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I reread In the Garden of Iden (Kage Baker) (1997) in the run-up to vacation, because sometimes what you really need is some slapstick with tragedy. It's been... a decade? More than a decade? Since I originally read this, so I'd forgotten some of the set pieces: the "unicorn", the Christmas celebration, the dubious consequences of Sir Walter's deal with the Company. Iden has most elements of the Company series, in a nutshell, including that pompous git Mendoza's boyfriend. It's so good! The writing is fluid and smart and funny and the plot flows together wonderfully. Baker's early death was a great loss to the SF/F writing community.

The Winged Histories (Sofia Samatar) (2016): Samatar's second novel, set in the same universe as her first, A Stranger in Olondria. It's Samatar's take on epic fantasy. Histories is divided into four parts, presenting four POVs on a civil war in Olondria. I bogged down at the opening of the third part, almost exactly halfway though, which opened with second person present tense. (And by "bogged down" I said, "oh, no," and pulled the next book in the to-read queue.) This is nominally standalone, but I struggled to assemble a sense of the characters, their relationships, and what made their stories sufficiently compelling that I should keep reading. Histories also suffered from the tension of being epic fantasy and being critical of epic fantasy. It's hard to reach for an affecting touchstone Crowing Moment of Awesome while taking a hard look at the assumptions that make that Crowing Moment of Awesome so affecting. Also, epic fantasy just isn't my genre. On the outside, it looks like it should be. It's a genre that runs long in wordcount and intricate in worldbuilding. But epic fantasy rarely digs into the spin-off of the worldbuilding assumptions, the second order assumptions. GRRM unintentionally nailed it: The common people pray for rain, health, and a summer that never ends. They don't care what games the high lords play. I want to know what causes the Westeros wacky seasonal variation, how that impacts the society - I want some impact on society - and I really don't care about a bunch of people fighting over power. Power is boring, limitations set the state for interesting stories. Histories has the right idea - the characters have limits - but again, the execution is almost there.

Also, there's an xkcd graph that is relevant to this novel. I thought the plethora of fictional plants, animals, trade goods, what have you, was a Le Guin style ethnographic argument on cultural contextualization and atomization or something, but it's an example of epic fantasy imitating the forms of the genre's founders while forgetting that one of the founding giants was an obsessive philologist whose smash hit was a spin-off of his conlang projects (note the projects multiple). Okay, I exaggerate? But to make my point that the outward shape is reproduced, not the inner truths readers found in the reading experience.

Points for ambition. I want to like The Winged Histories, but the execution didn't do it for me on this pass. But apparently I want to talk in detail about its ambitious failure, which might get me to try other fiction by Samatar, or even grit my teeth and finish the second half. Eventually.

Lab Girl (Hope Jahren) (2016): I think this might have been an NPR book? It paid off very well for an NPR read, if so. Memoir by a die-hard plant nerd, focusing on the adventures of life in pursuit of the tenure track and also on the awesomeness of plants. It's a 304 page account of a lifelong love affair with green things. There's a relaxing effect of the writer skimming across her experiences, touching on the tenure track struggle, the desperate state of research funding, the experience of being a woman in academia and a field research science, adventures and misadventures in mental health, family relationships, and not delving too deeply into any one of these, except maybe the awesomeness of Jahren's partner in crime and research.

The City of Bones (Martha Wells) (1995): Scrappy loner with wacky survival abilities thanks to long-vanished Ancients - and his partner in dealing Ancient relics - are reluctantly drafted to save the world. Scrappy loners are one of Wells' go-to character types, which is useful for talking about societies, and the odd things that make up the culture, like burning people's bones to prophesy, or trading their sanity for mage powers, or engaging in high risk trades in Ancient relics, because money, against a backdrop of postapocalyptic desert scarcity. It's a bit Mad Max, minus the cars. And also with the strong female protagonists - loner Khat and his partner Sagai are drawn into high level intrigue by Elen, a junior Warder of the city-state Charisat. Elen and Khat have contrasting emotional arcs: Khat struggles to keep his distance from Sagai and Sagai's family, Elen struggles with stepping out of her mentor's shadow. If you like Wells' other fiction, you'll probably like this too.
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While typing part of this, I rewatched the DS9 episode where Eddington taunts Sisko with Les Miserables. It's the wrong book for the metaphor the story was trying to write: Valjean doesn't lead revolutions. Sorry, Eddington; your heart is in the right place, but you're looking for another Hugo protagonist, I think.

