the Little Red Reviewer

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I have finally had a chance to read “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” by Jorge Luis Borges,  and so many puzzle pieces have finally clicked into place.  Reading the story sent me to Wikipedia, which sent me down a glorious Gene Wolfe rabbit hole, and also reminded me of the weirdest story I ever read in Apex Magazine, and now my brain is having the best time ever!

 

Wait, what?

 

ok, so if you’re anything like me, you’ve come across references to the famous Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges (did you know he was from Argentina? me neither), and maybe, like me, you’ve assumed his work a)has nothing to do with your fave scifi/fantasy and b)is probably too literary for you to understand.

While writing a December guest post, I was flipping through The Big Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, and why have I never flipped through this book before, what is wrong with me? This ginormous collection is sold gold! ah, maybe the fact that it weighs 38 pounds was a turn off? I’m sure it is available as an ebook for those who are interested. Anyways,  I came across Borges’ “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” in the table of contents and the story didn’t look very long . . .

 

And 30 minutes later I was sitting on the sofa, glassy eyed, and so many questions about stories I had read suddenly made sense.  So much of what I’ve read has referenced this story, so many authors I’d interviewed about their “made up worlds” were referencing Tlon, or other works by Borges (because reading 3 paragraphs on Wikipedia apparently makes me an expert? HA).

 

Some random thoughts after reading “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”  –

The introduction to the story mentions that, among other authors, Gene Wolfe was influenced by the work of Borges.  The second paragraph of the story begins:

“Bioy Casares had come to dinner at my house that evening, and we had lost all track of time in a vast debate over the way one might go about compsing a first-person novel whose narrator would omit or distory things and engage in all sorts of contradictions, so that a few of the book’s readers – a very few – might divine the horrifying or banal truth”

and all I could think was “oh, so that’s what was going on in Gene Wolfe’s An Evil Guest?”  I remember when I was reading that book, that i didn’t understand what was going on, and I was so angry that I didn’t get it! I felt left out.  I still don’t get that book, and I don’t plan to read it again, but i feel better about not getting it, even if my guess is completely wrong.

 

Now that I think about it tho,  I’ve been reading the grand children of this short story for decades. A place that doesn’t exist, but if we can convince people that it does exist, it will exist?  Reference books with editions that don’t match?   Life’s grandest wild goose chase?   And what I love even more about this, is that it doesn’t even matter if the place exists or not, it doesn’t matter that you can’t get there from here. The joy is in the creating, the joy is in the fun of the thing.

 

And I’m thinking about more short stories I’ve read over the years that had echoes of Borges, that when the authors said his work influenced them, I just politely nodded and hoped it wasn’t too obvious how under-read I was.  It was obvious, trust me. And they were very kind about it.

 

Borges was way ahead of his time, wasn’t he?

 

It’s like Borges’ work is an orchard, and nearly everyone has eaten from it, has their favorite trees, their favorite beehives, knows exactly when the apples, plums, cherries, and peaches are at their ripest, knows how to get the perfect photograph of the sun rising through the mist and the shadows of the trees.

 

Anyways, I have a ton of unread books on my bookshelf, stacks upon stacks of books that are in the “give away” pile, and all I want to do is going to the library and get some Borges, and keep falling down this rabbit hole.

A cool thing about “getting old” is that there are things I’ve been doing so long that I don’t remember when they started, or why they started, or how they get started.    Like an in-joke with your family, no one knows how the joke got started, but everyone laughs and smiles when someone says it.

 

Vintage Science Fiction month is my favorite iteration of life time hobbies and family in-jokes, it even grew so big that I have a co-host,  Jacob at Red Star Reviews!  Jacob fearlessly run the Vintage Science Fiction Month twitter account, sets up guest posts, and generally keeps me out of trouble.

Over the years, Vintage SciFi Month has had read alongs, interviews, guest posts, book reviews, cover art galleries, author bios, podcasts, bingo cards, blind date with the book give aways, you name it!  Every year there is something new, something more,  new readers, different titles, new outlooks on old books.

Just joining us and have no idea what I’m talking about?

