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Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches By Audre Lorde (Audre Lorde): Like all fine things in life, to be taken in a little at a time, with great attention. That focus goes not only toward Lorde's words, but to one's reaction to them, because - I think - she exhorts the reader to be more aware of the world. There's only so much of that I can take without getting numb. (It's a contributing factor to my lack of social justice activism: I'm listening, but I'm not interested in exposing myself to the crossfire. "An Open Letter to Mary Daly" sounds eerily similar to some of the posts made during various *fail fights.) There's also a couple of pieces that don't encourage me to that end. I couldn't finish "Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger". Page after page of rage: stone in the belly, hot with freshly recalled injustice, bitter and salty as olives. I found most enlightening and useful essays like "Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference" and "Learning from the 60s" for reminding me of Lorde's core outlooks and her reaction to a historical moment. I liked "Man Child: A Black Lesbian Feminist's Response" for Lorde's reflections on trying to a healthy, happy, mature son in a house of two female parents; this might be relevant for lesbian parents today, at least so they know it's been done.

Audre Lorde identified as a radical. I think I identify as a moderate, perhaps selfishly: I can get the system to lurch along in my favor at least some of the time. As a woman, an African-american, the daughter of immigrants, and a lesbian, Lorde had no privilege to use as a lever in her favor, and four good reasons to critique the system with no compassion. I'm just lucky that, unlike some of her peers, Lorde does so through inviting, lively prose. Lorde challenges and rewards close attention.

Table of Contents, for reference )

The Birthday of the World and Other Stories (Ursula K. Le Guin): Ever have that moment when you want to say, "you were the cool adult when I was younger, but I'm not sure I'm that person anymore"? I have that going with Le Guin's fiction. I enjoy her writing, but a lot of that enjoyment is rooted in attachment to existing work. )

Consider Phlebas (Iain M. Banks):

Pure space opera: star-spanning war killing billions, destruction of a Ringworld, mercenaries, aliens. Real sense of wonder stuff, in the right hands and at the right time.

It was entirely not to my taste.

Somewhere between the last fat space opera and this, I lost interest in the genre. I could see the sense of wonder, just out of reach: the amazing engineering of the Orbital, the Damage tournament, the reckless scale of the Culture ship, the colorful and dangerous characters. I just didn't care about any of it, and was actively repelled in come cases.

Perhaps it was timing - December was pretty soul-sucking - but the Consider Phlebas completely failed to engage my sense of wonder.

Spoilers. )

Banks is pretty well-regarded in SF circles, so this may have been a fluke of weak writing and bad timing, but I'm in no hurry to go back to the Culture series. If I read another Banks novel, I'm going to pick up The Algebraist and see if I agree with the Hugo nomination.

Swordspoint (Ellen Kushner): "Every man lives at swordspoint . . . I mean, the things he cares for. Get them in your grasp, and you have the man - or woman - in your power", one character says, and this might be a story of maneuvering to put one's enemies in line for a quick stab to the heart. It's also a quasi-Regency fantasy of manners, but even that's an incomplete description.

I've seen Swordspoint rattling around the library for years, and finally picked it up mostly in anticipation of reading the sequel, which looks nicely gender-bending. When I picked up the paperback and saw the the Thomas Canty cover art, as well as an embarrassing number of laudatory statements, I braced myself for disappointment.

To my surprise, it didn't suck. I enjoyed the story of Richard, Alec, and the nobles of the Hill more than I expected. Whether it's Kushner's mannered prose, her delicate hand with character point-of-view, an unexpected vividness to the politics of the nobility, or some other facet of good writing at work is something I'm still thinking about. It's possibly the delight of unreliable narration. Megan Whalen Turner uses point of view and concealed thoughts to blatantly and entertainingly manipulate readers' attention in the Attolia / Eddis novels; Kushner also makes it evident she knows more than she's telling readers, and so do some of the characters, but with a restraint and deliberation that seems to say "it's more fun this way. Trust me."

The paperback I checked out from the library, a 2003 reprint, includes three short stories: "The Swordsman Whose Name Was Not Death", "Red-Cloak", "The Death of the Duke". The first features a would-be swordsman who is either a girl in disguise or a boy disguised as a girl - I got a little confused on that point - the second owes a debt to Fritz Leiber's uncanny and spirit-haunted Lankhmar; the third felt like I ought to be so sad, I think, but was a fitting end for a love story. I'm more curious to know what filled the years between Swordspoint and The Death of the Duke, and whether the latter is canon with respect to The Privilege of the Sword. None of the three were deathless, but it's interesting to see the evolution in style, especially from Red-Cloak, the earliest writing in the Riverside-and-Hill setting. After finishing these, I'm looking forward to The Privilege of the Sword.

For posterity, I will note that I read all of Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar novels which I had not previously encountered. (Alberich duology, Owl trilogy, Skif novel, Collegium two-of-incomplete-trilogy, Lavan Firestorm novel; that's, um, a lot of id vortex.) Pray let us never speak of this again.

Numbers game: 13 total finished. 13 new, 0 reread; 12 fiction, 1 nonfiction. 2 short story / essay collections
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It was not my intent to have an all-male reading list this month; in a possible first, it just fell out that way.

The Zanzibar Chest (Aidan Hartley): When I first acquired this, I thought it was a lighthearted boys' adventure, possibly with some father-son issues. Never in my life have I been so wrong. )

If there's a unifying theme, it's damage: Hartley in London mistakes thunder for bomb explosions; his father's friend's death in a quarrel of tribal and Imperial loyalty ends a life made narrow by English duty; African nations rip themselves apart in civil war, famine, and power grabs. This doesn't read as a story that the writer wanted to pen, but in some way felt obliged or compelled to set down. I'm not sure if liking is a useful way to assess this book: one cannot respond to such intensity with mildness.

How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else (Michael Gates Gill): Title is nearly longer than the book. The author, fired from the advertising firm he had worked for since graduating college, tries freelancing and eventually lands a Starbucks job - almost by accident - to make ends meet. Gill reflects on his emerging awareness of how the world works for people who aren't white male Yale graduates, but some of his stories lack the "and then I changed my behavior" that would really endear the book to me. It's also worth noting that Gill speaks highly of his Starbucks experience, but what I saw was a really good manager to bringing the most out in her employees. Crystal deserves a shoutout for working with Gill as he learned the ropes as a Starbucks employee.

