire, if you enjoy laughing your head off, if you enjoy hollering to your spouse “honey get over here, i have to read this out loud to you, it’s so funny!!!”, Qualityland by Marc-Uwe Kling is the next book you should read. 

 

Published in Germany in 2017, the novel finally came to the English reading world in 2020. From the bland cover, my first thought was this was a book about agriculture? Maybe about sustainable agriculture?  Yeah . . . .  no!  If Facebook and Amazon were algorithm steroids pumped into the movie Idiocracy if written by Douglas Adams, you might be getting close to the make fun of everything free for all that is Qualityland. I can only assume Southpark has made their version of this too.

In the nation of Qualityland, it isn’t the government that watches your every move, it’s the algorithms that run everything from the countrywide communication devices to TheShop (knows what you want before you do!) to QualityPartner (matching you with the top person for you!).  There’s no government big brother here, only algorithms that watch and record your every move, every preference, every conversation, and every internet click. So the programs and systems you count on can serve you better! Can bring you more of what they know you love!

 

If Cory Doctorow wrote this book, it would be terrifying. 

 

But Marc-Uwe Kling wrote it, so it’s hilarious. 

 

In Qualityland, children are named after the occupation of their parents, so you get funny names like Melissa Sex-Worker,  Cynthia Helicopter-Pilot, Sandra Admin, and Tim E-Sportsman. Melissa’s current career by the way, is making sure online news articles have the right comments. And she comments on everything. Sandra’s job is writing click-baity headlines. Doesn’t matter what the article is actually about (an algorithm wrote the actual article, no one cares if a human ever reads it), Sandra’s job is to make sure as many people as possible click on the headline.  

 

The story follows Peter Jobless, who runs a scrap metal shop.  After Peter’s girlfriend Sandra Admin left him (at the prompting of her QualityPartner profile), his social score dropped below ten and his horrified friends unfriended him.  Peter’s secret is that his basement is full of slightly malfunctioning robots, which is a much longer story than this blog post has time for.  Peter may not have many friends IRL, but his robot friends include an e-poet/novelist, a drone who is afraid of heights, an obnoxious older model tablet, a hulking military robot who Groot-like only says the word “Kaput”, a heartbroken male sexbot, and a handful of others. 

 

The story begins when TheShop delivers something to Peter that he most definitely doesn’t want, and doesn’t need.   The algorithms of TheShop are never wrong! Even if he doesn’t think he needs this item, deep down he must need it! Surely even he can find a use for this item!  Does TheShop have a returns department? Of course they do! But their algorithms are never wrong, surely Peter must want this item! 

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I’m reading The Only Good Indians, by Stephen Graham Jones. All I heard online was how good this book is.  And it is damn good.  It is also scary AF.   Apparently while people were talking about it online, my eyes kept glossing over people saying it was a horror book.  And that it’s, ahhh, kinda gruesome. 

 

And I love that people love horror! 

 

But I don’t love it.   It’s just too scary for me, it always ends up feeling like something I can’t escape, like an itch that I can’t rub off because the itch is on a phantom limb.   And the thing in the world I fear the most is not being able to get away from something that is freaking me out. (it makes sensory overload super fun. And by fun, I mean super awful) In scenes in books or  movies where someone is powerless and can’t escape, I am flat out terrified to the point where I may not even register that other, happier plot points are happening.  

 

And sometimes I fall so deep into stories that I find myself at the bottom of a deep well. And sometimes it takes me a while to climb out.  

 

As I write this blog post, I’m most of the way through The Only Good Indians,  I just finished the sweat lodge scene.

 

Spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.   (any of you remember that rambling not-a-review blog post I wrote about Artificial Condition by Martha Wells?   Yeah, this post is kinda like that).

 

The plot of The Only Good Indians goes something like this:  ten years ago, four friends did something really, really stupid. Cassidy, Lewis, Gabriel and Ricky knew what they were doing was wrong, and they got in trouble for it, and they thought they’d paid the price, and they tried to get on with their lives. 

 

This is a story of revenge. 

 

The tribal authorities punished the men for their poaching.

 

But the spirit of that mama elk, she answers to no human authority, and she will have her own revenge, in her own way. She will take what was taken from her.

