the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘science fiction

Never in a million years did I ever think I was going to say I was proud of Kim Kardashian.  Scroll to the bottom for that bombshell!

 

What have I been reading?

Finished Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s  novella And Shall Machines Surrender, and freakin’ loved it.   My brain still doesn’t want to write long reviews, so I put a short review on Amazon.  If you like some, any, or all of these things, this novella is for you:  Beautiful writing, tight plotting, show don’t tell, cyberpunk, when AIs don’t need humans anymore, AI run cities, AI and human melds, and super hot sex scenes.

Finally finished Death’s End by Cixin Liu.  Those last few chapters, HOLY SHIT!  but man it was a lot of boring to get there .  Had a great conversation with my dad about the series.  I love how this series has become our family reading club book!

 

Also finished The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang.  It was. . . meh?  I’m really happy it was a novella.  I will say that the further I got into it, the more I liked it, but I won’t be continuing with this series.

 

Started reading The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust.  What a blast!   It’s Brust’s take on The Three Musketeers, except more banter, more humor, and everyone is offended by literally everything, so there are duels like every 3 pages.  There is also this parody thing going on with the narrator.  And, um, Sethra Lavode is . . .  young-ish?  It is super fun. Luckily, there is like 5 books in this series, so that should keep me busy for a little while.

 

Went on a little bookstore adventure today, picked up:

Hild by Nicola Griffith – this has come highly recommended!  I was surprised to find it in general fiction, i thought this was a spec fic book?

Ismail Merchant’s Indian Cuisine – lots of easy recipes, nothing intimidating.

How Language Began by Daniel Everett – I’ve been hooked on the Lexicon Valley podcast, so I’m all about the history of languages right now!

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper – I have no idea if this is good or not, but I liked the cover art. And it looks super different than everything I’ve been reading lately, that alone is a big plus.

Speaking of podcasts, I discovered “This Podcast will Kill You”, I think they talk about poisons?  I’ve only listened to the episode about Aspirin and holy shit it was fascinating!   Now i kinda wish my commute was longer, so i could listen to more of this? no, really, NO I do not want a longer commute!  Goal in life is a shorter commute!

 

oh, what did we cook this weekend?  Made the world’s most delicious shrimp and noodle stirfry, it was one of those stirfry’s where you throw a bunch of deliciousness into a wok, and then throw noodles and some sweet chili sauce in, and surprising no one you end up with a delicious stirfry.  Made a quinoa sorghum salad with mint lemon dressing for something healthy to snack on at work, Tonight we are making Curry Rice, which is one of my fave autumn dishes.  I’ve blogged about this dish before, but imagine a beef stew, but it’s made with curry gravy. Buckets of spices,  buckets of ginger and garlic and hot peppers and onions, and you serve it with rice and yogurt.  my mouth is watering!!!

 

Apropos of nothing, I am annoying that one of my fave kitchen / small home decorating sites, thekitchn, is now  like 80% advertising posts for Costco, Trader Joe, and Aldi.  Like, i like those stores? but I also prefer content that is cooking,  kitchen techniques, and small home decorating. I actually do not give a shit about how the different pumpkin spice things at Aldi compare to those at Trader Joe.

 

Same as The Kitchn is being taken over by thinly veiled advertising for Costco, Aldi, and Trader Joe, Buzzfeed is being taken over by less thinly veiled advertising for everything Kardashian.  three cheers for click bait?

I never in a million years thought I’d say I’m proud of Kim,  but I’m proud of her.  Ten years ago, if anyone had told her what her child could or could not, or should, or should not do, she’d have stretched it out over a season of her stupid TV show, and then divorced the guy.  She must have learned how to #adult, since now she’s willing to have a conversation about it, willing to hear the other person out, willing to not turn it into huge drama.

 

Yes, it is super sad that I’m proud of her for the teeny tiny act of hearing her husband out,  not making money off the drama, and making her relationship more important than them disagreeing over something.   But still, I’m proud of her.  She’s solving problems through discussing things, and trying to understand the why behind why people feel the way they do.   Kim, you’re all grown up!

