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I think it's time to admit I am never cleaning up any of the 2016 book log, post, and move on.

League of Dragons (2016) (Naomi Novik): The concluding novel in the Temeraire series. Napoleon is finally finished off, various disputes are disposed of, and Temeraire and Iskierka's egg hatches.

On romance and Romance; characterization; and worldbuilding. )

Uprooted (Naomi Novik) (2015): Reread, picked up for plane distract during an October vacation. It's very likeable, even if it feels like it's trying to be three novels. It's three novels I'm happy to read! Not The Chosen Girl is a good story, Fairy Tales Meet Realpolitik has its moments, Young Woman Defeats Ancient Evil is good times. The only thing I don't like is the romance, because there's a point where your mixed feelings about the older mentoring wizard and his relationship with the younger witch in training run smack into your memories of Harry Potter fandom and you want to gouge your eyes out, because student/teacher has never ever been your thing, and that's... not how the author feels.

Necessity (Jo Walton) (2016): The concluding novel of Walton's Thessaly trilogy. Spoilers. )

Bring Down the Sun (Judith Tarr) (2008): Swag bag freebie. A novel of Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great, mixing history and fantasy. Olympia, known by various names as she departs from the path of an alcolyte to a fading Goddess religion to pursue power, magic, and lustful romance among the politics of Epirus and Macedonia.

Holy erotica, Batman! Tarr mixes history, fantasy, and romance in a short novel. Olympias wrestles with the dark magic of Thessaly's witches, learns about political power, struggles to understand and master her magical gifts, and meets and marries Philip of Macedon. A slight novel in word count, the mix of setting and genres is an interesting study in satisfying divergent trope demands. The tensions of those demands sometimes make the characters a bit wooden, and the length contributes a sketchy feeling to the worldbuilding, elements which keep the novel a bit slight in impact.

A Darker Shade of Magic (V. E. Schwab) (2015):

INTERNET BUZZ: It's a fantasy novel about London, written by a YA novelist.
ME: Meh.
INTERNET: It's got a multiverse.

Yet I found myself underwhelmed. Spoilers under the cut. ) The emotional highs and gory lows should have compelled my attention, but instead I found myself disengaging to poke at the underpinnings. The multiverse conceit is interesting, but I might have liked this more if I'd been able to accept the rest of the premise without so many questions about whether it could hold up to the narrative promises.

Penric's Mission (Lois McMaster Bujold) (2016): Third in the Penric series. Penric and the demon of chaos he's named Desdemona fail miserably at espionage and succeed at healing another character caught up by intrigue. The first two Penric stories are not required to understand this short novel, but they're fun reading. I think this could have used one more editing pass, to balance some of the events between the end of the last story and the start of this one, unless I was supposed to think, "well, that offstage crisis was not in-clued".

The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures (Anne Fadiman) (1997 / 2012): Nonfiction account that places miscommunication between one set of doctors and parents in the larger forces of Hmong experience and immigration. In the 2012 edition's new afterward, Fadiman writes: I hope The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down is settling into its proper place not as the book about the Hmong but as a book about communication and miscommunication across cultures. That's very much the light in which I read this. And in that light, I found it an easy, clear read. Fadiman takes pains to explain to readers the historic and cultural contexts that drove Lia Lee's parents decisions, balanced against the more familiar medical imperatives driving her doctors.

Death's End (Liu Cixin, trans. Ken Liu, 2010/2016) HOLY SCIENCE FICTION MADNESS. This is serious end of the world times. End of the universe times.

Spoilers. )

I made a sincere attempt to read Ada Palmer's Too Like the Lightning (2016) based on promising reviews and made it all of two pages before losing empathy for the narrative voice.
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In December and over the holidays I read a number of Damon Runyon's short stories collected in The Bloodhounds of Broadway and Other Stories (1981). A writing giant of the 1930's, Runyon has a wonderfully distinctive fictional voice and smashing comedic timing.

A coworker lent me Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale (1983), which is a brick-long love story to New York City, in the mode of magical realism. Amazing prose, inconclusive plot. )

It's a hot mess and I like it. The plot is a mess with absurd resolution, when any thread resolves at all, and the prose is over the top, and it doesn't matter, it's so bizarre it takes the reader right out of the world into the world of the story.

I tripped and reread Martha Wells' Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy (2004-2005), some of the Ile-Rien and Cineth short stories collected in an ebook in 2015. It's hard to succinctly talk about why I enjoy these so much. I love the way The Wizard Hunters drops the reader into the troubles Ile-Rien and Cineth face and gets the multiworld ensemble working together against their common enemies, and against the frictions individual characters face with "their" people. The Ships of Air develops the cultural blind spots both sides discover alongside a breakneck action plot. The Gate of Gods almost sticks the landing; there's a lot of landing to stick (Tremaine and Ilias! The reason for the Gardier invasions! Giliead and sorcery! Ixion! Florian and Ixion! What's going to happen to Arisilde! And oh yes, defeating the Gardier.)

