the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘history

I’ve been on a time travel kick lately.  And who doesn’t like time travel, in all it’s wibbly wobbly timey wimey wonderfulness?   I love it when authors think to themselves “let’s travel through time, what could possibly go wrong?”.    You don’t need a Delorean or a TARDIS to travel through time. Sometimes time travel isn’t exactly what you thought it would be, and that makes it even better.

 

This post is simply a love letter to my favorite time travel stories.  Shout out to your favorites in the comments!

 

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds (2019) – I love how this book explains what happens when a time traveler successfully changes the past.  The actual machinery used to travel through time doesn’t always work as planned, either. To say more would spoil this unique time travel story.  Just a damn good, edge of seat, time travel thriller!

 

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (1992) –  Everytime I read this I cry buckets at the end. Kivrin is a historian at Oxford, and she travels back to England in the 1300s. While she’s gone, a terrible flu-like virus hits Oxford, putting her time travel technician in the hospital.  If he’s not at the lab, she can’t come home. There’s another, much worse reason why she might not be able to get home.  This book reads like a much shorter book, the pages fly by.

 

Blackout by Connie Willis (2010) – Four more Oxford time travelers. Let’s go to London during World War II, what could possibly go wrong?  Umm . . .. how about everything? The last hundred pages of this book I nearly chewed my fingernails completely off. Blackout is the first book in  a duology, I recommend if you’re going to read this that you purchase the 2nd book in the duology, All Clear, at the same time.  Got a teenager at home who hates history class? These are the books for them.

 

Time Was by Ian McDonald (2018) – I loved the characters and their different voices.  Lovers separated by time, trying to find each other. They leave notes for each other in bookstores all over the world, always in the same book.   This is a love story told via Klein bottle.

 

Household Gods by Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove (1999) – A thoroughly modern woman wakes up in an ancient Roman frontier town.  Is she hallucinating? Is she crazy? This is, actually, the best escape from her modern life, so maybe she could get used to being a tavern keeper.  For your friends who think scifi is too weird, give them this book. It reads like a historical fiction. And why yes, there were dentists ancient Rome!

In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker (1997) – this is the first book in her Company series.  In the future, The Company sends their cybernetic operatives into the past to . . .   do what exactly? Baker plays a very long game, and she was a storycrafting genius. Start at the beginning with Mendoza in Garden of Iden (and be prepared to cry), and a few books later when things start to feel a little repetitive, trust me, just keep reading.  One of these days, I will finish this series, I promise. Actually, no, I don’t. I don’t *want* to finish this series. Because then it will be over.

 

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers (1983) – A historian thinks he’s getting paid to give a lecture. As a surprise from their host, the entire dinner party goes through time to London in 1810.  In my opinion, The Anubis Gates is Powers’ best work. Time travel mixed with paranormal, mixed with using your knowledge of the present to work your way around the past. A must read!

 

I feel certain that this list is missing books I’ve loved, and can’t bring to mind.  😦

 

If time travel movies and TV shows are more your thing, I highly recommend:

 

Dark – the 2nd season of this German thriller just dropped on Netflix.  Think Twin Peaks meets time travel.  also? the music is fantastic!

 

Kate and Leopold – I usually find romance stories to be overly cheesy, but I loved this movie so much!!

 

Steins;Gate – this anime came out a few years ago, and it is dark, nerdy, hilarious, addictive, heart breaking.  Because time travel – what could possibly go wrong?

 

 

what time travel stories have you enjoyed?  Why do you enjoy time travel stories?  Let’s chat!

The Inconvenient God, by Francesca Forrest

Available Oct 10th, 2018

where I got it: received review copy (thanks!!)

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A number of years ago, I adored Francesca Forrest’s novel Pen Pal.  If you’ve never read an epistolary story, or think you don’t like epistolary stories, Pen Pal will prove to you that writing letters back and forth is THE BEST way to tell a story (ok, ok, that’s my opinion). So when I heard that she had a new novelette coming out, you KNEW I was going to do whatever it took to get my hands on a copy!

 

The Inconvenient God is approximately 10% what it says on the tin.  The back cover copy states that it is about an official from the Ministry of Divinity who is assigned the job of decommissioning a waning god.  She gets to the job site only to learn that something fishy is going on. That all happens in what feels like the first five pages of the book.

