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Kate Nepveu links to a drift compatibility discussion, and I think one could argue Julie and Maddie are TOTALLY DRIFT COMPATIBLE on that Spoiler ) alone. *sniff*

Which reminded me that I have read books!

Code Name: Verity (Elizabeth Wein) (2012): WW2 fiction about two friends, English and Scottish, spy and pilot, and a mission in occupied France that goes sideways. Emotional wrecking-ball which had a great deal of research poured into developing a line of argument the author's story could have happened. Spoilers, all the spoilers. ) Marked as teen/YA, but I'd rate this at the more mature end for the grim experiences as a captured spy and related emotional wrecking-ball qualities.

I reread large sections of Parable of the Talents (Octavia Butler) (2000) in January. Mild, pervasive spoilers, assumption of familiarity with the story under the cut. )
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September was the month of finishing fiction which had been strung out, on hold at the library, or otherwise delayed.

Altered Carbon (Richard K. Morgan) (2002): cyberpunk/future noir recommended by my roommate. Ex-UN Envoy Takeshi Kovacs dies on an extrasolar colony, and is "resleeved" in a new-to-him body on Earth as part of a contract to solve another murder of a wealthy Bay City (San Francisco) corporate magnate. In a future where human consciousness is routinely digitized, murder of the body is still a serious crime... with several twists on the definitions of "alive" and "dead".

As part of Operation Test The Smartphone, I read this in audiobook format, voiced by Tood McLaren. It took me three months, off and on, to finish the 17 hour audiobook.

There were a number of contributing factors. This was a library audiobook, which meant I had to wait my turn after each 3 week loan was up. I learned audiobooks do not mix with most of my work tasks, where music does. Instead, this was my car/cooking/cleaning novel. (Do not ask if I listened during my commute. Split attention does not mix with bicycling in urban traffic, unless one is also fond of split noggins.) So this novel had limited windows of opportunity, compounded by competing interests (hi, NPR!).

A back-of-the envelope calculation suggests I would put in 7 to 9 hours to read a novel of similar heft (word count and complexity); the slower pace of spoken English gives one more leeway to pay attention to each word, and consider how the parts are assembled into a whole. Sometimes this is good, allowing the listener to absorb minutia and really establish the scene; sometimes it lets the listening reader to think too hard about what they're heading.

Cyberpunk isn't my native genre. Hardboiled angst tends to evoke questions about software engineering and liver damage, which really ruins the mood. The combination of genre and audio pacing didn't always work to the novel's advantage. I was always going to eyeroll at the protagonist's manly prowess (how adorable it is when all two major female characters sleep with him - at separate times, and is that a plus or minus?) but the Overdrive app recommended by the library didn't have a "speed up" function, so skimming involved skipping ahead in 5 second chunks. The chance to tally the "told" versus "shown" worldbuilding also didn't always work in the novel's favor. "Envoy intuition" looks an awful lot like "deus ex machina" spelled a little funny.

If you like boy's adventures with guns and body counts and a little future fantasy, this is fine. It's not particularly deep, but it kept me company when my hands were full and my brain a little empty.

Blood of Tyrants (Naomi Novik) (2013): This is the one where Laurence - oh yes, epic spoiler, but is it a spoiler if it's outed in the first five pages? - and it doesn't live up to its potential. I've had that reaction to the last several novels in the series, alas.

Octavia Butler's Patternmaster series. By internal chronology, as I read them: Wild Seed (1980), Mind of My Mind (1977), Clay's Ark (1984), and Patternmaster (1976). However, I'd actually recommend publication order, to see Butler's growth as a writer.

Patternmaster, written first, is the most removed from contemporary time: sometime in the future, humanity is divided into Patternist society, founded on extrasensory powers which bind together the Patternists, and allow them to control the unpowered "mutes"; and the Clayarks, humans infected with an alien disease that gives them superhuman physical powers, but robs them of conventional human agency. Wild Seed and Mind of My Mind explore the precursors to Patternist society; Clay's Ark develops the alien Clayark virus' arrival on Earth. A number of themes in the series are echoed elsewhere in Butler's work; all the novels other than Patternmaster deal explicitly with race and (somewhat peripherally) gender; Patternmaster explores the dominance dynamics which Butler resurrects through much of her work, all the way through Fledgling. The lawless America presented in Clay's Ark prefigures the state of affairs in the two Parable novels.

