the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘science fiction

Advertising told through Science Fiction?


I was smart, and downloaded WAY more hours of podcasts than I’d need to get myself to Maryland and back,  so now I’m working my way through the thumb drive to see what’s good and what will get deleted.


I like science-y podcasts.  I don’t need Great Courses Astrophysics,  pop-science is more than adequate for my commute.


Today’s commute included an episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain, titled “This is Your Brain on Ads”.  the podcast included a short history of advertising, like radio jingles,  fun mascots for sugary kid’s cereals, product placement in TV shows and radio,  superbowl ads, all the way to instagram influencers. There was mention that children grow out of being easily influenced by about age 13, and younger than that and they really are convinced that Lucky Charms is part of a balanced breakfast.  There was mention that the Superbowl can charge so much for ads because sports fans are the most loyal group of consumers.


There was an aside about MTV’s The Real World. Remember that show? It birthed the reality tv show phenomenon.  MTV had zero budget, and needed a TV show (otherwise they were going to have to show sportsball), so they got a bunch of regular people who were willing to work for a whole lotta attention/fame/exposure, and not a lot of money.  All the advertising that MTV sold that ran during that show was pure profit, because it cost them hardly anything to make the show.


There was a discussion of how our attention has value, and that our attention can be monetized.


And often we have zero control over how we respond to advertising.  It has nothing to do with willpower (ok, maybe a little), but the advertising companies have figured out through trial, error, and studies, what exactly will make you keep watching that stupid infomercial.


And that got me thinking.


Science fiction is really good at taking relatively normal near-future things – genetically modified pets, using robots as caregivers for people with dementia, inescapable closed circuit tv,  the dark side of social media and making your living as an instagram influencer, catching criminals, first contact with aliens, getting back to the Moon, the list is endless, because science fiction knows no bounds.


So what does a science fiction story that deals with the monetization of your attention look like?  What might it look like from the person who is buying or brokering your attention, what might it look like from the person whose attention is being purchased and monetized?  what will the future of advertising look like, through a science fiction lens?


Advertising + science fiction = ??


A title that comes to mind right away is Robert Jackson Bennett’s Vigilance, and 2007’s Grey by Jon Armstrong (which I feel would read as horribly dated now?).


What titles come to mind for you?


What might a science fiction author do with the prompt “what would advertising and monetization of consumer’s attention in the future look like?”



Exit Strategy (Murderbot Diaries #4) by Martha Wells

published in 2018

where i got it: purchased new




Murderbot is good at a lot of things.  Murderbot is especially good at having an exit strategy. Knowing where the doors and hallways are, and knowing where those hallways lead. Being able to hack software so as to disappear.  Knowing how to get out of conversations (usually by walking away). Knowing how to get away from people.


Exit strategies are helpful when social situations, or any situation involving people, aren’t your strong suit. Is always having an exit strategy just a coping mechanism for Murderbot?   We all use coping mechanisms to avoid dealing with things that we don’t have the toolkit to deal with or simply don’t want to deal with.


Let’s get some  plot bits out of the way first – Murderbot finds out that Mensah is in trouble, and Murderbot has evidence that can prove that Mensah is innocent. But, how to get the evidence to Mensah’s people?  And what if GrayCris doesn’t care about if Mensah is innocent? What if she’s just the bait, and what they really want is one specific rogue Sec Unit? Finding Mensah and her people is no problem, but now comes the hard part:  Can Murderbot trust them? Do they even want to see Murderbot again? What about Mensah, what’s Murderbot going to say to her when they inevitably meet again? Mensah offered Murderbot a home, and Murderbot ran away from her. Where does their relationship even stand now?


Murderbot needs to decide who is worth trusting, and who is worth protecting, and exactly how much is worth risking to trust and/or protect. When you’re not considered a person, when you’re considered property,  what is trust worth to you? In the end, what does trust, what does “a relationship”, what does “having a friend”, get you, if you’re not a person who has rights or the ability to exist in a way of your own choosing?


When I first started reading Exit Strategy, I thought the plot was thin and weak. I felt like I wasn’t connecting with this book as much as I had with earlier entries, and that annoyed me. Call it user-error.  More on that later, I promise.


