the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘science fiction

As of Tuesday this week, I’m telecommuting until further notice.  I have a mini-desk set up in one corner of the living room,  and a huge thank you to IT for sending me home with an extra plug-bar!

I’m trying to keep to my normal schedule as much as possible, I’m the kind of person who really needs structure.  This means:  Up at 6am or earlier,  exercise,  have a shower, have a coffee. . .  and well,  I used to leave for work around 6:40am because I had an hour commute.  I used to get home from work around 6:30, because hour commute.

no more hour commute.

I’ve just bought myself 2 hours a day (or more!) to read!!!  I’m trying to read in the morning, instead of obsessing over reading the news.

I’m re-reading my way through Kage Baker’s Company series,  blew through In the Garden of Iden in a couple of days, and am now a few chapters in to Sky Coyote.

We picked up a few more Witcher books, so I have those two.

 

if you’ve just gained some time, due to #reasons,  what are you taking the time to finally read?

 

 

I’d forgotten how freakin’ smart In the Garden of Iden is,  now that I’ve read further into the series there is SO MUCH foreshadowing in this book that OF COURSE I wouldn’t/couldn’t have seen the first time I read it.  Also? The sex scenes are SO ADORABLE!

I was nervous getting up to the scene at the end. Iif you’ve read the book, you know the scene I’m talking about.  I was this close to DNFing it, and going right to Sky Coyote, so I  could skip that scene, because with all that’s going on, did I really need to torture myself with reading that scene?

Mendoza managed to survive it.  Baker managed to write it.  I needed to put on my big girl panties and read the fucking scene. I took a deep breath, and I read it.  I didn’t like it,  but I got through it. The actual scene? it was shorter than I remembered.  A little easier to survive than I expected.  Still, it was brutal.  Maybe next time, I’ll skip it.

 

ok, more random thoughts on this book:

(apologies in advance for crappy grammar, shouty caps, and crimes against italics. I’ve been drinking. it’s been a week, ok?)

 

for the uninitiated,  In the Garden of Iden has time travel, romance, teen angst, grown-up snark, and immortals. It is sorta like Outlander meets Twilight, minus the werewolves and with way better writing and humor?

 

Shit, the title!!!!   Excellent play on words on Garden of Eden.  Mendoza finds herself in a paradise, and is then thrust out, having had her eyes opened to so much awfulness.   And holy crap, she is SO seventeen years old!!  the teen angst is so adorable!    And what she knows now? the knowledge she has (about life, about mortals) she can’t unknow. I think I could play with this paragraph for about forever, so i’m just gonna shut up now.

 

I like that this book is written in past tense first person.  At least that means we know for a fact that Mendoza doesn’t die.

 

srsly, what the fuck are they teaching these kids in school?

 

Joseph rocks.  The first time I read this, I thought he was an asshole.  After re-reading Iden and a few chapters into Sky Coyote I don’t think he’s an asshole at all.  i mean, he’s a total jerk sometimes, but he’s not an asshole.

 

In the Garden of Iden came out in 1997.  for context, that was the year I graduated high shool, and at the time I wouldn’t have known quality science fiction if it bit me in the ass.  For folks who were actual grown-ups in the 90s,  did this book “break the internet”?  Were people all like “what the hell is this?”, or did this book come out, and no one knew what it was and it didn’t get any buzz?  I mean, the series doesn’t really get going big time for a few books or so, but Garden of Iden is SO FREAKING GOOOOOOOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!   what was was the reaction when this book came out?

 

omfg time paradox!!!   Joseph, Nef, and Mendoza were sent to Walter Iden’s estate to (among other things) collect samples of certain plants that would shortly become extinct.  Some of these plants have medicinal extracts, etc.   avoiding spoilers:  if Joseph hadn’t given Iden __________,  maybe Iden wouldn’t have ______  ____   _______ , and maybe _____ ______  would never _______  ________ in the first place???  i freaking LOVE shit like this!!!

 

More in a couple days when I’m further into Sky Coyote.

This was the book I didn’t want to review.

 

I didn’t even want to read it.