And there is snark. So much snark and sarcastic humor.

"It's a grend," Tremaine explained, keeping her voice low. "It's got Gerard trapped."

"You saw him?" she demanded. "What's a grend?"

"A big... thing." Tremaine flapped her arms in a vague gesture. "We didn't see him, but he's got to be there. If it had already eaten him, surely it wouldn't still be hanging around."

Florian stared, taken aback. "You know, when you're optimistic you have a strange way of phrasing things."

Then I read The Death of the Necromancer (1998) for the first time. The Death of the Necromancer is set a generation earlier, focusing on the adventures of the previous generation as Nicholas Valiarde's attempt to avenge his foster-father's murder is derailed by someone else's plot, one that smells of banned magics. One of the joys of The Death of the Necromancer is seeing Nicholas surrounded by characters in his weight class. Co-conspirators Madeleine and Reynard have their own histories, ambitions, and agency - Madeleine's particular defiance of family tradition plays a role, as do Reynard's disavowed military connections - and mad brilliant drug-addled Ari, repeatedly called the greatest or most powerful sorcerer in Ile-Rien, is least as much a problem as a sorcerous help. I love the sense of place the descriptions of Vienne evoke. I also like Inspector Ronsarde and Doctor Halle, whose antecedents are fairly obvious and I do not care at all.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (Lois McMaster Bujold) (2016): Being the latest in the Vorkosiverse, this time focusing on Vicereine Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan and her burning desire for six daughters; and also the start of a post-Aral romantic relationship with Admiral Oliver Jole, who has some life decisions of his own to make.

The e-ARC hit my smartphone on October 21st of last year, and I wasn't able to bring myself to open the book until March, when time and the tenor of other readers' spoiler-cuts had given some hints about how to adjust my expectations. And then I had lots of feelings that assume you've read the novel. )
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So, er, I found some book logs I started in July, and put somewhere unusual for me, and just found this week. And I remembered I had finished Lifeboats, so here's some novels.

Ancillary Mercy is getting its own post. It's moved me that much.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami) (1997 trans. Jay Rubin): Absolutely surreal Japanese fiction about a milk-mild fellow, Toru Okada, and a dry well. Also mysticism, Japan's collapse on the Manchuran front during WW2, fate and free will, and Noboru Wataya, an academic, rising politician, and also the brother of Kumiko, Toru's wife.

It's a floating novel, as Okada wanders through life with very little idea what he wants, or what he stands to lose, until he loses the thing that defined his life. The narrative is fragmentary, filled with negative space during Okada's periods of unemployment and isolation, and with elliptical loose connections between the characters who erratically interact with Okada: May Kashiwara, a teenaged girl who lives in Okada's neighborhood; Malta Kano, a clairvoyant, and her sister Creta Kano; Lieutenant Mamiya; Nutmeg and Cinnamon Akasaka, mother and son in a clairvoyant family business; Mr. Hondo, another clairvoyant. It's a little tricky to judge prose and style across translation, but what has survived the translation is something extremely controlled and literary, with a control of language that gives the reader the sense Murakami knows exactly what he's doing. It took me a really long time to get into the novel, but at the end I was tempted to flip back to the beginning and start rereading in light of knowledge revealed by the end of the novel.

"Penric's Demon" (Lois McMaster Bujold) (2015): A novella in the Five Gods universe, about an accident with a demon and a Very Nice Young Man. It's a nice Bujold novella, that doesn't break any new ground if you're familiar LMB's fiction, but average Bujold is still very solid entertainment.

Lifeboats (Diane Duane) (2015): Joins "Not On My Patch" and "How Lovely Are Thy Branches" as the third minor "interstitial" story between A Wizard of Mars and Games Wizards Play. At 90,000 words, it's not terribly minor. And thematically, it doesn't feel minor: Kit, Nita, and most of the usual suspects are called up on an emergency mission of mercy. As a story about when flashy displays of wizardly power aren't the solution, I really liked it. The teenage angst about Valentine's Day was cute, in a sappy "aw, teenagers" way. It's a lot of fun watching Nita and Kit grow up; I'm enjoying how Duane is developing their characters and relationship.
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NEW BUJOLD NOVEL. AND IT'S A CORDELIA NOVEL. Clearly a massive Bujold reread is in order. Crap, I had other plans tonight and I have been SIDETRACKED BY LIFE. And booze! If that were not clear from the capslock.
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2012's going down as one of the less consistent book log years.

The Best American Science Writing 2010 (Jesse Groopman, editor; Jesse Cohen, series editor):. Table of contents below, ask for reactions to any titles that strike your interest.

ToC )

The Best American Science Writing 2011 (Rebecca Skloot, Floyd Skloot, editors; Jesse Cohen, series editor): Not as good as the 2010 edition, with a standout for "The Mathematics of Terror" for comprehensively demonstrating the need for better math education in the States.