Murderbot likes to observe people, is curious about people things, and maybe sometimes appreciates people things. But Murderbot doesn’t want people things.  I relate to this, because I feel the same way about tattoos. I am fascinated by them, I love seeing and complimenting people’s art, I enjoy hearing people’s stories about why that their tattoos mean to them, I once went through a short obsession with Russian Prison tattoo art (yes, this is a thing. No, you can’t ask).  But I have zero interest in ever getting a tattoo. I’m fascinated by them and I appreciate them, but I don’t want it for myself.

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I’ve been dabbling in a lot of books this week. Making slow progress, but not quite going all in on anything.


I finished reading Exit Strategy by Martha Wells,  and I want to give this another read through before I write a review. I feel like I rushed through the first half of it.  Although knowing me, my entire review will be some version of “This is why we shouldn’t build humanoid robots. We’ll keep assuming that since they look sort of human that they want human things, and when it turns out that they don’t want human things, our feewings will get hurwt. But like, we couldn’t have respected their answer when they said ‘don’t want human things, thanks’?”


And I’ve been bouncing in and out and around these three titles. If I’m “all in” on anything, it’s definitely the supernatural thriller by Aliette de Bodard.  The end is super intense, I’ve probably got 70 or so pages to go!

Servant of the Underworld by Aliette De Bodard is a supernatural thriller/murder mystery that takes place in the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. The investigator of the maybe-murder is the Priest for the Dead, and the accused murderer is the priest’s brother. There’s all sorts of dirty politics and infidelity and secret children and judgy parents and oh, the Aztec gods are real. You can talk to them, and they’ll tell you what they require as sacrifice and/or worship. and then they might kill you. I like stories where the gods are real. intense stuff!  You like de Bodard’s Xuya stories right?  you’ll like this!


the weirdly titled The History of Soul 2065 is a mosaic novel by Barbara Krasnoff, available later this spring.  As soon as I saw that “Sabbath Wine” was in the table of contents, I knew I had to read it, cry for an hour, and then keep reading.  These interlinked stories follow two families across generations and continents.  I’m not far into the book yet, but I can already see how their family trees intertwine.  I like mosaic novels.  I may do a dramatic reading of “Sabbath Wine” while I’m seeing my family for Passover this coming weekend. If you hearing sobbing coming from Maryland, that’s my fault.


If any of these get DNFd it’s mostly likely going to be Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovksy. I LOVE the concept of this post apocalyptic novel – the end came, so everyone hid in the subway stations of Moscow, and somehow survived on pigs and mushrooms.  many of the subway tunnels are haunted, different political groups have taken over different stations, gun cartridges are money, people will do anything to survive.  The concept is compelling, the execution is . . . pretty boring actually. I don’t know if it is an artifact of the translation, or if this is the style of the writer, but I am skimming the text a lot because it is so repetitive.


What are you reading this week?

I’m late to Discovery, and I’m fine with that.  After watching the first season, i have a lot (holy shit a lot!) of thoughts.  I wasn’t sure how to get them all down, so I cheated, and interviewed myself about my experience.  This is not a review or a critique, it is a ramble.   Cuz I got thoughts, and what is the internet good for, if not rambling?


Yeah, so this blog post is less about ST: Discovery and more about how I react to things.  But I finally watched the first season, and I Have Thoughts.


Very minor spoilers ahead.


This showed on CBS All Access like a year ago. Why did it take you this long to finally watch it?


Biggest reason: I don’t find CBS All Access to be worth what they are charging for it. There isn’t enough there there.    I love subscription streaming services, when those services offer a lot of stuff I’m interested in watching. Netflix could double what they charge and I’d still be ripping them off.  CBS All Access was asking me to pay however much a month for one show. I still find that idea laughable. Discovery looked interesting, but this was a simple value equation: was the cost of CBS All Access a value match for what I was buying? Nope.


A friend bought the 1st season on Blu-ray and offered to let me borrow it. So that’s how I ended up finally watching Discovery.


What did you think of the overall design of the show?


I love the artwork of the opening credits. I’m a sucker for anything architecture-y.  I liked the interiors of the Klingon ships. The color schemes for the Discovery sere darker than I’m used to for a Star Trek story,  it was more Deep Space Nine (a station that wasn’t designed by the Federation), everything was more Battlestar Galactica than I was expecting.


