ase: Book icon (Books 3)
2017-04-06 10:00 pm

2017 Reading (So Far)

For reasons we're not going to look at too closely, but may include moving, a work February that would not end - the first week of March certainly felt like Extended February - and hanging out with people who found these things relevant to our mutual interests,I read or reread rather a lot of Star Wars novels in February and March. I read Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel (James Luceno) (2016), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Alexander Freed) (2016), and Star Wars: A New Dawn (John Jackson Miller) (2014). The first two made me ask, "were Star Wars novels better when I was younger because I had no judgement?" Catalyst made some really weird copy-editing choices; or wasn't edited that closely, take your pick. Incidentally, all the main characters annoyed me. The narrative fails to evoke the incredible sense of dislocation that one would associate with the Clone Wars or your nominal college best friend raining destruction on a planet you just left, or taking you to a war zone "so you can see what's going on" and seriously, there was a huge disjunct between action and emotional heft. The novelization was a novelization. I have very mixed feelings about it... okay, I'm mostly stuck on Freed's attempts to bring emotional depths to hardened characters, which I don't think evoked the reactions I think he aimed for. (Teardrops on my sniper rifle! That's... not how I would have gotten to that emotional beat.) A New Dawn was cute! Aimless drifter Kanaan Jarrus meets proto-Rebel with a cause Hera Syndulla. Banter and explosions follow. Miller did a good job evoking the swashbuckling mood of Star Wars, not bad for a novel based on a kid's animated TV show, and grounding the plot in the specifics of the mining planet Gorse and its moon Cynda.

I also reread Zahn's Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future. Specter is an awful lot of setup, and I've never been terrifically fond of the Thrawn impersonation arc, but the duology does a lot of clever little worldbuilding tricks. Zahn has several narrative quirks that I noticed more than usual this time. After a few rounds of someone using Mystryl-honed muscle to do a thing, I may have muttered something about shifting the moving boxes with yoga-trained strength. It really was that sort of February.

For the March vacation roadtrip, I got The Princess Diarist (Carrie Fisher) (2016) on audiobook. It was like bringing a friend on a long drive (and even I'm figuring out that San Francisco to Los Angeles is a really long drive), one who really wants to talk about this guy she banged, and whether they're still hooking up, or not, and oh my gosh, this is so awkward, and you really want to ask, "but, about the other ten things you just glanced by - your family, going to acting school, working on your mother's road show - can I hear about any of that? Those sound very interesting too." I didn't finish the audiobook before the end of vacation, and let it expire unfinished. Incidentally, I checked this out from the SFPL using the Axis 360 app. As of the time of writing, if the Axis 360 app has playback speed controls, I haven't found them. This is a huge minus for my audiobook experience.

The New Rabbi: A Congregation Searches For Its Leader (Stephen Fried) (2002): What it says on the cover. The rabbi of a prominent Philadelphia area synagogue; replacing him takes three years and a lot of turns.

The narrative is How Beth Shalom Searched For The New Rabbi, but Fried is a skilled journalist, so many other elements come out. The history of the Beth Shalom community. The retiring Rabbi Wolpe's history. The relationships between various fathers and sons: Fried's reconnection with Judaism after his father's death, the family Wolpe and the men who became rabbis in different eras of American Judaism, the mentor-mentee relationship between the senior rabbi and the junior rabbi at Beth Shalom.

Ninefox Gambit (Yoon Ha Lee) (2016): It's an unfortunate truth that space opera with a compelling protagonist who sometimes has great difficulty recalling who they are today, let alone who they were before they landed in the plot soup, is the sort of thing I am terribly fond of reading. Getting all that in prose that rises above utilitarian is indeed Christmas come early. Cut for space, no more explicit spoilers than the jacket text. )

The Book of Phoenix (Nnedi Okorafor) (2015): The story-in-a-story of the woman Phoenix, a speciMen, an artificially created being who calls herself the villain of the story. The framing story takes place in a future where the old world was destroyed by fire, and ends with the old man who finds the story of Phoenix choosing to bend it to his interpretation and worldview. The bulk of the story is Pheonix seeking freedom from the corporate scientists who made her, and who experiment on and coerce speciMens, until she reaches a breaking point.

This isn't the first work of Okorafor's fiction I read, so I noticed similarities to her other work: spiritual or magical powers, especially with plants; a focus on Africa; powerful women taking center stage. The framing story didn't quite work for me; other than chronology, and possibly one offstage character, there's very little that connects the framing story to the story Phoenix tells. The closest connection I can offer is the framing character bending Pheonix's story to his ends, as her creators and captors tried to shape her life to their goals. Since reading this, I've learned it's a prequel for Who Fears Death, so maybe reading these in publication order would have better informed the framing story.

