the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘sci-fantasy

You’ve probably already figured this out about me, but I don’t mind it when an author doesn’t explain everything.  I’d rather a story very slowly tease out the “what’s really going on”, rather than tell me all the fun stuff up front.   Sheri S Tepper’s The Family Tree, published way back in 1997, is very much this kind of story.  We meet some characters and get to know them . .  we meet a second batch of characters and get to know them. . .  and then, well,  you might want to duct tape your jaw to your head, as some insulation against how many times this book will make it drop.

 

Also, whoever wrote the back cover copy on the paperback I have, man, that person managed to take an amazing, charming, enthralling book and make it sound kinda blah. So don’t read the cover copy!!

 

As with most other Tepper novels I’ve read, I was drawn in to the story immediately. The characters caught and kept my attention, and Tepper showed me their environment without infodumping.  This is a very Tepper book, and by that I mean the characters are intelligent and persistent, there is a pro-environmental / live kindly with nature theme, and a long game.

 

We meet police officer Dora Henry as she’s realizing she needs to leave her husband Jared.  They have the absolute strangest relationship ever, more a marriage of convenience than anything romantic. And when she moves her stuff out he flips out. (later in the book, when Jared flips out even more, I described him as a mustache twirling dick. My husband’s response was “but was he a dick twirling mustache?”.  Dick twirling mustache is my new favorite way to describe a petty bad guy).

 

Even without the divorce and Jared’s drama, Dora has her hands full at work.  There are some murders that her department is investigating (who would kill a scientist?) and invasive plants and trees are taking over the city.  She doesn’t mind the invasive trees and plants, they are quite pretty, if you like that kind of thing (which Dora, and I, do)

 

So,  just as I’m getting super invested in Dora’s plotline,  the story shifts to this sort of quest fantasy plotline.  My first thought was that Dora was telling this story to someone? Or that someone was telling this, as a bedtime story, to Dora in her childhood? Because it did have the trappings of a fantasy story – among other characters is the young harem slave, Nassif,  who is told to dress like a boy and be a servant for Prince Sahir who is going on a quest,  there is also Prince Izakar who has access to secret library and is told he needs to solve the great mystery of his time, there is a farming family whose humorous children only care that their grazing animals are safe,  there is a countess, there are a few other characters. All these people end up meeting and deciding they should continue together, in hopes they can help each other on their possibly connected quests.

 

My second thought, after a few chapters of these fantasy style characters was how nice they were to each other. Sure, people disagree, but there was no backstabbing, no betrayals, no intrigue, no bloody wars of conquest. All these folks are, for lack of a better term, decent human beings who show kindness and compassion. (how sad is that, that I’m shocked to run into decent human beings in a sci-fantasy novel??)  There does seem to be this thing about accusing people being cannibals, which was disconcerting and threw my idea of this being a bedtime story out the window.

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Yep,  The Scar by China Mieville is still in my top five list.  Top Five Favorite Books, EVER. Yes, this book is that fucking amazing!

 

You know, sometimes you don’t read a book for years, and then you go back to it, and it’s not as good as you remember, and you wonder why you squeed so much over it in the first place, because yeah it’s a good book, but it ain’t great?

 

Yeah, so, The Scar was the opposite of that.  I saw a ton more this time. I know the plot, I know what happens, I know the big reveals, I even know some of the tiny intimate scenes that really don’t matter. I know all of that stuff, I’ve seen it five or six times already. This read tho, this time I was able to see everything else.

 

I saw the creation of physical scars in the plot. I saw how those scars change people – sometimes it is a reminder of pain, sometimes a reminder of rebirth and positive change.

I saw every time Bellis was used. I saw that sometimes she knew when she was being used. I saw what that did to her.

I saw Tanner gain his freedom, and then gain it again.

I saw how language can give a culture freedom, and can also be used as a prison.

I saw what people are willing to do to get what they want.

I saw the mistakes I’d made in my previous reads of this book.

I saw that while I only wanted to look at Doul through splayed fingers, that I could listen to him with no fear. I found that I desperately wanted to be his audience.

