the Little Red Reviewer

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On a lark, I picked up China Mieville’s Embassytown to reread.  I read this back when it came out in 2011, and it blew my mind. (I even wrote a pretty good review!) I remember being intimidated by the vocabulary, of having dictionary.com open while I was reading. I remember that at the time I wondered if half the words were made up, or if Mieville was trying to prove that he was smart and I was dumb.  I was the girl who read what was given to her.  Maybe Mieville was just telling me to pick up a damn dictionary already.

 

On this reread, pen in hand, I decided to underline every word I didn’t know.  I underlined maybe five words? All of which I could figure out contextually. That girl, the one who got all defensive because she ran into words she didn’t know? Eight years later that girl is a stranger to me.  These days, words I don’t know are like eating a fruit i’ve never had, or a dessert i’ve never heard of, or gaining access to the rare book room at the library. They are a joy.

 

Speaking of weird words I don’t know Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun tasted like mochi and illuminated manuscripts .  To put that in context, the first time I tasted Mochi I cried with joy.

(Words you don’t know is like rehearsing with a jam band. You want to be the worst musician in the room, because that guarantees you’ll learn from the other musicians. Being the best musician in a jam band is boring – you risk not becoming a better musician)

 

I can’t talk about Embassytown without talking about language, and how spoken communication is both more and less about the actual words that come out of our mouths.  My fave subgenre of scifi is books that deal with language, linguistics, first contact, communication. I hate the word “communication”, it is such a bland, cheap sounding word for something that encompasses basically everything.

 

This post  has minor and major spoilers for Embassytown. Consider yourself warned.  But like any Mieville book, i can tell you what happens at the end, and it won’t spoil any of the good parts of the book for you.

 

In the book Embassytown, the aliens, the Ariekei, speak with two mouths, two voices at once.  If what they are saying is two syllables, they say both syllables at the same time. The way this is presented within in the text fantastic, it looks something like this:

 

 

It takes two humans, speaking at the same time, to speak in Language that the aliens will understand.   One human talking just sounds like white noise to them. They hear sound (maybe?) but the sounds are just noise.

(spoilers, and hella cool conversation on language ahead!)

 

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Welcome to  Five for Friday. The concept is simple – it’s a Friday, and I post a photo of 5 books, and then we chat about them in the comments.

The only things these books have in common are:
– they were on my bookshelf
– I’m interested in your thoughts on them.

Want to join in? Post a picture of 5 random books you own, with the tag #5ForFriday and get your friends talking.

have you read any of these? if yes, did you like them? If you’ve not read them, does the cover make you interested in learning more about the book?

 

This week, a whole ton of stuff I haven’t read!  but a lot of stuff that I’m excited to read!

 

Exhalation by Ted Chiang (2019) – this is his newest short story collection. I’m not sure if everything in this volume has been printed elsewhere before, but I did recognize a few titles in the table of contents. the timing is uncanny,  a reread of his novella The Lifecycle of Software Objects has been itching the back of my mind for a few months now. . . and guess what is in this collection! I finished Lifecycle last night, it was even better than I remembered it. This book is my local book clubs book for this month.

 

The Gossamer Mage by Julie Czerneda (2019) – this book comes out later this summer, and HOLY COW would you look at that gorgeous artwork!!!!  like, i want a poster of that on my wall!  Also, the book look freakin’ awesome. lots of scriving type magic, forbidden stuff, maybe something about killing a god?  I can not wait to start reading this!!

 

The Wolf’s Call by Anthony Ryan (2019) – unsolicited ARC, this doesn’t seem like a book for me.  It looks like something my husband would like, so he’s gonna give it a try, and let me know what he thinks, and from his opinion I’ll see if it is something i want to try.   Anyone read this author? what do you think of his work?

 

I barcon’d at StokerCon in Grand Rapids Michigan last week, and snuck into their dealer room (the dealer room was 90% BOOKS by the way, which is what a con dealer room should be!!), and picked up these titles:

 

The Garden of Eldritch Delights by Lucy Snyder (2018) – this collection of short stories seems hella cool, I’ve been loving short stories lately, and how am I supposed to say no to something with a title like this? I’m not.

