the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘science fiction

Woohoo, it’s almost the weekend!

 

What are you up to this weekend? What are you planning to read?  Planning to watch anything cool on TV or listen to any audiobooks or podcasts?  Did you have any luck with Disney+?

 

I’ve been enjoying all the #SciFiMonth posts and twittering, it’s just a super nice happy group.

 

What have I been reading?

I’ve been reading Renegade’s Magic by Robin Hobb. This is the last book in her Soldier Son trilogy.  I started reading this trilogy I dunno, 8 years ago? maybe longer ago?  I had a too-intense reaction to the 2nd book and couldn’t even pick up a Robin Hobb for a long time.

(side bar – when authors book their books out into the wild, they have ZERO control over how people react to them.  Have you ever had an unexpected emotional reaction to a book?  What happened)

it’s been long enough, I’m ready to finish this series.  Luckily, there is some helpful background early on in Renegade’s Magic to fill me in on earlier details that I’ve forgotten.   Unluckily, the book is just so-so.  Nevare and his alter-ego are sharing his body, and Nevare needs to decide if he’s going to try to stay his separate self, or if he’s going to merge with his alter-ego so that the two of them can become whole.  Ok, so I can tell you right now that this book is going to end with him merging back with himself, because Robin Hobb books are pretty much about facing the part of you that you are ashamed of, and accepting that part of yourself.  But does that mean I’ve got 500 pages in front of me of Nevare trying to decide if he’s going to merge with himself or not?

I’m impatient.

Because I have a copy of Derek Kunsken’s The Quantum Garden and I really, really, REALLY want to be reading that!!

I predict I will set Renegade’s Magic down as a “read some other time”, and gleefully pick up The Quantum Garden.  oh wait, do I want to reread The Quantum Magician first?  I want toooo!!!!!!   That book is definitely one of my favorite reads this year, but William!  i don’t know if I can go through that again!

 

 

What have I been watching?

 

I had a four day weekend last weekend so I binge watched Maniac on Netflix.   This is not a good show, but it has moments of  brilliance.  It is trying to be sort of Philip K Dick-ish?  Where some characters aren’t sure what is reality and what isn’t.  And like a lot of PKD novels, about 1/3 of the way through, what plot there is, it goes out the window.

 

The show takes place in a near-future alternate Earth. No cell phones, but other technologies exist that are supposed to make life easier.  Someone had some fun designing sets and architecture and such.

Don’t watch this show for the plot, because there really isn’t one. Do watch it for the batshit crazy acting.  Emma Stone is her as always amazing self,  Jonah Hill is subtle and compelling, and I’m pretty sure they just told Justin Theroux to be as intense and insane as possible, and chew as much scenery as possible.  Did people expect that Theroux would steal every scene he’s in?

 

seriously.  Justin Theroux, just watch this show for him.

 

What have I been listening to?

I’m enjoying This Podcast Will Kill You.  I’m a jerk and listening to the episodes in any order I damn please.  Listening to the Cystic Fibrosis episode was fascinating (chlorides! protein channels! big bags of fluid!), educational, and humbling.  If you like science (and what scifi fan doesn’t like science?) and think biology and infectious diseases is cool, this is the podcast for you.

What have I been cooking?

I took what has become my favorite gluten free bread recipe and accidentally wrecked it. Bought some buckwheat flour on a whim, and by the way the buckwheat pancakes were delicious.  I figured the GF bread recipe would work just fine if I swapped half the 1to1 GF flour buckwheat.  hahahaha NO.  the bread smells good, looks kinda weird, and tastes really dry.   I learned my lesson! guess I’ll have to just enjoy delicious buckwheat pancakes and not use it in bread.

 

How about you? what have you been up to?

 

What’s your favorite science fiction theme, asked another SciFi Month participant.

Without a doubt, my favorite science fiction theme is First Contact. What will we say to aliens when we meet them? How will we communicate? How will we be understood? What if they are incomprehensible?

I really dig the “communication” part of first contact stories. Of course we’re going to try to talk to aliens! Of course we will wildly misinterpret everything they say! And of course we have the ego and the hubris to have no idea that we are misinterpreting everything, because the first time a xenobiologist or xenolinguist admits they are “approaching this problem with the mind of student”, some idiot will say “are you saying you’re too dumb to be here?” and that will be the end of the conversation and the beginning of the misinterpretation.  More on the tip of that iceberg at the end of the post.

 

Anyway, I love me some first contact stories, and if they touch on language, all the better!

If you like that too, here are some recommendations that may be of interest to you.

