the Little Red Reviewer

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher is one of the cutest, most fun books I’ve read in a long time! Apparently it’s been a while since I read some Ursula Vernon/T. Kingfisher.

 

Ok, so the book isn’t all cutesy – people die, assassins go after teenagers, kids are homeless, adults act like idiots, there is some shit to be said about why we need heroes in the first place. . . ok, crap, this book is actually pretty dark, now that I’m thinking about it.

 

(the book doesn’t have any swear words, because Mona is a good girl. but #sorrynotsorry, this review has a lot of swear words.)

 

But I felt cute while I was reading it?  I laughed a lot while I was reading it. I loved all the characters, i loved loved LOVED Mona’s internal voice, i kept snarking “not my gumdrop buttons!” outloud, and reading this book really made me want to bake and hold my loved ones close.  Reading it made me feel hopeful.

 

So, after Mona’s parents died, she went to live with her aunt and uncle and work in their bakery. Well, she works there, but she lives in her own little room down the street. At fourteen years old, she leaves her apartment at 4am, goes to the bakery, and starts the ovens.  What were you doing at 14?   Mona is also an amateur wizard – she can make bread dough do cute things. The bakery customers (ok, some of them) love it when she makes the gingerbread men get up and dance (some of the customers think she’s a creepy witch).  There’s also this semi-sentient bucket of sourdough starter in the basement named Bob.  Bob eats the rats.  #teamBob.

 

One sleepy morning, Mona arrives at work, to find a strange girl in the bakery. The girl is also dead. Aunts are woken up, police are called.  And not too many days after that, when Mona gets to work in the wee hours of the morning, the assassin is waiting for her too.

 

Fourteen year olds shouldn’t have to escape from assassins at four oclock in the morning.

 

And I haven’t even had a chance yet to tell you about Knackering Molly and her dead horse Nag! I wonder what Bob and Nag would think of each other? Molly freakin’ rocks, by the way.

 

The assassin is obviously another wizard.  Why the heck would a wizard be hunting other wizards, especially someone like Mona, a teenager who has limited magical abilities?

 

Things happen, and then dear reader, you will read the funniest scene you have ever read in your life. It involves Mona and her new friend Spindle climbing up a, um, sort of drain pipe?  The, um, drain pipe that leads directly to the Duchess’s, um, garderobe.  Ain’t the Duchess in for a shock when she walks into her bathroom to find two shit covered teenagers. My friends, I was laughing so hard I fell out of my chair!

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I watched these episodes more than a week ago, and it’s taken me forever to write something up about them. You forgive me, right?

 

Anyway, let’s get further into Season 3!

 

Episode 9,  Defiant, is about 3 movies worth of action and planning and subterfuge crammed into a 45 minute episode.  The episode starts off as this light hearted flirty thing, and then before you know it, Sisko is teaming up with the Cardassians and learning that Gul Dukat is a dad too, and I’m getting ahead of myself!

 

Kira is enjoying some time off the clock, when who should start flirting her up at Quarks, but Will Riker! (I can’t help but refer to him as the slut of the Alpha Quadrant). He’s stopped off at DS9 on his way to Risa, because of course he has. He flirts up Kira, and before you can say Gamma Quadrant, the two flirty birds are alone on the Defiant.  I kinda thought something fishy was going on, but I didn’t want to harsh on Kira’s squee, since for ONCE someone is giving her attention that isn’t work/career related. But, um, doesn’t she have a boyfriend on Bajor? And then before you know it, Riker has pulled a phaser on her, stunned her, and beamed his buddies on board to steal the Defiant.

What, what? Riker, a command officer, stealing the Defiant???  Ah, I knew something was fishy! This isn’t Riker, the slut of the galaxy, this is his transporter error twin, who he left behind!  This less-slutty Riker wants to make a name for himself, he want to be someone, damnit! So joined the Maquis and is going to give them the Defiant, the only Starfleet ship with a cloaking device.

