the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘religion

 

Last week, I reviewed Derek Künsken’s The Quantum Magician. This hard science fiction thief story takes place generations after we’ve figured out how to manipulate our own genetic code to create subspecies of humans.  If you like biology and quantum mechanics, or anything that touches either of those sciences, this is the book for you.

 

I like me some hard science, but what I like even more is a book that makes me think about science, and how science and society and inextricably linked in ways I hadn’t thought about. This book also got me thinking about how when the equation doesn’t give me the result I need, it’s time to change the equation.  Design the input around the result, instead of the other way around. I’m a nerd, so that was a ton of fun to chew on.

 

But let’s go back to the genetic manipulation thing, because I got some stuff I gotta unpack. I gotta get it out of my head. If I’m going to enjoy the fun stuff, then I need to  stare this other shit in the face.

 

Nothing in this post is a spoiler, or at least not exactly. There’s just more than you ever wanted to know about the subtext of The Quantum Magician. And all this seemed a bit too much for the review, you know?

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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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The Habitation of the Blessed, by Catherynne M. Valente

where I got it:  purchased new

published in 2010

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I first read and reviewed Catherynne M. Valente’s The Habitation of the Blessed in 2011, and it blew my mind. I had no idea jeweled prose like this existed, I had no idea stories could be told like this. I didn’t know an author could do these things in a novel. I remember trying to give someone a 30-second elevator pitch about this book, and I knew I couldn’t boil the entire book down into a few sentences so I simply said something like Have you ever come across a metaphor that wasn’t a metaphor, it was the truth? That’s this book. The person looked at me like I was crazy, but I think I did Habitation justice with that pitch.

This is a hard book for me to talk about, because reading it has become a sort of religious experience for me. Not religious in the way of temples or praying or god or heaven or any of that stuff, but religious in the way of looking up at the night sky, seeing the Milky Way, and feeling very small and realizing you had no idea the universe and everything in it could be this beautiful and understanding that you are a part of that beauty, you are in it, you are of it. Religious like that.

I don’t so much talk about this book as fan-girl about it.

The blurb on the back of the book reads:

“This is the story of a place that never was: the kingdom of Prester John, the utopia described by an anonymous, twelfth-century document which captured the imagination of the medieval world and drove hundreds of lost souls to seek out its secrets, inspiring explorers, missionaries, and kings for centuries. But what if it were all true? What if there was such a place, and a poor, broken priest once stumbled past its borders, discovering, not a Christian paradise, but a country where everything is possible, immortality is easily had, and the Western world is nothing but a dim and distant dream?”

I call it a “surface plot”, because this is not a book about some simple plotline. Is a book about the power of story, the power of time, the power of faith, and the beauty of being destroyed and created by those powers.

Prester John had originally been on a mission to find the grave of Thomas the Apostle when he found instead the land of Pentexore, and five hundred years later, Brother Hiob is on a mission to find the possibly immortal Prester John. Where Hiob’s journey ends, he finds a tree. A tree whose fruit are books. Hiob is allowed to pluck three books from the tree, and he finds to his luck one of the books is in the voice of Prester John himself. The second is from John’s wife Hagia, and the third is from the famous storyteller Imtithal. No matter how fast Hiob and his assistant copy and transcribe, the books turn to rot faster. The residents of Pentexore may have had immortality, but it only takes hours for their stories to decompose. (and what does it mean when someone’s story dies?)

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Herbert Ransom Jesus IncidentThe Jesus Incident, by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom

published in 1979

where I got it: purchased used

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I didn’t realize The Jesus Incident is the 2nd in a series of four. I thought it was the 1st in a series of three, that had a prequel, Destination:Void, that could be read separate. So, I’ve read them out of order, and seem to have done OK. And now that I’ve read The Jesus Incident, I’m excited to read Destination:Void, if only to yell at the characters “no! don’t do that! don’t you see how this could end?”

 

When you think of artificial intelligence, what do you think of?  Do you think androids dreaming of sheep, Madeline Ashby’s vN series, Data from Star Trek, Mindships from Banks’ Culture books, and the like?

 

When Earthlings escaped an Earth’s whose sun was about to go nova, their goal was to create a living ship, an artificial intelligence that would take them through the galaxy, and take care of them.  They succeeded, and countless generations later, their ship became Ship, their god, complete with prayers, proper education, sacred areas, sacred rites, and honored people who Ship speaks directly to.

