the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘military science fiction

This was the book I didn’t want to review.

 

I didn’t even want to read it.

 

I don’t know why, but I felt the need to save this book for some time when I really needed it.  Like it was the last bottle of whisky from a famous yet shuttered distillery. And once I opened it, it would evaporate and soon barely the scent would remain.

 

When I did crack the book open,  of course the first story I read was The Battle of Candle Arc.  And then I read that story again. And then I read Iseul’s Lexicon, which I then, read again.

I consumed this collection in such a strange way,  I consumed it the same way I use a cookbook. Once I identified a story I enjoyed,  I’d reread it three, or four times, getting into into my rotation. When I felt ready, I’d try another story/meal.

 

Strange, I know.  But you already know that I’m strange.

 

The time came for me to start thinking about the review.

 

I didn’t want to write it.  I didn’t want to put Conservation of Shadows back on the shelf along with all the other books that “I’m done thinking about”.   I’m not ready for these characters to not be in my life anymore. Can I reread these stories any time I want? For sure. But there’s something different about a book that is floating around the house because you are still thinking about it, and a book that you’ve put back on the shelf and categorized in your mind as “I’m done thinking about that book”.

 

This is what Yoon Ha Lee does:  writes fiction you don’t want to stop thinking about. You might be done reading the book, but the book isn’t done with you.

 

To write this review, I’ve made a bargain with myself:  I purchased Hexarchate Stores, so I can dive right into that,  and Conservation of Shadows is going to live on the coffee table for a while longer.  This review is not an agreement that I’m done with this book. In fact, it’ll be really fun to reread these stories in 6 months or a year, and see if they have changed, or if I’ve changed.

 

Thank you for letting me get all of that out of my system and put words to my feelings. You’ve been very patient.  I guess it’s time I talk about this collection, yeah?

 

Most of the stories touch on language (which of course, I have zero interest in), colonialism and occupation, assimilation, destruction of cultures through destruction of their language, how sometimes things just don’t translate, and how war makes us strangers to ourselves.

 

One last thing before I actually talk about the stories!  Fun new words!

 

sumptuary           morphophonemics      escritoire

logographs              entelechy

 

Isn’t “escritoire” just the most beautiful word you’ve ever seen?

 

Ok, I am getting to the stories now, I SWEAR.   In no particular order:

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raven stratagemRaven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

published June 2017

Where I got it: Purchased New

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Looking back at my review of the first book in this series, Ninefox Gambit, I wrote a pretty crappy review.  I remember when I finished that book, my mind was absolutely blown, and I had absolutely no idea how the heck to talk about what I’d just read.  So I wrote a passable review and then ordered the 2nd book in the series, Raven Stratagem.

 

I had a similar experience with Raven Stratagem.  My mind was utterly blown, and I knew I had no idea how to discuss what I just read.

 

So I read Raven Stratagem again, paid closer attention, and took more notes. You guys.  I don’t even like military scifi. And I loved the living shit out of this book. I never thought I’d say that some military science fiction books had become my comfort reads, but 2017 is a weird place.

 

Ninefox Gambit was on a comparatively small scale. It mostly took place on one ship, with Jedao manipulating the shit out of Cheris, and then showing her how powerful a skilled manipulator can be and how easy their society is to manipulate. All Kel cadets learn about the madman General Jedao who slaughtered his own troops, but they have no idea who he was as a person. Cheris gets to learn who he is as a person. It changes her mind.

 

Raven Stratagem is manipulation on a much, much larger scale.Yes, Jedeo is running around in Cheris’s body (is there anything of her left in there? Who knows), but in this novel we also get a look at the Hexarchates and how they run their factions.  Running a faction mostly means manipulating your fellow leaders so that you can get what you want, and right now, they all want immortality.  All this political manipulation would be sick if it wasn’t so darn entertaining!

 

If the first book was algebra, then this second book is trigonometry – with a focus on the study of angles.

