the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘science fiction

Burning Midnight McIntoshBurning Midnight, by Will McIntosh

published February 2016

Where I got it: Received ARC (thanks!)
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What if, for a very small fee, you could be better at math? Or could fall asleep easier at night? Or could digest anything? Or had better eyesight? Or could hold your breath a little bit longer? Or any one of a hundred other things that could make your life just the smallest bit easier? Wouldn’t that just be the best?
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Thanks to mysterious marble sized orbs that fell from the sky, everyone’s life is a little easier. All you have to do to reap their benefits is find a matching pair and burn them. Burn the slate gray ones for a beautiful singing voice, forest green for enhanced senses, copper to become ambidextrous, chocolate for enhanced strength, and so on. The rarer colors are of course, more expensive, but anyone can afford a common color, or even find the common ones in their own backyards and randomly all over the city. Orbs can only be used once, but the skills they impart last a lifetime.
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Teenager David Sullivan, who goes by Sully, had his fifteen minutes of fame when he found a Cherry Red, one of the rarest and most valuable orbs. Young and naive, he was talked into selling it to a famous collector. And then a team of lawyers cheated Sully out of the money. Well, the collector, Alex Holliday, says it was done fair and square. It’s not Holliday’s fault Sully didn’t read the contract through.  It’s an event that’s come to define Sully’s life.
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Is there such a thing as a free lunch? Some people feel the orbs are evil, that they are harmful. Some people refuse burn them, yet still buying and selling them to make a living. Sully and his working class friends often burn only the commonest, cheapest orbs. As it is, the little bit of money Sully makes at the flea market barely makes up for the family’s lost income when his mother loses her job. Sully feels protective of his Mom, he’s all she’s got.

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But what are the orbs, really? Should we be burning them, willy nilly, with no thought of what it could do to us, long term? Holliday continues to brag about all the colors he’s burned, making speeches and putting his prized orbs on display in his department stores. He reminds me a little of Zachary Quinto’s character in the first season of Heroes, “collecting” every talent he can. Ugggh, I want to punch Holliday in the face.

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end of the storyThe End of the Story, the Collected Fantasies Vol 1, by Clark Ashton Smith. Edited by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger

This collection published Sept 2015

Where I got it:  rec’d ARC from the publisher (Thanks Nightshade!)

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Last summer, I received an advanced reading copy of the new The End of the Story: The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, vol 1, from Nightshade Books.  It’s funny, because these are short stories from the 1930s, yet this is a new printing, with a new introduction, new cover art, etc. It’s lucky this book arrived, as I’ve always heard the name Clark Ashton Smith, but never came across any of his work.

 

Skimming through the introduction and the table of contents, I quickly learned two things – Clark Ashton Smith is known for cosmic horror and weird fiction, writing in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft; and that most of these stories were blessedly short. Don’t get me wrong, I like a meaty short story, but sometimes a super quick 5 page story, one that’s practically flash fiction, is exactly what fits the bill.  These were short stories I could read half a dozen of before bed, or read one while cooking dinner in between steps of stirring occasionally, and seasoning to taste.

 

It’s funny reading stories that were written so long ago, and most of these were written between 1925 and 1935.  Just think, in ten years, these stories will be a hundred years old. So, are they dated? Oh completely. But what’s most fascinating to me, is things that readers would have been horrified at (vampires, waking nightmares, succubi, etc) in the late 1920s, most readers today are completely used to.   Do you remember the skinny “Scary Stories to Read in the Dark” books that were popular with the 3rd to 6th grade crowd in the 80s?  Ghost stories,  stories about people’s heads falling off, all rated G, but totally creepy to any nine year old?  This is not an insult, but many of the Clark Ashton Smith stories felt quite a bit like those.  His literary style is a nicer kind of horror in a way – nothing gruesome, nothing squicky.  Many of his “big reveals” are fairly cheesy by today’s standards, such as the man’s visions were all a dream, or the old person relating the scary story disappeared into thin air, and such.  I’d happily give this collection to any ten year old, and not only would it scare the pants off them (in a fun way, I swear!), but they’d learn all sorts of fun new words, like asphodels, psammite, innominable, obloquy, invultuations, and dilatoriness.