My reading log is so behind it starts with last year's WSFA small press nominee voting bundle. The contents were:

Cut for space, along with story comments. )

Readers, feel my shame. I reread Mercedes Lackey. )

I did not venture into Mage Winds / Mage Storms territory (much), instead making a hard swerve into the Vanyel trilogy. It seems I still have many feelings about the (possibly unintentional) structure of foreshadowing and capital-D Destiny, while being less and less invested in the actual story. Teenagers are not all that good at life decisions, who knew? Teenagers with superpowers are not that good at life decisions with superpowers, not shocking! Unless you are a Herald, apparently.

One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Polyamory, Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love (ed. Rebecca Walker) (2009): Essays on family. A mixed bag, which killed some bus time.

Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation (Dan Fagin) (2013): Nonfiction. A recounting of the history of a chemical plant in a New Jersey town, and of the legal wrangling that arose during the plant's decline. Long, heavily end-noted, very well written. There was enough science I can look up the technical aspects for more details, and the science that was in the book was clearly described for a lay audience. The legal aspects also seemed well done to me, evoking the tedium and inanity of major legal actions, and the ambiguous closure - or lack of closure - associated with the final settlements.

Also, I will never look at tap water the same way. Highly recommended.

ETA, 2015: SAN trimer results complete, ambiguous. The study is discussed in Fagin's book in some detail.

For reasons, I reread broad swathes of Kage Baker's Company novels (1997 - 2007): In the Garden of Iden, Sky Coyote, Mendoza in Hollywood, The Graveyard Game, The Children of the Company, The Machine's Child, The Sons of Heaven, and the short story collections Black Projects, White Knights and Gods and Pawns. You'll note I skipped The Life of the World to Come, as my feelings on Mendoza's romance start at "faugh, this is not an entirely consensual relationship!" and go downhill from there.

The Company novels are wonderful entertainment: there's great worldbuilding with a number of clever little touches; a deep and wide cast of entertaining, well-evoked characters; coherence of plot and theme; deft comedic timing. They're not flawless: the Mendoza romance is predicated on some deeply sketchy "Edward is Always Right" nonsense. It's possible to argue there's an arc where Nicholas and Edward and Alec learn they aren't all that, but it's not entirely clear to me that's in line with the author's intention. I am happy to burble at length in comments, particularly about Joseph, or series structure, or the little gray men.

Ancillary Sword (Ann Leckie) (2014): Sequel to Ancillary Justice. It was enjoyable, in a way that is a little aslant of AJ.

Spoilers for both novels. Also, probably nonsensical without reading both novels. )

The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss) (2007): Fantasy novel. The retelling of the youth of Kvothe, called the Deathless, the Bloodless, Kingkiller, etc, by the red-haired green-eyed innkeeper Kote.

Jo Walton reviewed this favorably, and one of my friends really liked it, so I made an exception to my Fat Fantasy Epic rule. (The Rule: "Don't.") It didn't move me as strongly as others have been moved, but I'm intrigued by the artifice of the framing story. We're being told a story! The narrator may be rather unreliable! I certainly hope the portrayal of women is a side effect of the precocious mid-teens male protagonist PoV. The language is polished, nearly invisible, except when it does something particularly beautiful.

I still find myself inclined to wait until the trilogy (or series) is finished or permanently abandoned before reading the second novel.
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I keep meaning to post this on reading Wednesday, and forgetting. Have a reading Tuesday!

A Hero at the End of the World (Erin Claiborne) (2014): Scott Pilgrim redux, without Scott Pilgrim's brilliant deployment of contemporary pop culture, or the lurking plot twist that Scott recognizes and acknowledges his flaws. A story as trope-heavy as The Magicians, without Grossman's wonderful prose, or critical engagement with the problematic aspects of fantasy tropes. By chapter four (of 33) I didn't care about any of the characters, and committed the minor sin of skipping to the final chapter. A later plot element inspired false hope it would get better. It doesn't.

