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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.
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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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SEPTEMBER
The Wild Shore (Kim Stanley Robinson): ..meh. Postapocalyptic "what is America" bildungsroman where the protagonist learns that sometimes people lie to you and don't have your best interests at heart. This has some of the elements I like about KSR's other novels - attention to detail, location as almost a character in its own right - but the moral focus is uninteresting to me. The nuclear annihilation and post-nuclear log cabin existence of the new Americans, hemmed in by a UN ban (or forces manipulating the ban on the international scene) almost looks a little post-Iraq, if you squint, and ought to resonate with American challenges thirty years later. But it doesn't, to me. First novel-itis? The narrator's political naivete drove me to distraction, and then to indifference.

American Project: The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto (Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh): Nonfiction. Sociological study of the Robert Taylor Homes Project in Chicago from its inception to the '90s, looking at the goals and failures of the project. From almost the start, underfunding and over-subscription to services plagued individual buildings and the project as a whole. Venkatesh examines strategies residents devised to survive: under-the-table jobs and businesses, networks and favoritism, relationships with "legitimate" authorities. I found this interesting, and illuminating, but dry. Ventakesh makes evident in the use of theory and endnotes that he's writing a scholarly book first, and only secondarily for a lay audience. It's readable, but I suspect some of the theory went right over my head.

The Steerswoman's Road (Rosemary Kirstein): Reread. Collection of The Steerswoman and The Outskirter's Secret; contains my favorite eyewitness description of a mass non-natural disaster.

OCTOBER
Continued Kirstein re-read: on to The Lost Steersman and The Language of Power. There's something subtle and unexpected going on with gender and worldbuilding; consider this a holding place for a longer examination of the question.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy (J. R. R. Tolkien): Reread. When you don't know what else to read... Tolkien. "The Grey Havens" gets me every time.

Cryoburn (Lois McMaster Bujold): New Bujold is always awesome, but this one hit me in unexpected places. I sulked for a week after I finished this. I may still be sulking. Spoiler item was inevitable, but it ruined the last chapter for me, because I saw it coming. I'm also not pleased with other parts of the structure: I think A Civil Campaign's plot-with-a-bow-on-top structure spoiled me for novels of less artifice (Diplomatic Immunity, Cryoburn). The beautiful theme / plot dovetailing in Mirror Dance and Memory didn't help. I'm not sure if LMB is getting subtler, and I'm missing things because I'm not paying attention, or if there's another reason I'm not as happy with this book.

I also have very firm associations with the word "drabble" which completely threw me out of the last 500 words of the novel. Am I the only one?

Poll #5052 Drabble
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: Just the Poll Creator, participants: 12

I read fanfic

Yes
12 (100.0%)

No
0 (0.0%)

The "a drabble is a story in exactly 100 words" sentence affected my reading experience

Yes - it enhanced my experience
1 (8.3%)

Yes - it detracted from my experience
4 (33.3%)

No
7 (58.3%)

Should I go to the extra effort to cross-post this poll to LJ?

Yes
1 (9.1%)

No
10 (90.9%)

Is a poll complete without a tickybox?

No!
8 (72.7%)

Yes!
1 (9.1%)

Ticky for fewer exclamation points
3 (27.3%)



Tongues of Serpents (Naomi Novik): Fifth in the series, following Victory of Eagles: Laurence and Temeraire, branded traitors to England, arrive at an Australian exile that is anything but settled, or restful.

This got long, as well as mixed. )

I think my real problem is that I want the series to be something it's not. Novik's not writing about major aerial actions, and she's not writing an alternate universe English Dragon Revolution informed by 21st century social justice activism. That's okay, but it pops the sequels to the "beach and brainless" reading list.

The Honor of the Queen (David Weber): Second Honor Harrington novel; reread. The last time I touched anything Weber-authored was 2003; the last time I read a full HH novel must have been 2001 or earlier. This wasn't a particularly well-written novel in my memory, and rereading did not help its case. The plot's direct, but the writing rambles to the point of tediousness. I don't care how many kilometers per second your missile travels, evading penaids and point defenses; I care how much story-propelling boom it makes when it hits something.

Apparently, I absorbed the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth Honor Harrington novels (War of Honor, At All Costs, and Mission of Honor, all written by David Weber) in a two-day electronic binge. Does it count as power-skimming when you keyword-search to the characters you care about?