Aye, and Gomorrah, and Other Stories (Samuel R. Delany): Short story collection. Oddly, short stories are a tougher read than novels, for me: I want to read fairly quickly and enjoy a 100-plus page immersive experience. Short stories require a different focus, more attention to the sentence and paragraph level. It's more energy-intensive to react to individual pieces. I most enjoyed "Omegahelm" because it's set in the same universe as Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. "Cage of Brass" actively annoyed me; most the the other stories fell in between. I like Delaney's grungy, "not everything works out for everyone" speculative fiction, but I'll have to give this another run when I'm ready to connect at the sentence level and reread to find the overarching themes between stories.

Table of Contents, FMyI )

I reread Garth Nix's Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen trilogy. My, people spend a lot of time nauseated by magic gone wrong. I like Sabriel best, because it has the most worldbuilding; I don't like Lirael or Abhorsen nearly as much: the bloodline arguments feel incredibly silly in those two books, and Lirael's teenage suffering is taken to excesses in the novel bearing her name. These aren't quite bog-standard YA fantasy, but they bear a strong stamp of genre, not always in ways I appreciate.

Who Killed Mr. Chippendale? A Mystery in Poems (Mel Glenn): I picked this up for novelty value; I was hoping for a story in different poetic forms, but this was pure free-verse. It's more about school politics than playing with language, unfortunately; not what I was looking for.

Numbers game: 7 total finished. 4 new, 3 reread; 6 fiction, 1 nonfiction; 1 short story collection
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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.

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

12 (100.0%)

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%)

7 (58.3%)

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

1 (9.1%)

10 (90.9%)

Is a poll complete without a tickybox?

8 (72.7%)

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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Usually I don't worry about reading affecting my mood, but usually I am reading something more cheerful than The Zanzibar Chest. It's exactly like the PTSD and narrative fragmentation in All the Fishes Come Home to Roost, now with more drugs, explicit post-colonial queasiness, dicey unexamined gender politics, and eye-searing descriptions of human suffering, wrapped in understated British PoV. Now, the part that jolted me into noticing the consequences of reading about famine, civil war, looting, friends' bodies retrieved from trash dumps, walking through streets after a firefight, etc, was not the hard-core atrocities. It was the narrator's relationship with a girl. They're getting serious - they take a vacation trip together! - when she became listless. She doubled up with stomach pains... back in the city, we visited a doctor. It was nothing serious but as we emerged from the surgery Lizzie told me she had decided to return to America without delay. Africa for her was too far away from home.

And all I can think - with zero evidence - is, "stomach pains. Stomach. Yeeeaaah." Cramps are lousy enough when painkillers are plentiful.

This parade of human suffering may be related to my horror at filing a "someone in the parking garage winged my mirror" incident report. Fortunately, the system is in place for much more severe issues ("police? Was I supposed to call the police? For an unattended scrape?") and the incident was resolved relatively quickly.

Speaking of disasters, here's something for the next time the House of Tea convenes for Disaster Hour*: chlorine trifluoride, a nasty chemical customer.

*Disaster Hour: innocuous conversation around the household water boiler mutates into ways to die. Did you know there are entire books devoted to explicit descriptions of airplane accidents? Before Disaster Hour, neither did I.
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Today outdoor work was canceled on account of rain. I pulled The Honor of the Queen from a box in lieu of doing anything useful. I chewed through the Honor Harrington novels in late high school / early college; hopefully my taste in infodumps has since improved. (It's also tempting to make notes about the progression of feminism in the nearly two decades since the novel was published, as well as gratuitous realpolitik with respect to the Grayson and Masadan situations.) Rereading suggests that in any Mercedes Lackey / David Weber crossover, Honor could go toe-to-toe for the Special Snowflake With Most Angst prize with any Lackey protagonist.
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This is a placeholder for a Cryoburn post. If this were a real post, there would be links, spoiler-cuts and possibly capslock.
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Air (Geoff Ryman): Absolutely worth reading. Do you know why this got a Tiptree? Because it's a story about a woman in a fake -stan. There's a number of interlocking plot threads that dovetail and swoop around each other to say more than the sum of their individual stories. Do you know why you've never heard about this story? Because there's really iffy fake quantum technology and magical realism biology. I want to rave about this, because it's working with some really cool themes, and falters just enough for me to get some science critique in, but I mostly wave my hands and stammer when trying to explain the many small and large storytelling moments that made this so enjoyable. I like messiness and technology on a deadline!

All the Fishes Come Home to Roost (Rachel Manija Brown): I don't know what to say about this one. Halfway through, I lamented to a friend it didn't include more context for Indian history, ashram traditions, "Westerners in India" stuff, etc. At nearly the end of the book, the writer emails several chapters of the manuscript to her mother, and her mother emails back extraordinarily detailed refutations of events small and large, closing the email "with love from the horrible, stupid, despicable [mom]." That's when it clicked: the frontispiece opens with a George Bernard Shaw quote, "if you have skeletons in the closet, you may as well make them dance," for a reason. I know that self-depreciating tone and the attitude that goes with it. This isn't a book about India. This is a book about surviving a catastrophic failure to equip one kid with the tools or protection to deal with the world, with a touch of comedy. Think Running With Scissors (which the author namechecks in the final "post-India" flash-forward). In that it succeeds. There's a different, more substantial book that could be that story and include more context, yadda yadda, but that's not what Brown was doing. Sometimes you're writing a honking big three-course book, and sometimes you're doing a really excellent soup and sandwich. This is the soup-and-sandwich, and excellent.

Watership Down (Richard Adams): Children's classic. A group of bachelor rabbits flee their threatened - later destroyed - home warren and establish a new warren. Did anyone actually read this as a child? It got several awards, and is a perfectly reasonable bus read, but I'm trying to figure out how it fits into the geography of British literature.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot): This is about the life of the (black) woman whose cancer gave (mostly white, often male) medical researchers a critical lab tool. Wait, this is about the impact of medical research on the Lacks family. No, this is about bioethics, as well as changes in law and human research practices!

This is a book trying to serve many goals: if you're looking for a broad overview on these topics, it's great. If you want depth, you'll wish it was more focused, and had better endnotes.

More detailed op-ed cut to spare the uninterested. )

Palimpsest (Catherynne Valente / [ profile] yuki_onna: This novel is the bastard child of Dunsany and Tanith Lee. If you like delicate, considered, ornate prose and lush (even "intoxicating", thank you cover copy) imagery, you will love this novel. If you like tight worldbuilding, clearly stated themes, and plot, you're going to contemplate throwing this one across the bus. A lot. I was pretty disappointed: Valente's blurb on Scalzi's blog sounded like the setup for some really awesome worldbuilding from a Tiptree winner, so I ignored the signs this was not the novel I was looking for. )

I want to emphasize, if you're into the prose game, you're going to be all over this; if you like slowly unwinding urban fantasy, you might like this; if you're into Tanith Lee? You will absolutely adore Palimpsest. I'm none of those categories, so I found myself, at the end of the novel, resigned to a writing style that - I'm going to guess - plays to Valente's strengths, but tooth-grindingly irritated by escapism which failed to illuminate the human condition or lighten my days with humor and distraction.

