Be Wary, Be Vigilant, a review of Little Brother and Homeland by Cory Doctorow

Marcus Yallow is a seventeen year old San Francisco teen and comical technological misfit causing more trouble than is necessary. Unfortunately, his world gets turned upside down when a terrorist attack destroys the Bay Bridge, and he is caught up in affairs. Once he is freed from an unlawful detention by the Department of Homeland Security, he finds that his city is turned into a defacto police-state, where every citizen is treated like a terrorist. It’s up to Marcus and others to do the impossible; to take on the Department of Homeland Security.

Cory Doctorow does not mince words when it comes to showing people what a life under an authoritarian surveillance state would look like: the constant monitoring; the police doing random checks; the massive subversion of one’s personal privacy. Even 12 years after being published, a lot of the hallmarks ring true. This is even truer when it comes to Homeland, which is only a few steps removed from what we have today, despite being written long before our current troubles.

The way that Doctorow makes this horrific, oppressive, and completely believable slip into the unreal, is to make the magical seem mundane. The explanations of technology, cryptography, hacking, internet protocols, and 3D Printing, are done with such love as to really get across both the good and bad aspects. Understanding the technologies at play here not only helps the reader understand the situation, but they also provide hints for how to structure your own life without being oppressively monitored on a daily basis.

The characters in the book can blunder around sometimes, but after the initial teething issues they become much stronger, especially more so in the Homeland.

I definitely recommend reading, not only because it’s a good framework, but because it shoves a mirror into what we’re currently living through, and asks us how do we want to change it.

Everyone is terrible and that’s incredible: a review of Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots is the story of a down-on-her luck henchperson by the name of Anne struggling to make ends in a horribly exploitative capitalist society where heroes and villains own their own companies with disastrous HR practices. When Anne gets into an accident with the most famous hero of them all— Supercollider— her rage pushes her to try to fight back in the only way she knows how: blogging. This catches the eyes of some exceptionally big players, including, much to her chagrin, Supercollider.

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Ah, a short story roundup, 2020/12/20

Some short stories I’ve read recently.

  • For He Can Creep by Siobhan Carroll (Fantasy), about a cat, a poet, and the devil. I really enjoyed Jeoffry’s perspective as a cat when dealing with all the shenanigans the devil gets up to. It’s hard to be an active agent fighting the forces of evil when you’re a cat!

There’s really not much to say about this other than it’s a funny little story. It injects a few references to the importance of cats in history and religion, and how that plays into the current roles of the cats in the story. I loved the way the characters are written, from Joeffry and his singular focus on eating and protecting what is, to Moppet and their split personality.

  • The Last Conversation by Paul Tremblay (Science Fiction, WLW). You wake up in a room. It’s dark, and you don’t know what is going on. A mysterious voice asks you to do stuff, to remember who you are. It’s a story that asks what really makes a person. I enjoyed the progression of the narrative.

Really, this short is a narrative version of the question of what makes someone the person you love. It’s like a Ship of Theseus but playing with memories and bodies. The answer is left up to the reader to decide as the story closes.

  • Rat Catcher’s Daughter by KJ Charles (Fantasy, Transgender, Romance). Christiana, a wonderful singer, is in trouble. In debt to an unscrupulous conman, she finds herself at his mercy. Saved at the last moment by the mysterious friends of Stanislav Kamarzyn, Christiana must figure out his intentions. This is a lovely little romance that had me grinning from ear to ear. But also, DRAMA!!

It’s a very short, very cute story about a transgender woman finding love through circumstance. There is a trigger warning up front though; there is a lot of purposeful misgendering at the beginning of the story by The Villain. It also serves to introduce the characters of the Lilywhite Boys, who are like the Cray brothers but not as terrible.

Utopia is overrated: a review of ‘And Shall Machines Surrender’ by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Doctor Orfea Lueng has come to the Shenzhen dyson sphere to escape her past and her present. All she wants is safety from the past that threatens to kill her if she’s discovered. All seems well, miraculously so, until her past shoves itself in her face in the form of Krissana Khongti, a spy who left her for dead, who has now become an AI-Human hybrid and semi-religious symbol to the people. Worse still, she is unwillingly forced to work with her former lover thrust into a mystery that has the potential to destroy the Mandate.

What can I say about this book except wow. From the outset you know you’re being launched into something intense; “Shenzen Sphere, Even at first glimpse the vastness confronts, built like complex ribbons wrapping around the red pearl of its star: scintillant and ophidian.” The level of detail in the way things are described, while leaving enough for the imagination to chew on, creates a beautiful sweeping vision of a utopia. I remember one instance where the skyscrapers of Luohu, against the backdrop of night, are described as making a cosmos of their own. And this is just one example of hundreds I can point to that made me sit back for a moment and breath it all in.

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I’m not crying, you’re crying. A review of The Apple-Tree Throne by Premee Mohamed

It’s quite cathartic to read a short story so heavily character driven on a very specific trauma, and which does so with grace and poise. The Apple-Tree Throne by delivers on a familiar theme with a twist: a soldier who cannot reintegrate, who struggles throughout the book; an aristocratic family replacing a son; and a ghost who is up to no good.

The story is in a world not unlike our own, but different on some fundamental levels. The backdrop is set at the turn of what is probably the 19th or 20th century, and The Great Republic of Britannia has involved itself in a World War with the Federation and other world powers being involved in some vague way. The war was only stopped after the Massacre of Burantai Pass and the radio vizcast (a kind of black-and-white television) following the capture of its Major-General Wickersley who led the assault.

Lt. Benjamin Braddock is a survivor of the Burantai Pass Massacre and returns to his country a shattered man: broken by the guilt of survival; enraged at the senselessness of the war; and chased by ghosts both figurative and literal. Yet, despite coming back from the war as a kind-of-hero, Braddock finds himself unable to reintegrate into society. His friends all have homes and families and shrug the war off like a coat, while the Wickersley Family only want Braddock around to be seen, rather than heard. To make matters worse for Braddock, the ghost of Wickersley— his commander— haunts him, and grows ever more restless and demanding with every interaction.

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Short Story Review: The Midwife and The Lindworm, by A.A. Freeman

The Midwife— The being whose hands open the world (and close it if needs be, and who helps assist everyone from foxes to Gods— is called upon by a Queen to help solve a particular problem she helped deliver into the world; a serpent has occupied the castle, and is demanding princesses. No knights seem able to fight it off, and the serpent appears insatiable in its taste of bride. It’s now up to The Midwife to fix it, and restore order.

Amazon Link

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Book Review: The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin

Seventeen year-old Princess Esofi of Rhodia— a cold and barren mountainous state— has been sent off to the kingdom of the Ieflaria to wed her betrothed and provide military assistance against the fertile kingdom’s dragon problem. Even before she arrives, she is greeted with the news of his death. But not wanting to cancel, and go back, Esofi makes a bargain; her troops for the marriage of the next in line. Much to her chagrin, though, her new betrothed, Adale, does not want to be a Queen and the responsibility that comes with it. With the dragons becoming increasingly violent, Esofi must make hard choices to save the people of Ieflaria and fulfill her duty.

Amazon Link

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Review of ‘To Be Taught, If Fortunate’ by Becky Chambers

Through the method of Somaforming, which allows for humans to transform themselves to suit their environments, astronaut Adriadne O’Neill details and muses on the exploration and discoveries of four planets in the Zheni star system with the crew of the Merinian, hoping that someone at home might still be listening.

And now I get to review it.

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