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text 2017-08-07 19:20
Light Space Opera Marred by Sexual Violence
Star Nomad: Fallen Empire, Book 1 - Lindsay Buroker

Lots of shitty sff tropes hitched to the specific kind of ugly sexual politics one finds in romance novels overwhelm what should (and occassionally is) a quipping romp through the universe. Rape threats and straight up sexual assault continue regularly from the first scenes to,the end of the novel. Before I get the "but that's realistic" chorus, I would like us to all take a minute and consider that this is clearly supposed to be a comic space fantasy with romantic elements, and the introduction of "rape as realism" is unnecessary, thematically jarring, and fucking stupid. And that's not even getting into a 45 minute diatribe about the very equation of rape with realism. 

 

Which is disappointing because there are some nice comic moments and a gift for the absurd in Star Nomad, hidden in under bad world building and rape threats. Sure, a lot of it was derivative -- Firefly has its fingerprints everywhere, from setup to character types -- but I'm not looking to some romp through a pirate-infested asteroid belt to blow my mind or anything. (Unless it's Yoon Ha Lee's Ninefox Gambit, and that shit was amazing.) The Paradox series by Rachel Bach, starting with Fortune's Pawn, contains many of the same elements found here, but is much more expertly done. Start there for your lighter space opera. 

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text 2017-07-13 18:43
Readercon updates
Ninefox Gambit - Yoon Ha Lee
Raven Stratagem - Yoon Ha Lee
Wings of Fire Book Four: The Dark Secret - Tui T. Sutherland
Grave Matters: A Night Owls Novel - Lauren M. Roy

I'm going to lounge a little before going to Quincy.   Eat.   Relax.   Shower.   Nap.   Gather books I want signed. 

 

I have to say this is just annoying me though.   Look what conflicts with the Okarafor signing!

 

 

Whyyyyy?

 

Of course, I think I can view it online eventually.   Because I'm going to that signing.  I might be able to sneak in mid-talk, but, damn it.   Damn it all.   

 

I did sneak in four more book purchases after seeing that Yoon Ha Lee and Tui Sutherland were going to be there.  I knew about Lauren Roy but was shy of spending more money before Readercon, but since I was determined to buy a new copy of Tongues of Serpants - I can't find my read copy, blargh - I ended up splurging on this, too.   You only live once and this and Inhumans are my last hurrahs before I bury myself in grad school!

 

PS: I don't want to annoy myself.  Unlikely I'll read or talk about SE until Readercon finishes, maybe a week or so after that, too. 

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text 2017-07-10 16:49
Review: Ninefox Gambit
Ninefox Gambit - Yoon Ha Lee

I was reminded by the recent announcement of a sequel that I never really processed my thoughts and reactions about Ninefox Gambit, one of the strangest reading experiences I’ve ever had. Since it was generally out of my usual wheelhouse—I am not regular reader of hard sci-fi—and it was genuinely disorienting, I found it difficult to put my experience into words that would reflect it in any meaningful way.

 

Initially, my response was rather cliché. It throws you in the deep end. It leaves you to sink or swim. This is some weak sauce, not just for me as a writer, but for the reading experience as a whole. Nearly a year later, let’s see if I can do better.

 

For this, let us turn to a scene straight out of science fiction (and, admittedly, not entirely free of cliché, but hey, sometimes you have to work with the tools you’re given).

 

You are enclosed in a glass tube. Or maybe it’s a large tank. Whichever. The tube/tank/space is being slowly filled with a murky, slightly viscous fluid. Now, you have been fully briefed on whatever this stuff is, so you have no rational reason to be afraid of it. Maybe it’s medicinal, or maybe you are being put into some scientifically impenetrable form of hyper-sleep. Again, your choice.

 

Anyway, the liquid is slowly rising. Your conscious mind knows it will be fine. You don’t know why, specifically; you’ve seen other people experience it, even heard some people rave about the experience. But as the levels increase—it’s at your chest, approaching your neck—your much less rational unconscious is starting to fight back. Your heart rate increases, you feel frustrated by a feeling of entrapment, you struggle. As the mysterious-space-metaphor liquid touches your mouth, you clench up, and when it enters your lungs you start to thrash, and maybe even try to scream. Cue the dramatic bubbles and stifled sound.

 

Then, suddenly, you’re immersed. And you find that, while it doesn’t feel entirely natural, you are doing just fine. You still don’t understand the stuff any better than you did at the start, but you know the experience has been something worthwhile, even enjoyable, in the way novelty that has an edge of fear can be.

 

The funny part is that if I reduced the plot to its absolute essentials, you would assume this much overextended metaphor is just a symptom of having too much weird space liquid on the brain. Basically, the“hero” is required to prove her loyalty to a shadowy empire/religious overlord organization by helping them defeat a dangerous rebel splinter group (in the religious terminology often used in the book, heretics). She must work with a genius partner with questionable loyalty and a dangerous past, all while only being fed partial information. Space battles and espionage ensue. Will these mismatched allies save the day? Who are the “good guys”? Are there any good guys at all?