 

Ship takes care of the people, feeds them, clothes them, ensure the life support system and hydroponics gardens continue to function. And in return it demands to be worShipped.

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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.

 

hubble-carina-20th-anniversary-660x607

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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King David Spiders from MarsKing David and the Spiders From Mars, edited by Tim Lieder

published March 2014

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

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I don’t know about you, but I love mythology. I especially love it when authors take liberties with unexplored details. What was the backstory of that minor character? That other person must have had a good reason to do something strange/wonderful/awful/unexpected, right?  When I think “mythology”, I often think Greek, Roman, or Norse mythos.  But there is a mythology that’s even closer to me. One that I grew up with. One that’s rarely referred to as mythology, but that’s what it is. The Bible: history, literature, mythology, and faith, all rolled into one,  mythology in the most revered definition of the word: stories of the days that created a culture.  It’s books like King David and the Spiders From Mars that make me want to open up my big fat Myths and Legends of Ancient Israel book, or go to the library and find some dusty tome that will tell me the ending of the story they only told the beginning of in Sunday school.

King David and the Spiders From Mars is the second anthology in editor Tim Lieder’s series of Biblical Horror stories. I enjoyed the hell out of the first one, She Nailed A Stake Through His Head, (read my review) and I’ve been looking forward to more of the same ever since.  Same as with Nailed a Stake, you don’t need any kind of Biblical or Judeo-Christian education to enjoy these short stories. In fact, you’d be better served by being familiar with Chthulhu mythos.

Starting at the literal beginning, the first story is nicely tragic, but not end-of-the-world destructive. And then everything slowly ramps up, with the last two stories having the potential to really fuck you up.

here are my thoughts on a few of my favorites:

Moving Nameless, by Sonya Taaffe – How many wives did Adam have? According to myth, God made a woman right in front of Adam, built her from organs and bone and muscle and sinew, and Adam was so disgusted (you might be too, seeing a person built from the inside out!) that he never again looked up her.  And she’s been wandering the Earth ever since, looking for an Adam who might be able to love her.  Her name isn’t Eva, but that’s what her current boyfriend, Adam Loukides, calls her.  He’s a book collector, has a fondness for out of print books, can’t wait to show her around his apartment, he never questions the fact that she doesn’t talk about her family.  It doesn’t matter that this latest Adam doesn’t believe in God, or doesn’t believe her story, that doesn’t make her story any less true or the curse any less painful. He will come to be disgusted by her, no matter if he believes in her story or not. Shunned forever, for something that was outside of her control, it makes me wish the nameless woman got another opportunity to interact with the original Adam.

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clarkesworld4I’m working my way through Clarkesworld Year Four, a volume of all the original fiction they published in their fourth year. (part one, part two) And Yes, all of these volumes are available as print editions, click here and scroll to the bottom.

When I first decided to talk about every story in this volume, I was a little intimidated. But now that I’ve read more than half of them, I’m suddenly wishing the volume had twice as much fiction in it.  Want fatter Clarkesworld books? Help the support the e-zine by subscribing,  becoming a “citizen of Clarkesworld”, or by spreading the word by reading the fiction they publish, listening to their podcasts, comments on stories, and talking about them.  We may live in the age of the internet, but everything still lives and dies by word of mouth.

Today I’ve got reviews of three stories in the volume. All of these reviews forced me to play “the pronoun game”, because all of these stories feature genderless characters. One person takes a human male form, so I refer to him as “him”, but the others I wasn’t quite sure. Any advice about how to refer to genderless characters is appreciated.  Also, each title links to the full story on the Clarkesworld website.

clarkesworld Aug 2010

The Messenger by J.M. Sidorova – Wow is this one a doozy, and I mean that in the most complimentary way! Our narrator doesn’t name himself (itself?), and doesn’t identify what he (it?) is.  Eventually given the name Gabriel, and often taking the form of a human man, I’m going to use the male pronouns, and refer to the narrator as Gabriel.  Early in the story, Gabriel is contacted by a higher intelligence, who names him, seduces him, and inscribes Gabriel with His purpose: to find a vessel so He can bring his message to the people of the Earth.

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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.
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