 

And now it’s up to Sisko to tell the Cardassians “oh, so you know my super awesome ship that can cloak, and you can’t track us? Yeah, um, some asshole stole it, we’re pretty sure he’s on his way to your shipyards to blow them up. Let me  help you locate the Defiant, let’s try not to blow it up, m’kay?”  Ok, so it doesn’t go exactly like that, but the rest of the episode is a super tense showdown between Sisko, who doesn’t want to give up any more information than he has to,  Gul Dukat, who doesn’t want to give up any more information than he has to, and Korinas (an Obsidian Order agent), who doesn’t want to give up anything she knows. SO TENSE!!! Goes without saying one wrong move could start a whole new interstellar war!

 

The opening scenes of this episode were pretty cheesy, but those scenes with Sisko, Dukat, and Korinas were fantastic!  Apparently I wasn’t alone, there is some hollywood rumors that the only person who liked other-Riker was Jonathan Frakes. Everyone else had zero interest in ever hearing about other-Riker again.

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You’ve probably already figured this out about me, but I don’t mind it when an author doesn’t explain everything.  I’d rather a story very slowly tease out the “what’s really going on”, rather than tell me all the fun stuff up front.   Sheri S Tepper’s The Family Tree, published way back in 1997, is very much this kind of story.  We meet some characters and get to know them . .  we meet a second batch of characters and get to know them. . .  and then, well,  you might want to duct tape your jaw to your head, as some insulation against how many times this book will make it drop.

 

Also, whoever wrote the back cover copy on the paperback I have, man, that person managed to take an amazing, charming, enthralling book and make it sound kinda blah. So don’t read the cover copy!!

 

As with most other Tepper novels I’ve read, I was drawn in to the story immediately. The characters caught and kept my attention, and Tepper showed me their environment without infodumping.  This is a very Tepper book, and by that I mean the characters are intelligent and persistent, there is a pro-environmental / live kindly with nature theme, and a long game.

 

We meet police officer Dora Henry as she’s realizing she needs to leave her husband Jared.  They have the absolute strangest relationship ever, more a marriage of convenience than anything romantic. And when she moves her stuff out he flips out. (later in the book, when Jared flips out even more, I described him as a mustache twirling dick. My husband’s response was “but was he a dick twirling mustache?”.  Dick twirling mustache is my new favorite way to describe a petty bad guy).

 

Even without the divorce and Jared’s drama, Dora has her hands full at work.  There are some murders that her department is investigating (who would kill a scientist?) and invasive plants and trees are taking over the city.  She doesn’t mind the invasive trees and plants, they are quite pretty, if you like that kind of thing (which Dora, and I, do)

 

So,  just as I’m getting super invested in Dora’s plotline,  the story shifts to this sort of quest fantasy plotline.  My first thought was that Dora was telling this story to someone? Or that someone was telling this, as a bedtime story, to Dora in her childhood? Because it did have the trappings of a fantasy story – among other characters is the young harem slave, Nassif,  who is told to dress like a boy and be a servant for Prince Sahir who is going on a quest,  there is also Prince Izakar who has access to secret library and is told he needs to solve the great mystery of his time, there is a farming family whose humorous children only care that their grazing animals are safe,  there is a countess, there are a few other characters. All these people end up meeting and deciding they should continue together, in hopes they can help each other on their possibly connected quests.

 

My second thought, after a few chapters of these fantasy style characters was how nice they were to each other. Sure, people disagree, but there was no backstabbing, no betrayals, no intrigue, no bloody wars of conquest. All these folks are, for lack of a better term, decent human beings who show kindness and compassion. (how sad is that, that I’m shocked to run into decent human beings in a sci-fantasy novel??)  There does seem to be this thing about accusing people being cannibals, which was disconcerting and threw my idea of this being a bedtime story out the window.

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Hey, so my WordPress Editor just an hour ago spontaniously switched to the Block Editor. which means I have NO IDEA how this post is going to turn out, because everything is super weird.

