Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Reviewish: The Running of the Tyrannosaurs

I rarely pre-order books. This isn't because I don't love books or value authors (on the contrary, authors are my rockstars and I could build a queen-sized bed out of the books I own in physical copy) - this is because my to-read list is so long and I often don't get to a book fast enough to warrant the pre-order option. (And there's the matter of affording books better when they are on sale.)

Can we marvel, for a moment, at Roberto Calas' cover?
That said, I pre-ordered Stant Litore's The Running of the Tyrannosaurs. The morning it became available, I read it. You could say I devoured it - but I don't want to get even that close to making a dinosaur pun.

Like his previous works (The Zombie Bible and The Ansible Stories), Litore embraces some well-known fiction fodder that might be looked on as too cliche, and turns it into something truly great and worthy of deeper consideration.

Egret is a girl and athlete; she has been selected, altered by nanotechnology, and is a sacrifice for the people. She's an icon, a symbol, and she has been groomed to know and embrace that fact. The story is from her point of view, told in her self-assured voice, and relates the most important day of her life - Patriot Day. This is a day when Egret, and girls like her - embodiments of Liberty - will run with the scientifically resurrected tyrannosaurs for a spectacle.

It's easy to pull out some modern commentary from this story (the girls are rebuilt by their nanites to be 'perfect'), but it's the deeper layer that I found so engaging. Egret, all the runners on Patriot Day, are in competition with each other. This competitive spirit drives Egret, but as she moves through her day, as we get to view her thoughts so directly, there's something else going on. Something that not even Egret completely understands.

It's difficult to discuss it too much without giving spoilers.
It's the dawning of consciousness of a different sort that makes Egret an engaging voice and a perfect narrator for this story. Though it is internal and entirely a sort of stream-of-consciousness journey, Egret is extremely present in her experience. Her thoughts, like the events of Patriot Day, move at a brisk pace and never get bogged down.

The story is succinct, with just enough embellishment (in the form of a little back-story on our narrator) to make it a whole. As always, Litore's execution is spot-on. The story is cohesive and pulls the reader into the moment with Egret. Egret's voice is unique amongst the ever-growing pantheon of Litore's characters and brings the story a gritty, hot texture. The world building is just enough to situate you for the story, but leaves you intrigued to learn more. And - if rumors (from the author!) are true, readers will get a chance to get to know the world of this story more in a future novel.

If it's half as good as this installment (and I'm willing to wager it'll be twice as good), I'm looking forward to it.

Oh, better not forget the fire. Is this working for you? Heating things up? No, better leave the puns out of it. So concludes the second Fire Episode of Reviewish.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Reviewish: Ansible 15717

Today is a Fire Episode of Reviewish. I've been a little overwhelmed with health, school, and general life stuff - as a result, I'm behind the eight ball, as it were. (Is that the right expression? What does that mean? I always pictured it as a moment similar to when Indiana Jones is threatened with imminent crushing by the boulder trap.) In that sense, I'll be posting up several reviews in quicker succession than I have previously.

Fire Review #1: Ansible 15717, Book Three of the Ansible Stories from Stant Litore.

As ever, Stant Litore's prose is a delight to read. Ansible 15717 (the character flung across space (and maybe time)), instead of being an Ansible seemingly assigned to a random world, is a woman courted by Starmind, targetted for a world they know at least something about. It's disturbing to consider that Ansible 15715 and 15716 might've been purposefully selected for the worlds to which they were sent, now that I think about it...

In that sense, it is a relief - one unsought, one I didn't even realize I might have wanted - to have a narrator with a slightly higher level of control than the first two Ansibles. She is a woman deeply tied to her botany, well equipped (as well as one can be) to become part of a plant-based species and world.

Litore finds and walks that sweet spot between science-fiction and fantasy, perhaps reminding me of one reason those two genres are situated together so often. The inhabitants of this new planet, his description of them and their world, painted lush pictures in my mind while I read. If I were any good at art, this review would be peppered with delicate drawings of humanoid-like (but not quite) plants, lush jungle settings, colorful and dangerous flora of all sorts.

This is a story that builds itself in the mind's eye and gently enfolds you in its leafy embrace.

Between flashbacks and her experiences on this new world, there is a wonderful balance of the delicate and the willful, strength and weakness, pain and love. She never becomes immune to her humanity, even while embracing her new alien life and body.

All the aspects of this particular work that might be pulled out and highlighted as progressive/inclusive/intersectional (or, if you don't enjoy that sort of thing, "PC") are melded seamlessly into the story. Is it a big deal that the narrator is, as one reviewer on Amazon summarized, an "agnostic lesbian Muslim scientist"? In ways, it is. There is a lot of meat to consider here about representation and much deeper societal issues - But in the course of telling the story, Litore makes them simply part of the story - it never comes across that he's inserted these things with an agenda, they are never over-emphasized.

The true beauty of this diversity lies in the fact that it makes the Ansible's story the story of another human being - whole and perfect, even in her flaws. Every aspect is part of the weave of the fabric, not an embellishment or an afterthought applique - they belong there from the beginning. This, for me, is an ideal way of storytelling, of integrating all the beautiful variety of humanity.

In short; Ansible 15717 is another solidly written short story and brings a new world of beauty and terror to the Ansible Stories. Stant Litore has set the bar high for himself, his work, and he's continued to deliver.  If you've ever enjoyed any of his work, I highly recommend this (and all of the Ansible stories, if you haven't read any of them specifically). If you've never read anything by Stant Litore, the Ansible Stories are a great way to start.

Though they are not directly related, and I believe you CAN read the Ansibles in any order, I might recommend picking them up in order anyway. It is difficult for me to judge, having read them in order and being unable to unknow what I know to make the comparison, but each story builds in a little tidbit of information about the mysterious Starmind and what the Ansibles are about. That said, you are probably just fine reading them in any order (just like The Zombie Bible!).

Oh, right, I promised fire: