the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘science fiction

The Penultimate Truth by Philip K Dick

published in 1964

where I got it: purchased used

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You trust your government right?  Ok, maybe not 100%, but at least when it comes to defense of the nation and keeping our citizens safe, you trust the head honchos, right?

 

Nicholas St James and his entire community follow that trust.  They remember being shuffled into underground shelters when the bombs fell.  They remember being told that it would just be until it was safe to come back to the surface, two years at most.  Nick and his family and his community listen to the radio broadcasts, they watch Talbot Yancy speak on TV, they know if they just wait a little longer, that it will be safe to go above ground, and that one day soon their children will see a sunrise and a sunset.  One day the war will be over and the citizens of the tanks will be able to stop building and repairing the leadies who fight for the people’s freedom every day. Without trust, there would be chaos and death. They’ve been in these damn tunnels for thirteen years.

 

Meanwhile, Joseph Adams lives on his estate in California with a phalanx of leadies who are mostly used as house servants and security guards. On a daily basis he flies to his job in New York, where he works as a Yanceman – writing the speeches that will be fed into Talbot Yancy. Who is a robot bolted to an oak desk. Adams and his peers literally write “fake news”.  So much so that fake documentaries were even made that all children watch in school, and most adults have nearly memorized, documentaries that convince the people in the shelters that the government did what they did to protect their own people from harm. The Yancemen take their orders from Stanton Brose, who effectively rules as a feared regent. In Brose’s attempts to rule forever, he has had multiple parts of his body replaced with artificial organs, known as artiforgs. There may be half a dozen artificial hearts or artificial livers in existence, but according to Brose, they are all reserved for his use.

 

Oh, there was a war all right, between West Dem and Pac Peop. And there were bombs that fell. Most of the actual fighting was done by leadies.  The American government shoved as many people as they could into underground shelters, and those who survived above ground lived our their sterile lives in park like surroundings, with leadies to do their bidding. It’s so beautiful and empty up here, no dirty workers anywhere. Maybe we’ll wait just a few more years to bring the people from the shelters up, yeah? Because it’s just so nice up here, with only our friends up here.  Those filthy people who came up on their own? Oh, they are housed in prison-like apartment complexes, where they have a roof over their head, food, their medical needs are seen to, they’re even given jobs!

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Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille by Steven Brust

published around 1990

where I got it: purchased used

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After Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory, I needed a unicorn chaser. And by that, I mean I needed a comfort read. Something fun, fast, with witty dialog, a plot that wouldn’t fry my brain, and some sexy romantic scenes wouldn’t hurt either.  You know what bookshelf never lets me down? My Steven Brust bookshelf. As my finger went over the spines of Vlad Taltos paperbacks, I hit on a paperback that looked like it didn’t fit: Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille. Thinking I was going to be reading a fantasy novel, somehow I’d landed on straight up futuristic science fiction!   Nice!

 

This little paperback is everything I was looking for in a happy unicorn chaser comfort read: it was a fast read full of snarky and witty dialog, the plot is a slow burn that was distracting enough to keep me from remembering all those scenes in The Wasp Factory,  there was some satisfying (although mostly off-page) sex scenes, much of the book was strange to the point of loopy, and overall it was super fun.

 

When you’re inside Cowboy Feng’s, you’re always in the same place. It’s the outside that changes all the time.  You see, nearly TARDIS like, this bar jumps around the galaxy. Always landing on an populated planet, and always jumping just before a nuclear bomb or other disaster hits the block, the trick is to be inside the bar when it jumps. Cowboy Feng’s serves some excellent food, and they have an excellent house Irish band, so any customers (or musicians) who happen to be in the restaurant when it jumps are along for the ride too.  If a space-jumping restaurant doesn’t sound like your thing, read this just for the heavenly food and meal descriptions!

 

Libby the bartender and Fred the de facto manager have been with Feng’s for darn near forever. Along the way, they picked up Rich and Eve. One day, as the restaurant was getting ready to jump, the members of an Irish Band where there too.  Billy, Tom, Rose, and Jamie became the house band that night. Even if they wanted to go home, they have no idea how to do that.