 

I don’t know why, but I felt the need to save this book for some time when I really needed it.  Like it was the last bottle of whisky from a famous yet shuttered distillery. And once I opened it, it would evaporate and soon barely the scent would remain.

 

When I did crack the book open,  of course the first story I read was The Battle of Candle Arc.  And then I read that story again. And then I read Iseul’s Lexicon, which I then, read again.

I consumed this collection in such a strange way,  I consumed it the same way I use a cookbook. Once I identified a story I enjoyed,  I’d reread it three, or four times, getting into into my rotation. When I felt ready, I’d try another story/meal.

 

Strange, I know.  But you already know that I’m strange.

 

The time came for me to start thinking about the review.

 

I didn’t want to write it.  I didn’t want to put Conservation of Shadows back on the shelf along with all the other books that “I’m done thinking about”.   I’m not ready for these characters to not be in my life anymore. Can I reread these stories any time I want? For sure. But there’s something different about a book that is floating around the house because you are still thinking about it, and a book that you’ve put back on the shelf and categorized in your mind as “I’m done thinking about that book”.

 

This is what Yoon Ha Lee does:  writes fiction you don’t want to stop thinking about. You might be done reading the book, but the book isn’t done with you.

 

To write this review, I’ve made a bargain with myself:  I purchased Hexarchate Stores, so I can dive right into that,  and Conservation of Shadows is going to live on the coffee table for a while longer.  This review is not an agreement that I’m done with this book. In fact, it’ll be really fun to reread these stories in 6 months or a year, and see if they have changed, or if I’ve changed.

 

Thank you for letting me get all of that out of my system and put words to my feelings. You’ve been very patient.  I guess it’s time I talk about this collection, yeah?

 

Most of the stories touch on language (which of course, I have zero interest in), colonialism and occupation, assimilation, destruction of cultures through destruction of their language, how sometimes things just don’t translate, and how war makes us strangers to ourselves.

 

One last thing before I actually talk about the stories!  Fun new words!

 

sumptuary           morphophonemics      escritoire

logographs              entelechy

 

Isn’t “escritoire” just the most beautiful word you’ve ever seen?

 

Ok, I am getting to the stories now, I SWEAR.   In no particular order:

Read the rest of this entry »

I  dropped 3 bags of books off as donations for the Friends of the Library bookstore, I therefore feel ZERO guild about buying a short stack of boks.   I ordered some of these in January, but by the time I was able to make it to the bookstore to pick them up, it was February.

 

help, I don’t know where to start!!

(actually, I do)

 

I’ve been slowly and repeatedly making my way through Yoon Ha Lee’s short story collection Conservation of Shadows,  and Hexarcate Stories has been on my list for a while.  I thought this was only going to be maybe eight or so stories? the TOC is hella long, I am in heaven just having this baby in my hands!  This collections feels like a bottomless bag of candy. or maybe more like a coral reef that is too big to ever fully explore, even though I visit it every day.

 

 

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury – I really enjoyed Heather’s review of this,  so when I saw a nice paperback copy of it, I decided to buy it.

 

Some short novels by Richard Brautigan.  This hideous book wins every possible award for worst ever cover art.  there is technicolor cover art of In Watermelon Sugar on Amazon, what is this stupid cover art??   ANYWAY,  one of my favorite memories of this year’s ConFusion, was a bunch of us were hanging out in the lobby, we are (or at least I am) incredibly drunk. Someone asks the group what books we read that completely blew our minds.  This guy starts talking about this book called In Watermelon Sugar, I’m watching him talk and loving the words that are coming out of his mouth to the point where I want to collect them in a lightning bottle, and I’m watching as his conversation partner’s mouth falls open, and a look of pure rapture settles in on his face.  This Watermelon book sounds like if Jeff Vandermeer dropped the world’s best acid. I simply HAVE to read it.   and now I can. and some other stuff by the same author

 

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is the next book for my local book club. Have you read it? is it good?  It wasn’t on my radar until now.

 

Where to start?   I’m starting with the Brautigan.

