the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘alternate history

Of the three things I’m talking about today, I have finished reading exactly one of them:

 

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (the one that I have finished) – I have so, so much to say about this book. But as pertains to this particular blog post, what I expected was 300 pages of zombie thwacking action, what I got was that the zombies aren’t the real monsters, the racists are.   Fun read, great characters,  I highly recommend.

 

Machine’s Last Testament by Benjanun Sriduangkaew – I’m about 2/3 of the way through this far future space opera/spy thriller/escape the AI story. Prisoners of War are brought to the planet Anatta, to see if they are worthy of citizenship.  The worldspanning AI Samsara controls all aspects of Anatta, studies humanity, and systematically attacks all other human settlements, bringing more prisoners to Anatta. You can’t even tell your best friend your secrets, because Samsara is always listening.  Excellent read, I highly recommend! The story has political intrigue, hidden identities, romance,  and oh yeah, freakin’ gorgeous prose. (if you were one of those people who loved the prose of This is How You Lose The Time War, but wished that there was more there there, Machine’s Last Testament is the book for you. the two titles are about the same length, too)

 

I watched the first two episodes of Brave New World on Peacock (it was free). Not sure if I’ll continue in the series, and it’s probably been ten years since I read the book, so couldn’t tell you how faithful the TV show is. Anyway. . .  in the future, everyone is happy, all the time. Not feel super happy? Take a drug that will make you happy.  Privacy is unheard of,  as is being raised with a family.  Want to experience the filth and unhealthyness of the horrible past? Visit a theme park to see a shotgun wedding, nuclear families, and natural pregnancies.  I’ll reread the book, but am undecided on if I’ll continue w/the show. I liked the art direction, but the garbage quality subtitles* were a huge turn off.

 

Through a perfect storm of coincidence, I am reading/watching all of these things at the same time, and my brain went flippity flop, and found the common ground between these three stories:

 

the people running the show – the white leaders in Dread Nation, Samsara, whoever runs the city in Brave New World – these people LOVE what they’ve created.  They have made a city on the hill where everyone is safe and happy and protected  . . .  and where everyone knows their place.  And the people actually living there?  eh, if they only accepted their place, they’d be happy too, right?

 

I think that’s what hit me so hard –  that the people living there, they are told to be happy in their place. Know your place. Stay in your lane. Be thankful we’ve found a place for you here. Others of your kind aren’t this deserving. You should be thankful.   Your superiors know what’s best for you.  (excuse me, I just threw up in my mouth a little)

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Witchers,  Space Adventures, and Vodka.  those three things all go together, right?

 

well, they do in the way that you can be reading a Witcher Book and a Space Adventure Book at the same time, and also be infusing Vodka in a mason jar on the counter. . .   at the same time.

 

Last weekend I went on a farm stand adventure, and found what is now my favorite local farm stand. Fresh sweet corn, chard, pick-your-own herbs,  and my first ever gi-freakin’-gantic fennel.  What to do with all those grassy, slightly licorice-y fronds?  throw ’em in a jar with booze, that’s what!    It sat on the counter for 5 days, and I tasted it last night.

 

 

this smells and tastes 100% better than it looks, I swear.  it’s got a slightly medicinal start, that turns a little grassy, and ends with a clean and slightly licorice finish.  Smells more licorice-y than it tastes.  I had it with Ginger Ale and it was nice and refreshing.  Might not try this particular infusioni again, but my pickling / fermenting obsession might have just turned the corner into an infusing obsession (although the mint infused oil was an epic fail).

What about the books you say?   Oh Yes, buckets of reading happening!  I’m ever so slowly coming out of my reading slump.  It was a matter of not putting any expectations on myself, of reading “easy” reads, and of feeling absolutely zero guilt about NDFing things and reading guilty pleasures.

 

I blew through The Time of Contempt, and once i got into it, I really enjoyed this Witcher novel.  The beginning is a little all over the place, and it ends with a bit of a fizzle, but the middle!   Not a spoiler, but Yennifer drags an annoyed Geralt to a sorcerer gathering, and everyone at the gathering is spying on each other, stabbing each other in the back, there’s buckets of intrigue, and Geralt is all like “this is dumb. When’s dinner”.  There’s also mention of the Tower of Swallows, eeeee!!!! The dialog is dry and hilarious and flirty and adorable. This series is such a guilty pleasure!!!