I skimmed Laurie King's The Language of Bees before tackling the sequel, The God of the Hive. The previous novel ended with Russell and Holmes splitting up, both wanted by New Scotland Yard, possibly in connection with events surrounding Holmes' brother Mycroft. When I read Bees I said, I keep waiting for tragic foreshadowings of WWII and Holmes' passing, and remain disappointed that so far, this has not been played for significant pathos. This remains mostly true, but parts of Hive mention Holmes' increasing age, which gives me hope. What didn't give me hope was the unfocused plot - several hundred pages of multiple points of view, two protagonists mostly in the dark, one PoV a fairly unreliable narrator, and the fourth a terribly uninteresting gloating villain. If this were a more dynamic series, I'd say the unfocused plot and theme are set-up for serious Mary-Mycroft moral conflict in a future novel, and maybe Mary taking over Mycroft's job, but I don't think it's that sort of genre novel.

Numbers game: 6 total finished. 6 new, 0 reread; 4 fiction, 2 nonfiction.
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I checked my email and found a message about the imminent read/rate deadline for the WSFA Small Press Award nominees shunted into a "to do" folder. So I read, and rated, on a two-day deadline. If I'm in a tearing hurry to read a set of short fiction nominees, I get mean. Really:

1.) I grade on a curve favoring shorter stories.
2.) No-caps titles: pretentious, or really pretentious?
3.) I've been in media fandom. I have seen zanier and more clever premises: story prompts by way of they fight crime will not carry the day. Or your story.

How I graded. )

Warning: these are not kind reviews. I would go so far as to say these aren't reviews: they're my idiosyncratic reactions to a set of short stories I read in a compressed time-frame. On a sugar high. Anyone getting here by google alerts: this is your only warning.

On to the alphabetical-by-title op-ed!

What I read. )
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Scott Pilgrim vol. 4: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (Bryan Lee O'Malley): It took almost exactly one commute to read this. It's hard to tell if I disliked this less because of circumstances (commuting to PT job on bus) or because SP's storyline is "how to suck a little less at being a grown-up person."

The Best American Science Writing 2009 (Ed. Natalie Angier): Snapshot of last year's pop sci writing. I'm playing find the agenda in my nonfiction this month, so I'm very drawn to articles playing with fire - "The First Ache" (fetal pain and abortion), "A Cloud of Smoke" (9/11 hero possibly wasn't) - and/or arguing an agenda: "The Truth About Autism", "The Sky is Falling", "Birdbrain". This year's collection is weighted toward bio/sociology, a change from some earlier anthologies stuffed with astrophysics and computing stuff. I was surprised that Catherine Price's recounting of her week trying to be as untraceable as possible didn't trip my "more sigmas from mainstream than I'm really comfortable with" flag.

Table of Contents, for future reference: )

The House of the Stag (Kage Baker): Prequel to Baker's fantasy novel The Anvil of the World, describing the rise of the Dark Lord and his wife the Saint. Highly entertaining: Baker wasn't an extraordinarily inventive worldbuilder, or a deathless prose writer, or the most clever at plot devices, but her universes hold together on their own terms, the prose is stylistically appropriate, and the stories serve the plot. What Baker does is humor, especially satire.

Goodbye to Yesterday's Tomorrow (Alexei Panshin): Short story collection. Surprisingly philosophical, occasionally to the point where the message nearly obliterates the story. Panshin's intro calls the collection's theme "what does it mean to be an adult human being?" and that nicely binds stories set in standalone worldbuilding, the same universe as Panshin's Hugo-winning novel Rite of Passage, and the present day. The diversity of style doesn't always work to the collection's advantage: if "Sky Blue" is trying to make a point about communication through its idiosyncratic made-up words, the message was largely lost in my frustration with the style. "When the Vertical World Becomes Horizontal" wants to be a folk story, and succeeds mostly as post-'60s faux-folk. When I read this, I felt the general attention of the story moved from broad questions of responsibility and general ethics questions - mirrors about questions of the day - to more explicitly time-sensitive questions of environmental impact and right thinking in a very '70s American idiom. "How Can We Sink When We Can Fly?" pulls this off in an interesting way; "Lady Sunshine and the Magoon of Beatus" nearly inspired me to bounce the book against the nearest wall. I'm deeply dissatisfied by most "literary" and politically-motivated fiction, and found some of the the more experimental stories interesting, but not entertaining.

A Wizard of Mars (Diane Duane): Giant spoiler. No, not that spoiler. )

The Good Soliders (David Finkel): Army unit in the 2007 surge, as witnessed by a Pulitzer-winning reporter. This reinforced some notions I already had: being an American army officer in Iraq is the very definition of "bad day"; superlative emergency medicine breeds catastrophic long-term medical bills. It's interesting to note the battalion commander's relentless optimism and "big picture" focus clash with soldiers' daily frustrations, stresses, deaths, disasters. Who is right?

The topic is such I feel I ought to have more to say, especially since I haven't really talked about the actual book, but then I'd get into journalist agenda, military objectives, culture and politics, and I'm not feeling up for that.

Scott Pilgrim vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim Versus the Universe (Bryan Lee O'Malley): The bus distraction level continues to trump the energy investment barrier of library holds. Barely.

Doctor's Orders (Diane Duane): My reactions to "leave McCoy in charge of the Enterprise for a shift; of course it's going to get complicated" suffer from coloring from the new movie and Duane's other novels. I see walking tree-like organisms and think, "hey, proto-Demisiv!" When I sit at the keyboard, I think "someone's going to remix this for the reboot, yes? Hmm?" Doctor's Orders isn't a heartbreaking work of deathless prose, but like most early Duane, it has a sufficiently interesting plot. It's my engagement with the text taking an unexpected spin. Why get one story when you can get three? (Original story, reboot version, and the culture meditation between them.) This served as reasonable light entertainment, but I need to stop visualizing Kirk as Chris Pine to get something like the intended effect.

