the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘space opera

The Tea Master and The Detective, by Aliette de Bodard

available March 31, 2018

where I got it: received ARC from the publisher (thanks Sub Press!)

 

 

Aliette deBodard’s newest novella, The Tea Master and the Detective (available March 31 from Subterranean Press)  wears the disguise of a space opera Sherlock Holmes type story, complete with an insensitive detective who is a master of deduction and the annoyed lackey who follows behind until finally seeing the light. I say wears that disguise because while this is a highly enjoyable and  tightly focused mystery, it functions better as a showcase for deBodard’s characterization and worldbuilding prowess. If you’ve not yet experienced the beauty of one of deBodard’s Xuya stories, The Tea Master and The Detective is an excellent entry point. (click here for an in depth chronology and list of Xuya stories, many of which are available to read online) If you enjoy character driven narratives, beautiful prose, and multi-sensory worldbuilding, this is the story for you.

 

Us reviewers, we’re always talking about worldbuilding –  which among other things is literally how an author builds a world and how successfully they transport us, the reader, to that world. How big is the city? How wide is the river? How many ships are in the harbor? How small is the escape pod? What color are the androids?  How dark is the forest?  What color is her dress?

 

Did you notice something about all those worldbuilding questions?

 

They are all visual.

 

Don’t get me wrong, visual worldbuilding is important! I want to know that the city is so large you can’t walk across it in a day, that the river is narrow here but wider further south closer to home but I walk a ways to cross here because I refuse to pay the bridge toll, that there aren’t many ships in the harbor because of those idiotic tariffs, that this damn escape pod is so claustrophobically small that i can barely turn around and i’m about to lose my damn mind, that the android is a dull gun-metal grey, that the forest is as dark as midnight, and that her dress was blood red.

 

But there is more to the world than seeing.  Smell, taste, texture, memory, if presented right, those sensory experiences will tell you more about how a character has moved through a world than anything else.  deBodard does that kind of worldbuilding exactly right.

 

There is this gorgeous short scene (the best always are) where two shipminds are having tea together. They have tea and snacks, and they just chat.  There is tea, of course, but also a medley of sumptuous dishes. Both shipminds know that none of this is real. There is no food on the table, the two of them are physically incapable of actually eating or drinking anything. But the concept of the food reminds them of their families. The pork is the same dish from childhood festivals, the scent of the tea is the same of family discussions and decisions generations old. All of that and more, in a few short paragraphs about a meal that neither of the participants are actually eating. A meal that doesn’t actually exist, but symbolizes everything of import, connects these two people to family members and conversations that have been dead for decades.  More worldbuilding and characterization in that small handful of paragraphs than I sometimes find in an entire novel.  I’ve read this short scene like three times now. It gets better every time, like shining light through a prism and having it come out a rainbow of the rest of the story on the other side.

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Nearly a week into January and I’m just now getting up my first Vintage Science Fiction post? What is the world coming to?  Thank you to everyone who is participating in Vintage Science Fiction Month, make sure you link back to your posts in the comments of the Vintage Scifi tab up top so everyone can find everything.  On twitter? follow @VintageSciFi_ and #VintageSciFiMonth for Vintage goodness all month long!

I may have gotten started a little late, but wow this first novel I read for Vintage Month was incredible!!

Nova, by Samuel R. Delany

published in 1968

where I got it:  from Richard at Tip the Wink

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Mouse grew in up a traditional culture that didn’t encourage pilot training or getting cybernetic plugs.  Raised in the school of hard knocks, he often stole to eat. His prized possession is a rare musical instrument that produces not only sound but also images and scent. Lorq Von Ray’s youth was the opposite of Mouse’s in every possible way. A child of wealth and privilege, he knew from a young age he’d be inheriting a business that controlled half the transportation of the known galaxy.

 

When an aged, scarred, and obsessed Captain Von Ray plunges into a portside bar looking for a crew for a trip that if successful could mean fame, infamy, societal disruption, or more likely death for everyone involved, Mouse signs up.  The Captain doesn’t explicitly say this is a trip designed around a long game of revenge, but those who listen closely, those who know where that disfiguring scar came from, they know.

 

What is Nova?  It is a quest story, a revenge story, a coming of age story, it’s the edge of every ending simply being another beginning. It sounds overweight and dangerously ambitious, but it reads smooth and weightless. The plot feels narrow at first, but it expands like a light cone,  pulling in what it needs, and easily setting aside what it doesn’t.  And there is plenty in this book that isn’t in this book  – what I mean by that is Delany has put a lot of subplot between the lines. The glances characters give each other, the words they don’t use.  It’s hard to believe this novel is less than 250 pages long!

 

The plot never sprawls, but the possibilities of everything else that happens and may happen to these characters just outside the confines of this story are endless.   The main characters are fully fleshed out, and even side characters are given just enough screen time that you start filling in the blanks of their lives yourself. For instance, I know there is so much more to Tyy, and I’d love to learn more about the twins and their other brother.