 

Vintage Science Fiction month takes place every January, and has a few guidelines:

– read, watch, listen to, or experience something science fiction / fantasy that was created in 1979 or earlier

– talk about it online sometime in January

– have fun

Those are just guidelines, not rules.  Some people follow the “I’ll read a book that is older than I am”, and they were born in 1988 or 1942.  Totally ok.  Some people only want to do e-books or audiobooks or watch old TV shows. Also totally ok.  Some people end up reading something they didn’t really enjoy, and unfortunately it wasn’t fun.  No one is obligated to like everything they read, and it’s ok to say you didn’t like something.

Jacob and I do this every year,  and we invite you to join us.

 

Have questions?  have recommendations?  Want to know what publishers are doing e-books of Vintage titles?  I could make assumptions about what your questions are, but who wants that?

 

If you have questions, put them in the comments below.   If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find some other Vintage Sci Fi -ers who do!   let’s crowdsource this FAQ!

 

 

 

You ever have one of those weeks where you feel like you got absolutely nothing done?  Yep, this past week felt like that.  But? only three workdays this week, and then a 4 day weekend full of food, shopping, more food, reading, and general chillaxing!  And I’ll be doing all that shopping online while wearing pajamas.

 

what have I been up to lately?

I did end up setting aside the Robin Hobb book. Not so much a didn’t finish, as a I’m not in the mood for this right now.   and I did start reading The Quantum Garden by Derek Kunsken. I’m only about 100 pages in, but what a ride so far!

I picked up a book of short stories called Flying Carpets, and I’ll admit I was drawn to this book because of the cover.  Got to meet the author at a local event,  and when she said “magical realism”, I was sold.   I’ve read the first few stories so far, and they are quite enjoyable.

And speaking of short stories, I was flipping through the table of contents of the absolutely massive The Big Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, when I realized this tome has some favorites that I haven’t gotten to read in a really long time, such as “Standing Woman” by Yasutaka Tsutsui , “Sandkings” by George R R Martin, and “Gorgonoids” by Leena Krohn. There’s also “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, “The Poetry Cloud” by Cixin Liu, “Blood Music” by Greg Bear,  “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Terius” by Jorge Luis Bores, and about a million more. Hard to believe a the paperback of this costs less than $30!  Yes, I am recommending this as a gift to your science fiction loving friends!

On the non-bookish side of life,  if your planning a holiday Game of Thrones binge watch, make sure you have matching liquor and beer.

And when you’ve got rice, some veggies, and some high quality tinned fish, dinner can come together in 5 minutes.

Mackerel over rice with corn, green olives, and scallions. This photo doesn’t do it justice, this plate was to die for.

What have you been reading, watching, drinking, eating, and enjoying lately?

 

Woohoo, it’s almost the weekend!

 

What are you up to this weekend? What are you planning to read?  Planning to watch anything cool on TV or listen to any audiobooks or podcasts?  Did you have any luck with Disney+?

 

I’ve been enjoying all the #SciFiMonth posts and twittering, it’s just a super nice happy group.

 

What have I been reading?

I’ve been reading Renegade’s Magic by Robin Hobb. This is the last book in her Soldier Son trilogy.  I started reading this trilogy I dunno, 8 years ago? maybe longer ago?  I had a too-intense reaction to the 2nd book and couldn’t even pick up a Robin Hobb for a long time.

(side bar – when authors book their books out into the wild, they have ZERO control over how people react to them.  Have you ever had an unexpected emotional reaction to a book?  What happened)

it’s been long enough, I’m ready to finish this series.  Luckily, there is some helpful background early on in Renegade’s Magic to fill me in on earlier details that I’ve forgotten.   Unluckily, the book is just so-so.  Nevare and his alter-ego are sharing his body, and Nevare needs to decide if he’s going to try to stay his separate self, or if he’s going to merge with his alter-ego so that the two of them can become whole.  Ok, so I can tell you right now that this book is going to end with him merging back with himself, because Robin Hobb books are pretty much about facing the part of you that you are ashamed of, and accepting that part of yourself.  But does that mean I’ve got 500 pages in front of me of Nevare trying to decide if he’s going to merge with himself or not?

