the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘cyborgs

 

I’ve been dipping my toes into Made to Order: Robots and Revolution, edited by Jonathan Strahan.   The cover led me to believe this is all robot stories, but what I found was more a spectrum of cyborg, to disembodied AIs, to actual robots.  As with all anthologies, some stories are forgettable, and some shine like supernovas.

 

I’ve not read everything in the antho yet, and maybe I never will.

 

But here are some stories that have already made an impression on me.

 

The Hurt Pattern, by Tochi Onyebuchi – What is this doing in a fiction anthology? Other than the “connect yourself to your computer at work, and then literally unplug”, the rest of this sure doesn’t feel like fiction.  To pay off his student loans, Kenny gets a job sorting data. Obvs, his job is more complicated than that, but he’s good at the work, and he makes friends. He makes some dangerous connections involving why certain cities are more violent than others, and how the uptick in violence is connected to, well, that’s spoiler territory. This story gonna make you mad.

 

Brother Rifle, by Daryl Gregory – A Marine suffering from PTSD alongside his traumatic brain injury. He doesn’t understand how this therapy is supposed to work, and worse, he feels like he is imposing on his family.  How exactly, is this implant supposed to safely let him start feeling emotions again? What’s the deal with the patterns on the cards? What’s the difference between a robot and someone who lost all emotion through a brain injury and now has no power of attorney over their own self? Story is a bit of a slow burn, that kind where you think you know where it’s going, and then that last scene hits you like a ton of bricks. Lots in this story hit close to home for me – how mental illness and PTSD is handled, how we expect people to magically get better after a few months of therapy. If i read this again, i’m gonna cry.

 

Bigger Fish, by Sarah Pinsker – quite the comfort read, which was sorely needed. A private detective is hired to investigate the death of a “gazillionaire water tycoon”. The man was home alone, with only his personal robots. This was a nostalgic Asimov-esque I Robot style story – obviously the robots killed the guy, but how to prove it, when a robot can’t harm a person? When you’re ready for a unicorn chaser, read this story.

 

A Guide for Working Breeds, by Vina Jae-Min Prasad –  super cute story, told entirely through online messages between two robots who become friends through a mentorship program.  They have drastically different personalities, so it’s super adorable when the “killer” starts buying gifts  for the young upstart. Sometimes even a teacher can learn a thing or two. This story is the perfect one to open the anthology – it is bright, optimistic, and laugh out loud adorable.  Maybe it’s because one of the ‘bots mentions dogs right at the beginning, That i couldn’t help but view both of these characters as robotic dogs, the young one as a cheerful, floppy eared puppy, and the older one one as a grizzled guard dog.

 

Fairy Tales for Robots by Sofia Samatar – just an absolutely beautiful story. As the protagonist spends one entire night telling fairy tales to her sleeping robot, she realizes how much fairy tales maybe do belong to robots, what with all the sleeping without dying, and the constant drudgery, and the ability to eat something poisonous and not die, and the oddities of how fairy tales allow characters to do superhuman things. We learn a few things about the narrator, how she sees herself compared to how the world sees her. And why shouldn’t robot children be told stories about impossible things? This story  is buried in the back of the anthology. My advice is that you read it first.

 

I like this idea of there being a spectrum between human and robot. Does a pacemaker make you a cyborg? What if you have a steel pin in your leg? How about an artificial limb, or a wheelchair that moves based on your brain waves?

 

Based on the cover art, I was worried this anthology was going to be “Robot Adventures!”, luckily, it isn’t. It’s mostly about humans who are on the cusp of something, and choosing to deal with those feelings, or suppress them.

I’ve been re-reading Kage Baker’s Company series.  I’m not writing formal reviews,  just chatting about the books every few days, making small connections, making big connections.    Some spoilers are unavoidable.

 

If you don’t care about this series, but are interested in my poor brain exploding due to realizing my beloved characters never had any free will,  scroll way down to a paragraph that starts with “I used to think . . ”.

 

 

Previous posts in this series:

post 1 – talking about In the Garden of Iden (book #1)

post 2 – talking about Sky Coyote (book #2) and Mendoza in Hollywood (book #3) and also the movie Rocketman and the tv show Star Trek: Discovery

and now we’re up to talking about The Graveyard Game (book #4) and The Life of the World to Come (#5).    This is where I realized my beloved characters don’t have any free will,  that everyone is trapped. Here we go!

