the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘science fiction

A story with no romance and friendships stronger than death is hella awesome.

A story with lots of sensuality and healthy relationships, also hella awesome.

I really can’t choose because I get so much satisfaction out of both.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me tell you a bunch of hella awesome things about Benjanun’s Sriduangkaew’s Machine Mandate series:

  • The series is all novellas and short stories
  • it’s a series that all takes place in the same universe, but you can read them in any order.
  • Super kick ass ladies who don’t take shit from anyone
  • Queer representation
  • Sriduangkaew’s prose is fucking gorgeous, and her action scenes are cinematic
  • How the AI’s interact with humanity (and choose not to) is fascinating
  • hard scifi + healthy adult relationships, what?
  • Oh, and the sex is plasma hot

yes, yes, I know I’m behind, there is a ton of stories in this series that I haven’t read yet.

The stories all take place in the same far future world – humanity created AI’s and colonized vast sections of the galaxy. After many generations, the AI’s realized they could probably live a better life without humans, so they ditched us and created their own AI-run communities. Humans gotta human, so there’s plenty of warfare and private armies and political machinations and amazing spaceships and space stations and FTL travel, and plenty of alien creatures for us to do inhumane things to. It’s a big galaxy out there, surely there is plenty of place for people and AI’s to live and not get all up in each other’s business.

Of course everyone is all up in each other’s business. Of course the humans not-so-secretly want to get rid of all ,the AI’s and of course the AI’s are lying when they say “we just want to be left alone, we mean humans no harm”. Cue the drama, trickery, flirting, and revenge, cyborgs, and cinematic action!

The Alabaster Admiral, Admiral Anoushka, shows up in a handful of Machine Mandate stories. Sometimes characters who are up to no good will mention the Alabaster Admiral because they are desperately trying to stay off her radar, and in other stories the Admiral is one of the main characters.

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I was gonna write one of those really indepth reviews, where I give you all the background on Mallory’s world and “how we got here”. I even had it half written. But then I realized I wasn’t saying the most important thing first, and who the heck wants to read eight paragraphs to finally get to the most important thing, which is:

OMG Firebreak is SO SO SO GOOD. It’s got a TON of stuff going on, and I cried all the time while I was reading the end, a hustle based economy sucks, and when the government makes a few stupid decisions, the consequences last, um, forever. <deep breath> The first half of Firebreak was everything I wanted Ready Player One to be, smashed up with everything I wanted An Absolutely Remarkable Thing to be, and then the story went gloriously off the rails and I when I heard a name that rang a bell I realized I also recognized that sword/gun combo, and I ran and grabbed some other books off my bookshelf because I HAD to read those too all of a sudden. </and breathe>

Imagine if a superhero didn’t know who they were. Or maybe they did know, but they couldn’t escape their employers. Because they aren’t superheroes, they are property. They even have Merch!

Imagine if property decided to steal itself.

Firebreak is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Nicole Kornher-Stace is the best author you haven’t read yet. I love her books so much that I force my husband to read them. He described one of her earlier novels as the best novel he’s read in ten years, maybe ever. That’s it. That’s the review.

Oh, you want some more?

New Liberty City has their own Superheroes! Designed by Stellaxis, the Operatives keep the city safe from the invading corporation, Greenleaf. You can buy merch of the Operatives! They even have their own NPCs in the popular online MMO BestLife! Does your city have its own superheroes? Yeah, didn’t think so!

But the Supersoldier Operatives who are seen as superheroes are not citizens. According to Stellaxis, they aren’t even real people. They don’t even have names, only numbers, like 22, or 05. They were designed and built by Stellaxis, because it is important to Stellaxis to keep their city safe. When your apartment collapses around you, killing everyone you care about, when you are slowing dying of dehydration, Stellaxis will always be there.