 

And that’s when the really good stuff starts!  None of which is mentioned on the back cover. So when you buy the book, ignore the back cover copy!  It tells you nothing about this amazing world, nothing about this culture that being forced to move into a future it isn’t quite ready for, nothing about how history is written by the winners or how easy it is for entire stories and histories to be lost.  To be honest, when I read the back cover copy, I thought this was going to be about an old sky beard who was a professor at a college, and the guy refused to retire even though he had dementia. Yeah, that is not at all what this story is about!!

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City of Miracles, by Robert Jackson Bennett

published May 2017

where I got it: purchased new

 

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All artwork (other than the book’s cover art) in this post is by the very talented Chanh Quach. You can view the rest of her Divine Cities character portraits here.

 

This is the third book in a trilogy, and I’m a little jealous of people who will read City of Miracles as their first Divine Cities book.  How different would City of Stairs be if you already knew Sigrud’s secrets, if you already had Vinya’s backstory?  I imagine those early conversations would read much differently and have layers of subtext.

 

Picking up twenty years after the events in City of Stairs,  City of Miracles feels slower, more introspective, and less subtle than the previous installments in the trilogy.   The pace and quietness reflects Sigrud’s personality – he’s not slow by any means, but he’s self contained, doesn’t waste words, and comes to things on his own terms.  Still wanted by the government for his actions after his daughter’s death, he’s been living in hiding under an assumed name. At his age, he should be slowing down, but to Sigrud one day is timelessly much like the next – he patiently waits for Ashara Komayd to contact him, he keeps to himself, and if anyone suspects his identity, he disappears.  In the first two Divine Cities books, Sigrud stole every scene he was in, so it is nice to have an entire novel where he is the star of the show.

artwork by Chanh Quach

As with other Robert Jackson Bennett books, the world building in City of Miracles is fantastic. Gorgeously rendered city scapes,  barren hinterlands, everything in between, and more importantly everything has a history. When you close your eyes, you see it, you are there, you can hear the breeze through the trees, you can find someone nearby who can tell the story of those ruins.  In the twenty years since we first met Shara and Sigrud, the world has changed. A young industrial revolution, of sorts – more automobiles, a sky gondola contraption that goes over the mountains instead of through them, more telephones, etc.   As the younger generation is excited about these new technological developments, the older generation is still getting used to a changing world.

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Today I’m thrilled to have my friend Lesley Conner visit Little Red Reviewer. Lesley is an author, the Managing Editor of Apex Magazine, and all around amazing person. A wrangler of slush readers and girl scouts, Lesley somehow manages to find time to write her own fiction. Her debut novel, The Weight of Chains, comes out today from Sinister Grin Press.  A historical thriller of power, torture, and escape, The Weight of Chains is the story of Gilles de Rais and the woman who defied him.

Weight of CHains

Lesley was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about her new novel. Let’s get to the interview!

Little Red Reviewer: Congratulations on your forthcoming novel, The Weight of Chains!  What can you tell us about the novel?

Lesley Conner: Thank you! I’m extremely excited!

So what can I tell you about The Weight of Chains … I could go the old boring route and tell you it’s an alternative history horror novel inspired by the crimes of Gilles de Rais.

That’s true, but it doesn’t really get to the heart of it.

The Weight of Chains is about power and control. Gilles de Rais is nobleman who has absolute control over every aspect of his life. He’s also a killer with very dark desires, and he uses his status and power to make sure that he can play out his every fantasy. It is a novel full of torture and death. It’s also one that examines what happens to the people who get swept up in that world, who have no control and no choice, but have to fulfill their master’s wishes for safety and security, or just to make it through one more day. But what happens if Gilles’s control begins to slip? What if another power comes into play and the carefully constructed life that Gilles has built begins to crumble?

The Weight of Chains is full of murder, deceit, magic, desperation, a demon, and a little girl who wants to figure out how to do more than just survive. She wants to be happy.

lesley Coner

LRR: The novel takes place in medieval France. Tell us about some of the research you did to get the historical details just right.