 

Arrival – When aliens arrive and start giving us their written language, a linguistics professor is brought in to translate. What she sees makes no sense, and when the symbols are finally translated, it is more than just language and sentences. She’s literally able to see the events of her life in a new, and sometimes frightening way. This movie is based on the short story “The Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. I’m a sucker for visuals and effective pacing, and I have a major thing for linguistics. I enjoyed the short story and LOVED the movie.

 

Babel 17 by Samuel Delany – All the linguistics fun of Arrival, plus a bucket of super cool characters, a wild adventure, and smart people talking about smart things. Did I mention the main character is a poet? I vaguely remember in the movie Contact, there is a line “they should have sent a poet”. Well, Delany did. You’ll like this one, I promise.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – are you in the read-along for this? What do you think so far? Yeah there is aliens in this book and first contact! The Sparrow is probably the most unexpected first contact book ever written. It’s weird, because we don’t actually learn much about the aliens. Well, we see a lot, and figure out a lot of what their saying, but it always seemed to me that what the humans had so much trouble with was the paying attention and actually listening part. So in a way, they do learn, only after it is too late.

 

Defenders by Will McIntosh – so, we meet aliens, and they can read our minds. We don’t quite understand their invasion or what they want, so humans make the group decision to freak the hell out. We design and build cyborgs to protect us. And then we win the war against the alien invaders. So what to do with all these cyborgs, who have been programmed to protect against an invader that isn’t a threat anymore? I appreciate that McIntosh talks about the aftermath of a failed alien invasion.

 

District 9 – When the aliens visit, their mothership hovers above Johannesburg, and doesn’t move. Nothing happens for months. When our military cuts into the ship, we find starving creatures, so we “rescue” them. And put them in a “refugee camp”. It gets so much worse and more dehumanizing from there. Every time I see this movie it is harder to watch, because I know what’s coming. And every time I watch this movie I enjoy it more, because maybe there’s hope that humans won’t always be shit heads.

Blindsight by Peter Watts – just an excellent book, all around. This was the book that got me turned on to the idea that humans think we are really good at communication, but we are actually quite terrible at it. The aliens lurking at the edge of solar system might really not want to talk to us. Or, in a weird way, maybe they are just saying hello? There’s probably no way to know. If you like edge of your seat scifi thrillers, this is the book for you. Also, scientifically possible vampires.

 

The Visitors by Clifford Simak – I just read this last week! The most peaceful alien invasion story I’ve ever read. The aliens come, and they just sit in the woods and in some farms. They literally just sit there. They eat some trees. A few cars accidentally get eaten. The aliens don’t talk to us, they don’t communicate at all (or do they?). Before leaving they give us a gift, something they think we will enjoy having. It is a gift that could destroy our civilization as we know it. At first, I thought these kind aliens were giving me a “yes, there really is a free lunch!” type story, and then when I got to the end of the book I realize that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

 

Have you read any of these books or seen any of these movies? What did you think of them?

What are some of your favorite first contact books and movies?

 

 

What fascinates me about First Contact stories, is that when it comes down to it, those stories are not about the aliens. They aren’t about how humans will interact with, communicate with, be judgy about, or be accepting of aliens. First contact stories are a mirror for how we interact with each other. They mirror how we communicate with each other, how we judge each other, how we accept (or don’t. Or eventually come to accept) anyone who is different from us.  Like many science fiction themes,  First Contact stories show how humans can normalize certain types of reactions to anything that is new, or different from what we are used to.

I don’t know if it’s brilliant or depressing that we need science fiction to show us that humans have a habit of being assholes to each other.

Never in a million years did I ever think I was going to say I was proud of Kim Kardashian.  Scroll to the bottom for that bombshell!

 

What have I been reading?

Finished Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s  novella And Shall Machines Surrender, and freakin’ loved it.   My brain still doesn’t want to write long reviews, so I put a short review on Amazon.  If you like some, any, or all of these things, this novella is for you:  Beautiful writing, tight plotting, show don’t tell, cyberpunk, when AIs don’t need humans anymore, AI run cities, AI and human melds, and super hot sex scenes.

Finally finished Death’s End by Cixin Liu.  Those last few chapters, HOLY SHIT!  but man it was a lot of boring to get there .  Had a great conversation with my dad about the series.  I love how this series has become our family reading club book!

 

Also finished The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang.  It was. . . meh?  I’m really happy it was a novella.  I will say that the further I got into it, the more I liked it, but I won’t be continuing with this series.

 

Started reading The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust.  What a blast!   It’s Brust’s take on The Three Musketeers, except more banter, more humor, and everyone is offended by literally everything, so there are duels like every 3 pages.  There is also this parody thing going on with the narrator.  And, um, Sethra Lavode is . . .  young-ish?  It is super fun. Luckily, there is like 5 books in this series, so that should keep me busy for a little while.