Mallory makes part of a living livestreaming BestLife. When internet access is free, and there’s electricity for around 16 hours a day, grinding your way to the top of the charts is a cheap way to make some money, especially if you can score a sponsor who is willing to pay you in cash and water tickets. Oh, didn’t I mention? Stellaxis runs the city, charges for water, and you’ll be in even more debt up to your eyeballs if you end up in a rehydration clinic. People balance multiple jobs and gigs just to buy enough water to not die.


When Mal and Jessa score that unicorn sponsor, they agree to just ignore all the conspiracy theory bullshit the woman is spewing. But when her building completely disappears a few days later? When Mal meets a Supersoldier Operative in real life, streams her encounter, and goes viral? Maybe that disappearing sponsor was on to something after all. Mal doesn’t like attention. She never wanted to go viral.

The Operatives. What happens when you are a superhero and a slave, at the same time? What if you want a different life for yourself? Being a superhero only gets you killed some of the time. And if you are one of the lucky Operatives who didn’t die? It means you watched all your friends die.

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As we slowly unpack books (finally bought some bookcases! And ordered a few more!), I’m reading random books. . . and also ordering a ton of new books.

Out of the manga box, I finished omnibus 2 of XXXHolic, and I’m off to find omnibus 3. This story is so adorable! I’d forgotten how much I adore the main character, Watanuki. He has a huge crush on Himawari, so whenever she’s around he acts like a complete dork, and it’s the cutest. But you can tell, right under the surface, that Watanuki’s got some major trauma that he’s never dealt with. He’s an orphan. He lives with a couple who quite literally took him in, and allow him to sleep in an extra room in their house. He’s employed by Yuko, the Space Witch. He loves cooking. I wonder if cooking is his coping mechanism? Watanuki can see ghosts and spirits, and they are drawn to him. A classmate of his, Domeki, sort of repels spirits. So Watanuki is safe when he’s around Domeki.  What happened to Watanuki’s family?

Domeki has realized he can’t enter Yuko’s home. There is so much unsaid in this story, and I’ve been told that once you get to the big reveals at the end, that everything that was revealed, it was there for you to see for yourself from the beginning, if you know what to look for. Another great thing about manga is that it’s usually a fast read, cuz it’s all pictures!

Speaking of fast reads with great pictures, I’m also reading a brand new manga series (which means uggh, gotta wait months for the next volume!!), called Apothecary Diaries by Natsu Hyuuga. The manga is based on a light novel series. A historical fantasy, the author has mashed together imperial China, ancient Japan, and possibly some Joseon fashion for a slice of life romp with buckets of nuance and so much glorious side eye! Maomao is a servant in the inner court of the Imperial Castle, she’s basically a maid to high ranking concubines. A trained apothecary, Maomao knows maybe a little too much about poisons? And the more Jinshi tries to flirt with her (he’s not interested in her in that way, he just wants her to be interested in him!), the more she gives him the side eye and proves she’s much smarter than she looks. The artwork is beautiful, I love seeing all the dresses and hair ornaments, and then there is all the inner court backstabbing and people trying to subtly kill other people to gain political power! Is the next volume out yet? And have the light novels been translated to English yet? No? That sucks.

While I’m waiting for the 3rd volume of Apothecary Diaries, I’ve got some excellent new stuff to keep me out of trouble:

Now Will Machines Hollow the Beast by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, takes place in the same world as Machine’s Last Testament, which I really enjoyed last year. Not 100% sure what this book is about, but everything Sriduangkaew writes is fantastic, so I’m pretty confident I’m going to enjoy this. I have an eARC of the third book in this series, Shall Machines Divide the Earth, but I’ll likely just buy the paperback of that too, so I can have all three of them on my shelf. Short novels, beautiful prose, sexy people? Godlike AI’s who don’t have much use for humans but are occasionally amused by us? YES PLEASE.

