Trying to Get Caught Up on Scalzi (Review of Miniatures & Redshirts)

Miniatures
Miniatures was a very quick and fun read. The stories are short and very easy to speed through (I think I read the whole thing in two sittings). For fans who have read a lot of Scalzi in the past, this collection displays all of the trademark imagination and humor that we associate with a Scalzi novel. For people who have never read one of his novels, I feel that you’ll get a pretty good feeling for his style and what kind of stories he writes. Nothing in this collection was earth shattering but all of the stories were enjoyable and most made me laugh. If you’re feeling that you’ve been in a bit of a rut when it comes to what you’ve been reading, this collection will be a breath of fresh air.

Also, many of the stories were written a pretty long while ago. Around eight years ago and further back. It’s amazing to me how prescient they were reading them in 2017. Not in terms of technology that we have today (many of the stories don’t have really visible future tech), but in terms of subject matter. For instance one story was written in 2008 posits an alternate history in which Vladimir Putin is the first person on moon. Not sure what Putin was doing back in 2008 but he’s certainly relevant today. Another story (written in 2010) forms a scenario in which yogurt takes over the world. I think the mixed feelings of “How could this have happened?” and “Is this a joke?” perfectly reflect the way many Democrats feel after this most recent election. To think that it was written 7 years ago . . .

red shirtsMoving onward, I have been doing a bit of “catching up” in terms of Scalzi’s catalog. I just finished Redshirts but elected not to give it its own post as it’s a Hugo award winner and probably has had enough written about it. Needless to say, I enjoyed Redshirts a lot, but am surprised by just how critically acclaimed it was. A quick look at the other authors nominated that year show: Kim Stanely Robinson, Saladin Ahmed, Mira Grant, and Lois McMaster Bujold. Seems a strong roster. I’ve not read any of these other authors but am familiar with their work (except Bujold). I also feel that if Redshirts had been nominated for the most recent Hugo award, it would not have stood a chance. Definitely interesting to see how awards change and how “what’s popular” changes over time.

Looking forward, I may try to read Lock In quickly before Collapsing Empire comes out. I’ve been told it is very different from Scalzi’s other works which seem to all be Star Trek parodies in one way or another (with Redshirts being literally a Star Trek parody). I’m very interested to see what Scalzi would write about when he isn’t writing about shooting things in space. Until next time . . .

9 Buzzfeed Style headlines Inspired By Andy Weir’s The Martian

cover_martianSo last week I read Andy Weir’s The Martian. Long story short, I loved the book and am super excited for the movie. My normal mode of action after reading a book such as this, would be to write up a review and share with all of you my thoughts on this wonderful piece of Science Fiction. However, I feel as if there are probably enough reviews of this work floating around (it got GoodReads choice for 2014!), so instead I’m going to publish a list of Buzzfeed Style headlines that came into my brain while reading the book. And no, I haven’t the slightest idea what possessed me to come up with the first one, but once I’d started, I couldn’t stop . . . (until I hit an odd number, because listicles).

Anyway, hope you enjoy these 9 headlines inspired by Andy Weir’s The Martian:

X types of food that NASA doesn’t want you to know can grow on Mars.

Y number of things will actually help you survive on Mars. # C is so gross!

Man survives on Mars using . . . Science. 

This guy went X number Sols in complete isolation on Mars. Please ladies swipe him right! 

Watney inspires new 007 film: Live Another Sol. Gets to play Q!

Three ‘pick me ups’ to start your Sol on Mars: Martian coffee. Potato skin tea, nothing tea. 

X books you can read on Mars (hint: they’re all Agatha Christie) 

X songs that will keep you going on Mars. And it’s not all disco! 

3 jobs you can get on Mars. Turns out they’re not that different from earth! (Farmer, construction, trucker)

If you’ve read the book and think any of these are funny, please comment to that effect. It will make me feel like less of a nerd. If you haven’t read the book and are wondering WTF is going on? I’ve just given your 9 reasons to read this book. How’s that for a review 😉

Peace!

Ancillary Justice: Scandalously Good

 

Welp. Looks like I’m not done writing things after all. Actually feels kind of good. I’ve emerged from hiatus because I’ve been following the scandal of the Hugo awards. I hadn’t been reading a lot of SFF recently (been mostly taken with old spy novels) because I felt a little disillusioned with the genre. It’s already had so many scandals. But I’m not going to talk anymore about scandals.

Cover!

Cover!

I want to talk about how refreshing it was to read Ancillary Justice.

