the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘science fiction

Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist by Lola Robles, translated by Lawrence Schimel

first English edition 2016, originally published in Spanish in 2005

where I got it: purchased new

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What’s twitter and social media good for, you ask?  Of course I can’t find the tweet now, but Rachel Cordasco recommended this book to me during a twitter chat. She knows I love anything having to do with language, communication, and linguistics, and she knows I love science fiction.  Without the power of social media, I would never have known this wonderful little book existed.

 

Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist, is exactly what it says on the tin – this is a short (too short!) memoir of Rachel Monteverde, the first linguist from Earth to visit the planet Aanuk.   Told through a combination of diary entries, excerpts from papers, and excerpts from interviews, Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist is part The Left Hand of Darkness, part A Natural History of Dragons, and entirely something new and wonderful and beautiful and glorious. Stories are words on a page, but language transcends.

 

I loved this book for the observations about how language evolves because of how it’s speakers interact with the world.  I know that sounds kind of obvious, but Robles takes it in directions I didn’t even think of, and she literally shows this to the speakers who are so steeped in their own languages, societies, and cultures, that they never before saw/heard what was happening.

 

Aanuk had been colonized by humans generations ago, a ship had crash landed there. . . and then forgotten about.   The planet had plenty of easily available food, plenty of sheltered areas, and no large predators, so the survivors of the crash did quite well for themselves in their new idyllic home.  Too far away to be worth travelling to, not enough natural resources to be worth developing, the forced colonists lost contact with Earth and that was fine with them.

When it was finally rediscovered, Aanuk gained the nickname “Paradise”, for its beautiful and vividly colored forests, it’s lovely beaches, and it’s rolling hills.  Aanuk has more than enough seafood, grazing land, orchards, and space for everyone. While there are small domestic disputes, there has never been war on Aanuk. The Aanukians are never in a hurry to get anywhere, they never seem in a hurry to have knowledge before someone else. Airplanes and the printing press never took off, as anything more than passing novelties.  To a foreigner, living on Aanuk seems like a never ending relaxed vacation. Rachel Monteverde was thrilled to get to spend a year there, learning the Aanukian language (and maybe even a few words of the Fihdian language). She has a secret mission, as well.

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Ten years ago I wouldn’t have known a novella if one bit me on the ass.

 

Five years ago,  novellas were those things in short story collections that I avoided, because I thought they were too long.

 

Novellas are weird little things – way way too long to be short story,  way way to short to be a novel. The author doesn’t have to worry about the space limitations of a short story, but they don’t have the space to tell a generation spanning sprawling epic, either.

 

if short stories are the Tiny Houses of the story telling world, and doorstopper novels are the McMansions,  then novellas sit in the goldilocks zone of just the right size. You know that house that’s just big enough for your family and your pets and all your stuff (and it’s got a great backyard!), but no so large that you have to “fill it up” with furniture, clutter, and other crap you don’t need?  That’s a novella.

 

Because there are space limitations, the author does have to make every word, every scene count, there’s no space for extraneous scenes that don’t push the story forward.  But because the author has more space than they would if they were writing say, a 5,000 word story,  there’s plenty of space for characterization,  great dialog, action, plenty of space (between 100 and 200 pages worth!) for the reader to get completely immersed in what is going on.

 

These last few years, Tor has been absolutely rocking the novella game.  Ten years ago I would have said “you want how much money for a 150 page book???”  and because of the excellent novellas that have been coming out recently, these days I’m more like “A book I can read in an afternoon? Shut up and take my money!”

 

Introduction over,  let’s talk about super fun science fiction and fantasy novellas that have come out these last few years.  This is no where close to an exhaustive list of all the wonderful novellas that have come out in the last few years, just a handful of my favorites. If you’re not sure about novellas,  here are some great ones to start with:

 

All Systems Red by Martha Wells – you haven’t read Murderbot yet?  Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Go to the bookstore and get yourself some Murderbot diaries novellas!  you can thank me later.  There are four novellas in this series, and if they aren’t yet available as an omnibus, I’m sure they will be soon.

 

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor – Oh, you like brilliant mathematicians who have to sneak out of the house in the middle of the night, and survive and alien attack, all so she can go the galactic university? yeah, things get kinda awkward when she does back home. Another must read, there are 3 novellas in this series, and it is available as an omnibus.

 

Acadie by Dave Hutchinson – if you like snark, strong narrative voices, and the best twist of the year, this is the novella for you!  yes, this is one of those stories where once you’ve read it once and you know what the twist is, what’s the point of reading it again?  That said, I’ve read this at least three times because it’s just that  entertaining.

 

If you enjoy the Iron Druid series from Kevin Hearne, then you’ll love his novella series of Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries, which starts with The Squirrel on the Train. told from Oberon’s point of view, these are hilarious and adorable cozy mysteries. But really, it’s about Oberon getting good snacks, and Atticus not getting the spotlight.