Saga, Volume 1 (Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples) (2012): Graphic novel. Space opera about a POW and his guard who have gone AWOL to get married and become parents as the story opens. The family themes, likeable protagonists, solid (so far) characterization, promising narrative framing device, and very, very pretty while equally functional art hit many of my buttons. This is not groundbreaking experimental work; this is a high point of an artistic era. I'm looking forward to future volumes.
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Please bear with the length of this delayed double feature.

AUGUST
Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire at the Gates of Tassajara (Colleen Morton Busch) (2011): Nonfiction. During the California 2008 fire season, a Zen retreat was evacuated under threat of fire. Ultimately, five long-term residents remained to defend Tassajara from the Basin Complex fire.

Better than nice. )

This was a quick, easy read: I picked it up Friday morning and finished it in Saturday afternoon. I felt like it added to my sense of Bay area community. Recommended if you're interested in Zen practice or fires.

Proust was a Neuroscientist (Jonah Lehrer) (2007): Nonfiction. Essays on the link between 19th and 20th C artists' insights and early 21st C scientific research. Walt Whitman, George Eliot, chef Auguste Escoffier Marcel Proust, Paul Cezanne's paintings, Igor Stravinsky's "riot" of Spring, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, and neurophysiology.

The first essay, on Whitman, was surprisingly entertaining. (Full disclosure, I loathe Whitman's writing. High school english inflicted "Song of Myself" on me during my period of vigorously rejecting all things transcendentalist.) This would have been better if I'd spaced out the essays; trying to read all of them without a break emphasized the collection's limited scope and Eurocentrism. It also suffered from trying to bridge science and the arts: with a foot stretching into each sphere, it did a very incomplete job rooting in either topic.

Fullmetal Alchemist, v.9-27 (Hiromu Arakawa) (2004 - 2010): EPIC WIN. I wanted something absorbing and fun for my train reading, and this fit the bill. My enjoyment makes it hard to write up: good entertainment is something I know when I see it. How do you pick out the components of pleasure when your brain is caplocking with happy reactions?

Thumbs up for awesome female characters, complex plot, detailed and coherent worldbuilding, and shades of moral gray. )

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith (Jon Krakauer) (2003): Nonfiction. Interleaving of the 1984 murder of Brenda and Erica Lafferty by Brenda's brothers-in-law with a history of Mormon faith contributing to the environment that let men think God wanted them to commit murder.

The book has a weird depth (or shallowness?) of focus on one murder and all the history of fundamental Mormonism. )

Under the Banner of Heaven is interesting, but deals with people's cruelty in the drive for power, which makes for stressful reading. It's also sharply dated by its references to 9/11 and the absence of references to Prop 8. Worth reading if you're interested in the intersections of organized religion, power, and violence, but pack a strong stomach.

When Gravity Fails (George Alec Effinger) (1987): Fiction. A 22nd century Arabic punk gets the noir treatment. I will save the cognitive dissonance of the shift from FLDS to erratic Islam and the hilariously long list of novels I thought I'd picked up for another time. (This wasn't hard SF, Jerusalem Poker, or Srs Lit Bzns. Moving on!) I enjoyed the setting and atmosphere of the novel, without any particular attraction to the plot or protagonist, Marîd. Marîd suffers from saying he is a loner, relying on his native cunning to survive, between scenes of Marîd interacting with his girlfriend, buddies, and wider social network, and adjusting to some heavy-duty cyberpunk wetware upgrades with barely a pang. (Well, the denouncement with Hassan and Okking may be the pangs.) If I have to question whether the character's words and actions are congruent, and the book is not going for an unreliable narrator schtik? You're doing something wrong.

