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Sprint update!

Gunnerkrigg Court, Vol. 1: Orientation. (Tom Siddell) (2009): Boarding school steampunk-ish mashup web comic, conviently bound in hardcover format for your commute entertainment. Annie (Antimony) Carver walks into the eponymous school, and a web of mysteries about the nature of the school and her parent's connection to it.

It's... there's a lot of tropes here that don't grab me. A Victorian-ish "mother dead from mysterious wasting illnesses", the stoic half-orphan girlchild with the mostly missing father... the plot could be interesting, but the opening is not grabbing me. I am very tired of dead Lily Evans mothers in fiction.

Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father (Alysia Abbott) (2013): Nonfiction; writer reflects on growing up as the daughter of a gay-identified poet and writer in the San Francisco of the '70s and '80s. It's a bit slight, but I enjoyed the San Francisco connection.

Inda (Sherwood Smith) (2006): Epic fantasy. There's sophisticated worldbuilding and a young man going to a military Academy and... you know what? I carried this in my bag for two months and barely made it fifty pages in. The restless semi-omniscient third person and flips between two languages, denoted by less than flowing phrases like, "s/he said, in [something invented I've forgotten], the language of war." Did not finish.

Trying to force through the Hugo nominees and Inda killed my novel reading momentum for months.

The Dark Forest (Cixin Liu; trans. Joel Martinsen) (USA 2015): Second in the "three body" trilogy. In some ways this feels like utterly standard SF: an alien menace, that protagonist who is supposed to be the lazy, debauched genius with his perfect girl - and she is the sweet immature cliche - and some time-dilated plots courtesy of stasis tech. There's some weird blind spots. China is in space, North America is in space; 200 years into the future, the southern hemisphere is notable in its absence from the international scene. There's a disastrous space catastrophe telegraphed by its cliche-ness. And yet, I read all 512 pages. It piles on the cliches until it's something... else. Maybe it's the threat of mutual annihilation the lazy genius protagonist uses to force an accord between Humans and Trisolarians. Maybe it's the absurdity of the Wallfacers. Maybe it's Ye Wenjie using the lazy genius as her front for her theories about the forces shaping interstellar relations. ("First: Survival is the primary need of civilization. Second: Civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant.") I desperately want Ye Wenjie to show up in the third novel to be the boss of everyone.

Go Set a Watchman (Harper Lee) (2015): Well-publicized follow-up to To Kill a Mockingbird. Years after Tom Robinson's trial, Jean Louise makes her annual visit from New York to sleepy Mayfair, Alabama. I'm fascinated by how it's different from TKM, with the focus on Scout's disillusionment with her father, and the problem of bigotry and racism becoming secondary to Scout's growth, versus the powerful messages associated with TKM. I read it through on an airplane trip and found it just right for plane reading. Which probably makes it lighter fare than TKM, but wiki tells me Watchman predates TKM, despite the publishing order.

The Just City (Jo Walton) (2015): A discussion between Athene and Apollo about volition and free will turns into an experiment, an attempt to create the "just city" described by Plato in The Republic. The story of the Just City is split between Maia, who prayed to Pallas Athene during a 19th century Grand Tour and found herself whisked to the City; Simmea, a student, born a farmer's daughter and sold into slavery at the right age to be bought by Maia and the other masters of the City; and Apollo, in a mortal incarnation.

Another one of those Jo Walton novels which is utterly unlike anything else Walton has written and no one else would write. There's time travel and Renaissance polymaths arguing with Roman Neoplatonists and Socrates demolishing everyone with logic and rhetoric, in a city where he is almost universally revered. There's plenty of other divisions and factions. It's a wonderful idea, and the execution reminds me of Pamela Dean's Tam Lin. There's a focus on education, and there's the gods, walking among the citizens in disguise, and a sub-plot about stacking the deck, and a lot of discussions about pursuing "excellence". But only a bit; for one thing, the characters sucked into the supernatural "court" of the city are quite divided on its goodness (or not-goodness).

The characters are a little too witty for me to really believe in them as people, and they suffer a bit from a certain similarity of dialectic, but the idea of trying to build an ideal, with compromises and problems papered or spackled over, is a lot of fun.
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