the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Samuel Delany’ Category

Nearly a week into January and I’m just now getting up my first Vintage Science Fiction post? What is the world coming to?  Thank you to everyone who is participating in Vintage Science Fiction Month, make sure you link back to your posts in the comments of the Vintage Scifi tab up top so everyone can find everything.  On twitter? follow @VintageSciFi_ and #VintageSciFiMonth for Vintage goodness all month long!

I may have gotten started a little late, but wow this first novel I read for Vintage Month was incredible!!

Nova, by Samuel R. Delany

published in 1968

where I got it:  from Richard at Tip the Wink

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Mouse grew in up a traditional culture that didn’t encourage pilot training or getting cybernetic plugs.  Raised in the school of hard knocks, he often stole to eat. His prized possession is a rare musical instrument that produces not only sound but also images and scent. Lorq Von Ray’s youth was the opposite of Mouse’s in every possible way. A child of wealth and privilege, he knew from a young age he’d be inheriting a business that controlled half the transportation of the known galaxy.

 

When an aged, scarred, and obsessed Captain Von Ray plunges into a portside bar looking for a crew for a trip that if successful could mean fame, infamy, societal disruption, or more likely death for everyone involved, Mouse signs up.  The Captain doesn’t explicitly say this is a trip designed around a long game of revenge, but those who listen closely, those who know where that disfiguring scar came from, they know.

 

What is Nova?  It is a quest story, a revenge story, a coming of age story, it’s the edge of every ending simply being another beginning. It sounds overweight and dangerously ambitious, but it reads smooth and weightless. The plot feels narrow at first, but it expands like a light cone,  pulling in what it needs, and easily setting aside what it doesn’t.  And there is plenty in this book that isn’t in this book  – what I mean by that is Delany has put a lot of subplot between the lines. The glances characters give each other, the words they don’t use.  It’s hard to believe this novel is less than 250 pages long!

 

The plot never sprawls, but the possibilities of everything else that happens and may happen to these characters just outside the confines of this story are endless.   The main characters are fully fleshed out, and even side characters are given just enough screen time that you start filling in the blanks of their lives yourself. For instance, I know there is so much more to Tyy, and I’d love to learn more about the twins and their other brother.

 

I loved everything about Nova, I don’t even know where to start talking about it. So I’ll just start, and hopefully this all makes sense.

 

Von Ray’s rag-tag crew is a lot of fun, they put me in mind a little bit of the TV show Farscape. Mouse and his shipmate Katin are perfect foils for each other, Katin reminds me of one of the nerdy guys on The Big Bang Theory, Mouse is the wide eyed kid going on his first Star Run. These two bond over being the least strange members of Captain Von Ray’s  crew.

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Is it just me, or did 2015 fly by in like two weeks? How did that even happen? It certainly was a crazy year – I started a new job, we moved into a bigger apartment, i learned a whole new definition of the work “workaholic”, I didn’t read nearly as much as I wanted.

Anyway, here is my annual “Best of the year” list, presented in no particular order, with links if you’d like to read my reviews.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, easily my favorite novel of 2015.

The Bone Swans of Amandale – by C.S.E Cooney, in her short story collection Bone Swans

The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin

Binti, by Nnedo Okorafor

Flex, by Ferrett Steinmetz

The Apex Book of World SF Vol 4 edited by Mahvesh Murad

Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh

Babel-17 by Samuel Delany

The Life of the World to Come, by Kage Baker

 

Honorable mentions for the year go to:

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett. I read it in 2015, but can’t actually talk about how freaking amazing it was until 2016. So I guess it’ll have to make my best of 2016 list.

and this stuff, which is omg, what I always wished ginger ale would taste like. Also? it’s alcoholic.

ginger ale

2015 was a crazy year, and I don’t mind that it’s over.  I’ll see everyone on January 1st for Vintage Science Fiction month!

babel17 cover open roadBabel-17 by Samuel Delany

published in 1966

where I got it: received review copy from Open Road Media

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Samuel Delany wrote Babel-17 when he was in his mid 20s, and in a very short novel he offers up fascinating linguistic theories and applications, compelling characters and social situations, and intergalactic war.  The too long didn’t read version of this review is I absolutely loved Babel-17.  It doesn’t feel dated, Delany’s stylistic experiments paid off, and it’s just a damn gorgeous book to read. Everyone else must have thought so as well, as it was a joint winner for the Nebula Award for best novel, and nominated for a Hugo.