LC: Gah! Research! By the time I was finished with the novel, I was to the point of telling any who would listen that if I EVER said I wanted to write another historical novel to smack me. And then I immediately got an idea for a novel heavily influenced by the 1920s New York speakeasy scene and fell right back down the research rabbit hole.

 

Researching a novel set in 1436, France was difficult to put it mildly. First, Gilles de Rais was a real person. I spent a lot of time reading about him, the crimes he committed, and the people who were involved. The facts of his life have been twisted – he really did hire a wizard named Prelati, but the real Prelati was very much a conman, whereas the one in my novel is a victim of Gilles cruelty – but anyone who knows about the historical figure will see little details that point to the real man.

Second, a major character in my novel is an eleven year old peasant girl. There is little detailed information about the peasantry at this time. So much what is out there seems to focus on nobility. Finding information about peasant children – girls in particular – was even harder. I wanted details like footwear and what they would eat to be as accurate as possible, so I ended up contacting some historical re-enactors. When all else fails, ask an expert! They were fantastic about answering my questions. Plus, they were always in character and would begin emails with “Dear fair lady,” which is kind of fun.

LRR: Without giving us any spoilers (if possible), what is your favorite scene in the novel?

LC: There is a scene where Jeanetta is serving Christophe a bowl of soup. It doesn’t seem like much, but something happens that makes her realize that life could be good, it could be more than the drudgery of moving through each day doing what needed to be done so she and her family could survive, she could be happy. It’s a very small moment and isn’t incredibly flashy, but it is integral to Jeanetta having the will and the strength she needs at the end of the novel. I don’t know that it’s my favorite scene (can a writer really pick a favorite?) but it always makes me smile because it’s a sweet moment, and I’ll be honest, there aren’t a whole lot of sweet moments in The Weight of Chains.

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the adjacentThe Adjacent, by Christopher Priest

published 2013

where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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I enjoyed reading The Adjacent, and I’d be lying if I said a large portion of the book didn’t have me on the edge of my seat. But still, I can’t tell you what this book is about. That’s not because i don’t want to spoil things for you, it’s because I simply have no idea what the book was about.

 

I borrowed this book from a friend, who described it as “a mental mind f*ck””, which is as apt a description as any.  The few sentences on the back of the book mention two characters who have similar names but otherwise shouldn’t have anything in common, and a physicist who discovers a weaponizable secret. How is all this might be related is an understandable and expected question.

 

The story opens with photographer Tibor Trent, recently returned to England after his wife Melanie was killed in the Anatolian field hospital they both worked in.  This near-future England isn’t anything you or I would recognize. Much of the land is burnt to slag, the face of the ruling government isn’t what most people would expect, and Tibor is kept oddly isolated, often guarded or greeted by people who refuse to speak to him. It’s not so much post-apocalyptic as it is post shock-and-awe. Tibor is waiting for his debriefing appointment, to explain to someone the enemy weapon that killed his wife, that left nothing behind but a blackened perfect triangle.

 

Elsewhen, stage magician Tommy Trent is on his way to the Western Front. What could the muddied trenches possibly need a stage entertainer for?  When Tommy learns of the true reason he’s been called to the front, he realizes he’s in far too deep. Told in first person, Tommy tells the reader he is a professional misleader. He also gives an early and helpful definition of how adjacency is applied to the art of stage magic:

 

“The magician places two objects close to each other, or connects them in some way, but one is made to be more interesting (or intriguing, or amusing) to the audience. It might have an odd ot suggestive shape, or it appears to have something inside it, or it suddenly starts doing something the magician seems not to have noticed. The actual set-up is unimportant – what matters most is that the audience, however briefly, should become interested and look away in the wrong direction”

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city_of_stairs-cover1City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

published Sept 2014

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

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Where to start with City of Stairs? To say this book has everything sounds so cliche, doesn’t it?  To say it is funny and subtle and daring and fascinating would also sound cliche. But I’m going to say all of those things anyways, because this is one of those comes-a-long-once-a-decade books that transcends. It’s like one of those Hubble images where scale is all but impossible, where you can zoom in or out, and continually find new structures that your mind tells you shouldn’t exist. That shiver you feel? It’s your worldview expanding.

 

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Hubble image of the Pillars of Creation, taken in 1995. click here for more info on this image.