I also tripped and reread Catherine Asaro's Primary Inversion (1995), Catch the Lightning (1996), and The Radiant Seas (1999). On a good day, the series is wildly uneven, with a lot of ideas not fully worked out, but face it, I am always going to have a soft spot for The Radiant Seas, which can be loosely described as "the one where someone steals a woman's husband, so she assumes military leadership of a star-spanning empire and launches a thousand ships to get him back".

Mira's Last Dance (2017) (Lois McMaster Bujold), the fourth Penric novella, also came my way. If you've read the first three you know what you're in for; if you haven't, I'd read them more or less in order. The Penric novellas are entertaining little stories, but I think I'd like them more if Penric got fewer superpowers from Desdemona.
ase: Music icon (Music)
2017-02-12 09:19 pm

Rent! The 20th Anniversary Tour

I saw the Sunday matinee performance of Rent today, on the 20th Anniversary tour. I did not feel a great desire to see Rent in the '90s, but decided in the '00s I had been an idiot. Today I fixed that.

I'm no theater connoisseur, but this seemed like an easy-ish house, to judge from the cheering after almost every number.

I went with K, who has heard the soundtrack and seen the movie, but isn't a musical person. I have some serious reservations about the movie version, most significantly the choice of Chris Colombus as director. Columbus has absolutely no idea how to convert between media, which is why the first two HP movies are awful and the third convinced me that anything with Alfonso Cuarón's involvement is worth my time and money.

I had a good time. I'm not expert enough to say whether the individual performers did a good or just okay job, but I found it a good use of my Sunday afternoon.

A few notes: I have listened to this soundtrack for almost 20 years without seeing the musical staged. )
ase: Book icon (Books)
2017-01-28 10:17 pm

2016 Reading

I think it's time to admit I am never cleaning up any of the 2016 book log, post, and move on.

League of Dragons (2016) (Naomi Novik): The concluding novel in the Temeraire series. Napoleon is finally finished off, various disputes are disposed of, and Temeraire and Iskierka's egg hatches.

On romance and Romance; characterization; and worldbuilding. )

Uprooted (Naomi Novik) (2015): Reread, picked up for plane distract during an October vacation. It's very likeable, even if it feels like it's trying to be three novels. It's three novels I'm happy to read! Not The Chosen Girl is a good story, Fairy Tales Meet Realpolitik has its moments, Young Woman Defeats Ancient Evil is good times. The only thing I don't like is the romance, because there's a point where your mixed feelings about the older mentoring wizard and his relationship with the younger witch in training run smack into your memories of Harry Potter fandom and you want to gouge your eyes out, because student/teacher has never ever been your thing, and that's... not how the author feels.

Necessity (Jo Walton) (2016): The concluding novel of Walton's Thessaly trilogy. Spoilers. )

Bring Down the Sun (Judith Tarr) (2008): Swag bag freebie. A novel of Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great, mixing history and fantasy. Olympia, known by various names as she departs from the path of an alcolyte to a fading Goddess religion to pursue power, magic, and lustful romance among the politics of Epirus and Macedonia.

Holy erotica, Batman! Tarr mixes history, fantasy, and romance in a short novel. Olympias wrestles with the dark magic of Thessaly's witches, learns about political power, struggles to understand and master her magical gifts, and meets and marries Philip of Macedon. A slight novel in word count, the mix of setting and genres is an interesting study in satisfying divergent trope demands. The tensions of those demands sometimes make the characters a bit wooden, and the length contributes a sketchy feeling to the worldbuilding, elements which keep the novel a bit slight in impact.

A Darker Shade of Magic (V. E. Schwab) (2015):

INTERNET BUZZ: It's a fantasy novel about London, written by a YA novelist.
ME: Meh.
INTERNET: It's got a multiverse.
ME: WAIT RIGHT THERE.

Yet I found myself underwhelmed. Spoilers under the cut. ) The emotional highs and gory lows should have compelled my attention, but instead I found myself disengaging to poke at the underpinnings. The multiverse conceit is interesting, but I might have liked this more if I'd been able to accept the rest of the premise without so many questions about whether it could hold up to the narrative promises.

Penric's Mission (Lois McMaster Bujold) (2016): Third in the Penric series. Penric and the demon of chaos he's named Desdemona fail miserably at espionage and succeed at healing another character caught up by intrigue. The first two Penric stories are not required to understand this short novel, but they're fun reading. I think this could have used one more editing pass, to balance some of the events between the end of the last story and the start of this one, unless I was supposed to think, "well, that offstage crisis was not in-clued".