 

 

About ten minutes after I finished The Graveyard Game,  I pulled The Life of the World to Come off the bookshelf. Boy these books have some truly awful cover art.

 

The Graveyard Game is a hella fun read, and it’s a fast read!  We’re back to Lewis and Joseph, and I adore Joseph, even if he’s a jerk sometimes.  Please, is there an internet archive of Joseph fan-fic? Pretty please? Anyway, Joseph is trying to find out what happened to Budu,  and Lewis gets a little obsessed with trying to figure out who the hell Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax was. They are both sort of trying to figure out what happened to Mendoza.  The problem is, when you’re a cyborg who is enslaved to The Company, every word you say, every photo you take with your cybernetic eyes, every web-search you do, is recorded and added to the temporal concordance. Everything you do becomes recorded history, so you have to be super sneaky, and make sure nothing you do is recorded.    Because recorded history can not be changed.

 

Joseph finds some secret bunkers, and reminisces about his early years with the Company and Budu’s heroic acts.   Lewis is haunted by his past, when he saw something he shouldn’t have.

 

Joseph has a hard time coming to terms with the idea that as you age, the world changes.  You feel like you don’t fit in with the younger generations anymore, the things you care about aren’t the things they care about.  What happens when an immortal has a mid-life crisis, and realizes that trends in Company brainwashing and programming have drastically changed over the course of known history?   The Graveyard Game might be my favorite Company book! (well, tied with Sky Coyote, because that book is just so damn funny) I guess I just love any excuse to hang out with Joseph!

 

And then we get to The Life of the World to Come,  which is the most annoying book in the history of EVER, while at the same time being the most confusing book of the series and the most important book of the series.

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I finished Kage Baker’s Sky Coyote yesterday, and immediately started reading Mendoza in Hollywood. I’ve been reading a ton in the mornings.  And at lunchtime. And at night. At this rate, I’m going to be done with this series in two weeks.  I’m thinking of rereading Kaoru Mori’s Bride’s Story next,  we recently got volume eleven.  Each volume of that takes me about two hours to read, so I can draw it out to . . . eleven days?  Eleven days of gorgeous artwork, I think I can handle that.

How are your bookshelves organized?  Mine are by “height”. All the mass market  paperbacks together, so I can stack more MMPs on top of them. All the hardbacks together, all the “tall” books together.  My Baker’s are a mish-mash of every type of format – hard  back, mass market paper back “tall” paperback, an odd-size ARC from Tachyon, I even have one or two hard back special editions from Sub Press. What I’m getting at is that they’re all different sizes, so are somehow scattered throughout this house.  Nothing is more entertaining that watching me tear bookshelves apart looking for specific books!

 

Ok,  so here we go, with random thoughts on Sky Coyote:

 

Sky Coyote is feel-good humor, feel-good pop culture references, it’s got characters I want to hang out with all day long.  This book feels like I’m watching Back to the Future.  it feels really low stakes.   I may just come back and reread this,  when later books in the series get super heavy.

 

I love Joseph.  This isn’t his first rodeo, which is  good thing,  but he’s also compartmentalized everything in his mind to justify his actions, which is not a good thing.  Being around people who remind him of home, he needed that.  I’m happy he got that, I wish he’d had more time with the Chumash.  Everytime I read this book again, that’s more time he gets to spend with them, right?

 

I was howling with laughter at Puluy and Awhay’s dialog, they talk like Valley Girls!

 

I love living mythology, and that’s what this book is. You can read Sky Coyote as a stand alone, so if you like mythology, if you like humor,  get this book.  Everyone knows it’s ok for mythology stories to be  made up,  and everyone knows it’s ok to feel like those stories aren’t made up.

 

Do we get more of Joseph thinking about Budu? I hope so.  I think so?  Budu and his kind were designed to kill humans who were killing other humans. But what happens when soldiers like Budu aren’t needed anymore.  Hmmm . . . . suddenly seeing Will McIntosh’s Defenders as a companion book to The Company.

 

The performance the Kantap puts on!  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, oh are you in for a treat!  When they do the “comedy act” of Sky Coyote and his, well, um,  I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe!