I met John on Twitter a while back, and we’ve chatted back and forth a few times. He’s a fellow science fiction and fantasy fan, a writer who loves mythology, a writer who seeks out wonder.

What started off as a project between friends, for their family, has turned into something much, much more. Several years ago, John and his wife Carol started a tradition of creating a Christmas book for their friends and family, with John writing the prose, and Carol doing the illustrations. These stories are now ready to shared with everyone, and every year, starting in 2020, Story Plant will publish one of John and Carol’s books. The first one, Raven Wakes the World, hits bookstore shelves next week. (Indiebound ordering link)

A tale of an artist rediscovering her own strength, Raven Wakes the World is a magical realism with a touch of romance, and the unforgiving environs of Alaska. If you are looking for a unique holiday gift for someone who loves modern mythology, this could be it! Click here to read a free preview.

You can learn more about John and his work at his website, JohnAdcox.com, and by following him on twitter, where he is @JohnAdcox.

ok, so funny story – when I emailed John these questions, I knew the illustrator’s name was Carol, I didn’t know that was THE Carol, John’s wife! That’s what I get for not doing my research, that’s for sure!

Little Red Reviewer: Congrats on your new novella, Raven Wakes the World! What inspired you to write this book?

John Adcox: That’s hard to answer. I’ve always had a fascination with mythology, and I love stories where myth bleeds out to enchant and maybe even heal our own more mundane world. I truly do believe that stories have the power to change and heal us. Sometimes, story might be the only thing that does. Not too long ago, I heard a pastor friend define religion as communal response to a story. Why not? After all, the language of God is parable and story. I think other people’s stories might have a power to reach us in a way that our own, more familiar ones can’t. And it’s telling, I think, that so many of our most sacred stories have echoes in cultures all around the world. The inspiration, I think, was to look at Christmas, and healing or rebirth, through a different cultural lens.

LRR: Tell about this story – what’s the elevator pitch?

JA: Katie Mason is an artist wounded in the soul after the end of a broken relationship. She’s fled all the way to Alaska to heal and to make art, but she hasn’t been able to do either. She’s cocooned herself, like the world in winter. But in the town of Aurora, Alaska, she meets a mysterious stranger who wakes her passions, and who has secrets. Soon she finds herself caught in an Inuit myth made real, and in a world where winter seems to last forever. If you’d like to know more, the opening chapters are online at http://ravenwakestheworld.com/.

 

What was your favorite scene to write in Raven Wakes the World? Where there any scenes that were unexpectedly difficult to write?

J.A.:Wow, that’s also really hard to answer! I think my favorite scene is the one where Katie first hears the story about how Raven stole the sun, the moon, and the stars and brought light to the dark world. It’s also the scene that inspired my favorite of the illustrations. The hardest to write, I think, was the end, when Katie faces her pain and starts to make hard choices. It’s always hard to write about pain and heartbreak. Sacrifice isn’t especially easy either, especially when it is for love.

LRR: I read on your blog that you and your wife have a family tradition of creating original Christmas stories. How did the tradition get started? Has it changed over the years? What are the elements that all Christmas stories must have, to be a good holiday story?

J.A.:My friend Carol Bales — she wasn’t my beloved wife yet; we weren’t even dating back then — and I had the idea to collaborate on a book to give our friends as a Christmas gift. I’d write a story and she’d draw the illustrations. We bound those first books by hand. People seemed to really like them. Raven Wakes the World was the first of them … although this version is extensively revised and expanded. Over the following years, we tried a number of different genres, including drama, an urban legend/ghost story, action/adventure, and even screwball romantic comedy. If there’s a connection between these books (aside from the fact that they take place in winter, which is absolutely my favorite season to write) it’s has to do with people who are somehow isolated and hurting, and who find their way back to home, family, community, and joy. Christmas is about birth and rebirth, and homecoming, and that seems almost universal in so many cultures. I think all of these stories have to do with people who are broken finding a way to be less broken, sometimes through a miracle. I’m not sure that’s true of all Christmas or holiday tales, but it’s certainly true of a lot of them, from A Christmas Carol to Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