The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures (Anne Fadiman) (1997 / 2012): Nonfiction account that places miscommunication between one set of doctors and parents in the larger forces of Hmong experience and immigration. In the 2012 edition's new afterward, Fadiman writes: I hope The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down is settling into its proper place not as the book about the Hmong but as a book about communication and miscommunication across cultures. That's very much the light in which I read this. And in that light, I found it an easy, clear read. Fadiman takes pains to explain to readers the historic and cultural contexts that drove Lia Lee's parents decisions, balanced against the more familiar medical imperatives driving her doctors.

Death's End (Liu Cixin, trans. Ken Liu, 2010/2016) HOLY SCIENCE FICTION MADNESS. This is serious end of the world times. End of the universe times.

Spoilers. )

I made a sincere attempt to read Ada Palmer's Too Like the Lightning (2016) based on promising reviews and made it all of two pages before losing empathy for the narrative voice.
ase: Book icon (Books 3)
2016-12-29 06:04 pm

Holiday Reading

Every Heart A Doorway (Seanan McGuire) (2016): My library's now offers multiple apps which support electronic audiobooks, and critically, the ability to change the readback speed.

Less than five minutes into Heart I said, "you have got to be kidding me," and kicked it up to 1.2x speed. This at least kept the narrative flowing fast enough the worldbuilding issues accumulated faster than I could argue with them.

The premise: teenage girl returns from adventures in a portal fantasy world, gets sent to boarding school for other children like her. Her first, oh, week, at Ms. West's School for Wayward Children coincides with a Shocking Murder.

Nope. Spoilers. )

tl;dr this novel has an interesting concept it does not execute on very well at all and I am formally done trying to like Seanan McGuire's fiction. I am glad her work is well received and loved by others, but my experiences with her fiction have consistently been an exercise in Not For Me.
ase: Book icon (Books)
2016-10-22 11:53 am

Wait For It

Highly relevant to my tiny fandom interests, exhibits one and two. We’re officially ready to start writing the actual Alliance Rising book, and along with it, we’re going to put Finity’s End into Closed-Circle. That’s a hundred or so years on…some of the same bunch. It's a little fuzzy which end of canon the new novel is set in, and I don't care, I'd cheerfully read anything Alliance-Union. Can it be publication time now?
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2016-10-21 12:07 pm

Moving Day

Last night my landlord emailed that he wants his house back for an entirely legitimate owner move-in eviction. So my roommates and I are looking for another place to live. Send good vibes, and if you know someone renting out a 3 bed 1.5 bath inside San Francisco's city limits, for roughly market or a bit under, maybe put us in touch. Or a studio, but it would be nice to keep the household together.
ase: Book icon (Books 3)
2016-06-07 11:26 pm

Vacation Reading

I reread In the Garden of Iden (Kage Baker) (1997) in the run-up to vacation, because sometimes what you really need is some slapstick with tragedy. It's been... a decade? More than a decade? Since I originally read this, so I'd forgotten some of the set pieces: the "unicorn", the Christmas celebration, the dubious consequences of Sir Walter's deal with the Company. Iden has most elements of the Company series, in a nutshell, including that pompous git Mendoza's boyfriend. It's so good! The writing is fluid and smart and funny and the plot flows together wonderfully. Baker's early death was a great loss to the SF/F writing community.

The Winged Histories (Sofia Samatar) (2016): Samatar's second novel, set in the same universe as her first, A Stranger in Olondria. It's Samatar's take on epic fantasy. Histories is divided into four parts, presenting four POVs on a civil war in Olondria. I bogged down at the opening of the third part, almost exactly halfway though, which opened with second person present tense. (And by "bogged down" I said, "oh, no," and pulled the next book in the to-read queue.) This is nominally standalone, but I struggled to assemble a sense of the characters, their relationships, and what made their stories sufficiently compelling that I should keep reading. Histories also suffered from the tension of being epic fantasy and being critical of epic fantasy. It's hard to reach for an affecting touchstone Crowing Moment of Awesome while taking a hard look at the assumptions that make that Crowing Moment of Awesome so affecting. Also, epic fantasy just isn't my genre. On the outside, it looks like it should be. It's a genre that runs long in wordcount and intricate in worldbuilding. But epic fantasy rarely digs into the spin-off of the worldbuilding assumptions, the second order assumptions. GRRM unintentionally nailed it: The common people pray for rain, health, and a summer that never ends. They don't care what games the high lords play. I want to know what causes the Westeros wacky seasonal variation, how that impacts the society - I want some impact on society - and I really don't care about a bunch of people fighting over power. Power is boring, limitations set the state for interesting stories. Histories has the right idea - the characters have limits - but again, the execution is almost there.

