the Little Red Reviewer

Originally published in Spanish in 2017,  Ray Loriga’s novel Surrender won the Alfaguara literary prize that year. Thanks to the translation talents of Carolina de Roberts, Surrender is now available in English.  I picked up a free ARC of this novel at ConFusion.

 

I find I don’t mind not being told everything up front.  Author wants to drop me in the deep end, and explain stuff later, or not explain things later? I’m ok with that.  But I know not everyone is.

 

If you prefer stories with lots of specific worldbuilding and world politics that are explained in detail, if you want a clear resolution at the end,  if you need things to be named and categorized, Surrender by Ray Loriga is not for you. Loriga doesn’t even tell you people’s names. The more you need to know about a world to enjoy that world,  the less this book is for you.

 

Surrender reads as if you are half in a dream,  what is right in front of you is in sharp focus, but everything else feels misty and of minimal importance.  Told in first person, the unnamed narrator tells us what is most important to him – how much he loves his wife,  how they met, their farm and the village they live in, and the rare letters they receive from their sons who are off fighting a foreign war. Their village is near the front, and when a mute and injured little boy wanders onto their property, the narrator and his wife unofficially adopt the little boy.

 

The narrator is passionate and kind,  he is pleased with his life, he doesn’t have many complaints. He effectively pulls the reader into his world.

 

The war is going badly,  and the village is evacuated.  Everyone is told to pack one suitcase and to hop on busses that will take everyone to the safety of the Transparent City.  No need to bring much, as the City will provide food, clothing, and housing. You and your children will be safe there.

 

The city is being evacuated,  residents are told to burn their homes so the enemy can’t use them for shelter, people are hoarding water and supplies. And yet, the unnamed narrator and his family seem perfectly calm. He places full trust in the government, because why wouldn’t you?

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Before my next book review goes up,  let’s have a discussion about first person point of view,  how much knowledge the narrator has, the narrator’s perspective and intent, and trust.

 

Do you like first person point of view, or does it annoy you?

If you like it, what do you like about it?

What books have you read where the first person point of view was especially effective?

Ever had a narrator lie to you?  Were you ok with that?

Do you like unreliable narrators, or do they piss you off?

 

 

Some people really hate first person point of view, some people love it.  Me personally? I love it. My fave is getting the story from that character’s perspective – what excites them, what annoys them, what  is their internal monologue, how do they make decisions, how do they deal with/avoid the consequences of those decisions. I literally want to spend the story inside that person’s head. It feels intimate, like they are letting me in.

 

A thing with first person point of view, is that the reader only knows what the narrator knows. If the narrator doesn’t know who all is on the Orient Express, the reader isn’t going to know until the character meets everyone.  If the narrator doesn’t know why the train broke down or what the name of the cafe at the station is, you don’t know that info either.

 

One of the many fun things about first person, is the narrator  has full control over what the reader knows. If the narrator “forgets” to tell you where they were last night, I guess you’re never gonna know.  If the narrator truly doesn’t remember what happened last night because they passed out drunk, I guess you’re never gonna know. Instead of getting to learn everything about everything, your knowledge becomes severely limited.

 

The narrator is going to tell you what you need to know to stay interested in the story, and there might be some things they choose not to tell you. Could be because they themselves don’t think that piece of information is necessary or interesting,  could be they don’t want to have to answer awkward questions, could be the narrator isn’t as smart as they think (especially entertaining when the narrator is an animal), could be the narrator is purposely hiding information because they are an unreliable narrator.

 

Sometimes the narrator keeps information from you, and they have no ill intent.  Maybe they didn’t realize the information was important, or it wasn’t something they cared about, or they weren’t able to put all the pieces together. We can’t all be Sherlock Holmes brainiacs, you know.

 

So,  how do you know if you can trust a narrator?  Why do you trust a narrator right out of the gate?

