the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘science fiction

In 1968, Alexei Panshin wrote a coming of age novel called Rite of Passage.  The story follows twelve year old Mia Havero, as she readies for her “trial”, during which she’ll spend 30 days alone in the wilderness of a planet.  Having spent her life on a ship, she’s got a lot to learn about how to survive dirtside.    Rite of Passage won the Nebula, and was nominated for a Hugo.  This is most definitely  not your standard 60s “kid goes on an adventure”!

 

My close friend Andy lent me his copy of Rite of Passage, and although it took months of him asking me to do so, I finally read it.     It was an absolutely fantastic novel, and it was easy for me to see why Rite of Passage made it to so many awards ballots.  Even better, the story doesn’t feel dated.  Written almost 50 years ago,  it read like a novel that could have been written 10 years ago. Andy and I decided the best way to talk about it was to literally talk about it over Google Docs, and share our chat.   Our conversation below does spoil  some huge stuff that happens at the end of the story, there is plenty more we haven’t mentioned that awaits new readers.

 

 

Andrea: What did you think of Mia? She’s not the typical scifi protagonist [for a 1960’s scifi novel], that’s for sure!

 

Andy: I think Panshin had to tell this story through the eyes and experiences of someone Mia’s age (she is 12 when the story begins). Adults have hardened into acceptance (or, more rarely, rejection) of their society’s system of beliefs. Mia is still discovering these and so is receptive to alternatives.

 

Andrea: Not all the kids come back from their month on a planet.  I assumed that a percentage of kids “go native”, and decide that life on a planet is preferable to life on the ship.  What did you think happened to the kids that didn’t come back?

 

Andy: I’d like to think that many, if not most, did “go native.” However, given the mutual hostility and distrust between the starships and the planet-bound made plain in the novel, I think the majority were either killed by the planet-siders (if pursuing the aggressive “tiger” survival strategy) or died of exposure and starvation (for those using the “turtle” approach, keeping their heads down in remote places). Both the planetary societies and the one on Mia’s ship are quite harsh, in their own ways. Except for Mia and her friend Jimmy, and the people who befriend Mia on Grainau, there’s not a lot of mercy in evidence on either side.

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s time for another installment of five books 50 pages!  This is where I grab 5 books that I’m kinda sorta intrigued by reading just the first 50 or so pages.  The goal is that hopefully at least two will really stand out as something I want to keep reading. I’m going into these books knowing barely anything beyond them other than the back cover blurb. But I have high hopes! Last time I did five books 50 pages I discovered a book that ended up being one of my top reads for 2016.

The contestants this week are:

Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Nine Fox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Cold Iron by Stina Leicht

Dear Sweet Filthy World by Caitlin R. Kiernan

What was YAY,  what was NAY, and what was MEH. Let’s find out!

Read the rest of this entry »

When a book has the kind of effect on you that McIntosh’s Defenders had on me, it’s time for a reread!

 

Defenders by Will McIntosh

published in 2014,  read my original review here.

.

.

.

.

What I remember most about the first time reading this book is that it scared the living crap out of me.  Not “omg, there’s a spider, someone kill it!” scared,  not “why did a fire truck just pull into my apartment parking lot” scared, but the kind of scared that made me want to hide in the back of the bedroom closet, cover myself with a blanket, and be so silent that nothing would even know I existed.

 

When people ask me about books that had a strong emotional impact on me, this book gets a mention.

 

The first time I read Defenders, I read the last chunk of it in one sitting in the middle of the night because I was afraid that if I put the book down all the main characters would die before I could pick the book back up.

 

I’ve been itching to re-read Defenders for over a year.  It’s so absorbing that it makes for an absolutely perfect escapist thriller. Near future, but so ridiculous that none of this stuff could ever happen. . .  right? I mean, right?

 

Actually, the only thing in this book that I see as not happening in the next 50 years is us making contact with an alien species. That’s how the book opens: contact with an alien species that lands in remote areas on Earth. The Luyten are telepathic, and can easily read the minds of any human within 8 miles. When we come up with plans to attack them, they can easily pull those plans out of the mind of anyone involved and nearby, so a counter attack is easy. The Luyten didn’t come here to exterminate us, but they don’t want to die either.  I’m reminded of something author Tade Thompson said when I interviewed him:

 

LRR: If Earth does experience first contact with an alien species, how do you think humanity will react?