Also, there's an xkcd graph that is relevant to this novel. I thought the plethora of fictional plants, animals, trade goods, what have you, was a Le Guin style ethnographic argument on cultural contextualization and atomization or something, but it's an example of epic fantasy imitating the forms of the genre's founders while forgetting that one of the founding giants was an obsessive philologist whose smash hit was a spin-off of his conlang projects (note the projects multiple). Okay, I exaggerate? But to make my point that the outward shape is reproduced, not the inner truths readers found in the reading experience.

Points for ambition. I want to like The Winged Histories, but the execution didn't do it for me on this pass. But apparently I want to talk in detail about its ambitious failure, which might get me to try other fiction by Samatar, or even grit my teeth and finish the second half. Eventually.

Lab Girl (Hope Jahren) (2016): I think this might have been an NPR book? It paid off very well for an NPR read, if so. Memoir by a die-hard plant nerd, focusing on the adventures of life in pursuit of the tenure track and also on the awesomeness of plants. It's a 304 page account of a lifelong love affair with green things. There's a relaxing effect of the writer skimming across her experiences, touching on the tenure track struggle, the desperate state of research funding, the experience of being a woman in academia and a field research science, adventures and misadventures in mental health, family relationships, and not delving too deeply into any one of these, except maybe the awesomeness of Jahren's partner in crime and research.

The City of Bones (Martha Wells) (1995): Scrappy loner with wacky survival abilities thanks to long-vanished Ancients - and his partner in dealing Ancient relics - are reluctantly drafted to save the world. Scrappy loners are one of Wells' go-to character types, which is useful for talking about societies, and the odd things that make up the culture, like burning people's bones to prophesy, or trading their sanity for mage powers, or engaging in high risk trades in Ancient relics, because money, against a backdrop of postapocalyptic desert scarcity. It's a bit Mad Max, minus the cars. And also with the strong female protagonists - loner Khat and his partner Sagai are drawn into high level intrigue by Elen, a junior Warder of the city-state Charisat. Elen and Khat have contrasting emotional arcs: Khat struggles to keep his distance from Sagai and Sagai's family, Elen struggles with stepping out of her mentor's shadow. If you like Wells' other fiction, you'll probably like this too.
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2016-05-22 10:53 pm

Vacation!

I cleverly scheduled my trip to friends in Wisconsin to coincide with Wiscon. If anyone else will be at Wiscon and would like to hang out, ping me. I should be there Saturday and Sunday. If you would like something from my vacation - post cards, for example - leave a comment! Comments are screened.

Now I just need to address the really fraught packing questions, like what books pack along in hardcopy and which are acceptable in ebook.
ase: Book icon (Books)
2016-05-05 09:54 pm

Recent Reading

Games Wizards Play (Diane Duane) (2016): Nita, Kit, and Dairine mentor younger wizards in a wizardly science fair: Dairine's mentee presents a spell that can stop earthquakes... if she can work through a few issues with her large and wizardly connected family... while Nita and Kit struggle with a mentee whose personality is even more flamboyant and flawed than his ambitious solar spell.

Climax destroying spoilers. )

Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love (David Talbot) (2012): Popular history of San Francisco from the Summer of Love through the HIV crisis. The focus is the welter of conflict that gripped the city through the '70s, culminating in the devastating two weeks of November 1978 when the Jonestown deaths rippled through the Bay area and Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were shot by Milk's fellow supervisor Dan White in city hall.

Talbot's uplifting redemptive finish is Feinstein's nine-year mayoralty. The HIV crisis is presented as San Francisco getting its act together, compared to what came before, which strikes me as a little off-base.

The Martian (Andy Weir) (2011): Fictional account of the survival of an astronaut stranded on Mars.

Spoilers, I suppose. Spoilers of meh. )

Sin is a Puppy That Follows You Home (Balaraba Ramat Yakubu, 1990) (trans. Aliyu Kamal, 2012): a littattafai na soyayya novel, one of the occasional series I think of as "NPR books", ie, books I read becuase NPR made it sound interesting. This is a story of virtue rewarded and misdeeds punished: the wife and mother Rabi is thrown out of her husband's home at the insistence of a new wife, and must support herself and her nine children in Kano, Nigeria. The bad behavior of spouses is the recurring theme of this novel, as Rabi's oldest daughter Saudatu catches the eye of a wealthy businessman and finds her virtue rewarded with a loving and wealthy husband, Abubakar. Alhaji Abubakar casts off his previous wives as their flaws come to light. Greed, selfishness, and irreligiosity play their roles in revealing who is moral and upstanding and who is not. Ultimately, Abdu's fortunes crumble and he is forced to take back the hardworking Rabi, though now Rabi is in charge. "She was the one who handed out the day's provisions, who distributed the detergent and soap. She was the one responsible for giving the house a lick of paint when needed, and deciding what should go where."