 

The Architects of Memory is Karen Obsorne’s debut novel. An outer space thriller, it’s tons of failed grav-drives,  first contact gone horribly wrong, and so, SO many secrets.  I’ll share more into after the book releases, at the end of August.  I am pretty sure I met Karen Osborne at a scifi convention, and if she is who I think she is,  she is the nicest, kindest person who loves Space Opera and is a total and wonderful nerd.

 

Much thanks to my friend Elizabeth who mailed me her extra copy of Dread Nation, which I started reading the other day.  the narrator, Jane, has a super fun voice! And that dress she has on, on the cover? I WANT THAT DRESS!   But? This book is way more YA than I expected.  While I’m not sure if I like the YA writing style,  I AM enjoying that it is a super fast read,  I enjoy the narrative voice, and how can you not like a civil war alt history book with zombies?  And? with my middle aged (aka: shitty) eye sight, the fact that the lines of text aren’t crammed together so tightly on the pages is also a selling point.

 

 

Well, that’s me the last week,  what have you been up to?

 

I was hoping to write full length reviews of these books, but well, life (and Netflix) happens, so I didn’t.  Here are some ultra quick reviews of some recent reads!

 

Vicious by V.E. Schwab – I am finally on the Schwab bandwagon, and I can see why she has the following she has.  Vicious was hella fun! I described it to a friend as “gleefully violent”. Think Flatliners meets X-Men, But twice as snarky and three times as smart.  Tight writing, fast paced, not a wasted sentence. I enjoyed every minute of reading this book! I will def be reading the sequel, Vengeful.

 

Noumenon Infinity by Marina J. Lostetter –  I really loved the first book, Noumenon, and my Dad did too. So we read the 2nd book together.  I had a hard time getting into this book, very little of the characters I’d enjoyed so much from the first book. Had I not been reading it along with my Dad I would have DNF’d it. Too much felt like a plot device – too much of “ok, so this plot thing needs to happen for the story to go in this particular direction because that direction makes sense”, and then exactly that happened. The big reveal at the end wasn’t a surprise at all. I wish C had been a bigger part of this book.  Lots of great science and an intriguing first contact plot line, but execution was flawed.

 

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal –  very fast paced, Kowal has a ton of story to cram into a not very long novel.  I loved the alternate history extinction level event – a meteor lands off the Atlantic coast, taking Washington DC with it. Within a few decades we may not be able to survive on Earth, so it’s to the stars we go! Elma is a “computer”, that is, she is a math savant who can do complicated calculations in her head faster than a 1950s computer can. She’s also a pilot. Who says women can’t be astronauts? Umm…   all the male astronauts, and the government,  that’s who. So Elma and all her female pilot friends will just have to prove them wrong. This book teetered right on the line of Punching You In The Face Every Other Page with all the isms. You might not even notice that aspect, you might love it, you might hate it.  This is a prequel to Kowal’s novellette The Lady Astronaut of Mars, which you can still read over at Tor.com.

 

Bride’s Story vol 10 by Kaoru Mori – Finally the story is  back to Amir and Karlak! Karlak has decided to spend a few seasons with Amir’s family, so that he can learn how to hunt with a bow and understand more about her family’s nomadic culture.  Amir’s brothers and cousins quickly adopt Karlak, and even though he has a lot to learn, they treat him with respect. Karlak is even gifted with a hunting eagle. I think Karlak went into this expecting Amir’s brother and cousins to treat him like a child, like a “city boy”, like a joke.  And they treat him with hospitality and respect.  The artwork in the scenes with the eagles were incredible! I love this series for the artwork alone!  The last third of the volume goes back to Smith. He gets the surprise of his life, and he’s going to decide what to do with her. And she no longer has a home to return to. Volumes 7 – 9 were all over the place and didn’t have much focus, so I’m happy that this volume has more focus and features more of my favorite characters.

Watching!

 

I’ve gotten hooked on The Final Table on Netflix  – Think Iron Chef mixed with the drama of Chopped, but the dial cranked up to twelve. It’s over produced and more than a little ridiculous. Lol, maybe it’s Total. Drama. Cooking show! My favorite part has become the “final plate” portion. The judges for the final plate portion of each episode give supportive and positive feedback.  There is a contestant I wish had more screen time, he is slender, wears round glasses, and wears his brown hair in a ponytail. I want to know how long his hair is. He looks like an anime guy!

