Books/Authors

“Aging children, I am one”*

Jim Hines’ call for guest blogs about representation in fiction got me thinking. And the folks who have posted over there since have kept the thoughts coming. Seriously. Go check out the last several guest posts on Jim’s blog. They’re great.

Another thing that’s added to my thinking is the latest kerfuffle with the gatekeepers of “real” science fiction. Some folks have been remarking that when all the old farts die, the sexism/racism will die with them.

Hahahahahaha. No.

That’s not how it works. Assuming that the only sexists/racists/homophobes/trans*phobes/etc are old guys is lazy thinking. And assuming that at 51, I’m one of those folks? Well, that just pisses me off.

It also makes me want to do my best to wreck spec fiction by writing about people who aren’t all straight, white men. Which brings me back to the matter at hand. Continue reading

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Monstrous Noir – A Guest Post by AJ Sikes

It’s guest post time! Aaron (AJ) Sikes has a new book coming out and I offered him space on the blog to write about it. Haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but you all know how I feel about monsters and noir. Gods of Chicago looks like it’s right up my alley.

Take it away, Aaron! Continue reading

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Blog Birthday Winner!

It’s time to announce the winner of my Blog Birthday Giveaway!

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Continue reading

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Mister October – A Review

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LibraryThing gave me free e-copies of Mister October Volumes I and II: An Anthology in Memory of Rick Hautala as part of their Early Reviewer program. I had never heard of Rick Hautala (even though he’s published dozens of novels and short stories), but I had heard of several of the authors included in this anthology. So I was looking forward to checking out this collection. Continue reading

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The Sword of Rhiannon by Leigh Brackett – A Review

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Finally, I’ve reached the end of the Women of Genre Fiction Challenge I signed up for back in May! I’m a little late, but I’m done! Continue reading

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City of Devils by Justin Robinson – A Review

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So, it’s January and 2013 is over. (I know. You probably already figured out both of those facts.) I have one more book to review for the WOGF Challenge, but that just arrived in the mail on Tuesday and I haven’t finished it yet.

Instead, I’m going to review the first book I’ve finished for 2014. That would be Justin Robinson’s City of Devils, published last year by Candlemark & Gleam.

Continue reading

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Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh – A Review

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Eleven down, one to go. That’s how things stand with me and the Women of Genre Fiction Challenge I took on back in May. Not sure if I’ll get review #12 posted before 2013 comes to an end, but #11 is here right now.

For some reason, I haven’t read much C.J. Cherryh. In fact, before starting Downbelow Station, I can only remember reading one other of hers, and I don’t even remember what it was. It’s been a while.

Thanks to this Hugo-winning book, I’ll be amending that.

Downbelow Station is the first novel (not including the prequels) of Cherryh’s Company Wars series and takes part in her Union-Alliance universe. Published in 1981, it’s a complicated story, setting up a universe where a giant corporation (Earth Company) has become wealthy exploring the stars, building space stations around uninhabitable planets, all except for Pell’s World, a planet inhabited by the Hisa (called Downers by the humans who inhabit Pell Station, which orbits the planet).

When the novel begins, war has been raging between the Company and the Union, a group of colonists who have chosen to declare independence from Earth and the Company. The Union augments its military strength with clones. The Company has a fleet of warships commanded by Conrad Mazian. There is also a loose confederation of Merchanter ships involved in all this. Pell tries to maintain its neutrality and do business with all three groups: the Company, the Union, and the Merchanters. A crisis point starts the narrative of the novel, with one of the Company warships (led by Signy Mallory) unloading hundreds of refugees from another space station that’s been attacked by Union forces, causing the disruption of the people living on Pell.

There’s a lot more to the novel than that, but if I give you the whole synopsis, you’ll be reading for hours before even getting to my opinion of all that plot. Suffice it to say, there is a lot of political intrigue amongst all the groups and within them, except for the Hisa, who act more as observers than anything else. Or so it would seem.

I really enjoyed Downbelow Station. It took a while to get into as there is a lot of world-building/info-dumping in the first chapter or so, all of which is necessary to give the reader any idea of where they are. The book is a slow read, as well, because Cherryh’s prose is occasionally plodding and there’s just so much going on.