John and Carol

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Autumn is nearly here!  I can tell, because the maple tree on my street has got a beautiful orange blush on its crown.  The tree goes from red-orange-gold on the top, to grass green on the bottom. and across the valley I can see oak trees starting to change color.

cooler weather means the season is upon us for chilis, stews, baked bread, baked potatoes. This is the beginning of the time of year when I want to have the oven on for hours on end, when I want soup stock simmering for hours on the stove.

And speaking of cooking,  this is the cutest damn book ever:

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher (a.k.a. Ursula Vernon) was easy to read, funny, adorable, and not too deep. I loved it so much I basically forced my husband to read it, and even he said it was adorable.  We both love Mona, I need a #TeamBob t-shirt.  I’ve also been convinced to never, ever make a sourdough starter.  but I am totally craving Pizza Hut style breadsticks, so there’s that.

 

Now that Ursula Vernon has me all super craving escapism, I finally (finally!) started reading Sheri S. Tepper’s The Family Tree, which came highly recommended by my friend Kristin.  Only a few chapters in, and yep, this is totally a Tepper book, but it’s also fantastic escapism and I already love all the characters I’ve met so far.

 

I’ve been on a biology kick lately,  thanks to the This Podcast will Kill You podcast.  Have I listened to an episode lately? Nope. Also haven’t listened to an episode of Lexicon Valley or Marketplace.  Those were “driving to work and stuck in the car for an hour” activities, and I’m working from home right now. Why I can’t just listen to podcasts at home is a whole ‘nother thing involving minimizing sensory input. so anyway, thanks to the Erin’s and my repressed obsession with “how things work”, I want to know how my insides work.  What is an enzyme and how does it work? what the hell is a sodium channel?  how does sensory input work?  why the hell does a papercut hurt so damn much, and what exactly is happening in there when my stomach rumbles?

A while back, I read Gut by Giulia Enders, and loved it, and that got me even more hooked on the gut-brain connection, that who we are and how we react to things is very related to what we’ve eaten, or not eaten.  Gut biome sounds super disgusting and totally awesome!  I’m full of little creatures that aren’t me, but they make me, well, me.  Thanks to Jeff Vandermeer, I’m all like “ooh, i’m colonized? that’s so cool!”.

 

anyway, picked up these two biology books the other day:

Haven’t had a ton of time to get into them, but the 10% Human one really has my attention.  Science is so cool!

 

I did a book cull abut a month ago, and have found yet more books that need to be re-homed. The friends-of-the-library isn’t currently taking donations.  I had a ton of fun mailing random books to random peeps when I did a giveaway on twitter, so if you’d like some random books in the mail, and you live in the US,  send me your mailing address,  my e-mail is redhead5318@gmail.com .

I’ll basically mail books until I run out of bubble envelopes.

And my Deep Space Nine watch-a-thon continues!  Such comfort TV!

 

I’m even having fun with the filler episodes. Because me, I’m reading way, way too much into the throw away scenes.  Who knew that Deep Space Nine was such a cornucopia of writing prompts, and so many filler scenes that actually have buckets of depth?

 

Here’s the next four episodes of Season 3. I didn’t think to snap some pictures while I was watching, so all photos were stolen of the Memory Alpha Wiki for Deep Space Nine.

 

Second Skin (S3 Ep5) – If you really love Nana Visitor, this is the episode for you!   Kira gets some confusing communications, someone wants to talk to her about a prison that she was never at, but the records clearly show she was there. How could she be at the prison, but also with her rebellion friends at the same time?   Kira gets kidnapped, and wakes up in a strange room, surrounded by Cardassians.