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June, where did you go? Last I checked it was June 2nd, how is it already July??   I didn’t post many reviews in June, but I did get a lot of reading done.  Some of these I’ll write reviews for, some of them will get a capsule review in this post.  Here’s what I was up to this month:

 

I finished this fun little gem:

Spock Must Die is the famous novel where thanks to a transporter malfunction, the Enterprise now has two Spocks. Which one is the “real” one? What will they do with the other one? When war breaks out at the Klingon border, the importance of solving the mystery ratchets up. Even when Kirk is sure which Spock is the true, original Spock, he insists on calling his friend “Spock Two”. When questioned why, Kirk responds that by saying “two” every time he says his friend’s name, it forces him to remember how important it is to solve the problem at hand.  Fun little book, right around 200 pages.  Great beginning, satisfying end, a little slow in the middle.

 

then there was this other little gem:

Mightier than the Sword is the new novella out from K.J. Parker.  I’m not going to say much because I do plan to write a review, but it was fun, smart, snarky, and a joy to read. I’ve read it at least twice now, maybe three times?  I read these quick little novellas, and then I get ready to write a review, realize I don’t remember the details, so I read the whole thing again.  If you like Parker, you will love Mightier than the Sword.

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Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

published in 2016

Where I got it: purchased new

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What’s your opinion on getting thrown in the deep end, buried in terminology, and a world that’s never fully explained? If you answered “I’m good with that”, you’ll enjoy Ninefox Gambit.  If that sentence made you quiver in your seat a little, then maybe this book isn’t for you.  And I’ll admit, I struggled through the first 50 pages or so – the language was gorgeous, almost musical,  with animal, insect, and bird signifiers telling me something. I had no idea what was going on, or what the signifiers were supposed to tell me, but it sure was pretty.   So started the book again, from the beginning, forcing myself to pay close attention to the political maneuverings, unique military terminology, cultural slang, and calendrical heresy.

 

Calendrical Heresy, that’s one I should explain, isn’t it?  But doesn’t that phrase sound delicious on your tongue? Say it out loud with me: Calendrical heresy. It tastes like apricots and caramel, and looks like leaves falling on a calm pond.   A militaristic society built on mathematics and belief, the technology of the Hexarchate depends on everyone following the same calendar, and observing the same holidays and observances all at the same time. If you are doing something against the calendar, you are heretical, and after the military catches you, you’ll be re-educated. No government wants disruptors, right?   Is it math that makes the technology work? Religious observations and belief? Spirituality? Some pretty deep stuff.

 

The novel is broken up into three discreet acts. The first act involves Kel Cheris is “partnered” with the digitized ghost of a famous military general.  General Shuos Jedao never lost a battle, but he also slaughtered his own soldiers.  He’s suicidal, depressed, angry as fuck, and now bonded to Cheris’s brain.  Lucky her.  One of the Hexarchate’s most important fortresses, The Fortress of Scattered Needles, has fallen to heresy.   Jedao was known for breaking all the rules, and Cheris is known for following all orders to the letter thanks to her unbreakable Formation Instinct, so they make an interesting pair.

 

I should explain Formation Instinct a little? Simply put, it’s brainwashing.

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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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babel17 cover open roadBabel-17 by Samuel Delany

published in 1966

where I got it: received review copy from Open Road Media

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Samuel Delany wrote Babel-17 when he was in his mid 20s, and in a very short novel he offers up fascinating linguistic theories and applications, compelling characters and social situations, and intergalactic war.  The too long didn’t read version of this review is I absolutely loved Babel-17.  It doesn’t feel dated, Delany’s stylistic experiments paid off, and it’s just a damn gorgeous book to read. Everyone else must have thought so as well, as it was a joint winner for the Nebula Award for best novel, and nominated for a Hugo.

 

Rydra Wong is a young and intensely talented poet, and her books and poems are known throughout the galaxy. She doubts her own talent, and feels that she only writing what other people have already thought but couldn’t come up with the words for. Recruited by the government for her linguistics talents to decode a message picked up from the invaders, she quickly realizes this isn’t a code, but an entire language, and she soons become desperate to learn the entire thing.  On a mission to both acquire more snippets of the Babel-17 language and learn where it originated, Wong is given a ship and her choice of crewmates.