 

As a reader,  how do you feel when you trust the narrator, and then find out they weren’t fully truthful with you? Yes, I am asking how you feel about unreliable narrators.

 

I’m a weirdo, I freakin’ love unreliable narrators.   Because if i’m suddenly questioning everything they told me. . .  is the story I just read maybe a completely different story? And I love it when that happens.

 

 

So,  I’ll give you the same “spoilers” that I gave my friends in my book club:

 

This book is really, really, good.  Like, might be one of my favorite books that I read this year kind of good.

 

There is a really cool character named John.

 

Also, Maps!  There is a map in the book!  But it’s no good anymore, because the seas have risen just enough to move the shoreline.  So where the map says there is a harbor?  The harbor doesn’t look like that anymore!

 

Omg, so much cool stuff in this book!!!

 

Ok,  other very, very minor spoilers ahead.

 

Have you read A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World?  If you leave spoilers in the comments I will delete your comment and then say very mean things about you.

 

For those you who read this last year, and have been wondering what the hell took me so long, you were right! This book is awesome!  I’m sorry it took me so long.

 

Ready?  Let’s go.

It’s seems to be a year for me to read post apocalyptic stuff?  Yeah, I didn’t plan that either. A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World takes place one or two generations after what people called “the gelding”.  We don’t know what caused it, within a generation or two, humanity was near extinction. Hardly anyone could have kids. Some people think it was caused by pollution, some people think it was a bio-weapon,  some people think it was from something sprayed in the air. (Huh, maybe Mother Nature is an introvert, and she finally had enough of this loud AFparty that she couldn’t ghost?)

 

A line from the beginning of the book:

 

In my whole life, I haven’t met enough people to make up two teams for a game of football. The world is that empty

 

This is a post- apocalyptic world, but  the sun is still shining, you can still fish and hunt and do some basic farming,  many places are still safe, and although the weather is warmer, it is still bearable.   What this is, is a silent world. A world that no longer has a need for humans. All that silence? It was kinda refreshing, actually.

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This was the book I didn’t want to review.

 

I didn’t even want to read it.

 

I don’t know why, but I felt the need to save this book for some time when I really needed it.  Like it was the last bottle of whisky from a famous yet shuttered distillery. And once I opened it, it would evaporate and soon barely the scent would remain.

 

When I did crack the book open,  of course the first story I read was The Battle of Candle Arc.  And then I read that story again. And then I read Iseul’s Lexicon, which I then, read again.

I consumed this collection in such a strange way,  I consumed it the same way I use a cookbook. Once I identified a story I enjoyed,  I’d reread it three, or four times, getting into into my rotation. When I felt ready, I’d try another story/meal.

 

Strange, I know.  But you already know that I’m strange.

 

The time came for me to start thinking about the review.

 

I didn’t want to write it.  I didn’t want to put Conservation of Shadows back on the shelf along with all the other books that “I’m done thinking about”.   I’m not ready for these characters to not be in my life anymore. Can I reread these stories any time I want? For sure. But there’s something different about a book that is floating around the house because you are still thinking about it, and a book that you’ve put back on the shelf and categorized in your mind as “I’m done thinking about that book”.

 

This is what Yoon Ha Lee does:  writes fiction you don’t want to stop thinking about. You might be done reading the book, but the book isn’t done with you.

 

To write this review, I’ve made a bargain with myself:  I purchased Hexarchate Stores, so I can dive right into that,  and Conservation of Shadows is going to live on the coffee table for a while longer.  This review is not an agreement that I’m done with this book. In fact, it’ll be really fun to reread these stories in 6 months or a year, and see if they have changed, or if I’ve changed.

 

Thank you for letting me get all of that out of my system and put words to my feelings. You’ve been very patient.  I guess it’s time I talk about this collection, yeah?

 

Most of the stories touch on language (which of course, I have zero interest in), colonialism and occupation, assimilation, destruction of cultures through destruction of their language, how sometimes things just don’t translate, and how war makes us strangers to ourselves.