ToC )

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance (Lois McMaster Bujold) (2012): Despite serious consideration of suicide by Komarran balcony, implied war crimes, that ImpSec thing that probably wasn't insured, and the laying to rest of unquieting family tradition,s this was charming without ever being challenging. It's... it's fluffy. A gooey warm-feeling novel, with few sharp edges. At some point I'll appreciate CVA for what it is, rather than what I'd like it to be.

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) (1813): Reread. Classic romantic story of two proud, intelligent personalities forced to reflect on their flaws, and reassess their assessment of the character of others. P&P took three tries to accomplish the first complete reading, which may be a strong argument for letting people find books at their own speed and maturity. It's grown on me; I doubt I will ever be Darcy's partisan, but the wit and observation of human foibles that weren't appreciated by a teen have greater appeal as I get a little more sympathetic and less judging.

Emma (Jane Austen) (1815): The focus on a young woman with more energy and self-regard than application in a closed society made for curiously relevant lunchtime and public transit reading. When I was giggling at Emma's matchmatching schemes instead of reviewing for the board, or absorbing the narrative's reflections on the anxieties of Society (Highfield, classroom, and/or workspace), Austen's people sense seemed uncannily universal.

I reread The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Robert Heinlein) (1966) in that way you do. As I get older, I have a harder time taking Heinlein's characterization seriously.

The Cloud Roads (Martha Wells) (2011): Moon, orphan and wanderer of the Three Worlds, is reunited with his people, and must face challenges of integration, trust, and the Big Bad.

Cut for length and minor spoilers. )

This isn't deep: I marathoned The Cloud Roads and its sequel in one weekend, and didn't have much impulse to reread after closing the second novel. The ancilliary comments about the Arbora (nonwinged Raksura, usually the makers, sometimes ground fighters) and Aeriat (winged, usually the leaders and fighters) also highlighted, how to say it? Who gets the bulk of the writer love. I mean, flying people, what's not to love.

The Serpent Seas (Martha Wells) (2012): Sequel to The Cloud Roads. Moon had been consort to Jade, sister queen of the Indigo Cloud court, for eleven days; nobody had tried to kill him yet, so he thought it was going well so far. Moon's integration into a Raksuran court and their relocation to a new home is interrupted by the theft of a core element of their new home.

Rich worldbuilding... sometimes a little too rich. But the characters are awesome. )

So I have mixed feelings: on the one hand, fun adventure novels. On the other hand, the second-order worldbuilding is sometimes not as clever as I'd like.

The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring (JRR Tolkien) (1954): Reread. I wasn't foolish enough to open The Hobbit before watching the new movie, but late fall is Tolkein weather.

The Siren Depths (Martha Wells) (2012): Third novel and sequel to The Serpent Seas; Wells fills in missing pieces of Moon's history, and he lays to rest some of his angst. Some of it! Don't worry, there remain plenty of unresolved issues for future novels to deal with. )

Numbers game: 10 total finished. 8 new, 2 reread; 8 fiction, 2 nonfiction.
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Feminism is Queer: the Intimate Connection Between Queer and Feminist Theory (Mimi Marinucci) (2010): Gender theory and I do best in small doses, so I like to check in every few years to see if my strong feelings on the importance of activism and the incestuous tedium of theory have abated. (Short answer: no.) I'd hoped for a survey of the current state of the field, but most of this slim volume is focused on getting readers up to speed on feminism and queer theory, devoting only the final chapter to Marinucci's analysis of their contemporary intersection. I liked that chapter, and I found the "Feminism Expanded and Explored" chapter useful as well, again as a reminder of the current state of the field from the author's perspective. For example, the reminder that feminism and LGBT are not intrinsically the same movement (see especially p90, on second-wave feminism "the personal is political" vs LGBT "in the privacy of my own house", and '70s arguments on constructed vs essentialist homosexuality in radical feminism vs gay circles). The book also does the "all answers are wrong" theory thing I dislike, finding reasons both gender-neutral and gender inclusive language are wrong (see especially p74). Good primer for a 101 or 201 level, but not what I was looking for.

Tales of the City (Armistead Maupin) (1978): A novel about a woman who comes to San Francisco on vacation and calls her parents to say she's not coming home. Note this was published in 1978, or I might have to change my username to Mary_Ann_Singleton.

The story follows Mary Ann's vacation, job search, and forays into the City social scene, expanding through her social circle, doubling back and rebounding. Part of the entertainment is tracking the inter-relationships: Mary Ann's boss's wife sees gynecologist Jon Fielding on the sly, after an extramarital affair; Jon has an affair with the boss, and used to date one of Mary Ann's housemates; the ex-boyfriend moves in and recognizes Mary Ann as the girl who hit on Jon in a previous chapter. And the entire novel is like that, a sense that within the city, there's some very small circles. Compared to that rich web of interrelationships, the characters themselves are sometimes thinly fleshed out, and there's a distinct element of "plot? What plot?" for much of the book. It made Tales very easy to pick up and put down, as I struggled with my own San Francisco, 2011, sometimes marvelling at the differences of 30 years, sometimes mapping locations against my own experience.

