the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘aliens

What if I told you that Game of Thrones was Martin’s weakest work?

First, you’d punch me.

Then, as I was getting up off the floor, you’d say “wait, he wrote something else?”

Yes! Many something else’s! Lots of really good something else’s! Lots of excellent horror and science fiction!

If you enjoyed Game of Thrones even the tiniest bit, do yourself a favor and find some of Martin’s non-fantasy short stories. “A Song for Lya” will make you weep. “Fever Dream” will make you enjoy vampire fiction again. “The Pear Shaped Man” is creepy AF. I never get sick of rereading “Nightflyers”. And “Sandkings” is enjoyable as hell. And that’s about one millionth of all the great stuff he’s written.

“Sandkings”, published in Omni magazine in 1979, barely counts as Vintage Science Fiction (at least how I arbitrarily reckon). This story won the Hugo and the Nebula. Unless you are willing to dig through dusty back corners of used bookstores, your best bet for reading “Sandkings” is to buy a digital copy, or get your hands on either Martin’s Dreamsongs volumes or the Vandermeer edited Big Book of Science Fiction. Dreamsongs and Big Book go for about $30 a piece, and in my opinion are a steal at any price.

Spoilers ahead.

So what is “Sandkings” about? It’s about how easy it is to think that something small must be stupid. How easy it is to think that something that communicates differently, that thinks differently, that grows differently, must be dumb. And making dumb animals do silly things for our entertainment is fun, right?

I love how this story plays with foreshadowing, and how Jala Wo plays Kress like a violin. She knows when she has him, and she strings him along, and it is horrible and wonderful and I don’t feel bad at all that Kress gets exactly what he deserves. Remember the movie Gremlins? That’s the rated G, very kindergarten version of “Sandkings”.

Simon Kress likes to have exotic pets. He craves being able to brag that he has something that no one else has. He’d never heard of Wo and Shade’s shop until that day, but isn’t that where one buys the oddest things, at store’s no one has ever heard of?

 

Wo sells him some tiny sandkings, along with the required giant aquarium, and the instructions to keep them fed, and treat them kindly. The tiny sandkings, about the size of beetles, have a hive mind and a bit of telepathy. Treat them right and they will see you as their god.

Of course Kress can’t resist!

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Also, Welcome to the year 2020!

I hope everyone had a joyful holiday season and a wonderful New Years.  I hope 2020 is a wonderful year for all of us.

Anyway, my first Vintage blog post is about Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris!  and I’m posting about the book before I’ve finished it!   I’ve found that is a fun thing to do – do a blog post when I’m about halfway through a book,  and then post again when I’ve finished it, to laugh at my guesses and assumptions.

 

I was reluctant to read Solaris. I think I might have tried to read this when I was in my 20s, and didn’t like it?  I remember being bored to tears when I saw the George Clooney movie. Well, the stars must be aligned, because I am enjoying Solaris so much that not only have I underlined parts of the book that speak to me, but the book is already littered with hand written notes that I’ve stuck inside the pages.   Lem wrote a lot of satires, and I can’t tell if this is a satire or not.  The wikipedia page is horribly short.

 

Some out of context bits that I underlined:

 

“We don’t want to conquer the cosmos, we simply want to extend the boundaries of Earth to the frontiers of the cosmos. . .  .  We are only seeking Man.  We have no need of other worlds, we need mirrors.”

 

“It has been described as a symphony in geometry, but we lack the ears to hear it”.

 

Included in my scribbled  notes are:

 

If you Visitor can’t bear to be far away from you, what happens to your Visitor when you die?   And where is Snow’s Visitor?  What happens when you leave the station?  If you have bad thoughts about the person, does your Visitor become violent? Could your Visitor kill you?

 

regarding the observations of the ocean’s creativity – it’s like it is drawing something, writing something, sculpting something, then thinking to itself “well, that’s crap”, and crumpling up the piece of paper and throwing it away, and then trying again a few days later. Is this a slow-mo version of when you get an amazing thought in your head, and when you try to verbalize it, suddenly the thought is gone?

 

 

What is Solaris about?  the plain and oversimplified answer is that Solaris is about scientific failure. It is about that sometimes humans just have to understand that we will never understand something, and that the something we are trying to understand, it will never understand us.  If you don’t mind spoilers, there is an excellent write up about it at Tor.com, if you’re interested, and here is a neat article about how the novel has an ecological protagonist.

 

I’ll post more thoughts when I’ve finished the book and had some time to think about it.