On the other hand, Marîd's low-brow 22nd century is an entertaining mix of bypassed cyberpunk and predictive power. Everyone has something like a cell phone, and information is power. The fringe elements that make up Marîd's social circle include transsexuals for whom somatic alteration was not cheap, but was possible; the surprise isn't that a female stripper used to be a boy, it's that she was a rich boy. The cyberpunk elements - wetware modifications that allow users to utilize personality modifications and knowledge add-ons - are one of the coolest elements in the story, cleverly and maddeningly presented as so mundane no one really thinks about what this means for the human condition, even as doctors evolve more sophisticated variations on the "moddies and daddies" theme. Such mundanity leaves the sense of wonder entirely in the reader's hands and mind, for a mixed experience.

Numbers game: 23 total finished. 23 new, 0 rereads; 20 fiction, 3 nonfiction; 19 graphic novel-ish, 1 essay collection.

SEPTEMBER
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Philip K. Dick) (1968): If PKD's purpose in writing this was to convince me Rick Deckard is Stanley Kowalski without the animal magnetism, it succeeded. If it is to set forth an argument that human beings will be petty and venal in most circumstances, it succeeded. If it's to envision a bleak postapocalyptic San Francisco, win. It's a venal story whose redeeming qualities are the local color (SF = love!) and curious reflections of 1968's nightmares. Robots are evil! In the future, Earth will be overrun by mechanical facsimiles of animals! And robots, too!

Every now and then, someone suggests PKD's fiction in my hearing, and I make the mistake of listening to them. PKD writes well-crafted stories I dislike, and I don't see a good reason to read any more of them at this time.

Fledgling (Octavia Butler) (2005): Octavia Butler writes a Mary Sue vampire novel. Seriously! Shori's an amnesiac genetic engineering experiment who can walk in the day, has the strength of grown vampire men, is 50 years old and looks like a 10-year old African-American human, and oh yes, survived the slaughter of her entire vampire family as well as all their human symbiotes.

As you may have gathered, this isn't my favorite Butler novel. It plays with power dynamics in Butler's usual mode, but in a "vampire novel!" context, exclamation point mandatory. Vampires are not my thing. Erotic relationships between adults and apparent children are really not my thing. Butler's usual writing talents couldn't overcome those handicaps to make this book interesting or memorably enjoyable for me.

The Outskirter's Secret (Rosemary Kirstein) (1992): Reread. If I won the lottery, there are two writers I could try to endow. Kirstein would be one of them. (Doris Egan is the other. Lois Bujold doesn't need my endowment; she regularly publishes in hardcover already.) I love the Steerswoman series for its worldbuiling, the protagonists, and general enjoyability. The Outskirter's Secret has my favorite worldbulding and a really fantastic Rowan-and-Bel travelogue.

A Fire in the Sun (George Alec Effinger) (1989): Sequel to When Gravity Fails. Marîd Audran, now one of underworld kingpin Freidlander Bey's lieutenants, visits his mother, investigates a murder, and foils a plot launched by Bey's major rival. Marîd continues to puzzle the reader with questionable characterization, grumbling about his lack of freedom while lapping the cream of servitude from his whiskers. The characterization seems inconsistent; it feels like Effinger had a Better Idea between When Gravity Fails and A Fire in the Sun, but didn't manage to completely integrate the retcon. The worst part for me was the giant brother-gun Effinger put on the mantlepiece early in the novel, which he never bothered to fire. Whether that was just sloppy writing or sequelitis in the works, it was poorly handled.

Numbers game: 4 total finished. 3 new, 1 rereads; 4 fiction, 0 nonfiction.
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While most of these are novels new to me, it so happened that I had previous exposure to all three writers.

Kindred (Octavia Butler) (1979): Fiction. One minute Dana is at home, and a dizzying moment later she is on a riverbank, watching a boy drown. Ripped from 20th century Los Angeles to 19th century Maryland, Dana is compelled to keep alive Rufus Weylin, plantation heir and slaveowner - and direct ancestor of Dana's mother - in a time when a black woman is property to be kept in its place. Brutal and uncomfortable, compelling while not stretching my mind the way some of Butler's other novels have.