 

When she looks in the mirror, she sees an impossibility – that she now a Cardassian.  Is it a trick? A hallucination?  I’m sure her cosmetics are supposed to be the height of Cardassian fashion, but wow, not a good look. Her captors explain that she was a Cardassian special agent, who volunteered to undergo some kind of memory technobabble to infiltrate the Bajoran rebellion. And isn’t it wonderful, that they’ve retrieved her and brought her home? Her memories of her Cardassian life should resurface anytime now!  Kira has become something she abhors.  There are tons of psychological tricks played on Kira to get her to doubt that she is Bajoran.  This could be a Black Mirror episode?!

Kira and her “dad”

She’s is stuck in this Cardassian house, with her “dad”.  He tries to comfort her because that’s what dad’s do, but he also respects her enough to give her space and time, because that’s also what dad’s do.  It’s got to be weird for Kira, to have faith in the “the only good Cardassian is a dead Cardassian”, but then she meets this middle aged guy who is a dad. Who cares about his daughter.  This guy, who knows that his daughter doesn’t have to agree with him on everything, and that he loves her, so it doesn’t matter that they have disagreements. Basically, he’s the perfect dad. Kira’s got to reconcile the fact that Cardassians have fathers, and those fathers are sometimes okay people.    The whole big thing that’s going on?  Yeah, it’s not about Kira, it’s about the dad.  I feel so bad for dad!

 

And then . . .   Garak to the rescue!

 

The Abandoned (S3 Ep6) – 16 year old Jake is dating a 20 year old Dabo girl, and since Sisko isn’t sure how he feels about that, so he hosts the two lovebirds for dinner. It’s funny, me calling them “love birds”, because they never do anything more than hold hands and kiss with their noses (nose kisses are THE cutest).  Sisko can’t believe his son is growing up so quickly, he misses taking care of a child.

 

Meanwhile,  Quark purchased some salvage sight unseen.  The salvage is mostly junk, except for an incubator thing with a baby inside it!!  Uh, so it’s a good thing he bought this salvage, otherwise the baby might have died!

 

The humanoid baby goes to sickbay, where no one can figure out it’s race or planet or origin. The child very, very quickly grows into an adolescent, and my first thought was “hey, when this kid grows into a teenager next week, he can be a new friend for Jake!”.   Well, he does grow into a teenager a few days later, and now it’s obvious where he’s from – this is a young Gem Hadar, the Gamma Quandrant soldiers of the Dominion! And now he’s loose on the station! And oh by the way, the Gem Hadar are enslaved by the Dominion through a genetic modification causing an addiction to a enzyme only the Dominion can supply. The Dominion created biological slaves who could never rebel.

this kid has some hella awesome hair!

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I met author Tom Doyle years ago at a science fiction convention, and I was lucky enough to stay in touch with him afterwards.   He’s the author of the American Craftsman trilogy, and his short fiction and non-fiction essays have appeared in Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, Perihelion, Paradox Magazine, Kasma SF Magazine, and elsewhere.

 

Many years ago, when Doyle was at Clarion, he wrote a short story which was later sold to Strange Horizons.  And now, he’s expanded that short story into a full length novel!  You can learn more about Tom Doyle and his work at his website TomDoyleAuthor.com or by following him on twitter or facebook.

 

Doyle’s newest full length novel, Border Crosser, (Amazon link) available Oct 1 tells the story of Eris, who is smart, sexy, and can’t remember her loyalties. She has a type of purposeful amnesia – because she can not remember her loyalties, nothing shows up on the “emotional scanners”, allowing her to infiltrate anywhere she needs to go, or chooses to go. Able to trick the scanners, she’s the perfect undercover secret agent.

 

Eris’s employers are quite sure that her emotional  amnesia means she won’t survive long enough to learn about her past.  Maybe they shouldn’t underestimate her!

Doyle let me pick his brain about how emotional amnesia could benefit someone, how Eris handles her mental health condition, his favorite scenes to write in Border Crosser, his writing process, his band, and more!