The novel is blurbed as "best friend of Chosen One fulfills Chosen One's destiny, timestamp: 5 years later". Sounds like a great opportunity to engage critically with the Chosen One trope, doesn't it?

This is not that novel. )

A Hero at the End of the World is the first novel published by Big Bang Press (see Kickstarter page). I anted up at the "three ebooks plus commentary" level, and will report back as the second and third novels show up in my inbox. Hero was the novel I had most expected to enjoy, so it's disappointing I bounced off it this badly. But! Now I can re-scale my expectations appropriately.

Saga: Volume 3 (Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples): THIS SERIES YOU GUYS THIS SERIES. This is how you do tropes. It's space opera (I love space opera). There is a star-crossed romance, which can be done poorly or well, and in this case it's done to my taste. Though Marko and Alanna are very "us against the world", usually my least favorite romantic plot, this is constantly undercut by their own flaws and struggles with their relationship, and their awareness of the possible consequences for their tiny daughter. The young parents may be In Love, but that doesn't resolve their insecurities, interior or exterior. Someone still has to change the diapers.

Spoilers for Volume 3. )

I love this series. I love the sprawling canvas. I love the multiple perspectives the reader follows, the compromises people make (and try to break), the gorgeous full color art, the callously high body count, the Lying Cat (if you do not love Lying Cat, there is no hope for you), Marko and Alanna figuring out how to be responsible parents, the different characters engaged in some form of parenting, or caretaking, or bringing life into an uncertain world (the Robot family! Could this series signpost Major Issues with more neon lights? Cannot wait to see how that plays out), the relationships. I love Klara figuring out this mother-in-law thing. I love the random ghosts and magic and the spaceships and the transformative power of trashy romance novels. I love the art, and the shameless reveling in this broad spacious canvas by writers, inkers, artists who know exactly what they're doing with their tools.

The Empress of Mars (Kage Baker) (2010): Mary Griffith, former scientist, current bar-owner-slash-brewer-slash-mother, survives and thrives on Mars.

Not my favorite Company novel (Sky Coyote, hands down; expand to shorter works and I will nominate "Son Observe the Time"), but delivered palate-cleansing competent storytelling and mild slapstick. There is, how to say this? When Baker makes her characters immature and short-sighted, one gets the impression she does not find this charming. It's just part of the human condition. She's also got tonal range in her storytelling: The Empress of Mars is pretty frothy, compared to, say, Mendoza in Hollywood. Mary's two oldest daughters get married, Mary secures the small entrepreneurial fortune any self-respecting pioneer woman would desire, plucky quirky independence is celebrated and mindless conformity derided... this isn't deep, but it's competent.
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March through June, because I was distracted by academic due dates.

Ultraviolet (R.J. Anderson) (2011): YA fiction. Teenager must come to grips with the events that landed her in a mental institution with an accusation she killed a popular classmate.

Mixed feelings. )

The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) (2008): Meh. )

Crucible of Gold (Naomi Novik) (2012): This had far fewer problems than Tongues of Serpents. Plus, the narrative clipped along fast enough I was willing to overlook several gaping worldbuilding holes. The real treat wascharacter development! Spoilers by the bushel. )

So I sort of accidentally mainlined Stackpole's first four X-wing novels? And watched a season and a quarter of the Clone Wars cartoon over spring break? In that way you do, when you're jonesing for prequel movies that aren't awful. And here is the kind of hilarious thing, the X-Wing novels flunk the Betchdel so hard - Erisi Dlarit's entire plot line is Wicked Temptress! - while the Clone Wars have Aayla Secura (woman) and Ahsoka Tano (teenage girl) facing off against Asajj Ventress (evil Dark Jedi, incidentally also female) without a hint of catfight. It just sort of happened! Five minutes into an animated / CGI / whatever lightsaber battle I am thinking, "wait, these are women talking about something other than a man. Okay, there's some trash-talking Anakin and Dooku, in a completely platonic 'my master's better than your master' way." There's a thing to be said about target audiences, 1990's vs 2010's, and novels vs TV, and divergences, which doesn't fit here, sadly. I stopped watching Clones Wars when scragging the Jedi officers started sounding like a good idea, but I'm pleased to report the close proximity of women and large explosions. On the novel side, I sort of want to come down on Stackpole for dubious female characterization, but honestly, it's more like dubious characterization fill stop. Isard and Dirricote shouldn't have overlapping vocabulary / attitude registers with Vorru and Black Sun. And can someone oppose Rogue Squadron for reasons other than overwhelming corrupt ambition? Shades of gray, please?

