the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘aliens

 

tade-thompsonTade Thompson’s work has appeared in Apex Magazine, Interzone, Escape Pod, African Monsters, and in numerous anthologies. Most recently, his horror novella “The Murders of Molly Southbourne” was acquired by Tor.com. His work combines thrillers with horror, first contact with mythology, and a voice that is purely Tade. His newest  novel, Rosewater, out of Apex Publications, will be available in November.  Part alien invasion story, part psychological thriller, and all intelligence, this novel is sure to make an impression.

 

Tade’s debut novel, Making Wolf, won the Golden Tentacle Award at the Kitchies.  He’s taught science fiction writing classes, loves the Netflix show Stranger Things, and suffuses his longhand manuscripts with arrows, flowcharts and doodles. All this is to say he’s an author you need to keep your eye on.  Be sure to check out Tade’s website and his twitter feed @tadethompson.

 

Tade was kind enough to let me pick is brain about Rosewater, the joys of writing and brainstorming longhand, and his favorite writers.

rosewater
Little Red Reviewer: Congratulations on your new novel, Rosewater! What inspired this story, and how did the characters and plot come together?

Tade Thompson: Thank you! The ideas came first. I spent ages ruminating on a particular theme, almost as an exercise. Why would aliens come to Earth? I wrote a short story in the universe many years ago, and kept extrapolating. Then my main character, Kaaro, presented himself, and I started on the first draft. The plot grew around him and it changed quite a bit over subsequent drafts. At one point, for example, it was going to be a dark love story. Let’s just be grateful that didn’t happen. The most important aspect of Kaaro was his flawed character. His personality has been scored and mutilated by life. I fractured the story because that’s what I enjoy. Alejandro Inarritu, when talking about the film “21 Grams”, said that stories are rarely told in a linear fashion in real life. There are always digressions and culs-de-sac. I subscribe to that idea.

LRR: Aliens are so much fun to write, that authors have been writing alien invasion and first contact stories since the beginning of literature. I know there is something that makes Rosewater different, but my blog readers may not. So, what makes Rosewater different from other alien invasion and first contact novels?

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long way plantyThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers

published in 2016

where I got it: purchased new

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Remember the movie Titan A.E.?  Mash that up with four parts Firefly and one part Station Eleven, make it a little more lighthearted, and you’ll have something approximating The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

 

The captain and crew of the Wayfarer doesn’t care much about Rosemary’s past. All they care about is that she’s a discreet and qualified clerk and that she understands shipboard safety. All Rosemary cares about is getting as far away from Sol system as possible.  The Wayfarer is tunneling ship – they tunnel wormholes the slow and hard way so a permanent wormhole tunnel can be used for interstellar travel.  It’s hard boring work, but it pays well and if you know what you’re doing it’s not dangerous. Well, not too dangerous.

 

Like the TV show Firefly,  it’s the crew and characters that makes this story shine. Among the crew, we’ve got hyper-chipper stoner engineers, polyamorous reptiles, a doctor from a dying race, a cranky algae tech, an overly polite AI, and a captain who’s got to keep the ship running and his crew fed.  Beyond the ship are space pirates, black markets,  arms dealers, and every opportunity to get a fresh start in life.

 

My favorite characters by far were Sissix and Dr. Chef.  This isn’t a human dominated galaxy, but it’s a human ship, and Sissix and Dr. Chef are the literal fish out of water. Sissix is of a reptilian race, and her people are are very touchy feely, very open about sexuality, and polyamorous. If she’s going to be accepted on a human ship, she’s got to dampen down everything about herself. Why would anyone from her homeworld torture themselves like that?  Dr. Chef’s actual name is completely unpronounceable, and the infant human race is a constant source of entertainment for him. His race literally destroyed itself, they are a cautionary tale.  Dr. Chef seriously needs his own book, I loved him!
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way station2Way Station, by Clifford D. Simak (Hugo Best Novel, 1964)

published in 1963

where I got it: gift from a friend

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My friend Andy has been talking about Way Station for a while, but he’s always so vague. He would just tell me how good it is, and that it’s one of his favorite Simak books, and that I should read it. But he never actually told me what this book was about. Had he told me the premise of the book, I’d have read it the moment he gave me a copy.

 

It’s funny, this book is *exactly* what the title says it is about. In rural Wisconsin, Enoch Wallace runs a special kind of way station. It’s a place for the weary to rest for a bit, to have a bed for the night, and perhaps a cup of coffee in the morning before departing. The station takes up Enoch’s entire home, and he’s been running it now for, oh, about a hundred years. And when I say “weary to rest for a bit”, I mean it’s a stopping place for aliens who are jumping across the light years on their way to the frontier or back to their families. Some of them stick around for just as long as it takes to ready the machinery to send them back on their way, others have become friends with Enoch over the years, and purposely schedule their trips so they can spend as much time with their strange Terran friend as possible. He even shares his coffee with anyone who is willing to try it.

 

Way Station is a positively delightful novel. It’s easy to get into, fun to read, and joyously optimistic about life in the universes. If you’ve read The Dark Forest, this book takes practically the opposite approach towards intelligent life in the universe.

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binti nnediBinti, by Nnedi Okorafor

published Sept 2015

where I got it: purchased new

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In a way, Binti is a completely traditional scifi/hero’s journey story – young woman gets an opportunity to leave home, does so, finds herself in a situation far beyond her control, and ends up single handedly stopping an interstellar war. A perfect dove-tailing of tribal and futuristic, of sentient space ships and ancient cultural traditions, Binti was a beautiful story to read.  For some of you, this will just be a story that you read and forget about two days later. For others of you, it will be a door that opens and never closes. File me under “others of you”.