But I think the story makes up for those problems, and it eventually becomes an exciting read. Cherryh does a fine job establishing her universe and the conflicts therein. She also succeeds when working on the smaller scale of Pell Station and Downbelow (as the stationers call Pell’s World), translating the bigger conflicts to a more personal level, with stationers fighting for control of Pell against Union and the Mazianni (the Earth warships) alike. Her characters are decently drawn and she made me care about them.

The Hisa definitely fall into the “noble savage” trope of so much fiction. They’re sentient primate-like folks, assumed to be childlike by the humans that deal with them, but then surprisingly deep when they need to be. While reading, I went back and forth in liking them and not. Ended up settling into the liking them box, mainly because of Satin (Sky-sees-her) and her journey up to Pell to meet “the Dreamer” and see her planet’s sun, something the hisa on-planet can’t do, because their skies are always overcast.

Another thing I liked about the book was that both men and women were in positions of authority without any sexist weirdness. I loved Elene Quen, a former Merchanter married to Damon Konstantin, one of the leaders of Pell. She finds herself back in space aboard another Merchanter ship (hers was destroyed by the Union) and ends up doing significant work to bring about peace talks. This announcement of hers made me bust out crying, because I’m just a dork that way.

This is Quen of Estelle. We’re coming in.

Signy Mallory, the commander of the warship Norway, is also incredibly bad-ass and I would love to see Sigourney Weaver play her, if a movie was ever made of Downbelow Station. It would be a fun film, for a lot of reasons. I’m kind of surprised it hasn’t happened yet. I guess rebooting Star Trek and Star Wars is just that much more profitable, huh? 😉

(4.1/5)

Categories: Books/Authors, Women | Tags: , , , ,

Mindscape by Andrea Hairston – A Review

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In my last WOGF reading challenge review, I remarked on how one of the main points of Native Tongue gets bogged down amidst all the other plot threads Suzette Haden Elgin tries to bring together. That point being the attempt of a group of women Linguists to create their own language, a necessary thing given their oppression. Andrea Hairston brings up a similar point in her 2006 debut novel Mindscape and does so in one sharply written paragraph–one amongst many.

All the thugs is laughin’ at me, but I don’t go off. I take a deep breath, work calm in my center, like Ray Valero do to act. Ethnic throwbacks be like the ole Israelis bringin’ back Hebrew after two thousand years, after so many words was fightin’ against ’em. Why anybody wanna speak the truth, raise they children, know themselves with gas chamber language? Survival be havin’ words to call home, havin’ idioms and syntax to heal the Diaspora. In your cultural rhythm and rhyme, that’s where the soul keep time. — Lawanda Kitt, p. 51

The rest of Mindscape is like that: a lot of heavy things said that, at least to me, doesn’t get lost in a stew of wobbly prose.

Mindscape is a complex tale of a future Earth dealing with the aftermath of the invasion of some sort of alien/magical barrier that has cut the planet into several regions that can no longer interact with each other except for when seasonal corridors open up in the Barrier. All of these regions are constantly at war until a seer/prophet/something named Celestina convinces everyone to sign a peace treaty, ushering in a new era, presumably. She is then assassinated.

So much for the prologue.

The rest of the book concerns the aftermath of the treaty signing. Like I said, it’s complex and Hairston leads us through with the help of five perspectives: Elleni, Celestina’s spirit-daughter who might not be completely human; Lawanda Kitt, an ambassador called upon to interact with the rulers of a rival region; The Major, a man of mixed loyalties, one of which is Lawanda; Ray Valero, a celebrated actor who finds himself in the position of having to be a real hero; and Aaron Dunkelbrot, an entertainment producer with an interesting past.

Through these five people, Hairston shows us a dystopian world where epidemics rage, poor people who don’t have the “right” appearance become Extras in snuff films, “ethnic throwbacks” fight to not be disappeared while gene-art mutations flourish, and a chosen few try to communicate with the Barrier to figure out its plans.