The Bird of the River (Kage Baker) (2010): Set in the same fantasy universe as The Anvil of the World and The House of the Stag, once largely defined by your birth into the forest-loving and largely pacifist Yondri or the violent, industrial Children of the Sun. Protagonist Elissa struggles with her half-and-half brother's problems and social entanglements on the eponymous river barge. Baker's characteristic charm and humor are on display here; endings are happy, and the trip there is entertaining.

I started The Neon Court (Kate Griffin) (2011) with misgivings. The title and early chapters available online suggested it contained urban fairies and fridging. Urban fairy anything is a personal turnoff in 90% of everything I read or watch, and dead women for maximum manpain - well. So my enjoyment of Matthew's tendencies for causing mayhem and gruesome injuries (not to mention the property damage) were in serious danger of being overwhelmed by the other elements in the air. Fortunately, the series rides a fine line of having its cake and eating it too (see Ultraviolet review, above), leading to my overall enjoyment - it's not perfect! I can poke holes! But the good bits are really solid, I love the parts I love! - and incoherent reviews. So I wasn't thrilled with this installment, but I was willing to keep going with the series.

The Minority Council (Kate Griffin) (2012): In which the Midnight Mayor is scammed by his Aldermen, lies by omission to an overworked civic servant, and finds his PA unexpectedly resourceful. And Matthew Swift goes on a little crusade against drugs, with predictably explosive consequences.

Truth shot a sly glance at expediency, expediency waggled its eyes significantly, truth made a little noise in the back of its throat, and expediency jumped straight on in there.

Spoilers. )

Lord of Light (Roger Zelazny) (1967): Jo Walton says most of what I'd say. I read it at 29 instead of childhood, but I found the extended flashback so poorly marked as to be confusing, and I have serious qualms about the Hindu/Buddhist-influenced setup. Whatever Zelazny did here that's supposed to be very clever, I'm missing it.

I finished two-thirds of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (Oliver Sacks) (1985) before my attention span gave out. The individual cases would make interesting elements of a newspaper column or multi-author collection, but en masse were a little too much.

City of Diamond (Jane Emerson) (1996): Reread. Originally written as the first in a space-opera-ish trilogy about the people and politics of three missionary city-ships adhering to an offshoot of Catholicism; however, it stands alone fairly well. I find it immensely satisfying comfort reading: entertaining worldbuilding, mostly likeable characters, a clear delineation of the good guys and the bad guys. The Greykey philosophy makes very little sense if one pokes too hard, and Tal's characterization has some serious "ice princess has a heart after all!" moments gives me no joy, but there are many, many components balancing these. I am willing to be charmed my every single Diamond character who is not Tal, and by Opal characters other than Arno and Hartley Quince. If the trilogy had ever been finished, oh, the problems I'd expect, but the story ends on a decently complete note if you know it's an abandoned work in progress. No one dies, there's a wedding, and there's women with autonomy, so it's a good cozy novel for days when one's brain is mostly otherwise occupied.

Numbers game: 13 total finished. 11 new, 2 reread; 12 fiction, 1 nonfiction. 1 incomplete.
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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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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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Eight, including one nonfiction. I have got to change my non/fiction ratios up.

I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith): I should know better than to read novels in gigantic chunks; resolution of any novel makes very little sense at 3 AM. Epistolary novel that almost worked for me, except I empathize with the father's lazy genius too much, so it's a little painful.

Old Man's War (John Scalzi): I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army. Starship Troopers, except for the wife thing. Which actually is sort of late Heinlein, if you have a twisted brain. However, it doesn't follow through for me, because Johnny Rico is supposed to be an everyman, and John Perry is a little more special. Spoilers, quotes, rambling. ) Points off OMW for not being deep, worldbuilding, and Special Protagonist Effect; points to OMG for engaging characterization of non-POV characters and snappy dialogue. Conclusion? Scalzi stays on the "to read" list.