The Shadow Speaker (Nnedi Okorafor) (2007): YA fiction. Teenage Ejii has already seen one small revolution, when Jaa the Red Queen beheaded Ejii's father before his wives, children, and the rest of the village of Kwàmfa. When the shadows tell psychically-gifted Ejii she must leave Kwàmfa with Jaa to prevent a greater war, she packs her veil and goes on an adventure.

This is expanded from an earlier short story, or the short story was excerpted from The Shadow Speaker Either way, it inspired me to pick up one of Okorafor's other novels, Zarah the Windseeker. I liked it, and expected a similar colorful and semi-serious YA novel. The Shadow Speaker delivered, raising questions about the ambiguous powers of violence while keeping me entertained with the story of life after a world-altering event. It develops Ejii's character plausibly, as well as the character of her travel companion Dikeogu. Ejii begins the novel working through the uncertainties of life after a nominally Muslim patriarchy has been violently removed by a woman with a sword, and struggling with her Shadow Speaker gift, as well as her father's death. Jaa removed a tyrant by killing Ejii's father, while Ejii's mother, the chief's ex-wife, urges nonviolence as a key to lasting peace. As Ejii travels she learns more about her gifts, who she is, and the world around her. And what a world! Ginen's plant-tech makes another appearance, as does the future world history shaping Ejii's Africa. Slightly less lighthearted than Zarah the Windseeker, and perhaps more engaging for the older crowd because of that.

Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam (Zainab Salbi and Laurie Becklund) (2005): Nonfiction account of - well, read the (painfully unwieldly) title and subtitles. Salbi's parents were upper middle class socialities drawn into Saddam Hussein's social circle in the '70s, and compelled to stay there as Hussein drew more power, violence and corruption to him. Salbi narrates her experiences of living in physical comfort and emotional abuse in the wake of the Iraqi dictator's social circus, who she made herself into on international soil, and how she reconciled her childhood and experiences as an adult working with women survivors of war.

This is compelling like watching a snake, waiting for the moments when the terrors whispered at the edge of on-demand parties uncoil on center stage. Salbi's experiences are narrated through the double lens of a teenager's immediate and self-centered understanding of the world, refocused by answers elicited as an adult. It's a form of introspection I can empathize with. If anything, that's my significant criticism of the book. I expected I would have to reach more to understand where Salbi was coming from, but the narration is pitched for an American audience, and didn't stretch me the way I was expecting. Maybe not the best book to read on a gray San Francisco weekend, but compelling: a demand to bear witness to human suffering caused by the selfishness and greed of a few. This was published in 2005, when there was greater hope the US invasion of Iraq would have a quick, positive outcome; the thought of the last six years' events on the women and men of Baghdad mentioned in this book weigh on my heart.

Komarr (Lois McMaster Bujold) (1998): Fiction, reread. I didn't intend to burn through the entire novel, but compulsive readability and old habits sucked me in. This time around, I paid more attention to Ekaterin and Tien's relationship than Miles' antics. Trivia: Komarr was the first Bujold I bought new in hardcover.

Cryoburn (Lois McMaster Bujold) (2010): Fiction, reread. Usually, when I read a new novel by a favorite writer, I finish it, and dip back in over the next days or weeks to reread my favorite parts. Cryoburn is the only Bujold novel which I have finished and shelved with no "favorite bits" flip-through. It's not bad - at least, I liked it no less than Diplomatic Immunity, and more than the Sharing Knife novels - but I think the series had several very, very strong novels in short sequence - Mirror Dance, Memory, A Civil Campaign - and after expecting the giant spoiler since, oh, 1998, I was and am in shock at my lack of catharsis.

Spoiler time! )

This isn't the book I wanted, so Cryoburn suffers a great deal from misplaced expectations. On a second reading, I can sort of hear the thematic chord of frozen para-death, versus living to the max, but I still don't hear it clearly. On the one hand, I can see why the story is constructed that way: life happens, not when you expected it. On the other hand, I still feel the book's lighthearted, right until the shocking moment it's not, and the difference throws me badly.

Weather of the San Francisco Bay Region, Second Edition (Harold Gillam) (2002): Nonfiction. An overview of why SF weather does the wacky things it does. After passing this up more than once at the bookstores, I came to my senses and put it on hold at the library.

The short answer to the weather question still isn't that short, invoking global weather patterns, trends, and oscillations, Pacific ocean currents, and a heavy dose of local geography. Pitched at a teens-and-up lay audience, this gives a neat overview of a complex system, which I found an enticing appetizer. I'm hoping the "further reading" suggested at the end of the book is just as interesting.