 

Nothing about Babel-17 is done or shown in an expected way, and I loved that. When Wong is looking to recruit a crew for her ship, she shops for a pilot at a wrestling match, tries to fix up a broken marriage with help from the morgue, and even recruits few completely discorporate (dead) crewmembers. Weird at first for me, but easy to get used to and hella fun.

 

My favorite things about the book were the discussions of language and communication, and the character interactions While in discussions with her mentor, Rydra mentions that she only reflects other people’s thoughts, she’s putting words to things they don’t (or feel they don’t) have words for. This is one of my favorite passages about how and why she writes poetry:

 

“You know what I do? I listen to other people, stumbling about with their half thoughts and half sentences and their clumsy feelings that they can’t express – and it hurts me. So I go home and burnish it and polish it and weld it to a rhythmic frame, make the dull colors gleam, mute the garish artificiality to pastels, so it doesn’t hurt anymore: that’s my poem.”

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As usual, I have attempted to not bring more books into the house and failed miserably. It might sound counter intuitive, but the more books that are piled up on the coffee table (and under the coffee table, and on the corner of the kitchen table, and on the table next to the bed), the less inclined I am to want to purchase more.

But, sometimes I can’t help myself. And then beautiful books show up in the mail, and before I know it I am surrounded by the happiness that is new books that have come to live in my house and be loved by me.

Here are my newest babies:

 

Galaxy Game

From Del Rey/Randomhouse comes  a gorgeous edition of The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord.  this is her follow up to The Best Of All Possible Worlds, but they can both be read as stand alones.  Stay tuned for January, when I’ll have not one, but two articles about her new novel. I’m more than a little excited!

The MechanicalFrom Orbit (you know, the folks who spoil me rotten?) comes The Mechanical from Ian Tregillis. I had no idea he had a new novel coming out! But I sure was excited to pull this ARC out of it’s envelope. The Mechanical comes out in March, and so far the only thing I know about it is that since it has Tregillis’s name on it, I want to read it.

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bastion 6Bastion Science Fiction Magazine, issue 6

Published September 2014

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

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This was a very satisfying, yet difficult issue to get through. Let me unpack that a little, because it sounds a little mean, and I meant it to be the opposite.  this isn’t a very long issue, so I’d planned to binge read the entire thing in one or two sittings. The  stories in issue 6 focus around death and memories, risk and responsibility, things we all have to deal with but are terrified to talk about.  After a couple of stories I needed to take a break and read or watch something happy.  But it was really hard to take a break, because the stories all start with a great hook! When fiction can affect you like that, this is a good thing.

 

The issue opens with an emotional bang, with John Herman’s “Pancakes”, in which Charlie is given one last chance to see his father. But is this simulacrum really his dad? It sure looks like his father, sounds like the old bastard too. If you had just a few minutes to talk to a parent who was barely there for you, someone you never got along with, what would you say? Is this the time to be thankful, to be gracious, to be honest, to say the things you never thought you’d have the chance to say?  Charlie says them, and leaves, and then his father finishes the conversation without him.

 

We then move into the very dark “The Long, Slow War”, by Stephanie Herman, a far future science fiction story that takes place at a human colony on a distant planet. I enjoyed how the world building was done in this one, with Herman throwing the reader into the deep end at first, not quite explaining the sky split in half, or these aliens that will kill us if we so much as look at them wrong. The aliens taunt us, and our only weapon is apathy, it’s a futuristic expression of “if you ignore the person teasing you, they’ll get bored and leave you alone”.  It’s time for the treaty to be renewed and signed by both parties, and on the human side of the Embassy is a wall of photos of Ambassadors who didn’t survive the signing meeting.  The story focuses around the current human ambassador and as the meeting gets closer, his anxiety rises like bile in the throat. There is a subtext here of the silent fury behind the pacifism the colonists swore they chose for themselves.