 

Went on a little bookstore adventure today, picked up:

Hild by Nicola Griffith – this has come highly recommended!  I was surprised to find it in general fiction, i thought this was a spec fic book?

Ismail Merchant’s Indian Cuisine – lots of easy recipes, nothing intimidating.

How Language Began by Daniel Everett – I’ve been hooked on the Lexicon Valley podcast, so I’m all about the history of languages right now!

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper – I have no idea if this is good or not, but I liked the cover art. And it looks super different than everything I’ve been reading lately, that alone is a big plus.

Speaking of podcasts, I discovered “This Podcast will Kill You”, I think they talk about poisons?  I’ve only listened to the episode about Aspirin and holy shit it was fascinating!   Now i kinda wish my commute was longer, so i could listen to more of this? no, really, NO I do not want a longer commute!  Goal in life is a shorter commute!

 

oh, what did we cook this weekend?  Made the world’s most delicious shrimp and noodle stirfry, it was one of those stirfry’s where you throw a bunch of deliciousness into a wok, and then throw noodles and some sweet chili sauce in, and surprising no one you end up with a delicious stirfry.  Made a quinoa sorghum salad with mint lemon dressing for something healthy to snack on at work, Tonight we are making Curry Rice, which is one of my fave autumn dishes.  I’ve blogged about this dish before, but imagine a beef stew, but it’s made with curry gravy. Buckets of spices,  buckets of ginger and garlic and hot peppers and onions, and you serve it with rice and yogurt.  my mouth is watering!!!

 

Apropos of nothing, I am annoying that one of my fave kitchen / small home decorating sites, thekitchn, is now  like 80% advertising posts for Costco, Trader Joe, and Aldi.  Like, i like those stores? but I also prefer content that is cooking,  kitchen techniques, and small home decorating. I actually do not give a shit about how the different pumpkin spice things at Aldi compare to those at Trader Joe.

 

Same as The Kitchn is being taken over by thinly veiled advertising for Costco, Aldi, and Trader Joe, Buzzfeed is being taken over by less thinly veiled advertising for everything Kardashian.  three cheers for click bait?

I never in a million years thought I’d say I’m proud of Kim,  but I’m proud of her.  Ten years ago, if anyone had told her what her child could or could not, or should, or should not do, she’d have stretched it out over a season of her stupid TV show, and then divorced the guy.  She must have learned how to #adult, since now she’s willing to have a conversation about it, willing to hear the other person out, willing to not turn it into huge drama.

 

Yes, it is super sad that I’m proud of her for the teeny tiny act of hearing her husband out,  not making money off the drama, and making her relationship more important than them disagreeing over something.   But still, I’m proud of her.  She’s solving problems through discussing things, and trying to understand the why behind why people feel the way they do.   Kim, you’re all grown up!

I’m slowly making my way through Death’s End by Cixin Liu.   I’m 250 pages in, and it feels like I’ve barely made it past the first few chapters. In a way, this is sorta feeling like Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle?  (if you’ve not read The Baroque Cycle – spoiler: it never freakin’ ends. like, ever)

 

I am LOVING the big ideas in this book!  How space faring races might find each other, why they’d be wise to avoid each other.  Of course I can’t find the section now, but the part about how there is a child walking through the Dark Forest, and the child makes a small campfire ot keep warm (or safe? Or makes the campfire just to have something to do?), and not only does the campfire allow any observers to show where the child is,  the child is made nightblind by the light of the fire, and can’t clearly see what’s happening away from the light.

 

And the scale of everything!

 

And holy shit the stuff that the Interstellar ships Blue Space and Gravity find, holy shit!!!

 

The ideas!  The scale! The cool outerspace stuff!  Everything about why it’s so quiet out there!

 

But.

 

But?

 

But I find my mind wandering, I find myself struggling to stay engaged with the story, I’m finding it difficult to care about all this amazing stuff because I’m not connecting with the characters.   Cheng Xin is cool, but I don’t feel like I know her as a person. I don’t feel like I’m invested in what happens to her. I’m going to keep reading, I just which there was more character driven stuff going on.

 

I’m that persnickety reader who wants cool big ideas and characters.  Because if I care about the characters, I’m gonna care triple about the hella awesome ideas.

 

Which got me thinking – which books have I really enjoyed because I loved the hella cool science ideas and the characters were really cool?

 

Darwin’s Radio  by Greg Bear – Big ideas about biology, evolution, human sociology, how we quantify and qualify scientific knowledge, how diseases work and what exactly makes something a disease (a rose in a corn field is considered a weed).  Characters were predictable but still very relatable.

