the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘science fiction

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

published May 2017

where I got it: purchased new

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Yes, yes, I know I’m late to the Murderbot party. A while back my twitter feed exploded with things like “I love Murderbot”, and “I want more Murderbot!”, and just shook my head in confusion. I’m actually doubly late to the party, because I’ve now read this novella twice in the last month and am only writing about it now. My lame excuse is that All Systems Red was the August book for my local book club and I wanted to wait until after our book club met and discussed the story to write my review. Also? I’ve been too busy watching Master of None, Arrested Development, and GLOW to give a shit about what anyone else wants.

Much of the fun of our book club meetings is seeing who enjoyed the chosen book, who didn’t, and what people liked and didn’t like. We all have different tastes, and it’s rare that everyone comes to the meeting saying “I loved this book!”. All Systems Red is that rare book. Everyone loved it, we couldn’t stop talking about, and everyone was thrilled to learn that Martha Wells has more Murderbot novellas planned. The bookstore where our book club meets is located next to a police station, and I fear to think what those cops thought when they heard cheers and giggles coming from next door as we all cheered “Murderbot Murderbot Murderbot!”

So, what the hell is this Murderbot craze all about?

Murderbot is a Security Unit bot. You want to explore or scout an unexplored planet? Your contract with the company requires one SecUnit per ten humans, and all sorts of other required equipment of dubious quality. Until said equipment craps out, leaving you to die on a deserted planet, it will record everything you do and say with plans to sell the data later. HubSystem does seem to have a “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” type of personality.

The members of the PreservationAux exploration team have no idea their SecUnit has hacked it’s own governor module, and that this SecUnit helps them and saves their lives because it feels like it, not because it has to. These humans are on a deserted planet with a SecUnit who refers to itself as Murderbot. A SecUnit who has deleted as much data as possible to make room for more downloaded soap operas and other serial entertainments. Murderbot is socially awkward, anti-social, and couldn’t care less about the goals of squishy humans. Murderbot simply wants to be left alone so it can watch downloaded TV shows (huh. wanting to sit around and stream TV shows all day? that sounds, um, familiar)

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The Tourist, by Robert Dickinson

published June 2017

where I got it: received review copy from the published (Thanks Hachette!)

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Welcome to the 24th century, where the most exotic vacation a person can take is to a 21st century mall.  Experience germs and cell phones, risk mild food poisoning and interactions with sullen gothy teenagers, and then spend the night safely ensconced in a resort hotel.   There are tons of travel companies that offer these types of tours.  The companies and their employees choose to ignore all the smuggling that often takes place right under their noses. Time travel has become so easy and common, it’s not even called “time travel” anymore, it’s just called “travel”,  and you get to your destination via a high energy technology called translation.

 

“It’s the logic of travel: the past is just another country, and, if you can afford the translation, you can always go back. Nothing is lost, nobody really dies. You die, of course: but, if they have the right resources, other people can always come back and see you. You remain alive.”

                                The Tourist, page 310

 

The opening chapters of The Tourist fall somewhere between Kage Baker’s Company novels and the movie Twelve Monkeys, complete with a shadowy future century no one is allowed to see, rumors of a genocide in recent history, a near extinction event, and the challenges of how to tell someone you are from the past or the future.  There is a “map” of sorts in the front of the book, that on first glance looks like a map of a shopping mall, but then you realize it’s a chart of a time line. The time line is U shaped, with the character’s lives jumping back and forth all over the place. Ahh, the tricks you can play in a time travel book!

 

Spens is a rep with one of the travel agencies, his job is to shepherd his charges to the mall, show them how paper money works, and warn them against 21st-ers who know how to trick naive idiots.  For shock value, he buys a muffin at a coffee stand and eats it.  This is just a job for Spens, he lives at the resort and gets together for drinks with the other reps at night to share stories of their idiot clients.   He’ll work at the resort forever if it means he never has to work the tunnels again.

 

And then one day he loses a client.

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Echopraxia, by Peter Watts

published in 2014

Where I got it: I don’t remember

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Echopraxia, from dictionary.com:

  1. the abnormal repetition of the actions of another person.
  2. the involuntary imitation of the actions of others

 

Daniel Bruks is a regular human.  Living out in the desert after committing career suicide, Bruks is just a regular guy. And by regular, I mean he has no augments and his DNA and brain haven’t been mucked around with. By regular, I mean humanity is, in general, leaving him behind. But so long as they leave him alone, he’s fine with that.