 

What I need to keep reminding myself, is that in any horror story, the fate of the characters is already sealed.  Doesn’t matter if I haven’t gotten to the last page yet,  the author wrote that last page months or years ago, hundreds of thousands of people have already read that last page.  That character I’m reading about? Their future is literally set in stone. Mine isn’t.  It’s a difference between us: my future isn’t written yet, theirs is. 

 

But something we have in common is that our pasts have already been written, and that character can’t escape their past mistakes in the same way that I can’t escape mine. 

 

To be crystal clear:  the “dumb shit” I did as a teen and in my early 20s was 99% thoughtless and selfish things.  I never did anything stupid enough that someone got hurt. But they could have. I could have, and a couple of times I did.  That thing parents say “what were you thinking? Oh yeah, you weren’t.”, yep, that was me.  Did I do plenty of good things? Of course I did! But all can I remember is the thoughtless  and selfish things that I can’t escape.  I don’t usually beat myself up about these things, but I can’t forget that I did them.

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Oh hi!  I haven’t forgotten about this blog, i swear! I fact, at least 3 times a week I say to myself “I really oughta write something for my  blog”, and then before I know a week has flown by. I keep saying “I’m going to get up early on Sunday and blog!” and then instead, I sleep. Life is funny like that. 

 

I’ve read a LOT, and I got a lot going on right now*,  so you get mini reviews!

 

And what a selection do I have for you! Epic fantasy, scifi short stories, and contemporary thrillers!

 

Have you seen this fricken gorgeous cover art on Rebecca Roanhorse’s novel Black Sun? Are you kinda bored with Euro-based epic fantasy, but want your politics, your intrigue, your religion, and your insurrection? This is the book for you!  Also! Excellent characters, fantastic world, paced perfectly, damn enjoyable read. I zipped through this book. I was a little worried at first, because the first chapter is brutal and kinda gross, but the rest of the book isn’t like. And? Is this epic fantasy with a female gaze? Yes, yes it is. And it was nice. Also Mesoamerican epic fantasy may be my new groove. Forget grog and stew, I’m more about chocolate and corn and squash!

Something I really liked about Black Sun was that people are constantly asking other people “yeah,  but what next?”.  I feel like a lot of epic fantasies suffer from this weirdness of a time vacuum, that the characters only exist for this specific story, and no one has a “what’s next” in their life, the characters aren’t even thinking about the rest of their lives, they should have taken that note from Samwise!  Anyway, I appreciated that characters in Black Sun are always thinking about the future, and pestering other people “yeah, but what are gonna do, after that?”.  It makes them all seem more like real people.

 

The issue I had with Black Sun isn’t a Roanhorse problem, this is a me problem. I 100% suck at keeping track of lots of characters. Black Sun doesn’t have tons and tons of point of view characters, but just enough that it was too much for me. Anyways, my OTP is Xiarapio. I was itching for their chapters because that plasma hot sexual tension between the two of them! And I feel bad for them, because they’ve got, well, other things going on, definitely not a good time to get into a relationship, but damn, those sparks!! 

A very good friend gifted me with a copy of Behind her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough, and like the jackass friend I am, I put it on my bookshelf and forgot about it.  Then someone mentioned it on twitter, and I was in the mood for a contemporary thriller, and BOY DID THAT BOOK DELIVER! I’m not even going to compare it to other thrillers for fear of giving stuff away.  Let’s see, what can I tell you?  Divorced Louise meets a nice guy, David, at a bar one evening. Next week she finds out he’s her new boss! (that sounds so cliché, I know, but stay with me, ok?)  They both know it’s wrong because he’s married, but he’s miserable in his marriage, and she misses the feeling of being wanted. Then she befriends David’s wife, Adele, who is sweet and lonely.  The story flip flops between Louise’s and Adele’s point of views, and how they are both trying to keep David from finding out they are friends. Louise is flustered by the entire thing, Adele is just a smidge manipulative, and David treats Louise like a queen but is super controlling with his wife Adele.  

 

What these two women are going through, and how Louise questions everything she does, and how Adele seems to over plan things, and what isn’t said, I couldn’t put this book down! I loved Louise’s inner monologue, she’s vibrant and complicated and loves her son and is frustrated her first marriage didn’t work out and she just wants to be loved. She’s torn between “my son is the only man I need in my life!” and wanting an adult relationship where she’s appreciated and loved. I loved that this book had Louise’s emotions and complexities front and center. 

 

The twist had me falling off my chair. 

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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.