I enjoyed Mindscape quite a bit. Hairston’s prose is delightful and her characters are strong and interesting. The story carried me right along, and her insights into race and culture never felt preachy or heavyhanded. My only complaint might be that the ending felt a little rushed with a ton of plot threads coming together all at once. It’s a minor complaint, though, and I’m looking forward to reading her novel from 2011, Redwood and Wildfire. 4.85/5

Categories: Books/Authors, Women | Tags: , , , , , ,

Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin – A Review

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Suzette Haden Elgin published Native Tongue, the first book in this eponymous trilogy, in 1984. I was 22 in 1984.

I remember Reagan’s election and how many of us on the left (I was already quite at home way over on the left wing) were frightened by the possibilities, many of which have come to pass. I also remember the beginnings of the backlash on feminism, a backlash that just keeps growing 30 years later. So, I get where Haden’s coming from with her story of a dystopian future USA where women have lost all their rights and are now the property of men in worse ways then they were before the second wave of feminism. My 22 year-old self would have eaten this book up and looked for more.

I’m sad to report, however, that the book didn’t really do much for my 51 year-old self. The story immediately irked me with the premise that the constitutional amendments revoking the 19th amendment and turning women into minors under the law would have happened by 1991. I mean, okay, Reagan and his ilk scared me, too, but 1991? That seems awfully premature.

That’s always a risk writers take, putting events in the super-near future. I’m still miffed that 2001 came and it was nothing like the movie. There was a 33-year gap there. To predict something this cataclysmic happening less than 10 years from when you’re publishing? Might have wanted to think that through a little more.

So, I had to try to push that aside as I read further. Fortunately the rest of the book takes place centuries in the future, the 22nd to be exact. There we discover that not only do women still not have any rights, but society has been divided up into two antagonistic groups: the Linguists and everyone else. The Linguists are the only people capable of communicating with all the alien societies humans have met, so they’re necessary as translators to make all the treaties and do all the negotiating. Regular people hate them, so the Linguist families (the Lines) live in large communal houses buried in the earth away from prying eyes and violent reaction.

One of the reasons that regular folk hate the Linguists is that Linguist women are allowed to work outside the home as translators because, apparently, there’s so much translating that needs to be done, they have to. Then we have all the stuff happening with babies blowing up because they can’t fathom non-humanoid alien languages (no, really). I haven’t even gotten to the Linguist women’s work on creating a language that allows women to express their thoughts better than standard English, French, German, whatever. This, one might argue, is really the point of the book, but it gets lost, to me, amidst all the other stuff.

Oh, and there’s a serial killer. (Who’s actually my favorite part of the novel; her first murder? That chapter would make a great Tales from the Crypt of something.)

I hate to say this, because Elgin’s short story “Old Rocking Chair’s Got Me” remains one of my favorite short stories (Top 10, no question. It’s awesome. And hard to find. I have it in Dick Allen’s Science Fiction: The Future (1983 edition).), but I found Native Tongue to be too bloated and ponderous, too preachy and heavyhanded. While not all the women are saints, by any means (see: serial killer), most of them are and there isn’t one kind man in the whole thing. They’re all stupid, misogynistic assholes, every one of them, which is just bullshit. Even in 1984, I had allies. Still do.

None of the characters are really developed at all; they’re all just game pieces for Elgin’s philosophical/linguistic chess board. And there are so many plot holes. What do the aliens in the Interface do all day when they’re not communicating with (and occasionally destroying) the babies? And what happened to all the kids who’d been fed hallucinogens in an attempt to keep them from blowing up after they were taken to the orphanage? The list goes on.

Things I liked? The serial killer character, as I said. She’s really the only person whose character evolved (however slightly) over the course of the novel. I also enjoyed Elgin’s discussions of language and the linguistic “tricks” that one male linguist in particular would use to win arguments. Those were interesting. And I liked the notion that an academic field such as linguistics would become so powerful. But the negative outweighs the positive for me.

Biggest disappointment? The cover of the edition I read. Nothing like that image happens in the book. I wanted my motherly alien! (2.625/5)

Categories: Books/Authors, Reviews, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Substitution Cipher Winner!

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Time to announce the winner of last week’s Indigenous Peoples Day Giveaway Contest! That winner is…

C. Schwab!

Check your inbox for a DRM-free digital copy of Substitution Cipher, C! And thanks to everyone for commenting.

 

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