 

Binti is from Earth, from a traditional family in a traditional village. Her people are curious, but they don’t travel. Her family is famously innovative,  but inward looking.  Her acceptance to a prestigious university is as thrilling to her as it is horrifying to her family.  She leaves in the middle of the night.  Just by leaving she has shamed her family, so she might as well go all the way and get on the damn shuttle.

 

She wasn’t surprised to learn she was the only Himba on the shuttle, nor is she surprised to be the only Himba student at the university. However it was a shocked, shameful silence that blanketed her when strangers poked and prodded her protective hairstyle – can I touch it, does it smell, why do you put mud in your hair, that’s so weird, don’t let the mud touch anything on the ship. What they are telling her is that she is different from them, and that she should be ashamed of her difference. That to be accepted, she needs to assimilate, and look and act like them.  That when she reaches civilization, she’ll understand. Yes, all that in a facial expression and a few words spoken at her, not to her. People are just this crass in real life, too.

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three bodyThe Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu

published in November 2014

Where I got it: purchased new

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This review contains minor spoilers.

 

I had a very tough time getting into The Three Body Problem.  In the first half of the novel, it’s hard to tell what’s going on, who or what is important to pay attention to. There are certainly interesting and important things that happen (and which are explained at the end), but I couldn’t understand how any of the dots were connected.

 

The story starts during China’s Cultural Revolution.  Professors, scientists, academics, anyone who is seen to be under the influence of western thoughts are persecuted and often psychologically tortured to the point of suicide. Ye Wenjie watches as her physicist father is murdered by teenaged Red Guards. Guilty by association, Wenjie is sent to the frontier to be politically rehabilitated through manual labor. A talented scientist herself, she is recruited to be part of the secretive Red Coast Base.  It will be years before anyone is allowed to talk about what happened at Red Coast.

 

The narrative jumps between Ye Wenjie’s life at Red Coast and modern day China, where nanomaterials researcher Wang Miao is pulled into a military investigation where he could be the key to stopping a dangerous enemy. Except no one will tell him who the enemy is, or where they are. He’s shown a list of scientists who recently committed suicide, and is exposed to a terrifying countdown that is counting down to, what exactly? Reluctantly, Wang becomes friends with Shi Qiang, the gruff police officer who had originally pulled him into the military meeting. A name on the list of dead scientists catches Wang’s attention, Yang Dong. He’s encouraged to visit Yang’s elderly mother, who turns out to be Ye Wenjie.

 

The connection between Wang and Ye Wenjie is a point of no return. For Ye, everything she’s worked towards is coming full circle. For Wang, he learns of a video game called Three Body, in which the goal of the game (or at least the first level of it) is to predict how long the next stable and chaotic eras will be in an environment in which the laws of orbital mechanics don’t seem to make any sense.  Players who understand what the game truly represents are invited to learn who made the game and why.

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2015-04-05 20.33.31The Gabble and Other Stories, by Neal Asher (short story collection)

published 2008, Night Shade Edition published 2015

where it got it: received review copy from Night Shade Books (thanks!)

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My first Neal Asher novel was The Skinner, an edgy  space opera that I’ve lovingly described as “magnificently disgusting”.  In that novel, the name of the game is adapt or die, and the denizens of the planet Spatterjay take full advantage of evolutionary opportunities. Even visitors who stick around long enough can watch their bodies change into something not quite human.  The Skinner made me an instant fan of Asher, and I’ve been watching for his titles ever since.

Many of Asher’s novels take place in his Polity Universe, which in a similar fashion to Banks’ Culture novels,  the novels all take place in the same universe, and occasionally characters from one book show up or are mentioned in another, but you can generally jump around in the order the books were published.   Not sure Asher is for you? Not sure you want to dive into a new universe? The Gabble, a short story collection of stores from the Polity will answer both of those questions for you.  If you ask me, you can just answer those two questions with a resounding Yes and be done with it.

What I loved about how Asher does alien planets and aliens is that everything is so damn alien. Why should aliens have two arms, two legs, a head, a nose and a mouth? If that configuration is unique to Earth, it follows that every planet will have a unique configuration based on evolutionary needs, the planet’s unique environs, and any one of a million other variables in how life works. No one we run into is going to look like us, think like us, or communicate like us. There is no gentleness here, no Star Trek style diplomacy.  Some species simply do not communicate with others, and humans are quite tasty.  It might sound harsh, but this is how nature works.   When it comes down to it, we are just animals in a food chain.

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close encounters bookClose Encounters of the Third Kind by Steven Spielberg

published in 1977

where I got it: purchased used

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Raise your hand if you saw that blog post title and immediately heard five musical notes.

 

Novelizations are tricky beasts to review, because for the most part the author isn’t in control of the plot or characters. It’s hard to judge it as a story, because it’s based on something that hadn’t originally been meant to be presented as words on a page. Something that looks fan-freaking-tastic on the big screen might not translate so well to the page, you know? My attitude towards novelizations is do they add to my enjoyment of a movie? If it’s a movie I’ve never seen, does reading the novelization make me want to see the movie? (That actually happened. Read a very enjoyable novelization in early 2014, liked it so much I bought a movie ticket. and the movie was awful!)

 

Reading the novelization of Close Encounters of The Third Kind was absolute pure nostalgic fun.  The movie was a huge part of my child and young adulthood, and reading the novelization was a fun way to experience the movie in a different way. The book is a direct line for line, scene for scene novelization of the movie, but I was happily surprised by the deeper characterization and smoother pacing (I always felt the middle of the movie where Roy is figuring his shit out gets really slow and draggy). Or maybe I liked the pacing better in the book because I could control being able to linger in my favorite scenes, and zip through the less interesting ones.  That’s a nice thing about novelizations: the reader controls the pace.

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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.