City of Stairs is a sort of political book that’s got nothing to do with politics, it’s a fantasy where there are miracles but not exactly magic, it’s got romance that’s not traditionally romantic, not to mention culture and beliefs and history and archaeology being treated as if they are living things sitting right next to you waiting for the right moment to tell you their secrets. Like I said, it’s got everything.

 

I was recently listening to a podcast about Cordwainer Smith, and one of the Karens mentioned something about how Smith had come out of nowhere, that he wasn’t building on what other writers had done, and it was as if he was reinventing science fiction. Robert Jackson Bennett is a modern day Cordwainer Smith in a similar fashion. But, if forced to make a connection comparison (because we all like those!), to say “this book is like this other book”, the only one that comes to my mind is The Scar, by China Mieville, and only because of the depth of secrecy involved and the ultimate and intimately personal goals of some of the characters.

 

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City of Stairs starts with a courtroom ruling, followed by a train arriving in the middle of the night.

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STP_Fall2013-425x561

Wow, it’s been a while since I reviewed Hugo stuff! Moving in the Novelette category, I’m going to start with Ted Chiang’s “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”.  You can read this story over at the Subterranean Magazine site.

What should you follow? facts, or your feelings? It’s not a matter of which is better, it’’ a matter of which will make the world around you better.

Over his lifetime, the narrator has seen drastic changes in how people communicate, and how people record what happened to them. Everything from hand written journals and photography of his youth to the assistive software and subvocalization his daughter uses when she wants to “write” something. That is in italics because he doesn’t view what she does as writing. There’s no paper, there’s no pen, her hands aren’t moving. To him, it’s not writing. In this near future story there are also “lifelogs”, a googleglass meets blog thing, where you can record important moments of your life for the purpose of playing them back later. Some people record their entire lives, thus the market for a product called Remem, that helps you sift through your lifelog to find the moment you’re looking for.

Perfect factual memory, it’s the invention we’ve been waiting forever for, right? You could finally find out who laughed at you at your high school cheerleading audition, or if it was you or your spouse who forgot to lock the front door. This is the epitome of personal record keeping. The narrator is excited to use this new technology to repair his relationship with his daughter. He can go back and review their conversations and fights, see where everything went wrong. Is a perfect memory a gift? or a curse?

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long hidden anthologyLong Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older

published May 2014

where I got it: Received review copy from the publisher. (Thanks Crossed Genres!)

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I’ve tried for a few days to write an introduction to this anthology that beats around the bush, that avoids the politics. Beating around the bush has proved impossible in the short span of time i give myself to write reviews.

 

So I will be blunt.

 

Unless you live under a rock, you know that historically the vast majority of speculative fiction published in the English speaking world has been written by straight white dudes, and what they wrote and published reflected their worldview.  I have nothing against their worldview, it’s just that I know there are about a billion other (six billion, working on seven, actually) worldviews out there, including my own.  I’d like to hear those voices too.  We (and by we, I mean me, and people like me: white, midwestern, don’t know any language but English) are getting points of view we have never seen before. Our eyes are being opened, and there is a blinding rainbow to be seen.

 

And I couldn’t be happier.  The world’s cultural  history doesn’t belong to just one group, so why should our speculative fiction?  Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History offers over two dozen diverse stories about those who have been brushed aside, marginalized, been told that people aren’t interested in their stories, in too many cases been told to go away and shut up. Well, I might be a white girl from the midwest who led the easiest life you can imagine, but damnit, I am interested in these stories.

 

Yes, this is speculative fiction, but it is also historical fiction. Along with beautiful and sometimes haunting artwork,  each story in Long Hidden is subtitled by a place and a year, connecting and cementing everything that happens in this book with events that shaped history, many of which circle around colonialism, exploitation, slavery, and institutionalized dehumanization. Geographically, the stories range from India to Denmark, to China and Guatemala, and everywhere inbetween, offering a literal planetary scope of points of view. Dazzling prose, fascinating characters, and nearly everything I read had me running to the internet, Google, Google Maps, Wikipedia, typing in places, dates, names, and events. The internet isn’t an ideal source to be sure, but a collection of stories that has me asking myself “what was happening around this story? What is the context, why are these people so afraid, what else is happening here?” and instantly wanting to know more of the non-fiction that the fiction pointed to, that certainly that had to be one of the many purposes of this collection. I hope that you too will be interesting in doing further reading on your own, to further understand the contexts of these stories.  Because without context? it’s just a story. And nothing in Long Hidden is just a story. And that’s the point.