My infodump about my reaction to infodumps, let me show you it. )

Numbers game: 15 total finished. 7 new, 8 reread; 14 fiction, 1 nonfiction
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I'm going through another spate of playlist creation in my search for the Perfect Work Mix (120 - 180 minutes of rocking awesome that will cut through the background noise without blowing my eardrums). I started out hating Rob Thomas and now I am strangely addicted to "Fire on the Mountain", even though I also want to steal the instrumentals for mashups. (From about 1998 - 2003 I hated everything on every rock or alt rock radio station. Everything. So I was not particularly keen on Matchbox 20, mostly because I didn't know I was looking for pop with a dance beat.) It's a slightly guilty pleasure, like reading trashy fantasy novels.

Speaking of trashy fantasy novels - yes, please disagree with me - I am rereading His Majesty's Dragon. There is a touching scene early in the novel where outside forces tell Laurence it's his duty to leave Temeraire in other people's care - forever - and Temeraire disagrees. Emphatically. Laurence gives up and admits that Temeraire is awesome and he'd never leave him. Somehow I am reminded of Lyra and Pan in the intercision chamber, and incidentally I'm a little disturbed by this comparison of two novels which have nothing to do with each other. I mean, Novik is Neopoleonic wars with dragons, occasionally using some thematic conflict about duty and justice to make the reader say, "no! You can't do that to Temeraire!" while making very sad faces, and The Golden Compass is the first in a trilogy taking on God and religion. Temeraire is not Laurence's daemon (much), but apparently it's that hard to break up the set.

To bring these two together: if at any point I wind up with a set list that doubles for His Majesty's Dragon and rocking awesome music for work, I will be deeply disturbed.
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That took entirely too long.

JULY

The Yiddish Policeman's Union(Michael Chabon): Noir set in Sitka Province as the clock ticks down toward its reversion from a Jewish resettlement state to the governance of the United States. Meyer Landsman must fight his alcoholism and his superiors to solve the murder of a chess-playing heroin addict with surprising connections. The afterward, where Chabon essentially says, "I'm proud of my 90's work [which was Serious Lit], and now I'm having an adventure" endears Chabon to me.

Short Fiction for the WSFA Short Fiction Award: Amundsen to VandeMeer. )

Black Powder War (Naomi Novik): Reread. The adventures of William Laurence and his dragon Temeraire, volume three: overland Asian trip to Sharpe territory by way of Turkey. I was struck by my own weaknesses when reading the Lien and That Guy cameo in this book. Briefly - short, crazy smart, adaptable: why are we fighting Napoleon again? I'm having warm and fuzzy Bujold flashbacks here.

Ciao, America!: An Italian Discovers the U.S. (Beppe Severgnini): Short essays written during a year living in Georgetown, in DC. Lightweight reactions to shopping, neighbors and the house. I was hoping for some deeper reflection on the people Severgnini interacted with during that year, but alas: deep like puddle.

In the Shadow of Islam (Isabelle Eberhardt; Sharon Bangert trans.: Bangert translated someone else's (edited) publication of Eberhardt's journals, so who knows how much truth is left. But the imagery that survives the double translation is pretty cool, and some personal color remains. Eberhardt's attention to the desert is worth mentioning; so is her unrestrained racism towards black Africans.

Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson): Hiro Protagonist: hacker, pizza Deliverator, greatest swordsman in the world, versus an insidius virus that turns computer programmers into drooling vegetables and just enslaves everyone else.

Cut for size. )

Empire of Ivory (Naomi Novik): So possibly I rotted my brain this summer with rereads of beach-worthy novels. My absolute favorite character in the entire book is and may always be Hannah Erasmus, who is living an entirely different story that Laurence does not notice until it's forced down his throat. Oh, Will. You never see it coming!


AUGUST

Throne of Jade (Naomi Novik): Reread. More entertaining fluff than I remembered; Novik isn't deep, but she has a very smooth writing style. What impresses me is that I remember this as "the book set in China", but 2/3rds of the action happens before the protagonists get anywhere near that country.

Victory of Eagles (Naomi Novik): Gigantic spoilers. )

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Tennessee Williams): Play/script. The family gathers for "Big Daddy" Pollitt's birthday, and to vie for the money he'll leave when cancer kills him. I picked this up on a half-considered "hey, educate yourself" impulse, and was struck by how crystal-clear the staging directions were. williams has a Vision, and is very clear in describing that vision, which helped me reconstruct his intentions to my enjoyment. It's interesting to notice that, for the purposes of the play, it makes almost no difference whether Brick Pollitt is gay or straight; what matters is what everyone else thinks about him. There something about assumptions and scandal in there I'll pick apart some other time.

When the King Comes Home (Caroline Stevermer): Set in the same world as A College of Magics, but in the medieval era. A runaway apprentice encounters Good King Julian, 200 years after his death. If you like Stevermer, you'll like this. If you're kind of "meh" on Stevermer, you'll remain "meh". I found parts interesting - more of the apprenticeship would have been cool, for example - and should have liked things like the battle. Entertaining, but not deep.