 

The Inconvenient God by Francesca Forrest – if you like mythology, and how people have a bad habit of changing myths and gods to match what they happen to need that year, this is the novella (or maybe a novelette?) for you.

 

Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew –  a scifi retelling of The Snow Queen,  but with better characters than the original,  climate change,  aunties who play the long game, and ghost kilns which I am still scared of.  Sriduangkaew’s prose is gorgeous and poetic, transporting the reader to lush semi-tropical worlds,  virtual mazes, and iced over landscapes.

 

Time Was by Ian McDonald – time travel, romance, dusty bookstores, secret messages left across the world tucked into strange books that the bookseller isn’t allowed to sell. Excellent characters that leap off the page. Another novella I’ve read a few times now, just for the excuse of spending more time with these characters.

 

Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett – do you have a strong stomach? You’ll need it, but it’s worth it for this hard hitting, harder to swallow story about staying armed, staying vigilant, and reality tv gone farther than it ever should.  More people need to read this vicious little cautionary tale, I need to talk about it with people!

 

Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold – she writes fantasy too!  When a “demon” attaches itself to Penric, that boy is gonna have to grow up real, real fast. As it turns out, Penric was exactly the right person for Desdemona to bind herself to. Compelling, heartfelt, and humorous, the first novella reads as a stand alone, and if you like it, there’s a few more short reads in this series.

 

this list barely scratches the surface of all the novella wonderfulness out there!  what have been some of your fave novellas to read?  What recommendations do you have for folks who haven’t yet discovered the goldilocks land of novellas?

 

 

 

I’ve been on a time travel kick lately.  And who doesn’t like time travel, in all it’s wibbly wobbly timey wimey wonderfulness?   I love it when authors think to themselves “let’s travel through time, what could possibly go wrong?”.    You don’t need a Delorean or a TARDIS to travel through time. Sometimes time travel isn’t exactly what you thought it would be, and that makes it even better.

 

This post is simply a love letter to my favorite time travel stories.  Shout out to your favorites in the comments!

 

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds (2019) – I love how this book explains what happens when a time traveler successfully changes the past.  The actual machinery used to travel through time doesn’t always work as planned, either. To say more would spoil this unique time travel story.  Just a damn good, edge of seat, time travel thriller!

 

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (1992) –  Everytime I read this I cry buckets at the end. Kivrin is a historian at Oxford, and she travels back to England in the 1300s. While she’s gone, a terrible flu-like virus hits Oxford, putting her time travel technician in the hospital.  If he’s not at the lab, she can’t come home. There’s another, much worse reason why she might not be able to get home.  This book reads like a much shorter book, the pages fly by.

 

Blackout by Connie Willis (2010) – Four more Oxford time travelers. Let’s go to London during World War II, what could possibly go wrong?  Umm . . .. how about everything? The last hundred pages of this book I nearly chewed my fingernails completely off. Blackout is the first book in  a duology, I recommend if you’re going to read this that you purchase the 2nd book in the duology, All Clear, at the same time.  Got a teenager at home who hates history class? These are the books for them.

 

Time Was by Ian McDonald (2018) – I loved the characters and their different voices.  Lovers separated by time, trying to find each other. They leave notes for each other in bookstores all over the world, always in the same book.   This is a love story told via Klein bottle.

 

Household Gods by Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove (1999) – A thoroughly modern woman wakes up in an ancient Roman frontier town.  Is she hallucinating? Is she crazy? This is, actually, the best escape from her modern life, so maybe she could get used to being a tavern keeper.  For your friends who think scifi is too weird, give them this book. It reads like a historical fiction. And why yes, there were dentists ancient Rome!

In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker (1997) – this is the first book in her Company series.  In the future, The Company sends their cybernetic operatives into the past to . . .   do what exactly? Baker plays a very long game, and she was a storycrafting genius. Start at the beginning with Mendoza in Garden of Iden (and be prepared to cry), and a few books later when things start to feel a little repetitive, trust me, just keep reading.  One of these days, I will finish this series, I promise. Actually, no, I don’t. I don’t *want* to finish this series. Because then it will be over.

 

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers (1983) – A historian thinks he’s getting paid to give a lecture. As a surprise from their host, the entire dinner party goes through time to London in 1810.  In my opinion, The Anubis Gates is Powers’ best work. Time travel mixed with paranormal, mixed with using your knowledge of the present to work your way around the past. A must read!

 

I feel certain that this list is missing books I’ve loved, and can’t bring to mind.  😦

 

If time travel movies and TV shows are more your thing, I highly recommend:

 

Dark – the 2nd season of this German thriller just dropped on Netflix.  Think Twin Peaks meets time travel.  also? the music is fantastic!