The Prince of the Marshes (And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq) (Rory Stewart): Some books just keep giving; Marshes was littered with other people's bookmarks. I found this deeply interesting in combination with my sporadic military memoir reading; Stewart has different priorities in Iraq than most of the writers I've read so far, and that colors his account of events. I get the impression his approach to priorities is very goal-oriented; justice is postponed in favor of avoiding further violence and disintegration of the remaining structures of authority. Over and over Stewart potrays his CPA offices as bodies trying to to compromise between oppositional groups (moderate middle class, Sadrists, tribes, Marsh Arabs, etc) sometimes with positive outsomes, sometimes backfiring. I read his reaction to Abu Ghraib and find myself thinking about situational ethics and lines in the sand: "I almost resigned . . . I realized I had always known, without admitting it to myself, that such things were going on . . . Military culture was often about bending rules to get results; a certain ruthlessness was admired; many of these things happened in hazing rituals." (The Rule of Law" p343 HC) Again: I had always known, without admitting it to myself, that such things were going on. Where do you draw the line, and start really angering the local powers who likely will inherit authority the CPA arrogated to itself? The common thread in non-Iraqi accounts of the Iraq war and occupation is disillusionment: soldiers, British CPA employees, officers, and American civilians all say, "we came, we achieved our military objectives, we failed our diplomatic objectives." I can't attest to the accuracy or inaccuracy of this as nonfiction, but it's an interesting piece of the Iraq jigsaw.

A description of the first meeting of the CPA-appointed Maysan provincial council reminded me of Bujold's fiction, in a very Barrayaran Age of Isolation way.

On our right was the Prince's faction; the Islamist leaders sat on the left. In the front row were clerics and sheikhs; young mayors, women, and technocrats sat in the back. This seating arrangement, which had not been planned, echoes both Western parliamentary divisions (conservatives on the right, radicals on the left) and more traditional Iraqi codes of precedence. I knew these people well. Most had killed others; all had lost close relatives. Some wanted a state modeled on seventh-century Arabia, some wanted something that resembled even older, pre-Islamic tribal systems. Some were funded by the Iranian secret service; others sold oil on the local black market, ran protection rackets, looted government property, and smuggled drugs. Most were linked to construction companies that made immense profits by cheating us [the CPA]. Two were first cousins and six [of 39] were from a single tribe; some had tried to assassinate each other. This dubious gathering included and balanced, however, all the most powerful political factions in the province, and I believed that if anyone could secure the province, they could. -"Our Successors", p253 HC

What's colorful in fiction becomes stressful and sometimes horrifying in real life.

A Conspiracy of Kings (Megan Whalen Turner): Fourth in the series; this time Sophos is the main character and storyteller. It's important to remember this is YA and the characters act in, hmmm, fictionalized tropes (Attolia and Attolis! Augh!), and not always the way real people would. However, the wildly unreliable narration continues to draw me: knowing that MWT isn't letting her characters share the full truth, what is actually going on in any given scene? Also, what side-stories are happening just offscreen to the characters who aren't the PoV? The entire series feels a bit indulgent to me: the protagonists are drawn a bit larger than life. Turner likes her characters, even as she makes them suffer; one gets the sense that Everything Will Be All Right In the End. The sense of humor lurking behind each story doesn't hurt, either. These may not be novels of great depth, but they're good stories for distraction,

Numbers game: 10 total finished. 10 new, 0 reread; 7 fiction (2 graphic novels, 1 short story collection), 3 nonfiction (1 essay collection)
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If you read, say, multiple "I was in Iraq in the Naughts" memoirs, eventually you start noticing the writers have agendas. At which point, bravo, I have rediscovered my favorite literary trope, the unreliable narrator.

This weekend's fun and sibling bonding were compounded by an absent wallet. Finally got it back today, lighter a $15 stupidity tax. Nastygraming on the carshare lost and found board is a poor reward for getting my ID, bus pass, and credit card back to me, but it's very tempting.

I am staring at a thank-you email, torn between trying to spin for the job and letting the perfunctory bits stand. Stop looking at me like that, I had no clue that "East Bay" meant "40 miles from you" when the recruiter sent my resume.
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Mirror Dance, Memory (Lois McMaster Bujold): Ah yes, the classic signs of a bad day: you are in complete sympathy with Howl, in a "let's go to Macy's and buy several hundred dollars of makeup and professional clothes I don't need" way. (I didn't go to Macy's. I may have browsed the website, though. Ironing gets really old.)

These two are both technically excellent Bujold novels, but really dark; I'd elided some of the nastier bits of MD right out of my back-brain, and barely made it through the first third. Memory has far fewer painful scenes, and it's a different sort of reading agony: Mark's got a lot less to work with than Miles, even when Miles is at the bottom of his personal well. I'm still feeling more more empathy for Mark's struggles this month, in the deep uncertainties of post-move establishment.

A Wizard Abroad (Diane Duane): Reread. Diane Duane moves to Ireland, and writes a book! (Um, seven years later. I stand corrected.) "Abroad" is cute, but it's a weak follow-up to the first three novels, which have a clear evolution of evil (possibly transformative Lone Power, "good" but scary Ed vs. Lone Power, Dairine vs LP Ultimate Wizard Smackdown and redemption). The series sort of flounders in the comics mode after that: having defeated ultimate evil, what do you do next? In "Abroad", the answer is "defeat different ultimate evil, teamwork version". I really want the series to grow up a bit and fight evil on a small-scale context: not a giant fireworks-and-shadows magical climax, but more like Nita confronting Joanne at the end of So You Want to Be a Wizard. As a standalone, Abroad is fine, but it doesn't build on the context provided by the preceding three novels. Having read the following novels, I'm tempted to call the structural weakness an effect of series construction shift, but without rereading the entire series I'm not wedded to the theory.

A Grave Talent (Laurie R. King): Reread: when in San Francisco, why not read books set in the city? It's not bad, but it was published in '93. The social agenda and lack of cell phones gives it a flavor of its time.

The Best American Science Writing 2005 (Ed. Alan Lightman): catching up on my pop sci. A very mixed bag: my appreciation can be predicted by knowing whether the writer was covering contemporary science or being contemplative. Therefore, high marks for "Einstein's Compass" (Peter Galison), "The Genome in Black and White (and Gray)" (Robin Marantz Henig) for getting me frothing about how we need to stop screening for stuff and boost the technology so it's cheaper and more effective to outright test for conditions, and Laurie Garrett's "The Hidden Dragon" on the politics of HIV in Vietnam; low marks for Edward Hoagland's "Small Silences", and Andrea Barrett's "The Sea of Information". "The Sea of Information" particularly irritated me because it's not about science, it's about feelings and the writing process as an author of fiction. Old news in baby-steps packaging.

Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command (Timothy Zahn): For a set of Star Wars novels I started reading when I was ten, these have remarkable staying power. I don't think I've ever actually read the trilogy through from Page One to the very end, so it's a pleasure to find it holds together, both as a story and as an adult reader. These aren't deep novels, but they deliver a story I still like with style and fun. Zahn captured some key elements of the movies and franchise, and puts in clever plot tricks, which make some writing tics bearable. He's also not afraid to expand on the universe as it stands, and can write original characters who carry the narrative where it needs to go. Like most media tie-ins, the Thrawn trilogy isn't deep, but unlike many tie-ins, it's entertaining and rereadable.

Scott Pilgrim vol. 3: Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness (Bryan Lee O'Malley): Things I dislike: hipsters. Things I like: comics with video game references, snappy writing and witty fourth-wall breaks. If the series weren't at the absolute minimum effort threshhold, I wouldn't keep reading it. Yet I am compelled to continue in a quest to understand why other people like it. I suspect it's the hipsters.

The publishing industry does me the favor of using key adjectives in book descriptions. For example, I forgot that "lovecraftian" is publishing code for "this book will scar me for life". I didn't finish John Scalzi's The God Engines; actually, I didn't really start it. I opened the novel, read the first page, flipped to the last page, and slammed it shut.

Numbers game: 7 total finished. 2 new, 5 reread; 6 fiction (1 graphic novel), 1 nonfiction (1 essay collection)
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The library notified me of two novels on hold for me: Geoff Ryman's Air and A Wizard of Mars, the latest in Diane Duane's Wizards series. I am pretty sure cracking a beer and opening a YA book like Mars is some flavor of wrong.

It's been brought to my attention that the library has books and DVDs. What should I watch? So far I'm thinking The Godfather, Oceans 11 (and 12, & etc), Across the Universe, The Last King of Scotland, and Up, if I can get them. I know I'm missing movies, because the last time I tried to do this I wound up with a handwritten three page list.
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This is why I need a job.

The Cherryh Odyssey (Edward Carmien, ed): Nonfiction collection discussing Cherryh's novels and her career as a speculative fiction writer. The essays are arranged in a rough trajectory from personal recollections to more academic work. There's a fair amount of overlap in the recollections, so I was most interested in the critical essays. The essays are geared for a very general audience: in several introductions, Carmien advises readers that the citations need not be read to derive full enjoyment from the essay. The history of post-partition India (extensively endnoted for citations and clarifying details) and I say, "uh, yeah." This is popcorn nonfiction: entertaining, but not as thought-provoking as I had hoped for. I learned a few interesting anecdotes, but I wanted something stronger and deeper.

My major takeaway from the personal reminiscence sections were two things: one, Cherryh started writing after Flash Gordon went off the air, and she wanted more; two, Wave Without a Shore was one of Cherryh's "magic cookies" published by DAW in the '80s. I wish she'd done more of those one-off brain puzzles: I liked them.

Lots of reaction and table of contents under the cut. )

Lifelode (Jo Walton / [ profile] papersky): Great-grandmother Hanethe comes home. Some really interesting worldbuilding is 90% obscured under a "slice of life" story.

Tangent: my reading expectations are deeply affected by context. I am more forgiving of shaky plotting and derivative worldbuilding if I'm reading on a computer screen. I expect dog-eared '80s paperbacks to approach story differently than the first printing HC I pick up at Border's this week.

With that said, Lifelode feels like a paperback, but I read it in NESFA HC. I didn't like it as much as I would have liked it in paperback. This has an experiemental feel - slippery character PoV; shifting tenses, in keeping with several characters' abilities to percieve past and future events; organization by theme (says Walton), not by chronology; implicit interaction-by-avoidance of epic fantasy tropes - which isn't what I want in my HCs. I also failed the inclue: when Taveth mentioned living in a stable polygamous foursome, when the priests were explicitly stated to be religiously nude, when the Galtis Pedmark showed up, I blinked and said, "wait, what?" (I'm still pretty, "wait, what?" about the priestly nudity. Why?) Walton says in the FAQ (and how can questions in a first printing be frequently asked? Wouldn't "author interview" or "additional Q&A for the interested reader" be a more appropriate format?) that she started with Jankin, and Hanethe took over. I want this to be a story about Jankin and Haneth and how they're foils for each other, and it's a story about Taveth being the rock on which the Applekirk manor is built. I am most intrigued by the worldbuilding that came up in the Q&A. Would that Walton had used that free will / yeya gradient in different ways! It's such a cool idea, acting as a backdrop for something completely different. What Walton's doing here is not in my focus, so I am likely complaining because there is peanut butter in my chocolate. If you want a cozy domestic story, this is about right; if you want a meditation on free will with a revel in a Nifty Worldbuilding Idea, this is going to frustrate you.

The Gate of Ivory (Doris Egan): Reread; escapist comfort fiction. This is a very cozy read for me: Egan has a sense of humor that is very easy for me to fall into.

Scott Pilgrim vol. 2: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Bryan Lee O'Malley): Toronto hipsters, part two. This is pretty, but not deep.

The Checklist Manifesto (Atul Gawande): I approached this with a management question in mind: how do you get stuff done with a high degree of reliability and consistency? I am a checklist person, so I was gratified to see that checklists helped in critical situations. However, I think Gawande's take-home point was not that checklists are a cure-all, but that checklists, correctly constructed, could foster situations and environments where certain goals (communication and co-operation in ORs, for example) were more likely to be achieved.

Further reactions, and tangents on keep-on-hand bookcases. )

The first half of a massive Vorkosigan series reread: Shards of Honor, Barrayar, The Warrior's Apprentice, Cetaganda, The Borders of Infinity, Brothers in Arms (Lois McMaster Bujold): I'm not going to pretend this is anything but denial. One cannot read this much Miles while listening to "Funhouse" on repeat without being aware you are not living up to your expectations.

Shards: On the one hand, it's not as smooth as some of LMB's later novels. On the other hand? Cordelia = AWESOME. tWA:Give me an art metaphor for a moment. Compared to some of LMB's later novels, WA works in primary colors: exhilaration, terror, broad comedy. Death. LMB kills of characters with relative abandon in her early novels: Gottyan, Vorkalloner, Piotr, Bothari. I feel like, by Diplomatic Immunity, there's a lot more... pastel? Old Master palette? Something subtler, anyway. I chafe against some of that, because I am not a particularly subtle person. Cetaganda: I wonder when LMB decided Handmaiden of the Celestial Whatever meant Empress-in-Waiting?

The Spirit Ring (Lois McMaster Bujold): Reread, but not since my teens. I was surprised by how likeable I found TSR: I barely remembered it, and had not until now reckoned up that the bulk of the action takes place in about five days.