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Something especially interesting was kicking around the twittersphere last week. Something about a new military science fiction anthology edited by the very talented Jaym Gates and Andrew Liptak, and published by Apex Publishing.   you know how sometimes you catch something out of the corner of your eye, and you just have to see what it is, you just have to learn more? The War Stories Anthology is that thing.  And what better way to learn about it than by chatting up the editors and the publisher?

Not sure if a military scifi anthology is for you? Chances are you’re already reading Military Science Fiction, you just don’t know it. Enjoy Ender’s Game? How about Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga? How about Max Brooks’ World War Z? Dune by Frank Herbert? John Scalzi?  Ever play Mass Effect? or Halo?  see? you’re already a fan!

War-Stories-cover1

Jaym and Andrew have already talked extensively about this project, over at Reddit, over at Fantasy Book Critic, at Toonari Post, at Book Life Now, at Dribble of Ink, and elsewhere.  If the Kickstarter succeeds, an especially unique anthology will see the light of day.  Military science fiction is so much more than any hokey Baen Books cover art would have you believe.

My guests today:

jaym gates 2

Jaym Gates  is the editor of the zombie anthology Rigor Amortis, which was a Barnes and Noble Top 10 pick in 2011, and short fiction author (published in The Aether Age: Helios). She is the publicist for the Science Fiction Writers of America, Candlemark & Gleam and Pathfinder Books. She helped launch several Kickstarter projects, including Geek Love, the highest-funded anthology in Kickstarter’s history.

andrew liptak 2

Andrew Liptak  received his Master of Arts in Military History from Norwich University (the nation’s first private military academy), and has written extensively about military science fiction for io9 and SF Signal, and has written for such websites as Kirkus Reviews, Geek Exchange, Tor.com, Strange Horizons, and magazines such as Armchair General and the Norwich Record. He is currently an editorial assistant for Lightspeed Magazine.

jason sizemore

Jason Sizemore is the owner and operator of Apex Publications, a small press publisher dedicated to producing exemplary works of science fiction, horror, fantasy and non-fiction.

The Links you need:

War Stories Kickstarter page

War Stories website and blog

Let’s get to the interview!

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clarkesworld4Folks, this is it. With this post I’ve let you know about all the original fiction Clarkesworld published during their fourth year. They just celebrated seven years, by the way. Pretty awesome, right?

just joining us? catch up with parts one, two, three, four and five.

This “go through their entire year” project was fun. You interested in me doing something like this again? I only did one year out of seven, but I feel like a bit of a completest anyway.

These final stories involve memory theft, magic candies, murderous whirlwinds, a vengeful astronaut, and a tragic military science fiction story. Let’s dive in!

Between Two Dragons, by Yoon Ha Lee – The nation of Cho has tried to stay neutral. On one side is the war like Yamat rattles it’s sabers, and makes plans to invade Feng-Huang, located on the far side of Cho. Avoiding violence from one side all but forces them to betray the other neighbor. And the famous Admiral Yen Shemar will remember none of it. Knowing the fate that awaits him after the war, he opts to face it on his own terms, and pays a visit to a woman who can erase his memories and in the process change his personality. This was the part of the story that struck me the hardest. The person being “re-written” doesn’t remember the procedure, doesn’t understand why their mother or child or sister looks at them funny afterwards because they no longer love their favorite foods, or claim to have never seen the film or read the book or poet that they used to always quote from. Your loved one becomes a stranger. At work recently, I overhear two people comparing their closed head injury recoveries. What they both agreed on was that the injury changed their personality. they could remember who they were before, but their personality changed afterwards. Is being “rewritten” a little like that, except you can’t remember who you were before? It was uncanny, to overhear that conversation shortly after reading this story. Between Two Dragons is a military science fiction story, but it doesn’t read like you’d expect a military scifi story to read.  It reads like a list of fears, of regrets. It’s not told in chronological order either, as if the characters are writing down fleeting memories before they can be forcefully taken.

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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.