To say this is outside my usual reading is an understatement. And I love that! Sin is a bit of a soap opera and a bit of a romance and perhaps a bit chicklit, or at least the story of dense community. Rabi appeals to her siblings for support, her brother-in-law chastises her husband, her children pitch in, her neighbors are part of her support network. Saudatu is able to catch Abubakar's eye when she is visiting with an aunt. But it's also threaded through with profoundly Islamic and Nigerian ideas: routine polygamy, separate spaces for men and women - when Rabi begins selling food from her house, the novel casually mentions her sons helping to take food outside to adult male customers, since of course these men cannot step foot in her house, it would violate purdah - the routine Islamic prayers, woven into the fabric of the characters' lives. It's a short, fascinating look into someone else's culture.

Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars (Nathalia Holt) (2016): Pop sci history. The JPL computer department, founding to its transition from "computer" to "engineer".

This is a little more memoir than I like my pop sci. Rise of the Rocket girls is descriptive. It's subjective. It recounts women coming to JPL, their experiences in and outside the computer department. It doesn't go the extra step to correlate this to wider trends. It mentions that the JPL computers hired a black women, it doesn't explore the link that to a century of racial discrimination in the sciences. It passes over the the hiring of a first generation Chinese woman without thought. It mentions that the JPL computer department consciously and consistently hired only women for decades, from almost its inception until its dissolution, and treats this lightly, rather than turning it around from all its fascinating angles: is this a form of affirmative action? Is this a variation of reverse discrimination? Did this impact the payment, the structure, the labor assigned to computers at JPL, compared to mixed or male-only computer groups? There's recounting that women left to get married, left for their first child, came back because they missed working, came back and got divorced, left to salvage their marriages, and the creeping change from "babies end careers" to "single mother supporting her family" happens utterly unremarked, it's just another variation in anecdotes. JPL launched a rocket, so and so got hired, JPL proposed a space mission, so and so left right before the birth of her child, and so forth and so on. It doesn't put in the work to step from fluffy to significant. And that's a shame. This book about these women, and this moment in the history of space exploration, of women's involvement in the military-industrial complex, of women as computer programmers and engineers and mentors and advocates for their junior colleagues, is so slight it's going to slip right out from notice and take these stories with it. Rise suffers a lot from failing my hopes; it disappointing and frustrating that such an interesting topic is not assayed with more rigor and depth.
ase: Book icon (Books 2)
2016-03-14 08:36 pm

Books Read, Some Not Recently

In December and over the holidays I read a number of Damon Runyon's short stories collected in The Bloodhounds of Broadway and Other Stories (1981). A writing giant of the 1930's, Runyon has a wonderfully distinctive fictional voice and smashing comedic timing.

A coworker lent me Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale (1983), which is a brick-long love story to New York City, in the mode of magical realism. Amazing prose, inconclusive plot. )

It's a hot mess and I like it. The plot is a mess with absurd resolution, when any thread resolves at all, and the prose is over the top, and it doesn't matter, it's so bizarre it takes the reader right out of the world into the world of the story.

I tripped and reread Martha Wells' Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy (2004-2005), some of the Ile-Rien and Cineth short stories collected in an ebook in 2015. It's hard to succinctly talk about why I enjoy these so much. I love the way The Wizard Hunters drops the reader into the troubles Ile-Rien and Cineth face and gets the multiworld ensemble working together against their common enemies, and against the frictions individual characters face with "their" people. The Ships of Air develops the cultural blind spots both sides discover alongside a breakneck action plot. The Gate of Gods almost sticks the landing; there's a lot of landing to stick (Tremaine and Ilias! The reason for the Gardier invasions! Giliead and sorcery! Ixion! Florian and Ixion! What's going to happen to Arisilde! And oh yes, defeating the Gardier.)

And there is snark. So much snark and sarcastic humor.

"It's a grend," Tremaine explained, keeping her voice low. "It's got Gerard trapped."

"You saw him?" she demanded. "What's a grend?"

"A big... thing." Tremaine flapped her arms in a vague gesture. "We didn't see him, but he's got to be there. If it had already eaten him, surely it wouldn't still be hanging around."

Florian stared, taken aback. "You know, when you're optimistic you have a strange way of phrasing things."