My Fight for Birth Control (Margaret Sanger) (1931): Nonfiction memoir covering Sanger's crusade up to 1931. Technically finished on June 1, but I spent most of May slogging through this, I'm counting it. Single-minded, and not always good writing, sometimes listing a paragraph of supporters whose significance readers might guess from their inclusion. It's also tinged with a very pre-WW2 pro-eugenics agenda calling for "unfit" couples to avoid having children, as well as casual talk of "the races" fit to raise the hackles of modern activists. A pervasive reminder of the differences between eras. The memoir is as relentlessly focused as the title suggests; Sanger's personal experiences with marriage, motherhood, divorce (in 1913!) and remarriage are touched on only in the context of her drive for contraception. WW1 is primarily a barrier to easy travel on Sanger's trans-Atlantic American and European tours. The 1929 stock market crash and creeping Great Depression don't make the cut, even to impact fundraising.

Today I believe there are three great tests to character: sudden wealth, sudden power, and sudden publicity. (p197, 1967 Pergamon Press edition)

My Fight for Birth Control illuminates Sanger's professional agenda up to 1931, but any more personal insights must be imputed between the lines. For example, Sanger's divorce gets a page or two, and then there's no mention of romance until she remarries nine years later; at least one website claims she had intimate relations with several men, including H.G. Wells. In her memoir, Sanger goes out of her way to suggest otherwise, at least in Wells' case. It's a splendid reminder that memoirs usually have a purpose other than the perfect truth.

Biology trivia: Margaret Sanger isn't (directly) related to Frederick Sanger, the biochemisty who got a Nobel for dideoxy sequencing, the workhorse DNA sequencing method for a quarter of a century or so.

Numbers game: 8 total finished. 6 new, 2 reread; 5 fiction, 3 nonfiction.
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Trying to engineer social change and improve quality of life are key concepts driving my small-l liberal politics, but the way Dag and Fawn go about it, especially in Horizon, makes me wonder when someone's going to put a torch to the Forbidden Tower Tent.

(2006: The Sharing Knife: Beguilement is published. 1964: The Bloody Sun is published.)

The appropriate paired reading would probably be the much racier The Forbidden Tower (1977) with The Sharing Knife: Horizon, since tFB digs into the "psychics defying the cultural norm / power structures" experiment, but The Bloody Sun describes the reactionary backlash and some of the moderate counter-swing (licensed matrix technicians) to the reactionary backlash (our ancient pure ways or death). One wonders if, say, Barr's farmer-raised half-lakewalker child is lakewalker enough to share, or if the affinity lakewalkers share with malices is a social construct which a lakewalker-raised farmer might share too. It's unlikely LMB will write a SK: The Next Generation novel just for my worldbuilding curiosity, fortunately for everyone else. Though if it were timed right, there's a chance SK:TNG would have trains and telegrams, oh my.

(And Nattie-Mari would be Jeff Kerwin, Jr! If she carried off the SK equivalent of the Keeper of Arilinn, I would be absolutely okay with this. Though her mother already sort of has. Or maybe Sumac did. I have deep affection for Sumac and Arkady's midlife courtship.)

I'm still having an sf/f fan reaction to a romance novel, aren't I. Well, it's more fun this way.
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Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History (Laurel Thatcher Ulrich): Strong entry-level feminism primer. If I were trying to do a women's history or women's studies 101 , I'd love to stick this on the book list and cherry-pick case studies. The author coined the title phrase in a graduate paper on colonial women; in the prologue, she reflects on its separation from its original source.

Liked. )

I'd like this even more if there was more focus on the activism of the late 20th C, but that's out of Ulrich's academic focus. Instead I get many examples outside of my usual historical range, and read about women's history I would not have found on my own.

The Gate of Ivrel (C. J. Cherryh): The themes you don't notice when you're 17 are the most telling when you're 27. Vanye kills his brother, refuses to commit honorable suicide, is exiled and symbolically shorn of his honor, and after two years dodging avenging clan-kin, refuses three offers to be welcomed into a family/social unit (Liell at Irien, Roh and the Chya, Erij on the road to Ivrel), and goes pelting after the woman he cursed for binding him at the beginning of the novel. What I didn't notice were the callbacks to really pulp-ish sword and sorcery; the two-sons-plus-one family dynamics (seriously, what was Vanye's dad thinking? I sense Author's Hand); how much of the novel various characters spend wounded; the body count. I was an innocent young woman.

The first time I read The Gate of Ivrel was around the same time I found The Best of C. L. Moore, so I was ready to draw Morgaine and Jirel comparisons; I wonder if I shouldn't have made a detour through Fritz Lieber or other fantasy novelists first. The setup reads now to me more like a young writer asking, "what if I took these pulp tropes, only I made the mighty leader a woman?" than a reaction to or conversation with Moore's stories.