 

Welcome to a spoilerific discussion of China Mieville’s The Scar. This book came out in 2002, so not only do I not feel bad about giving minor spoilers, I’m confident enough in my vaguebook abilities that if you’ve never read this book, none of this post will make any sense to you.  And hey, if it makes you interested in reading The Scar or any other China Mieville? bonus!

 

Johannes confides in Bellis that Armada attacked the Terpsichoria because he, a famous scientist, was aboard, and they wanted his knowledge.  Getting Johannes was just one step in the plans of The Lovers, we don’t even see their plans before Bellis and Johannes get to Armada.  What did they do before? Did The Lovers know, or have an inkling that they’d need a High Kettai speaker? Could they have been on the look out for the woman who wrote High Kettai grammar books? Could they have orchestrated what happened in New Crobuzon to get her on a ship, with Johannes being just a bonus? And used Johannes to lure her to their side?

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Iron Council by China Mieville

published in 2004

where I got it – who remembers? this book has been on my shelf for probably 10 years.

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I’ve not read much of China Mieville’s newer books, but I went nuts for his Bas-Lag books – Perdido Street Station, Iron Council, and The Scar. Embassytown, having nothing at all to do with those books, falls in the same category of new weird/weird AF.  The Scar has been on my “all time favorite scifi novels” list since I read the first chapter.

 

After ten years, it’s time to revisit.  Let’s start with Iron Council. What do I remember about this book?  Something about a rebellion, a train, a city that’s lost track of itself, lots of reMade, some reMade lady who is human down to her thighs and is a coal engine below and she has a younger boyfriend? Maybe?

 

Oh, the reMade?  Yeah, so, there isn’t exactly prisons in this world. If you break the law (or piss off a rich person), instead of going to prison or a work camp or getting the firing squad, you get reMade in the punishment factories. Maybe you come out of there with a horse’s body, or fish scales covering your eyes or mouth, or guns instead of arms. Maybe you come out of there with a child grafted on to your back, or your face, or your feet switched with your hands. Maybe you’re not even recognized as something that was once human when you come out of there. But you can still work, right?

 

New Crobuzon is a bustling city, filled with industry, thaumaturgy, hedge magic, people just trying to make a living .  There are rail lines within the city, but out in the wild lands? No easy way to get anywhere. A wealthy businessman incorporates, creates a railroad that’s going to go as far as it can. This is how New Crobuzon will make it’s name across the continent!  (there’s a much bigger conversation here about what a railroad does when it goes through land. Who it helps, who it hurts, who benefits from it and who doesn’t, the human cost of the whole thing)

 

The further the railroad gets from home, the long the cash train takes to get there, the more weeks and months between when people get paid.  The prostitutes were the first to strike, because they were sick of fucking on credit. When they stopped taking customers who had no cash, the rail workers striked, refusing to work another minute without pay, because no pay means no fucking. Even the reMade, who were technically slaves of the corporation, went on strike. The strikers took over the train, and fled into the wilderness, and took the train and the tracks with them.   The strikers? Yeah, they the ones who know how to lay track, grade land, build bridges and blast tunners. The train was theirs now. The Iron Council was born out of a sex strike.

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Latchkey, by Nicole Kornher-Stace

publishes July 10th 2018

where I got it: received ARC from the publisher (thank you Mythic Delirium!)

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Reading the second book in a series first is like getting to have dessert first.  More than likely the worldbuilding is already done, the characters know what they are about, the author has a clearer idea of where the story is going and what should happen. You might feel a little lost, and your mileage will certainly vary.  But then when you do go back and read the first book, you’ll feel like a psychic, because you’ll know all sorts of details the characters don’t know!

 

Suffice to say, the first thing I did after I finished Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Latchkey was order the first book in the series, Archivist Wasp.

 

Latchkey is part post-apocalyptic, part mythology, part ghost story, and and all perspective shift, told through the lens of  Kornher-Stace’s mastery of prose and evocatively transportive language. This is the kind of sharp vibrant prose that would translate beautifully to an anime or a movie.  Highly recommended for fans of Robert Jackson Bennett’s Divine Cities series, fans of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, and anyone who enjoys a gorgeously told story about horrible things that should never have happened.