 

 

Hey, so sorry to tell you, but it already looks like 2020 is going to be a thinky year for me.  Thought experiments, taking things apart to see how they work and then trying to put them back together,   connecting things that are really obscurely connected, asking questions and not caring about the answer, and then getting bored and moving onto the next thinky thing.

 

Let’s start with a famous short story called “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin, published in 1954. The story is available to read free online, at Lightspeed Magazine.

If you’re not familiar with this story, you’ll want to go read it at Lightspeed before reading the rest of this post, because there are major spoilers ahead.    If you liked it so much you want to own it in print, Baen Books published a nice collection of Godwin’s short fiction*. I’m not at all ashamed to admit that “The Cold Equations” is the only short story in the collection that I’ve read.

 

“The Cold Equations” gets a lot of discussion because of how cruel the physics of the story is, does the stowaway  deserve what happened to her, engineering that’s too stupid to be negligent, etc.    Those reasons, and plenty more, is why we still enjoy talking about this story more than 60 years after it was written.

 

If any of that sounds interesting,  I recommend this excellent post (warning, major spoilers) on Tor.com by James Davis Nicoll.  The Wikipedia page for “The Cold Equations” also has some interesting  material about how when editor John Campbell bought the story in the early 50s, he pushed the author to change the story so that it didn’t have a happy ending.

 

Many articles and think pieces online like to take this story apart because of, to misquote Derek Kunsken’s The Quantum Magician completely out of context, “the math was inescapable”.  (damn do I love that line)

 

To me,  “The Cold Equations”  is  nothing more than The Trolley Problem thought experiment with very thin veneer of a plot.  What’s the trolley problem?   To steal directly from Wikipedia:

And since you are barreling down the tracks at the speed of a well, speeding train, you only have a few seconds to make your decision.  nice, huh?

For a more entertaining introduction to The Trolley Problem, I recommend you watch season 1 and 2 of The Good Place**.  they  have a little too much fun visualizing  that you have a split second to make your decision.

Anyway, what does any of this have to do with “The Cold Equations”?

SPOILERS , if you haven’t already read the short story:

Read the rest of this entry »

Behold! my favorite things of the year!  I didn’t formally review most of these items,  my brain just hasn’t been wanting to write reviews for a while.   But I read (or watched) them!  And loved them!  and maybe you’ll enjoy some of them too.

 

The Quantum Magician (2018) and The Quantum Garden (2019), by Derek Künsken.  Space opera, con artists, human asshole-ness and hubris write large, genetically modified sub-species, and really old anger, what’s not to love?  The Quantum Magician got such an emotional reaction out of me (the kind of reaction that makes me want to hug the author because they are brilliant!) that beyond the review I had some shit I needed to unpack. After that first volume, I wasn’t sure the author could top it, so I went into the sequel, The Quantum Garden with worries it would just be more of the same.  Spoiler: the second book is even better than the first! it is super different than the first,  it’ll blow up your brain in the best way possible. I don’t know how many books are planned for this series, but these first two remind me a little of Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastard books. the first book focuses on the con and the crew and their mission, and has you cheering on every page. The second book has a tighter focus, and that “I thought winning would taste better” moment, and it hits you smack in the feels the whole way. And then holy shit that twist!!!!     Anyway, if you like books that are smart AF, this is your series.

 

 

And Shall Machines Surrender (2019) by Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Apparently I like quiet stories.  I don’t know if this novella is meant to be a quiet story, but it was lovely and quiet for me.  AIs don’t have to raise their voices to show you how powerful they are, you know? An ex-lover doesn’t have to raise her voice to tell you she’s sorry, or that maybe she isn’t, right?  I like the idea of a city that is run by and designed for AIs, and they let humans live there because, I dunno, they think we are entertaining? Oh yeah, and they like to become hybrids with us, sometimes.  It’s the highest honor to become a haruspex – a person who is a physical host for an AI mind.  So why are haruspices committing suicide?  Orfea came to the AI city to start her life fresh. All she wants to do is get a job, pay her rent, and live a quiet life. And how is she supposed to do that, when the two people who know all her secrets waltz back into her life?  If you like quiet romance / mysteries that are beautifully written, this is the novella for you.  Yes! this is a romance! and a very hot one at that.