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For those of you who guessed Luray Caverns, congrats! You figured out where I was! if you have no idea what I’m talking about, go check out my photos from last week.

Hubby is a History Guy, so our next stops included Winchester VA, Harper’s Ferry, and Antietam.  We drove up and down lots of mountains.  Even you’re not into history, if you live anywhere near Shenandoah Valley, you should visit. It really is the most beautiful place on Earth.

Why don’t you enjoy these photos while I go finish piles and piles of laundry?

Winchester, VA.  Geographically important during the Civil War, the town changed hands more than 70 times.  The Courthouse served as a hospital and prison during the Civil War, and much of the graffiti has been preserved. It’s now a very small museum. Winchester has got to be the nicest town in America. Every time we pulled out our tourist map, some local walked up to us and asked if we needed directions anywhere, if we needed help with anything. Everyone was so friendly and polite!

It was used as a Courthouse and Hospital during the Civil War. The front area was gated in and was used as a prison. It's a museum now, and you can ring the bell!

It was used as a Courthouse and Hospital during the Civil War. The front area was gated in and was used as a prison. It’s a museum now, and you can ring the bell!

Masonic Temple in Winchester. What an amazing facade!

Masonic Temple in Winchester. What an amazing facade!

This is the public library. the PUBLIC LIBRARY of Winchester!!!!

This is the public library. the PUBLIC LIBRARY of Winchester!!!!

Next stop was Harper’s Ferry. It’s built into a mountain side, and the entire village is hills, hills, and more hills. I suggest leaving your car at the Visitor Center and taking the shuttle in, as there is very little parking in the town itself. We spent so much time at the Armory Historical area, that by the time we decided to shop a bit, most of the stores were closing. We also went during the week, which meant half the shops weren’t open.  There are staircases and steep alleyways everywhere. I can’t imagine trying to get up those uneven steps in bad weather.  Another very friendly town, someplace I’d love to spend more time in.

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The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers

published in 1983

where I got it: that one bookshelf where my favorite books are.

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The short version of this review is that The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers is utterly brilliant and amazing.   Aren’t sure if time travel books are your thing? Doesn’t matter, this book transcends. Aren’t sure if Tim Powers is for you? He transcends all as well, and you can learn more about him in my Why You Should be Reading Tim Powers article.

here’s the long version:

Brendan Doyle lives a remarkably boring life. An expert in the lives of the romantic poets, Doyle tracks down obscure manuscripts and gets papers published in even more obscure literary magazines.  When he flies to London to meet with wealthy yet eccentric J. Cochran Darrow, Doyle’s in it for the money. this crazy old guy wants to pay Doyle a million dollars to give an hour lecture about Samuel Taylor Coleridge to a dinner party? No problem.  that money will go a long way towards Doyle’s research of an obscure poet who was in London around the same time as Coleridge, William Ashbless.

Except it’s not just any dinner party, and this isn’t just any old rich guy. J. Cochran Darrow has discovered how to jump through time. Brendan will give his lecture, answer a few questions, and then entire group, Darrow, Brendan, and the guests, will travel through time to 1810 see Coleridge himself. Everything must be timing perfectly, as these breaks in the river of time are sometimes only open for a few hours.

The only predictable scene happens when the time travel jump is successful, everything is going swimmingly, and suddenly Doyle gets separated from the group and is left behind in 1810.  Abandoned, yet hopeful, Doyle has a plan. He knows the exact time and date that Ashbless wrote a famous poem at a tavern in London. If Doyle can survive for a week, he can approach Ashbless and hopefully work with the man. Should Doyle ever get back to modern day London, he’d be able to write the ultimate Ashbless biography.

But Darrow isn’t the only person jumping through time. A few someone elses, many hundreds of years ago, used arcane magic to open these gates in time.  These ancient magicians have forsaken their connection with the earth, and wear heels, platform clogs, and even spring heeled shoes to keep their flesh as far from the Earth as possible.  Even J. Cochran Darrow has his own ulterior motives.

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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.