 

In the meantime,  Have you ever read Solaris?  Have you ever read anything by Stanislaw Lem?  What are your thoughts on stories where people simple can not understand, comprehend, or communicate with whatever we are trying to communicate with? How should a character define if they have “succeeded” or not?

 

of equal importance, did you ever see one of the movie versions of Solaris? What did you think?   This doesn’t seem like the kind of story that would translate well to TV or movies.

 

 

Stay tuned for more thoughts on Solaris!

 

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.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

published in 2018

where I got it: purchased used

 

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Occasionally, people ask me for book recommendations.  I try to recommend something the person will like, so if they ask me to recommend something poetic, something beautifully written, something strange but glorious that gets better every time I read it, without pause I will recommend Catherynne Valente’s The Habitation of the Blessed.  I will talk your ear off about this book, and it’s sequel, and the tragedy that the publisher is no longer in business so the books are no longer in print, and yadda yadda.

 

If I could only read one book for the rest of my life, I would choose The Habitation of the Blessed.

 

Knowing that, doesn’t make writing this review any easier.

 

Artists are gonna art, people should write the book they want to read, the world needs something happy right now. Space Opera is up for a number of awards, I hope it wins some of them, for sheer uniqueness, weirdness, and unapologetic over-the-top audaciousness.

 

Your mileage may vary. Remember this post?  I was 50 pages into Space Opera when I wrote it.

 

The concept behind Space Opera is, simply,  Eurovision Song Contest, in SPAAAAAACE!!!!! All the sentient races in the galaxy participate, and every so often an upstart race is invited to participate. If said upstart race wins (or at least places decently), they are welcomed into the galactic community. If they lose, they are deemed non-sentient / a danger to the galaxy, and summarily annihilated.  This “win or die” premise is presented in rather a Douglas Adams fashion, so all feels like fun and games. But the big question remains: Does Humanity Deserve to Survive?

 

Representatives are sent to Earth to find humanity’s best musicians. They were hoping for Yoko Ono.  Instead, they got Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes.

 

If you like over the top humor, if you like a narrative style that blows you off the page, if you’re looking for something really different, if you like wacky aliens and over the top descriptions, and a heartwarming ending, this book is for you!

 

I’m a buzzkill.  I’m a killjoy. I hit sensory overload around the time most people get out of bed in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, i get a kick out of short term sensory overload. In  the right circumstances, I quite enjoy it.  But long term sensory overload? something that puts me into overload too quickly?  It’s, um, not good.

 

I DNF’d this book, twice.

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Hello friends!  Yesterday the “Esen the Web Shifter” party began with Who and What Esen Is,  the Big Idea behind her, how much fun Julie Czerneda had with writing the Web Shifter trilogy (and oh yeah, a big huge give away for the entire trilogy!), and more!

Today, I can finally talk about the gorgeous new cover art for Julie Czerneda’s newest Esen e-novella The Only Thing to Fear, and her forthcoming hardback Web Shifter novel that begins a new series, Search Image!  I’m too excited to talk straight, so I’m just going to let Julie Czerneda take over and talk about the most Esen cover art ever, Phil the bust,  nervous diplomats, and most exciting of all, a brand new Esen novel that starts a brand new series!   oh, there’s another give away too!!

 

Esen’s Here!

By Julie Czerneda

 

Cover Art by Matthew Stawicki, novella release date: Sept 4th

Esen has been featured on every cover, but until now, not as herself. Behold Esen-alit-Quar the Web-being in all her blue blobness, courtesy the talents of Matthew Stawicki!

My information for Matt was, to be honest, sparse. A blue teardrop. Not anthropomorphic. No cheerful chubby belly. No arms, face, toes, nose . . . he did it! Esen’s perfect. I love this cover. I love how she’s there, taking it all in — in this form, her senses aren’t ours. They are potent. You’ll see.

What’s inside The Only Thing to Fear? A special e-novella from DAW Books that resumes Esen’s adventures shortly after the end of Hidden in Sight. (You really should read that one, if you want to get the whole OOMPH, plus meet Busfish—and Changing Vision, because there are Ganthor in an art gallery. I can’t help myself, I love them all and want you to as well.)

In this e-novella, you meet a new character, Evan Gooseberry, diplomat-in-training. Evan’s working through his fear of almost everything, determined to make the universe a better place, but why do aliens have to have SPIDERLEGS? Poor Evan faces a crisis in his first posting and only Esen-alit-Quar can help save the day. During street theatre and glittersweat.

