the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘science fiction

While Five for Friday has run its course,  today I have a special treat for you, a literal special edition Six for Friday.

Mailing books to friends must be some kinda addicting, like yawns.  As I was emailing a friend that I was going to be mailing her a box of books (Sorry K! I haven’t gotten to the post office yet!), another friend was emailing me that he was mailing me a box of books!

And boy was this box a humdinger!

Take a few minutes to feast your eyes,  and then I’ll tell you what you’re looking at.

if that blew your mind, here’s the cover art of each volume!  You’ll have to forgive my garbage photography.


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Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

published in 2018

where I got it: purchased used

 

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Occasionally, people ask me for book recommendations.  I try to recommend something the person will like, so if they ask me to recommend something poetic, something beautifully written, something strange but glorious that gets better every time I read it, without pause I will recommend Catherynne Valente’s The Habitation of the Blessed.  I will talk your ear off about this book, and it’s sequel, and the tragedy that the publisher is no longer in business so the books are no longer in print, and yadda yadda.

 

If I could only read one book for the rest of my life, I would choose The Habitation of the Blessed.

 

Knowing that, doesn’t make writing this review any easier.

 

Artists are gonna art, people should write the book they want to read, the world needs something happy right now. Space Opera is up for a number of awards, I hope it wins some of them, for sheer uniqueness, weirdness, and unapologetic over-the-top audaciousness.

 

Your mileage may vary. Remember this post?  I was 50 pages into Space Opera when I wrote it.

 

The concept behind Space Opera is, simply,  Eurovision Song Contest, in SPAAAAAACE!!!!! All the sentient races in the galaxy participate, and every so often an upstart race is invited to participate. If said upstart race wins (or at least places decently), they are welcomed into the galactic community. If they lose, they are deemed non-sentient / a danger to the galaxy, and summarily annihilated.  This “win or die” premise is presented in rather a Douglas Adams fashion, so all feels like fun and games. But the big question remains: Does Humanity Deserve to Survive?

 

Representatives are sent to Earth to find humanity’s best musicians. They were hoping for Yoko Ono.  Instead, they got Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes.

 

If you like over the top humor, if you like a narrative style that blows you off the page, if you’re looking for something really different, if you like wacky aliens and over the top descriptions, and a heartwarming ending, this book is for you!

 

I’m a buzzkill.  I’m a killjoy. I hit sensory overload around the time most people get out of bed in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, i get a kick out of short term sensory overload. In  the right circumstances, I quite enjoy it.  But long term sensory overload? something that puts me into overload too quickly?  It’s, um, not good.

 

I DNF’d this book, twice.

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We watched the Netflix movie I Am Mother the other day.    Deceptively simple, the movie takes what looks like an unbelievable simple plot, and actually doesn’t do a ton with it.  This movie isn’t going to win any awards, but it was a good use of my 2 hours, and I’d watch it again.  The robot was hella cool!

 

And yet.

 

The movie is more about what isn’t ever said, and what isn’t ever explained.

 

I keep thinking about this movie, and I can’t get it out of my head.  I like that I’m thinking about it, and i like that i’m thinking about everything that was never explicitly mentioned,  all the negative space, all the showing instead of telling.

 

In my opinion, the best stories are hiding in plain sight, in the negative space.

 

Do you have teenagers in the house?  Have them watch this movie, and then ask them what the movie is about.  Younger kids can watch it too, but they might get bored. Adults can watch it too! But I categorize I Am Mother as great for teenagers, as this really is a YA story.

 

don’t know what I’m talking about?  I Am Mother is a netflix original movie.  A young girl, known as Daughter, is being raised in an underground bunker by a robot, known as Mother. They are alone in the bunker,  Mother will not allow Daughter to go outside due to dangerous contagions.  Daughter is a happy, well adjusted, obedient child.  You know immediately that Mother is hiding information from Daughter, perhaps waiting for the right time to tell her.   As Daughter is preparing for an important exam, there is a knock on the front door of the compound. A woman is begging to be let in, she has been shot in the leg, and is hoping there is antibiotics in the compound.  When the woman sees Mother, she freaks out.  Daughter is pulled between curiosity of the outside world, the strangeness of their visitor, and her love of Mother.

The movie feels a little like the movie Moon – as in for most scenes you only see a human character and a robot character. . .  and that’s it.  It also felt a little like a sanitized version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – very sparse, very quiet, a parent protecting their child.

 

I don’t feel like writing a review for this movie, but for some weirdo reason I feel like writing a study guide / guided discussion questions?  Not sure how that happened, but here you go!

 

(Spoilers ahead!)

 

 

I thought it was neat that none of the characters have names.  The robot is “Mother”, the child being raised by Mother is referred to as “Daughter”, and the woman they give limited refuge to is never named.

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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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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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