Numbers game: 12 total finished. 4 new, 8 reread; 10 fiction, 2 nonfiction.
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I'm practicing proper touch-typing while writing these up, with mixed results. Retraining my fingers is going to boost my typing score in the long run, but at the moment I am very slow. (At a sprint, 50 - 60 WPM with one or two errors. It's the misstrokes that are killing me.)

The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia (Megan Whalen Turner): In a callback to my March reading, I parse Attolia and Mallory in the same realm of sliding scale morality / monarchy craziness. You would think this would make me 100% uncool with the romance? Well, see, that is where I am like, "that is completely wrong and TOTALLY AWESOME. In a completely wrong way. " The immovable object / irresistible force is so much fun I want to cheer it on, despite the - oh, spoiler cut time! )

Also, I think Irene is pretty awesome for seizing and holding power with the odds against her. I really love the characters in these novels: Attolia and Eddis, Gen, Costis, the spymaster, Gen's father the Minister of War, and so on. The plots are not as clever as they want to be, and lean heavily on manipulating the reader's incomplete knowledge of the full picture (why yes, Gen: you do win the prize for Most Unreliable Narrator of the Year), but I am so charmed by the writer's bouncy enthusiasm I can't be bothered to get upset. I am getting my emotional payoff, even when I foresee the plot twists.

Linus Pauling and the Chemistry of Life (Tom Hager): YA bio I picked up for a quick answer to my long-term question "why isn't there a rocking awesome Pauling bio out there?" Couched in easy prose and a lot of author interpretation is a possible answer: Pauling's three careers (chemist, peace activist, self-promoting quasi-dietician) are going to be viewed in different lights, and probably are going to mean hitting up very different research and knowledge bases. This is a pretty short (read: abridged) account of Pauling's life, sort of a Greatest Hits album, but it's the quick overview I was looking for.

The Lucky Strike (Kim Stanley Robinson): Short alternate history story, short essay on alternate history, short Q&A conducted by Terry Bison. I liked the nonfiction parts best, and the story was an interesting thought experiment that let KSR talk about alt history scenarios in the essay. I'm not sure I'd recommend this as an introduction to KSR's work, because I like the cumulative impact of his longer work, but if you want a short sampler, this touches on a lot of the themes that resurface in his novels and other fiction.

Gifts (Ursula K. Le Guin): For two years, teenage Orrec wears a blindfold to protect the people and things he loves from his "gift" of unmaking. This is the story of how the blindfold came off.

In a different writer's hands, this would be 100% "Scots highlanders, with magic!" This is not (entirely) that novel. Le Guin plays this as a story about the power of stories, using the mythology of Blind Caddard, Orrec's ancestor, to set up Orrec's plight and extend that into questioning the stories the uplanders tell about themselves and their way of life. The blindfold-as-metaphor could be really clunky, especially to the jaded YA audience this is pitched for, but I didn't find it overwhelmingly twee, which speaks to Le Guin's skill as a writer.

An Acceptable Time (Madeleine L'Engle): Reread. Polly O'Keefe, living with her grandparents, falls into a time warp with self-absorbed, brooding Zachary Gray and kindly Bishop Colubra, and must help the People of the Wind resolve a dispute with the People Across the Lake - without being sacrificed as a blood offering to end a devastating drought. This is pleasing, bringing together L'Engle's "time" quartet and the Polly-centric novels, but it's more heavily and blatantly steeped in a Christian message than some of L'Engle's other novels, which doesn't work as well for me. Also, An Acceptable Time is the fourth book Zarchary Gray appears in, and also is the fourth time Zachary endangers others, must be rescued, and promises to learn from his mistakes. It would be nice if, just once, he would follow through on that promise.

Don't Bite the Sun (Tanith Lee): You may be reading a Tanith Lee novel if
  • the protagonist is a teenage girl.

  • with emo girlpain.

  • and a decadent lifestyle.

  • as well as some really over-the-top purple prose.

The latter is why I keep reading: when Lee is on, she writes wonderfully luscious prose. And when she's not, well, you get vivid reminders of how wonderful it is to be out of one's emo teenage years.

Scott Pilgrim vol. 1: Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life (Bryan Lee O'Malley): Graphic novel about Scott Pilgrim, 23-year-old bassist and member of the band Sex Bomb-omb, in which Scott dates a high schooler, then hits on the delivery girl, and learns he must fight the delivery girl's seven evil ex-boyfriends to earn the right to date her.

If SP weren't a spineless idiot who thinks with his dick, this would be awesome. It's anime meets comics, in Canada. Unfortunately, I want Knives Chau and Ramona Flowers to cut out the middle-man and run off with each other. I have that sort of hate-on for Scott. Seriously, seven evil exes? Maybe that should say something about your crush's taste in men, moron! And yet I have the second book on hold at the library. Apparently, my antipathy toward an an idiot protagonist can be overcome by the suspicion O'Malley's doing it on purpose. Since the non-Scott characters are significantly less obnoxious, and there are footnotes like "Sex Bomb-omb is a sort of lousy band", and the Scott-Matt fight is pretty awesome, I'm holding out some hope.

Numbers game: 8 total finished. 7 new, 1 reread; 7 fiction (1 graphic novel), 1 nonfiction (1.5 counting the mixed KSR).
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I would nominate this month for a special "moving hurts, I need comfort fiction" award, but I may need to save that for April. Also, my definition of comforting reading is pretty nonstandard.

Downbelow Station (C. J. Cherryh): You know how some books smack you in the back-brain and you probably shouldn't talk about them in public? Hi, DbS! I missed you. I missed the way I think of '80s hair and the Cold War whenever I read you. I missed the way I'd not pay attention and then have my expectations handed to me, in pieces, on a platter. I missed the way every single narrator in this story is morally compromised, except Satin and the Konstantins and Elene. Everyone. Vassily, Signy, Vittorio, Jon - oh Jon, be careful when people ask you what do you want - Ayres, Josh (BTW, Reseune? DIAF.), Mazian - have I forgotten anyone? Traitors, the downtrodden turned to evil convenience, cowards, the other side, outright villains. People.

For a long time, I liked the way the scariest Fleet captains are the minorities: the chick and the black guy. I thought this was a deliberate narrative choice for a long time, but now I'm not so sure. I missed trying to remember if the novel I read was the one written (answer: not really?) and how much I love the shades of gray. I really do love the closing structure, when Damon challenges Mallory and says, "we believed in you", and somehow, that's what finally shakes her conscience loose. With some help from booze and bad memories, but still. The entire novel is betrayal piled on lies, so that one moment warmed my heart to an inordinate degree. I have been okay with DbS's compromised morality in ways that would probably fascinate psychologists since I hallucinated a cut scene liberated from Barrayar. (Seriously: Cordelia and Bothari in the graveyard slid right into Damon and Josh at the gym. I don't know why, I was 17 and discovering situational ethics.)