But wait . . . there’s more!

I’m delighted to share with you the spectacular cover for Esen’s new novel, new series, and first hardcover! Toss the Glitter!

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Noumenon by Marina J. Lostetter

Published Aug 1 2017

where I got it: purchased new

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Stories about generation ships are nothing new, we tend to see a good crop of them every year. The novel might focus on the disenchanted middle generation that didn’t leave Earth, and won’t see their destination, or perhaps deal with a mutiny, or a malfunction on the ship, or the fact that their destination planet can’t support human life.  What I’m saying is that for the most part, many of us have seen this story before.

 

In Noumenon, Marina J. Lostetter goes in a somewhat different direction, and succeeds through the magic of ultra-fast pacing. It sounds counterintuitive, right? Speed up the pace of a story, to tell the story better? In Noumenon it works, and creates a unique situation for what might have otherwise been a forgettable novel.

 

The first few chapters race by – an interstellar mission is funded, a subdimension drive is invented and tested and engines are built, an AI is designed around a common personal assistant program. In these early chapters you’ll find yourself turning the pages faster than you realize. The prose is easy on the eyes, the characters are easy to get along with, we see everyone at their best, and we’re science fiction fans so of course we’re cheering for an interstellar mission!  And before you know it, we’re in spaaaaaace!

 

A few decades later, the implications of the twist start to hit.  These aren’t just any regular people on a colony ship.  Don’t think I’m spoiling things, because this is the least of the spoilers – the ship is crewed by genetic clones of the people who were chosen to go.  When those clones age and “retire”, new clones will be born.  If “Bob” is a biologist (making that up as an example) then every Bob who is every born on the ship will always grow up to be a biologist.  The colony ship will always have just as many pilots, communications experts, doctors, teachers,  sanitation workers, and scientists as it needs.  Only one “Bob” is ever alive at a time, but there’s usually always a Bob walking around somewhere.  Pretty interesting idea!

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The Gate to Futures Past (Reunification #2) by Julie Czerneda

published in Sept 2016

where I got it: rec’d review copy from the publisher (Thanks DAW!)

 

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The Gate to Futures Past is a tricky book to review, because not only is this the middle book of the Reunification trilogy, it is the penultimate book in Czerneda’s long running Clan Chronicles series. I actually read this book last summer when it came out, but I didn’t have time to review it. What better time for a review, than when the next book is about to come out? I also have the benefit of having already read the final book in the series, so I am cheating  more than a  little bit.   With the final book in this series releasing in just a few months, readers new to this series will have an opportunity no one else has ever had – you’ll be able to read all three Reunification books, This Gulf of Time and Stars, The Gate to Futures Past, and To Guard Against the Dark, one right after the other. That’s to your advantage, as these last three books do read as one long novel.  Click here to read my spoilery review of This Gulf of Time and Stars.  And by the way, both This Gulf of Time and Stars and The Gate to Futures Past are now available in mass market paperback.

 

Did you cringe when you read that phrase “long running series”?  I know some of you did! Yes, the Clan Chronicles is a space opera epic that spans three trilogies. If you’ve read any of Robin Hobb’s interconnected trilogies, you know you can jump in at any Book 1, and do just fine.  I’m sure there are readers and fans who will disagree with me, but I believe the same is true for Czerneda’s  Clan Chronicles series – so long as you jump in at any Book 1, you’ll be ok, with the added bonus that if you enjoy what you read, you can then start again at any other book 1!  It’s neat, because if you and your friend each start at a different point, you’ll have a different timeline and a different perspective of the entire story.

 

I preamble with all of that so you’ll be understanding that this review will involve references to events that occurred outside this novel, that there will be unavoidable minor spoilers. It’s all to the greater good though – if you enjoy space opera with healthy dose of romance, family drama, cosmic mystery, humor, and aliens that work, anything Julie Czerneda writes is for you!

 

“Aliens that work”, that’s a weird phrase.  You ever read a book with aliens and think to yourself these are just humans with blue skin, or elephants that talk and think just like a human?  A biologist by trade, Czerneda’s aliens act differently than humans because they have biological evolutionary histories completely different from anything that evolved on Earth.  They have different physiologies, different brain patterns, different reasons for doing what they do and how they do it. If you want to write aliens that aren’t humans in disguise, quit watching Star Trek and start reading Czerneda. (Actually, keep watching Star Trek. I keep hoping Huido will show up in an episode of DS9 or Voyager)

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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.