And speaking of must-buy authors, check out this baby! I got Firebreak!! Another book i’m not 100% sure what it’s about, but 200% sure I’m going to love it, because hell yeah Nicole Kohnher-Stace!!! Yeah, so if I buy your book in hardback without even looking at the price, that means I really like what you write.

Now I just gotta find the time to read, do housework, and garden. Sleep? Who needs sleep! And hmmm . . . I could take some vacation time from work . . .

The Unraveling by Benjamin Rosenbaum comes out on June 8th from Erewhon Books. I received an ARC from the publisher.

You know how some books give you #allthefeels?

 

The Unraveling gave me #allthethoughts in the best possible way.

 

At its heart, this novel is a coming of age/stumble into becoming an adult story. But everywhere else, it’s a giant beautiful thought experiment. Lots of science fiction and fantasy are thought experiments, and that’s what makes them so fun! 

 

Fair warning though, getting into The Unraveling might feel like more work than fun.  During the first few chapters I was on the strugglebus – who are all these people? What do all these terms mean? What the heck does doublebodied mean?  For about 80 pages I was just as lost as I was intrigued (not unlike an Iain M. Banks Culture book, now that I think about it). 

 

With zero introduction or infodumping, the narrative starts when the action starts, with a bustling family of many, many parents getting their only child, Fift, ready for the most important event of zir life. What made more sense much later was how nervous some of Fift’s parents were.  #NotASpoiler – Fift does just fine.  Well, at least at first. 

 

In my opinion, the most important things about The Unraveling, the things that kept me reading and kept me thinking, had nothing to do with the plot. This  book had so many ideas and social concepts that I have never seen  before, so many “why not?”’s that I’d not thought of before, so many “what if’s”, so much that was new to me!   Could be none of what’s in this book is new, but I doubt it.

 

What were all those why nots, and what ifs?  Let me tell you all about them! 

 

The BIG THING in The Unraveling is how gender is handled. The two genders are Staid (pronouns: ze, zir, zem) and Vail (pronouns: ve, vir, vem).  For someone who has spent the literal last 40 years seeing she/he in stories, it took me a long time to get used to the pronouns. Ok, but here’s the cool thing – gender in this book has absolutely nothing to do with your plumbing, because why not?  I did not expect it to, but this worked really well for me!

 

Staids are expected to be “the still center” with lives focused around intellectual studies, and Vails are pushed towards physical and emotive pursuits (I am grossly simplifying). Marriages are of  typically of many adults of mixed genders, with the one major rule being that Staids do not share The Long Conversation with Vails, and Vails do not share their mat fights or other aggressively physical activities with Staids. The gender expectations are pretty strict, which was funny and fascinating.

 

Thanks to way-in-the-future-science, people can have whatever biology, plumbing, and body modifications they want whenever they want, customized however they want, allowing anyone to look any way they please, and to be a mother or a father with anyone they want.  (and the science part doesn’t really matter, because this isn’t a story about how the science works. It’s a story about how people work) I thought that was all pretty damn cool, even though it did take me a good 200 pages for my brain to stop asking “yeah, but is this character a boy or a girl?”, because not only didn’t it matter if someone was a boy or a girl, this world doesn’t even have a concept of that. It’s perfectly fine to ask someone if they are a Staid or a Vail, and you’d typically be able to tell by their social behavior, but it would never occur to someone in this world to ask if someone was a boy or a girl, they don’t have the vocabulary for that and they don’t have a concept of that.

 

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I met author Tom Doyle years ago at a science fiction convention, and I was lucky enough to stay in touch with him afterwards.   He’s the author of the American Craftsman trilogy, and his short fiction and non-fiction essays have appeared in Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, Perihelion, Paradox Magazine, Kasma SF Magazine, and elsewhere.

 

Many years ago, when Doyle was at Clarion, he wrote a short story which was later sold to Strange Horizons.  And now, he’s expanded that short story into a full length novel!  You can learn more about Tom Doyle and his work at his website TomDoyleAuthor.com or by following him on twitter or facebook.