All Clear (2010) by Connie Willis – If you remember the entire scifi community screaming their heads off in spring of 2010, it’s because Connie Willis published Black Out in February of that year.   It ended on a cliff hanger.  There was no way of knowing if anyone was going to survive the next few chapters, and people were apparently, super pissed.  In October of 2010, the 2nd part of the duology, All Clear, was published.  I like to imagine that the world was quiet for a week or two, as scifi fans devoured All Clear, and laughed at their friends who were fans of the show “Lost” (oh, you think that’s a cliffhanger?).  After that week, after everyone read it,  everyone wept.   All Clear had me so pissed off. not because i had to wait to read it, but because of that never-ending chase around the church / drive to the hospital / what other stupid things can get in our way because this is starting to feel like a farce scene.  it couldn’t have been more than 50 pages but it felt like forever.  And then at the very end, at the museum.  I cried buckets, it was like I was gripping this stuff so inside me, and then it all came rushing out and I couldn’t control it.  I was also really mad at myself for getting all worked up over that scene that had annoyed me so much, I felt like by complaining about it, I was shitting on someone’s memory.  Anyway, if you love perfectly researched history, beautiful writing, characters you will care about so much that you get pissed off when things get in their way, if you crave stories that show you how wonderful humanity can be, Blackout / All Clear is for you.  Did you read Willis’s The Doomsday Book? Did you cry at the end? You’ll cry more at the end of All Clear.   Oh, you read all of those books and didn’t shed a tear? um, ok.

 

The Poppy War (2018) by R. F. Kuang –  Little orphan girl qualifies to attend an elite school where a)she won’t have to see her awful adoptive parents ever again if she doesn’t want to and b) she gets to learn magic and how to fight her country’s enemies.  What is this, Harry Potter? or maybe Name of the Wind? hahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!  oh, that was a good joke!   Poppy War was my Baru Cormorant, my Machineries of Empire of this year.  That it to say, this is the book that broke me.   I appreciated the super fast pace of the book,  that every scene, every sentence moves the story forward in a meaningful way. Doesn’t hurt that I loved the characters and loved the world. This book is brutal, in every sense of the word.  The beginning got plenty of chuckles out of me, the end made me want to puke and crawl into a cave and never come out.  If you’re a Rin who wants to grow up to be a Jiang, this is the book for you.  if that made no sense at all, go read my review.  If you’re interested in knowing what my reviewing style is, that review will show you.  There is a sequel!  One day I’ll  be ready to read it.

Ivory Apples (2019) by Lisa Goldstein – This was one of my feel-good books of the year.  well, it isn’t a “feel good” book, but I felt really good while I was reading it.   Eldest sister Ivy is barely a teenager when her father dies,  and she and her sisters are given into the care of her father’s friend Kate. Ivy and her sisters know their family harbors a secret, they were just so young when they learned about it that they don’t really understand what the secret is. Kate will do anything to learn the family’s secret.  I’m purposely being super vague, can you tell?  If you like mythology, and stories about sisters, and magic that can be beautiful ,and gorgeous storytelling, if you want a story that leaves you feeling better about the world instead of worse, Ivory Apples is for you. I had fun with hot takes in my review, too.  I must have been feeling very snarky that day!

 

Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist (2005, translated to English in 2016) by Lola Robles – I love language.  I love how we shape how we communicate, and how our languages shape us.   This short novella is basically a plot that has been written around a thought experiment.  Rachel Monteverde, a terran linguist, is sent to visit a colony planet that was separated from the rest of human civilization for generations.  There are two human cultures on the planet,  one of whom revels in the bright colors of foliage and nature patterns and have the verbal mannerisms to match, and another culture where everyone is blind due to a genetic defect.  The groups just do not understand each other at all!  Rachel doesn’t care about their trade squabbles, what she does care about is getting recordings of their languages, and thinking about how and why the two groups have such different languages and experience the world in such different ways.    If you are a language and communication nerd like me, this is the book for you. I even reviewed it for you!

