the Little Red Reviewer

joanna russWe Who Are About To . . .  by Joanna Russ

published 1975

where I got it: purchased used

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You read the book, or saw the movie of Andy Weir’s The Martian, right?  It’s a story about hope, about survival, about sciencing the shit out of every resource at your disposal. Because when it comes down to it, Mark Watney really doesn’t want to die.

 

And a lot of “stranded on a deserted island” (ok, deserted planet) stories are like that.  Our instinct is to survive.  To make shelter, to find water, to figure out what to eat, to try to get rescued.

 

But what if you were stranded somewhere, and you were pretty sure you weren’t going to get rescued? What if you had no resources? What if there weren’t any experts among the survivors? What if surviving was a pipe dream?

 

In Joanna Russ’s We Who Are About To,  an escape pod full of  survivors lands on an uncolonized planet. Off the beaten path, nowhere near a beacon, and with little to no resources, can they survive? None amongst them is a scientist, biologist, doctor, or specialist in anything, really. They’ve got  a few weeks of food and a water recycler. They don’t even know where they are.

 

Some of the more ambitious in the group decide their small group  might as well start colonizing the planet. After all, this place is going to be mapped anyways, eventually, right? And to start a colony, they need more people. Which means they need to start having babies, and all the adult women in the group should be willing to be impregnated by the men. This particular scene was so blunt that I laughed out loud.  Most of the novel is this blunt.

(warning: SPOILERS ahead)

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on Friday July 22nd, if you live in Southwestern Michigan, you can hear an edited version of our Star Trek chat on 102.1FM at 7:50am, 11:50am and 4:20pm.  Or just click here to listen to us talk on and on and on and on.

 

http://wmuk.org/post/why-star-trek-endures

 

 

We’re all always talking about the first science fiction book we read,  or scifi movies we liked as a kid.  For me,  my love of science fiction was born directly from a childhood fascination with all things science.

 

For me, science and science fiction have always gone hand in hand. If you’re going to go explore the stars, it helps to have an understanding or at least an appreciation of astronomy and physics, right?  Science Fiction is the stories of everything that science makes possible. And with science, everything is possible. My love of science fiction was born through my fascination with Science.  Science made everything possible, science fiction stories are where all those cool things happened.

 

I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit.  My mom would take me to the Cranbrook Science Museum. It was perfect for elementary and middle school aged me – youth friendly exhibits on geology, holograms, physics, astronomy, optical illusions, and more. I’m sure there was grown-up stuff too, but I was a kid, so I went to the kid stuff.I have a vivid memory of being 11 or 12 years old, and getting to go to one of their astronomy events where you could look through the telescope and see the rings of saturn. And I saw the rings, and I felt like I could touch them.  The science of refraction and lenses showed me the rings of Saturn, and in the science fiction stories I was reading, people went to the rings of Saturn.  I was looking at something right out of a science fiction story!  And if the rings of Saturn were attainable through a chunk of glass, couldn’t anything in a science fiction story be attainable, eventually?

Cranbrook Institute of Science. where it all began.

Cranbrook Institute of Science. where it all began.

Around this same time in my life, I was a huge Star Trek the Next Generation viewer.  Dad and I had a standing date to watch the new episodes.  We didn’t have cable TV, so anything new on TV was cool, and getting to hang out with my Dad was extra cool. On that TV show,  science (or at least TV science and technobabble) was applied.  They were doing the things that I only saw through a telescope.  They were doing science (and plenty of other stuff), and science was something that could take you to new amazing worlds.

 

Come on. I was eleven years old.  Any planet they visited on ST:TNG was amazing to me. I didn’t care that it was all tv technobabble and none of the science actually added up. They were taking all the cool science stuff from the museum I went to, and applying it to do really cool things.
Science Fiction is full of hope that one day we will be able to attain what is unattainable today. And  applied science  is what will one day make science fiction a reality.

I recently hosted a roundtable over at Semiotic Standard, asking a group of folks from the SFF-o-sphere the following question:

 

Which Sci-Fi or Fantasy book would you most love to see on the as a movie? What scene are you most looking forward to seeing on the big screen?

 

Click here to see everyone’s responses.

 

and now, I put the question to you!  What book or short story would you like to see as a movie or tv series? Are there particular scenes that you’re most looking forward to? What about scenes that would be difficult to film, how do you think a director might do them?

 

time-salvager-book-coverTime Salvager, by Wesley Chu

published 2015

where I got it: purchased new

 

 

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I do like me some time travel books. And a time travel story where objects and people are brought into other times, and you have to go. . . . back to the future?  Great Scott, sign me up! Seriously though,  I’m a sucker for a good time travel.  That movie Looper? It made no sense and all, and I loved it.   So, it makes sense that Wesley Chu’s Time Salvager would be right up my alley.  The gist of the plot is in a few hundred years, Earth is in shambles. Chronmen go into the past to get resources, batteries, energy sources, valuable minerals, just about anything that’s worth anything.  ChronoCom uses the time travel technology to give Earth a few more years of existence. Anyone who can afford to left Earth long ago to live on a colony elsewhere.

