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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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I'm practicing proper touch-typing while writing these up, with mixed results. Retraining my fingers is going to boost my typing score in the long run, but at the moment I am very slow. (At a sprint, 50 - 60 WPM with one or two errors. It's the misstrokes that are killing me.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • with emo girlpain.

  • and a decadent lifestyle.

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

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

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

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

Numbers game: 8 total finished. 7 new, 1 reread; 7 fiction (1 graphic novel), 1 nonfiction (1.5 counting the mixed KSR).
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Late, they tell me, is better than never.

Star Wars: Alleigance (Timothy Zahn): Rebels post-Yavin, Imperial corruption, Emperor's Hand, shake well and mix. Who cares about the details, it's Zahn writing a SW original trilogy novel! We all know that I am a gigantic fangirl for Zahn, what with the original characters I don't want to die and the prose that I can read without wincing, so this is all about the happy indulgent storytelling. Seriously, people: lightsabers!

One for the Money (Janet Evanovitch): Stephanie Plum has lost it all - her job, her savings, even her car. Her last hope for financial solvency is Joe Morelli - or rather, the $10,000 she can earn by bringing the New Jersey cop-turned-killer to justice. Will Stephanie overcome her mixed feelings for Joe to make the case, or will Rex the hamster be forced to eat hamster kibble for the rest of his days?

[ profile] cathydalek recommended this, and she was smack on the money. I kept thinking of people while reading this - if [ profile] norabombay lost her car, this would be her life - every sketchy NJ city story [ profile] aoumd mentioned - the possible appearance of a cousin of [ profile] cathydalek's family's Biscayne in the next book.

Pure junk reading, literally. I read this while compulsively chomping Cheetos.

Sixty Days and Counting (Kim Stanley Robinson): If you know KSR's previous novels, you know how this one goes, except maybe with Phil. I'm putting the gigantic rant below the cut, becuase it boils down to the novel (and the trilogy) being a policy story, not a policy secondary impact story.

There is a river dividing Anacostia and Arlington. )

Fortunately, I'm 80 pages from the end of a nice nonfiction polio book, so there's only so much griping you can expect in the May list.
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A Brother's Price (Wen Spencer): Regency romance set in a world where women outnumber men about ten to one. This is a really cool idea; my favorite thing in the world is wacky worldbuilding ideas, which is why I love the sf/f field so much. So why not take a wacky idea, and explore it in the context of a standard plot. Is there any more paint-by-numbers cliche than a regency? However, regencies are implausible and silly, and this is no exception. The plucky grandchild of thieves and army spies marries royalty for Twu Wuv? Um, no. So it's my profound problem: there's this one great worldbuilding thought, and one really clever concept for integrating a novel idea with a cliche plot, but I dislike the Cinderella romance of the plucky country gentry and the dashing, swashbuckling royalty. Also, the secondary effects are incompletely considered. This is one of the books which is lots of fun to talk about, I think, because it's got one really cool idea embedded in workday prose and slightly cracked worldbuilding.

Shiva's Fire (Suzanne Fisher Staples): Children's/YA. Parvati is born on the first day of the life-giving monsoon, the day a tornado wrecks her village. She grows up in the shadow of this tragedy, surrounded by unlikely miracles and her love of dance.

Staples seems to have written the bharata natyam equivalent of a "go to ballet boarding school" book, and manages a nice fusion of "go to dance school" with South Indian culture. Miraculous events are presented as Things That Happen, which are often two-edged. I've been reading Staples since Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind provided a vivid demonstration that first person present tense can be used to really suck readers in, so I may be a bit biased toward her writing. With that in mind, I think she approached the material in an interesting fashion: Parvati's surprising episodes with dance and music are presented in a matter-of-fact way that reminds me of magical realism. I don't think that's the genre Staples is trying to write; I'd say she's going for a child's novel infused with the feel of Hindu religious epics. She scores fairly well on that front. The late-novel romance is resolved in a way that works very well on the story level, but that annoys me slightly in a larger context.

