the Little Red Reviewer

It’s been a good week for reading!  A little too good, actually, as I keep wanting to start new books even though I’m enjoying what I’m currently reading.

I finished Pilot X by Tom Merritt, and need to write a review of it.  If you like Doctor Who, you’ll like Pilot X.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been on and off reading The Physician, by Noah Gordon, and can you believe I’m reading a book that is not a scifi or fantasy book!!  Straight up historical fiction, it’s like an Edward Rutherford only way more focused and far more enjoyable to read.  My mom lent me the paperback, and it sat unread until I saw the movie version on Netflix. The movie of The Physician is very good, and they completely smashed up the plot and characters to jam what is a ten year story into a 3 hour movie.  Also? the movie got me interested in reading the book, so mission accomplished. I’m about halfway through the book, and while I am enjoying myself and the book is very readable, I am losing steam.

Peter Watts’ Blindsight is one of my favorite hard scifi novels, and I’ve had a copy of Echopraxia for at least 2 years and I haven’t picked it up until now. What is wrong with me?  Anyways, Echopraxia is a sort of companion novel to Blindsight. Same universe, same time period, but one is not the sequel or prequel of the other.  Now that I’m about 2/3 of the way through Echopraxia,  wow the paranoia and visceral terror is just ramped all the way up!! If like me, you are still trying to get the terrible taste of the movie Prometheus out of your mouth, read some Watts.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, this unassuming volume came into the house by way of loan:

A Requiem for Astounding is part history of the magazine, part love letter to the golden age, and part pure nostalgia.  I come across all these “classic” short stories all over the place, in raggedy “best of” volumes, as reprints, but I have no context for any of it. Here’s hoping this book of essays will give me some much needed context.  I enjoy non-fiction scifi related stuff like this, these older ones are getting near impossible to find!

 

And in the department of new ARCs that have arrived, we have these:

Emerald Circus is a collection of re-imagined fairy tales and includes Yolen’s famous short story “Sister Emily’s Lightship”.  I’m excited for this one, and as it is all short stories that means I can read it a little at a time and not be asking myself “who are these characters again? What were these people doing?”

Like Yolen, Ann Leckie needs no introduction.  Provenance is Leckie’s new novel, out in September. I was not a fan of her famous awards sweeping Ancillary trilogy, but I like what she says on twitter, I respect her editing philosophy, and I’m interested to try Provenance, if only to see how much range her writing has.

Unbreakable by Will McIntosh

published June 27th, 2017

where I got it: received ARC from the author

.

.

.

.

.

Celia makes it look easy, but she’s been training so long to break records that to her, all the training has begun to feel hum-drum.  She figured out the trick to conditioning her body years ago: all she has to do is suffer, and the hardest part of breaking a record is the unceasing boredom. Most minutes holding your breath under water, longest time being buried alive, most number of hours spent without sleeping, she’s done it all and she knows it’s 99% sitting around waiting.

 

She’s lived in Record City for as long as she can remember, and for nearly as long she’s lived with her adoptive parents and a few house mates. They eat together, train together, cheer each other on, and help each other recover. When the team breaks a challenging record, it’s cash rewards all around and better housing.  Losing out to another team means having to move to a dingier apartment with fewer windows.  It might sound weird to you and I, but to Celia this is what family and love and friendship means.  When you’re surrounded by people who live their lives the same way you do, there isn’t anything to tell you that this is all very weird.

 

Part Hunger Games, part Lost, and part other things I can’t mention because I don’t want to wreck the twist, Will McIntosh’s new novel Unbreakable will grab you by the neck and won’t let go. Longer than a novella, but shorter than a novel, McIntosh self published this very strange, ultra fast-paced, narrowly focused, and addictively readable novel.  It is currently available as an e-book or paperback on Amazon.

 

As a friend lies dying, Celia escapes Record City on a quest to find a life saving medicine she’s heard about on television. And what she finds are . . .  more walled cities full of single minded citizens who shush her every time she tries to ask questions.  Even in Record City, the rule was “follow the rules sand shut up”, and the TV and movie characters who inspire Celia to  be curious about the world were bound to get her into trouble eventually.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

published in 1969

where I got it: purchased new

,

,

,

,

.

.

.

I was intimidated to read this book. I doubted my ability to “get it”. What if I read and said “ok, that’s nice”? What if I didn’t understand the author’s intent? Endless doubts and what if’s. At my local book club a few months ago, instead of having us all read the same book, the club organizer put a stack of Hugo winners on the table and told us all to pick one.  I grabbed The Left Hand of Darkness off the table.  Doubt can go screw itself.