I’m impatient.

Because I have a copy of Derek Kunsken’s The Quantum Garden and I really, really, REALLY want to be reading that!!

I predict I will set Renegade’s Magic down as a “read some other time”, and gleefully pick up The Quantum Garden.  oh wait, do I want to reread The Quantum Magician first?  I want toooo!!!!!!   That book is definitely one of my favorite reads this year, but William!  i don’t know if I can go through that again!

 

 

What have I been watching?

 

I had a four day weekend last weekend so I binge watched Maniac on Netflix.   This is not a good show, but it has moments of  brilliance.  It is trying to be sort of Philip K Dick-ish?  Where some characters aren’t sure what is reality and what isn’t.  And like a lot of PKD novels, about 1/3 of the way through, what plot there is, it goes out the window.

 

The show takes place in a near-future alternate Earth. No cell phones, but other technologies exist that are supposed to make life easier.  Someone had some fun designing sets and architecture and such.

Don’t watch this show for the plot, because there really isn’t one. Do watch it for the batshit crazy acting.  Emma Stone is her as always amazing self,  Jonah Hill is subtle and compelling, and I’m pretty sure they just told Justin Theroux to be as intense and insane as possible, and chew as much scenery as possible.  Did people expect that Theroux would steal every scene he’s in?

 

seriously.  Justin Theroux, just watch this show for him.

 

What have I been listening to?

I’m enjoying This Podcast Will Kill You.  I’m a jerk and listening to the episodes in any order I damn please.  Listening to the Cystic Fibrosis episode was fascinating (chlorides! protein channels! big bags of fluid!), educational, and humbling.  If you like science (and what scifi fan doesn’t like science?) and think biology and infectious diseases is cool, this is the podcast for you.

What have I been cooking?

I took what has become my favorite gluten free bread recipe and accidentally wrecked it. Bought some buckwheat flour on a whim, and by the way the buckwheat pancakes were delicious.  I figured the GF bread recipe would work just fine if I swapped half the 1to1 GF flour buckwheat.  hahahaha NO.  the bread smells good, looks kinda weird, and tastes really dry.   I learned my lesson! guess I’ll have to just enjoy delicious buckwheat pancakes and not use it in bread.

 

How about you? what have you been up to?

 

What’s your favorite science fiction theme, asked another SciFi Month participant.

Without a doubt, my favorite science fiction theme is First Contact. What will we say to aliens when we meet them? How will we communicate? How will we be understood? What if they are incomprehensible?

I really dig the “communication” part of first contact stories. Of course we’re going to try to talk to aliens! Of course we will wildly misinterpret everything they say! And of course we have the ego and the hubris to have no idea that we are misinterpreting everything, because the first time a xenobiologist or xenolinguist admits they are “approaching this problem with the mind of student”, some idiot will say “are you saying you’re too dumb to be here?” and that will be the end of the conversation and the beginning of the misinterpretation.  More on the tip of that iceberg at the end of the post.

 

Anyway, I love me some first contact stories, and if they touch on language, all the better!

If you like that too, here are some recommendations that may be of interest to you.

 

Arrival – When aliens arrive and start giving us their written language, a linguistics professor is brought in to translate. What she sees makes no sense, and when the symbols are finally translated, it is more than just language and sentences. She’s literally able to see the events of her life in a new, and sometimes frightening way. This movie is based on the short story “The Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. I’m a sucker for visuals and effective pacing, and I have a major thing for linguistics. I enjoyed the short story and LOVED the movie.

 

Babel 17 by Samuel Delany – All the linguistics fun of Arrival, plus a bucket of super cool characters, a wild adventure, and smart people talking about smart things. Did I mention the main character is a poet? I vaguely remember in the movie Contact, there is a line “they should have sent a poet”. Well, Delany did. You’ll like this one, I promise.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – are you in the read-along for this? What do you think so far? Yeah there is aliens in this book and first contact! The Sparrow is probably the most unexpected first contact book ever written. It’s weird, because we don’t actually learn much about the aliens. Well, we see a lot, and figure out a lot of what their saying, but it always seemed to me that what the humans had so much trouble with was the paying attention and actually listening part. So in a way, they do learn, only after it is too late.