 

Kate and Leopold – I usually find romance stories to be overly cheesy, but I loved this movie so much!!

 

Steins;Gate – this anime came out a few years ago, and it is dark, nerdy, hilarious, addictive, heart breaking.  Because time travel – what could possibly go wrong?

 

 

what time travel stories have you enjoyed?  Why do you enjoy time travel stories?  Let’s chat!

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds

published in March 2019

where I got it: purchased new

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Time travel is quickly becoming my favorite science fiction subgenre.  I blame Doctor Who, who made it look fun, safe, and something that can be resolved in an hour.  I blame my love for the phrase “what could possibly go wrong?”. So yeah, time travel is the best!  Novellas? Also my new fave, and the best.

 

If you enjoy time travel stories, if you want a novella that’s excellently paced and grabs you on page one, a story that’s packed full of smart information but never info dumps, a story will great characters and a compelling story line, Permafrost is for you.

 

50 years from now,   we’ve just about killed the Earth, our crops are dying, our soil can’t grow anything, seed banks that we thought would sustain us have either failed or the seeds won’t grow in our dead soil.  The last generation of humans has already been born. It’s looking pretty grim.  Remember the opening of the movie Interstellar? It’s a little like that, except we don’t have space travel, we don’t have a black hole, and we don’t have any other planets we can maybe colonize.  We don’t have any of those things, but what we do have is math and a fledgling time travel project. The goal is to go back in time, get viable seeds, and bring them to the future.

 

Except you can’t send people or objects back and forth through time.  But you can send pairs of particles. The goal of Dr. Cho’s Permafrost project is to send messages back in time so that seeds can be placed somewhere, so that in the future his project can find them.  Cho recruits the elderly school teacher Valentina to his cause, her connection to his work is even more vital than the fact that her mother invented the mathematical equations that time travel hinges on.

 

Ok, so what really happens if you do successfully change the past? No one ever put a cache of seeds somewhere,  but then time travelers go back in time do exactly that. Once upon a time, did that event never occur?  On a smaller scale, if the time travel math shows that in five minutes you will drop your pen, and then the moment comes and your purposely drop two pens, what happens?

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Welcome to  Five for Friday! The concept is simple – it’s a Friday, and I post a photo of 5 books, and then we chat about them in the comments.

The only things these books have in common are:
– they were on my bookshelf
– I’m interested in your thoughts on them.

have you read any of these? if yes, did you like them? If you’ve not read them, does the cover make you interested in learning more about the book?

 

Want to join in? Post a picture of 5 random books you own, with the tag #5ForFriday and get your friends talking.

 

 

This week we have two classics, to works of translated fiction and a surprise non-fiction book!

 

 

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny (1967) – Would you look at that cover art!  and would you believe I’ve never read a Zelazny novel?  yeah, gotta fix that. Good thing this book is my local scifi book club’s pick for July.  Might be scifi, might be fantasy, might be a mix of both.  a mix of future planetary colonization and Hindu mythology.  I love scifi, I love mythology, so I am super excited to read this!

 

Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist by Lola Robles (2016) – This was recommended to me by Rachel Cordasco, so I had to give it a try!  Human scholar (the titular linguist?) travels to an alien world to meet the locals. there is a friendly nomadic group and a cave-dwelling group that are blind.  From what little info I can find about this book, it sounds like it might be a little bit Left Hand of Darkness, a little bit The Sparrow?

 

The Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake (1946?) – this volume is all three novels together. This a classic, and at 1100 pages it looks intimidating.  Is this worth reading?  like, it looks fancy on my bookshelf, but if I’m never going to read it that real estate could be put to better use.

 

Koiminogatari by Nisioisin (2019) – Narrated by Kaiki Deishu!  If you’re familiar with the anime (or the books!) you’ll know Kaiki is the most brilliantly fucked up sympathetic villain  EVER!  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you should that Nisioisin is a best selling author in Japan, and that if you’re new to this series you shouldn’t start with this book.  Unforunately, you need to start somewhere near the beginning, which means starting with either Bakemonogatari or Nisemonogatari.  The books are paced MUCH better than the anime, but the anime is super stylish!

 

Too loud, too bright, too fast, too tight by Dr. Sharon Heller (2003)  a non-fiction book in Five for Friday, what??   Sensory Defensive Disorder is an actual thing! it isn’t in my head,  I’m not making it up, i’m not doing these things for the purpose of being difficult.  i read the list of “common symptoms” of Sensory Defensive Disorder to my husband and he said I had every single one. I really can not wait for Sensory Defensive Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder to legit be on the autism spectrum.  although i do hate that it is called a “disorder”, it makes me feel broken and defective.  Cuz,  like, i don’t feel broken?  I just feel the way I’ve always felt?

