September 6th, 2015

The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Patrick Ness

Science fiction is, as Samuel R Delany pointed out, a place where a metaphor like "her world exploded" can be literally true. Young Adult SF is where teenage emotions can be made real. All adults really are evil or useless. They really are out to get you. Your world really could come to an end.
Patrick Ness has written the books where the fate of the world rests on two teenagers, but here he's inverting the genre. Yes, okay, so there are strange blue beams of light and possessed adults and zombie animals - but who has time to worry about all that stuff when you're finishing school and the girl you love is a few weeks from leaving town forever without you telling her how you feel?
So - weird stuff is happening. Again. But that's an indie kid thing and while they (Finn, Satchel, Dylan, Finn, Kerouac, Finn, Finn and the others) deal with it, everyone else tries to get on with their lives. Going to the prom, waitroning at the weekend, and dealing with maybe being the least important member of the group of friends.
A book like this stands or falls on narrative voice, and for me that voice worked. Here's an excerpt -
"CHAPTER THE FOURTH, in which Satchel and Dylan sit in a coffeehouse with understated live music and discuss what Satchel’s uncle told them; Dylan also tells her it’s clear that second indie kid Finn has feelings for her; Satchel doesn’t see that this is Dylan’s way of saying that HE has feelings for her, too; later, the Messenger of the Immortals makes a surprising offer to indie kid Kerouac.

OK, look, I gotta get some stuff out of the way. I wish I didn’t, but it’s necessary. This doesn’t define me or any of the people I love, okay? It’s just life. And we’ve moved on.

But you gotta know.


Four years ago, when I was 13 and she was still 14, my sister had a heart attack. It was caused by arrhythmia, which was caused by Mel starving herself to death.

In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, she died. They were able to revive her, obviously, but the fact remains that, for three or four minutes, she was gone, we’d lost her. She says she doesn’t remember anything about it: no lights, no tunnels, no angels or old relatives or prickly faced Labradors to help her with her journey to the other side. But weirdly, she doesn’t remember the opposite either. She doesn’t remember nothingness or emptiness or oblivion. Her memory stops before the heart attack and picks up again in the hospital."

The chapter headings are like that throughout, headings taken from the other novel that would be written about the indie kids and the Immortals invading the world. But the chapters are in Mikey's voice, and his concerns are more mundane.

Short fiction

not full reviews, just reminders for myself of things I might nominate

Hic Sunt Monstra, by Brian Trent
The ice hanging outside my bedroom window was turning into a colossus. I could see the start of one tusk curling from the glassy dome of a head-crest, and what resembled a clawed forefoot, half-formed, stretching down from the icy mass on our roof.

Accidental colonists relive the last hunt of the native megafauna...

Sacred Cows: Death and Squalor on the Rio Grande, by A S Diev

At 7 a.m. on a bright Thursday morning last June, in the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo, 40-year-old Carlos Flores completed a week of double shifts at the shoe factory where he sometimes worked. He drove his rusted, powder blue Ford pickup a quarter mile through cinderblock neighborhoods to the Diosa Del Amor liquor store. There he purchased a carton of smokes, a 12-pack of beer, and a half pint of vodka. According to the police report, he drank one of the beers and all of the vodka while driving home. He pulled into the Rio Vista trailer park and waved to little Esperanza Delgado, who was walking along the dirt street in her school uniform and backpack.

Genetic engineering, gonzo journalism, rich people

Midnight Hour, by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Nameless Queen sipped her port, rolling the blood–dark liquid in her mouth. The night’s rain pattered against the tall leaded glass windows of her sitting room in a gentle susurration. On the mantel, the clock ticked four minutes until midnight.
Cursed king and queen, and an attempt to break the curse

Madeleine, by Amal El Mohtar
Madeleine remembers being a different person.

It strikes her when she’s driving, threading her way through farmland, homesteads, facing down the mountains around which the road winds. She remembers being thrilled at the thought of travel, of the self she would discover over the hills and far away. She remembers laughing with friends, looking forward to things, to a future.

Clinical trial of anti-alzheimers drug causes flashbacks

Cat Pictures Please, by Naomi Kritzer
I don’t want to be evil.
I want to be helpful. But knowing the optimal way to be helpful can be very complicated. There are all these ethical flow charts—I guess the official technical jargon would be “moral codes”—one for each religion plus dozens more. I tried starting with those. I felt a little odd about looking at the religious ones, because I know I wasn’t created by a god or by evolution, but by a team of computer programmers in the labs of a large corporation in Mountain View, California. Fortunately, unlike Frankenstein’s Monster, at least I was a collaborative effort. I’m not sure what it would do to my self-image to know that my sole creator was a middle-aged woman who dyes her hair blue and plays tennis, or a recent college graduate with a hentai obsession. They’re both on the programming team. And of course I know about the hentai. (By the way, I’ve looked at every sort of porn there is, and just so you know, Rule 34 is not actually correct; there are quite a few things no one’s made porn of yet. Also, I’m really not sure why so many humans prefer it to cat pictures.)

AI explains

Pocosin, by Ursula Vernon
This is the place of the carnivores, the pool ringed with sundews and the fat funnels of the pitcher plants.
This is the place where the ground never dries out and the loblolly pines grow stunted, where the soil is poor and the plants turn to other means of feeding themselves.
This is the place where the hairstreak butterflies flow sleekly through the air and you can hear insect feet drumming inside the bowl of the pitcher plants.
This is the place where the old god came to die.

the witch, the dying god, the angel and the devil

Damage, by David Levine
I never had a name.

My designation was JB6847½, and Specialist Toman called me “Scraps.” But Commander Ziegler—dear Commander Ziegler, primary of my orbit and engine of my trajectory—never addressed me by any name, only delivering orders in that crisp magnificent tenor of his, and so I did not consider myself to have one.

That designation, with the anomalous one-half symbol, was a bit of black humor on Specialist Toman’s part. It was the arithmetic average of NA6621 and FC7074, the two wrecked craft which had been salvaged and cobbled together to create me. “There wasn’t enough left of either spaceframe for any kind of paperwork continuity,” she had told me not long after I came to consciousness, three weeks earlier, “so I figured I’d give you a new number. Not that anyone cares much about paperwork these days.”

tempting to see this as a response to Turncoat on the famously bad 2015 shortlist, but I don't think the dates work. Spaceship AI grows to doubt the morality of the war she is fighting