ase: Book icon (Books)
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)
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.

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