 

I loved everything about Nova, I don’t even know where to start talking about it. So I’ll just start, and hopefully this all makes sense.

 

Von Ray’s rag-tag crew is a lot of fun, they put me in mind a little bit of the TV show Farscape. Mouse and his shipmate Katin are perfect foils for each other, Katin reminds me of one of the nerdy guys on The Big Bang Theory, Mouse is the wide eyed kid going on his first Star Run. These two bond over being the least strange members of Captain Von Ray’s  crew.

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Cover art by Matthew Stawicki www.mattstawicki.com

Why, hello fellow bloggers and book reviewers!   Please raise your hand if you’ve ever participated in a blog tour.  Keep your hand up if you’ve received an e-mail from me about a blog tour I’m putting together (last week, maybe?), or a scifi-month project, or some other “I came up with this great idea at 4am!” project I   have in mind that I’m asking/begging you to be a part of.  A couple of hands still in the air?  Some of you have even planned your own projects, inherited them, or played around with blogging community projects until you found the one that works best for you.

 

If you raised your hand, thought about raising your hand, or want to raise your hand sometime in the future, this amazing #allthefeels guest post from Julie Czerneda is for you.

#ImNotCryingYouAre

 

Also?  This is just the beginning!  Follow #GuardAgainstTheDark on twitter for all the blog tour goodness, while I sit back and relax. 😉

 

photo credit: Roger Czerneda www.photography.czerneda.com

Thanks For That!

This post is going up during my third official Tour d’Internet, aka that thing authors now do before a book comes out called a “Blog Tour.”

It’s work. A post, be it a short essay like this or an interview, takes time to write (and edit, and let sit for a day or more to be sure it’s good enough, and possibly be shared with a trusted few first to be SURE it’s good enough…etc.). It’s work—and time—for the blogger hosting it as well. There’s formatting, scheduling, emails to anxious authors (is it good enough?), not to mention what comes afterwards. Oh yes. It’s not just about the post. As Michelle Sagara informed me, with some urgency, shortly after my first few blog posts went up, “It’s all about the comments, you know. You need to be there and answer them.”

I did?

I did. And do. However, the presence of comments? Is because the bloggers take more of their time to invite people to come and see the post. They moderate. (I envision the horrors kept from the public commentary section.) Since this is a tour, they even share the blog posts of OTHER BLOGGERS.

Thanks for that, by the way.

It’s the part that makes me feel most at home. That sharing. That joy to be part of a wider event. It reminds me of conventions and fandom. It reminds me of the great community that exists in science fiction, fantasy, and I’m sure horror, though those people are Very Scary. (Not really, some of my dearest friends write horror and don’t at all expect me to read it. Thanks for that too.)

I hadn’t thought, during what becomes a wild and hilarious stint of odd, rarely sequential tasks to promote my new book—most often, by pure chance, at the worst time to be doing anything but writing the NEXT one, especially digressing on the internet—to find blog tours such a joy-filled, inspiring process. Yet it is, because of you. Those who read these things. Who comment. Yes, hopefully you’ll win something, but you’re reading this because you’re willing to give me some of your precious time and attention.

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The Emperor and the Maula, by Robert Silverberg

available Sept 30th 2017

Where I got it: received advanced review copy from the publisher (Thanks Subterranean Press!)

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Robert Silverberg’s The Emperor and The Maula is exactly what it says on the tin: this is a space opera version of the story of Scheherazade – in which a woman is sentenced to die at dawn and purchases another day of living by spinning a compelling tale for the emperor with dawn as her cue for a cliffhanger.

 

I love the idea of a space opera Scheherezade. Just think of how far an author could scale things up!  A number of years ago, there was a scifi anime made of The Count of Monte Cristo, with aliens, and travel to other planets, alien technologies and a very cool artistic style.  The writers took an earthly story and scaled it way the hell up, and it was brilliant.

 

What gives this wonderful little novella the “more” factor are its publishing history and the galactic scale a space opera environ allows. If you’re one of those readers who always skips introductions offered up by authors or their friends, make an exception for this one.  The history of this novella as seen through the logistics of the publishing industry is an adventure itself – rife with cliffhangers, cancelled publishing projects, word count requirements, adventures in selling the same story twice, concluding with the original novella being shoved in a file and forgotten about.   And now after twenty five years,  Silverberg fans can finally read The Emperor and the Maula in its nearly original form.  Funny, compelling, suspenseful, and given the space opera scale-up, this is exactly the kind of story an Earth woman might tell to an alien overlord on a planet far, far, away.

 

The Ansaaran Empire, benevolent ruling power of the known galaxy, brings culture and civilization to all planets.  Races living on backward planets are known as maulas, a word that translates to “barbarian”. If these people can ever find it in themselves to become cultured, perhaps one day, hundreds of years from now, they may be welcomed into the empire as citizens.