I suppose we can thank the scandal for getting this one on my radar. Because of the scandal, I looked it up and saw it’s been getting a lot of attention and winning a lot of other awards. I tried to look at some of the reviews but that experience can mostly be described with the following acronym:

TLDR

Finally, we can thank my local book store for not carrying every installment of WoT (I was determined to get back on that train). So, standing there in the book store, about half an hour early for work but with nothing to read, I thought “Fuck it. Let’s see why everyone’s so excited about this.”

Turns out, everyone is so excited about Ancillary Justice because it’s really, really good. And super confusing. But mostly good!

Basically, Ann Leckie was out sick the day they went over pronouns in elementary school — or rather Breq, the main character, was sick that day — and so every single one is a she, even when the character speaking, being spoken to, or being spoken of, is not a she.

Also, Leckie decided: “Stories don’t start at the beginning and move straight through until the end. They start at the beginning and the middle at the same time. And then they race to see who can get to the end quicker. But they also perfectly complement one another so that comprehension of what is actually going on can only happen with both.”

Sometimes you just got to look fancy while you're reading.

Sometimes you just got to look fancy while you’re reading.

And I’m convinced that this story could not have been told any other way. I wish I could have been there the moment she decided that’s how she was going to do it. I imagine she couldn’t wipe the smile from her face. I imagine that anyone standing around was like “Are you OK?” And she was like “Oh I’m way better than OK. I’m amazing.”

Ok, well maybe that was a bit much. But what’s important here is that Leckie really creates something unique in Ancillary Justice. And it’s not just that she plays with form (and apparently grammar), Breq’s mission and motivations are all incredibly interesting in their own right. Every character displays an uncommon amount of complexity, as does the vast universe they operate in. But Leckie doesn’t beat us over the head with that complexity. It’s simply there.

Needless to say, I’m VERY excited to check out Ancillary Sword.

Short Fiction Review: Enemy Mine

I’ll admit, this review isn’t as inspired as some of my other reviews. I suppose it’s because I simply wasn’t inspired by the story. I think my initial reaction after finishing was: “Wow that was a really long story”. And I suppose that fifty pages isn’t all that long as far as page counts go, but it wasn’t the amount of pages that made the story feel long. It was the span of time within the story. I think something like six years pass from when Davidge first crash lands on the island and fights Jeriba (man what names) to the end. I might have aged six years just reading it. But between the pain/anguish, mourning, religion, parenthood, philosophy,  existential crisis, racism . . .

It was exhausting!

The Enemy PapersAfter reading Enemy Mine (by Barry B. Longyear) I did a little Google search just to see if I could get some context. It seemed that a story this . . . saturated wouldn’t  exist in a vacuum. I was right. Enemy Mine is apparently the first story in something of a trilogy. All of the three stories (Enemy Mine, The Tomorrow Testament, and The Last Enemy) have been gathered into an anthology called The Enemy Papers. The anthology also contains a bunch of letters from the author discussing different themes of the work and some of his motives for writing. Included in the work, is a copy of The Talman which is a religious text (fictional of course) that they reference throughout the story.

A few days ago I was thinking I would read these other stories and decide at that point whether or not I enjoyed the experience. Evaluate the entire work as a whole. I don’t think I will. Some authors get better as you read them. Some don’t.

I suppose I really want to put myself in the mind of the people voting for Hugo Awards. Why did this story make the cut? It didn’t seem particularly revolutionary in any sense. One of the major themes in the story appears to be racism. I think Science fiction in general lends itself well to discussing this issue. Must have something to do with the prevalence of new species interacting with one another. No way that could go badly right?

All of that being said however, I don’t know that Enemy Mine contributed any new commentary on that issue. Just rehashed a lot that we are already familiar with. It did give me a good deal to think about in terms of single parenting. The aliens, or Dracs, are asexual (not a lot of fun there) and do not require a mate to reproduce. Their children are pretty much ‘ready-made’ and don’t require much assistance to survive after the first few months. It seems the only thing they do require is companionship. I haven’t decided whether or not this was intended for purposes of the story’s message or if the author wrote himself into a corner and this was the most convenient solution to the problem of having a human be able to care for, raise and parent a child of another species.

Anyway, if we suspend disbelief long enough to accept the rapidity of these creature’s maturation, it begs the question of whether they need companionship at all. For humans, I feel like part of this need is evolutionary. We need other people to survive. However, it doesn’t seem like the Dracs do . . . It isn’t necessary for them to procreate, and they seem pretty capable on their own. Would ‘society’ as we know it, and as the Dracs seem to have within the story, ever truly form. Also, how does a species evolve with only one set of genes? I guess I need to take another science course.

If you have the time, go ahead and give Enemy Mine a read through but I wouldn’t drop anything of your list to get it done.

See you next week!