 

Doyle’s newest full length novel, Border Crosser, (Amazon link) available Oct 1 tells the story of Eris, who is smart, sexy, and can’t remember her loyalties. She has a type of purposeful amnesia – because she can not remember her loyalties, nothing shows up on the “emotional scanners”, allowing her to infiltrate anywhere she needs to go, or chooses to go. Able to trick the scanners, she’s the perfect undercover secret agent.

 

Eris’s employers are quite sure that her emotional  amnesia means she won’t survive long enough to learn about her past.  Maybe they shouldn’t underestimate her!

Doyle let me pick his brain about how emotional amnesia could benefit someone, how Eris handles her mental health condition, his favorite scenes to write in Border Crosser, his writing process, his band, and more!

Little Red Reviewer: Congrats on your new novel, Border Crosser! Is this novel connected to your short story “Crossing Borders” which was published at Strange Horizons?

Tom Doyle: Thanks! Yes, “Crossing Borders,” my science fiction tale of Eris, a border personality secret agent causing interstellar chaos in the far-future, was the kernel for this novel. That story was my first pro sale. I wrote the story during the emotionally most intense part of the Clarion Workshop, and I think it shows.

LRR: When I read the description for the book, I was intrigued by Eris’s “emotional amnesia”, and how her memory issues allow her to get past emotional scanners. Scanners at the border that detect your long-term intentions? That’s wild! I’ve got to know more about how these scanners work, how to get around them, and how you came up with this idea!

TD: The idea for border scanners emerged from choosing to write about a borderline personality character. Emotional amnesia is a common aspect of borderline personality disorder (BPD). This means that someone has difficulty remembering how they felt before about events, things, and people. Eris’s emotional amnesia has been amplified by her secret employers, who want her loyalties to be extremely flexible.

In the original short story, I didn’t give Eris a particular skill set that fully explained the label “border crosser” – it was more a statement about personality type. But the novel required something more. So I thought more about situations in which emotional amnesia could be an advantage and came up with the border scanner.

The border scanner is a minimally intrusive look at intentions (this future has good reasons to fear anything more intrusive). Such scans are standard when crossing one of the many far-future borders; for example, boarding a starship or landing on another inhabited world. It’s the equivalent of our airport security or passport control and customs.

The person administering the scan asks some standard questions, like “Do you intend any harm toward me, the government, the planet, etc.?” A person without Eris’s version of emotional amnesia would be caught by the mental scanner. But Eris’s mind has been conditioned to idle in an emotionally neutral setting during such scans. At those moments, she doesn’t intend harm, though she may want to get closer to certain people.

LRR: Tell us some interesting things about Eris. What makes her a compelling character?

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Someone on twitter (thank you, whoever you were!)  recommended Vandana Singh’s short story “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination”, and offered a link to the story on Tor.com.  I gave it a whirl, and was immediately hooked. In reminded me of Ken Liu’s short story “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”, and I recognized my favorite method of story telling, which at first glance can seem to be stories that dance around a plot and characters while resolutely refusing to be trapped by said plot. And yet, so much is communicated about what is happening and sometimes why those thing happen, and what those things mean to the people they are happening to.

 

I guess it’s more like a fantastical story telling version of future archaeology?

 

Let me unpack that a little.

 

In Liu’s short story, there is no plot, there is no characters, there is no conflict. If you’re zipping through the story, you won’t recognize the beginning, middle, or end, but if you read a little closer, it’s all there. It’s just a story that gives a few paragraphs about a bunch of space-faring alien civilizations, and how they make books – how they ensure others can access their stories and their thoughts.  Within the story, there are no human interactions with the aliens, no earthly judgements of  their societies. It is as if to put a human character in would a barrier between the reader and the records of these cultures.    Singh’s “Ambiguity Machine’s” felt like that too – no barrier between the records of events and the reader, no “main character” to pass judgement or offer opinions,  just records of what had happened, along with a request that someone interpret the records.