 

Boiled down so far, it sounds like another rote future-politik space adventure. You would be supremely wrong, but this is not the kind of book that can be boiled down to an easy summary and still maintain what makes it so astonishing. (And perhaps some of this perspective arises from my limited experience with the more techno-babble heavy strains of hard sci-fi. Given what I’ve heard from others regarding their experience, I’m inclined to think not).

 

The technology, the politics and social structures, the terminology of the universe itself is presented almost entirely without context or explanation. I don’t think any story of this size and scope could be 100% exposition-free; in the case of Ninefox, I’m willing to say it’s presence is so minimal as to be statistically insignificant. As such, you are constantly confronted with technology you don’t understand (and may find impossible to visualize), social cues without structure, and strings of words that may result in a serious case of eye-glaze.

 

SO HOW DOES THIS THING WORK SO WELL?

 

If I could tell you exactly why, I would be rich because every techno-babble-loving hard sci-fi writer would pay me in unpronounceable space currency for the formula.

 

However, I have a half-baked hypothesis (and it’s nothing new, so you can have it for free). Initially, the hope that the brain-scrambling world building will all make sense with time—and the undeniable appeal for a certain kind of reader to understand something that seems so complex—grabs you and pulls you along. Then, just as you are starting to realize the answers you have been hoping for will never come, the plot has insidiously taken hold of your brain and you suddenly feel invested in a world that somehow never stops being slightly (and sometimes very) disorienting. By taking readers through the most basic of sci-fi adventure plots using the least predictable (or sometimes decipherable) methods, there is a synthesis that is nothing short of masterful—and profoundly difficult to replicate.

 

If you made it through this completely non-explanatory explanation without wanting to jump out of an airlock, congratulations, you have a tiny taste of what it is like to survive Ninefox Gambit.

 

Oh, and did I mention the hero is a mathematician?

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-06-28 17:28
Raven Stratagem - Yoon Ha Lee
Raven Stratagem - Yoon Ha Lee

One of the books I've pre-ordered this year, Raven Stratagem is the sequel to last year's Ninefox Gambit, which I really enjoyed and hope will win this year's Hugo for Best Novel (it's got my vote, at least!). As with most series, this book will make much more sense if you've read the first one, particularly as the action continues pretty much straight from the events at the end of the previous book.

 

In short, our main character Kel Cheris, a mathematically-inclined infantry captain, has ended up as the host for the consciousness of a long-dead general who went a bit crazy and killed many of his soldiers. Since he (Jedao) is a tactical genius, the decision was made to use newly-invented technology to preserve his consciousness and bring it out when needed, the most recent occasion being to deal with a bunch of heretics on a space station. 

 

In the wake of that, which forms the bulk of the events of Ninefox Gambit, Cheris uses her status to take over a small fleet of ships and attempt to both deal with an invasion and set into motion Jedao's plan to overturn the whole system. The main driver for this is what is called 'formation instinct', the mental conditioning that the military faction use to ensure obedience to orders - some soldiers already have problems with this and therefore obey orders because they choose to, while most have no choice. Meanwhile there is also a lot of maneuvering going on in the other factions as the possibility of immortality is dangled in front of their respective leaders, so we also spend a lot of time with the Shuos leader and his various issues. 

 

In some ways, this feels like a more accessible book than Ninefox Gambit and more of a traditional space opera. By the end of it, in preparation for the next book in the series (which I understand is called Revenant Gun, a slightly ominous name since that technology is directly-related to Jedao), Cheris has put her plan into action and everyone is going to be dealing with the fall-out. Those who are still alive, of course! Enjoyed it very much, can't wait to see what happens next...

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review 2017-06-25 14:05
Review: Ninefox Gambit
Ninefox Gambit - Yoon Ha Lee

Superb, high intensity plot with wildly interesting world building and compelling characters. This audiobook is great. I bought the sequel as soon as I finished it. 

 

Based on reviews I had read, I expected to be lost for a few chapters, but this was not the case. I was hooked from page one. Maybe I'm just that one odd reader who is totally up for consensus based physics regulated by the government through a standardized calendar and locally alterable. That's a big idea for world-building if I even saw one, and damn if it isn't brilliantly executed. 

 

Dear reader, do not worry. While there are occasional lines about regression and numerical methods, this is more math as poetry than reading proofs. This book is plot and character driven. A captain who's recent campaign involved questionable, if not heretical, action proposes the use of a brilliant tactician to put down an uprising, and her proposal is accepted. The tactician was a general who never lost, but turned on his own hundreds of years ago. 

 

What follows is a harrowing campaign, largely from the perspective of the captain, who values every life lost under her command. Strategy and gore testing her sanity. 

 

I legit spent 20 minutes raving about how great this was to my spouse. He eventually asked me not to ruin the whole book for him. I WAS IN CHAPTER 4. I rearranged furniture and caught up on cardio to invent time to listen, I was that enthralled.

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