 

Bruks keeps saying he doesn’t understand what’s happening, or why the Bicamerals even took him along on their mission when it would have been much easier to leave him behind. He’s not alone, as for the first half of this book, I had no idea what was happening either.  Watts certainly throws the reader into the deep end, and it was a frustrating first hundred pages.  Luckily, about a third of the way in, there are some conversational infodumps that tell you exactly what all these augmented humans are, and what Bruks is not.  And maybe  Bruks will eventually come to realize all the mean names the augments call him, names like roach and baseline, aren’t insults at all.

 

Echopraxia takes place in the same universe as Blindsight, and if you haven’t read Blindsight it is 1) one of the most incredible hard scifi novels ever written, and 2) won’t much prepare you for Echopraxia, as these two novels are those distant cousins who see each other at weddings and funerals, but can’t think of a reason to speak to each other.  That said, I couldn’t stop thinking about Blindsight while reading this novel. There is so much discussion in Echopraxia about how you can’t trust your own brain, you can’t trust your own perception. Blindsight was ALL ABOUT perception, and we see that story from Siri’s point of view, and of course he trusts his perception.  It makes for a fascinating dichotomy between the two novels!

 

Plotwise, I’m not 100% sure what is going on in Echopraxia. Bruk’s desert home is under attack by zombie drones, so he takes refuge at the nearby monastery of Bicamerals.  The Bicamerals are a sort of hive mind type thing, they have souped up synapses spiked with genetics from our ancient ancestors, genetics homo sapiens evolved away from because we “didn’t need that stuff anymore”.  Turns out, it isn’t Bruks the zombies are attacking, but the monastery. When the Bicams escape, they take Bruks and their “pet” vampire, Valerie, along with. What the hell do they need Bruks for? For that matter, what the hell do they need a god damn Vampire for?  Once out in space, the story takes a turn for the visceral horror, because Valerie is the smartest predator the Earth has ever seen.  (What are vampires doing in a hard scifi novel, you ask? Fantastic question!  And the answer is in Blindsight, and also in that novel’s appendix, where Watts brilliantly discusses how Vampires are genetically viable and possible on Earth, and why it was a really terrible idea for us to bring their genetics back)

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Instead of bitching for 1200 words about how unwatchably terrible Valerian And the City of a Thousand Planets was (and I wanted to like it! I tried SO HARD to like it!) I will instead point you in the direction of this love letter to Luc Besson’s masterpiece The Fifth Element.

(click the link, not the picture)

I was finishing high school when this movie came out, and I’ll admit, I was just a smidgen obsessed with it.  I still remember the vague promos that came out months ahead of this movie. They didn’t say anything about what the movie was about, or who was it in.  Yes, I was a very impressionable teen, but wow those promos made an impression on me! I had no idea what this movie was going to be about, but I knew I had to see it.

 

When the movie finally came out, I’d never seen anything like it, I didn’t know movies like this could exist. I had no idea if I was watching a movie, or a music video, or both at the same time.   Great art direction, fun set design, fun soundtrack, great aliens,  snarky script, and it is even more over the top than Baz Lurhmann’s Moulin Rouge.

 

If you can believe it, there are people who have never seen The Fifth Element!  What would you tell someone who has never seen this movie to get them to see it? How would you convince them that this 20 year old scifi flick is worth their time?

 

Also?  LeelooDallasMulitpass!

 

 

Pilot X by Tom Merritt

published in 2017

where I got it: purchased new

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Do you like Doctor Who?

 

Have you never seen Doctor Who but you’re curious to know what all the fuss is about?

 

If you answered Yes to either of those questions, Tom Merritt’s novel Pilot X might be for you.  I say “might”, because there isn’t much to Pilot X, and if you go into looking for deep characterization or a memorable plot, you’ll come out disappointed. This is a weird little book to review, because plot and character wise, there isn’t much to it. But there are these fun little other things going on that have nothing to do with X’s story that I enjoyed. There is a lot under the surface of the text, and had Merritt explored and expanded on what lies just under the surface, the style of this book would have been very, very different.   I think the trick to enjoying this novel is knowing what it is, and knowing what it isn’t.

 

X is a time traveler.  He starts out as an apprentice, becomes a pilot, and holds other titles during his career as well.  In his culture, everyone has a unique name, with their “first name” being their title or occupation. He was born the first year that single character names became allowed. (Fun thing number one: does the length of someone’s name tell you what era they are from?). This is a society of timelords time travelers, so it’s easy for X to go on a mission that might take him weeks or years, and be able to report back to his superiors twenty minutes after he was given the assignment.