 

Indelible Ink by Matt Betts (2015) – I really did mean to buy this book a few years ago when it came out,  it’s got a criminal underground, a young magician, sorcery out of control, sisters who protect each other – sounds like a “shut up and take my money” kind of book!  this book is super high on my priority list!

 

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, by H.G. Parry

Available July 2019

where I got it: received ARC (Thanks Hachette!!)

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Since the beginning of ever there has been this thing that readers and writers of literature don’t read or write genre fiction, and readers and writers  of genre fiction don’t read or write literature. That’s all bullshit by the way, but there are always authors who are offended that people call them “science fiction writers”, and readers of literature who look down on us speculative fiction readers.

 

Yet, it begs the question – how to get lit readers and genre fiction readers to see how much they have in common? That we all love a story well told, that we all love characters who go  through hell and back, that we all love the feeling of falling headfirst into a book? The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry could be the book that brings us all together. This book stitches together a scholar’s love for classic British literature with the scifi/fantasy joyful gleefulness of fictional characters who literally come alive out of books and then someone’s got to help them figure out how to live in the real world, or shove them screaming back into their dry paper pages.

 

If you’re a scifi/fantasy fan, and you enjoy Jim C. Hines’ Libriomancer books, or if you secretly loved those ST:TNG episodes where the holodeck went haywire and some poor Ensign found themselves face to face with Moriarty, you’ll enjoy this book.

 

If you have no idea what libriomancy or a holodeck is, but you love Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, and anything involving Sherlock Holmes, and/or if you intimately know the beauty and the power of literature,  you’ll enjoy this book.

 

For nearly 30 years, Rob has helped keep a dangerous family secret.  The secret is that his little brother, Charley, can literally pull story book characters out of books.  When then were little boys, Charley pulled the Cat in the Hat right out of the book! Now that Charley is back in Rob’s life,  Rob’s got to once again get used to middle of the night phone calls of “help, it happened again. Can you come over?”. The family fears the worst if anyone where to find out about Charley’s secret power. Would he be thrown into some secret prison lab somewhere, never be to be seen again?

 

Much of the story is told from Rob’s point of view, and he’s the classic frustrated older sibling, as loyal to and protective of his little brother has he is annoyed by being constantly dragged into his brother’s problems. How long can Rob keep this a secret from his fiance? And who the hell is this Uriah Heep look-a-like who has shown up as an intern at Rob’s workplace??

 

The plot thickens right away, when Charley and Rob are told of a secret “street”. Through an alleyway, they find a secret door, behind which lies The Street. Storybook characters who have been given life (by Charley???  By someone else?) eventually find their way to the Street, where they can live safely. The White Witch of Narnia is here, as is the Implied Reader, along with Heathcliff, Matilda, five versions of Mr. Darcy, Miss Matty,   Dorian Gray, and Millie Radcliffe-Dix, among others. I’ll need a pulp mystery expert’s help here, but I believe Millie Radcliffe-Dix is an actual fictional character made up for this novel, she’s a 1950s Girl Detective – full of moxie and smarts, and never in any actual physical danger.

 

Rob is astounded and rather terrified to see all these fictional characters wandering around, and Charley is full of wonder and glee. The Street is the first place where Charley has felt safe.

Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to  Five for Friday. The concept is simple – it’s a Friday, and I post a photo of 5 books, and then we chat about them in the comments.

The only things these books have in common are:
– they were on my bookshelf
– I’m interested in your thoughts on them.

Want to join in? Post a picture of 5 random books you own, with the tag #5ForFriday and get your friends talking.

have you read any of these? if yes, did you like them? If you’ve not read them, does the cover make you interested in learning more about the book?

Nightwatch by Sergei Lukyanenko (2006) – I read this years ago and remember  enjoying it. It’s an urban fantasy, with a secret uneasy peace between the light and the dark, both sides of which contain vampires, shapeshifters, and magicians.

 

Robots: The Recent AI edited by Rich Horton and Sean Williams (2012) – This came out 7 years ago, so i guess it isn’t recent anymore.  Cat Valente’s “Silently and Very Fast” was in this anthology. that alone is worth the cost of admission. I’m sure the antho has other good stuff too, but that’s the only story I remember, I liked it so much I bought a limited edition from Sub Press as a gift to myself.