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster (Jon Krakauer): Journalist's experiences during the 1996 climbing season, supplemented by interviews with climbers who survived the circumstances that killed eight people in less than 24 hours. The mountain would ultimately claim 15 lives that season, the greatest number of fatalities in one year.

The Everest fatality list lists deaths up to and including 2002. There's been a death on the slopes every year since 1978. So when I say, "people die every year on that mountain", people do, in fact, die every year on that mountain because they put themselves in harm's way. Enthusiasts with limited experience throw thousands of dollars at the opportunity to experience significantly subzero wind chills, hypoxia, and did I mention possibly death?

However, this makes for great drama. Guides and their clients are pushing the envelope so far there's not much margin for error when something doesn't go to plan. I am fascinated, if convinced I am never, ever doing it without a winning lottery ticket and five-year training program. Good nonfiction.

I should disclose that I read Into the Wild, Krakauer's book about Christopher McCandless, the summer before my senior year of high school. I loathed it, because I had no sympathy for No Map McCandless in my cautious soul, and Krakauer inexplicably (to me) did. My loathing of Into the Wild is a reflection of my fundamental difference in worldview from McCandless and should not be taken as a reflection on Krakauer's writing, which is extremely readable. Oh hey, there is an Into the Wild movie less than a month from release. I had no idea!

Faking It (Jennifer Cruise):
Then the light caught Tilda's crazy blue eyes again, and she looked stubborn and difficult and exasperating and infinitely more interesting than Eve, if he could keep from maiming her. And he already knew she could kiss.
And so it was that on page 76 I said, "thank God, one romance novel is finally talking to me."

However, it doesn't say the things I really want to hear. That's not a winning conclusion in a fluffy book. )

Fire Logic (Laurie J. Marks): The Shafthali resistance, as seen through the eyes of Zanja na'Tarwein. There, have a useless blurb.

The usual strategy for epic war fantasy novels is to focus on the battles and political maneuvering. Marks focuses on the resistance, on avoiding and seeking out small local skirmishes, and on the toll armed hostilities take on the people and the land: farms destroyed, lives sacrificed to duty, etc. Marks gets points for LGB content and a fantasy system which does not actively irritate me. She also gets points for quietly telling a story featuring women interacting with women, which is a weird thing to say, but consider the last five SF novels you read and ask yourself how many of them featured a scene with three people doing a job, all of whom happen to be of the XX persuasion. According to her biography, Marks is in a writing group with Rosemary Kirstein, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, and Didi Stewart. People who know me know that I think Kirstein's Steerswoman series is doing awesome stuff, and that I may break the bank for a hardcover copy of the next one, if published in that format, to get it faster. So I am very excited that I have other authors who seem to be in a conversation I want to eavesdrop on.

The Machine's Child (Kage Baker): From the diary of Labenius, an Immortal: Book 7. Still not 2355!

Spoilers. Though after that last sentence, do you care? )

V for Vendetta (David Lloyd, Alan Moore): Graphic novel of 1982 - 1988 comic series. I saw the movie first, rushed through the comic in the two days after I realized I had a due date coming up, and in some ways like the movie more. Yes, gasp, horror, shock, get it out of your system so I can explain. Ready?

Two paragraphs of rambling. )

The Sons of Heaven (Kage Baker): IT IS FINALLY 2355. )
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Four books. Four. Including spring break, where inroads were minimal. Bummer of a book month. But I finally finished The Selfish Gene, so I can't say I really care about the count.

The Stars My Destination (Alfred Bester): Reread. Because, as we all should know by now, Bester's two Golden Age novels are the best that era has to offer. (His '80's work is considerably less fun, alas.) So you all know what I'm going to say, right? About love for the genre and how much stuff is of its time and how if you think about the '50s, the themes of conspicuous consumption - Victorianism - tenacity - restraint - losing restraint (also sometimes called self control) seem to say less about where '50s America was going than where it was. But blood and money are universal agents of corruption - the trappings of The Stars My Destination may be dated, but the themes at the heart of the novel still speak to the attentive ear.