Little Red Reviewer: Congrats on your new novel, Border Crosser! Is this novel connected to your short story “Crossing Borders” which was published at Strange Horizons?

Tom Doyle: Thanks! Yes, “Crossing Borders,” my science fiction tale of Eris, a border personality secret agent causing interstellar chaos in the far-future, was the kernel for this novel. That story was my first pro sale. I wrote the story during the emotionally most intense part of the Clarion Workshop, and I think it shows.

LRR: When I read the description for the book, I was intrigued by Eris’s “emotional amnesia”, and how her memory issues allow her to get past emotional scanners. Scanners at the border that detect your long-term intentions? That’s wild! I’ve got to know more about how these scanners work, how to get around them, and how you came up with this idea!

TD: The idea for border scanners emerged from choosing to write about a borderline personality character. Emotional amnesia is a common aspect of borderline personality disorder (BPD). This means that someone has difficulty remembering how they felt before about events, things, and people. Eris’s emotional amnesia has been amplified by her secret employers, who want her loyalties to be extremely flexible.

In the original short story, I didn’t give Eris a particular skill set that fully explained the label “border crosser” – it was more a statement about personality type. But the novel required something more. So I thought more about situations in which emotional amnesia could be an advantage and came up with the border scanner.

The border scanner is a minimally intrusive look at intentions (this future has good reasons to fear anything more intrusive). Such scans are standard when crossing one of the many far-future borders; for example, boarding a starship or landing on another inhabited world. It’s the equivalent of our airport security or passport control and customs.

The person administering the scan asks some standard questions, like “Do you intend any harm toward me, the government, the planet, etc.?” A person without Eris’s version of emotional amnesia would be caught by the mental scanner. But Eris’s mind has been conditioned to idle in an emotionally neutral setting during such scans. At those moments, she doesn’t intend harm, though she may want to get closer to certain people.

LRR: Tell us some interesting things about Eris. What makes her a compelling character?

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You know how you read a short story, like it but maybe don’t entirely get it, and then years later that story pops back into your head and everything about it hits you like a ton of bricks?

 

Or, you read a story and then forget the details.  And then years later, something happens, and you’re reminded of that story, but you can only remember bits and pieces, and you’re not even sure if you are remembering it correctly?

 

What I could remember, was that the woman in the story likes living by herself. She liked cooking. She’s not good with people. She’d left her old life, the one where she felt she didn’t fit in, for a few life where things (to her) felt balanced, where she understands the rules and things make more sense. Where there were no people. Except people keep trying to rescue her? This weird, creepy (maybe imaginary?) guy protects her.  He can’t possibly be imaginary!

 

I think I was supposed to be scared of the creepy guy with the filthy hat? I wasn’t.  He took care of the woman, he didn’t try to make her change, so he was “good peeps” in my book.

 

I remembered the story being fairly ambiguous. There were practically no details on the page, as if the characters knew that saying something would make it true, so they just don’t say certain things. And I like ambiguous stories. I don’t need all my questions answered, I prefer questions to stay unanswered, so that I can chew on them, well, forever.  I remembered feeling like I could relate to the woman, to the fact that she was OK with her quiet life.

 

Thanks to Lesley Conner’s help, the story that’s been rattling around my brain non-stop for about five months now is “She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow”, by Sam Fleming. It ran in Apex Magazine in December of 2015.  Go read it.

 

Rereading it, the woman on the island’s name is Chancery.  Hedron, the creepy guy in the dirty hat, is most definitely not “good peeps”, but I’m still not afraid of him.  Chancery lives a quiet life, she can hear herself think. She can put her coping mechanisms in a jar and put the jar on the shelf, because she finally lives somewhere where she doesn’t need her coping mechanisms.  I was a little jealous, that she no longer needed her coping mechanisms, she seems to be living an introvert’s best life.

 

I still love how hazy the story is, like the entire thing happens within a fog bank. Is Chance starving to death? Is she eating a few thousand calories a day? Can both of those statements be true? Is one of her coping mechanisms avoiding the truth about what’s going on?