White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine (Carl Elliott): I cannot for the life of me remember why I put a hold on this. It's an op-ed. Elliott attacks big pharma with the passion of the disenchanted (MD-PhD now teaching bioethics; someone who's smart and organized) to the degree I find myself looking for elided facts, appeals to irreverent authority, appeals to the common man (aka the Jeff Winger Student President Debate speech), and other emotional tricks that obscure the fact I'm probably on Elliott's side. Stop trying to sway me with emotion and give me statistics, and highlight the potholes that are getting skipped to get the book finished. If, quoting Elliott quoting a Carnegie-Mellon study, "coming clean means playing dirty" (p94), what are his motives for writing this book? I finished this thin book with the reflection I wanted to read the original research, or better research on Elliott's examples, not re-written column pieces stitched into hardcover format.

The Midnight Mayor (The Inauguration of Matthew Swift) (Kate Griffin): Sequel to A Madness of Angels; urban fantasy with a high body count and not a phouka or unseelie court in the worldbuilding. Usually I don't find much entertainment in urban fantasy; there's too much love of the fantasy elements and not enough city love. This is not a problem in The Midnight Mayor: London is a character in its own right. Isn't there a lowbrow sci-fi novel where books come to life, embodied as the main character? And Dune is represented by, well, desert and sandworms? When Griffin's writing, London feels a bit like that: alive and sense-of-wonder in its own right. Since that's how I feel about San Francisco, I think this is the best thing ever.

Spoilers, book 2 and 3. This isn't a perfect novel, but I was entertained. )

"A Room of One's Own" (Virginia Woolf): Nonfiction. An essay which has been on my "to read" list for years. Woolf calls for the elevation of women in writing in a way that makes me think of a later woman's writing, and a progressive / reform political party formed of "the people that matter". If one were teaching Feminism and the Written Word 101, I'd have students read this, then read Audre Lorde's "Master's House" back to back, because Woolf's attiude is exactly what Lorde attacks. If all upper class women of the 1920's were this elitist and focused on their semi-bohemian artsy lives, I'm relieved to be long removed from that time and place.

And yet - without the Virginia Woolf, do you get Lois Bujold? Or many of the post-Woolf authors I like, female and male? Acknowledging both the contributions to a tradition and personal weaknesses in the same person is something I struggle with.

Zombie Spaceship Wasteland: A Book By Patton Oswalt: Nonfiction / essay / memoir of a high school D&D / sci-fi geek turned standup comedian, the sort of person who knows people who know that zombies can live underwater, they just don't like it (p98 HC). Oswalt grew up in Sterling, VA, part of the greater DC exurb tedium which I know from intimate personal experience. Title from essay of the same name, which is written in the language of my people: "Darth Vader is, essentially, a Zombie, born in a Wasteland, who works on a Spaceship." (p99) "The Matrix films are about a hero, Neo, who doesn't realize he is a Zombie, and also doesn't realize he's living in a Wasteland, until he's woken by Morpheus, who de-zombifies Neo by bringing him aboard a Spaceship." (p101) "Hey - why do heroes always "wander" the wasteland?" (p103). Light and funny, and sometimes sort of awful, as good comedy so often is.

Among Others (Jo Walton): Fiction: 15 year old Welsh girl at English boarding school, with a limp, a diary, a grievous family situation, and a yen for libraries. Plus or minus the fairies, this was my 1996. It's hard to say if I like Among Others over the feedback squeal; I had to keep reading or I wasn't sure I'd finish it. Some reviewers dislike the mish-mash of genres - boarding school, fantasy, semiautobiographgical mimetic, etc - which I'd say is part of the fun. The only genre stance the novel takes is falling on the fantasy side: in the book world, magic is real (and not very nice).

After skimming half of Paladin of Souls, I reread Bujold's The Hallowed Hunt. The pacing is terrifically uneven, the first half wending along asking "is this my plot? What about this?" and finally turning on Horseriver and the Wounded Woods. One gets the impression Ingrey would very much like this story to be about someone else, please, while he and Ijada neck in the back of the theater; fortunately for me, Ingrey is not the driving - writing - hand.

Numbers game: 8 total finished. 6 new, 2 reread; 4 fiction, 4 nonfiction.
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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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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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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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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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Yesterday I gave one of those oddball "I hated this book, but you might like it" book recommendations. It's an unusual recommendation style, but if done with respect and affection can introduce people to stories they might otherwise have missed. (The novel in question was The Sharing Knife: Beguilement, about which I have previously written.)