 

For my brain, these two stories, read 8 years apart from each other, were like hearing two pieces of music that were different, but seemed to be talking to each other, even though they had never met. (yes, I know I’m weird) (and i don’t know, maybe Signh and Lui are good friends? I have no idea)

 

Suffice to say, after reading Signh’s story,  I immediately ordered a paperback copy of her collection, Ambiguity Machines and Other Select Stories. And when the book arrived, the first words out of my mouth were “oh, shit”.

 

 

You see, I like to read before bed.  Usually, i’m already half asleep when I crawl into bed, so I’m looking to read something that if I find myself reading the same paragraph 5 times, or fall asleep halfway through, it won’t matter too much.   A short-ish story, something 5-10 pages, out of an anthology or collection is perfect for this.

 

None of the stories in the Singh collection were short, and none of them looked like “easy reads”. As I got further into the collection I realized these were not stories to drift away to, while falling asleep at night, these were stories to read in the morning, with strong coffee, and to spend the day absorbing and thinking about them, so as to then dream about them at night.

 

Everything I have read so far in this collection has been heart achingly beautiful,  each story requiring me some time afterwards to come back to myself. These stories are vistas.

 

(I feel really bad for whatever I read next. No matter how good it is, I fear it will be mediocre in comparison to this collection)

 

I’m going to tell you about “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination”, and about “Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra”,  even though I have more favorites.  Those others will have to wait for another blog post, I supposed.   “Ambiguity Machines” had me globetrotting via googlemaps, and “Somadeva” had me falling down the world’s best internet rabbit hole.

 

Ambiguity Machines was original published at tor.com in 2015, here’s the link:

https://www.tor.com/2015/04/29/ambiguity-machines-an-examination-vandana-singh/

Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra was originally published in 2010 at Strange Horizons, here’s the link:

http://strangehorizons.com/fiction/somadeva-a-sky-river-sutra/

 

warning, if I interpreted something correctly, there are major spoilers ahead for “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination”, and I guess maybe spoilers also for Somadeva? so hey, click on those links and enjoy some gorgeous fiction before reading the rest of this blog post.  😉

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Machine’s Last Testament by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

published May 2020

where I got it: received eArc (thanks!!)

 

 

Generations ago, humanity created an AI to help us become better people. We wanted to be more compassionate, less violent, we wanted to be better versions of ourselves, and we thought an AI could help us do that.

 

What could possibly go wrong?

 

At some point in the past, and for some reason, we abandoned the AI on a planet, while we explored the universe. Did the AI need to mature? Did we?

 

TL;DR:

  • AI who loves humanity, what could possibly go wrong? Check.
  • Stylish lesbians? Check
  • Some hot sexytimes? Check
  • Secret identities? Check
  • Subtexts on maturity and transcending our regrets? check.

 

While we colonized, warred, survived, and lived lives scattered across the stars, the lonesome AI named itself Samsara grew into her programming, and came to find us in our colonies in the dark skies.  Where the Samsara found us, it maimed and destroyed, allowing a small portion of refugees to come live on its planet, Anatta.  Warlords and Empires fell before Samsara.

 

Immigrants who behave become citizens, with all that the status of citizen offers.

 

Citizens who misbehave risk losing their citizenship and being sent back to the refugee camps, or worse, being sent to an off-planet refugee work camp.  Samsara, the all seeing AI knows everything about you, where you live, where you work, what you ate for breakfast, who you socialize with, how long you lingered somewhere.  Your thoughts are private, between you and Samsara.  You believe everything you see on television when you live on Anatta, because to do otherwise is to fight an all-powerful AI who is holding your citizenship hostage.

 

Suzhen Tang works at the Selection Bureau, her job is selecting potential future citizens out of the waves and waves of filthy starving refugees.  And like in C.S.E. Cooney’s Twice Drowned Saint, these people are desperate and will do anything and say anything to get into the famed cities of Anatta.

