Audre Lorde identified as a radical. I think I identify as a moderate, perhaps selfishly: I can get the system to lurch along in my favor at least some of the time. As a woman, an African-american, the daughter of immigrants, and a lesbian, Lorde had no privilege to use as a lever in her favor, and four good reasons to critique the system with no compassion. I'm just lucky that, unlike some of her peers, Lorde does so through inviting, lively prose. Lorde challenges and rewards close attention.
( Table of Contents, for reference )
The Birthday of the World and Other Stories (Ursula K. Le Guin): Ever have that moment when you want to say, "you were the cool adult when I was younger, but I'm not sure I'm that person anymore"? I have that going with Le Guin's fiction. ( I enjoy her writing, but a lot of that enjoyment is rooted in attachment to existing work. )
Consider Phlebas (Iain M. Banks): ...no.
Pure space opera: star-spanning war killing billions, destruction of a Ringworld, mercenaries, aliens. Real sense of wonder stuff, in the right hands and at the right time.
It was entirely not to my taste.
Somewhere between the last fat space opera and this, I lost interest in the genre. I could see the sense of wonder, just out of reach: the amazing engineering of the Orbital, the Damage tournament, the reckless scale of the Culture ship, the colorful and dangerous characters. I just didn't care about any of it, and was actively repelled in come cases.
Perhaps it was timing - December was pretty soul-sucking - but the Consider Phlebas completely failed to engage my sense of wonder.
( Spoilers. )
Banks is pretty well-regarded in SF circles, so this may have been a fluke of weak writing and bad timing, but I'm in no hurry to go back to the Culture series. If I read another Banks novel, I'm going to pick up The Algebraist and see if I agree with the Hugo nomination.
Swordspoint (Ellen Kushner): "Every man lives at swordspoint . . . I mean, the things he cares for. Get them in your grasp, and you have the man - or woman - in your power", one character says, and this might be a story of maneuvering to put one's enemies in line for a quick stab to the heart. It's also a quasi-Regency fantasy of manners, but even that's an incomplete description.
I've seen Swordspoint rattling around the library for years, and finally picked it up mostly in anticipation of reading the sequel, which looks nicely gender-bending. When I picked up the paperback and saw the the Thomas Canty cover art, as well as an embarrassing number of laudatory statements, I braced myself for disappointment.
To my surprise, it didn't suck. I enjoyed the story of Richard, Alec, and the nobles of the Hill more than I expected. Whether it's Kushner's mannered prose, her delicate hand with character point-of-view, an unexpected vividness to the politics of the nobility, or some other facet of good writing at work is something I'm still thinking about. It's possibly the delight of unreliable narration. Megan Whalen Turner uses point of view and concealed thoughts to blatantly and entertainingly manipulate readers' attention in the Attolia / Eddis novels; Kushner also makes it evident she knows more than she's telling readers, and so do some of the characters, but with a restraint and deliberation that seems to say "it's more fun this way. Trust me."
The paperback I checked out from the library, a 2003 reprint, includes three short stories: "The Swordsman Whose Name Was Not Death", "Red-Cloak", "The Death of the Duke". The first features a would-be swordsman who is either a girl in disguise or a boy disguised as a girl - I got a little confused on that point - the second owes a debt to Fritz Leiber's uncanny and spirit-haunted Lankhmar; the third felt like I ought to be so sad, I think, but was a fitting end for a love story. I'm more curious to know what filled the years between Swordspoint and The Death of the Duke, and whether the latter is canon with respect to The Privilege of the Sword. None of the three were deathless, but it's interesting to see the evolution in style, especially from Red-Cloak, the earliest writing in the Riverside-and-Hill setting. After finishing these, I'm looking forward to The Privilege of the Sword.
For posterity, I will note that I read all of Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar novels which I had not previously encountered. (Alberich duology, Owl trilogy, Skif novel, Collegium two-of-incomplete-trilogy, Lavan Firestorm novel; that's, um, a lot of id vortex.) Pray let us never speak of this again.
Numbers game: 13 total finished. 13 new, 0 reread; 12 fiction, 1 nonfiction. 2 short story / essay collections