 

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – the characters will grab you and pull you back into the story with them, but oh yeah there is freakin’ planetary geology! And plate tectonics! And like, literal earth science!!!!  And probably genetics? And i’m not entirely sure what else because I haven’t finished the trilogy.

 

The Quantum Magician – Big ideas on quantum entanglement, genetically modifying entire races of humans to survive on different planets, how religion and faith actually work, really hella cool characters. I’m still mad at the main character, Bel, for what he does to his friend William. I hope to see Stills again. The puppets still horrify me. Like, six months after I read this book I am still mad at Bel!  And I’m still in awe of all the cool science in this book!

 

Machineries of Empire trilogy by Yoon Ha Lee – seriously the best characters of the year, and big ideas about psychology, social engineering, something brilliantly terrible called Calendrical Mathematics, some fun observations on how language is connected to how a person thinks,  and a thing that happens between two characters that still makes me burst into tears. It’s been over a year, and I am still freaked out about this thing that happened – a thing that couldn’t have happened if not for the cool science and psychology concepts the story revolves around.

 

Blindsight by Peter Watts – Something I’m coming to love about Communication is that the better you think you are at it,  the worse you probably are at it. I’m coming to the conclusion that the worst possible way for human to interact with each other is through verbal communication. So, how many ways can we screw up talking with aliens?  A lot. This one takes social and psychological concepts behind how communication works (and yet, it totally doesn’t work), alongside excellent characters and a scientifically plausible explanation for why and how Vampires could really exist.

 

There’s a bazillion more big huge wonderful ideas and compelling characters books, but these were the few that quickly came to mind.

 

What are some of your favorites?

You buy books that looked interesting at the time, or came highly recommended, or had some buzz when they came out. You buy them, the buzz settles down, you forget about them. And then  years later you find the book, it’s been shoved to the back of the bookshelf, but you find it decide to give it a whirl. I can’t be the only person who does this.

So I came across one of those books.  Once upon a time it had been advertised like a Steampunkish-Firefly.  And who wouldn’t want a Firefly type story told in a Steampunk world??  no one, that’s who!  Yeah, I’m half way through the book, and it happens to be a total dude-bro book.

Ten years ago I don’t think I would have noticed female characters who are barely given any page time, that ALL the “important people” in the story are guys, that all the places where “important deals go down” are populated by men, and the only women there are the beautiful waitresses. in some cases the only women in the room are the whores.

I do want a Firefly-Steampunk with pirates and cool magic.  Just not this book.

moving on . . .

Do you have Netflix?  Check out a show called “The Politician“.   The preview for the show felt like five different MTV music videos were playing at once, it seemed like none of the people in the preview actually had anything to do with each other’s story.  It looked over the top, technicolor, gorgeously designed, absolute FTWery.  it looked fucking ridiculous.  I couldn’t wait to watch it!

I’ve been binge watching this show since last weekend, and I just finished the last episode.

It might be one of the best shows I’ve seen this year.  (and I’ve seen The Good Place S3. I cried the entire time. So maybe I like The Politician so much because it didn’t make me cry as much as The Good Place?  anyway).  The Politician is basically a rich-kids soap opera that goes off the rails.  The premise is gloriously stupid:  a rich ambitious high schooler in California, Peyton, decides to run for President of his high school. Rich kids whine a LOT.   That is basically the premise. And a ton of satirical pretension.

It goes beautifully off the rails from there.  The art direction is perfection.

I don’t know if it’s called “art direction”??   it’s the thing in movies and TV, where someone decides if the shot should be symmetrical or not, where someone decides exactly what color blue someone’s suit should be, exactly when an actor should smirk or scratch their nose or nervously play with their hair to give a non-verbal signal of what’s going on,  where someone determines that a particular haircut matched with particular jewelry gives a very specific connotation, where it’s determined that certain characters need to be very tall, so that other characters have to literally look up to them. Where certain scenes are lit in specific ways to give a certain meaning, where how someone walks or how they hold themselves can tell you so much about them before they ever say a word.  maybe it should be called “Context direction?”  I don’t know, but I love it when a show does it just right,  and this show does it just right.  if this was a book, we’d call it worldbuilding, characterization, and “show don’t tell”.

I also like how things go so wrong for Peyton.   He’s got this plan, you see?  And if he can just stick to the plan, everything will go perfect for him.  Because he has the plan, he never has to be himself, he can hide his feelings behind the plan.