Battlestar Galactica? What makes you compare this show to BSG?


Design. Color scheme. Dark plot elements. Tension.  The focus on non-verbal communication and body language. Even how it was filmed.


I’m used to Star Trek sets being of neutral color schemes, I’m used to the camera angles being more “old school”, so that one set, one hallway, could be made to look like many.  The set designs, camera angles, and filming style felt more Battlestar Galactica or even Firefly to me. Grungier sets, more sharp edges and fewer softened edges, more hallways that looked like actual hallways.  I grew up on Next Gen and Voyager. Those scripts were written almost “cozy mystery” style, where you knew from the first minute of the episode that everything would be neatly wrapped up and sanitized in 42 minutes with minimal tension, no anger or arguments, no issues with integrity,  plenty of diplomacy, and that in a few weeks the characters would forget everything that happened in this episode. Deep Space Nine left that episodic-ness behind somewhat, which was nice.


Discovery didn’t feel sanitized. It didn’t feel like anything was going to be wrapped up in one or two episodes. The character’s non-verbal communication added a ton of tension and suspicion. I didn’t feel like the characters would forget what happened in a few episodes. It felt like a scifi soap opera. It felt like Battlestar Galactica. I mean that as a compliment to both shows.


You posted on twitter that you’re afraid of Jason Isaacs. What the hell?


He’s a really great actor.  Has a metric fuckton of presence.  He walks into the room and your eyes are on him (ok, maybe that’s just me?).  I saw him in a Netflix original tv show called The O.A., which I highly recommend if you haven’t seen it.  Isaacs plays the villain, and boy is he sociopathically villainous. I left the first season of The O.A. scared shitless of him.  The 2nd season of The O.A. comes out soon, and in the promo, it looks like the characters are now friends with him? What the fuck! Why aren’t you running away from him as fast as your legs will take you? He’s the bad guy!!!


So when he showed up on Discovery, a loud voice in the back of my head was screaming “RUN”.   It wasn’t the words that were coming out of his mouth that made me nervous, it was all his non-verbal mannerisms, that he looked away from people while talking, the angle of his shoulders, his not quite smile when things were going the way he wanted.  Watching him on screen was like noticing a big spider crawling down behind the sofa. I know it’s there, i just don’t know exactly where, or when it’s going to crawl out, or if it’s two centimeters from my shoulder, right this second. Oh, hai anxiety!


I was so freaked out by him that I had a tough time paying attention to what was happening on the TV screen.    It made me feel a little better when some stuff is revealed about his character, i felt justified in my anxiety and unrelenting fear.


What about other actors and characters? Who did you like? Who didn’t you like?


I love Michelle Yeoh.  She makes everything better.  Every scene with her is my favorite scene. She looked like she had a TON of fun filming her scenes, and I just love everything about her and her character.

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Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee

Published in January of 2019

where I got it:  purchased new









About half way through Raven Stratagem, I realized I wanted to read everything Yoon Ha Lee had written. The Machineries of Empire series only has three books, and I needed more of this kind of writing, of this style of story weaving. So, I ordered myself a copy of Conservation of Shadows, and bought a copy of Lee’s middle grade book Dragon Pearl.

Dragon Pearl was very cute, and it is definitely book aimed towards the 8 to 10 years old crowd. My niece justs turned six, I can’t wait for her to be old enough to read this. I hope this is the book that has her asking her parents a million questions about how the world works, why adults do the things they do, if she can be a fox spirit when she grows up, and how terra-forming works.

When Min’s older brother Jun joined the Space Forces, his family hoped he’d return home to a better world. When Min’s mother receives word that Jun abandoned his post to seek the Dragon Pearl, the family is shocked. Min knows her brother would never do something like this. She knows what he was looking for, out there in the deepness of space, and she knows why it would tempt him so much. But his letters home make no sense, she knows something is very wrong! Knowing that she can’t let anyone outside her immediate family know that she is a fox spirit who can shapeshift, she leaves home (a little Binti like, actually!), in search of her brother’s ship and his last known where abouts.