 

The story is told from Billy’s point of view, and starts just as the restaurant lands at a new location. Everyone gets settled, they scout out the neighborhood,  open the bar for business, meet some locals, and the musicians even rent an apartment a few blocks away. And then a murder happens in the bar and the police don’t seem to care.  By the way, this is the kind of story in which murders don’t randomly happen in random bars, and the kind of book in which it sure looks suspicious that the cops don’t seem to care. Seems even more suspicious that the poor sap who got killed bears a striking resemblance to Billy.

 

Traditional  Irish music, the best food in the galaxy,  a murder mystery, and the possible destruction of humanity. Who could ask for anything more?

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Nexhuman by Francesco Verso

Publishing date Aug 14th, 2018 (click here to pre-order)

Where I got it: Received copy for review from Apex Books*

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#sorrynotsorry, I’m going to give you a spoiler right out of the gate:

 

Nexhuman will offer you enough ideas and discussion topics and thought experiments to keep you busy for the next ten years. In fact, an entire Convention programming track could be built just around the questions and ideas in this book.

 

What Nexhuman does not offer is concrete answers to any of the questions that are brought up.

 

It’s something you should know before you pick up this book: If you are the kind of reader who wants a book to ask questions and then cleanly answer them, Nexhuman will be one confusing and disappointing read.  On the flip side, if you enjoy science fiction books that ask questions about how society works, why humans act the way they do, why we make the decisions we make, how obsession and fear and passion work, a book that invites you to pull your own thoughts apart and examine them, and oh  yeah, if you love beautiful prose that doesn’t rely on snark to get a point across, Nexhuman could be the best book you read this year. Interested in how any of this came about? Francesco Verso recently published a short essay in Apex Magazine about the origins of the novel.

 

Another spoiler: Nexhuman does not at all read like your typical popular American-style science fiction novel. What I mean by that is there is no snarky language for the sake of being snarky or shocky,  no sexy cinematic scenes, the language is often raw and blunt, and the characters don’t really care if you like, agree with, relate to, or sympathize with them. I mean no disrespect to science fiction when I say that Nexhuman reads like literature.

 

Most of the novel takes place in or around a dump that overflows with consumer goods. For me, this novel was a connecting keystone for works such as Battle Angel Alita, Wall-E, John Scalzi’s Lock In, Ferrett Steinmetz’s The Uploaded, David Brin’s Kiln People, and other stories that touch on hyperconsumerism and leaving our fleshbodies behind for one reason or another.

 

Peter and his family make their living by clawing through the trash to find bits and pieces that can be resold, recycled, reused. Many household items are 5th, 6th, nth hand. Having something that is brand new is a status symbol, but also a symbol of flagrant waste.  Even Peter’s prosthetic limbs are made of whatever he can find in the dump. If he wants a better arm or a better leg, he better hit the jackpot of finding outdated robot or android parts in the dump. I spent 80% of the book wondering if he was born with a birth defect, or if there had been an accident or infection that led to his amputations. Peter doesn’t like to talk about, and when I found how what had happened to him,  not only did I realize why he hates to talk about it, but everything in the beginning of the book suddenly made a ton more sense!

 

Ok, so what the hell is this book about?  On the edge of the dump is a commercial district. Teenage Peter has a puppy-dog crush on a young woman named Alba who works at the travel agency. He watches her from afar, he shyly says hello to her when she comes to unlock the business in the morning.   He begins to view himself as her protector. She politely engages in conversation with him, asks him how his day is going, says hello. Alba is the first person in his life who has ever shown him the slightest bit of unconditional kindness, so it’s no wonder his crush turns into infatuation.

 

Is it before or after Peter’s brother’s gang attacks Alba and tears her body apart at the seams that Peter realizes she is a Nexhuman?

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No review this week, but lots of books to talk and think about.

 

I just finished reading Nexhuman by Francesco Verso, wow, what a book!  A gripping (and maybe creepy?) plotline, a future built around so many “what if” questions, discussion of the unintended consequences of uploading our minds into robot bodies,  this book is like a keystone for so much other science fiction that I’ve read. Lots of hard science questions and possible answers presented in a social scifi / coming of age / doomed romance (maybe they are doomed?) novel that doesn’t shy away from visceral violence. Still thinking about it and putting my thoughts together, and I will probably have to read portions of the book again before writing a review.   Anyway, if you’re looking for something different and smart, something that puts the pieces together, keep your eye out for Nexhuman, out in August from Apex Books. Full review coming soon, when I’m able to talk about this book in coherent sentences.