Then I read The Death of the Necromancer (1998) for the first time. The Death of the Necromancer is set a generation earlier, focusing on the adventures of the previous generation as Nicholas Valiarde's attempt to avenge his foster-father's murder is derailed by someone else's plot, one that smells of banned magics. One of the joys of The Death of the Necromancer is seeing Nicholas surrounded by characters in his weight class. Co-conspirators Madeleine and Reynard have their own histories, ambitions, and agency - Madeleine's particular defiance of family tradition plays a role, as do Reynard's disavowed military connections - and mad brilliant drug-addled Ari, repeatedly called the greatest or most powerful sorcerer in Ile-Rien, is least as much a problem as a sorcerous help. I love the sense of place the descriptions of Vienne evoke. I also like Inspector Ronsarde and Doctor Halle, whose antecedents are fairly obvious and I do not care at all.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (Lois McMaster Bujold) (2016): Being the latest in the Vorkosiverse, this time focusing on Vicereine Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan and her burning desire for six daughters; and also the start of a post-Aral romantic relationship with Admiral Oliver Jole, who has some life decisions of his own to make.

The e-ARC hit my smartphone on October 21st of last year, and I wasn't able to bring myself to open the book until March, when time and the tenor of other readers' spoiler-cuts had given some hints about how to adjust my expectations. And then I had lots of feelings that assume you've read the novel. )
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2015-10-25 08:39 pm

Booklog: Ancillary Mercy

Ancillary Mercy (Ann Leckie) (2015): Moving on from Lifeboats to another sort of ship. Excuse me, did the trilogy just stick the landing? Extensive spoilers for all three novels. )

Also, Leckie's tumblr is a delight. See especially #peep-peep-peep-peep.
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2015-10-25 03:46 pm

Backlogged Books

So, er, I found some book logs I started in July, and put somewhere unusual for me, and just found this week. And I remembered I had finished Lifeboats, so here's some novels.

Ancillary Mercy is getting its own post. It's moved me that much.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami) (1997 trans. Jay Rubin): Absolutely surreal Japanese fiction about a milk-mild fellow, Toru Okada, and a dry well. Also mysticism, Japan's collapse on the Manchuran front during WW2, fate and free will, and Noboru Wataya, an academic, rising politician, and also the brother of Kumiko, Toru's wife.

It's a floating novel, as Okada wanders through life with very little idea what he wants, or what he stands to lose, until he loses the thing that defined his life. The narrative is fragmentary, filled with negative space during Okada's periods of unemployment and isolation, and with elliptical loose connections between the characters who erratically interact with Okada: May Kashiwara, a teenaged girl who lives in Okada's neighborhood; Malta Kano, a clairvoyant, and her sister Creta Kano; Lieutenant Mamiya; Nutmeg and Cinnamon Akasaka, mother and son in a clairvoyant family business; Mr. Hondo, another clairvoyant. It's a little tricky to judge prose and style across translation, but what has survived the translation is something extremely controlled and literary, with a control of language that gives the reader the sense Murakami knows exactly what he's doing. It took me a really long time to get into the novel, but at the end I was tempted to flip back to the beginning and start rereading in light of knowledge revealed by the end of the novel.

"Penric's Demon" (Lois McMaster Bujold) (2015): A novella in the Five Gods universe, about an accident with a demon and a Very Nice Young Man. It's a nice Bujold novella, that doesn't break any new ground if you're familiar LMB's fiction, but average Bujold is still very solid entertainment.

Lifeboats (Diane Duane) (2015): Joins "Not On My Patch" and "How Lovely Are Thy Branches" as the third minor "interstitial" story between A Wizard of Mars and Games Wizards Play. At 90,000 words, it's not terribly minor. And thematically, it doesn't feel minor: Kit, Nita, and most of the usual suspects are called up on an emergency mission of mercy. As a story about when flashy displays of wizardly power aren't the solution, I really liked it. The teenage angst about Valentine's Day was cute, in a sappy "aw, teenagers" way. It's a lot of fun watching Nita and Kit grow up; I'm enjoying how Duane is developing their characters and relationship.
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2015-10-17 09:20 pm

Ancillary Mercy Insta-Reaction

I just finished Ancillary Mercy.

Now that was an ending. And Seivarden! I was not expecting Seivarden of all people to be promoted in my affections. Unlike [spoiler] who is awful and steals the show with awesome one liners from pretty much the first second onstage. And [epic spoiler]! Enjoy the salad. With fish sauce.
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2015-08-23 11:21 am

The 2015 Hugo Awards

The 2015 Hugo Awards have been announced! Congratulations to the winners in this historic year.

The awards ceremony was livestreamed. Watching it in real time with [personal profile] norabombay in chat was a blast. I hope future Worlcons continue to make the awards ceremony available live for those of us offsite. A potentially fraught ceremony was handled with grace by the MCs, David Gerrold and Tananarive Due.