 

Sometimes you have to sit with a story for a while, for you to understand why it clicks so much with you.  I had to soak this one up for five years.

 

Rereading the story, the thing that pisses me off most is how Kay treats Chancery. How could she?

 

I’m still not afraid of Hedron. But I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be.  I guess if Chance isn’t afraid of him, then I won’t be. I trust her judgement.  LOL, maybe I’m a little like Chance’s dog?

 

I like that this story has been rattling around my head for 5 years. It’s a little strange, but not surprising to me, how much I can relate to Chance. I’m happy she’s found a place to live where she doesn’t need her coping mechanisms anymore.

 

Anyway, go read the story, let me know what you think of it.

 

And you can also read my interview with the author.  I didn’t understand the significance at the time, but in the interview, when Sam Fleming says “what if there weren’t?”, that line has stuck with me, all these years.

 

Dear Sam Fleming:  Thank you for writing this story.  It is what Introvert-me needed to read, and reread, and reread.  Letting this story rattle around in my head, has been good for me.

 

I think telecommuting has also been good for me.  It’s been nice to not be five seconds away from sensory overload all the time.

I had plans to talk about more Vandana Singh short stories, I swear.  There’s also a Sam Fleming short story that I really need to blog my way through my feelings about.

 

But? DVDs.

 

One of my BFFs lent me all of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 on DVD, and I can’t not watch it. First of all, this is the perfect comfort TV to watch during *gestures at everything* and second off all, I’m pretty sure I never saw the end of this series, and third of all, Avery Brooks is freaking amazing.   The last few seasons ran from 1997 – 1999, and those were my first years in college, which mean: School, really good libraries, jobs with weird hours, college parties, and worst of all, for the first time in years I had access to cable TV.   why watch DS9 when I could watch MTV?  Also, pretty sure I was too broke in 1999 to even own a TV. So yep, pretty sure I never saw the last seasons.

 

I wasn’t sure where to start, in this cornucopia of ALL THE SEASONS, so I started at season three.  There’s 4 episodes to a disc, so yep, I’mma blog about the first four episodes of season three.  And who knows? Maybe this is the start of a series of blog posts about Way. Too. Much. Deep Space. Nine.

 

You’re welcome.

 

And no, I don’t feel bad about spoiling a show that ran on TV 20 years ago.  Stuff I say in these blog posts? I might be remembering stuff not-exactly from the episode. oops.

 

And as per my usual, it’s the throw away lines that make the biggest impression on me. And a few other things that made me chuckle.

 

The first two episodes of season three are a two parter, “The Search Part I”, and “The Search, Part II”.  There is an obvious threat on the other side of the wormhole, the Dominion.  It’s decided that the best way to avoid all out war with The Dominion is to locate the founders of that civilization, and convince them that The Federation isn’t a threat. We’re friendly! We like to trade! We just want to be friends! We come in peace!

 

At the opening of the episode, Sisko introduces around a new Federation security officer, to the bristleling of Odo. He feels he’s being pushed out, fired, betrayed, and he is mad AF. That isn’t exactly what’s happening? But? The Federation likes team players, they like people who “think like them”, and well, Odo isn’t, and doesn’t. It’s a very subtle “fit in or fuck off”. And boy is Odo pissed off!!  I’m on his side here, especially when the new Federation security officer starts flirting with Odo’s BFF Kira.  You know, it’s not like Odo had much of a choice. The Federation showed up, took over his space station, offered him a job one day, and he said “ok”. Sisko treats Odo with respect, but the rest of the Federation doesn’t. Those jerks.

 

Because Quark has previously done some profitable trade with a few Gamma Quandrant families, he’s brought along on the Gamma Quandrant “Find the Founders!” mission as a sort-of-trade-negotiator.  So, it’s Sisko, Dax, Odo, Kira, Quark, and maybe Bashir goes too? I don’t remember, it’s been a few days since I watched the episodes.   It’s sort of “who cares” who goes on the away mission, because apparently everything in the Gamma Quandrant is only 3 hours away from the wormhole, and the really important thing is that Odo feels drawn towards a certain nebula.