Marvel 1602 (Neil Gaiman and many other awesome people): The thing about comics is that they're a pain in the neck to log. Writer. Artist. Inker. Colorist. But sometimes the results are pretty cool. This makes more sense now, after some wiki-enhanced knowledge of the Marvelverse, than the last time I tried to read it, in 2004. (On a side note, it's hysterical how much I haven't changed in four years. Same authors, same themes. Letting the android loose in Vegas is still hysterical.) Very pretty, and makes me feel bad for Steve Rogers, but like Snow Crash works best if you think about the pretty pictures and maybe the themes, but not the world construction.

A Streetcar Named Desire (Tennessee Williams): Play/script. Blanche DuBois stays with her sister Stella and Stella's husband Stanley Kowalski. I was completely distracted because I saw Due South before I ever read the play, so I have skewed associations for Stanley and Stella Kowalski. Blanche reminds me of some of my relatives, so I, um, find her really chilling, and suspect that in a different era Stella and Stanley would be filing for divorce sometime before their kid turns five. Domestic violence is bad.

Good play. Lousy at analysis here. Go read it yourself.

Indulgence

Aug. 5th, 2008 11:21 pm
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This week I am house-sitting for fans off to Worldcon. You know what this means: car! It also means playing dodge-truck at I-95 speeds during rush hour, but that's what you get when you volunteer to drive people to BWI. Today's other awesome moments were the accidental Home Depot trip (my much-abused mint is finally properly potted, yay) and realizing - 12 hours after my airport adventures - that I had the car keys but not the house-key.

When I am not courting death on the interstates, I'm reading Naomi Novik's latest novel. My first reaction is that I want The Adventures of Perscitia and Iskierka: A Scientific Treatise, because you know what would happen? They would set things on fire. A lot. And this would be awesome. [livejournal.com profile] wmslawhorn fake-spoiled me for nuclear bombs, and I almost fell for it. Because it's that sort of crack. I am possibly a little giddy with how many of my buttons are lighting up, ding! ding! ding! as I burn through the book. This is serious emotional manipulation, and I am all for it. Rock on, Novik!

Also, the part of Laurence's scruffy mid-to-late book stubble will be played by Viggo Mortenson's scruffy stubble.

Holy surprise, aCyteen sequel for Christmas! We were wrong! The thing is, I'm not sure I want a second Cyteen novel. The first was pretty much Cherryh's SF masterwork, her Big Statement: how do you top that? I'm not sure anything could live up to that sort of anticipation, not to mention one's uncritical 17-year-old reactions.

The rest of this week: pick-up soccer after work tomorrow, happy hour downtown Thursday (odds of my lateness are sadly high), day trip to Baltimore sometime this weekend. [livejournal.com profile] norabombay and I took 1h40m of off-peak time to decide we absolutely must go to Wiscon next year, which memberships I shall be buying August 15th, aka payday. (This may or may not trash any possibility of making Worldcon in Montreal, and that'll be an update for a different day.) Tonight I sleep; I put a baseball cap on my head at 9 for no logical reason and it's still there. The clarion call for sanity-restoring rest is making itself felt.
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Today I was plagued by many small examples of my failings, morning, lunch and afternoon, and then I went to Trader Joe's and bought approximately one million calories of junk food. As many as five hundred thousand of those may to make it to tomorrow's WSFA meeting. Today is July 17th; I am going to get through the August inferno by not thinking about it. And possibly duct-taping the AC controls to on.

Yesterday I triumphed over inertia and mugginess long enough to attend Naomi Novik's reading at the Bailey's Crossroads Borders. (Labelling Bailey's as your DC stop is... misleading. It's like saying you'll be in Boston - ie, downtown - when you actually are in Jamaica Plain or Brookline.) What I keep forgetting about catching a bus at the Pentagon metro station is that the entire metro system was built for A) convenience or B) laziness instead of A) paranoia or B) "security" concerns, and that the Pentagon is resolving this little problem by putting a man with a shiny black machine gun between the metro escalator and the buses. In case you hadn't gotten your adrenaline shot du jour, you know.