Nomination and voting statistics are up for this year's awards and are being crunched, as you would expect from SF/F fandom.

tl;dr comments )
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2015-08-09 05:40 pm
Entry tags:

Hugo Nominees 2015: Voting

For some time I've had a tab about Samuel Delaney and this year's Hugos open in my browser. It's a good article because it discusses racism and the Hugos, and it's not an article I'm comfortable with because it's continuing the theme of Delaney The Token Black Science Fiction Writer. It's a work in progress, but the science fiction community is becoming more diverse.

Race issues aside, it says something that this year's Hugo drama has been covered by mainstream journalism. Whether something about the science fiction community, or about the movement of geeks from a fringe group to a more central place in American culture, or something else, I'm not sure.




Too many words on my voting experience. )

So now I have evaluated the puppy slates on their own merits, and having done that once, I can say I can use any future slates as guidelines of work I can skip without missing something amazing, or even likely relevant to my interests, either in excellence in genre or particular types of SF/F.
ase: Book icon (Books 3)
2015-07-30 11:07 am

Hugo Nominees 2015: Novel

Two nominees got punted on Did Not Finish grounds, but the other three - Addison's The Goblin Emperor, Leckie's Ancillary Sword, and Liu's The Three-Body Problem - have had me dithering.

3BP is good but flawed. If I can tell the physics is silly and inaccurate, the physics is really silly. AS is very much a middle novel; it's a competent middle novel, but my evaluation of its quality will be greatly influenced by Ancillary Mercy, out this October. And TGE is operating in such a different register from the other two novels, to the point where I ask whether you could strip out the genre aspects and have the exact same story.

In a good year, the Hugos are an embarrassment of riches, a diverse slate of competing innovative well-written ideas. I'm pleased these three novels give me a taste of that. I say with all my heart there is merit in stories where writers are figuring out their craft, or roughing out new things, or getting the bills paid in a competent but not brilliant fashion. But there's a difference between a story that demonstrates promise or developing talent and a story that merits Hugo recognition. That's why there's a lot of No Award going around this year.

My novel rankings right now are:
1 The Three-Body Problem
2 The Goblin Emperor
3 Ancillary Sword
4 No Award

But yesterday I had AS up top, and I still have a day to change my mind.




Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie: already read, and reread it too. In case you were wondering whether I liked it, ah, yes, I did.

The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson: There are so many problems, and I'm only 100 pages in. You know what? I'm 100 pages in, there have been 13 PoV characters in 16 chapters, it's exactly like reading Exile's Song only I'm not 14. The terrible prose, the illusion of depth that would likely be shattered by reading the rest of the series, the failures at basic mechanics of storytelling, the gratuitous Indiana Jones bad archaeology... I can stop now! There's been enough exposure that I know how I plan to rank this when I cast my ballot!

The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison / Sarah Monette: already read it. And I reread it while considering rankings. It's sweet and cute and at the end of it I asked, "does this have to be genre?" The story of TGE works equally well as a Ruritanian epic: substitute trains for airships and the goblins for a European power, and you've got something not entirely unlike, say, Philip Pullman's The Tin Princess.

Cut for space. )

Skin Game, Jim Butcher: The prose is slick, though the protagonist is ridiculous. The story opens with Harry Dresden hanging out on an island with certain eldritch properties, mostly playing parkour and waiting to... die from a magical brain tumor... or... something. Clearly I am coming into the middle of this series!

I only read the sample chapters of Skin Game, which were enough to convince me of Butcher's qualities as a writer without generating sufficient interest for me to check the full novel from the library. Beach reading; competent but not award winning.

(Parkour in the eldritch catacombs. Oh, Harry.)

The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu; Ken Liu translator: Now this is unquestionably science fiction. Spoilers. )

This is so very rooted in genre conventions. The aliens are hostile; the most critical science is cutting edge physics; a classic physics problem is a key aspect of the backstory. I'm fascinated that the author's note included with the English translation tells us that Chinese science fiction usually writes aliens as benevolent, since that's not my experience of the American approach to life in the skies.