 

Defenders by Will McIntosh – so, we meet aliens, and they can read our minds. We don’t quite understand their invasion or what they want, so humans make the group decision to freak the hell out. We design and build cyborgs to protect us. And then we win the war against the alien invaders. So what to do with all these cyborgs, who have been programmed to protect against an invader that isn’t a threat anymore? I appreciate that McIntosh talks about the aftermath of a failed alien invasion.

 

District 9 – When the aliens visit, their mothership hovers above Johannesburg, and doesn’t move. Nothing happens for months. When our military cuts into the ship, we find starving creatures, so we “rescue” them. And put them in a “refugee camp”. It gets so much worse and more dehumanizing from there. Every time I see this movie it is harder to watch, because I know what’s coming. And every time I watch this movie I enjoy it more, because maybe there’s hope that humans won’t always be shit heads.

Blindsight by Peter Watts – just an excellent book, all around. This was the book that got me turned on to the idea that humans think we are really good at communication, but we are actually quite terrible at it. The aliens lurking at the edge of solar system might really not want to talk to us. Or, in a weird way, maybe they are just saying hello? There’s probably no way to know. If you like edge of your seat scifi thrillers, this is the book for you. Also, scientifically possible vampires.

 

The Visitors by Clifford Simak – I just read this last week! The most peaceful alien invasion story I’ve ever read. The aliens come, and they just sit in the woods and in some farms. They literally just sit there. They eat some trees. A few cars accidentally get eaten. The aliens don’t talk to us, they don’t communicate at all (or do they?). Before leaving they give us a gift, something they think we will enjoy having. It is a gift that could destroy our civilization as we know it. At first, I thought these kind aliens were giving me a “yes, there really is a free lunch!” type story, and then when I got to the end of the book I realize that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

 

Have you read any of these books or seen any of these movies? What did you think of them?

What are some of your favorite first contact books and movies?

 

 

What fascinates me about First Contact stories, is that when it comes down to it, those stories are not about the aliens. They aren’t about how humans will interact with, communicate with, be judgy about, or be accepting of aliens. First contact stories are a mirror for how we interact with each other. They mirror how we communicate with each other, how we judge each other, how we accept (or don’t. Or eventually come to accept) anyone who is different from us.  Like many science fiction themes,  First Contact stories show how humans can normalize certain types of reactions to anything that is new, or different from what we are used to.

I don’t know if it’s brilliant or depressing that we need science fiction to show us that humans have a habit of being assholes to each other.

Hello and happy November!    I hope everyone has recovered from eating too much candy  on Halloween, and that your yards are full of beautiful autumn leaves.  Even when it’s cloudy and gloomy,  the sherbet oranges, pear-y yellows, and luscious crimsons in my front yard make every day this  time of year feel technicolor.

 

What’s all going on, you ask?  Only everything!   The hardest part is deciding what to say Yes to! (actually, you don’t have to say Yes to anything. You can be like me this year, and lurk!)

 

November is Sci-Fi Month, hosted by Dear Geek Place (twitter: @deargeekplace )  and Always Room For One More (twitter: @imyril).  I’ve know these bloggers for years, and everything they do is fun, engaging, and no pressure.  Looking to meet more bloggers who like talking about the same things you do? Sci-Fi Month is a great way to do it.  Follow all the fun @SciFiMonth.

SciFiMonth has not one, but two read alongs planned!  Dear Geek Place and Jorie Loves a Story are co-hosting a read along of Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers,  and Imyril at Always Room for One More is hosting a read along of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.  The Sparrow is one of my all time favorite books – the only problem with that book is that you can only experience it the first time once.  That said, no matter how times I have reread it,  the ending never loses it’s power to knock me flat.  I WILL be lurking in the read along of The Sparrow!

