ase: Book icon (Books 3)
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: Book icon (Books 2)
Saga, Volume 2 (Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples) (2013): Continuing the adventures of Hazel's star-crossed parents against the backdrop of a galaxy-spanning conflict. Continues to hit my buttons, especially the end-of-volume cliffhanger.

Kenobi (John Jackson Miller) (2013): Star Wars: the western! If you think about it too hard I am not sure it makes sense, but while I was reading it entertained me. The novels focuses mostly on non-Kenobi characters (OCs?) entangled in the life of xxx Oasis.

When the King Comes Home (Caroline Stevermer) (2000): Hail Rosamer, daughter of rural wool merchants and artist's apprentice, has less than no interest in politics. Politics find her anyway in a quarrel with a former co-apprentice, whuch tumbles her into larger intrigues.

Set in the same universe as A College of Magics, some hundreds of years previous, and centering around attempts to resurrect and control Good King Julian, a near-legendary figure 200 years dead.

Hail is a splendid narrator: impetuous, impressed with herself and her budding artistic talents. Stevermer's narrative voice us aware of Hail's less than charming aspects, and channeled through the young woman takes on a friendly wryness.

The plot is as light as the voice. Hail is thrown around by events, rarely conscious of or concerned by the larger or long term consequences of the desires she acts on. The kingdom's instability, the implications of the magics wielded around her, the politics surrounding conversations between her kin, her friends, her mistress, are secondary ir lost on her. Hail wants to make art, and be seen making great art, and plot slips in around the edges of those passions.

The Other Half of the Sky (Ed. Athena Andreadis, Kay Holt) (2013): Being an anthology Going back to an old review, I recap:

Are the ideas compelling?
Do the plots interest me?
Is the spelling and grammer readable?
Have the spelling and grammar been mangled for good reasons that support the idea or plot?

I wasn't really in the mood for this collection. Most of the stories were competent, sometimes rising to greater interest or experiments falling short of success. Finders feels like setup or prequel for something interesting. This Alakie... mangled grammer, trying to support the idea, but fell short of capturing my interest; The Waiting Stars set up interesting worldbuilding and ethical conundrums; Velocity's Ghost has an interesting plot twist around education, propoganda, and long-term planning; Dagger and Mask and Ouroboros are passive-voice stories that didn't play well back to back. Cathedral has a male narrator pining for a female character whose actions are pivotal to the conclusion; it was annoying. And so forth.

Contents. )

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