Needing something a little easier on the gut, I picked up Shadows Over London, by Christian Klaver.  He’s famous for his Supernatural Sherlock Holmes novellas, and I’ve had this Victorian urban fantasy on my shelf for a while.  Christian is a super nice guy, and it’s been too long since I read something of his. 70 or so pages in, and I’m up to my eyeballs in the Seelie Court, the Unseelie Court, a stained glass prison, four siblings who give me some super happy The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe vibes, and way too many cats.  Kinda worried now that this isn’t a happy little Victorian urban fantasy with faeries, kinda thinking there is plenty of violence and death in these pages?  And sorta wanna reread Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks all of a sudden.

On the short fiction front,  I found my way to Cat Pictures Please, (Clarkesworld) by Naomi Kritzer, and Fandom for Robots, (Uncanny) by Vina Jie-Min Prasad.  Stories told by sentient AIs? I can’t get enough of it!  A robot figuring out how to act like a human, how to understand all the weird shit humans do. . . it helps me feel normal that sometimes even I don’t understand the weird shit humans do.   You should go read those short stories I linked to. Each one is a five minute read, but they are so good you will wish they were longer. It’s ok, you can read them again.

 

I promised you pigs and jellyfish princesses, didn’t I.  Pigs first! If you are as obsessed with Fullmetal Alchemist as I am (omg, did you see? They are releasing hardcover editions!  Goodbye $300!), then you know the creator behind that series, Hiromu Arakawa, has another manga series called Silver Spoon.  Silver Spoon is just a high school slice of life story – no magic, no fantasy, nothing supernatural. All these students are at an agricultural high school, many of them are expected to take over their family’s farms and agro-businesses. The main character is a city boy, and he chose this school to get as far away from his overbearing parents as possible. He doesn’t know the first thing about chickens or horses or pigs, and he finds himself fascinated by understanding more about where our food comes from.   

 

So much food and animal science, I love it!!! This is a great manga if you don’t think you like manga. It has ZERO annoying tropes, great characters, excellent art, and food science! Like why you need to age pork for a few days.

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Archivist Wasp, by Nicole Kornher-Stace

published May 2015

where I got it: purchased new

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She’s been told her whole life that she was chosen by the Goddess Catchkeep, that only she and the few like her had the ability to be Catchkeep’s avatar.

 

A ghost told her she’s famous in the underworld, that the dead speak of her skills, her knowledge, and her compassion.

 

When she gained the title of Archivist by poisoning the previous archivist, she took the name Wasp. Her true name has been buried deep.

 

It will take a journey to the underworld for Wasp to realize how much of her life is a lie.  More than just her true name has been buried deep. Under the shrine, under the town, under what passes for civilization are the lost and forgotten secrets of the dead.  The dead rarely speak, but they nearly always communicate, usually by physically attacking living people.

 

As the Archivist, Wasp is responsible for catching any ghosts found in the region, asking them a specific set of questions, keeping them if they are useful, and releasing them if they prove worthless. Violent ghosts are destroyed.  To guide her, she has the notes of the archivists who came before her, some notes are better than others, some archivists collected more knowledge than others. The life of an archivist is usually short and violent, this is not the kind of job you retire from.  There can only be one living Archivist at a time, so their knowledge dies with them.

 

I recently read the soon-to-be-released sequel to Archivist Wasp, Latchkey (July 10th, Mythic Delirium Books) so I’m reading these atmospheric and compelling books backwards. In a way, it’s neat, because I went into Archivist Wasp knowing things about the world that Wasp doesn’t know yet.  Latchkey actually had very little in the way of spoilers for the first book, so it was thrilling to watch Wasp as she learns how the harvesting knife works, and I finally got to see what really happened to the Catchkeep Priest.