 

And speaking of anime,  I’ve also gotten hooked on Castlevania, also on Netflix.   An American version of the Japanese anime, this is paced and designed more to western tastes and expectations. I nearly cried in the first episode. The characters are snarky, sweary, fighty, and the dialog is fantastic.  I’m only 4 or 5 episodes in, and we just met Alucard, who is most certainly not the sleeping savior soldier. (I knew he had to show up eventually). Oh boy, my female gaze is strong with this one! How are those pants staying on?  I know (i hope at least) he’s not there just for fan service, but DAMN.  Anyway,  great characters who are snarky, sweary, smart, and sexy? And an excellent Dracula story? Um, yes please!

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately. How about you? what have you read, watched, and enjoyed?

Let me set the scene a little for you:   This past January, at ConFusion, Jerry says he has a novel coming out soon. And of course I say “oh?”

 

He tells me what the book is about.   He tells me the significance of the pre-order announcement and the significance of the book being released on April 19th (hey, that’s today!).  After that conversation, I couldn’t get the idea of this book out of my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about the research that must have gone into this book, what possessed him to write on this particular subject, how he went about writing a cult leader,  the power of faith and religion, and how law enforcement officers attacking civilians is nothing new.

 

I’ve been waiting for the book ever since.

 

Breaking The World is a fast paced alternate history thriller that takes place in Waco, Texas, in the summer of 1993.   Ringing any bells?  Does this photo look familiar?

(I swiped this photo from Jerry’s website)

 

Breaking the World asks the question “What if David Koresh was right, and the world really was ending?”

 

Jerry was kind enough to let me ask him all sorts of questions, most of which are a variation of “wait,  what?  but, how? and dude, why??”.   Because I really did want to know why would someone write a novel about the Branch Davidians.  Is it easier to research something like this now,  because more than 20 years have passed?  Did Jerry’s Google Search history get him on any no-fly lists?   I had a bazillion questions.  Like I said, Jerry is very kind.

 

Just joining us?  Click here to read my review of Breaking the Worldclick here to order the book directly from the publisher.  Click here to visit Jerry’s website.

 

Let’s get to the interview!  I promise, no (ok, only a few teeny) spoilers ahead! Not to mention insider info about the significance of names, social media to the rescue, the process of writing a non-believer who is stuck in a religious cult, how people have been reacting to this book, and that even when history is written by the victors, a darker truth is often hiding right beneath the surface.

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Little Red Reviewer: I was fourteen years old when “Waco” happened. Newsmedia was very different in 1993, and all I remember is seeing Koresh’s photo on TV, and lots of footage of burning buildings in the Texas sun. (CNN existed, we didn’t have cable TV) I may have been too young to understand, but more likely I just wasn’t paying attention and was too busy being a teenager to care. Fast forward 25 years, and we have multiple 24 hour news stations, tons of social media, and the ability to instantly put live videos online. If the Branch Davidian stand off happened in an age of smartphones and social media, would things have gone down differently? How might both sides use social media to their advantage? In any stand-off situation, do you think social media is a help, or a hindrance?


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Breaking the World, by Jerry Gordon

Release date:  April 19th 2018

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

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In 1993 I was fourteen years old. I was excited about high school, excited about boys, was obsessed with the movie Jurassic Park,  I was finally old enough to listen to Nirvana and Aerosmith. We read The Odyssey in 9th grade, and I fell in love with mythology, epic stories, and oracles.  It was a good year to be fourteen. My parents watched the evening news religiously as I flitted in and out of the living room, disappointed that I couldn’t watch sitcoms or Star Trek because they were watching boring news.  I remember some guy’s photo being on TV a lot, aviator sunglasses, wavy brown hair. He just looked like some guy. I remember seeing footage of a flat landscape and a building that was on fire. I didn’t realize I should be paying attention.

 

The guy with the sunglasses was David Koresh, and the burning building was the Branch Davidian Church in Waco, Texas. What would become known as “Waco”, involved a 51 day standoff between the Branch Davidians and the FBI. Both sides were convinced they were right. Over 70 people were killed in the fire. And all I remember was some guy’s photo on TV.