 

With metaphors that shouldn’t make sense but do, a poetry on the weight of stories that became legend that became religion, and a world where a hypervigilant 6th sense itch is the only thing that will save your life, nothing in Latchkey stays merely on the page. When Isabel was afraid, I was afraid. When she couldn’t breathe, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. When she is about to drop dead of exhaustion, I felt tired and fatigued. She never lost hope, so I didn’t either.  When I say this was an exhausting read, I mean that as the highest form of praise.

 

Latchkey takes place a few years after the events of Korner-Stace’s 2015 award winning Archivist Wasp.  Isabel and the other ex-upstarts are still getting used to the fact that they won’t have to kill their friends to survive, that they won’t ever again have to live a life of violence and fear.  The old tradition of the archivists has come to an end, even if the PTSD is still at the surface.  Isabel and the other girls need to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. In the meantime, they’ll still care for the Catchkeep Shrine, still say the words of their goddess, still have hope that the townspeople of Sweetwater can come to trust them.

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So, I finally finished The Citadel of the Autarch, the 4th book in Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun.    The days after I finished felt like going through tangential stages of grief.  First, I was mad “that’s how it ends!? I’ve got to read the entire damn thing all over again from start to finish now!”.  Then I was confused, by a whole tone of WTFery at the end, then I was curious and got some helpful spoilers online.  Then I experienced acceptance that Gene Wolfe is, as always, a brilliant mastermind of storytelling. Even better – these aren’t the stages of grief, but the stages of awakening.

 

As I’ve done in previous entries in this little series of blog posts,  we’ll start with new words

 

Bacele     Graisle        Orphicheide        Orpiment

 

I didn’t take much notes while reading this fourth book, but I’m laughing at something I wrote down on my scribble sheet –  “I know it is gross and taboo, but I’m surprised Severian doesn’t get more people’s memories the way he got Thecla’s (although he hadn’t planned to get hers). It seems a simple way to learn about a person’s world. Wait a minute. . .  is this narrator just someone who got Severian’s memories?”

 

Once I’d finished the book, my comment became hilarious. And only half right.

 

Some other notes I wrote down –

 

  • Love hearing Thecla’s voice, in first person. When Severian gets tired, it seems easier for her to come to the surface.
  • The Ascian in the field hospital, is he satirical?  I love the stories that were told in the field hospital. Once it’s the Ascian’s turn, Severian learns how language, story, and communication actually work.
  • The Anchorite’s house!!!  The top layers are in the future, that is SO cool!
  • One of the very last scenes, where they go back to the Inn near the Sanguinary Fields, and talk with the guy there.  Oh, that made me cry!

 

Like i said, it’s been two weeks, and I should have written this blog post when the end of the book was fresh in my mind, as everything is a little fuzzy now. Although now I better understand why everyone says you need to read this series multiple times to get all the pieces. It’s a little like walking through where Rudesind is cleaning the paintings – only a few paintings are perfectly clean at the same time, so if you want to see them all, you better walk through the galleries every few weeks, because each time, you’ll see something different.  Everytime you read this series, I imagine you’ll catch more and different things, everytime you read it you get more of a foundation for the next time.

 

Warning: major spoilers ahead.  If you haven’t read this series, stop reading now. Not only will this spoil the series for you, but our of context it makes zero sense.

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Out of context, this printing of The Sword of the Lictor looks somewhat awful.  The cover art is embarrassingly terrible, and the font size of the print is just small enough that it was hard for me to read.  If I saw this paperback at a bookstore, and had no idea who Gene Wolfe was, I’d be like “dude. What the fuck.”  Here, let me give you a closer up picture:

 

 

The terrible cover art and the too small print sums up my complaints.  And now that I have that out of the way, I can get to what these Book of the New Sun posts have become – new words, questions and guesses, notes I wrote down while reading, stacks of hella awesomeness, and this far into the series there are unavoidable spoilers #SorryNotSorry.