 

One last thing before I actually talk about the stories!  Fun new words!

 

sumptuary           morphophonemics      escritoire

logographs              entelechy

 

Isn’t “escritoire” just the most beautiful word you’ve ever seen?

 

Ok, I am getting to the stories now, I SWEAR.   In no particular order:

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My friends at Apex Publications are at it again!    On the heels of their wildly successful Do Not Go Quietly comes their newest Kickstarter project,  Invisible Threads: Cutting the Binds that Hold us Back.

 

You guys, the authors are already in this anthology, this list is unbelievable!  I am too lazy to type everyone’s names, so I’m copy/pasting the image from the Kickstarter site.

 

We each face barriers in our life, some more easily overcome than others. Some seemingly impossible to overcome.   What if society’s response is “there’s nothing to be done, you might as well learn to live with it”?  What if society’s response is “What are you talking about? I don’t see any barrier. It must be in your head”. ?    At least that’s what I think of when I hear the term “Invisible Threads”.

And all these amazing authors, who have totally different life experiences than mine? I want to know what they came up with.

Now that I’ve got a little more of your attention,  here is a link to the Kickstarter site.

 

Backer rewards include print copies of Invisible Threads,  other Apex Titles such as Do Not Go Quietly, Irredeemable, Upside Down,  and War Stories,   stickers, tuckerizations, professional critique services, free stuff from the Apex store,  Apex surprise boxes, and more!  Seriously tho, there are some hella cool backer rewards.

 

Jason and Lesley let me pick their brains about the new anthology,  the joys (and terrors) of Kickstarter, 4am emails, the secret stuff that editors do, their pet peeves, and more.  They’ve done so many Kickstarters by now, it’s gotta be easy by this point. . .  right?

 

Jason Sizemore

About Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner:

Raised in the  Appalachian hills of southeast Kentucky, Jason Sizemore is a three-time  Hugo Award-nominated editor, writer, and publisher who operates the  genre press Apex Publications. He is the author of a collection of dark  science fiction and horror shorts titled Irredeemable, and the tell-all creative nonfiction For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher. Jason co-edited the successful Do Not Go Quietly anthology with Lesley Conner. He currently lives in Lexington, KY. For more information visit www.jason-sizemore.com or you can find him on Twitter @apexjason.

 

Lesley Conner is a writer/editor, managing editor of Apex Book Company,  and a Girl Scout leader. When she isn’t handling her editorial or Girl  Scout leader responsibilities, she’s researching fascinating historical  figures, rare demons, and new ways to dispose of bodies, interweaving  the three into strange and horrifying tales. Her short fiction can be  found in Mountain Dead, Dark Tales of Terror, A Hacked-Up Holiday Massacre, as well as other places. Her first novel, The Weight of Chains, was published by Sinister Grin Press in September, 2015. She is the co-editor of two anthologies: Best of Apex Magazine: Volume 1 and Do Not Go Quietly,  both of which she edited with Jason Sizemore. She lives in Maryland  with her husband and two daughters, and is currently working on a new  novel. To find out all her secrets, you can follow her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.

Lesley Conner

 

And here’s our conversation!

 

Andrea: When I first heard the title,  I thought “oh, this must be about threads that tie us together, and we don’t even realize it!”,  and that’s not the theme of the anthology, at all. The theme is more along the lines of “these are the things that are holding us back”, things like societal expectations,  stereotypes, and preconceived notions. Why did you decide to do an anthology on this theme?

 

Jason:  Lesley and I are both from poor coal mine communities in Appalachia (she’s West Virginia, I’m Kentucky). We share a common bond in that we escaped the poverty trap and all that entails to work and thrive in publishing. Because we know our story of pulling free of societal threads is not unique, we wanted to hear the stories of how others overcame.