 

 

Vigilance (2019) by Robert Jackson Bennett – Gah, this is a hard book for me to talk about, even though I reviewed it.  It’s everything I hate about violence stories,  turned on it’s head (which is a good thing), and talking about this book gets me too close to the knife’s edge of getting pulled into political conversations. (but it’s just a book! Andrea, why are you getting so worked up about this?? Can’t you just enjoy things for once?)  Vigilance is what happens when businesses realize they can monetize fear and mob mentalities.  Where Capitalism and “you too could be the star of a reality show!” meet, you have Vigilance.  This novella is vicious, you should read it.  I really hope that reality tv producers and tv network head honchos never get their hands on this book.  Because then they’d make a movie out it.  And then someone else would be like “this is a damn brilliant idea! Let’s make this a real TV show!”, and that would, um, not be good.

Death’s End gets an honorable mention for the last hundred pages or so. It was SUCH a slog to get there, but the end really was so, so, SO, amazing.

 

Another last minute honorable mention is Yoon Ha Lee’s short story collection  Conservation of Shadows.  I’m only about half way through the collection, but damn, every page is perfection and I’ve already come across stories I can’t wait to read again.  Also, the word escritoire needs to come back into fashion.

 

And here is my Favorite non-book stuff of this year. Also, I watched  a lot of Netflix this year.

 

The Politician (tv show) – ah, this show is so ridiculous and so over the top!  it makes fun of soap opera tropes, it makes fun of how in tv shows high school students never seem to have homework or classes, it makes fun of rich California kids, and the best part?  Ben Platt singing.   Also? the art direction (i don’t know if that is the right word) was pure perfection.   If you’ve got Netflix, watch this show.  After the first episode you’ll be like “what the hell did I just watch?”.  keep watching.

 

The Good Place – Season 3 hit Netflix this summer, and you bet I binged it.  Janet and Jason forever! thanks to this show, I’m now more than a little obsessed with The Trolley Problem.  This is my fave show because when I saw the first season, I badgered my parents to get the discs on Netflix, and they did.  and then because they have cable, they got to see the 3rd season on tv before I did, and we badgered each other about it and teased each other about episodes we hadn’t seen yet.  My parents have drastically different tastes in what kind of TV shows they like to watch,  so I loved that this show let me bond with both of them.

 

Dark – if you want a time travel thriller that might also give you nightmares, or if you want to scare your kids into never going into dark caves by themselves, this is the TV show for you. An import from Germany, the dubbing is just so-so, but I was able to get used to it pretty quickly.  Now that I’ve seen both seasons and am reminiscing on the first few episodes of season 1,  the only spoiler I’ll give you is the people who are quietest, those are the people you should be listening to.   The characters who seem to be in love with the sound of their own voice?  don’t listen to them.

 

Into The Spider-Verse – So far I’ve only gotten to see this movie once, it’s gonna be one of those movies that I just keep adding back to my Netflix DVD queue. I should remind everyone that I’m not into Superhero stories or Marvel or DC stuff,  that stuff just isn’t my thing.  That said, I loved every single thing about Into The Spider-Verse.  Every scene,  every line,  every detail, even the references that I didn’t get, even the famous people whose voices I didn’t recognize, I loved every second that I got to spend watching this movie.   Also?  OMG the visuals and the music and how perfectly it worked together.   That scene at the end?  It was a supernova ballet, and I loved it and I can’t wait to watch this movie again!  I don’t even care about Spiderman, and I loved this movie!!

There you have it!  That’s my favorite stuff that I consumed this year.

Can’t wait to see what 2020  brings!

 

 

Woah! How did it become December, like, when did that happen?

I could put myself under a ton of pressure to write thousand word reviews that won’t get read . . . or I could write some low-pressure mini-reviews.

Mini reviews it is. (I mourn my loss of review-writing motivation. I really do)

Here are some mini-reviews of books I read this year and enjoyed. If you read them, I’d love to know your thoughts! If you aren’t familiar with them, do they look interesting?