I’m slowly making my way through Death’s End by Cixin Liu.   I’m 250 pages in, and it feels like I’ve barely made it past the first few chapters. In a way, this is sorta feeling like Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle?  (if you’ve not read The Baroque Cycle – spoiler: it never freakin’ ends. like, ever)

 

I am LOVING the big ideas in this book!  How space faring races might find each other, why they’d be wise to avoid each other.  Of course I can’t find the section now, but the part about how there is a child walking through the Dark Forest, and the child makes a small campfire ot keep warm (or safe? Or makes the campfire just to have something to do?), and not only does the campfire allow any observers to show where the child is,  the child is made nightblind by the light of the fire, and can’t clearly see what’s happening away from the light.

 

And the scale of everything!

 

And holy shit the stuff that the Interstellar ships Blue Space and Gravity find, holy shit!!!

 

The ideas!  The scale! The cool outerspace stuff!  Everything about why it’s so quiet out there!

 

But.

 

But?

 

But I find my mind wandering, I find myself struggling to stay engaged with the story, I’m finding it difficult to care about all this amazing stuff because I’m not connecting with the characters.   Cheng Xin is cool, but I don’t feel like I know her as a person. I don’t feel like I’m invested in what happens to her. I’m going to keep reading, I just which there was more character driven stuff going on.

 

I’m that persnickety reader who wants cool big ideas and characters.  Because if I care about the characters, I’m gonna care triple about the hella awesome ideas.

 

Which got me thinking – which books have I really enjoyed because I loved the hella cool science ideas and the characters were really cool?

 

Darwin’s Radio  by Greg Bear – Big ideas about biology, evolution, human sociology, how we quantify and qualify scientific knowledge, how diseases work and what exactly makes something a disease (a rose in a corn field is considered a weed).  Characters were predictable but still very relatable.

 

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – the characters will grab you and pull you back into the story with them, but oh yeah there is freakin’ planetary geology! And plate tectonics! And like, literal earth science!!!!  And probably genetics? And i’m not entirely sure what else because I haven’t finished the trilogy.

 

The Quantum Magician – Big ideas on quantum entanglement, genetically modifying entire races of humans to survive on different planets, how religion and faith actually work, really hella cool characters. I’m still mad at the main character, Bel, for what he does to his friend William. I hope to see Stills again. The puppets still horrify me. Like, six months after I read this book I am still mad at Bel!  And I’m still in awe of all the cool science in this book!

 

Machineries of Empire trilogy by Yoon Ha Lee – seriously the best characters of the year, and big ideas about psychology, social engineering, something brilliantly terrible called Calendrical Mathematics, some fun observations on how language is connected to how a person thinks,  and a thing that happens between two characters that still makes me burst into tears. It’s been over a year, and I am still freaked out about this thing that happened – a thing that couldn’t have happened if not for the cool science and psychology concepts the story revolves around.

 

Blindsight by Peter Watts – Something I’m coming to love about Communication is that the better you think you are at it,  the worse you probably are at it. I’m coming to the conclusion that the worst possible way for human to interact with each other is through verbal communication. So, how many ways can we screw up talking with aliens?  A lot. This one takes social and psychological concepts behind how communication works (and yet, it totally doesn’t work), alongside excellent characters and a scientifically plausible explanation for why and how Vampires could really exist.

 

There’s a bazillion more big huge wonderful ideas and compelling characters books, but these were the few that quickly came to mind.

 

What are some of your favorites?

You buy books that looked interesting at the time, or came highly recommended, or had some buzz when they came out. You buy them, the buzz settles down, you forget about them. And then  years later you find the book, it’s been shoved to the back of the bookshelf, but you find it decide to give it a whirl. I can’t be the only person who does this.

So I came across one of those books.  Once upon a time it had been advertised like a Steampunkish-Firefly.  And who wouldn’t want a Firefly type story told in a Steampunk world??  no one, that’s who!  Yeah, I’m half way through the book, and it happens to be a total dude-bro book.

Ten years ago I don’t think I would have noticed female characters who are barely given any page time, that ALL the “important people” in the story are guys, that all the places where “important deals go down” are populated by men, and the only women there are the beautiful waitresses. in some cases the only women in the room are the whores.