 

 

 

 

 

Stay Crazy by Erika L. Satifka

Published in 2016

Where I got it: purchased new

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Erica Satifka’s Stay Crazy came out in 2016, and while I was lucky enough to get to interview Erica back in 2016, I’ve not had a chance to sit down and read the novel until now.  Stay Crazy won the 2017 British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer, and Satifka’s short fiction has appeared in Clarksworld, Shimmer, Fireside, Lightspeed, Nature, and elsewhere.

 

If you’ve never read Philip K Dick, but you’re kinda interested in his stuff,  you should read Stay Crazy. (just like if you’ve never read H.P. Lovecraft but his stuff sounds interesting, you should read Lucy Snyder because she writes it better than he ever did). Satifka took her enjoyment of Dick’s working class characters, grey morality, unreality and paranoia, and put it through her own filter of sarcasm and dark humor.   I’ve just read that sentence, and it doesn’t sound like a fun thing to read, does it? Well, i’m a shitty sentence writer, because Stay Crazy was hella fun to read, so much so that I read the last 100 pages in one sitting because I needed to know what happened, and I needed to know right now! The book is a pleasure to read, it is paced very well, the plot is tightly designed, and every time I finished a chapter it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to read the next chapter.

 

The story opens with Emmeline coming home from a mental institution. She’d had a mental break while at college.  She’s now at home, complete with stacks of medication for her diagnosed schizophrenia, twice weekly appointments with her shrink,  a sister who has immersed herself in the local cult church, and a mom who has no idea how to talk about mental health issues but does truly care for both of her daughters.

 

Em needs to get out of the house, so she gets a part time job at the local big box store, Savertown. Savertown is an over the top, gloriously ridiculous, patriotism obsessed satire of Wal-Mart.  Even so, Em finds a quiet peace in stocking frozen food. She can get in the groove of unloading pallets, no one is bothering her, no one at work stares at her like she’s just home from a mental institution.

 

It’s all going great until a box of frozen food starts talking to her, and telling her his name is Excodex and he is an intelligence from another dimension who needs her help to stop an evil entity. He promises her that if she helps him that he’ll tell her where her father is. Is she hearing voices again? Is a box of frozen food talking to her because she needs to up her meds? And then seemingly happy and well adjusted people at work start committing suicide.

 

There is a ton of “drinking the kool-aid” happening in this book, and my sick sense of humor always gets a kick out of this kind of thing.  There’s a sign in the breakroom at work that “no outside reading material allowed”. Long term employees at Savertown don’t seem to have any life (or want a life) outside of work. The work therapist who is brought into the store due to the recent rash of suicides seems to give worse advice than a talking box of frozen chicken nuggets.

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Welcome to  Five for Friday! The concept is simple – it’s a Friday, and I post a photo of 5 books, and then we chat about them in the comments.

The only things these books have in common are:
– they were on my bookshelf
– I’m interested in your thoughts on them.

have you read any of these? if yes, did you like them? If you’ve not read them, does the cover make you interested in learning more about the book?

 

Want to join in? Post a picture of 5 random books you own, with the tag #5ForFriday and get your friends talking.

 

Woohoo,  all new (to me!) books this week!

 

The Bone Ships by R.J. Barker (2019) – the forthcoming fantasy from R.J. Parker (Age of Assassins) comes out later this summer. It’s got a map, the chapters have fun names, there’s a ton of stuff about dragons,   it looks to be nautical/military fantasy with snark?  I’ve not read any Barker yet,  what do y’all think of his stuff?

 

Stay Crazy by Erica Satifka (2016) –  I went on a book buying binge at Apex Books a few weeks ago, and this was part of my haul!  I’ve had this book on my radar since it came out, it looks weird and fun. I’m about 80 pages in, and yes, it is weird, and fun, and surreal!  If you ever wished Philip K Dick was more fun to read, this is the book for you.

 

Apex Book of World SF vol 5, edited by Cristina Jurado (2018) – yep, another Apex book! the newest volume in one of my favorite anthology series!  If you’ve been enjoying Rachel Cordasco’s SF In Translation and maybe you’re not sure where to start, or you don’t want to commit to some big novel,  you can’t do much better than any volume in this series.

 

Aetherchrist by Kirk Jones (2018) – you know,  once I started shopping on the Apex site, i kind of couldn’t stop. Also, I’m a sucker for a back cover copy that includes the words “surreal” and “analog”.  This book seems just over novella length, something I can blast through in a weekend.

 

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds (2019) – this is my book club’s pick for this month. I can’t wait to write a review of this book, it was so fun!!  so, it has a super weird start. . .  because the book starts at the very end of the story.  and there is time travel, my favorite!  and time travel paradoxes, my double favorite!  I love time travel stories that are all like “you can’t change the past, so don’t even try”,  but what if you could? then what?


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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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