Braindump of some of the books I’ve read lately, or at least, since my last post about books. Lots of science fiction and fantasy here as usual with forays into history, science, and “literary fiction” though for me to go near that without barfing it had better be great.
* The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson. I loved this! So beautiful! Do that thing with language! Break my heart! And with intense, queer as hell soldierly camaraderie. Tantalizing backstory (those ancestor aliens/gods…) I didn’t want this book to end!
* My Brilliant Friend, and the others in this series of 4 books by Elena Ferrante. Oh, my god! Brilliant and awful and amazing! I was shattered into pieces and had to rebuild myself and my own politics. By the last book (when they are old) I realized I could only barely grasp the depth/breadth of things because I am not old enough yet. (If you are the sort of person who has talked about realizing you have to be 30ish to get the idea of Middlemarch, and you are now older than 30ish, please go for these books immediately!!!) I need more people to read into book 4 so I can discuss it deeply. I have feelings here people. And those feelings can be summed up like, “Did she really — omg — she did! No. But yes. NOOOOO” You will not stop having epiphanies here. Deeply fucked up in the best way. You know how you realize that over the ages every human society has intoxicants, and that we need them to get through the heinous pain of life unless we are some kind of mystical saint (which is its own sort of intoxicant anyway)? It is because things are truly as fucked up and confusing as these novels represent them !!!!! There is no way to avoid it if you have half an eye for complexity.
* All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. Fabulous! Nerdy guy Laurence who builds time machines and AIs who joins Not-Elon-Musk futurist geek team, and his childhood sort-of-friend Patricia who talks to animals and goes to wizarding school, meet again as adults in San Francisco and try to prevent the impending magico-technological apocalypse. I love their friendship with each other and how they develop their own groups of weird talented chosen family. Playful, intense, and cool! I also really like how all the bits of science fiction and fantasy you would expect or take for granted are elided. Instead of rehashing the tropes of magic school or whatever, Charlie takes SFF assumptions and builds something weird and new over all the things that don’t have to be said, like a lacy bridge of fanciful awesomeness.
(Note, I think I suggested the connection with Conference of the Birds. But I can’t actually remember if I did. Seems likely! And I liked how that idea came back at the ending)
* Woman with a Blue Pencil: A Novel by Gordon Mcalpine. Epistolary novel where a young Japanese-American man from the West Coast sends chapters of his detective novel manuscript to an editor in NYC. His detective starts off as a Japanese American professor but then the bombing of Pearl Harbor happens and the editor demands a more palatable hero, who the author creates in palpable anger and grief as he and his family are imprisoned in an internment camp. The original detective’s story continues in parallel as he is written out of the acceptable publishable story. It is a disturbing science fictiony metaphysical novel. Interesting, tightly written and structured book, really elegant. I was in awe of the clever structure.
* Black Wolves by Kate Elliott. This is a new series in the same world (a few years on) as the Crossroads series, which I adore, and had to go back and re-read once I read Black Wolves! (They reward close re-reading!) If you feel that epic fantasy like say, Songs of Fire & Ice could just be better.. and less of a rehash of the genre… and like, do more interesting things with gender dynamics…. Read Crossroads, and this new series! So good! Also kind of a mindfuck and a criticism of not just the genre but why we come to the genre and what we want from it… (I like that a lot.)
* Crystal Society, by Max Harms. I got really excited about this because it is weird. If you read a lot of SF and you want to explore some ideas, here are some good ones! This is the story of AI’s subroutines and their very rational market internal to their own brain, and I really wanted to like the AI in its parts and together as a whole, and am rooting for it against the scientists who made it and who worry that it will be a sociopathic entity and then it it is both likeable and a sociopath and I was very weirded out! Fun exploration which reminded me a little bit of the weirdness of the web novel “Ra” but a lot more competent at making a human-enjoyable plot.
* The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne. Fabulous!!!!! I will never forget the journey across the horrible ocean road!
* City of Stairs and City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett. Excellent fantasy series. Sorry to be brief, there are lots of reviews, neat worldbuilding. Heroic women!
* The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson. Another great fantasy book about empire and (de)colonization, with a great heroine, by a dude, that doesn’t feel like it was written by a dude, in a good way.
* A bunch of books by Jessica Day George (Castle Glower series). A young princess who is soul-bonded with her family’s castle, which moves pieces of itself and builds new rooms every Tuesday. Griffins, magic, moving between worlds and the sort of AI-like castle. Very sweet. Also, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, an enjoyable version of Beauty and the Beast.
* Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen. Cowgirl/ranch hand Nettie Lonesome is basically a Slayer. But more interesting. I enjoyed this – A Western with an excellent punch.
* The Antagonists (books 1 and 2), a series about a wheelchair-using superheroine (superantiheroine?). Burgandi Rakoska tells an engaging, satisfying story! Writing is a little amateurish so don’t go for it if that bothers you (I think it is charming). The drama is awesome and the way that the heroine uses her crip powers and insight, SO GOOD. In book 2 they go to hang out with King Arthur, who as you can imagine, is an asshole and a half. One of the superhero trials they have to undergo is enduring a chamber of pain. Hahahah! Yay! Now there is something I would have a superpower in. (King Arthur runs out screaming in like 30 seconds.) I am looking forward to Rakoska’s next series about kids in a paranormal school that sounds like it will be much more infused with disability politics & experience than, say, X-men.