I'd known walking out the door that I was running late; I missed most of the introductory remarks, but made it in time to hear Novik read a short story about the first Western-style dragon-taming. Debt-ridden rake must slay dragon in ancient Rome; complications ensue. Novik followed up with a Q&A session that lasted until the store employees asked her to wrap it up for signing time. I was particularly enamored of the question about future stories that lead to Novik saying something about far-future ideas; an audience member said, "dragons in space!" and Novik said "yes". Possibly I may have applauded that one. And whooped a little. During the signing period I chatted with [livejournal.com profile] dsudis and other people whose LJ handles have utterly escaped my feeble mind. I badgered GS from WSFA for a ride back to the metro, because the only thing more fun than public transit is public transit at 9:30 PM. Yay, socialization! I need to do more of that.
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Empire of Ivory (Naomi Novik / [livejournal.com profile] naominovik): Way to cliffhanger, Novik! )

Ha'Penny (Jo Walton / [livejournal.com profile] papersky): Remember what I was saying about writing to entertain? Walton is writing to tell an idea in story form. Her character's trucks are gonna break, their dogs will be shot, their wives will leave them. I want to say something about gender roles and Carmichael and Jack, whose PoV would probably be enlightening. Why doesn't Jack get a job too? I come from the two income household assumption, and also from the "construction workers are hot" mindset, so I may be missing the point here. Series structure note: Carmichael PoV limited 3rd past; female protagonist limited 1st epistolary. Nifty trick, since it gives you a reserved point of view, and a distorted one.

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Childhood (Oliver Sacks): For anyone like me, who hasn't been paying attention, Oliver Sacks is awesome. The title pretty much encapsulates the book: childhood, science, colorful twist. It's a love letter to science. Sacks talks about such and such a part of growing up - uncles, parents, the nanny, World War Two child evacuations - and then wanders off to talk about physics, or the history of chemistry. Sacks also includes many, many entertaining footnotes (he blames Mendeleev's footnotes in The Principles of Chemistry, which he writes about in terms that make me want to read it too). Sacks loves science, and is well-versed in the history of science, which he uses to lead into and out of his own childhood. Sacks had a large family, including several uncles involved in industry and applied chemistry or physics. If you think this didn't impact his life, you'd be so wrong. There's something to be said for family expectations and how they play out in your life (see also Sacks's mother arranging an introduction to human anatomy at age fourteen - because every 14 year old wants to dissect the corpse of another 14 year old). It's difficult to write a biography without saying something about the people who impacted that life, and in this case, chemistry and chemical concepts are at least as prominent as the people. Very fun biography.
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I didn't intentionally read two novels of alternate history focusing on the UK this week, but that's what happened. If you ever need an illustration in the difference between honor and reputation*, do Empire of Ivory and Ha'Penny as paired reads.

*The Bujold definitions, with honor being what you know about yourself, and reputation being what others know about you.

I'm a lot more worried about Carmichael's ultimate fate than I am about Laurence's, but that's what having a dragon who's smarter than you will do for your luck roll.
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If there's a theme this month, it's, "but your meta is so good! Why is your book not so good?"

Self-Made Man (Norah Vincent): Woman decides to cross-dress to explore that age-old question, "but how does it feel to be a man?" Yes, I did read this for the titilation factor. Two things strike me: the temptation to check off central themes bandied about in women's studies courses, and how joyless and relatively humorless the author makes the entire process seem. If you're going to transgress social norms, you may as well have fun, no? The author had a breakdown at the end of the book, about a year and a half into her exploration into masculinity, which may have something to do with the tone. Her experiences are interesting, but every chapter leaves me thinking, "you know, you make it sound like life as a man is a terrible thing, an emotional wasteland - except I'm pretty sure it's a little more complicated than that." Also, I think Vincent failed to fully acknowledge the impact of class and race on her personal experiences with masculinity. For example, door-to-door sales (one job she tried) are soul-destroying regardless of gender. A cushy internship at dad's law office is something else. For men or women.

Conclusions? Flawed, but thought-provoking. Gentlemen, pipe up: do you feel like you're living in an emotional wasteland? Discuss.

Tooth and Claw (Jo Walton/[livejournal.com profile] papersky): Self-described Victorian novel with dragons. I appreciated the elegance and artifice of the many plot threads concluding happily, but suspect I'd get a lot more out of this if Pride and Prejudice had inspired me to read more regencies.

"A Gift of Wings" (Sarah Monette/[livejournal.com profile] truepenny): Monette keeps doing cool meta in her lj, but her actual fiction does nothing for me. "A Gift of Wings" is a romance, which means the narrative tension should derive from the lovers overcoming obstacles to be together, but in this case, the primary obstacle seems to be the traumatized wizard and the battle-hardened mercenary not talking to each other. For months. When the narrative voice reflects that "he made it plain without so much as a word that they were lovers no longer" I tend to gag a bit.

Digression on romance, by way of quests. )

The characters are adequately crafted (if love-struck fools), the setting nicely evoked, and - to me - the plot a complete turnoff. Even the smutty bits do nothing for me. YMMV, especially if you like romances.