Dragon Pearl is very fast paced, and in short order Min loses her possessions, is embarrassed to learn exactly why her family doesn’t want their children ever using their fox-spirit magic such as shapeshifting and Charm in public, escapes the gravity well of her impoverished planet, gains a ghost, and ends up having to shape shift to imitate a dead boy who was posted on the same ship as her brother. Speaking of not using her Charm magic in public, I got an absolute kick out of the scenes in the casino.

What started out as “find out what happened to my brother” has now turned into avoid the scary tiger captain, keep a ghost happy, quickly learn how to be a fifteen year old male cadet, somehow gain access to the planet of the dead (literally. It’s covered in ghosts and when you go there they kill you) and most importantly, don’t get stuck in this physical form forever! Some members of her brother’s ship were on a secret mission to find the Dragon Pearl, and if Min can understand what happened, her dusty, unfinished planet could become a paradise. It sounds very convoluted, doesn’t it? Luckily, Lee is a fantastic writer, so while it is fast paced, it isn’t convoluted at all.
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The Quantum Magician by Derek Künsken

published 2018

Where I got it: purchased new









Belisarius Arjona gets bored easily.  A homo quantus, he’s able to enter a savant trance to access the quantum computing parts of his brain, giving him the ability (and undeniable urge) to understand the patterns of the universe, the mathematical why behind how everything works.  His kind were designed by a banking group, determined to create people who could see where the markets would go. He’s as close to a mentat as we’ll ever get.


Uninterested in financial markets, and even less interested in the mostly naval gazing of his peers, Bel keeps himself busy doing easy things that keep his mind distracted. Easy things like confidence schemes.   He might be known as “the magician” in crime circles, but even he thinks his new con job is ridiculous: he’s been hired to get twelve warships through a public and very expensive wormhole. Even if he can get the first ship through, by the time the rest start coming through the game will be up and the local defenses will be on super high alert. Why did he take this crazy job again? Well, the pay is pretty good, and there’s also that other thing. . .


In Ocean’s Eleven style, Bel spends a few chapters collecting his team – meeting up with new resources and recruiting old friends.  I felt thrown in the deep end the first 20 pages or so, so those handful of slower chapters where Bel is getting the band together were the perfect way for me to learn about the world, the different genetically modified sub-species of humans that we’ve created, the politics of the situation, and Bel’s place in the world.  His art gallery suddenly seems so much creepier.


With all the “quantum” being thrown around, I was super nervous that The Quantum Magician was going to read like a Greg Egan, where I couldn’t keep up with the math.  Yes, this book is jam packed with physics and biology and quantum mechanics (why didn’t someone tell me before how cool quantum entangled particles are!!), and zero g maneuvers and adjusting for so many atmospheres and triangulation and the insides of wormholes.  Here’s the thing – math is the language of the universe, and if presented correctly, it becomes the poetry of the universe. Künsken made math and physics as fun and as beautiful as I know it can be, he made it into the sweeping architecture of a cathedral. Books like The Quantum Magician are why I love hard science fiction – if the math supports it, anything is possible. Even though sometimes it looks like magic.


“The math was comfortingly inescapable”, says Bel.  It may be inescapable, but math gives you the blueprints to do anything in the universe.   Similarly, the inescapable math tell Belisarius that next time he goes into a deep savant mode known as fugue, he won’t be able to come out of it. The need for knowledge will overwhelm his physical need for survival.

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Welcome to a new-ish feature here at Little Red Reviewer, called 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.

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

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?

The Nine by Tracy Townsend – I’ve not read this, but I keep hearing really good things about it.  Also, this photo doesn’t do it justice, that cover art is freakin’ gorgeous!


Lotus Blue by Cat Sparks – This came highly recommended.  I had a slow start, I eventually put it down. I should really give it another try.


Starless by Jacqueline Carey – she did a book signing event at a bookstore near me, so of course I got the book!  But I haven’t read it yet.


Inversions by Iain M. Banks – Great book!!  If you’ve read any Banks Culture books, you should read Inversions! and if you haven’t read any Culture books but want to try Banks without committing to a big series, read Inversions! it’s the not-a-Culture book that sort of is. This is one I want to reread sometime.


The Moon and the Other by John Kessel – I’ve not read this. I’m worried it’s just going to be on the bookshelf forever, looking pretty.

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FTC Stuff

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.