Spoilers. I prove I should never have been allowed to take that Intro to Women's Studies class. )

The Ghost Sister (Liz Williams): First contact with a long-lost Earth colony, complicated by the crippling disability one of the natives is burdened with. There is a heavy-handed subplot about inflexible religious conservatives which drags down the worldbuilding, which isn't bad. The plot with the older woman as open-minded adventurer is a gentle departure from the sf/f norm. This is the sort of book that's okay for an afternoon, but that would be greatly enhanced by tipsy 2 AM IM chats about feminist motifs and fake sci-fi illnesses.

I finally finished The Short Fiction of C. J. Cherryh, which is about what you'd expect from Cherryh: trust no one; keep your family close; outlive the bastards. Your perception is wrong, always, but if you are bold and desperate, you may bring your enemies to ruin.

I also reread Green Mars and Blue Mars, the back two-thirds of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, and The Martians, which reads as if someone had pulled out the "work in progress - does this fit?" drawer and dumped it into book form. I will never stop quibbling with the educational system as presented: how do your offspring of back-to-nature hunter-gatherers compete with the pampered urban youth? And what about the descendants of those asteroid exiles? How much of your history do you get to shed when your parents are Martian exiles? KSR presents a glowing vision of the unified Martian culture, but the writing doesn't entirely bear out authorial intent. Possibly I am missing something, but from my perspective, Blue Mars fails to carry the second-order worldbuilding effects to a logical conclusion. This drives me nuts because the first two books are awesome, and the third comes out a little cute in comparison. (I am looking at Sax and Ann as I say this. Yes, high "awwwww, sweet!" factor, but a little convenient.) There is a book I like a lot more hiding in the BM worldbuiling.

The Martians includes the novella "Green Mars" (not to be confused with the novel of the same name), which somehow makes mountain climbing the most awesome thing that I am too chicken to do, and "A Martian Romance", which is not elegiac.

I love Green Mars with all of my heart. The revolution sequence is awesome. Definite desert island book.
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So. November. At least it's not February. And I read an awful lot of the Post. I still feel like I didn't get a lot read this month. Possibly because I was, you know, doing homework. Details, details.

Strange Destinations (Tim Powers): Anthology. After two or three stories, you begin to notice some trends: white men who done wrong by a woman, matter-of-fact magical intrusions into reality, bourbon, cigarettes, acknowledging that you were sort of a jerk to your (often dead) woman. After six stories of this, you don't care how nifty the fantastic elements are, you're bored with Powers. The end.

Fifty Degrees Below (Kim Stanley Robinson): Second book in the Science in the Capitol trilogy. This is fun because it's applied science, but the applied science goes a little too smoothly for me to buy into it as more than a happy pipe dream. There is - forgive me - a lack of stupid egos and pork barrel projects grinding Our Protags' agendas to dust.

That said, it's a really fun pipe dream. Spoilers Lite and mostly fluffy. )

Next month: Barro Colorado Island. Also, I grabbed my copy of Downbelow Station from dad's over Thanksgiving, so there's the possibility of a reread. I haven't done a full page-the-first to page-the-last reread since I was 17, so it'll be interesting to see if it stands up. Right now I'm stuck in the first twenty or so pages; if you know the book, I just got to Elene and Estelle. And so far, the book is even more grim than I remember it. I'm impressed, in a, "maybe after finals" way. On the other hand, I did some of my best time management when Watchmen was my bedtime reading, so maybe unremitting character torture would concentrate my attention in the academic here-and-now. We'll see.
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Not a high pagecount, but good stuff. Expect even less in February, since I sort of compulsively read novels when I'm the most stressed and it's the least best idea in the world.

One of these days I ought to have a read-a-thon for a "send [ profile] ase to college!" charity drive. Chill out at dad's and try to persuade people to give me one cent for every page I read in a week. (Let's see. Say 300 pages a day, times seven... that's a lot of bad fantasy.) The entire concept works better if the money were headed for people with cancer, or tsunami victims, or generally anywhere but to a lazy college student.

Anyway. This year's reading resolution: less! And more nonfiction!

(We'll see how long that lasts.)

Eats, Shoots and Leaves (Lynn Truss): My first attempt went badly. )

I reread Forty Signs of Rain (Kim Stanley Robinson) because it was sitting on the library shelf and I really liked it the first time. I'm a sucker for that whole, "yeah, I've been there... and there... and that's where? Hey, I walked past that!" sensation.