 

Anathem by Neal Stephenson (2009) – so, I’m a terrible Stephenson “fan”.  Some of his stuff I really like, but man, I can not ever see myself picking up this 1000 page (yes! 1008 pages!) behemoth.  WHY does a book EVER need to be this long???  this thing is going in the donate pile. not sure why i ever bought it.

 

Making Money by Terry Pratchett (2014) – I’m also a jerk because I haven’t read this yet! how can someone own a Pratchett and not have read it???  protip: if you like crying, read the Tiffany Aching books,  i think they start with Wee Free Men?

 

Dreamsongs volume 1 by George R R Martin (2007) – oh, you love Game of Thrones? oh, you find Game of Thrones really annoying?  GOT is NOTHING compared to what Martin wrote earlier in his career.  you want a reason to buy a 1000 page book? This collection is that reason.  bone chilling horror, far future scifi, bits and pieces of behind the scenes. “The Pear Shaped Man” STILL gives me nightmares!! and “Sandkings”? holy shit!! There’s a Vol 2 as well.  these are worth every penny!!

The History of Soul 2065 by Barbara Krasnoff

available June 2019

where I got it: Received advanced review copy (Thanks!)

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I’m gonna give you the bookends first, and then sorta kinda fill in the middle, ok?

 

My first thought about this book was “what’s up with that title? It makes no sense!”

 

My last thought when I was finishing the book was “oh, now I get it! The title is makes sense now!”, and then a few pages later “oh.Now I really get it. Oh my.”  An unplanned coincidence that I read that last story on the day before Passover.

 

Ok, now for all the tasty middle bits:

 

The History of Soul 2065 is a mosaic novel.  What’s a mosaic novel you ask? Mosaic novels are strange and wonderful volumes that  usually involve interconnected short stories or vignettes, they can have location and time-jumps, a character who is a child in one story may be a grandparent in another, someone who seems so important in one story may never show up again. Like most mosaic novels, many of the stores in The History of Soul 2065 appeared previously in other magazines and anthologies (such as Mythic Delirium magazine, Clockwork Phoenix, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Weird Tales, and Apex Magazine, among others), with a handful that were original to this novel. Some older stories have been slightly reworked to better fit into the chronology.

 

Reading The History of Soul 2065 is like looking through a photo album – and when you touch someone’s photo, you get pulled into what they were going through at the moment the photo was taken.  Maybe when that photo was taken they were happy, maybe they were sad, maybe they were missing someone, maybe they had just helped someone. Krasnoff gilds the stories with magical realism, superstitions, and a few things you’ve just got to take on faith, and while she presents the family’s story in sort of chronological order in a healthy mix of longer stories and flash fiction length pieces,  what she’s actually doing is telling a far more important story, and magically telling it backwards.

 

And yes, if you didn’t pick up in from the cover art, this is a very Jewish book. The two families involved in the stories are Jewish, there are constant cultural and religious references, historical references, faded numbers on arms. There are references to specific Jewish prayers, and these things are not explained in the text.  As a Jew, I knew what they meant, non-Jews may not get the references (and that’s OK! That’s what Google is for). I want to buy a copy of this book for my synagogue’s library. If you’ve never met someone who is Jewish, I can’t think of a better introduction to the Jewish culture than this book.

 

Many of my favorite stories were the ones that made my cry.  Is that weird? Here are a few of my favorites, only some of which made me cry:

 

I came across “Sabbath Wine” in a Clockwork Phoenix anthology, are stories this beautiful supposed to make you cry so much? I was overjoyed to see that story as one of the openers in this novel, that I read it, cried a ton, and then I was trying to explain the plot of the story to my husband and was just a cry-y, snotty mess.  It’s a story of two kids who become unlikely friends, and the friendship that their fathers forge. It’s a harsh reminder of fractured Jewish communities can become, how cruel we can be to each other, and the unexpected oddness of finding you have something in common with a stranger.

 

“Hearts and Minds” didn’t make me cry, but it could have.  And we get introduced to Ben! I have such a soft spot for him, but what’s he doing in this story, playing cards with all these old people? If you ever want to know what my favorite kind of story telling twist is, it’s the one at the end of this story.

Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to  Five for Friday. The concept is simple – it’s a Friday, and I post a photo of 5 books, and then we chat about them in the comments.

The only things these books have in common are:
– they were on my bookshelf
– I’m interested in your thoughts on them.

Want to join in? Post a picture of 5 random books you own, with the tag #5ForFriday and get your friends talking.

have you read any of these? if yes, did you like them? If you’ve not read them, does the cover make you interested in learning more about the book?

 

Woah, lots of stuff this week that I haven’t read!

 

Heavy Time by C.J. Cherryh (1991) – I’ve not read this, but it came highly recommended for readers who didn’t know where to start with Cherryh. I bought this like 5 years ago and haven’t picked it up.   Should i read it?

 

Aliens Among Us edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozios (2000) – this is a fun, goofy little anthology.  Every so often I pick it up and just read one or two short stories, and then put it down.  (and somehow, every time i put it down, I lose it??  this house is not that big!!) Everything I’ve read in it has been enjoyable.

 

Los Nefilim by Teresa Frohock (2016), the one book in this grouping that I’ve read! And DAMN did I love this book!!  paranormal, intrigue, politics, parents who just want to keep their kid safe, family secrets, synesthesia.  I LOVED IT!!!!!  if you’re looking for something unusual but approachable, this is for you!

 

The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold (1973) – I’ve not read this, and don’t know anything about except that it’s a time travel story. And I like time travel!  Appears to be novella length, so could  be a fun quick read for Vintage month.

 

Dinner at Deviant’s Palace (1985)  – I love Power’s older stuff!  This book was written at around the same time as Anubis Gates, so I think I’ll like it. Just haven’t gotten around to picking it up yet. . . guess I better read Gerrold so I can learn how to build a time machine.

 

Not interested in discussing these particular books, but want something to talk about in the comments?  here you go:

If you had a time machine, what would you use it for?

Advertising told through Science Fiction?

 

I was smart, and downloaded WAY more hours of podcasts than I’d need to get myself to Maryland and back,  so now I’m working my way through the thumb drive to see what’s good and what will get deleted.

 

I like science-y podcasts.  I don’t need Great Courses Astrophysics,  pop-science is more than adequate for my commute.

 

Today’s commute included an episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain, titled “This is Your Brain on Ads”.  the podcast included a short history of advertising, like radio jingles,  fun mascots for sugary kid’s cereals, product placement in TV shows and radio,  superbowl ads, all the way to instagram influencers. There was mention that children grow out of being easily influenced by about age 13, and younger than that and they really are convinced that Lucky Charms is part of a balanced breakfast.  There was mention that the Superbowl can charge so much for ads because sports fans are the most loyal group of consumers.

 

There was an aside about MTV’s The Real World. Remember that show? It birthed the reality tv show phenomenon.  MTV had zero budget, and needed a TV show (otherwise they were going to have to show sportsball), so they got a bunch of regular people who were willing to work for a whole lotta attention/fame/exposure, and not a lot of money.  All the advertising that MTV sold that ran during that show was pure profit, because it cost them hardly anything to make the show.

 

There was a discussion of how our attention has value, and that our attention can be monetized.

 

And often we have zero control over how we respond to advertising.  It has nothing to do with willpower (ok, maybe a little), but the advertising companies have figured out through trial, error, and studies, what exactly will make you keep watching that stupid infomercial.

 

And that got me thinking.

 

Science fiction is really good at taking relatively normal near-future things – genetically modified pets, using robots as caregivers for people with dementia, inescapable closed circuit tv,  the dark side of social media and making your living as an instagram influencer, catching criminals, first contact with aliens, getting back to the Moon, the list is endless, because science fiction knows no bounds.

 

So what does a science fiction story that deals with the monetization of your attention look like?  What might it look like from the person who is buying or brokering your attention, what might it look like from the person whose attention is being purchased and monetized?  what will the future of advertising look like, through a science fiction lens?

 

Advertising + science fiction = ??

 

A title that comes to mind right away is Robert Jackson Bennett’s Vigilance, and 2007’s Grey by Jon Armstrong (which I feel would read as horribly dated now?).

 

What titles come to mind for you?

 

What might a science fiction author do with the prompt “what would advertising and monetization of consumer’s attention in the future look like?”

 


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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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