Not entirely by coincidence, I watched 500 Days of Summer this evening. Blurb: nonlinear story of boy-meets-girl, dating/friendship with benefits, breakup, depression, and moving on - with another girl. I think my blurbing betrays my sympathies: I am Summer Finn (ha ha, yes, I get the pun, this movie is not what I would call subtle). It's a technically pretty movie, with an attractive, consistent limited-palette theme and a deliberate cutsieness, hangs together at the "would I redbox this" level, and has a likable soundtrack, but I want to scream at Tom, "for a grown man, you're acting an awful lot like a 10 year old girl who didn't get a pony for her birthday!" so it's not a movie I plan to watch twice.
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Thunderstruck (Erik Larson): The invention of radio and the killer caught because of it. The story of Marconi's OCD approach to wireless communication and his extravagant lifestyle might is interesting, and the story of the investigation of Belle Elmore / Cora Crippen's murder by her husband is also interesting, but somehow, Larson uses the two threads of narrative against each other and makes each story less interesting by intercutting. There is a great story about Marconi's thoughtless neglect of his wife to parallel Belle Elmore's domination of her despised husband; there is a splendid story about the American and the Italian struggling in foreign London; there's Marconi's tendency to live a first-class life while his employees roughed it in isolated wireless stations, and Hawley Crippen's struggles to keep his demanding wife in the style to which she became accustomed; but somehow, Larson makes all of this fire and ice lukewarm, even Crippen's affair with his secretary. How one makes an escape to the Continent, under an assumed name, with your very female lover cross-dressing as your "son" kind of "meh" is beyond me. It's interesting material, but it's not delivered as evocatively as it could be.

Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (Ariel Levy): This is in-your-face Feminism 101, and I am past the 100-level stuff. Levy's premise is spelled out in the title: some women "succeed" by aping the chauvanist pigs who benefit from heteronormative American patriarchy, while others are overtly degraded and objectified by men, and now also women imitating men.

I think you could say Levy isn't a fan of pornography and "let it all hang out" attitudes in much the same way that I am not a fan of milk: it gives me indigestion and gas. Levy is pretty one-note in her condemnation, and - this is my big problem - doesn't offer suggestions toward what she would consider a healthy model of adult female sexuality. Bashing the existing set of options is easy (partly because so many of them are just awful, and if you think I'm wrong I have unkind words to say, drawn from my personal experiences), but if it were easy it would already be done.

Also, I haven't followed a Girls Gone Wild photoshoot around during spring break; if I did, I might want to say a strident and unkind word too.

Intuition (Allegra Goodman): It's like Byatt's Possession, but shorter and with more science! The rest is spoilers. )

[ profile] charlie_ego said the science was too far out of her field for her to comment on the details; cancer and mouse research isn't my sub-speciality, but the general tone rings true to my experiences of biological research.

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America (Firoozeh Dumas): Short, lightweight autobiography. The experiences of an Iranian girl transplanted to California: American food, Persian festivals far from a Persian community, the shame of a mother who speaks less English than her young daughter, changing American reactions to the foreigners with a funny name during the Lebanon hostage crisis. Reads like essays strung into chapters.

Miles Vorkosigan reread/power skim: A Civil Campaign, Memory, Komarr, Diplomatic Immunity, in about that order. Reading ACC after... whatever the heck else I'd been reading... was jarring; jumping from arguments about queerness and race to Kareen and Ekaterin's dilemma's was bit of a discontinuity. ACC remains very funny, but also too pat: every loose end tied up in a shiny neat bow. Miles and his cohort remain shielded by money and position: as Miles points out, he will never be an advocate for certain womens' rights, such as the right to inherit, on Barrayar. Which is why I love Memory most: it's very much about faults and mistakes, even when it's about Miles refusing to believe the accused (who happen to be his friends) are guilty. God save me from another such victory. And LMB has a knack for lines. Don't you know there are children almost present?

Numbers games: 8 total. 4 reread, 4 new; 5 fiction, 3 nonfiction.
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I have been waiting all month to make a post with that title. I'm tempted to make a poll questioning my break from the norm vs. the subject's wish to appear rebellious without actually breaking from socially acceptable roles, but that's taking the joke too far.

I'm pushing to get this out tonight because I am upset about the failboat disrespect of people's request to remain pseudonymous, and Micole asked people, If you'd like to express sympathy or agreement, I would much prefer to re-focus attention back on the real issues . . . if you can't think of anything (I am looking forward to being in the audience myself) or you are just too fucking tired of dealing with the SRS BZNSS of RaceFail (I am totally with you), but you want to do me a favor, post on the most recent book you read written by a POC, or your favorite book written by a POC, or give me recommendations for sf/f, romance, or historical fiction written by POC. So I point people to my comments on Zami to fill that request.

Tomorrow, as part of my work (and procrastinate) plan for my class 2-page essay, I will write something about why people might use pseuds online, and historically, to discuss contentious issues. I don't want my leisure reading to disintegrate into unhappy politicized polemics, but the pseud issue touches close to my heart, and the "race and the science fiction community" issues are in my back yard, and all the places I love. "Love" was a typo for "live", but both words can be used in that sentence with some degree of truth.