The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (James D. Watson): How to get a Nobel Prize while still meeting girls. )

Finally - totally irrelevant moment. Is it just the sideburns, or does Paul Bettany sometimes look an awful lot like the guy on the right, Francis Crick?

(I said it was irrelevant, didn't I?)

The Steerswoman's Road [The Steerswoman, The Outskirter's Secret] (Rosemary Kirstein): Omnibus of yet another out of print series initiated in the '80's, revived fifteen years or so later. The premise focuses on a Steerswoman, a sort of information collector and disseminator, whose minor research project evokes an unexpected response from the Wizards, whose agenda is unknown.

The worldbuilding is fairly standard, other than the order of the Steerswomen. They're required to answer any question you ask them, but you have to answer any and all of their questions in turn. The presentation, however, is really nicely done.

The coolest part is definitely the major plot and worldbuilding spoiler. )

Also, Kirstein does a nice job of keeping up the inter-novel tension. It looks like the third book deals with an event set up in the first novel. I have a sneaking suspicion there's a twisty connection to the events of the first two novels. At least, I hope so.

As in all books, the story breaks down in a few places. Some of Rowan's actions in "The Steerswoman" hit an irrational personal narrative dislike, and made that part hard for me to read. The Outskirts food chain in the second book feels really wrong to me. Look, ma! Ecology rant! Also vaguely spoilerish. ) It drives me slightly crazy, but I understand why Kirstein chose to do it.

Next month: well. I've got a copy of Watchmen sitting next to my bed at home... maybe I'll even start it before it's due back... Wednesday?

Or maybe I'll shell out for a copy of The Collected Short Fiction of C. J. Cherryh.

Or... nonfiction. Anyone interested in comments on my organic chem book?
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October books: I read them, I logged them, I was 85% done with the post when the Great Hard Drive Meltdown happened. This is the reconstructed version.

The Swords of Lankhmar (Fritz Lieber): One of the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories. Lieber is one of the authors who makes me want to complain about the need for SF to get back in the gutter where it belongs - the science is nonexistent and the creativity more than makes up for it. (For my next trick, I will speak passionately on the need for rigorous hard SF to reinvigorate the field. Watch this space!) Lieber invented some of the gimmes that plague the contemporary fantasy field; his stories self-evidently inspired a number of writers who escaped Tolkien's long shadow. Brust's early Vlad novels feel like some sort of Lieber-meets-potboiler-mysteries-in-Faerie fusion, to me. People with tastes as low as mine may recall Simon Green's 'Hawk and Fisher' books. I'm sure people reading this can name other sword-and-sorcery duos that follow the pattern.

One thing that surprised me when I read this was the bawdiness and scarcely euphemized Evil Overlord's sadistic turn-on. A little wenching is expected; the erotic naked skeletons had my eyebrows climbing. And the smutty almost-threesome-! Despite the '70's-ish pub date, the F&GM books always feel a little older than that to me, so the quantity and explicitness of the carnal lust caught me by surprise.

Anyway. If you like to know where some of the gimmes come from, read Lieber. If you want silly fun reading, read Lieber. If you like your overlords really neurotic and corrupt - you know the drill.

The Well of Lost Plots and Something Rotten (Jasper Fforde): Third and fourth Thursday Next novels. If you liked the first two, you'll appreciate these; it's more of the same madcap english lit fantasy on acid. Fforde's enjoying exploring the quirks and crannies of his series. Plot arcs are resolved, but the major worldbuilding's happened. I'll definitely read the fifth book in the series if-and-when it comes out, but I'll probably check it out of the library, saving it for comfort reading. Fforde's working in the light and happy side of the spectrum for the moment, and I wish more people could do so with as much panache.

Lyra's Oxford (Philip Pullman): Mostly consisting of the novelette (?) "Lyra and the Birds" wrapped in a sumptuously red thread hardcover binding. The Pretty nearly outweighs the substance of the post-HDM trilogy story.

The Road to Middle-Earth: How Tolkien Created a New Mythology (Tom Shippey): What autumn is complete without gratuitous Tolkien? The importance of words, poetic sagas, and the tension of asterisk/reality in Tolkien's life. What I am most struck by, in retrospect, is the impression of Tolkien trying to write stories that drew strongly on the traditions he studied professionally, and infusing them with his own experiences, and trying to avoid that 'contamination'. Tension, therefore fusion: a table of Rangers, standing silent to face West; an addictive Ring that brings out a stoicism fit for Ragnarok; victories told by the ones who are slipping out on a rising tide. And on the other side, the inconsistencies that might have inspired Tolkien: contradictions in the sources he studied that grew into critical elements of his fiction. And some of the enduring images that spun everything else off.