 

You’ve got the month of December off,  for family holiday stuff,  24 hours Christmas movie marathons and such, and then it’s time for Vintage Science Fiction Month in January! (twitter:  @VintageSciFiMonth)

I’ve been involved with Vintage Science Fiction month for I have lost track of how many years now.  Thank goodness for Jacob at Red Star Reviews for being my co-host again this year!  Jacob has tirelessly promoted Vintage Science Fiction Month on Instagram and Youtube, saving this elderly blogger from having to learn yet more social medial platforms.

 

My involvement with Vintage Month this year will involve a lot of short opinion pieces, links to Vintage goodies around the ‘blogosphere, and links to articles that can give some context to the whole thing, including this guest post I wrote a few weeks ago.   And if you prefer your science fiction a little on the scary side, there’s an excellent post over at Kaedrin’s blog about the intersection of horror and vintage scifi.

 

So, that should keep you busy for the next few months!

 

What have I been up to lately?

It’s been slow going with Steven Brust’s The Phoenix Guards.  it’s not the book, it’s me. I just don’t have the patience for this particular book right now.  Also? I think I’m just not that into The Three Musketeers.  #sorrynotsorry

 

Looking for something scifi-y, but not dark and terrible, I picked up The Visitors by Clifford Simak.  Huge Black boxes from space (monoliths.  they’re monoliths) land all over North America.  They mostly just sit there, doing nothing.  A bunch of them start eating trees,  a few cars get eaten.  but the aliens don’t interact with people, don’t seem to want to interact with people, but will defend themselves. Some of the monoliths have baby monoliths.  This book is very peaceful.  The plot follows some government advisors to the President, some local newspaper reporters, and a grad student who gets a little too close to one of the monoliths.  It’s just so very peaceful.  It’s exactly what i need in my life right now.

 

I’m enjoying the “This Podcast will Kill you” podcast.  it’s about poisons? and biology? I think?  I like the two ladies who do the ‘cast,  they communicate high concept science stuff in a way that I can understand.  Listening to this podcast helps me feel smart.  I think if I had a chance to be 19 again, and decide a college major again, I’d choose the biology one that teaches you how the inside of your body works.  Cuz, like, I really like understanding more about that!  Why do I get bloated? when my tummy is “rumbling”, what’s really happening in there?  Why does a pulled muscle hurt? how does a paper cut heal?  when I’m sick, where the hell does all this snot even come from?

 

On that gross note, yes, there has been tons of delicious food happening in my house lately!  Husband made me an amazing Avgolemono soup, it is Greek lemon chicken and rice soup that is thickened with egg.  The whole thing came together in about 30 minutes, and it was amazing!

 

there is gluten free bread in the oven right now, I’m trying a recipe from this America’s Test Kitchen Gluten Free cookbook.  We were wanting a multi-grain GF bread that had lots of flavor, seeds, and was low salt. and who knew?  with yeast breads, the less salt you have, the higher of a rise you’ll get!  Bread should be ready to eat at dinner time tonight, i’ll let you know how it turned out.

I’ve got a whole chicken sitting in the fridge, waiting to be covered in butter, herbs, and spices. I can’t decide if I want to go the traditional parsley, celery, salt route, or go the Chinese five spice with star anise route.  I do have all that star anise.   We might end up with with PSL chicken for dinner.

And I’ve been thinking lately, instead of asking myself “what do I wanna eat?” I should be asking myself “how do I want to feel in an hour?”

 

What reading, cooking, and autumn-y activities have you been up to lately? What fun stuff is on your schedule? What are you reading? Watching anything cool on TV?

 

What’s with all this lurking about?

i’ve been lurking online lately. Barely blogging, not posting formal book reviews, not participating in read alongs or themed months or really anything.  What the hell is that all about??  Put plainly, my life is busy these days.  I love my day job, and it’s busy AF. I have a long commute.  Yes, yes, I am aware that i have the same 24 hours in every day that Beyonce has, but 11 of those hours are spent working/commuting to work, 7 of those hours are spent trying to get some damn sleep.  With other things going on in my life, I am spread too thin to be saying Yes to everything under the sun. What it comes down to is that I’m putting me before you, and saying “yes” to literally as little as possible.  #no_regrets.