 

The big idea in The Left Hand of Darkness is how would culture and society be different if there was no gender? Unique among the planets that support human life, the people of Gethen have no fixed gender – they are neither male nor female, and have the ability to both father a child and give birth to a child. These people have never heard the phrase “traditional gender roles” and sexism and gender bias don’t exist in their culture. In their language, the pronouns “he” and “his”, simply mean “person”, and titles and offices that sound male to our ears are inclusive. This book is full of “he” and “his”, but there is only one male character in this book.

 

Genly Ai, Envoy of the Ekumen, has travelled to Gethen to invite the planet to become a part of the Ekumen, which is an interstellar trade federation of sorts.  He has now been residing in the kingdom of Karhide for over a year, and he will stay until the planetary leaders voice their wish to join the Ekumen, or until they tell him to go away (them killing him might also happen). Genly is in some ways incredibly patient, but in other ways impatient.  Not only does he not in anyway understand the local politics, but he also struggles with the idea that his hosts are not men and not women, but potentially either, and always showing traits of both femininity and masculinity, often at the same time.  In return, they view him as a sexual deviant, a genetic freak.

 

Gethen isn’t just a planet of no fixed gender, it’s also a planet that is actively trying to kill you.  Nicknamed “Winter”,  this is a place of never ending ice and snow, with a narrow band near the equator that can support life. No large mammals, no birds, no apex predators.  LeGuin does magic with how the planet shapes the society and culture of the Gethenians – no birds to be curious about means no interest in airplanes,  no large animals to eat means many meals and snacks during the day and strict rules of socializing that revolve around eating. On a planet where frostbite can kill, hospitality towards the stranger is the norm. On a planet where the populace appears to have no fear or distrust of the “other”, there are plenty of arguments, but there has never been an all out war between Karhide and their bureaucratic neighboring country Orgoreyn. Sprinkled through the novel are interim short chapters that include both local folklore and  helpful commentary from anthropologists who visited before Genly.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mightier Than the Sword, by K.J. Parker

published June 30, 2017

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Subterranean Press!)

 

.

.

.

.

.

 

 

Recently out from Subterranean Press is K.J. Parker’s newest stand alone novella, Mightier than the Sword.  Parker fans will delight in the dry humor, banter, and plot twists of this fast paced story, while readers new to the Parker style may be left scratching their heads a bit yet at the same time itching to read the book again.  At 130 pages and mostly action and dialog, this novella can easily and happily be devoured in an afternoon.

 

Presented as a translation of a historical document from a nation that never existed, the environments presented here could be ancient Rome, could be early Britain, could be anywhere in between. The story may be fast paced, but it takes place  in a time when communication was as fast as the horse under the messenger and a two week journey in a wagon barely got you across the country.

 

Our unnamed narrator, the nephew of the Empress, is given a mission to discover just what the hell has been happening to the monasteries at the border of the country. Harried by pirates, burnt by raiders, no survivors, and hardly anything of worth has been stolen.  Is the empress trying to get one more heir killed? Is she trying to get him out of the capitol for some reason?  But off he goes on his errand, but not before proposing marriage to the woman he loves, after purchasing a house for them to live in and a doctor to save her life.

 

His rounds to the monasteries is also a convenient excuse to visit relatives he hasn’t seen since childhood.  Nobles who piss off the royal court can’t exactly be banished or excommunicated, so monasteries seem as good a prison for them as any other place – it’s cold,  boring, and out of the way. The abbots and abbesses tell our narrator who they think he can trust (no one), and what they think they know about who the raiders might be. Our narrator, wisely, pays close attention to what everyone says and  stays quiet about the knowledge he collects.  He has money to buy whatever he needs along the way, but more often than not, knowledge is of far greater value than coin.

Read the rest of this entry »

June, where did you go? Last I checked it was June 2nd, how is it already July??   I didn’t post many reviews in June, but I did get a lot of reading done.  Some of these I’ll write reviews for, some of them will get a capsule review in this post.  Here’s what I was up to this month:

 

I finished this fun little gem:

Spock Must Die is the famous novel where thanks to a transporter malfunction, the Enterprise now has two Spocks. Which one is the “real” one? What will they do with the other one? When war breaks out at the Klingon border, the importance of solving the mystery ratchets up. Even when Kirk is sure which Spock is the true, original Spock, he insists on calling his friend “Spock Two”. When questioned why, Kirk responds that by saying “two” every time he says his friend’s name, it forces him to remember how important it is to solve the problem at hand.  Fun little book, right around 200 pages.  Great beginning, satisfying end, a little slow in the middle.