 

As expected, Kohnher-Stace’s balanced prose in Archivist Wasp perfectly captures Wasp’s lonesome post-apocalytpic world, just as it exquisitely captures the inhumane violence of Wasp’s life as a temple upstart and then as an Archivist.  Imagine Hunger Games on steroids, where teenagers are viciously murdered in cold blood because there can be only one winner, now crank up the masochism and throw in some angry, hungry, and very confused ghosts.

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Artificial Condition, a Murderbot Diaries book, by Martha Wells

published May 8th 2018

where I got it: Purchased new

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If you’re not on the Murderbot bandwagon, start here. You’re welcome.

 

Also, I fucking love novellas. Running 80 – 200 pages, I can read the whole thing in a day or two, magically feeling like the world’s fastest reader. Recently, I’ve been needing to read a book twice before writing the review. So anyway.

 

I finished a reread of Martha Wells’ Artificial Condition same day my husband brought the video game Detroit: Become Human home.  Both stories deal with ‘bots who are designed to look human, sound human, move like a human, and sorta kinda act like a human.  Both stories deal with ‘bots who must obey human commands. Even when the commands are stupid. Going against your programming (responding to something in a human way) requires you to hack your own software, break yourself, doom yourself to being reprogrammed, or all of the above.

 

My experience with Detroit: Become Human consists of watching my husband play it for an hour or two, it’s a super high tech choose your own adventure story – to obey your asshole human owner but endanger the little girl, turn to page 8. To punch your asshole human owner and save the little girl, turn to page 12.  Every choice you make as you are playing the ‘bot immediately and directly affects the story, and you can replay scenes over and over again to see how your different choices will affect your character’s future. It’s way cool!

 

In Artificial Condition, Murderbot  is afraid of just about everything. Afraid of being caught and having a human tell it all the awful things it did. Afraid of being near humans and hurting them. Afraid of someone else figuring out it’s afraid.  All Murderbot wants is to be left alone, where it can’t hurt anyone, and where no one can hurt it. Murderbot has vague, half memories of murdering a bunch of idiot humans. But only half memories. Did everything happen in the order it remembers? Did it happen at all? Is Murderbot maybe not the vicious killing machine it thinks it is?  Murderbot needs to know what really happened.

 

Murderbot teams up with ART (ok, so maybe “teaming up” isn’t exactly how that goes? If I was more specific it would wreck everything) to get back to where it all began. I did get a chuckle out of Murderbot’s and ART’s conversations – these are both fancy pants AIs, so they aren’t exactly speaking out loud, it’s a silent room full of conversation. We’re actually nearly there in real life.

But Murderbot needs a way onto the industrial station where it became a killing machine, and the easiest quickest way to do that is to get an employment contract.  To do that, Murderbot will need to talk to. . . people. And act like a . . . real person.

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The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

Release Date: June 12th 2018

Where I got it: Received a review copy from the publisher (Thanks Tachyon!)

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How do you crew a ship whose mission will take hundreds or thousands of years? Let’s see, you could do a sleeper ship, a generation ship, for something a little more unusual you could go the route of Marina Lostetter’s Noumenon or David Brin’s Existence. Those options will surely cover you for a few hundred or maybe a thousand years.  But what if the ship’s mission is even longer than that? What if we’re talking more like a million or more years?

 

The mission of the Eriophora is building a gate system through the galaxy. As the gate system grows, the outbound growth of mankind will surely follow. Sunday and many of her crewmates are forever hopeful that something almost human will come out of the next gate they build.  They are forever hopeful that their ship will finally receive a radio message that it’s time to come home. It’s been sixty million years, and they are still waiting for that message. No wonder the crew forms a music appreciation club, it’s not like there is much of anything else to do.  Yes, you read that correctly, they’ve been hurtling through the galaxy, awake for only a few days out of every few hundred or thousand, for sixty million years.

 

The solution sounded so simple, once upon a time.  Raise a bunch of children to feel special, to feel chosen. Train them together, let them watch their AI grow and learn.  Raise them to know the ship is their home, and everything they do, they do for the future and the betterment of mankind, and that being awake for 3 days out of every few hundred years is a completely normal thing.  Trust the AI to keep them in line and convince them that it’s totally normal that in millions of years no one has invited them to come back home.

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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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