In a lot of ways, Cherryh and Bujold frame a spectrum of fictional morality for me, light grays to charcoals, so it makes sense that I'd try to mash them together. Bujold explicitly frames the question of people verus principles at one point. Cherryh's characters get very angstful about following principles, but default to "if you don't know where you're going next, well, go there with your friends / crew / liege lady / people" in a crunch. And when they don't, there's a lot of angst and death and hurt feelings. And death.

Would I recommend this to anyone on the street? Oh my gosh no. But I think if you're keen on certain types of science fiction you'd like it.

Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah (Richard Bach): Narrator meets Messiah and learns (relearns?) eternal wisdom. This is part of an unintentional accidental March-April trilogy about knowing thyself and the power of belief which I think makes for interesting metaphor, but which I take less seriously when applied to my life. So I coexist with this sort of mindset uneasily. Bach was apparently a major figure on the '70s scene, but other than wiki, I don't have much context for this one.

Nebula Awards 23 (Ed. Michael Bishop): I picked this up because it had a Kim Stanley Robinson story I'd never read, "The Blind Geometer". In retrospect, this slightly prefigures the espionage subplot in KSR's "Science in the Capitol" trilogy. Connie Willis's "Schwartzchild Radius" assumes I care about the characters; it's a clever idea wrapped in the wrong packaging to catch my interest. "Forever Yours, Anna" is an example of clever packaging (time travel puzzle) wrapped around an idea that didn't work for me (romantic shenanigans). Walter Jon William's "Witness" is about McCarthyism breaking people, now with superheroes. I am disappointed to say that "The Glassblower's Dragon" (Lucius Shepard), a story about rekindling a sense of wonder out of ennui, did not speak deeply to me. I've read Pat Murphy's "Rachel in Love" previously and skipped it this time. I liked Pat Cadigan's "Angel" for all the wrong "questionable relationships with aliens" reasons. I may have skipped some stories, or they failed to make an impression (good or otherwise) on me.

The Alienist (Caleb Carr): Thriller uncovering a serial murderer in 1896. This is excellent plane reading, playing on modern takes of then-emerging (?) forensics. I'd guess there's a bunch of anachronisms - the women who wants to be the first female police, the pre-Freudian psych - but I was having such a good time I didn't really care.

Star Wars: Allegiance (Timothy Zahn): Let me explain my mindset by sharing the text message I sent a long-suffering third party when I bought this:
I bring this up to indicate the 10-year-old kid maturity that Zahn's novels bring out in me. Also, I believe I have blown my monthly capslock allowance on this review.

Mara Jade may or may not be Zahn's most favorite original character ever, but she's one of mine. Let's see: beautiful Force-sensitive assassin with a tragic past and badass ninja skills. So I am totally okay with a novel about Mara, stormtroopers questioning the letter vs the spirit of Imperial law, Leia Organa and Han Solo: The Early Years, and Luke the Baby Jedi, d'awww. Zahn set my expectations for what a SW novel should look like, so it's no surprise I am generally delighted when I get a new dose. Bonus points if you get Vader and Mara sniping at each other. Cough. The one drawback was a deja vu moment about two-thirds through; I must have read a preview somewhere.

Numbers games: 5 total. 4 new, 1 reread; 5 fiction (1 short story collection).
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I am having a death to mornings morning, so here is my happy depth-free book list from February.

The Riddle-Master of Hed (Patricia McKillip): As previously discussed in this journal, not really my thing. I like the very end, where Morgon's shout cracks the doors with the force of his despair, and I liked the vestas, but that's about all that really resonated. I think I may be approaching this wrong, without the appropriate storytelling background to appreciate what McKillip is trying to do, but I can't care enough to try to find that angle. There are images I liked, and themes I should have liked, but I didn't find the book resonating strongly.

Regenesis (the good bits version) (C. J. Cherryh): Once upon a time there was an azi designated Grant ALX Warrick and he was pretty freaking awesome. He was the sort of awesome where you suspect that somewhere, someone is drawing hearts and stars around his name, because Grant is a calming influence on crazy people. By which I mean pretty much everyone in Reseune.

I always want Cherryh to make up more worldbuilding at the levels of philosophy and fake science, so I am not as happy with Regenesis as with Cyteen or even Hellburner, because there's less arguing about how people think and interact. I'm also not fond of the superpowered 17-year-olds. Yes, there's a recurring theme that younger people are underutilized in a universe with awesome life-extension drugs; no, Maddy Strassen would not be running a fashion store at 17.

Merchanter's Luck (C. J. Cherryh): I didn't mean to reread this, it just sort of happened. I remember the places I have been while reading ML better than I remember the book - it's slight in word count and in impact.

The Thief (Megan Whalen Turner): YA fantasy novel about an imprisoned thief challenged to steal a long-lost object with religious and political significance. This was merely okay until the twist near the end of the novel, and the twist made me think the sequel would be worth reading.

Julie & Julia (Julie Powell): The only part of this book that spoke to me was on page 262.

It seemed that someone had alerted Mr. Kline about the heretical content of my blog. . . "Are you unhappy here?" he asked. "No! No, sir. I just - well, I am a secretary, Mr. Kline. Sometimes it's frustrating."
"You're an asset to the organization, Julie. You just need to try to find a way to channel that negative energy." that negative energy?

And I cackled, there at SFO, tired and a little hysterical, thirteen hours before opening my work inbox and finding a "you have DNA extractions!" email. Not, you know, "welcome back, you have..." just, you know, a stack of work. That really hit me in bad ways. I had a good job: I like most of my coworkers most of the time, and I like most of the work most of the time, and the times that I don't, well, some of the people who get on your last nerve are the people who cover holes you can't even see, and there is no way to get around pain in the typing joints SOX-compliant paperwork. But at a certain point, it is time to run away from home. Julie had a lousy job, and I have a lousy hometown complex, and I've been at my job for two years. It was the only moment when I was in full sympathy, and really realized that Julie was halfway coping with her life by cooking in the way I halfway cope by having speculative fiction-inspired IM conversations that devolve into desultory arguments about who can fight Ari Emory. (Well, anyone can try to fight Ari, but most people get cold-cocked in the first round. There's a possibility Benton Frasier would make it to a second round on a crazy luck roll. Kanye West does not. Every Mercedes Lackey character ever gets pwnd, execept maybe Savil, because I like her best. Miles Vorkosigan versus Ari Emory is a psych-out for the ages. Possibly it ends in some azified Vorish DNA and a project for Justin and Grant. Aaaaaand downhill slides like that are why I am quitting my job and moving.)