 

Just joining, and have no idea what I’m talking about?  You can read my previous entries about the first two books of the Book of the New Sun blog entries here:

A Hundred Pages Into Shadow and Claw  – Just starting the first book, The Shadow of the Torturer

Thoughts and Questions on Shadow of the Torturer – Finishing The Shadow of the Torturer

A Little Further into The Book of the New Sun – Finishing the Claw of the Conciliator

 

And if you’d prefer a slower pace and much better thought out analysis, head over to the Alzabo Soup podcast, where they are doing a few chapters a week.

 

And if you’ve already read this series a bunch of times? No spoilers in the comments please.

 

For some reason, I didn’t start taking notes until I was halfway through the book. These books are so dense, with little gems hidden on every page, that without any notes of the first half, I feel like I’ve lost a part of my memory.

 

Not too many new words, or at least not many that I wrote down:

 

Estafette         noyade            atlantes        oneiric

 

I found it funny that Severian keeps inflating his title. Maybe this is distance from his guild, maybe he’s just trying to scare people into respecting him, maybe it’s blind ego. When we first met him, he’d usually introduce himself as “I am but a journeyman”.  He never rises to master, but in this book, sometimes he introduces himself as Master Severian. In one scene, he even introduces himself as Grand Master Severian. Maybe he’s trying to be confident, but he just comes off as egotistical.

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I’m moving through The Book of the New Sun at a pretty good pace.

I’d planned to do two posts for The Claw of the Conciliator, so I could see how my thoughts changed from halfway through the book to when I finished it.  I zipped through most of the book over last weekend, and by the time I was ready to write a post, I was only 20 pages from the end. So I finished it, and a few hours later, picked up the third book in the series.

 

Claw of the Conciliator is leaps and bounds more interesting than Shadow of the Torturer. For the length of the first book, we’re getting to know Severian, finding our footing in the world, de-coding weird words, and we’re just along for the ride. In Claw,  Severian finally gets a chance to see the larger world, his eyes are opened a little bit as to why the world is the way it is, and we start to see the consequences of some of his earlier decisions.  Also? Jonas and the Antechamber!!

 

But before we get to Jonas, new words!  Not as many as I expected:

 

Indathrene

 

Campanile

 

Thaisus

 

Pelagic

 

Cultellerii

 

I already cried a bit on twitter about Jonas.  Oh how I love Jonas!  I was fascinated by how he avoids certain conversations, and gives Severian answers that sound vague to naive Severian, but make a ton of sense if you know where Jonas came from.  I think Severian did eventually figure out, maybe? He was at least open to whatever Jonas wanted to tell him. I kept thinking about how language requires a frame of reference, and Jonas and Severian have different frames of reference. At this point in his life, Severian is still very sheltered, and Jonas, well, isn’t.  I hope we run into Jonas again. He was good for Severian.   Jonas and Dorcas seem to serve a similar purpose – to show Severian that the world is bigger than just himself.  Those two have histories, lives, and dreams that are completely outside their relationship with Severian.

 

The Antechamber!  When I figured out what the room was, and why these people were there, holy shit!  It’s not a prison, not exactly. And I can why people don’t want to leave. They are waiting for something to happen, and it hasn’t happened yet, so they don’t want to leave and risk missing it.   It’s like the rest of the House Absolute was built around this space.

 

And that dinner with Vodalus, and what they ate!  That is a royally fucked up (yet utterly brilliant) way to share someone’s memories, i can see why it is considered taboo.  But it seems to work?  Severian now knows all this stuff he didn’t know before.  I wonder what happens to the people who attend many dinners of this type, or specific dinners. Like, the whole thing is gross, but a super fascinating idea. Imagine if the alien critter that allows this to happen showed up on an episode of Doctor Who.

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This blog post started here.

I didn’t realize I was reading through it so fast, I finished The Shadow of the Torturer (the first half of Shadow and Claw) last night. The first half seemed a bit trying to get through – strange language, a world that doesn’t quite make sense, episodic stories,  and then we get to the 2nd half of the story that goes much quicker.

But first, more new words:

 

Coryphees

Anacrisis

Chiliarch

Bosquets

Deeses

Fewer unknown words in this second half.

And now for thoughts, questions, and spoilers!

Shadow of the Torturer ends very abruptly.  It’s going, it’s going, there’s a sort-of duel,  Severian gets to do his job, it goes a little more, slows down a bit, and then BAM it ends.  Yes, I get the whole concept of ending on a similar note as the start, but it was still weird.