TT: If we encounter intelligent life, blind panic and religious hysteria.

If we encounter flora or fauna, blind panic and religious hysteria.

Humans don’t handle the unknown well. Look at our history.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Will 2017 be the year of the reread? only time will tell. In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying Sheri S Tepper’s Arbai trilogy. Again.

 

Raising the Stones by Sheri S. Tepper

published in 1990

where I got it: who knows. I’ve had it forever.

 

 

If you’d asked me five years ago for a list of my top five favorite novels, Sheri S. Tepper’s Raising the Stones would have been on that list.  Is it still in my top five? Sadly, no.  Is it a hella good book? Absolutely. I wrote a review of Raising the Stones back in 2011, which gives a great overview of the plot if you’re interested in the plot end of things.

 

I’ve been itching for some comfort reads lately, escapist novels that I know I will enjoy no matter what is happening in the world around me.  Tepper’s Arbai trilogy fits that bill a hundred percent.  I have no idea how many times I’ve read Raising the Stones, I know exactly what happens in it, I know who dies at the end, who the jerks are, who should have known better, who was blinded by their own narrow-mindedness. It’s neat to read a book that you know so well, to set aside everything that you know you know about it, and find everything else that was hiding there in plain sight all along.

 

Something that did catch my attention this read through was how the novel is paced, and that the pacing matches exactly something else that is going on in the background. Lemme ‘splain.  The first half of the novel is painfully slow. I’d forgotten how slow it was. Slow isn’t bad per se, there is buckets of fascinating worldbuilding and learning about the various cultures in this star system and their beliefs; characterization of Maire, Sam, China, Jep, and Saturday; the slightest beginnings of what’s happening behind the scenes on the planet of Hobbs Land. There is tons of good *stuff* in the first half of the novel, it just doesn’t feel like anything is happening. Maybe I was just antsy for the good stuff? I dunno, but it felt sooooo sloooooooow.   The last third of the novel is solid anxiety. Everything comes to a head, rebellions and coups are put into action, what’s been happening behind the scenes on Hobbs Land is suddenly very much the center of attention.  It’s like something finally reached a critical mass.

 

And that’s exactly what the pacing of the plot mirrors – the pace of the growths on Hobbs Land reaching their critical mass.  Very slow, barely detectable at first, and then slowly increasing, and then reaching a point where it has no choice but to asymptotically reach for infinity.  Pretty brilliant trick for an author to pull off, when you think about it!

Read the rest of this entry »

Binti:Home by Nnedi Okorafor

published January 2017

where I got it: purchased new

.

.

.

.

In my review for Okorafor’s first Binti novella, I was hopeful that she’d write more fiction starring this character, and that the first novella was just Binti’s initial adventure into the galaxy. My hopes for Binti were that she’d continue to meet new people and expand her worldview. In Binti:Home, Okorafor has chosen a much scarier adventure for the now more worldly Binti.  After a year at University, she’s headed home for a traditional pilgrimage.

 

A young woman who ran away from home in the middle  of the night to chase her dreams, a young woman who has been physically and mentally changed by surviving a Meduse attack on her ship, and is who is now friendly enough with a Meduse to bring him home with her. What does her family think of her now?

 

It’s like she’s coming home and saying “hi Mom and Dad, University is great thanks for asking. oh, I’ve permanently changed my biology, and befriended someone from a violent culture who tried to kill me and everyone on my ship! What’s for dinner?”

Read the rest of this entry »

Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card

published in 1986, Revised Edition published 1991

where I got it: purchased used

.

.

.

.

 

Hard to believe I’ve never reviewed Ender’s Game.  How many times have I read that book? Four times? Five? Maybe more??  It’s one of those novels that I’ve returned to over and over during the last 15 years, when I need to read something that I know I’ll enjoy.  If you’ve never read Ender’s Game

  1. You totally should, because it’s an awesome book
  2. Don’t waste your time on the movie that came out a few years ago, because it sucked
  3. Me talking about Speaker for the Dead will probably spoil some Ender’s Game stuff for you. #sorrynotsorry

 

I’m going to review this book backwards.  All the good stuff is right here at the beginning, and maybe I’ll get to the nitty gritty stuff later.