 

Omg, the scene with the Looney Tunes cartoons!  I was crying-laughing!   Actually, because me, I was crying-laughing for like the last 50 pages of this book.  They were happy tears.

 

The year 2355.  You can’t outrun it, you can’t avoid it.  You are rushing towards it, inevitably, relentlessly, and one day per day.

 

Because I have vague memories of what’s coming in books 3 – 6,  I can’t stop thinking about Mendoza and Nicholas.

 

We watched the movie Rocketman, the other day.  Freakin’ excellent movie!  It’s very Baz Luhrmann!  I lost track of all the costume changes and started getting a kick out of the dozens and dozens of glasses.  If you like musical biopics, this is well worth your two hours.

 

And I swear I saw Nicholas Harpole in Rocketman. You can’t tell from this picture, but he is tall and very lanky, and usually wears severe dark suits.  and that voice! and those eyes!  No wonder Elton thought this guy loved him, how could anyone think otherwise?

 

I spent the afternoon today binge watching Star Trek: Discovery season 2.

 

I freakin’ love Tilly.  You’re either going to love her or hate her, and it took me a few episodes in season one to warm up to her,  but I wish they would just call Discovery the Tilly & Stamets show.

 

isn’t she adorable?

 

More non-sequiturs in a few days, ok?

Gods and Pawns by Kage Baker

published in 2007

where I got it: purchased used

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I’ve been trying (and not always succeeding) to read Kage Baker’s Company books in the order of publication.   Which meant next up was Gods and Pawns, which was  published in 2007.   The series starts with In The Garden of Iden, a novel that completely broke my heart into a billion little pieces. Then came Sky Coyote, in which I fell a little bit in love with Joseph even though he is a complete asshole. Or at least, I thought he was an asshole until I met Porfirio, now that guy is a piece of work.  The Company books get darker and darker the further you read in the series, and yet Baker’s writing style is full of humor and wit, so you’re laughing at the same time.  With all the research that went into these novels and short stories much of her work reads a little bit like Tim Powers, that of course these crazy things didn’t happen . . . but no one can prove that they didn’t….

 

Gods and Pawns is a collection of short stories that take place in the Company world. Similar to her collection In The Company of Thieves, these mostly light-hearted short stories are excellent entry points into Baker’s Company world.

 

What is The Company? In the future, time travel is discovered. However, you can only travel backwards in time, and recorded history can not be changed. The owner(?) of The Company sends operatives back in time, where they take in orphaned children and turn the children into immortal cyborgs who are now employees of The Company.  For the cyborgs, it’s a post-scarcity life – they never need to worry about money, or a job, or a roof over their heads. The job security is great because they are immortal. But what are they working towards? What is the point of finding and then hiding all the valuable paintings and manuscripts and gems in the world for some future you may never see? Is this a good gig? Is it slavery?  What’s the retirement policy like?

 

I have condensed and vastly oversimplified Baker’s amazingly complex world. If you enjoy long running space opera series with fantastic writing, time paraxodes (paradoxii?) horrible secrets, lots of dark humor, all written by an author who is a genius at playing the long game, this is a great series for you.  If you’re not sure if that is something you’d like, the short stories are a great place to start.  For more information, and possibly epic spoilers, checkout the Company reread that Stefan Raets did at Tor.com last year.

 

While I was disappointed that Mendoza doesn’t star in a larger portion of the stories in Gods and Pawns, I was happy to see my favorite side character, Lewis, get the spotlight.

 

Surprising nobody, my favorite short story in Gods and Pawns is the Lewis/Mendoza story, “To The Land Beyond the Sunset”, in which our two immortal operatives act as mortal guests of a family of supposed gods.  Mendoza is excited about the rare plants she finds on their property, and Lewis is trying to figure out how exactly these people are related to each other, and why they seem so ignorant. There’s also the whisperings in the walls of a secret family member who keeps getting moved around the villa so the “visiting mortals” can’t see him. There’s the expected humor in this story, Mendoza and Lewis are immortal, and do have what could be construed as godly power. And this lonesome family appears to be underfed, ill-informed, living in a ramshackle villa, and not godly at all.  Everyone is playing a role, it seems.  Mendoza’s first discovery makes me hope these people die a horrible death for what they are doing. The next discovery makes me feel so terribly sorry for them.