 

Chronman James Griffin-Mars self medicates his way through too many dangerous missions. He’s left too many ghosts behind, too many people he couldn’t save, too many people he had to let die, because the history books said they died. You can’t rewrite history, you can’t change the future, everyone knows that.  When James brings a woman back into the future, he breaks every law of time travel, and he seals his own fate as a traitor to everything he thought he believed in.

 

Cinematic action sequences and high octane pacing,  this sounds pretty intense, right?

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Spells-of-Blood-and-KinSpells of Blood and Kin, by Claire Humphrey

published June 2016

where I got it: received review copy

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Spells of Blood and Kin was mentioned in my recent 5 Books, 50 pages blog post.  Of the books mentioned in that post, this was the only book that I had a tough time stopping reading at exactly 50 pages.   In fact,  by the time that blog post published, I was halfway through Spells of Blood and Kin,  and finished it 48 hours after picking it up.  I couldn’t put this book down, I didn’t want to put this book down,  I was late to work because all I wanted to do for 2 days was read this book.  If you’re a fan of dark fantasy, of stories that have weight and depth and sensuality and secrets and consequences, this is a book for you.

 

We all know those fantasy authors who write in a fashion to make their novels longer, because an epic story should have an epic number of pages, or something. Short story authors do the opposite – often self-editing their work towards making their prose more effective in fewer words. Claire Humphrey is a well published short story author, and you can see her short story composition skills on display in Spells of Blood and Kin.  What I mean by that is there is not a single unnecessary word or scene in this book.  Every scene, every conversation, and every paragraph is honed down to a sharp reflective edge, increasing the effect of the words, pushing the reader to engage with the story in a more intimate and imaginative fashion.  That was a lot of fancy talk to say Humphrey is a damn good writer. Spells of Blood and Kin opens with a surprising and unnerving sentence, dives right into the compelling intricacies of the plot, and runs from there. Like with most books, everyone is going to have a different reaction to this book, and much of my personal interaction with this book happened between the lines, in what Humphrey left unsaid.

 

So, what’s this story about?   Lissa’s grandmother Iadviga has just passed away.  In a stunned state of grief,  the funeral is planned, the church ladies bring piles of food to the house, and Lissa starts going through her grandmother’s things. Not only is Lissa inheriting the house and the debt, she is also inheriting her Baba’s responsibilities among the traditional Russian families in a community surrounded by the cosmopolitan  bustle of Toronto.  On the night of Iadviga’s death, the spell she had been weaving and reweaving for over 30 years collapsed.

 

For her Baba’s funeral, Lissa was allowed to enter the church building, but not allowed to be in the sanctuary. Because while the church will tolerate the community’s need for witchy women,  magic practitioners are not allowed on consecrated ground.  With one hand the community shuns Lissa and her family, while placing orders for magic eggs with the other hand.

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darwins radio bearDarwin’s Radio, by Greg Bear

published 1999

where I got it: purchased used

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I talked about this book a little while ago, about how it worked so damn well. I finished the novel shortly after posting that blog post, it just took me forever to write the actual review!

 

Pregnant women are losing their babies.  All across the globe, women are miscarrying at staggering rates, some so early in their pregnancies they didn’t even know they were expecting.  When I first read the back cover of Darwin’s Radio, my first thought was “terrible pregnancies? Is this a book about something like Zika?”  Of course it isn’t. Darwin’s Radio was written in 1999, and it won the 2000 Nebula and Endeavor awards.

 

At first, it’s assumed it’s a virus of some sort that is causing the miscarriages.  CDC Investigator Christopher Dicken is used to travelling the globe, seeing the worst viruses in action.  But this doesn’t act like any virus he’s ever seen.   Meanwhile, molecular biologist Kaye Lang has published a handful of papers on ancient retroviruses found in the human genome, papers that push her to the fringe of academia. Not exactly viruses, these are genetic markers that go into action when triggered. But triggered to do what? And triggered by what?   At the same time, discredited archaeologist Mitch Rafelson has been doing his own secret research, except he doesn’t yet understand what he sees in the mummies in an ice cave.

 

When Lang is brought in to consult on a mass grave, the wheels start turning in her head, because what she’s seeing doesn’t make sense. Why would a village murder the pregnant wives? And why did the same thing happen 40 years ago? And why are there current reports of mass violence against pregnant women and women who recently miscarriage? This is not how civilized modern civilization acts!

 

This isn’t a super fast paced book, or an action thriller,  but the speed and intensity comes into play with how fast their ideas and theories take shape, and how fast that information can be shared with others who can put it to good use. Bear fully fleshes out the three main characters Kaye, Christopher, and Mitch, introducing other supportive characters as needed, and educates the reader about genetics and biology through conversation between characters instead of through infodumping.  Bear writes in a way that makes complicated science and biology accessible to any reader. You can go into this book with zero knowledge of genetics, biology, and how diseases work, and come out of it with just enough knowledge to be a bit dangerous.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a science heavy, hard science fiction thriller. But Bear also subtly deals with grief, scientific academia, mob mentalities, and what we talk about when we talk about evolution.

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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.