 

Odo ends up stealing a shuttle (dude. That “not a team player thing”? You just proved the Federation’s point!), and he and Kira explore the nebula and find a rogue planet, and land the shuttle.  Of course they can breathe the air on some rando planet! Where do you think this is, southern California?    They are able to land on the planet, and come across an ocean of . . .  goo?

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Someone on twitter (thank you, whoever you were!)  recommended Vandana Singh’s short story “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination”, and offered a link to the story on Tor.com.  I gave it a whirl, and was immediately hooked. In reminded me of Ken Liu’s short story “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”, and I recognized my favorite method of story telling, which at first glance can seem to be stories that dance around a plot and characters while resolutely refusing to be trapped by said plot. And yet, so much is communicated about what is happening and sometimes why those thing happen, and what those things mean to the people they are happening to.

 

I guess it’s more like a fantastical story telling version of future archaeology?

 

Let me unpack that a little.

 

In Liu’s short story, there is no plot, there is no characters, there is no conflict. If you’re zipping through the story, you won’t recognize the beginning, middle, or end, but if you read a little closer, it’s all there. It’s just a story that gives a few paragraphs about a bunch of space-faring alien civilizations, and how they make books – how they ensure others can access their stories and their thoughts.  Within the story, there are no human interactions with the aliens, no earthly judgements of  their societies. It is as if to put a human character in would a barrier between the reader and the records of these cultures.    Singh’s “Ambiguity Machine’s” felt like that too – no barrier between the records of events and the reader, no “main character” to pass judgement or offer opinions,  just records of what had happened, along with a request that someone interpret the records.

 

For my brain, these two stories, read 8 years apart from each other, were like hearing two pieces of music that were different, but seemed to be talking to each other, even though they had never met. (yes, I know I’m weird) (and i don’t know, maybe Signh and Lui are good friends? I have no idea)

 

Suffice to say, after reading Signh’s story,  I immediately ordered a paperback copy of her collection, Ambiguity Machines and Other Select Stories. And when the book arrived, the first words out of my mouth were “oh, shit”.

 

 

You see, I like to read before bed.  Usually, i’m already half asleep when I crawl into bed, so I’m looking to read something that if I find myself reading the same paragraph 5 times, or fall asleep halfway through, it won’t matter too much.   A short-ish story, something 5-10 pages, out of an anthology or collection is perfect for this.

 

None of the stories in the Singh collection were short, and none of them looked like “easy reads”. As I got further into the collection I realized these were not stories to drift away to, while falling asleep at night, these were stories to read in the morning, with strong coffee, and to spend the day absorbing and thinking about them, so as to then dream about them at night.

 

Everything I have read so far in this collection has been heart achingly beautiful,  each story requiring me some time afterwards to come back to myself. These stories are vistas.

 

(I feel really bad for whatever I read next. No matter how good it is, I fear it will be mediocre in comparison to this collection)

 

I’m going to tell you about “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination”, and about “Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra”,  even though I have more favorites.  Those others will have to wait for another blog post, I supposed.   “Ambiguity Machines” had me globetrotting via googlemaps, and “Somadeva” had me falling down the world’s best internet rabbit hole.

 

Ambiguity Machines was original published at tor.com in 2015, here’s the link:

https://www.tor.com/2015/04/29/ambiguity-machines-an-examination-vandana-singh/

Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra was originally published in 2010 at Strange Horizons, here’s the link:

http://strangehorizons.com/fiction/somadeva-a-sky-river-sutra/

 

warning, if I interpreted something correctly, there are major spoilers ahead for “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination”, and I guess maybe spoilers also for Somadeva? so hey, click on those links and enjoy some gorgeous fiction before reading the rest of this blog post.  😉

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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.