 

Taking a cue from the alternate history author Tim Powers,  Jerry Gordon has to fit (nearly) everything that happens in Breaking the World  into the historical framework of what we think we know about the siege on the Branch Davidian Church, locked into the timeline of when and how the FBI surrounded and tear gassed the compound, to who escaped and how, to when the fire started, to how many people were inside the compound when it burned.  Coinciding with the 25th anniversary of “Waco”, Breaking the World was officially announced for pre-order on Feb 28th, and will be released on April 19th, lining up exactly with when the siege started and ended.

 

The novel is told from the point of view of Cyrus, a teenager who lives at the compound. Cyrus could care less about religion and god and the end of the world, he could freakin’ care less about David Koresh. But, since David is technically sorta Cyrus’s step dad, the two of them develop and civil relationship where they respect one another, to the point where David asks Cyrus’s advice on a number of occasions. David is softspoken, not always confident, uninterested in attention, and he cares deeply for the people who have come to his church. He believes the seals are beginning to break, and that he needs to keep his people safe.

 

Cyrus and his best friends, Marshal and Rachel, dream of running away together. Marshal grew up at the compound,  but Rachel is a recent arrival. Yeah, there’s plenty of novels in which a handful of fifteen year olds run away, but this isn’t that story. These kids have no money, no way to get to a train or bus station, they don’t know how to drive, they barely have access to a telephone. And remember when this takes place – cell phones weren’t a thing, plenty of adults did not have credit cards that their adventurous children could steal, and payphones were only helpful if you could actually get to one. Leaving Waco is going to have a stay a dream for Cyrus and his friends for a little while longer, because the siege begins in the first chapter of the book.   The three best friends are old enough to understand they may not live through this, and too young to be able to do much about it.

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darwiniaDarwinia by Robert Charles Wilson

published 1998

where I got it: purchased used

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In spring of 1912, something so incredible happened, many people believed it to be a  divine miracle. That march, a circle of land enclosing Western Europe, much of the Mediterranean, and some of North Africa disappeared, and was instantaneously replaced with . . .  something new. The land was still there, but all the people, cities, buildings, animals, technology, everything was gone, replaced by strange new plants and animals. It was as if evolution had gone down a slightly different path countless eons ago. Rivers were in slightly different places, mountain ranges not exactly as they had been.  What was once Europe has now become Darwinia.

 

This world would never have a World War, the Titanic would never leave port, The Russian Revolution and Spanish Flu would never happen. Edgar Rice Burroughs publishes a novel called “Lost Kingdom of Darwinia”.  Alternate history indeed.  Scientists, biologists, naturalists and frontiersmen across the planet become nearly obsessed with the new world.  New species to categorize, a whole new frontier to explore and dominate.

 

Guilford Law was twelve years old when the “miracle” occurred. Now in his twenties, he and his family travel to what was once London where he has been hired on as a photographer for a scientific expedition. London is now a frontier town, population a few hundred.  The expedition starts out well enough, with the scientists arguing about the plants and animals they find that have obviously been around longer than the land has been like this. They find trees with decades worth of rings,  animals and insects that have evolved through countless generations, giant midden heaps around insect hives, the evolved skulls of predators.  If this new world has only existed for eight years, where did all the plants and creatures do their evolving?  As this line of inquiry gets more and more fascinating, the expedition hits some bad luck, and Law barely makes it back to London alive.  (I’d thought the expedition was going to be the main plot of the book, I couldn’t have been more wrong!) And don’t even get me started on the strange dreams the expedition members have, and what else they find in the jungle.

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the coldest war tregillis

This is a not review, because I’m not really going to be talking about what happened in the plot of The Coldest War.   To be honest, I was sorta ho-hum about most of the plot. But the characters, oh my god, with just a glance in my direction Marsh and Gretel bored holes right through  me.  And in a way, since this is an alternate history, as in something that could have happened but didn’t, the plot doesn’t actually, in the grand scheme of the universe, matter, does it?

 

The Coldest  War takes place during the early 1960s, so twenty some years after Bitter Seeds.  Klaus and Gretel have spent twenty years as prisoners of war in the USSR; and over in London Raybould Marsh and William Beauclerk have spent twenty some years trying to convince themselves they did the right things, that it was worth it.