 

The good stuff:  I fucking loved this novel.  The last 50 pages? I cried through every single one of them. I have a thing about trees, and I suck at dealing with death. What I got out of Speaker for the Dead is that trees are way awesomer than I ever thought, and that’s ok to be shitty at mourning and to not have any idea how to process it when someone dies.

 

More good stuff: really cool aliens!  Really cool Artificial intelligence!

 

Only a few xenobiologists on the Lusitania colony are allowed to have contact with the indigenous sentient animals, who have been nicknamed “Piggies”, due to their physical resemblance to Terran pigs.  The xenobiologists are keen to understand everything they scientifically can about the Piggies (their reproductive cycle, their genetic code, you name it!), and it’s a two way street as the Piggies are pretty curious about us too. If the Piggies words and phrases don’t always make sense, maybe their actions and “gifts” will.  We view them as cute little animals, they can’t possibly be intelligent, and they certainly don’t fit our view of civilized mammals.

 

Ender has an assistant, of sorts, Jane.  She talks to him through a bluetooth-esque speaker in his ear, but she’s not a person.  She’s an AI born within humanity’s interstellar communications system. No one but Ender knows she exists, because she knows if humanity knew she existed, she’d be destroyed. Because of what Ender has been through, she trusts him. And she helps him, most of the time. In a way, Jane loves him.  If nothing I’ve said so far has gotten your attention, read this book just for the banter between Ender and Jane.

Read the rest of this entry »

arkwrightArkwright by Allen Steele

published March 2016

where I got it: purchased new

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

 

 

Reviewers seem to really love this book or really be frustrated by it, there doesn’t seem to be much in between.  Here’s my issue:  I can’t figure out if my frustration with the book is because it was crafted poorly, or if I’m just whining that an author didn’t write the exact book that I wanted to read.  As the process of me writing these reviews and such is more often than not just me having a conversation with myself about a reading experience I had,  let’s let the review write itself and see what happens.

.

Warning – spoilers ahead.

.

The concept of Arkwright is a very fun one.  A fictitious science fiction writer, Nathan Arkwright, puts his life savings towards a foundation whose goal is to get humanity to the stars. Doesn’t hurt that he is incredibly successful, movies and TV shows are made from his stories and novels, he knows how to invest, he has a fantastic agent, etc. He kinda reminds me of a romanticized Gene Roddenberry combined with the kind of success every science fiction author dreams of.  The novel opens with Nathan’s death, and his granddaughter Kate learning the truth about her family, and about why every cent in his will went to some Foundation she’s never heard of. Once she learns the truth, she decides to get involved with the Arkwright Foundation.  And their methods of ensuring humanity gets to a colony planet and can survive the trip is a pretty innovative idea. There is some good hard science in Arkwright, that’s for sure!

 

This is not a long book.   If the plot is going to zip forward a bunch of generations, Steele doesn’t have much time to introduce characters and their motivations, and develop any interesting side plots.  So he doesn’t.  The characters barely get developed,which makes  much of the writing feel rushed and clunky. To add insult to injury I found Nathan’s flashbacks of meeting new friends at the 1939 WorldCon to be so overly schmaltzy sweet, I nearly DNF’d this book right then and there to avoid getting cavities in my teeth. What so many reviewers saw as a love letter to the genre, I saw as characters flatly written to be at exactly the right place at the exactly the right time to quite literally Forward the Foundation.  As we meet new generations of Arkwrights, unfortunately even their stories became predictable: handsome and brilliant Arkwright of marriageable age meets brilliant scientist of the opposite gender, awkwardly written romance ensues, the next generation is born,  bam, on to the next chapter and generation we go. Do these characters exist for any other reason except to ensure that the next generation of Arkwrights is born?

Read the rest of this entry »


Follow me on Twitter!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,783 other followers

Follow the Little Red Reviewer on WordPress.com

Archives

Categories

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.