The Quantum Garden by Derek Kunsken – the direct sequel to Kunsken’s break out novel The Quantum Magician. I am a sucker for heist stories, and I am a sucker for when the con artist gets conned. This second novel in the series is quieter than the first, less action, less gigantic set pieces. And in the quiet spaces, we really get to know Bel and Cassie, and the family they came from. I’m not going to give away any plot points, because if you haven’t read the first book they won’t make any sense. If you like smart science fiction, if you like physics that is on the edge, if you like stories about science meets capitalism and human greed, and oh, if you’re looking to scratch your Locke Lamora itch, this is the series for you.  Seriously excellent in every possible way. Def gonna want to reread this and tease out all the cool dimension hopping physics and cultural and family obligation stuff, and just totally cool shit on every page.

And Shall Machines Surrender by Benjanun Sriduangkaew – I loved this book. It was fun, it was super sexy, the characters were great, I enjoyed the story, I loved the idea of a sanctuary community that is run and governed by AI’s who rebelled against their human owners. But this isn’t a story about AI’s, it is a romance. Orfea and Krissana have history, oh do they have history. And the only thing they have more of than history is chemistry. If you don’t like romance and sexytimes getting all squished up in your scifi, this isn’t the book for you. Enjoy ultra smart scifi characters who also get to have romantic relationships and sexytimes? This novella is the gift you give yourself. Even better news? Sriduangkaew recently published Then Will the Sun Rise Alabaster, which is same world, different characters. This is a huge sprawling space opera world that Sriduangkaew has created, there are endless stories she could tell.

Indelible Ink by Matt Betts – Ok, so I read this one a few months ago, and don’t remember a ton of the details. I remember that it had a rough start, but found its bearing pretty quickly, and that I enjoyed it enough that I’d read it again. Deena has some hella cool superpowers that she can sort of control, her story line felt X-Men and edgy, as if she was some mutant kid who got recruited into Magneto’s crew and didn’t really know what was going on. I remember really liking her as a character and rooting for her. And there was this crazy twist at the end that came out of left field, but at the same time made a ton of sense because there had been some clues all long. Yep, just gonna have to read this one again. If you can find a copy of this book, I recommend it.

Read the rest of this entry »

You ever have one of those weeks where you feel like you got absolutely nothing done?  Yep, this past week felt like that.  But? only three workdays this week, and then a 4 day weekend full of food, shopping, more food, reading, and general chillaxing!  And I’ll be doing all that shopping online while wearing pajamas.

 

what have I been up to lately?

I did end up setting aside the Robin Hobb book. Not so much a didn’t finish, as a I’m not in the mood for this right now.   and I did start reading The Quantum Garden by Derek Kunsken. I’m only about 100 pages in, but what a ride so far!

I picked up a book of short stories called Flying Carpets, and I’ll admit I was drawn to this book because of the cover.  Got to meet the author at a local event,  and when she said “magical realism”, I was sold.   I’ve read the first few stories so far, and they are quite enjoyable.

And speaking of short stories, I was flipping through the table of contents of the absolutely massive The Big Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, when I realized this tome has some favorites that I haven’t gotten to read in a really long time, such as “Standing Woman” by Yasutaka Tsutsui , “Sandkings” by George R R Martin, and “Gorgonoids” by Leena Krohn. There’s also “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, “The Poetry Cloud” by Cixin Liu, “Blood Music” by Greg Bear,  “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Terius” by Jorge Luis Bores, and about a million more. Hard to believe a the paperback of this costs less than $30!  Yes, I am recommending this as a gift to your science fiction loving friends!

On the non-bookish side of life,  if your planning a holiday Game of Thrones binge watch, make sure you have matching liquor and beer.

And when you’ve got rice, some veggies, and some high quality tinned fish, dinner can come together in 5 minutes.

Mackerel over rice with corn, green olives, and scallions. This photo doesn’t do it justice, this plate was to die for.

What have you been reading, watching, drinking, eating, and enjoying 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.