 

So, the stories are dated, the big reveals aren’t at all shocking, but the prose is illuminating, and poetic. Here’s a sample, from the beginning of “The Planet of the Dead”:

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way station2Way Station, by Clifford D. Simak (Hugo Best Novel, 1964)

published in 1963

where I got it: gift from a friend

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My friend Andy has been talking about Way Station for a while, but he’s always so vague. He would just tell me how good it is, and that it’s one of his favorite Simak books, and that I should read it. But he never actually told me what this book was about. Had he told me the premise of the book, I’d have read it the moment he gave me a copy.

 

It’s funny, this book is *exactly* what the title says it is about. In rural Wisconsin, Enoch Wallace runs a special kind of way station. It’s a place for the weary to rest for a bit, to have a bed for the night, and perhaps a cup of coffee in the morning before departing. The station takes up Enoch’s entire home, and he’s been running it now for, oh, about a hundred years. And when I say “weary to rest for a bit”, I mean it’s a stopping place for aliens who are jumping across the light years on their way to the frontier or back to their families. Some of them stick around for just as long as it takes to ready the machinery to send them back on their way, others have become friends with Enoch over the years, and purposely schedule their trips so they can spend as much time with their strange Terran friend as possible. He even shares his coffee with anyone who is willing to try it.

 

Way Station is a positively delightful novel. It’s easy to get into, fun to read, and joyously optimistic about life in the universes. If you’ve read The Dark Forest, this book takes practically the opposite approach towards intelligent life in the universe.

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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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dark forest

I finally got around to reading Cixin Liu’s The Dark Forest earlier this month. My better half read it a few months ago, and I nagged him into writing a joint review with me. Well, more a conversation than a joint review. Epic spoilers ahead! Or, as Better Half says “If you’re on the no spoilers ship, better watch out, there’s rocks ahead”. He thinks he’s forgotten most of this book. He’s wrong.  Here’s what we thought of Cixin Liu’s The Dark Forest.

Andrea: You and I are both drawn towards character driven narratives. The Dark Forest is even less character driven than The Three Body Problem. I had a tough time getting into the story, because it was hard for me to grab onto any of these characters. Did you have a tough time too?

Mike: Somewhat of a tough time, it was easier for me as I chose to read this as an historian viewing the book as ‘future history’. Then, I could just follow the ebb and tide of historical forces as the story unfolded.

I liked the hope given to the Wallfacers, the unreality of the projects, and that one of them actually does save the Earth.

Andrea: What’s that phrase? Necessity is the mother of invention? Humanity is desperate, so we’re willing to put our faith in crazy things. All the other Wallfacers had these ridiculously complex ideas, and the one that saves the Earth seems so simple. Talk about playing the long game! Being given limitless money and told “Save the World”, it was interesting to see what these people did with their funds and resources. Reminded me a little of the Selacao (how the hell do spell that?) from the anime Eden of the East. But the Wallfacers take advantage of their situation, they can spend money on silly stuff, and say “it’s part of the plan”. Many of the Wallfacers had a similar “ultimate plan”. Were you surprised?

Mike: I also saw the Eden of the East connection, one of my favorite animes! The Wallfacers, with one exception, chose brute force methods to win a war, which is exactly what a war winner does not choose. Subtlety was only chosen by one facer, people scoffed, and he won.

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leena krohn coverLeena Krohn: Collected Fiction, by Leena Krohn

published by Cheeky Frawg, December 8th 2015

Where I got it: Received eArc from the publisher (thanks!)

this is part one of a multiple part review.

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Covering over 30 years and including over 800 pages of surreal speculative fiction and critical essays, I wouldn’t want to boil all my thoughts down into one review. To encourage myself to linger in these pages, to enjoy what I’m reading instead of rushing through it so I can write one review that covers a woman’s entire career, I will be writing multiple reviews to cover the works included in Leena Krohn: Collected Fiction.  Originally published in her native Finnish, the works have been translated by Hildi Hawkins, Bethany Fox, Anna Volmari, and J. Robert Tupasela, among others.  In this first review, I’ll  be discussing Tainaron: Mail from another City, and The Pelican’s New Clothes. What’s so wonderful about everything I’ve read so far in Leena Krohn: Collected Fiction is that any one of these short novels, or excerpts, or short stories, has so much meat to chew on. There’s so much here to think about and play with and attempt to understand, and fall into.  This collection as seen as a whole is like a meta fractal.  The further I fall in, the more I see, the more patterns I see, and the more patterns I want to see.  That will make more sense to you if you take this journey with me.