 

So let’s talk about the characters, who you’ve already met if you’ve read the first book in the series, Bitter Seeds.

 

I feel like comparing characters in this book to gambling addicts.  Addicts because Marsh and Beauclerk keep saying they can stop anytime they want…. but they can’t. They keep thinking the next bargain will even things out, that they’ll “win” next time, for various values of “winning”.   It’s like the guy I saw buying scratch off lottery tickets the other day. He was joking with the clerk that last week he won $3 on a scratch off ticket… but that he’d spent $19 on the tickets.  There was an edge of addiction in his nervous laughter, an underscore of him saying he could stop anytime he wanted.

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the mechanical tregillisThe Mechanical, by Ian Tregillis

Published March 10th, 2015

where I got it: received ARC from the publisher (thanks Orbit!)

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in an alternate history where the Dutch scientist and mathematician  Christiaan Huygens made more than just clocks and lenses, the world was changed forever when his clockwork servitors were perfected. These Clockwork servants, owned by the Crown and leased to the populace on 99 year leases, allowed the Dutch Empire to expand their control over trading posts, exploration, and world politics. Of course you’ll come to rule the world when you have an unlimited workforce that never sleeps, doesn’t have to eat, and never complains, and mechanical soldiers who never die.

 

Hundreds of years have gone by since the Guild of Horologists was created in 1680. America never existed, the Dutch never gave up New Amsterdam (which you know as Manhattan), and France is in shambles after a disastrous war, with much of the French nobility living in Montreal with their exiled King.

 

In an alternate history that never was, physics and chemistry fight horology and alchemy for control of the belief structure of the modern world. I’ll leave the plot chat to other reviewers, because I want to talk about everything that’s happening in The Mechanical underneath the plot, things like Tregillis’s genius treatment of chemistry vs alchemy,  warring philosophies over free will and identity, and the intersection of faith and compulsion.

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wild cards fourWild Cards IV: Aces Abroad, edited by George R. R. Martin

published in 1988, with new material added and republished by Tor Books in January 2015

Where I got it: received review copy from Tor (thanks!)

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Wild Cards: Aces Abroad is the fourth book in a shared universe anthology series. The good news is that you can easily read this as a stand alone, and the better news is that it’ll all make way more sense if I give you just a little bit of background about the series.

 

Started in the late 1980s, the Wild Cards shared universe  envisions an alternative history where our first contact with an alien species causes the Wild Card virus to be released into Earth’s atmosphere. The virus killed much of the population, and physically affected nearly all who survived, granting them superpowers or horrid mutations. Some people grew wings and could fly, others turned into grotesque parodies of human beings. If your gift was a boon, you became known as an Ace, and if your gift came with physical deformaties, you became known as a Joker. Many Aces became successful business owners and celebrities, whereas society had no idea what to do with the Jokers, these hideous creatures who used to be our parents, friends and neighbors. As the decades passed, Jokers became more accepted in society, but many still reside in ghettos and fear for their own safety. Many of the characters in Wild Cards reminded me more of X-Men characters rather than traditional “good guy” superheroes. Most of these people want to live their life in peace, and help their friends and families. None of these people are traditional comic book superheroes.

 

 

I’ve certainly read themed anthologies before, but I’ve never read a shared universe. Each author was credited in the table of contents, and again the first time their writing appears in the volume. But after that, it’s just chapter after chapter, and if you aren’t paying attention it’s easy to forget which author’s work you are reading.  The fact that eleven authors (Stephen Leigh, George R.R. Martin, John J. Miller, Leanne C. Harper, Gail Gerstner-Miller, Walton Simmons, Edward Bryant, Lewis Shiner, Victor W. Milan, Melinda M. Snodgrass and Michael Cassutt) could seamlessly put  novel together, and then 25 years later two more authors (Kevin Andrew Murphy and Carrie Vaughn) could slip their new stories in unnoticed is pretty damn incredible.

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Like this stuff?

  • Civil War era alternate history
  • zombies
  • giant lizards
  • pop culture references
  • huge explosions
  • airships
  • airships with zombies on them
  • carnies

what if all that awesome stuff was jammed into one book?  well good news, IT IS! And I reviewed it, just for you!  head over to SFSignal to read my review of Odd Men Out by Matt Betts.

odd men out


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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.