The Snow Queen (Joan Vinge) (1980): Reread, first pass since my teens. Now I have the tools to articulate my lukewarm reaction! )

This wasn't great. The narrative wandered across two planets and bifurcating subplots that eventually (mostly) drew back together thanks to author shepherding. Scientific extrapolation was entertainingly hand-wave-y. The prose put one foot in front of the other. The worldbuilding was enhanced by the narrative sprawl, a plus that kept me reading. As a teen I actually bought one of the sequels and eventually got rid of it unread. This year I figured out what I was missing and got around to World's End, see below.

The Matisse Stories (A.S. Byatt) (1993): Three stories inspired by or mentioning a Matisse painting. I've been using "mimetic fiction" as shorthand for "slice-of-life fiction, usually not that interesting to me". These stories were in that mold: they passed the time but rarely pressed themselves into my memory. "Medusa's Ankles" didn't do much for me one way or another. I could see the craft that had gone into it, but didn't care. I saw the twist coming in "Art Work". "The Chinese Lobster" pulled me in by way of the emotions under the surface. I liked the unfolding layers: it starts out about a student complaint and widens into questions of art, suffering, and death. One of three isn't a great average; these passed the time, but I'm not inclined to hunt out more of Byatt's short stories.

World's End (Joan Vinge) (1984): Sequel to The Snow Queen, companion volume to The Summer Queen. BZ Gundhalinu goes on a quest to rescue his two older brothers, falls in with wildcat prospectors on a jungle-and-desert trek, and gets his crazy on.

An enjoyable reading experience is all about expectations. When I first read The Snow Queen, I expected good fiction, and couldn't put a finger why I felt so ambivalent to it. This year I broke a rule and skipped to the end of The Summer Queen. All those petty concerns about agency, agenda, and multi-novel time-versus-reward were swept off the table when I found out a secondary character got the wormhole technology downloaded to his brain from a relict of the Ancients Old Empire and kicked off an arms race.

Cut for space and incoherent spoilers. )

It should be noted, I was reading this the same week I was completing school applications. A little displaced stress seemed appropriate. So I can't say this was technically good, but it let me add sybil virus to Aurora chairs, needle grenades to your brother's chest, vodka and orange, and the snowglobe flashforward in the lexicon of so over your head, son. And I was vastly entertained in the process.

The Summer Queen (Joan Vinge) (1991): Co-sequel to The Snow Queen. Undomesticated equines could not keep me away from a whopping doorstop epic hinging on a economic/political scramble and one man's undeclared agenda. The core storyline - BZ, Moon, and the threat of empire - is pretty cool, but the execution was way too ambitious. Twenty years of storytelling are refracted through a Greek chorus of PoV characters scattered over five planets, in a Stephenson-sized novel, and somehow several character arcs still feel shortchanged. I anticipated several plot "twists", to my disappointment, and the Tammis-and-Merovy plot was an agenda trainwreck.

Disjointed plot reactions. )

Numbers game: 5 total finished. 4 new, 1 reread; 5 fiction.
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By six minutes and twenty-two seconds into the first episode of Leverage I was already a little in love with Parker and Alec. I know, you're all shocked.

This morning M. took a personal day - I renewed my vow to never date long distance before catching the late bus - and tonight I made pancakes, which we ate with M.'s vanilla soy ice cream and caramel topping. Except for the part where I didn't do a bit of laundry, or get any GRE studying accomplished, or pack my lunch, and stayed up past my bedtime, a successful evening.

Five words from [livejournal.com profile] charlie_ego: apocalypse, biology, cooking, graphics, Butler (the last is time-dependent... I just got a whole bunch of Octavia Butler books from the library and thought of you :) ) )

If anyone wants to play, the rules are out there.

Geek!

Oct. 21st, 2008 07:12 am
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One good thing to come out of last week was my imagination throwing up the image of a Singularity novel written by Octavia Butler. It would not be told by the victors, or the new elite. It would be told by the people whose bodies and minds were altered, not always by their own desire, and the patterns of oppression and community-building in a future strange and even alien to the reader. And it would be really freaking cool.