 

Severian sure is easy to manipulate. Get a pretty girl to say hello to him, and he’ll do just about anything. And if she shows some leg?  He’s practically her slave.  He is an absolute idiot to trust anything Agia says to him, and he seems to trust everything she says!

 

The house on stilts that is in the botanical gardens – is this a view through time or into another dimension?  Robert and Marie seem of a more contemporary time.  They look out the window hoping to see mail plane, and Severian hasn’t any idea what a mail plane is. Everything about the botanical garden rooms is hella cool!  The rooms are bigger on the inside than you’d expect, it’s easy to get lost in them.  The doors to the rooms, are they doors across space and maybe time?

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the obelisk gate coverThe Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin

published August 2016

Where I got it: received review copy from the publisher

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Welcome to another not-a-review!   There is so much happening on so many levels Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate, and my brain is spinning all over the place that a simple “review” just wouldn’t do.  All of these thoughts in my head about Obelisk Gate, I need to get them out.  Be warned of spoilers ahead for Obelisk Gate, The Fifth Season, some other titles by Jemisin and others, and stream of consciousness babbling. Also ahead are predictions, wordplay thoughts, heartbreak, and things this book made me think about, places it took me.  Jemisin does so much more than just write a book, so I wanted to do more than just write a review.

 

I read The Fifth Season around the same time i was reading Cixin Liu’s The  Three Body Problem, and I found unexpected parallels between both books.  I had my guesses about what was really going on in The Fifth Season, and a handful of them were right. Maybe I came up with those guesses due to Jemisin’s sublime skill with  foreshadowing,  maybe it was because I was reading two extinction level event books at the same time and my brain was adding things up, who knows.

 

I read The Obelisk Gate alongside Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Children, and again, found unexpected parallels between the two novels. The “new children” in the Bear have something in common with young orogenes – they are blamed for the problems of the world, even problems entirely outside their control.   These are children who have been chased, hunted down, put in “schools”, all for their own good. Sometimes their parents fight for them, but just as often their parents say “good riddance”, and all these children want is to be accepted and loved for who they are.  Even more similarities is how those in power disagree on how the new children/orogenes should be educated, if they should be forced to live in a certain way, for everyone’s protection.  I’ve also just realized, that if presented just right, Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy and the Greg Bear books could take place in the same storytelling universe, due to the evolution of, how best to say it, people doing things a little differently.

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wildeepsThe Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, by Kai Ashante Wilson

published Sept 1st, 2015

where I got it: purchased new

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Demane is a demi-god stuck on earth, and the safest place for him to be is a guard that travels with a caravan. He can disappear if he needs to, he can hide is godly powers as medical field training, and the two teenage boys who follow him around assume his bottomless bag is some kind of magic trick that he will of course explain one day.  Or not.  He can only hide who he is for so long.

 

From the blurb on the back, I expected the story to take place more in the Wildeeps, that dangerous swamp that caravans must cross on their way to profit.  Not a spoiler, the majority of the book takes place the night before the caravan and assorted guards leave for their trip. The owners of the caravan stock up on what will be needed for the trip, while Demane, the Captain, and all the other road brothers spend the night as they wish, some find solace in drink, others get their frustrations out in the fighting ring, others head for the brothels.  It’s an evening of characterization, i guess you could say.

 

I imagine The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps will be getting a lot of attention because of the language used. Much of that attention will be polarizing,  because you are either going to find the dialog and prose innovative and unique, or you are going to bounce off of it, hard.  I  bounced, and it wasn’t fun. Many of the characters speak in patois and or very contemporary style slang, which feels strange in a fantasy story.Demane struggles with the local language, often reverting to his native tongue when he doesn’t know the local words for things (it’s kind of funny in his case, because he’s using very technical, almost futuristic terms, which none of his caravan brothers would understand anyways). Because he struggles with the language, the owner of the caravan assumes Demane is stupid, which couldn’t be further from the truth.  it’s pretty obvious the caravan owner looks down on Demane.

 

But back to the author’s language choices for dialog, let me give you some examples of the dialog in The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps:

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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.