So, books!

God Stalk (P. C. Hodgell): I first read this around 2000 or so, as part of the Dark of the Gods anthology with Dark of the Moon and a short story, "Bones". It made only the slightest impression on me then, and now that I reread it I can more clearly say why. )

One Bullet Away: the Making of a Marine Officer (Nathaniel Fick): Dartmouth college student challenges himself: to be a Marine office, to be a leader of men in peace and war, to be a Recon Marine. I liked it. )

So I give One Bullet Away thumbs up for keeping my attention and making me think on several different fronts.

Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World (Ken Alibek): Interesting, needs parallax. )

Trivia: when I went to NYC a couple of weekends ago, I made a silly strung-out fool of myself talking to two older women while waiting for the bus home, then pulled this out to stick a sock in my mouth. It caught one woman's attention because she has actually met Alibek in the course of her work at the FDA. Speaking of small worlds! So now I doubly regret my nervous joking while in line for the bus.

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (Audre Lorde): I love this woman's writing. )

The Sharing Knife: Horizon (Lois McMaster Bujold): I have had a very hard time with these novels for several reasons. Briefly, I find the core romance unconvincing, but Bujold is a talented writer even when I question what the heck she's doing. Also, now that I've read all four volumes, Bujold's claims that the series is a lot tighter than any of her previous series is spot on. In fact, I think splitting the novels does the story arc a great disservice. (For example, I unfortunately tend to think of Remo and Barr as backup Lakwalker #1 and backup Lakewalker #2, in the tradition of Merry and Pippin, the LotR backup hobbits.)

Giant honking spoilers. )
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Technically, I finished the Sharing Knife: Passage (Lois McMaster Bujold) on May 2nd, so it should go in the May log, but it was remarkably not-obnoxious so I want to give it a shoutout.

Plot: newlyweds Dag and Fawn Bluefield embark on a flatbed trip to the ocean, gathering people along the way: Fawn's younger brother, a sympathetic flatbed captain, the captain's uncle and nephew, and one, then two, young Lakewalkers on the outs with their camp. Narrative as great American river trip: Dag explores his ground-manipulation skills, and the flatbed captain asks at every single stop what became of her missing father, brother and fiancee.

Spoilers, and assumes you've read the novel. )
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Tonight I'm thinking about the current "Open-Source Boob Project" drama on LJ, and am torn between "gee, this is a big reaction to a small group of consenting adults at a con" and kneejerk rage because the context changed when people brought this out of the con and online. There's a post to be written about context and behavior. Meanwhile, have some thoughts on romance novels.

I lent [ profile] hourglasscreate the first two Sharing Knife books, and thanks to discussion of same I've gotten a solid handle on why I lose at romance novels:

1.) I want the relationship to put the protagonists more in harmony with themselves and/or the people around them. This is why I can see rereading Pride and Prejudice in the future: Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet's pairing-off upholds social expectations, but their relationship is a compliment to their personalities and landed British gentry values. "Unsuitable on the surface, compatible in core values" is tough to pull off. As a corollary, I cannot abide Us Against The World unless The World (tm) is a complete dystopia and the protagonists' forbidden love is their one chance at a desperate scrap of happiness.

2.) The world is larger than two people. I want to know where all your friends are while you're diving into this mismatched relationship. Again, where is your community? Where's the context? And I want to know what both of you are getting out of it.

2a.) Acknowledging character... not flaws, but incompletions... is okay. In a "no, really, I know exactly why you're single, and some of these reasons make us a good fit and some of those reasons are why we will quarrel over breakfast some days" way.

3.) I am really, really bad at Happily Ever After. I see the problem of living alone and without love solved, but ask "so what about this other list of things? What about 20 years from now? 'Will you still need me, will you still feed me...' seriously, will you?"

This may explain why I love Mark and Kareen's romance in A Civil Campaign beyond all reason - it's a problem, it's character development, it's who you are and how that's defined by the social space you inhabit - while I have a harder time getting behind some of LMB's other romances. But Mark and Kareen are presented as both being aware that what they have is a relationship that can't be taken for granted, but must be worked at. (Miles... doesn't always get this.) Mark's humanity is a wonderfully grounding trait.

Anyway. So that's why I'm off romance novels, take three or four or ten. I want them to be buddy stories with character studies and engagement rings.
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First, icons:

1. 2. 3.

If you want to use, please comment and credit.

Second, reaction: I am still not a romance novel reader. I am torn between Bujold's essential readability and how little I care about plucky little Fawn. I'm not going to regret checking it out of the library, but I'm glad I didn't plan to shell out for the hardcover. More importantly, I find HarperCollins' Browse Inside format incredibly frustrating. Just release a PDF or HTML file so I can port this to a PDA and read it on the metro, genius marketing people. It would make one weekday that much more pleasant.


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