the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘aliens

grass-tepperGrass by Sheri S. Tepper

published in 1989

where I got it: have owned forever

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Sheri S. Tepper’s Arbai trilogy consists of Grass (1989),  Raising the Stones (1990), and Sideshow (1992).  Although they take place in the same universe and a few characters cross over, you can read these books as stand alones, or in any order you want. Sideshow is my favorite of the bunch, and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read it.  In the trilogy, humanity has colonized many planets, and colonists live rather pastoral lives on these mostly empty planets.  We’ve come across tons of alien ruins, but very little in the way of living aliens. Like many space operas, there is politics and intrigue, back stabbing and the loss of innocent life.  Grass was nominated for the Hugo and the Locus award, but sadly these novels seem to have passed into obscurity. It’s really too bad, because all three are freakin’ fantastic.

 

At first blush, the plot of Grass feels a little like Frank Herbert’s Dune – political family goes to secretive planet, has no idea what they are getting themselves into, intrigue and attempted murder ensues, family must connect with the locals if they hope to survive. Tepper of course takes things in a completely different direction, but if you liked Dune you’ll probably like Grass, and if you’re interested in Dune but have maybe felt a little intimidated by it, give Grass a try.  Grass is a planet on which nothing is what it seems, and everything you don’t understand is so old even its history has become a myth.

 

The “nobility” of Grass have no interest in hosting the Yrarier family or in allowing their children to fraternize with the Yrarier heirs. Ostensibly ambassadors of the Church, the Marjorie and Rigo Yrarier have just enough upper crust-ness to hopefully be accepted by the Bons of Grass.  But more important than that, the Yrariers were chosen because both Marjorie and Rigo are retired equestrian olympians, and the entire family is highly skilled in horsemanship and hunting.  It sounds very old fashioned, but what are nobles if not old fashioned? And everyone on Grass is simply obsessed with hunting.

 

What happens when an obsession become something you are no longer in control of, something you are no longer able to choose for yourself? I’m not talking about a cult, I’m talking about something much worse.

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crashing-suns-edmond-hamiltonCrashing Suns by Edmond Hamilton

first published in Weird Tales in 1928

where I got it – Three volume Hamilton set was a gift

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That cover art looks familiar, doesn’t it?

 

Yep,  “Crashing Suns” by Edmond Hamilton is the cover art I screen-grabbed years ago for a Vintage SciFi image. At the time, I had no idea who Edmond Hamilton was, and I was too busy with my own things to start meaningful conversations with people who took a look at the badge I’d photoshopped and said “Hey, I know that book!”.   In my old age, I’m trying to get better.

 

A few years ago, I was gifted with a gorgeous three volume set of The Collected Works of Edmond Hamilton. The way our living room is set up, this is one of the first things you see displayed on top of the bookshelf when you walk into that room.   The back of the volumes feature cover art of novels, chapbooks, and magazines in which these novels, novellas, and short stories were originally published, and as I was flipping through, I saw artwork that looked mighty familiar to me (because I stole it). So OF COURSE I had to read the story!  The story behind the cover art is “Crashing Suns”, which is Hamilton’s first story in his Interstellar Patrol sequence of interrelated stories.

 

This was such a fun pulpy story! So many exclamation points, so many characters shouting, so many big bold adjectives. This is a story of big brassy sounds, saturated primary colors, and massive stakes (no there weren’t actually any brassy sounds or primary colors, but that’s my weird brain for you. But there are earth shatteringly large stakes for our heroes). At the beginning of the story, Earth gets news from an observatory that there is a star on a trajectory path towards our sun! And if it reaches here, obviously everyone will die!

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voyage-of-the-space-beagleVoyage of the Space Beagle, by A.E. Van Vogt

published in 1950

where I got it: purchased used

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A sci-fantasy, the title of this fix-up novel is a direct reference to Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, an exploratory voyage that lasted longer than expected and that hoped to discover and research new and different species and learn more about our natural world. I call it a sci-fantasy, because while there is plenty of science in this story, and the solutions to all their challenges are science derived, there is also a lot of “hand-wavium” that functions as overly simplified technobabble.

 

The scientist who becomes the main character as the story progresses is Elliott Grosvenor, who is a nexialist scholar. Nexialism is akin to interdisciplinary applied sciences – Grosvenor doesn’t study only chemistry or engineering or physics, he studies all of them, often under hypnosis to learn faster. The use of hypnosis has added an element of the studies of how the human mind works, allowing Grosvenor to both induce and rebel hypnosis and psychic attacks. Nexialism is a new science, and the other scientists aren’t sure what to do with the young Grosvenor. Some of them ignore him, others are outright antagonistic and aim to sabotage his work.  It’s neat how the scientific departments on the Space Beagle have the feel of a university, complete with different labs, work areas, and politics.

 

What makes this fix-up novel so famous is that one of the novellas, “The  Black Destroyer” is considered an official inspiration for the movie Alien (the screenwriters of the movie never admitted to plagarism, but were happy to quickly settle out of court for a chunk of change), but it’s a little more complicated than that.  “The  Black Destroyer” was first published in 1939 and is considered the beginning of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. The premise of this novella is that The Space Beagle touches down on an abandoned planet, and among the ruins finds a cat-like creature called Coeurl. Assuming Coeurl to be harmless, they allow it access to the ship, where it slowly tries to kill the crew with the intention of taking over the ship and traveling to where more of its food can be found.   Horrible things happen, people die, and the scientists have to come up with some method of tricking the beast which includes a life boat and an airlock.

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miniatures_by_john_scalzi_500_780Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi

published Dec 31, 2016

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

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Wanna know the balm for doorstopper books and series that don’t have an end in sight? Super short stories that are super satisfying.  Stories that get in, make a point and maybe make you laugh, and get out. It’s like those delicious bite-sized Milky Way mini candy bars that (the best) people give out at Halloween.

 

Miniatures is John Scalzi’s new collection of very short stories.  Inspired by everything from travel boredom, the bureaucracy of superhero management, overly intelligent yogurt, a very bitter Pluto, the design limitations of twitter, people being idiots, how to be polite to aliens,  having some fun at Wil Wheaton’s expense and more, these mostly humorous and mostly ultra short stories are the bite sized milky way minis of spec fiction.  Covering 25 years of Scalzi’s long career in journalism, review writing, and fiction, this collection is a must-have for Scalzi fans. Oh, you’re not familiar with John Scalzi, but you like to laugh?  You’ll like this too!

 

A handful of the stories deal with interactions with aliens, but these aren’t “first contact” stories, not by a long shot. These are millionth contact stories, when interactions with aliens have become as commonplace as seeing a stick-figure family sticker on the back of a mini-van.  Two of my favorite stories in the collection are of this variety – “New Directives for Employee-Manxtse Interactions” and “Important Holidays on Gronghu”.  Both are presented as company wide memos, and both of these companies are about to be holding massive open interviews.  I’ve read “Important Holidays on Gronghu” probably four times and it gets funnier every time.

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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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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.