On the other hand, a traumatized wizard and a battle-hardened mercenary woman must solve a murder they are accused of committing. Together, they fight crime!

("A Gift of Wings" was published in The Queen in Winter, a collection of romances written by Claire Delacroix, Lynn Kurland, Sharon Shinn and Sarah Monette. Had I realized what I was getting into, I would have totally not ILL'd this. Not a romantic!)

Black Powder War (Naomi Novik/[livejournal.com profile] naominovik): Look! It's an overland Asia trip with dragons, and then it's a Napoleonic land battle with dragons! Mild book 3 spoilers, comment on book 4 chapter 1 preview. )

And there I go, getting gleeful about horrible deaths. Like I said, I'm here for the worldbuilding; plot and characterization are a little secondary. Though I may get attached to Iskierka, pluckiness and all.

July previews: I'm 30 pages from the end of Richard Dawkins' Climbing Mount Improbable, which involves a lot of circa early '90s computer modeling, and generally isn't as cool as The Selfish Gene. But I'll at least have some nonfiction finished this month. Also, Fifth Business is kicking around my room, so I'll probably knock that off Real Soon Now.
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Combining these because it's a fairly short list, other than the Hugo shorts abuse. I'm also letting the comments made under the influence stand, because I can.

April Books

I read Hugo nominees, how cool am I? Well, not very, because I just finished the shorts and they were *terrible*. )

I think a more interesting discussion might be consideration of why the short story nominees were so lacking this year (tentative hypothesis: since only 278 ballots were sent in, according to the LACon Hugo nominees list, a writer with a good publicity plan could totally swing the vote), and/or suggestions of short stories that should have been nominated, but weren't.

Actual books

A Short History of World War II, James L. Stokesbury: If ever there were a title that begged to be poked fun at, this is it. Surprisingly, Stokesbury almost manages to live up to it: 389 pages (hardcover) is a brief review of some really complex maneuvering. The narrative moves along at a reasonably brisk clip, laying out the broad movements of the war in clean academic prose punctuated by the occasional dry bon mot. I have absolutely no background to judge the book by, but I liked it. It's 20 years old, which is absolutely ancient by bio standards, but it's not like WW2 is on the move, so this is probably a reasonable book to recommend to people. My major complaints are two: first, it is academic, so it's fairly heavy reading by default, and second, my geographic knowledge is appallingly bad, so more maps would have been nice. I was constantly flipping to the available maps as it was.

Personal reactions: there is something riveting in all catastrophes. But after reading the casualty counts, the territory lost and won, you're left wondering what it was all for. War is still the triumph of stupidity over good sense.

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May Books

Throne of Jade (Naomi Novik/[livejournal.com profile] naominovik): Second book in a series of adventures about William Laurence, aviator, and his dragon Temeraire. In this episode, the pair are shipped to China to appease Imperial sensibilities. For some reason, I found this more cohesive and entertaining than the first (Temeraire or His Majesty's Dragon, depending which side of the Atlantic you ordered it from). The set-pieces were about the same, but felt more firmly knit together by the intervening material. My big question at this point is how deliberately Novik's going about her B-plot: it looks like she's setting Temeraire to set off the English Dragon Revolution, but I don't know if that's where she's planning to take the series. The sea serpent thing was an interesting touch, but for which side of the argument I don't know.
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Three things to be doing, and no desire to do any of them. Must be book review time. Only I finished one book last month, and am making my way through A Short History of World War 2 two pages at a time.

Temeraire (Naomi Novik/[livejournal.com profile] naominovik): Published as His Majesty's Dragon in the US, but I read the UK HC, so it's going down with the English title. Captain William Laurence sort of accidentally harnesses a dragon, dumping him out of the familiar confines of His Majesty's Navy and into His Majesty's Aerial Corps (of wilder repute) as Napoleon's strategies unroll toward invasion.

Huge spoilers. )

Spoiler-free summary: if you like that age of sail gig, you'll like this; if you're me, you're waiting on the second book, because the gossip is good, and poking around the reviews suggests that your lack of historical knowledge means you're missing setup stuff.

Something else that might be interesting to consider are the intersections of blogging/LJ, writing, getting three books out in one year, and sales numbers. There's been a fair amount of buzz in the end of the blogosphere I'm familiar with - the mad internet fangirls, who are sarcastic and get a little feminist and literary in their interpretations of canon - but it's going to be interesting to see how the sales numbers fall out. Rapid release of new material is a good way to raise a writer's profile, and yes, I'm trying to The ratio of books read because [person] on LJ wrote it vs. books read this year is getting alarming.

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