I do want a Firefly-Steampunk with pirates and cool magic.  Just not this book.

moving on . . .

Do you have Netflix?  Check out a show called “The Politician“.   The preview for the show felt like five different MTV music videos were playing at once, it seemed like none of the people in the preview actually had anything to do with each other’s story.  It looked over the top, technicolor, gorgeously designed, absolute FTWery.  it looked fucking ridiculous.  I couldn’t wait to watch it!

I’ve been binge watching this show since last weekend, and I just finished the last episode.

It might be one of the best shows I’ve seen this year.  (and I’ve seen The Good Place S3. I cried the entire time. So maybe I like The Politician so much because it didn’t make me cry as much as The Good Place?  anyway).  The Politician is basically a rich-kids soap opera that goes off the rails.  The premise is gloriously stupid:  a rich ambitious high schooler in California, Peyton, decides to run for President of his high school. Rich kids whine a LOT.   That is basically the premise. And a ton of satirical pretension.

It goes beautifully off the rails from there.  The art direction is perfection.

I don’t know if it’s called “art direction”??   it’s the thing in movies and TV, where someone decides if the shot should be symmetrical or not, where someone decides exactly what color blue someone’s suit should be, exactly when an actor should smirk or scratch their nose or nervously play with their hair to give a non-verbal signal of what’s going on,  where someone determines that a particular haircut matched with particular jewelry gives a very specific connotation, where it’s determined that certain characters need to be very tall, so that other characters have to literally look up to them. Where certain scenes are lit in specific ways to give a certain meaning, where how someone walks or how they hold themselves can tell you so much about them before they ever say a word.  maybe it should be called “Context direction?”  I don’t know, but I love it when a show does it just right,  and this show does it just right.  if this was a book, we’d call it worldbuilding, characterization, and “show don’t tell”.

I also like how things go so wrong for Peyton.   He’s got this plan, you see?  And if he can just stick to the plan, everything will go perfect for him.  Because he has the plan, he never has to be himself, he can hide his feelings behind the plan.

And then the plan goes to hell.  And he can’t hide anymore.   (And it’s a little bit hilarious, because all these actors look, dress, and act like they are 30, but they are high school seniors, and freaking out about high school senior things)

The Call Me By Your Name-ish romance didn’t hurt either.  I am also a sucker for handsome men with deep voices.

I feel bad for Peyton.  But I cheer when his plans go off the rails.   What he saw as pain, I see as freedom.  What he saw as the melodramatic end, I saw as the beginning.

I always saw a “plan for my life” as a recipe for regret.  If I plan to accomplish such and such by 30, and then I don’t, will I feel like a failure because I didn’t do some arbitrary thing? Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have goals – run a 5K,  eat better,  read 30 books each year.  Whatever the difference is between plans and goals, I’m good with goals, but am somehow allergic to plans.  I dunno, I guess goal feels like something I’m choosing to do every day, and plan feels like something where you just go through the motions with no emotional connection to anything you’re doing.

Anyway,  watch The Politician.  Pay attention to how perfectly designed it is, everything from haircuts to clothing to the pancake make-up, to the angle of people’s chins to the pitch of their voices.  And yes that is Ben Platt from Pitch Perfect.    He is an adorable puppy with the voice of an angel.  Ben Platt doing a Billy Joel cover album is what the world needs right now.

oh, you want an entire  blog post just about my too many feels about this show?  ok, i’ll see what I can do.  Darn, in that case I’d have to watch the entire show from scratch, poor me.

 

And last but certainly not least,

My husband and my dad have been enjoying Liu Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past series.   These books intimidate me,  but listening to the two of them talk about the books has kept me interested.  I enjoyed The Three Body Problem.   I liked the big ideas of The Dark Forest but struggled with the pacing and the characters.  I’ve not been super excited about the third one, Death’s End.  My dad said it had a slow start, but once he got into it he couldn’t stop reading it.  My husband said the end was traumatic, and that it reminded him of Sheri S Tepper’s book SideshowSideshow is one of my favorite books of all time.

Well, now I gotta read it so I can stay part of the family book club!  Also, I really really need to know what Cixin Liu and Sheri S Tepper have in common!

 

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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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.