Hey. I liked it.

I would also like to take note of The Martians, by Kim Stanley Robinson, because I reread most of it in little bits this October. If I had to name my formative authors, I think they'd be KSR, Tolkien, Bujold and Cherryh. To no one's surprise. Though tying in with earlier comments about tension, it's an interesting group of authors: try to stick them on four corners of a semantic rectangle (thank you, Stan Robinson), and some discussions of power, government, optimism, and gender relations sort of immediately spring to my mind's eye. Lois Bujold said at the LoC Book Fair that "genre is a group of books in close conversation" which sort of works for any three of the four, and makes me want to write many more words on formative influences, and why they were.

Coming up in November: Short stories, in several collections, of varying quality. I find it hard to put novels down; short stories cut themselves off if you read too long.
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Near-future novel about science policy, rapid climate change, emerging biotech, stay-at-home working fatherhood, Buddhists in Washington, and water in unexpected places.

Anyone who picks up this book smacks into KSR's heavily environmentalist slant within the first pages, and people familiar with his other novels won't be surprised by the disparagement of contemporary American conservatism, the Buddhist influence on the narrative (embodied in the embassy staff of the fictional nation Khembalung, which I've almost certainly misspelled) or the strength of the warm fuzzy feelings for the scientific community and method.* Suggestions about the interaction of scientific exploration, politics and funding aren't particularly new, but the National Science Foundation's prominence in the plot really foregrounds those considerations.

*I'm slowly coming to realize that scientific results are fascinating, but actual lab work tends to be dead boring. There's a lot of waiting, either for the protein to crystallize, or the filtrate to come off the column, or the NMR lab to finish running your sample, or... you get the picture. Maybe being a working stiff adult is dead boring in general. I really hope not.

More specific spoilers. ) Having Forty Signs land on my lap at the end of August was an interesting coincidence of timing and placement, the exquisitely unpredictable whim of chance throwing me a huge hint: this is how you got here. Where are you going next?

(An exercise for the student: impending climatic catastrophe as a metaphor for dynamic life change. Discuss the narcissism of the review writer.)

Forty Signs of Rain hits all my narrative buttons. When's part two due out? I may have to get it in hardcover.
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This has been moldering for almost half of June; I'm just going to post what I've got. Only one cut, for length and frank discussion of stuff that happens in the third book of a trilogy. So you might call it a spoiler.

Mars trilogy (Kim Stanley Robinson): Nice, meaty... reread. )

Random comment: was skimming Cyteen last night and came across a quote: "The interests of all humans are interlocked . . . and politics is no more than a temporal expression of social mechanics." KSR draws optimistic social systems; Cherryh likes to play with the places where the system breaks down. I would love to see both of them on a panel discussing political systems in SF.

American Gods (Neil Gaiman): Reread. Archetypes, coin tricks, and other deceptions. Gaiman's style is distinctive, and I'm still not sure if I like it or not. But I keep reading his books, which must count for something.

Two-Bit Heroes (Doris Egan): Reread. Theodora and Ran Cormallon's sort-of honeymoon is derailed when they're swept up by a band of outlaws in the Northwest Sector of Ivory, the only planet where magic is known to work. The Ivory trilogy (The Gate of Ivory, Two-Bit Heroes, and Guilt-Edged Ivory) is comfort reading for me. Easy prose, vivid characterization, scattered literary references, and occasional use of magic to remind the reader that yes, this is an sf/f novel. Two-Bit Heroes features adaptation to the bandit life, calculated application of the Robin Hood myth, and some very effective "yes, it's all fun and games until they stick your head in a noose" moments. Doris Egan ([ profile] tightropegirl) hasn't written any fiction in about a decade, being employed in Hollywood and having (apparently) no time for it, but if she ever does I may have to add an author to my "buy on sight" list.