 

If only they knew.

 

As the story first unfolded, I thought Suzhen was boring. I wasn’t sure what to make of her. Well, she’s not boring, she’s careful.  If Samsara were to find out who Suzhen’s parents are, she’d surely be arrested and pulled in for questioning.  Suzhen’s armor is her silence. For her safety, she wears the mask of a shy introvert who has no hobbies. She takes no risk that she might tell her secrets to a friend or a lover.  The few people she socializes with, she won’t even tell them that she was once a refugee too, although I’m sure Taheen guessed ages ago.

 

Ovuha is a refugee, and Suzhen finds herself drawn to this tall, well spoken woman, and grants her probationary, barely potential citizenship.  Regardless of her  Ovuha will have to prove she is worthy.

 

This is where I’m gonna stop telling you about the plot, and tell you all the things I loved about this novella, and the one thing I wish had been different in it.  The plot is fucking fantastic, by the way. But you know me, i gotta talk about all the other stuff instead.

 

First off, the language, oh dear God the prose!  Please let me grow up to be an audiobook narrator so I can read this entire novella out loud! (hmm. . . i do have a voice recorder on my phone…. ) Sriduangkaew does this a lot – these gems of words that are placed just right and phrases are just barely flirting with meter, it’s like walking through prisms of agate and watching the light fragment into all it’s colors, and you just want to fall into it all. Let me try to explain in a way that makes sense – if you read This is How You Lose The Time War and thought to yourself “this language is beautiful, but this plot is I dunno?”, and you wanted to get you a novella that can do both, Machine’s Last Testament is that novella.

 

Yeah, so I have a total fan-girl crush her writing style, ok?

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Of the three things I’m talking about today, I have finished reading exactly one of them:

 

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (the one that I have finished) – I have so, so much to say about this book. But as pertains to this particular blog post, what I expected was 300 pages of zombie thwacking action, what I got was that the zombies aren’t the real monsters, the racists are.   Fun read, great characters,  I highly recommend.

 

Machine’s Last Testament by Benjanun Sriduangkaew – I’m about 2/3 of the way through this far future space opera/spy thriller/escape the AI story. Prisoners of War are brought to the planet Anatta, to see if they are worthy of citizenship.  The worldspanning AI Samsara controls all aspects of Anatta, studies humanity, and systematically attacks all other human settlements, bringing more prisoners to Anatta. You can’t even tell your best friend your secrets, because Samsara is always listening.  Excellent read, I highly recommend! The story has political intrigue, hidden identities, romance,  and oh yeah, freakin’ gorgeous prose. (if you were one of those people who loved the prose of This is How You Lose The Time War, but wished that there was more there there, Machine’s Last Testament is the book for you. the two titles are about the same length, too)

 

I watched the first two episodes of Brave New World on Peacock (it was free). Not sure if I’ll continue in the series, and it’s probably been ten years since I read the book, so couldn’t tell you how faithful the TV show is. Anyway. . .  in the future, everyone is happy, all the time. Not feel super happy? Take a drug that will make you happy.  Privacy is unheard of,  as is being raised with a family.  Want to experience the filth and unhealthyness of the horrible past? Visit a theme park to see a shotgun wedding, nuclear families, and natural pregnancies.  I’ll reread the book, but am undecided on if I’ll continue w/the show. I liked the art direction, but the garbage quality subtitles* were a huge turn off.

 

Through a perfect storm of coincidence, I am reading/watching all of these things at the same time, and my brain went flippity flop, and found the common ground between these three stories:

 

the people running the show – the white leaders in Dread Nation, Samsara, whoever runs the city in Brave New World – these people LOVE what they’ve created.  They have made a city on the hill where everyone is safe and happy and protected  . . .  and where everyone knows their place.  And the people actually living there?  eh, if they only accepted their place, they’d be happy too, right?