 

As an Earthling, Laylah is a maula and as such is forbidden from stepping foot on the sacred homeworld of the Ansaarans.   Knowing that the punishment is death, she travels far and wide, every year getting closer to her goal, and finally stepping off a starship and on to the sacred planet. Where she is summarily arrested. And then passed from one bureaucrat to another in a bureaucratic comedy of errors, as all of them know the punishment for her crime is death, but none of them want to be associated with the poor loser who will actually be responsible for someone’s execution.

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The Gate to Futures Past (Reunification #2) by Julie Czerneda

published in Sept 2016

where I got it: rec’d review copy from the publisher (Thanks DAW!)

 

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The Gate to Futures Past is a tricky book to review, because not only is this the middle book of the Reunification trilogy, it is the penultimate book in Czerneda’s long running Clan Chronicles series. I actually read this book last summer when it came out, but I didn’t have time to review it. What better time for a review, than when the next book is about to come out? I also have the benefit of having already read the final book in the series, so I am cheating  more than a  little bit.   With the final book in this series releasing in just a few months, readers new to this series will have an opportunity no one else has ever had – you’ll be able to read all three Reunification books, This Gulf of Time and Stars, The Gate to Futures Past, and To Guard Against the Dark, one right after the other. That’s to your advantage, as these last three books do read as one long novel.  Click here to read my spoilery review of This Gulf of Time and Stars.  And by the way, both This Gulf of Time and Stars and The Gate to Futures Past are now available in mass market paperback.

 

Did you cringe when you read that phrase “long running series”?  I know some of you did! Yes, the Clan Chronicles is a space opera epic that spans three trilogies. If you’ve read any of Robin Hobb’s interconnected trilogies, you know you can jump in at any Book 1, and do just fine.  I’m sure there are readers and fans who will disagree with me, but I believe the same is true for Czerneda’s  Clan Chronicles series – so long as you jump in at any Book 1, you’ll be ok, with the added bonus that if you enjoy what you read, you can then start again at any other book 1!  It’s neat, because if you and your friend each start at a different point, you’ll have a different timeline and a different perspective of the entire story.

 

I preamble with all of that so you’ll be understanding that this review will involve references to events that occurred outside this novel, that there will be unavoidable minor spoilers. It’s all to the greater good though – if you enjoy space opera with healthy dose of romance, family drama, cosmic mystery, humor, and aliens that work, anything Julie Czerneda writes is for you!

 

“Aliens that work”, that’s a weird phrase.  You ever read a book with aliens and think to yourself these are just humans with blue skin, or elephants that talk and think just like a human?  A biologist by trade, Czerneda’s aliens act differently than humans because they have biological evolutionary histories completely different from anything that evolved on Earth.  They have different physiologies, different brain patterns, different reasons for doing what they do and how they do it. If you want to write aliens that aren’t humans in disguise, quit watching Star Trek and start reading Czerneda. (Actually, keep watching Star Trek. I keep hoping Huido will show up in an episode of DS9 or Voyager)

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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!

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nemesis-games-coreyNemesis Games (The Expanse #5) by James S.A. Corey

published in 2015

where I got it: purchased new

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When Leviathan Wakes first came out, I just about forced my husband to read it. We were both starved for space adventure/space opera, and Holden and his crew felt a lot like our other favorite space adventure crew, that of Serenity.  Hubs and I took turns devouring the books. I stalled out at book four, so much so that I wasn’t interested in continuing with the series. But my better half powered through to Nemesis Games, and promised that a) I would love it b) it was completely different than the previous books in the series, and c) It went some dark, dark places.  He was right on all counts.

 

I’ve always referred to James Holden and his crew as “James Holden and his crew” because Jim was always the star of every scene he was in. Amos and Alex and Naomi seemed to instinctively shrink back when Jim opened his mouth.  It’s ok, he’s the protagonist, right? It’s a little like a Matthew McConaughey movie – did you even notice anyone else in that movie as soon as he shows up? No, you did not.   When Naomi, Alex, and Amos are with Jim, they are, as my better half so accurately put it, “Jim’s appendages”.  It’s an apt description.  Ok, so who are these folks when Jim isn’t in the room getting all the attention?

 

It’s a great question, and it’s exactly half the plot of Nemesis Games.  The other half of the plot is the space opera politics, action, and wheels within wheels this series has delivered from page one.  Warning: minor spoilers ahead!

 

Back from Ilus, and uninterested in ever leaving the solar system again, Holden and crew have enough funds to get their beaten up ship fixed up and chill out for a while. Amos gets a call that a friend has died, so he rushes to Earth to pay his respects.  Alex heads to Mars to look up his ex-wife and see if maybe they can’t patch things up. An Naomi gets a call afterwards which she refuses to tell Jim where she’s going and for weeks doesn’t answer his calls.

 

This is where things get interesting.  You, as the reader, think Jim Holden is a good guy, right? You, as the reader, assume Naomi, Alex, and Amos, by dint of association, are good guys, right?  What do you think their childhood was like? What do you think their young adulthood was like?  Holden, raised in a huge family, and given all the opportunities a child of Earth is given, assumes his friend’s lives were similar to his.  He assumes this because he is privileged.  He doesn’t want to know how different he really is from his best friends.

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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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