 

then there was this other little gem:

Mightier than the Sword is the new novella out from K.J. Parker.  I’m not going to say much because I do plan to write a review, but it was fun, smart, snarky, and a joy to read. I’ve read it at least twice now, maybe three times?  I read these quick little novellas, and then I get ready to write a review, realize I don’t remember the details, so I read the whole thing again.  If you like Parker, you will love Mightier than the Sword.

Read the rest of this entry »

Masks and Shadows, by Stephanie Burgis

published April 2016

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher

 

.

.

.

.

.

I’ve been reading a lot of “thinky” books lately,  books that whether or not they were meant to drill into my brain and set the neurons a light all over the place, that is exactly what they did.   I was looking for something lighter, an easy read.

 

Stephanie Burgis’s Masks and Shadows has been sitting in my ARC pile for over a year. It received a lot of attention when it came out last year, and garnered many positive reviews. The cover art is super pretty!  The concept of the book sounds right up my alley – historical fiction with lots of romance, intrigue, and magic! But it never quite got my attention enough to pick it up.  I like political intrigue, and I usually enjoy historical fiction / historical fantasy.  I’ve been known to enjoy stories with some romantic subplots. And I was in the market for a lighter read. So I picked it up. If the author’s name rings a bell, it’s because she is famous for the mid-grade fantasy series Kat, Incorrigible.

 

The year is 1779, the location is the opulent Esterhaza Palace in Hungary. As you do when you’re a royal who just built your own version of Versailles, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy hosts nobles and royals for months at a time, including a famous castrato singer, Carlo Morelli.  The Prince’s mistress, Sophia, has invited her recently widowed sister Charlotte von Steinbeck to stay at the palace as well.  In the first handful of chapters, we are very quickly introduced to a very large cast of characters – Charlotte and her spoiled sister Sophie; Charlotte’s young and naive maid Anna; Carlo Morelli the famous singer;  Herr Hadyn the famous composer;  Franz,  a singer in the Prince’s opera troupe; the rest of the singers in the troupe, van Born the alchemist;  Mr. Guersney, who claims to be an English writer; and Friedrich von Hollner, Sophie’s long suffering husband.  It was a lot to keep track of, to the point of distraction.

 

The plot settles into and handful of intertwined plots including the widowed Charlotte and Carlo having immediate romantic chemistry between each other,  Franz and Friedrich getting involved in some kind of mysterious political maneuvering, Sophie being needy and petty to the point of ridiculousness, Charlotte’s maid Anna becoming a singer with the Prince’s opera company,  demonstrations of the paranormal at the palace, and Morelli’s inward depression and being a plaything of the nobles.

Read the rest of this entry »

Penric and the Shaman (Penric and Desdemona #2) by Lois McMaster Bujold

published: Feb 2017

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks Subterranean Press!)

.

.

.

.

Four years after the events of Penric’s Demon, Pen has settled into an insulated life in Martensbridge.  He’s grown in his maturity, and his relationship with Desdemona has somewhat settled down.  They’ve gotten used to each other, and settled into how their life together will function on a day to day basis. While Pen’s passion project is copying Learned Ruchia’s volumes on sorcery and magic so that it can be distributed to the other Temples, there is still plenty about magic and demons that he, and even Desdemona, don’t know.  There’s the magic that is taught in the schools and temples, magic education and knowledge that can be controlled.  And then there’s the hedge magic, magic learned by accident and never written down only passed around orally. There’s this neat undercurrent in these novellas about official scholars who want only the magic they teach (and control) to be seen as “good” magic, and anything outside these scholarly and proscribed is considered dangerous to the safety of all.

 

If while reading Penric’s Demon, you had hoped for more explanation about how the magic system worked, and what exactly demons are, you’ll be pleased to know that there is a fascinating conversation near the beginning of Penric and the Shaman where Pen takes the opportunity to explain the difference (now that he understands it himself!) between magic that descends from gods and demons and hedge shamanic magic, which is believed to be taken up from the earth and mortal animals. Penric’s Demon is the shortest and most focused of the novellas in this series, and I appreciate that Bujold waited until a little later in the series to explain how everything works, rather than bog down the opening novella with it.

 

The Princess-Archdivine tasks Pen with travelling with Locator Oswyl to assist him with investigating a Shamanic murder. A less skilled writer could easily have taken this story down the road of standard police procedural starring two unlikely partners. Luckily, it was written by Bujold, so while yes, there is an investigation of sorts, and yes, Pen an Oswyl are absolute opposites and aren’t sure what to make of each other, there is nothing standard about this story and it doesn’t feel like a procedural.   It feels more a ghost story, and a story about knowing how and when to let go, actually.

Read the rest of this entry »

Follow me on Twitter!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,902 other followers

Follow the Little Red Reviewer on WordPress.com

Archives

Categories

FTC Stuff

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.