On a related note, I don't know if the producers intended Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles to be parsed as a story about parenting and how you can change the future, but I know how I'm reading it. (The machines think you can change the future. The information coming from the future changes the future. The constraints of network TV make it unlikely the series will end with a world-destroying bang. The world has already changed: Skynet is a chess program on steroids; Miles Dyson is dead, long live Skynet; Sarah Connor is not played by Linda Hamilton.) It's unusual to watch a show about some guy named John in an almost completely non-ironic and unapologetic fashion. (Babylon 5, season 5: let's just pretend the whole Byron arc never happened.)

In personal news, when I'm sleep-deprived and underfed I'm really dumb. This is why I'll be at work at 8 AM today instead of 7:30, but now that I've found my wallet (dropped in complete illogic next to the umbrellas, instead of anywhere near eye level) I get to go to work, yay.
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A Swiftly Tilting Planet (Madeleine L'Engle): Reread. Charles Wallace and the unicorn Gaudior have really cool adventures. I am frustrated by Mom O'Keefe spoilers. )

Parable of the Talents (Octavia Butler): Also a reread. I like Parable of the Sower more, but I think Talents may be the better book. It uses the contrasting narrative voices well, and I like the device of the entire book being told through written words, however improbable. History is written by the victors - and the bystanders - and the people too stubborn to stop writing, and reflects those different perspectives. Sometimes, one must question who won. I keenly feel the mother-daughter estrangement, Asha / Larkin's bitter insight and refusal to fall into Lauren Olamina's orbit. When I was younger I had more sympathy for Marc, Lauren's minister brother, but now I have understanding without necessarily sympathy. Marc and Asha manage "alone together" quite well. You can tell how much Butler engages me because I get all tangled in character and motivation and lose perspective on the fact that this is all fiction.

Many Waters (Madeleine L'Engle): Still rereading! My least favorite of the Wrinkle quartet. Similar manifestations of evil show up in L'Engle's Wrinkle novels and Diane Duane's Wizard series; evil is something other, is the cruel man offscreen or the destroyer cloaked in soft, wasteful lies. Evil is pretty clearly telegraphed as such; these aren't the universes of good intentions harming people.

Many Waters spoilers. )

Tehanu (Ursula K. Le Guin): Yes, I did my best to reread the entire series, except for The Other Wind. I understand why, thirty years later, Le Guin might have felt the original trilogy didn't serve her goals, but I am less sympathetic to the execution of her patch-work. Several scenes do logical jumps I still barely follow, three rereads later, and I am displeased with Spark's plotline. (Moment of truth? I want a story where he sells Oak Farm and uses the money to buy a legitimate ship, co-financed by his ex-pirate boyfriend. If Spark doesn't know Tenar, well, I'm willing to imagine that Tenar doesn't know Spark, either. I want everyone to be complicated and more than they seem. Call it the iceberg theory of characterization.)

Anyway. Logical jumps, and other spoilers. )

A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin): The first Earthsea book, where evil is the Old Powers and your own shadow. Le Guin does heartstopping moments of poetry and fun ethnological worldbuilding, and I am unfazed by its age. The story holds up well enough for me.

Power skimmed Tales from Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin), which is exactly as I remember it. It turns out some pieces imprinted deeper than I thought, which goes to show the power of a good storytelling idea, even in the face of raving alchemists.

Bloodchild and Other Stories (Octavia Butler): Also a reread, because some days nothing will please you but a bloodcurdling love story with male pregnancy. There's two short essays in the back, and story notes after each story, which I like because it shows another angle of Butler's thoughts, and lets me sputter, "but - but -" when I slam into the places I thought one thing and she thought something else.

Notes on particular stories: "Bloodchild" will always have a special place in my heart for being completely alien; "The Evening and the Morning and the Night" is like Hell crossed with proto-Clay's Ark; I actually managed to wipe "Near of Kin" out of my memory, which shows where my lines lie; "Speech Sounds" has one of the best twist endings ever; "Crossover" scares the daylights out of me. Questions?