I always imagine Lewis looking like Cyril from Archer.

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In the Company of Thieves, by Kage Baker

Published November 2013

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher

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I’ve been a devotee of Baker since reading her The Anvil of the World, a hilarious fantasy adventure novel. Then I read the first company novel, In The Garden of Iden, and I fell in love with her dry humor, her snarky immortals, and the innocence of a new hire who never asked for any of this. Kage Baker is one of those authors who should be on the shelf of any speculative fiction fan.  Once you read her, you’ll understand what all the fuss is about.

In the Company of Thieves is a collection of six Company stories, many which were previously published, including The Women of Nell Gwynne, Rude Mechanicals, and Mother Aegypt.  Kage Baker was very close with her sister Kathleen, and each story has a very short introduction by Kathleen, giving some background about when or why it was written, sometimes why Kage was drawn to that location or plotline. The Baker sisters grew up in California, so many of the stories take place in some of Kage’s favorite places in California. The final story in the volume, Hollywood Ikons, was finished by Kathleen after Kage’s death.

Not sure what Baker’s “The Company” is?  The best summary I can find for The Company is on the blurb for the book, so I shall borrow it:

“The Company, a powerful corporate entity in the twenty-fourth century, has discovered a nearly foolproof recipe for success: immortal employees and time travel. They specialize in retrieving extraordinary treasures out of the past, gathered by cybernetically enhanced workers who pass as ordinary people. or at least try to pass. . .

There is one rule at Dr. Zeus Incorporated that must not be broken: Recorded history cannot be changed. But avoiding the attention of mortals while stealing from them? It’s definitely not on the company manual”.

Immortal cyborgs stealing stuff? Historical fiction? Madcap adventures and tricking dumb mortals?  Where do I sign up?

Rude Mechanicals – Anytime recurring Company characters Joseph and Lewis show up, you know trouble and hijinks are on the horizon. A Shakespearian comedy of errors, the story takes place in 1930’s Hollywood. Lewis is working as an assistant and translator for the famous German director Max Reinhardt, who is directing and producing an outdoor version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Joseph has been tasked with acquiring Reinhardt’s notes for The Company, so it’s a good thing Lewis is an expert forger. To complicate matters (and by complicate, I mean create hilarious situations for the reader to enjoy!), Reinhardt keeps digging up trees to make his set look better, and his earthworks are getting way to close to a particular buried treasure that needs to stay buried for a little while longer, as per Company request. Comedy of Errors ensues, with a secret diamond getting passed off as costume jewelry, getting actually stolen, and actually gotten back. Lewis makes the perfect “straight man”, a guy who just wants to do his job, not get fired, and get some damn sleep. Joseph on the other hand, thinks this is the most fun he’s had in centuries!

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 Reynolds opens this epic space opera of the destiny of the universe with Daniel Sylveste getting arrested on the planet Resurgam. The son of a wealthy scientist and famous for his archaeological research in his own right, Daniel is used to things going his way, often burning bridges faster than he can build them. He has spent most of his adult life researching an ancient and now extinct race of our galaxy, the Amarantin. Once upon a time, the Amarantin were a burgeoning race of intelligent flightless birds. They had culture, religion, a written language, and were about to discover space flight. and then, almost magically, almost instantaneously, they were gone. Sylveste has made it his life’s work to discover what happened to the Amarantin.

But a government coup is something he can’t buy his way out of. 10 years later, he’s still a political prisoner, but has befriended the man who took over the planet Resurgam, been allowed to continue his research, and is about the marry the lovely Pascale. The government of Resurgam isn’t as stable as it seems, and on the day of the wedding Syveste finds himself behind bars, again. The only person he can trust is a beta level simulation of his late father, Calvin.

While Syveste has wasted away on Resurgam researching his precious Amarantin, people from his past are desperate to find him. Volyova and her cyborg crewmates (known as the triumvirate) aboard the Infinity follow every lead at their disposal to find Daniel Sylveste. They believe he is the only person in the galaxy that can save their captain. Ex-soldier Ana Khouri infiltrates the crew of the Infinity, for it is also her mission to find Sylveste. She is going to kill him. Read the rest of this entry »


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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.