The Graveyard Game (Kage Baker): Reread. Fourth novel in the Company series: Joseph and Lewis search for the missing Mendoza and poke at the curious life of Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax while the world quietly crumbles toward the Silence.

Spoileriffic worldbuilding criticism is a terrible thing. Notice how much this is stopping me. )

Other than that, the book is very good. Fast moving plot, vivid characterization, blackly amusing extrapolation of contemporary coddling and PCness into a hyperhygenic ubervegan world where booze and chocolate are illegal. Still very much looking forward to the sixth book.

The Lost Steersman (Rosemary Kirstein): Third book in the Steerswoman series. Definitely not a good place to jump in. If you haven't read the first two, find a copy of The Steerswoman's Road before trying The Lost Steersman. Blurb: back from the Outlands, Rowan searches the disarrayed Steerwoman's Annex for further clues of the wizard Slado's history and plans.

Reactions: Spoilers for the series up to book 3. Kirstein is wandering towards Fat Fantasy Epic territory, but so far I'm suffiently amused to trail along and poke at things. )

[Edit: Spoilers for the fourth book, The Language of Power, in comments. Avoid the "Re: The Lost Steersman & The Language of Power" if you want to remain unspoiled for tLoP.]

I would like to note that I started reading a copy of the second edition of The Selfish Gene (Richard Dawkins) in early January, and finished it at 8:20 AM on March 30th. It was worth it: The Selfish Gene is a lively, detailed argument for the operation of natural selection at the genetic level, a brain-bending concept in chapter one, but eloquently illustrated by the end of the book. Dawkins, a noted evolutionary biologist, politely disagrees with group selectionism and occasionally slams the notion that "contraption contraception is bad" with great ill-will. In the '89 edition, there are also cool "followup" footnotes clarifying concepts and touching on new research (naked mole rats!). There are also two chapters of extra new material, including the "extended phenotype" chapter. (The entire concept is either on crack or possibly very useful. Or maybe both.) The enire book makes me want to dig up early ground-breaking evolutionary bio papers and books, and look at newer research to see what's been done since The Selfish Gene was published. I would encourage anyone who's interested in bio to take a stab at this, because it's interesting, and because it's seminal: my bio prof is basically recapping The Selfish Gene this semester. It makes a fairly painless course very, very easy. Yay Dawkins! And three cheers for my sister, who made me read this.
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This very nearly wound up titled "Geniuses and Megalomania", because there seemed to be an awful lot of that this month, but the entry wound up bookended by lighter stuff. Thank goodness.

Monsoon Diary (Shoba Narayan): Autobiography about life as the bright daughter of a large South Indian family that loves food. Very lightweight, good bedtime reading - as long as you don't go to bed on an empty stomach. Food is a major focus of the book: common breakfasts, memorable feasts, a well-intentioned but fairly disastrous charity dinner; love expressed through lunches. The author includes recipes at chapter ends. It tempts me to cook, which I consider a good thing.

Cold Tom (Sally Prue): Tom of the Fae is - horrors - enslaved to humans by love. YA fluff with one interesting idea (love as a chain) and a whiff of Tam Lin. It suffers from the cuteness and over-tidiness seen in a lot of YA books - very small cast, who all wind up in close happy relationships - and the central theme's pretty standard YA stuff, but the perspective twist is kind of cool. Worth the dollar it cost at a library sale, but not necessarily worth the full price.

The Life of the World to Come (Kage Baker): Fifth novel in the Company series. (Finally!) It moves things along very nicely. Document D, Alec Checkerfield, time travel, weird and possibly metaphorical prophetic dreams. Things go boom! in bad ways, as they tend to around the botanist Mendoza.

For people unfamiliar with Kage Baker's novels: the Company series focuses on events in the lives of certain time traveling immortals who steal great cultural works and to-be-extinct species from their doomed fates and stash them in improbable places for the edification of future generations and profit of Dr. Zeus Inc., the company that created the immortals. Only there's a few hitches, like that distressing "things go boom! around Mendoza" pattern. Sometimes there are also little gray men. If someone wants to explain what was going on at the end of Graveyard Game (or send me a copy of the paperback), email or indicate spoiler-ness when commenting.