And then the plan goes to hell.  And he can’t hide anymore.   (And it’s a little bit hilarious, because all these actors look, dress, and act like they are 30, but they are high school seniors, and freaking out about high school senior things)

The Call Me By Your Name-ish romance didn’t hurt either.  I am also a sucker for handsome men with deep voices.

I feel bad for Peyton.  But I cheer when his plans go off the rails.   What he saw as pain, I see as freedom.  What he saw as the melodramatic end, I saw as the beginning.

I always saw a “plan for my life” as a recipe for regret.  If I plan to accomplish such and such by 30, and then I don’t, will I feel like a failure because I didn’t do some arbitrary thing? Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have goals – run a 5K,  eat better,  read 30 books each year.  Whatever the difference is between plans and goals, I’m good with goals, but am somehow allergic to plans.  I dunno, I guess goal feels like something I’m choosing to do every day, and plan feels like something where you just go through the motions with no emotional connection to anything you’re doing.

Anyway,  watch The Politician.  Pay attention to how perfectly designed it is, everything from haircuts to clothing to the pancake make-up, to the angle of people’s chins to the pitch of their voices.  And yes that is Ben Platt from Pitch Perfect.    He is an adorable puppy with the voice of an angel.  Ben Platt doing a Billy Joel cover album is what the world needs right now.

oh, you want an entire  blog post just about my too many feels about this show?  ok, i’ll see what I can do.  Darn, in that case I’d have to watch the entire show from scratch, poor me.

 

And last but certainly not least,

My husband and my dad have been enjoying Liu Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past series.   These books intimidate me,  but listening to the two of them talk about the books has kept me interested.  I enjoyed The Three Body Problem.   I liked the big ideas of The Dark Forest but struggled with the pacing and the characters.  I’ve not been super excited about the third one, Death’s End.  My dad said it had a slow start, but once he got into it he couldn’t stop reading it.  My husband said the end was traumatic, and that it reminded him of Sheri S Tepper’s book SideshowSideshow is one of my favorite books of all time.

Well, now I gotta read it so I can stay part of the family book club!  Also, I really really need to know what Cixin Liu and Sheri S Tepper have in common!

 

While Five for Friday has run its course,  today I have a special treat for you, a literal special edition Six for Friday.

Mailing books to friends must be some kinda addicting, like yawns.  As I was emailing a friend that I was going to be mailing her a box of books (Sorry K! I haven’t gotten to the post office yet!), another friend was emailing me that he was mailing me a box of books!

And boy was this box a humdinger!

Take a few minutes to feast your eyes,  and then I’ll tell you what you’re looking at.

if that blew your mind, here’s the cover art of each volume!  You’ll have to forgive my garbage photography.


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Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

published in 2018

where I got it: purchased used

 

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Occasionally, people ask me for book recommendations.  I try to recommend something the person will like, so if they ask me to recommend something poetic, something beautifully written, something strange but glorious that gets better every time I read it, without pause I will recommend Catherynne Valente’s The Habitation of the Blessed.  I will talk your ear off about this book, and it’s sequel, and the tragedy that the publisher is no longer in business so the books are no longer in print, and yadda yadda.

 

If I could only read one book for the rest of my life, I would choose The Habitation of the Blessed.

 

Knowing that, doesn’t make writing this review any easier.

 

Artists are gonna art, people should write the book they want to read, the world needs something happy right now. Space Opera is up for a number of awards, I hope it wins some of them, for sheer uniqueness, weirdness, and unapologetic over-the-top audaciousness.

 

Your mileage may vary. Remember this post?  I was 50 pages into Space Opera when I wrote it.

 

The concept behind Space Opera is, simply,  Eurovision Song Contest, in SPAAAAAACE!!!!! All the sentient races in the galaxy participate, and every so often an upstart race is invited to participate. If said upstart race wins (or at least places decently), they are welcomed into the galactic community. If they lose, they are deemed non-sentient / a danger to the galaxy, and summarily annihilated.  This “win or die” premise is presented in rather a Douglas Adams fashion, so all feels like fun and games. But the big question remains: Does Humanity Deserve to Survive?

 

Representatives are sent to Earth to find humanity’s best musicians. They were hoping for Yoko Ono.  Instead, they got Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes.

 

If you like over the top humor, if you like a narrative style that blows you off the page, if you’re looking for something really different, if you like wacky aliens and over the top descriptions, and a heartwarming ending, this book is for you!

 

I’m a buzzkill.  I’m a killjoy. I hit sensory overload around the time most people get out of bed in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, i get a kick out of short term sensory overload. In  the right circumstances, I quite enjoy it.  But long term sensory overload? something that puts me into overload too quickly?  It’s, um, not good.

 

I DNF’d this book, twice.

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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.