* Nearly all the Vorkosigan books (re-read) in order by the timeline of the series (About 12 novels)
* All the Expanse books by “James A. Corey”. Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, Abbadon’s Gate, and Cibola Burn. I guess there will be more. And I will probably read them because I do love space opera and the women characters don’t 100% suck. Rant ahead: I could not help but notice the heavy reliance on space hookers for atmosphere to give a gritty frontier/port feeling. There are seriously space brothels in every chapter and it is sort of like the annoying feeling when every TV show or movie has to have a scene in a strip club. Not even for fanservice but to signify something … How is everything “equal” and there’s lots of politicians and engineers and pilots and military robot exoskeleton wearers who are women but somehow 90% of the women in space are hookers anyway? Eh!!! I got so annoyed I started highlighting all the whorey bits. Good news, they stopped relying on that so much in the later books. But something is always so wrong with women’s agency in these books. I was very annoyed no matter the good efforts and halfway decent characters! Still I ate up these books like candy and also watched the TV show. To assuage my feelings I started writing a poem from the point of view of the very interesting, intelligent, ambitious, activist minded, technologically capable space hookers, who are FRIENDS.
* Alastair Reynolds, Poseidon’s Children trilogy. I love Reynolds’s books a lot but loved these less than usual. Kind of boring. I got very annoyed with everyone in this one family from Tanzania, spaceships, coldsleep, various world governments, and most of all, elephants. What is with being super obsessed with your great great great great etc. grandmother who you would barely share any genetic material with anyway, no matter how famous and great she was, and no one is really that important (I am allergic to Great Person theories of history) Endless rehashing of moral qualms. Please kill that million people for the greater good, or don’t. But don’t tell me how you’re thinking about it, then have the character tell someone else they’re thinking about it, then have them tell a third person all about it, as if the reader hasn’t heard it already, and then have someone else hold the first person to task for not telling them, and then finally do the morally questionable thing or don’t…. Whatever, JFDI!!! Still, good and with some juicy ideas like the uplifted elephants, the artilects, the creepy giant whale woman, all the cool tech, the Evolving robots who take over Mars, but could have been compressed severely. Also it struck me weirdly that someone would constantly be thinking “Ah…. AFRICA…” You are from a specific place, right? (Which happens to be the bit with Kilimanjaro and elephants and dramatic sunsets in a sort of timeless safari park except Kilimanjaro has a railgun coming out at the top.) Would you describe your feelings of longing as being about an entire continent, whether you’re under the ocean, or on Mars, or in some star system? Do people do this? I have never thought romantically about the entire continent of North America; am I weird? Well, look, anyway, House of Suns is still one of the best SF books ever and you should buy it and read it. The Prefect was also unusually excellent and sparky with newness.
* Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. More with generation ships and checking out the nearest planet around another star. Lots of politics of how we are to govern the generation ship and its environmental and resource difficulties and then rather like in that one Helen M. Hoover book you realize things may not be working out quite right. Honk if you like process.
* Several trashy feminist paranormal romance novels by Zoe Chant, about curvy paramedics who are friends with each other and all end up dating some sexy, feminist, shape shifting ex-Navy Seal were-bodyguards of different animal backgrounds, who respect them for their amazing skills. Much hurt/comfort is to be had. Truly worth a read especially if you get all the way to the hilarious tongue in cheek one about the sexy were-meerkat Hollywood reporter/detective. OK they are all tongue in cheek but… Meerkat was over the top silly. Start with the bear one; I laughed and laughed when the bear bodyguard has green and brown furniture to remind him of the forest, and cooks a great middle of the night breakfast for his curvy paramedic client!
* Several of the lesser known and not so popular novels by Anthony Trollope because I was in the mood but have read the Palliser and Warden novels too many times already. Ralph the Heir (maddening!) Mr. Scarborough’s Family, and I can’t remember the others and can’t be bothered to go back and look as they were dual editions. I like Trollope a lot.
* To Hold the Bridge. Really brilliant short stories by Garth Nix. I acknowledge the weird brilliance of the Sabriel books (necromancer, boarding school, demon cat, weird talents) while still being a little annoyed by them without being able to explain why. The short stories really grew on me. I went back to read all the Sabriel books and liked them better the 2nd time around.
* The Strange Crimes of Little Africa by Chesya Burke. Detective novel set in Harlem in the 20s. Our heroine Jaz Idawell (hehehehe) is BFFs with Zora Neale Hurston and they solve murder mysteries! What more is there to say. I enjoyed this! I had read Burke’s book of short stories, Let’s Play White, and enjoyed it some years ago; I’ll definitely read whatever else she writes when comes out in book form!
* A lot of books by Kazuo Ishiguro, I think all the books. I liked the first one I hit, Never Let Me Go, and resolved to read everything by Ishiguro. Then they started on the whole to annoy me and feel unsatisfying. Good but, not all that.
* The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North. I read this, because it had good reviews, but honest to god I can’t remember any of it.
* The Biography of a Grizzly. What it says on the tin.
* Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle (and several others, but they got boring) Historical fiction.
* The Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave. Good and naturally super horrible and sad too.
* All the Dance to the Music of Time books again. (last fall) Still good.
* Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation in Crete. I liked Fermor’s story of walking across Europe in the 30s but by the time he wrote this he just seemed creepy.
* Some fairly terrible jane austen pastiches by Carrie Bebris but I read them all anyway because I was sick
* Some much, much better, fabulous Jane Austen homages/continuations, by Sherwood Smith, who is great and brilliant. If you have a mood where you want to re-read Mansfield Park, do it! And then read Jane Austen After. Two alternate endings to Mansfield Park! Tie-ins to her other novels!
* There are more books, but I would have to go poke through my past orders since I deleted lots off my Kindle already.
If you have book recs for me, please let me know! I need a steady stream of fuel to burn here because of general insomnia and reading very quickly.