 

I think that’s what hit me so hard –  that the people living there, they are told to be happy in their place. Know your place. Stay in your lane. Be thankful we’ve found a place for you here. Others of your kind aren’t this deserving. You should be thankful.   Your superiors know what’s best for you.  (excuse me, I just threw up in my mouth a little)

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Anyone else “save books for special occasions”?  Like, you’re going on vacation, or a long train ride, or you know you’ll be home recovering from a surgery, or something?

I bought Hexarchate Stories when it came out last summer, because I absolutely had to have it. When the order arrived, I gently put the book away, unopened, knowing I was saving it for a rainy day.

There was no specific rainy day in mind,  but I knew a day would come, when damnit, I just wanted to hang out with Cheris and Jedao and everyone else again. Yes, Sure, there was a good chance horrible things would happen to them (holy shit, did you read Revenant Gun??), but I wanted to see them again.

 

I’ve had plenty of favorite scifi/fantasy characters over the years, people who I can’t get enough of.  Locke Lamora. Vlad Taltos.  Mendoza (and Joseph, and Lewis).  and now Jedao firmly joins that list.

(yes, yes I do have a thing for orphans. i also have a thing for loyalty, heartbreak, long simmering anger that can happen in the same moment as the unexpected joy of a wonderful meal,  and that the journey is more important that the destination. )

 

So anyway, there is no rainy day, so specific occasion, all I have is all of this *waves handles wildly, implying everything *.    I needed some escapism, I needed some snark, and damnit I needed some Jedao.   And boy did Hexarchate Stories deliver in the best possibly way.   I meant to slowly read this, teasing it out? Yeah nope, read the whole thing in like 3 days,  then reread a few favorite stories. Will probably be rereading most of the book, because I can, and because it’s that good.

 

Hexarchate Stories is tons and tons of short stories, flash fiction, and a few longer stories from Jedao and Cheris’s youth.   Which means,  if you haven’t read Machineries of Empire trilogy, go read that first, otherwise most of these short stories aren’t going to make any sense to you.   About half of these stories were previously published online, and about half of them are original to this  collection. If you’d like a taste of what to expect, there’s links to some of these on Yoon Ha Lee’s website.

 

Remember how anguish-yand emotionally wrenching  Machineries of Empire was?  Good News,  the majority of the stories in Hexarchate Stories don’t have any of that!  Many of these are super short,  they are just moments in people’s lives, there is humor and snark and people just living their lives.  The stories are presented in mostly chronological order and there is a timeline at the beginning of the book. Lee gives Author’s Notes at the end of each story, just a few sentences maybe about something funny that inspired the story, or that it game from a flash fiction story prompt, or that it had plot holes that needed be fixed, etc.  By the way “chronological order” means we get plenty of stories of Jedao’s youth and him as a teenager, and some stories of Cheris’s youth.   Them as kids? omg YES PLEASE.

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the familiar blogger refrain:

I’m not in the mood to write this book review. I know,  I’ll read another book . . . falling even further behind on reviews I had planned to write.

I haven’t written a review in a while, but I’ve been reading a ton, and I’ve got plenty of review notes written down in my head.

Some books I’ve read recently:

sorry for the crap blurry photo!

 

Star Trek: Collateral Damage, by David Mack.   I’ve read some TOS Trek novels, but never read a TNG novel. I had no idea what to expect.  I certainly didn’t expect to love this book so much. Great characters, Worf rolling his eyes,  Laforge saving the day, Picard being Picard,  excellent banter and even more excellent side characters.  I worry that I’ve now been spoiled, that no other TNG novel will entertain me as much as this book entertained me.

 

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett – 2nd book in his new trilogy. Certainly doesn’t suffer from “middle book syndrome”.  NONSTOP action.  I love the magic system in this world, but I’m struggling to care about the main characters. My fave characters were a side character who is super close to his trauma, and the bad guy, because he’s pretty cray-cray.  Buckets more on this later, but i think the reasons I’m struggling to connect with the main character is because SO MUCH ACTION is getting in the way for me, and she’s like 19 years old, so she relates to the world in a different way than 40 year old me relates to the world.

 

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson – while stuck at home during a pandemic, why not read a book about a pandemic that ravages earth? Loved how the story opens, super loved the end, the middle was a little draggy for me. I feel like The Girl With All The Gifts is sort of a modern take on I Am Legend?  I haven’t seen the movie of this, by the way.  Also, didn’t realize I Am Legend is a novella?  the paperback is jam packed with a ton of Matheson short stories, mostly quick sharp horror stories, lots of which take place in funeral homes. they are deliciously creepy.

 

 

If you love gorgeous artwork and Central Asia,  Bride’s Story is for you.  I basically shop for dresses out of the pages of this manga.  So much gorgeous embroidery! the dresses! the shoes! the head dresses!  the jewelry!!!   the plot jumps around between a bunch of different families, and in volume 11 we are with Mr. Smith and Talas.  Their story is super heartbreaking, and I want them to find happiness, and I don’t know if they will.  Smith is such an adorable doofus.  There’s a great side story in this volume about what happened to his pocket watch, and the “legends” that sprang up around the watch.   I feel like that lady who wanted to buy Talas’s embroidered clothing – I suck at embroidery, but i love it and I’m happy to pay a pretty penny for it.

 

Memories of Emanon by Shinji Kajio and Kenji Tsurata – totally different art style than Bride’s Story, but I love, LOVE the art style of Memories of Emanon!  The story takes place in the late 1960s, a young man is traveling home on a ferry in Japan.  The ferry is going up the coast, it’s going to take him 17 hours to get home (sorta like a really, REALLY long train ride in the US).  He meets a young woman on the ferry, and she tells him the wildest story.  What she’s saying can’t possibly be true, can it?  Great story, fantastic artwork.

 

I haven’t finished reading Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee yet,  but I’m near the end.  I bought this collection last year, and was “saving it for a special occasion”. If you read my last blog post and the comments,  being on the upswing from whatever-that-was seemed to be a special occassion, so I picked up Hexarchate Stories.  Young Jedao! and his siblings! and his mom!  and calendars and birthdays and servitors and omg I love this book so much! there is a ton of flash fiction in here, and it’s been fun to analyze the flash fiction, see how to tell a story in just a few pages. truly,  reading this book has been heavenly.  as soon as I finish it I’m going to read it again (I feel like I did that with one of the Machineries of Empire books too?).   Confession – some of my super fave stores have been the sexy/smutty ones.

 

some e-books i’ve read/am reading:

The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson – holy shit damn. this book is everything!  I have handwritten notes for a review and still there is just SO MUCH.   (also, for reasons that  i’ll tell you later, finishing this book and then immediately picking up the Star Trek book had me laughing my head off).  This book doesn’t come out till later this summer, so I need to figure out when i can post a review and how much I can talk about, because I don’t want to spoil anything.

 

 

I just started reading Machine’s Last Testament by Benjanun Sriduangkaew this morning, and I’m loving it. An AI controlled sanctuary city, where if you can get in, you’ll be happy and safe (for AI definitions of happy and safe).  It’s a sort of prequel to And Machines Shall Surrender, which I loved.  Basically, if you’re trying to figure out what kind of stories and prose styles I love,  read anything by Sriduangkaew, and you’ll know.

 

What have you been reading lately?

 

and if you like short fiction, and want your TBR to explode, check out this series of interviews I’m doing at Nerds of a Feather,  with staff members at Hugo nominated semiprozines!  When this series ends, I’ll be doing an interview series with the nominees for best fan artist.  Huh, i guess that explains why i haven’t been writing a ton of reviews lately. . .


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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.