 

While Invisible Threads is not intended to be a political book (unlike our last anthology, Do Not Go Quietly), I do think our political environment influenced our decision to run with the theme. Classism is running rampant across the world. Hate-filled people are pushing back against social gains. The ruling classes are becoming more draconian. Now, more than ever, we need a reminder that it is important to break free of these threads because we need smart, sensible people fighting back who remember what it is like to be in the trenches.

 

Andrea: You’ve already invited authors to bring their stories to your table of contents. When you approached these authors, what guidance did you give them (if any) about what you were looking for?

 

Lesley: To be honest, we didn’t give them a whole lot of guidance. The theme and deadlines when we’d need things back to us, and that was about it. But I think with this kind of anthology, that’s what was needed. The societal pressures that each person deals with are highly individualized based on your own background and experiences. The entire point of the book is that without those experiences, you may not see the struggles your neighbors are going through because they are invisible. We tried to invite a diverse group of authors who will hopefully be able to give us a wide range of stories of people struggling against the invisible threads in their lives.

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You wouldn’t know it by how much is crammed into it, but  Mirrorstrike is a very skinny novella, around 130 pages. I could have read it in an afternoon.  So why did it take me nearly a week to read this little book? Reading Mirrorstrike was like eating the richest creme brulee,  or the lushest lemon tart. That is to say, this was an intense book for me to read, and I wanted to draw the intensity out, I wanted to read this book one delicious, decadent bite at a time.   For a week now, I’ve been trying to find the word that describes Mirrorstrike, and I finally found it – decadent.

 

Sriduangkaew strikes that perfect balance between writing lush, long sentences that transport the reader both physically and emotionally,  and short sharp sentences that tell you exactly what you need to know in one staccato beat.  I said it in an earlier blog post, and I’ll say it again: in my wildest dreams I’m able write prose this beautiful.

 

It’s a common conversation between readers, bloggers, and assorted book lovers – what kind of book do you enjoy reading?  Well friends, my answer is this, right here. This is the kind of book I love reading.

 

The first book in the series, Winterglass, introduced Nuawa and took place in her home city of Sirapirat.  For Mirrorstrike, the point of view switches to General Lussadh, and the location switches to the metropolis of Kemiraj, where Lussadh had been the crown prince until the Winter Queen came and changed everything.   Lussadh has returned to her home, to rule as the Winter Queen’s representative.

 

(Not familiar with Winterglass?  You’ll want to read that one first.  These are novellas, you can easily binge them both in one weekend)

You know,  I half expected this review to just be a list of all the reasons I love Lussadh, because she is my favorite character, and I love everything about her.  She’s a fucking badass, she’s aggressive when the moment calls for it, she’s got decades of history and choices and consequences, she’s the “strong female character” I’ve been waiting for.   I need more Lussadh in my life. And don’t even get me started on Major Guryin, who is hilarious. The melodrama between Lussadh and Nuawa? I bet this is the best entertainment Guryin has had in years!

 

Everyone in this story is playing a very long game, and everyone has secrets that are buried deeper than the glass shard in their hearts.  Yes, these two novellas take place in a much larger world, and I appreciated that Sriduangkaew doesn’t bury the reader in information. She let’s you explore the world at your own pace.

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Shhh!!!    don’t tell anyone,  but *whispers* there are other websites on the internet besides Little Red Reviewer */whispers*

 

I know,  crazy, right?    But?  here’s the good news,  sometimes I have stuff on those other websites too!

 

I had a ton of fun doing The Questioning with Timy at RockStarlit Book Asylum,  come on over  to find out why I was put into an asylum, what book I’d take with me, and what fictional world I’d like to visit!

 

Over at Nerds of a Feather,  I got to interview Jess Nevins, author of 20th Century Horror, and A.K. Larkwood, author of The Unspoken Name.   Woah, did you know Nerds of a Feather has a newsletter?  They’ll tell you when I have a new interview up there!  check it out!

 

if you don’t get enough of me here at Little Red Reviewer, go check out some of those posts!

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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.