 

Rydra Wong is a young and intensely talented poet, and her books and poems are known throughout the galaxy. She doubts her own talent, and feels that she only writing what other people have already thought but couldn’t come up with the words for. Recruited by the government for her linguistics talents to decode a message picked up from the invaders, she quickly realizes this isn’t a code, but an entire language, and she soons become desperate to learn the entire thing.  On a mission to both acquire more snippets of the Babel-17 language and learn where it originated, Wong is given a ship and her choice of crewmates.

 

Nothing about Babel-17 is done or shown in an expected way, and I loved that. When Wong is looking to recruit a crew for her ship, she shops for a pilot at a wrestling match, tries to fix up a broken marriage with help from the morgue, and even recruits few completely discorporate (dead) crewmembers. Weird at first for me, but easy to get used to and hella fun.

 

My favorite things about the book were the discussions of language and communication, and the character interactions While in discussions with her mentor, Rydra mentions that she only reflects other people’s thoughts, she’s putting words to things they don’t (or feel they don’t) have words for. This is one of my favorite passages about how and why she writes poetry:

 

“You know what I do? I listen to other people, stumbling about with their half thoughts and half sentences and their clumsy feelings that they can’t express – and it hurts me. So I go home and burnish it and polish it and weld it to a rhythmic frame, make the dull colors gleam, mute the garish artificiality to pastels, so it doesn’t hurt anymore: that’s my poem.”

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I told my guest posters they could write about anything they wanted for Vintage Science Fiction month, so long as it was speculative fiction related and happened before 1979. I didn’t give anyone any specific direction, on anything.  Ladies and gentlemen, today you are in for a treat. Brittain didn’t just write about one book, or one author. He went all out and read through the nominated and winning novels of the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards of 1977.

1977: The Award Winners

by Brittain Barber

Brittain Barber is the o-owner of and main writer for the blog Two Dudes in an Attic, where we read Gary Gygax novels so you don’t have to. Scribblings on Two Dudes emanate from the Pacific Northwest and sit at the nexus of science fiction, fantasy, political science, Japan, music, and soccer. (This makes for a killer Venn diagram.)

When the invitation came to do a guest post during Vintage SF Month, I tried to come up with
something more entertaining than a simple book review of some cobwebby relic. Many of my posts tend towards aimless, politico-economic rambling,  I quickly shot that down as requiring far too much research. Finally, I settled on the idea of looking at the award winners and nominees from a particular year; in this case, my birth year of 1977. (Does this make me vintage as well? I prefer to think otherwise.) (Also, I realize that the books here were all published in 1976, but we’ll just talk about them in terms of 1977, for simplicity’s sake.) The topic thus decided, I set about to read as many of the major books from the year as I could, in hopes of providing capsule reviews here. It is fortunate that 1977 was still a year of thin, concise volumes. I wouldn’t have been able to pull this off in an age when the average page count ticks up over four or five hundred.

My focus for this piece is what I consider to be the three big prizes of Western SF: The Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards. I read the winner of each and as many of the nominees as I could get my hands on. I skipped World Fantasy, Campbell, and a couple of others, but there may be time for a follow up later on. I also passed on short fiction in a bid to prevent this project from spiraling out of control. Fortunately, the nominee listings (and awards!) had considerable overlap. Starting with the winning books, below is a selection of the best and brightest of 1977. I may still ramble.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm – Wilhelm took home the Hugo and Locus with this book, a mix of elegy, apocalypse, and clones. The writing is lyrical and hypnotic, as Wilhelm manages to make her clones both sympathetic and wholly alien. I was disappointed in the end with the conflict she decided to make unavoidable and the results she made inevitable, but that is a matter of opinion rather than technique. I’m a little surprised that this book has faded from the SF consciousness a bit, as it appeared to make a splash at the time. It has also aged well, with little inside to date it. In fact, it may be even more relevant now, with cloning back in the public eye. Recommended reading and a worthy winner, I think. At the very least, I haven’t read anything else from 1977 that is clearly better.

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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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