Digital Photography for Dummies (Julie Adair King): Not a reread. Buying and using your first digital camera, with trial image processing software and suggestions on how to use it. I already had the camera, so I skimmed to the "using it" section, and have enough experience with photoshop that a lot of the post-production stuff was review, but the "point and shoot" sections were written in a clear and entertaining style. I'm only getting around to trying the shareware CD today (6/14), since I suspect there's at least one addictive, expensive program in there, which I don't need.
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See? Not as late as July! Go me!

Cutting for major spoilers and some space. May come back and cut for space more once I post this and see how much space it hogs.

(Nine books. Nine. Shoot. Granted, some of them were short, but others were five hundred pages. Probably won't read this many novels again until I get another insane commute like August's. Given where I live, it shouldn't be more than three years... anyway. On to the stories.)

The Years of Rice and Salt, Kim Stanley Robinson (Nominated for the 2003 Hugo Award for Best Novel): The Black Plague devastated Europe in the Middle Ages, killing an estimated third to half of the continental population. What if it had wiped out 99% of the European population? How would history play out if Chinese and Islamic culture dominated, rather than European? And what if souls reincarnated, grouping together in multiple lifetimes, so that stories set a thousand years apart might be the adventures of the one protagonist? Kim Stanley Robinson throws a monkey wrench in the mechanics of history and writes down how it might play out. Sort of.

Spoilers? What spoilers? You mean the ones under this cut? )

On the balance, it’s KSR. If you like his relaxed writing style and socialist/environmental politics, you’ll probably enjoy The Years of Rice and Salt.

O Jerusalem, Laurie R. King: Mary Sue Russell and her mentor/partner Sherlock Holmes temporarily escape a messy and potentially lethal case in London, risking their lives in the Holy Land in January 1919. Set smack in the middle of The Beekeeper's Apprentice, the first book in the series, but written between The Moor and Justice Hall (see below).

If I recall correctly, I first read this during a Laurie King binge a couple years ago. Beats The Moor hands down.

Justice Hall, Laurie R. King: A very direct sequel to O Jerusalem. The most striking thing about it, for me, is a theme it shares with LRK’s Martinelli series: an authorial love of generational continuity and expensive houses intersecting with some less rooted or more ambiguously rooted characters. Russell gushes about the centuries of history imbued in Justice Hall's very walls; Kate Martinelli and her partner Lee sink sweat, time and money into Lee’s dead... aunt’s? mother’s? house on Russian Hill. The central mystery, such as it is, unfolds with authorial deliberation and enjoyable twists, but is almost incidental to LRK’s interest in continuity and the changing British social landscape of the 1920's.

The King’s Peace, Jo Walton: Would you believe I didn’t pick up that this was an Arthurian retelling until two hundred or more pages in? Comments waiting on finding and finishing The King’s Name the second half of the story.

The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. Le Guin: Everyone dreams; most people’s dreams don’t affect reality. George Orr’s do, and it terrifies him. The state-assigned psychiatrist he is forced to see after a drug overdose read as an apparent suicide attempt is fascinated by these "effective dreams" and uses George to rewrite the world a bit. Okay, more than a bit. George is disturbed. The reader resists the urge to earmark and pencil in examples of Le Guin’s bulletproof literary kinks pet ideas.

Dawn, Octavia Butler: The War is gone, as is most of the human race. Lilith Iyapo (people famliar with Bible-based religious traditions will note the significance and irony of the name) is one of the survivors saved by the Oankali, aliens without the human biological imperative for conflict, but with an imperative to "trade" genetic structure with other species, willing or otherwise. The novel narrates Lilith’s reluctant acceptance of a role as the resentful bridge between the humans and the Oankali.

The Oankali have a classically cool S.F.nal idea going for them: a three sex reproductive system, involving up to five participants. They also subvert a lot of classic memes. Their behavior toward humanity is peaceful, benevolent and more invasive than any "conquer the puny Earthlings" military campaign. Their trade imperative is read by most of the characters as infecting the human genome with frightening, alien characteristics. Science fiction has reiterated the clash of cultures theme from a dominant culture’s point of view plenty of times; Dawn is about the effects on (and by) the "weaker" culture. Humans hate and fear the Oankali, but are prized by that species of assimilators for their adaptability and creativity.

This has some obvious applications to the history of the United States, and the Americas at large.