New Short Fiction Post – Ross Rocklynne: Oh the 50’s

It’s Sunday. Which means you get to hear me blather on about some piece of short fiction I read this week.  If it’s any consolation, this week’s pick is free . . . and old school Science Fiction. So if you’re into either of those two things, I’d keep reading.

What? It's sci-fi gotta have a saucer.

What? It’s sci-fi gotta have a saucer.

The story this week is Ross Louis Rocklin’s (pen name: Ross Rocklynne) Sorry: Wrong Dimension. In terms of plot, this story didn’t have a huge amount of anything going on, so I don’t know how much I’ll actually be spoiling by telling you what happens (I think this was supposed to be more a piece that made you think. It does to varying degrees/definitions of thinking. Mostly it was cute). So here’s a basic outline:

— The narrator, Mrs. Weaver, and her neighbor/friend (not sure which of these is a better way to describe her) are sitting out on the front porch getting some much needed R&R. Mrs. Weaver is commenting, if not bragging, about how her child (called Baby throughout the story. Weird?) has been quite all day. She’s had time to do the ironing, clean, even catch up on three episodes of some detective serial that she enjoys. No small feat in the life of your 1950’s housewife.

–That’s when it hits her. Maybe something is wrong with Baby! And that’s why he’s been so good! Stranger things have happened . . . well not yet they haven’t.

–Mrs. Weaver and Mabel (the neighbor/friend) go inside to check on baby and find that he’s playing happily by himself with not a care in the world. Slowly they realize he’s not playing by himself. Baby tugs on his pacifier and something tugs back. Monster? An invisible monster? . . . Yes and yes. Call Harry right away! He’ll know what to do. No wait don’t call Harry, his boss will be pissed. Screw it call Harry!

–Mrs. Weaver picks up the phone and asks for Harry’s work and gets quite a strange reply: “Sorry. You must have the wrong dimension.” And then click. Well that’s the end of that. Only of course it isn’t. Mrs. Weaver (who I’m now remembering is named Stella) calls back, explains the situation and two gents show up at the door. Apparently, they were only ten years away. I suppose that’s no time at all.

–These guys agree to take the monster away from the house and proposition the two ladies (did I mention it was the 50’s). Stella gets wise and tells them to leave, that she’s decided to keep Baby’s Monster (called a Drinko). Finally the real cops show up, well the real inter-dimensional cops but the two gents (now proven crooks) are long gone. However, Stella is able to provide the dimension police enough information that they the crooks are caught and the day is saved. As a reward, Stella gets to keep the Drinko for Baby, and Mabel made it home with enough time to get dinner in the oven for her hubby. If that’s not a victory, I’m not sure what is.

Of course I imagine all housewives from the 50’s to look like this!

Anyway, what I find so fascinating about all of this is the way it depicts the 50’s and more specifically, housewives in the 50’s. For some reason I’m just obsessed with their plight. How terrible it must have been to live in a suburban neighborhood during this time. All of the juggling of responsibility. The managing and micro-managing but without any real say. And of course, the times were changing. Old ways of thinking about women in the household are making less and less sense. New technology is making things easier and more efficient, but also more uncertain and frightening. Mabel reacts to discovering the monster:

“Stella,” she said, with a quiver of that good-looking short upper lip of hers, “we’re trapped in. We’re in the middle of some kind of fantasy. It’s a crazy world we’re living in, Stella. A-bombs and H-bombs and flying saucers and space-flight–it’s all the fiction stuff coming true. Now we’re lost in some other dimension and I have to get dinner in the oven.

I’m not sure what to think is silly in all of this. Part of me thinks it is appropriate to point out that Rocklin (I found a list of his published works and a bio from wikipedia) is a male writer and if the general press about this time period is to be believed, than it’s possible that he’s quite mysoginistc and displaying women in what he feels is a comical and subversive light. Or he could be in on it and satirizing the time. Poking fun at the stereotype of women during that time. Or he could be trying to reflect what he feels is a genuine problem. That these women are trapped in a world they don’t understand and there only solace is to think about the things they understand like cooking and what’s best for Harry Jr.

There is another story, The Heat Death of the Universe, by Pamela Zoline which reflects a similar melt down. It’s more dramatic, and the tie-ins with actual science really elevate the emotion you feel at the end. Of course, Science Fiction isn’t the only mode of story telling that tells this story. We see it in Mad Men (I mean really. I already gave you January Jones’ picture) and it’s again reflected in music as well (check out the Rolling Stones link below).

Just seems to keep coming up. Anyway, if you haven’t read Sorry: Wrong Dimension you can pick it up free on Project Gutenberg here. I’d definitely also check out Pamela Zoline’s The Heat Death of the Universe which is here. I think it definitely helps get to what I’m trying to say, even if I can’t get there. Oh and here’s The Rolling Stones:

Enjoy!