 

As first, I was annoyed by the episode nature of the plot of the book, and much of the actual missions that X  goes on were rather forgettable.  (fun thing number two: This is a non-linear story, so the episodic nature actually makes some sense. When you’re a time traveler, does the order in which things happen even matter?)  As X gets more missions and spends more time with the man who gives the orders, he starts questioning if he’s actually on the right side of the Dimensional War. X doesn’t even know if he’s made contact with a secret operative or not.  If he is successful in his final mission, he will be the only survivor of a race that has been erased from memory.

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It’s been a good week for reading!  A little too good, actually, as I keep wanting to start new books even though I’m enjoying what I’m currently reading.

I finished Pilot X by Tom Merritt, and need to write a review of it.  If you like Doctor Who, you’ll like Pilot X.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been on and off reading The Physician, by Noah Gordon, and can you believe I’m reading a book that is not a scifi or fantasy book!!  Straight up historical fiction, it’s like an Edward Rutherford only way more focused and far more enjoyable to read.  My mom lent me the paperback, and it sat unread until I saw the movie version on Netflix. The movie of The Physician is very good, and they completely smashed up the plot and characters to jam what is a ten year story into a 3 hour movie.  Also? the movie got me interested in reading the book, so mission accomplished. I’m about halfway through the book, and while I am enjoying myself and the book is very readable, I am losing steam.

Peter Watts’ Blindsight is one of my favorite hard scifi novels, and I’ve had a copy of Echopraxia for at least 2 years and I haven’t picked it up until now. What is wrong with me?  Anyways, Echopraxia is a sort of companion novel to Blindsight. Same universe, same time period, but one is not the sequel or prequel of the other.  Now that I’m about 2/3 of the way through Echopraxia,  wow the paranoia and visceral terror is just ramped all the way up!! If like me, you are still trying to get the terrible taste of the movie Prometheus out of your mouth, read some Watts.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, this unassuming volume came into the house by way of loan:

A Requiem for Astounding is part history of the magazine, part love letter to the golden age, and part pure nostalgia.  I come across all these “classic” short stories all over the place, in raggedy “best of” volumes, as reprints, but I have no context for any of it. Here’s hoping this book of essays will give me some much needed context.  I enjoy non-fiction scifi related stuff like this, these older ones are getting near impossible to find!

 

And in the department of new ARCs that have arrived, we have these:

Emerald Circus is a collection of re-imagined fairy tales and includes Yolen’s famous short story “Sister Emily’s Lightship”.  I’m excited for this one, and as it is all short stories that means I can read it a little at a time and not be asking myself “who are these characters again? What were these people doing?”

Like Yolen, Ann Leckie needs no introduction.  Provenance is Leckie’s new novel, out in September. I was not a fan of her famous awards sweeping Ancillary trilogy, but I like what she says on twitter, I respect her editing philosophy, and I’m interested to try Provenance, if only to see how much range her writing has.

Unbreakable by Will McIntosh

published June 27th, 2017

where I got it: received ARC from the author

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Celia makes it look easy, but she’s been training so long to break records that to her, all the training has begun to feel hum-drum.  She figured out the trick to conditioning her body years ago: all she has to do is suffer, and the hardest part of breaking a record is the unceasing boredom. Most minutes holding your breath under water, longest time being buried alive, most number of hours spent without sleeping, she’s done it all and she knows it’s 99% sitting around waiting.

 

She’s lived in Record City for as long as she can remember, and for nearly as long she’s lived with her adoptive parents and a few house mates. They eat together, train together, cheer each other on, and help each other recover. When the team breaks a challenging record, it’s cash rewards all around and better housing.  Losing out to another team means having to move to a dingier apartment with fewer windows.  It might sound weird to you and I, but to Celia this is what family and love and friendship means.  When you’re surrounded by people who live their lives the same way you do, there isn’t anything to tell you that this is all very weird.

 

Part Hunger Games, part Lost, and part other things I can’t mention because I don’t want to wreck the twist, Will McIntosh’s new novel Unbreakable will grab you by the neck and won’t let go. Longer than a novella, but shorter than a novel, McIntosh self published this very strange, ultra fast-paced, narrowly focused, and addictively readable novel.  It is currently available as an e-book or paperback on Amazon.

 

As a friend lies dying, Celia escapes Record City on a quest to find a life saving medicine she’s heard about on television. And what she finds are . . .  more walled cities full of single minded citizens who shush her every time she tries to ask questions.  Even in Record City, the rule was “follow the rules sand shut up”, and the TV and movie characters who inspire Celia to  be curious about the world were bound to get her into trouble eventually.

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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.