Books read, February 2014 (and some of January, too)

I remembered two of the books I read in January. A part of me is convinced that the reason I forgot to record them in the first place is because one of them is the book I thought would never end. ๐Ÿ˜›

Quicksilver, Neal Stephenson. Can you believe I finished Quicksilver? I’m not sure I do. (I actually thought I had a hundred pages to go when I unexpectedly hit the end, because I didn’t realize there was a dramatis personae in the back, and also because the ebook version puts every footnote on a separate page.)

I don’t know what to say about this novel. I’m not even sure it’s really a novel. It is a giant pile of words and characters and events and places and historical tidbits, and I found much of it highly amusing. It wanders vaguely in the direction of several different things that might, in the hands of a different writer, be a plot. Possibly once I’ve read the other two books, I will be able to find something more like a shape to it. But I will need to take a break before I do that. In the meanwhile, the most useful thing I can find to say is that this reminds me a great deal of the middle bit of Snow Crash, where the plot slams to a halt while Hiro and the Librarian talk about neurolinguistics and Sumerian mythology. If you find the subject matter interesting, you may enjoy this book. If not, you will probably be very frustrated.

Twinmaker, Sean Williams. YA SF about a future where d-mat technology allows for anything you need to be fabricated on demand, and also for teleportation — you can go from booth to booth by letting it dematerialize your body and make you a new one at your destination. I saw one plot twist coming, but that’s fine; I spent much of the book trying to guess what was going on with the rest of the plot. I think the ultimate answer was less satisfying to me than some of the possibilities I’d thought of, but it wasn’t bad. It resolves the plot, but in a way that makes it clear there is at least one sequel coming, because boy howdy do the characters have new problems.

VotB, Marie Brennan. My own books get recorded, but don’t count. This was for revision purposes.

A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab. Provided by the editor for blurbing purposes, so not available yet. Multiverse setup where the only point of commonality between the worlds is that they all have a city named London; the main protagonist, Kell, is from what he dubs Red London, in a world where magic is common. He is one of the few remaining people who’s able to move between the cities after Black London was consumed by magic and walled off for the safety of the others, leaving White London starving for magic and Grey London (which is our world, in the Victorian period) almost completely bereft of it. I don’t know if this is the first book in a series, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I did enjoy it; now I just need to figure out how to turn that enjoyment into a blurb.

Untold, Sarah Rees Brennan. Second in the Lynburn Legacy, a YA Gothic urban fantasy series. (“Gothic” in the sense of “return of the repressed,” not “mopey teenagers in black nail polish.”) This one features a lot of the fallibility of adults; the protagonist gets a front-row view of the ways in which grown-ups have their own hangups and flaws that cause them to make decisions every bit as stupid as the ones which teenagers fall victim to. As befits the middle book of a trilogy, it ends on a note of OH MY GOD WE’RE SO SCREWED. Good news is, the third one is out in September, so you won’t have to wait long to find out what the characters do to get themselves out of the very deep hole they’re in.

Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card. Wound up watching the movie at my brother’s house, which put me in a mood to re-read the book. (Verdict on the movie: okay, but I think they watered down some of the impact it could have had in places, and also I now understand exactly how useful montages are, because this film really needed one or two and didn’t have ’em.)

It is still a complicated book about which you can have many arguments. It is also still a very engaging read that makes me wish Card hadn’t descended into such a morass of behavior abhorrent to me.

Shield and Crocus, Michael R. Underwood. Provided by the author for blurbing purposes. Do you like superheroes? Do you like the New Weird? Do you consider these two great tastes that would taste great together, if only somebody had thought to combine them? This is the book for you! It is also less squidgy (technical term) than most New Weird, so if you like the idea of a city that exists within the skeleton of a fallen titan ruled over by a set of tyrants ranging from a giant robot to a corporate gang lord to a grinning lunatic, but are worried that it’ll be too grotesque for you to enjoy, fear not. Grotesquerie puts me off most New Weird stuff, but I found this one eminently readable.

Finding Nouf, Zoe Ferraris. Recommended by the Mris. First in a series of non-speculative mysteries set in Saudi Arabia, written by an American woman who married into a Saudi family and lived there for some time. I have said before that the Regency is the natural home of the romance novel, because there are compelling social reasons why the characters can’t solve all their problems by having a nice sensible conversation; it turns out that Saudi Arabia offers similar virtues for the mystery novel. When the investigator can’t question half the relevant people because they’re women and he isn’t related to them, you can get a lot of mileage out of a plot that would be resolved much more easily in the U.S.

I can’t say for certain that Ferraris is accurately depicting the mentality of a traditional Saudi man, because of course she is neither Saudi nor a man. But presuming that her experience means she’s got a good handle on the type . . . my god, do I feel bad for Nayir in this book. Katya too, since of course she’s the one who’s most obviously bound by Saudi restrictions, but also Nayir, in that “patriarchy hurts everybody” kind of way. He spends most of the book absolutely marinating in anxiety over every single interaction he has with a woman, berating himself for staring too long at her hands or whatever, and it very vividly illustrates why restricting interactions between men and women for fear of sexual impropriety pretty much guarantees that sexual impropriety will be happening right, left, and center.

City of Veils, Zoe Ferraris. Second book in the series, and it should tell you something that not only did I read both of these in the last few days of the month, but the third one will be the first item in the post for March. Ferraris’ prose gets more complex here, but I ended up being a little annoyed by the amount of focus given to Miriam, the American woman in Saudi Arabia. It’s easy for me to empathize with the character who hasn’t grown up in that milieu and finds it utterly frustrating/abhorrent/terrifying; I’d rather spend time in Katya’s and Nayir’s points of view, thinking about how Saudi characters perceive the situation and what they do to challenge it. Still and all: good book, tore through it in about a day flat, recommended if you like mysteries in a context that is probably less familiar to you.

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