Other than that, well: I hate New York City, and I hate people who don't do research before starting a project like driving to DC to deliver unto the Smithsonian and Julia Child's kitchen a pound of butter. So I made the Eyebrows of Native Scorn when Powell and her husband tried to find parking on the Mall on a Saturday, then tried to find a grocery store within walking distance of the Mall. I suspect I would've liked Powell's blog much better than her post-blog book deal. I like cooking, but I have very limited tolerance for people who can't be bothered to use Metro.

On a related note, I was recently at the American History museum, and there was an empty one-pound butter box at the Julia Child exhibit. I may have had a moment of cognitive dissonance.

Gods and Pawns (Kage Baker): Collection of short stories set in Baker's Company universe. "To the Land Beyond the Sunset" is Lewis and Mendoza in South America, with typically Mendoza results. "The Catch" deals with one of the Company's immortal failures. "The Angel in the Darkness" is about one of Porfirio's relatives in LA, in a bad spot, and the long thin shadow of immortal machinations. "Standing in His Light" is about art manipulation. "A Night on the Barbary Coast" is Joseph and Mendoza in their most dad-and-daughter style, a lichen, San Francisco in the gold rush, and a Company mandate. "Welcome to Olympus, Mr. Hearst" prefigures Project Adonai. "Hellfire at Twilight" is Lewis and intoxication. The humor and random combinations of historical trivia and stock character types that I like in Baker's writing are present in all of these, but no one story stood out above the others. Kage Baker recently passed away, so it's kind of nice to reread her stories and know something of her continues to impact the world.

Hellburner (C. J. Cherryh): It's The Right Stuff but in space. It's my favorite sort of popcorn book. Hellburner was published around the same time as Chanur's Legacy: both novels are fairly minor books in the Union-Alliance timeline, but they're both very tightly plotted and can be handed to innocent bystanders without warning for psychological damage. Sometimes they're even funny. ("Don't kill me, Ben, but... what time is it?" This is hilarious in context, I promise.) But Hellburner just makes me happy: it starts in tragedy and ends in victory, and in between there's the right amounts of emotional angst and made-up engineering. In the long run everyone's in trouble, but in the short term most of the protagonists get what they want. It's practically a warm and fuzzy Cherryh novel, if you ignore the sabotage subplot and some of the political gamesmanship.

Numbers games: 7 total. 4 reread, 3 new; 6 fiction (1 short story collection), 1 nonfiction.
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I tried to read The Time Traveler's Wife on the bus yesterday and had a very bad time of it. The basic conceit is that the protagonist is subject to uncontrolled time travel episodes caused by a genetic condition. This combines fake science and a classic science fiction trope, so I should be all over this. Unfortunately, it's written in first person present tense, switching between Henry and Claire (time traveler and wife), and the author decided that she would indicate who was speaking by prefacing each section with the person's name. Thus, chapter one:


Saturday, October 26, 1991 (Henry is 28, Claire is 20)

CLAIRE: blah blah blah in first person present tense blah blah blah

HENRY: blah blah blah more first person present tense blah blah blah

I didn't make it out of the prologue, which was more of the same, and also spent a lot of time on Claire's breasts and Henry's longing for The Simple Life (tm) (possibly AKA Claire's breasts) so the book lost me within two pages. The first chapter is actually less awful than the prologue, but not so not-awful I feel the need to finish it, or the rest of the book.

This book doesn't work for me for a couple of reasons. The first person present tense feels pretentious as sin (less bad angst in the prologue, and I might have been sold). It can be done - I freaking loved Shabanu when I was a kid - but it should be used judiciously and not just because you're writing a time travel novel, look how edgy and "all times are now" you the author can be. Second, I am insulted when the author thinks I can't do math and includes it in the chapter headings. Either age is important and the author in-clued in the text or it's not that important and I can do the math later if I really care.

I didn't chuck this against a wall, first because it's a loaner from [ profile] samthereaderman and second because I was at a bus stop and undersupplied with handy walls, as well as other bus reading. However, it was a close call on my desire to do a little experimenting with a fat trade paperback, several lanes of traffic, and a dirty snowbank. This is the sort of experience where listening to "The Real Slim Shady" is about the right counter for your foray into least common denominator popular fiction, and that's why I have a rap station bouncing on Pandora. I like my least common denominator in different forms than fiction.

P. S. Kanye West is asking how could you be so heartless now. Kanye, if only you knew.
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Changing the World: All-New Tales of Valdemar (Mercedes Lackey, ed.): I know someone who had a story in this, and after I read the one story, I was compelled to flip through the rest of the stories. If I had gotten more than a flicker of amusement from anything other than "Interview With a Companion", I would be less ashamed to admit I read this. Unfortunately, it reminded me of all the things those crazy kids can get up to when they're mind-bonded to a psychic spirit-horse and kicked off a Lackey binge.

My name is Asher Lev (Chaim Potok): Hasidic Jew's artistic passion sets him at odds with his family and the Orthodox Jewish community. Potok's novels sometimes show up on high school reading lists, so I picked this up in a spate of culture, and came away thinking certain family issues make a lot more sense in context of the Law, even if no one's been to temple in 30 years. As far as the book itself, I think Asher Lev was a bit of a self-centered brat, but his selfishness is in the context of a rigid and homogenous community (justifiably?) anxious about its future, so I am more interested in Asher as an insight into community or society, and where it breaks down, as well as the Jewish community in the late '40s through '60s, than I am interested in his art-related angst.

The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant (An Adoption Story) (Dan Savage): Dan Savage and then-boyfriend-now-husband-in-Canada adopt. The title is nearly longer than the book, but it's a funny take on the serious topic of open adoption.

The Valdemar binge of shame and overtime, or, what my brain could deal with during a 50 hour work week: the Arrows trilogy, the Last Herald-Mage trilogy, the Tarma and Kethry duology and collected short stories, and a special power-skim edition of By the Sword and the Winds trilogy.

Emotional reactions to emotional books. )

My Lackey binge is over (I hope). There are exactly two trilogies, one duology, and one short story collection worth reading, so once you've read the Arrows trilogy, and the Vanyel trilogy, and the Tarma and Kethry stories, you can stop. Many of the books set in Velgarth have an overdose of Tayledras being like Native Americans, but awesomer. (See also XKCD.) Obviously, there are a number of drawbacks to that setup, none of which I feel the need to discuss at this time.

Numbers game: 12 total finished. 3 new, 9 reread; 11 fiction, 1 nonfiction; 2 short story collections.


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April 2017

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