Goodbye, Descartes: The End of Logic and the Search for a New Cosmology of the Mind (Keith Devlin): Nonfiction. Devlin on logic, and attempts to apply logic to human communication, and how this has spectacularly failed to produce good working models of how people talk to each other. Eleven or twelve chapters, and I'm not sure if I've retained anything more than the briefest highlights of any of it. It's a topic well-treated by someone who knows what they're talking about, but it's dense; I picked this up in late August, and only now finished it. Someone who knows more about logic - in other words, isn't starting from "what is logic?" - may find this an easier read.

The Marquisarde (Louise Marley): Professional flutist and Parisian Ebriel Serique runs into the flip side of priviledge when her husband and daughter are killed in a terrorist raid that might be anything but. Her grief and hunger for revenge propel her into a well-heeled resistance group and the path of James Running Bull.

I liked the idea, but the execution was shaky. Spoilers! )

Overall, good idea, hampered by one personal quirk, a weak B-for-Boy plot, and some strangely passive prose. However, I am sufficiently intrigued I'm poking around for other books Louise Marley's written.
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I have fever, but it's of the sort that conks me out, without completely incapacitating me between naps. So have some book chatter.

The Ghost Brigades (John Scalzi): The adventures of Jared Dirac, Special Forces clone of a brilliant rogue scientist. A sort of sequel to Old Man's War: same universe, overlapping characters. Spoilers and stuff. )Conclusions: good light genre fiction, but don't think about it too hard. Also, if you have a problem with cute kids, run away.

Crystal Soldier (Sharon Lee and Steve Miller): First half of the adventures of M. Jela Granthor's Guard and Cantra yos'Phelium; prequel to the Liaden novels by the same authors. I read several of the Liaden novels in my late teens, and very little has stuck with me beyond one sentence: here we stand: An old woman, a halfling boy, two babes; a contract, a ship, and a Tree. Clan Korval. How Jela would laugh. I found the writing in the Liaden novels tended to use a lot of gimmes in ways that don't interest me, but I wanted to know more about this "old woman" and her backstory, which sounded much more interesting than her arch descendants.

Prequel writing is tough. This example didn't do it for me. )I should say that Crystal Soldier did one thing I liked: no completely superfluous B-plot to pad the page count. Also, for all my gripes about the SF content, the romance did not completely and intrinsically irritate me, as so many romance novels or stories do.

The Outback Stars (Sandra McDonald / [livejournal.com profile] sandramcdonald): Jodenny Scott, survivor of one of those space disasters, gears up for the next round. Terry Myell just wants the bullying to stop.

Australia love! )Conclusions: uneven, but promising. I'll make the library hold the sequel for me.

The Tombs of Atuan (Ursula K. Le Guin): Second book in the Earthsea trilogy. Reread. I read the Earthsea trilogy out of order - Tombs, The Farthest Shore, then A Wizard of Earthsea last. I'm trying to remember if I read Tehanu before Wizard, but I'm pretty sure I read the first book in the first trilogy before finding the first book in the second trilogy. Mostly sure. Needless to say, this misreading order has colored my feelings about the series in interesting ways. What do you mean, the trilogy's overwhelmingly important protagonist is Ged?

The original Earthsea trilogy might technically be considered epic fantasy, since it's the story of restoring the peace and the monarchy, but any Fat Fantasy Epic conventions are undercut left, right and center. Tombs is awesome about this: it's a classic "steal things from the Temple of Evil!" story, but it's told from the perspective of Evil's scornful young and nubile high priestess, and having the McGuffin solves nothing immediately. Magic can be flashy - and from his staff and his hands leapt forth a white radiance that broke as a sea-wave breaks in sunlight, against the thousand diamonds of the roof and walls: a glory of light - but it's also useful for curing goat diseases and mending things, like the Ring of Erreth-Akbe. At the end of the story, the hero sails into port, victorious, but the object he went to fetch is carried by the girl. I can see why Le Guin went back and tried to fix her universe years later - there are fundamental injustices, but life is unfair - but the books stand on their own just fine, I think.

Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler): Also a reread. The world ends. Lauren Olamina keeps going. One of the things I love about postapocalyptic fiction is the inevitable settling toward a new equilibrium, and Butler does an awesome job of that in this story. Historical injustices aren't repeated identically, but similar situations arise. I want to wave my hands and discuss the political setup and race and how everyone's wrapped up in their children.
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Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler): Reread. The journals of Lauren Oya Olamina from 2024 to 2027, a time when America is slowly crumbling into embattled, isolated enclaves as global warming and political corruption take their toll. Octavia Butler's novels tend to be as disturbing as history and as strange as anything SF has dreamed. I'm never sure if I like her novels, but I keep reading them, once or twice a year.

Parable of the Talents (Octavia Butler): Reread; sequel to Parable of the Sower. Extracts from Olamina's journals during a vicious Christian Right presidency, framed and connected through commentary written by her estranged daughter fifty years later. President Jarrett and his followers are like a slightly scarier version of contemporary politics, so if you're already on the "OMG Bush is Teh Evil" bandwagon you may want to put off reading this until November.
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. . . so maybe I read a little bit more than I think I do. I’m chalking September’s long list up to that hurricane-shaped thing that came through in the middle of the month.

Putting all comments behind cuts, regardless of length, for formatting and to save friends pages.

The Paths of the Dead, Steven Brust. In Which the Writer Enacts the Dance of Fangirl Glee. )

Two by Octavia Butler: Adulthood Rites and Imago )

Butler’s protagonists tend to be thrown into situations nearly as stressful, upsetting, and invasive as Cherryh’s protags; at some point I may have to do some sort of Cherryh/Butler comparison.

Lirael, Garth Nix. )

Abhorsen, Garth Nix. A bit sharp. )

Sabriel, Garth Nix. )

1602, Issues One and Two, by a Numeber of Hands )

The Phoenix Code, Catherine Asaro. In Which Romance Fails to Overcome Theme Underdevelopment. )

A College of Magics, Caroline Stevermer. Solid not-medieval fantasy. )

The Secret Country, Pamela Dean. )

Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille, Steven Brust )

Sorcery and Cecelia, Caroline Stevermer and Pat Wrede. )

I've heard it said more than once that Stevermer and Wrede are working on a sequel, The Grand Tour. If this ever comes out, I'm definitely going to read it.
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See? Not as late as July! Go me!

Cutting for major spoilers and some space. May come back and cut for space more once I post this and see how much space it hogs.

(Nine books. Nine. Shoot. Granted, some of them were short, but others were five hundred pages. Probably won't read this many novels again until I get another insane commute like August's. Given where I live, it shouldn't be more than three years... anyway. On to the stories.)

The Years of Rice and Salt, Kim Stanley Robinson (Nominated for the 2003 Hugo Award for Best Novel): The Black Plague devastated Europe in the Middle Ages, killing an estimated third to half of the continental population. What if it had wiped out 99% of the European population? How would history play out if Chinese and Islamic culture dominated, rather than European? And what if souls reincarnated, grouping together in multiple lifetimes, so that stories set a thousand years apart might be the adventures of the one protagonist? Kim Stanley Robinson throws a monkey wrench in the mechanics of history and writes down how it might play out. Sort of.

Spoilers? What spoilers? You mean the ones under this cut? )

On the balance, it’s KSR. If you like his relaxed writing style and socialist/environmental politics, you’ll probably enjoy The Years of Rice and Salt.

O Jerusalem, Laurie R. King: Mary Sue Russell and her mentor/partner Sherlock Holmes temporarily escape a messy and potentially lethal case in London, risking their lives in the Holy Land in January 1919. Set smack in the middle of The Beekeeper's Apprentice, the first book in the series, but written between The Moor and Justice Hall (see below).

If I recall correctly, I first read this during a Laurie King binge a couple years ago. Beats The Moor hands down.

Justice Hall, Laurie R. King: A very direct sequel to O Jerusalem. The most striking thing about it, for me, is a theme it shares with LRK’s Martinelli series: an authorial love of generational continuity and expensive houses intersecting with some less rooted or more ambiguously rooted characters. Russell gushes about the centuries of history imbued in Justice Hall's very walls; Kate Martinelli and her partner Lee sink sweat, time and money into Lee’s dead... aunt’s? mother’s? house on Russian Hill. The central mystery, such as it is, unfolds with authorial deliberation and enjoyable twists, but is almost incidental to LRK’s interest in continuity and the changing British social landscape of the 1920's.