The style is fun, the plotting multi-novel, and attention to detail sometimes is really rewarding. Hooked? Find a copy of In the Garden of Eden and start catching up.

Do you know how hard it is to talk without spoiling left, right and center? )

Reread bits of Cyteen. It's a stress thing.

Watchmen (Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons): Notable '80s graphic novel, noted for being an "adult" comic back when they weren't so much. Edward Blake, ex-superhero, is killed. Those who try to find out why discover they've got a thread into a Gordian knot of trouble.

It's, um, well. Picking this up for some light bedtime reading was really a mistake. (I have this problem quite often when I'm trying to read comics. Which is probably why I don't read them much.) There's an awful lot of blood and violence, I can't think of a major protagonist I'd want to spend time with, the art does what it's supposed to, the blocking is striking, and the plot is fabulous. All the byzantine twisting of now, history, minor characters, world events, and even interesting use of the use/abuse of power theme. It's cool. It's intricate. It's just... did Moore really have to throw someone out a skyscraper on the first page?

So. Major points for fabulous plotting, but... don't read this if you're convinced the world's in bad shape.

A Beautiful Mind (Sylvia Nasar): I really liked it. )

I also reread Mirabile (Janet Kagan) in random chunks. Comfort reading, With silly puns, off-the-wall biology, and nice characterization. Everyone means well, and it generally works out.

My last-weekend-of-the-month binge was Hellspark (Janet Kagan). Mirabile is a short story collection, and Hellspark I believe a first novel, and I think the difference shows. In brief, Tocohol Susumo, a red-haired golden-eyed Hellspark trader with a Really Special extrapolative computer, is asked to solve a murder and a question of sentience. I'm glad I read this when I was younger and less jaded by fandom, because I would've tossed this as a Mary Sue-ish if I'd read it after reading all that bad fic. I would have missed a very entertaining story that's just a bit larger than life, in that nifty space opera way. My other quibble with the book is the way everyone's good intentions work out for the best, but after some of the other stuff I read this week I can't say that's a bad thing, in fiction.

In February I read an awful lot of the fiction on the weekends, when I slept late and failed to get anything done that I'd planned on. I can either blame this on a disinclination to get up when it's cold out (and the circulation in the house is terrible; the upstairs is always ten degrees warmer than the downstairs) or my disinclination to do my homework. One of these can be solved by a heater. The real problem probably can be solved by willpower, or going to the school library, out of reach of all that pesky fiction.
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A collection of stories, most standalone and some set in the same universe as her series. Serii? The first three ("Leaving His Cares Behind", "The Briscian Saint", "Desolation Rose") are set in the same universe as her novel The Anvil of the World. The bulk of the book is standalones - "Miss Yahoo Has Her Say", "What the Tyger Told Her" , "Nightmare Mountain" (the Cupid and Psyche myth mets a vaguely Poe or Gaiman-ish sensibility), "Merry Christmas From Navarro Lodge, 1928" is an elegant one-trick time travel short; "Her Father's Eyes", set shortly after WWII, is inspired by Tam Lin according to Baker's website, but seems to be only the first half the story; "Two Old Men"I think is about God and the Devil making a deal; "The Summer People" is the meeting of California trailer trash with Hollywood-ish Elf types (not happy Tolkien Elves, the morally chancy sort from ballads); I don't know what "How They Tried to Talk Indian Tony Down" is; "Pueblo, Colorado Has the Answers" deals once again with time travel technology, this time with government cover-up; "Mother Aegypt" is the story of a swindler out to get rich, a Zeus Company Immortal who desperately wants to die, and the Immortal's strange servant Emil. The standalones are dominated by stories set in California, often told by or about fairly normal people caught in the fringe of strange events. Subtly strange little stories. When's the next Company novel due out again?
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Cutting for length and spoilers.

Silverlock, John Myers Myers. )

Stations of the Tide, Michael Swanwick. )

The Anvil of the World, Kage Baker. )

Tam Lin, Pamela Dean. )

If you haven’t read the original ballad form of, "Tam Lin", you really ought to read it at some point. It’s a lovely ballad, I think.

This Star Shall Abide, Sylvia Engdahl. )


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