May. 2nd, 2015

ase: Book icon (Books)
As a form of bonding with a non-geek coworker, I watched "The Notebook". In the spirit of enjoying things for what they are, not what you want them to be, I will note there were several moments where I was moved: the young lovers' screaming fight that acknowledges the character flaws that will be part of their relationship if they're going to continue as a couple; the meditation on love and choice when Allie's mother reveals her own youthful fling to her daughter; and the very end, where the lovers romantically pass away on the same night, the night Noah sneaks into Allie's room at the nursing home. But by all that's holy give me friends to lovers with ridiculous snark and banter, or true love in the context of a bigger world, or a character study with science, for my go-to entertainment.

The new Avengers movie is on this week's to-do list.

The Goblin Emperor (Katherine Addison / truepenny aka Sarah Monette) (2014):. Fantasy novel about the ascension of Maia, the Elvish emperor's disregarded fourth son, to the throne of the Elflands. The novel opens with Maia shaken awake to learn his father and three brothers have been killed in an airship explosion, right before he is whisked from an impoverished country estate to the imperial palace, so this is not a big spoiler.

This novel is a warm fuzzy blanket of feelings. It's like Monette took what she learned from writing the Mirador quartet (which I loathed), combined it with wolftimes feedback, and produced this tempered work borrowing from the hurt-comfort tradition with beautiful attention to structure and sequencing of information. The interwebs tagged it "fantasy of manners", which does not seem inappropriate. People keep spontaneously offering to teach Maia. Maia keeps figuring out how to deal with people! Maia charts path toward being a good person and a good Emperor! Maia connects to his remaining family! This could have been a byzantine political novel; instead, it's a complex humanist novel. In a stronger Hugo year, I probably wouldn't expect The Goblin Emperor to make the ballot, but I'd pick it up for comforting rereads for years.

Katherine Addison is Monette rebranded, as mentioned multiple times on her livejournal. If you haven't read Monette's work, and liked this novel, you might or might not like her previous work. Look it up, but if you don't like the first chapter of The Mirador, set it aside before you're tempted to hurl it into a wall later on. (Wow. As I write this, I find I am still disgusted with the obligation d'ame in The Virtu.)

The Windup Girl (Paolo Bacigalupi) (2009): 23rd century Bangkok, generations after peak oil, faces a number of environmental, technological, and biological challenges to its existence. I liked the structure, and like that it tries to break out of the northern hemisphere, but it feels, how to put this, exactly like it was written by a Western man. There is a habit of attention, a certain angle on the world, that is rooted in that heritage and experience.

But within that frame of reference, there's a lot going on. The post-oil economy, a sincere effort to write a future Krung Thep that is energy-poor; at constant risk of being drowned by the rising ocean; poor, and fiercely defiant of the "calorie men" of the West.

The structure is amazing, a loose ricchochet collection of multiple PoV characters whose actions influence each other in direct, indirect, and generally unexpected ways. The yellow card refugee Hock Seng schemes to rebuild the wealth and stability of his old life in Malaysia, destroyed along with his family during ethnic purges, by stealing a Maltese Falcon plot device from the factory where he is employeed. The factory is a front for Ken Anderson, one of the calorie men of the West, in Thailand to find and exploit a rumored seedbank, a priceless treasure in a future ravaged by genetically engineered plagues. He is thwarted by the Environmental Department's Captain Jaidee Rojjanasukchai, and his lieutenant, Kanya, sworn to protect Thailand against the aggressive bioengineered life forms: beetles that have claimed entire forests; crop diseases that blight harvests, threatening famine; viruses and bacteria that rip through human populations like a scythe. They're professionally and personally disgusted by the New People like Emiko, the "windup girl" of the title. Emiko is a genetic construct, originally from Japan, abandoned by her owner and left to survive in Krup Theng, where she is considered so much biological trash to be recycled, and maybe beaten to death first. Emiko survives under the questionable patronage of a foreign pimp, one of Anderson's acquaintances. Her experiences are related in detail bordering on torture porn, so this is probably a skip for people who nope out of sexual assault descriptions.

I love this sort of plot. I love the ping-ponging cause and effect which become the causes of more effects. I love that Emiko struggles with her biological constraints and deep-seated psychological programming to find agency. I do not love that The Windup Girl will probably date very quickly, because of its topics and its approach to subjects that we're struggling with in the here and now, like climate change and genetic engineering. But it was enjoyable in the moment, and probably has a few more year before it's too dated to recommend without caveats. That's the problem with science fiction: the more detailed and interesting the extrapolation from the current body of knowledge, the less well it ages. Read it if you like kinetic plots with thoughtful future science.


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