Never in a million years did I ever think I was going to say I was proud of Kim Kardashian.  Scroll to the bottom for that bombshell!

 

What have I been reading?

Finished Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s  novella And Shall Machines Surrender, and freakin’ loved it.   My brain still doesn’t want to write long reviews, so I put a short review on Amazon.  If you like some, any, or all of these things, this novella is for you:  Beautiful writing, tight plotting, show don’t tell, cyberpunk, when AIs don’t need humans anymore, AI run cities, AI and human melds, and super hot sex scenes.

Finally finished Death’s End by Cixin Liu.  Those last few chapters, HOLY SHIT!  but man it was a lot of boring to get there .  Had a great conversation with my dad about the series.  I love how this series has become our family reading club book!

 

Also finished The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang.  It was. . . meh?  I’m really happy it was a novella.  I will say that the further I got into it, the more I liked it, but I won’t be continuing with this series.

 

Started reading The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust.  What a blast!   It’s Brust’s take on The Three Musketeers, except more banter, more humor, and everyone is offended by literally everything, so there are duels like every 3 pages.  There is also this parody thing going on with the narrator.  And, um, Sethra Lavode is . . .  young-ish?  It is super fun. Luckily, there is like 5 books in this series, so that should keep me busy for a little while.

 

Went on a little bookstore adventure today, picked up:

Hild by Nicola Griffith – this has come highly recommended!  I was surprised to find it in general fiction, i thought this was a spec fic book?

Ismail Merchant’s Indian Cuisine – lots of easy recipes, nothing intimidating.

How Language Began by Daniel Everett – I’ve been hooked on the Lexicon Valley podcast, so I’m all about the history of languages right now!

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper – I have no idea if this is good or not, but I liked the cover art. And it looks super different than everything I’ve been reading lately, that alone is a big plus.

Speaking of podcasts, I discovered “This Podcast will Kill You”, I think they talk about poisons?  I’ve only listened to the episode about Aspirin and holy shit it was fascinating!   Now i kinda wish my commute was longer, so i could listen to more of this? no, really, NO I do not want a longer commute!  Goal in life is a shorter commute!

 

oh, what did we cook this weekend?  Made the world’s most delicious shrimp and noodle stirfry, it was one of those stirfry’s where you throw a bunch of deliciousness into a wok, and then throw noodles and some sweet chili sauce in, and surprising no one you end up with a delicious stirfry.  Made a quinoa sorghum salad with mint lemon dressing for something healthy to snack on at work, Tonight we are making Curry Rice, which is one of my fave autumn dishes.  I’ve blogged about this dish before, but imagine a beef stew, but it’s made with curry gravy. Buckets of spices,  buckets of ginger and garlic and hot peppers and onions, and you serve it with rice and yogurt.  my mouth is watering!!!

 

Apropos of nothing, I am annoying that one of my fave kitchen / small home decorating sites, thekitchn, is now  like 80% advertising posts for Costco, Trader Joe, and Aldi.  Like, i like those stores? but I also prefer content that is cooking,  kitchen techniques, and small home decorating. I actually do not give a shit about how the different pumpkin spice things at Aldi compare to those at Trader Joe.

 

Same as The Kitchn is being taken over by thinly veiled advertising for Costco, Aldi, and Trader Joe, Buzzfeed is being taken over by less thinly veiled advertising for everything Kardashian.  three cheers for click bait?

I never in a million years thought I’d say I’m proud of Kim,  but I’m proud of her.  Ten years ago, if anyone had told her what her child could or could not, or should, or should not do, she’d have stretched it out over a season of her stupid TV show, and then divorced the guy.  She must have learned how to #adult, since now she’s willing to have a conversation about it, willing to hear the other person out, willing to not turn it into huge drama.

 

Yes, it is super sad that I’m proud of her for the teeny tiny act of hearing her husband out,  not making money off the drama, and making her relationship more important than them disagreeing over something.   But still, I’m proud of her.  She’s solving problems through discussing things, and trying to understand the why behind why people feel the way they do.   Kim, you’re all grown up!


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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.