I'm also surprised 3BP didn't show up on the Puppy slates, being the sort of gosh-wow SF they claim to support, but then I found Cixin Liu's Big Idea on Scalzi's blog, and for those of you who have been blissfully ignorant, the people behind the puppy slates are not rational on the topic of John Scalzi and anyone associated with him. Also, dare I suggest that a group that has consistently behaved as through straight white men of a certain socioecomic classes are the only group that counts might have, ah, not welcomed the contributions of a non-white non-American? Maybe I'm mistaken, but it seems like such an oversight not to include 3BP, when writers like KJA, Marko Kloos, and Larry Correira made it on the puppy slate in the novel category.
ase: Book icon (Books 3)
2015-07-07 07:35 pm

New Bujold TODAY

Penric's Demon, a novella in the five gods universe.
ase: Book icon (Books 2)
2015-06-30 08:01 pm

Hugo Nominees 2015: Novelette

The novelettes were a step up from the short story and novella categories, but still not exactly brilliant material. I'm on the fence about voting any of them over No Award.




"Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium", Gray Rinehart (Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, 05-2014): Old man dies on planet colonized by humans, then recolonized by aliens, and uses his death to rebel against the aliens' death rituals, in the first step to triggering a conflict between the two colonizing groups.

After the previous categories, this... isn't bad. It's got a beginning, middle, and end; it's not brilliant but it tells the story it set out to tell. It's not masterful. It's not introducing new ideas to the field, or demonstrating award-worthy levels of skill with prose, worldbuilding, or plotting. It's not that insightful about the material it's retreading. What's the difference between humans rebelling against their alien oppressors, and Iraqis in conflict with Americans? The lack of nuance is enough of a failure for me to knock this way down the rankings.




"Championship B'tok", Edward M. Lerner (Analog, 09-2014): Part two of a series about interstellar civilizations knit together by a lightspeed transmission network of... intellectual property? The story treats this as a background element to the unmasking of a conspiracy spanning millennia, but I kept getting hung up on the radiowave IP thing. It's like the backstory for Cherryh's Company novels smashed into Vinge's Qeng Ho, except without the things either of them do well. Both Cherryh and Vinge call out the lightspeed lags and the surprises that pile up between transmissions and reactions to transmissions, and how that plays out. "Championship B'Tok" foregrounds an in-system plot, which cuts down on your lightspeed lags, but treats the interstellar plot as the big reveal. It's a very distracting flaw in the story, which has sidetracked me from the dicey prose and flat characterization. If the plot and worldbuilding were better, I'd be able to overlook the prose and characterization, but that's not the case. Ambitious but flawed.




"The Day the World Turned Upside Down", Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014): the next time someone is asking what nice guy syndrome looks like, look no further! Girlfriend ditches boy, magical realism happens, Young Flower Of Untouched Innocence appears, Symbol of Our Relationship suffers at ex-boyfriend's hands, ex-BF quits this plane of existence in a way that is supposed to show how over everything he is. You can tell because he's mentally telling his ex how so very over her he is in the last paragraphs of the story.

The "romantic breakup = world turned upside down, NO LITERALLY" is actually executed well. If I were doing magical realism, I'd want to have cool ideas like that.

However, the execution relies on me caring about a Nice Guy who pines until he is totally, really over her when he discovers - gasp - there is another man in her life! She contaminated her purity by seeing another man after she dumped him!

Spare me.

It's hard to tell if this is suffering in translation from the subtle difference between the characters being jerks, and the author being completely aware of the intended effect, and the protagonist being a waste of my time because that is the author worldview. Negative one million points for Nice Guy protagonist souring my week.

n.b. this was a non-slate nomination. In the immortal word of Carolyn Hax, wow.




"The Journeyman: In the Stone House", Michael F. Flynn (Analog, 06-2014): This... isn't awful. It feels like a chunk hewn out of a larger story, but it has an acceptable beginning, middle, and end; mangles English in service of the story; and assembles the worldbuilding and characterization in a way that puts this that smidge over "Flow" where I cared enough to finish the story without skimming. The plot is, again, Ringworld natives; but it's competent Ringworld natives.




"The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale", Rajnar Vajra (Analog, 07/08-2014): Space cadets - Exoplanetary Explorers in training - pick a fight in a bar, get detailed to punishment duty packing up a failed project, and save the project from failing by noticing things overlooked by all other personnel assigned to the project in the last 30 years.

Wiki tells me the golden age of SF is 1938 - 1946, with some scholars advocating the '50s as the true Golden Age. My assessment is that the Golden Age of SF is twelve, when you're old enough to read adult works widely and indiscriminately, before you suss out the qualitative differences between Piers Anthony and Lois Bujold. But going by the golden age as a historic time period, the subtitle is spot on. This is from the "golden age", with the stiff prose, cocksure protagonists, and lack of grounding in actual human psychology you'd expect from that era. I started reading, I started skipping, I started flipping ahead to the end. It might not be bad, but if there's a brilliant idea lurking in there it's hobbled by the deadly words "I don't care about any of these characters, or the thing they're exploring" that escaped my thoughts a fifth of the way through.