Ill Met in Lankhmar, Fritz Leiber: All hail the adventures of the indomitable Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser! Old school sword-and-sorcery of the type much mocked by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, but with a flair for dramatic language and humor. The city of Lankhmar has probably inspired a number of D&D games, and several series currently in production, such as Steven Brust’s Vlad novels and P.C. Hodgell’s Jaime books, very likely also trace some roots to Fritz Lieber’s novels. If you find any of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser novels, they’re slightly dated in attitude and their use of language, but very much worth reading for their lively protagonists and fantastical plots.

The Service of the Sword, David Weber et al: latest collection of stories set in the Honorverse. People who have read the previous three collections know the drill: Weber writes a story about Honor, the Navy, or the treecats and other authors fill in gaps that interest them. This time, Jane Lindskold, Timothy Zahn, John Ringo, Victor Mitchell, and Eric Flint step up to the Honorverse. )

A Wolf at the Door, and Other Retold Fairy Tales, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, eds: Short story collection filed under YA at the library. I checked it out for the Garth Nix story, a rather gruesome retelling of Hansel and Gretel, but really enjoyed several other stories in the collection. A fast, easy read, including contributions from a lot of big name authors, including Neil Gaiman, Tanith Lee and Jane Yolen. Possibly my favorite story in the collection was "Swans" a retelling of the same myth used in [ profile] pegkerr's The Wild Swans, which was about family, love, noise and silence when I wanted to hear about those things.

Edited Sept. 12 to add: The Cinderella retooling annoyed me, though, smacking into current buttons regarding the importance of self-motivation and determination in life.

Edited Oct 17 to add: Forgot about Sorcery and Cecelia, which I had to have read sometime in August.

September's book list will almost certainly be shorter, unless people are keenly interested in a blow-by-blow account of my struggles with functional groups in two different courses, but I've got some good stuff on hand: more Octavia Butler, The Paths of the Dead (finished it this weekend, and... oh. Even fangirl squeals fail. I think Brust may be leaping up the purchase priority list as soon as I confirm the pub date for The Enchantress of Dzur Mountain. And oh, thank any and all deities and divinities for interlibrary loan, which granted me Paths and will eventually eventually land The Lord of Castle Black in my trembling hands.)
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Have not managed to do that chem studying. Sprawled out with the textbook, started trying to remember why enthalpies were so important, and was out for two hours before I knew it.

Am slightly annoyed with myself for this. Am tempted to take it out by enumerating the people who have annoyed me in the last two days, but that's incredibly childish, and besides, the rest of my life's going too well. This evening brought a fantastic thunderstorm that tempted me to dance in the rain like I was twelve again, I had delicious french toast for dinner, [ profile] miriel is back from her Japan trip, and I've still got a day before the Class That Will Move Fast (at eight in the morning!) starts.

Also, am looking back at May as June comes roaring up. Unremarkable reflection on two months. )

Books read this month:

Brightness Falls From the Air, James Tiptree, Jr. [Alice Sheldon]. I want to say I started it in April, but it's been long enough I'm not sure. Interesting premise, but something about Tiptree's characterization always irritates me, which made the story drag.
A Grave Talent, Laurie R. King. A little light rereading during exam week.
Vacuum Flowers, Michael Swanwick. Nifty but overwheling. Of course, my opinion's probably been influenced by the astonishingly middle-of-the-road '80s cover. Not as incredibly awful as the Warrior's Apprentice Battle Nightie cover, but bad in a similar, less dynamic style.
The Secret Garden, Francis Hodgson Burnett. A fluffly reread on one of the few sunny afternoons.
The Memory of Whiteness, Kim Stanley Robinson. And I thought Icehenge was irritatingly manipulative in the name of Making A Point. The Memory of Whiteness annoyed me even more because I couldn't figure out what the Point was.
Also skimmed significant portions of several B5 novels- To Dream in the City of Sorrows and most of the Psi Corp trilogy- during an IM conversation with [ profile] herewiss13.

This month I am so reading better books, or I'm going to go into withdrawl. I'm backlogged on multiple authors- Diane Duane (blog feed available for LJ at [ profile] outofambit), Kim Stanley Robinson, Steven Brust, and Garth Nix, to name a few- so if I can get myself to a library, I should be set for weeks.


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