 

Tainaron: Mail from another City, written in 1985 is a fascinating short novel that consists of over two dozen letters, sent from a  woman who is visiting the island city of Tainaron. She never gets a response to the letters she writes, and in occasional fits of frustration she asks the person she is writing to why they never respond. Even so, the letters become a sort of diary for her, a place to privately write down all her strange and amazing experiences in Tainaron. Experiences like meeting a neglected prince, an upstairs neighbor so strange that she ended up moving to a new apartment, and public displays of chemical pleasure.  Tainaron isn’t like any other city, it’s not even a human citizen. This is an island populated by insects, in all their myriad beauty. There are beetles and bees and Queens who continually give birth, and insects that mimic other insects. It’s hard to know exactly what everything is, because the letter writer refers to everyone she meets simply as “people”, which I loved.

 

The primary themes of Tainaron include that of metamorphosis and inevitability. All the insect residents know winter  means hibernation, and hibernation means metamorphosis, and changing into a new form is just something everyone does, and why get anxious about any of this, since it is inevitable? Sometimes people remember who they were before, sometimes not.    I was reminded a bit of a scene in China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, where the chemistry of chrysalises and metamorphosis is discussed. That the creature who goes into the chrysalis is genetically and chemically different than the creature who emerges. That the first must cease to exist for the second to be born, and that this change is inescapable.

tainaron cover 2

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author_kss_fullKarina Sumner-Smith is a fantasy author and freelance writer. She is the author of the Towers Trilogy from Talos Press: Radiant (2014), Defiant (2015) and Towers Fall (2015), which just hit bookstore shelves last week.

Prior to focusing on novel-length work, Karina published a range of fantasy, science fiction and horror short stories, including the Nebula Award nominated story “An End to All Things,” and the ultra short story “When the Zombies Win,” which appeared in Ellen Datlow’s The  Best Horror of the Year, Vol 3.

Though she still thinks of Toronto as her home, Karina now lives in a small, lakefront community in rural Ontario, Canada, where she may be found lost in a book, dancing in the kitchen, or planning her next great adventure.

Karina was kind enough to chat with me a bit about the Towers trilogy, how plotting can sometimes be a plot-killer, her Sci-Fi filled youth, and her dance troupe.

Towers-Fall- Karina sumner Smith

 

Little Red Reviewer: The big idea in your Towers Trilogy is that magic is currency (you even wrote a Big Idea post at Scalzi’s Whatever!). How did you get the idea to develop a story around naturally occurring magic that is used as a currency of sorts? Once you got the idea, how did you develop the plot of the books around it?

Karina Sumner-Smith: It seems like the idea should come first, shouldn’t it? The idea that magic is currency—that magic is the driving life force of this entire society—is central to the novels, and shapes the two main characters’ lives in very different ways. Yet the idea actually stemmed from an entirely different source.

The Towers Trilogy began as a short story, “An End to All Things,” which garnered me a Nebula nomination back in 2007. I had an idea to write about a girl who can see ghosts; I sat down at my computer, and this world just opened up before me. The first scene of the short story is very similar to the opening scene in Radiant, and that’s where everything came from: the world, my entry to the story, the magical concepts, all of it. It’s all there in seed form in that tense exchange between a homeless girl, Xhea, negotiating with a distraught man who had a ghost tethered to the center of his chest.

The importance of magic-as-currency came to the fore, though, with a deeper understanding of that ghost, Shai, and why great powers were willing to go to such lengths to retrieve her, dead or alive. The idea, at its base level, is really looking at the idea of value in society, and how we decide the worth of a person. All of which makes it sound very constructed, as if this book was an intentional rant on the role of privilege in society. While that’s definitely a thematic core, the books themselves are about people: a homeless girl with no magic, living in the abandoned tunnels beneath the city; the ghost of a girl who generates magical fortunes unthinkingly; and what happens when they save each other. Xhea and Shai. Those two are where the plot came from, and (for me, at least) the source for all the book’s thematic resonances.

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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.