The King’s Peace, Jo Walton: Would you believe I didn’t pick up that this was an Arthurian retelling until two hundred or more pages in? Comments waiting on finding and finishing The King’s Name the second half of the story.

The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. Le Guin: Everyone dreams; most people’s dreams don’t affect reality. George Orr’s do, and it terrifies him. The state-assigned psychiatrist he is forced to see after a drug overdose read as an apparent suicide attempt is fascinated by these "effective dreams" and uses George to rewrite the world a bit. Okay, more than a bit. George is disturbed. The reader resists the urge to earmark and pencil in examples of Le Guin’s bulletproof literary kinks pet ideas.

Dawn, Octavia Butler: The War is gone, as is most of the human race. Lilith Iyapo (people famliar with Bible-based religious traditions will note the significance and irony of the name) is one of the survivors saved by the Oankali, aliens without the human biological imperative for conflict, but with an imperative to "trade" genetic structure with other species, willing or otherwise. The novel narrates Lilith’s reluctant acceptance of a role as the resentful bridge between the humans and the Oankali.

The Oankali have a classically cool S.F.nal idea going for them: a three sex reproductive system, involving up to five participants. They also subvert a lot of classic memes. Their behavior toward humanity is peaceful, benevolent and more invasive than any "conquer the puny Earthlings" military campaign. Their trade imperative is read by most of the characters as infecting the human genome with frightening, alien characteristics. Science fiction has reiterated the clash of cultures theme from a dominant culture’s point of view plenty of times; Dawn is about the effects on (and by) the "weaker" culture. Humans hate and fear the Oankali, but are prized by that species of assimilators for their adaptability and creativity.

This has some obvious applications to the history of the United States, and the Americas at large.

Ill Met in Lankhmar, Fritz Leiber: All hail the adventures of the indomitable Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser! Old school sword-and-sorcery of the type much mocked by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, but with a flair for dramatic language and humor. The city of Lankhmar has probably inspired a number of D&D games, and several series currently in production, such as Steven Brust’s Vlad novels and P.C. Hodgell’s Jaime books, very likely also trace some roots to Fritz Lieber’s novels. If you find any of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser novels, they’re slightly dated in attitude and their use of language, but very much worth reading for their lively protagonists and fantastical plots.

The Service of the Sword, David Weber et al: latest collection of stories set in the Honorverse. People who have read the previous three collections know the drill: Weber writes a story about Honor, the Navy, or the treecats and other authors fill in gaps that interest them. This time, Jane Lindskold, Timothy Zahn, John Ringo, Victor Mitchell, and Eric Flint step up to the Honorverse. )

A Wolf at the Door, and Other Retold Fairy Tales, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, eds: Short story collection filed under YA at the library. I checked it out for the Garth Nix story, a rather gruesome retelling of Hansel and Gretel, but really enjoyed several other stories in the collection. A fast, easy read, including contributions from a lot of big name authors, including Neil Gaiman, Tanith Lee and Jane Yolen. Possibly my favorite story in the collection was "Swans" a retelling of the same myth used in [livejournal.com profile] pegkerr's The Wild Swans, which was about family, love, noise and silence when I wanted to hear about those things.

Edited Sept. 12 to add: The Cinderella retooling annoyed me, though, smacking into current buttons regarding the importance of self-motivation and determination in life.

Edited Oct 17 to add: Forgot about Sorcery and Cecelia, which I had to have read sometime in August.



September's book list will almost certainly be shorter, unless people are keenly interested in a blow-by-blow account of my struggles with functional groups in two different courses, but I've got some good stuff on hand: more Octavia Butler, The Paths of the Dead (finished it this weekend, and... oh. Even fangirl squeals fail. I think Brust may be leaping up the purchase priority list as soon as I confirm the pub date for The Enchantress of Dzur Mountain. And oh, thank any and all deities and divinities for interlibrary loan, which granted me Paths and will eventually eventually land The Lord of Castle Black in my trembling hands.)

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