Books read, January 2011
I’ve decided I want to experiment with the kind of book-log posts I see some of my friends making. No promises as to how long I’ll keep this up, but since I’m looking forward to actually reading some fiction for the first time in forever, it’s satisfying to track how much of it I’ve devoured in the last month.
The Game, Diana Wynne Jones. Short — a novella rather than a novel — and so I could say things here about how I wish the ideas had been developed out more or whatever. But the truth is I will read anything of hers you put in front of me and be pleased by it (and she may be the only author in the world about whom that is true for me), so whatever. I was pleased by it.
Enchanted Glass, Diana Wynne Jones. Longer, though not terribly long, and highly amusing in that distinctive DWJ way. She does quirky characterization so well; I very much enjoyed the interactions between Andrew and the Stocks, to the point of laughing out loud more than once. Quibbles here were that 1) I would have preferred it if Andrew and Aidan’s names didn’t begin with the same letter or else that the pov didn’t slide so unobtrusively between them, 2) once the focus of the conflict became clear I really expected the ubiquity of the name “Stock” to become relevant, and 3) the final confrontation was not her most memorable. But it’s Diana Wynne Jones, which means I read it and was pleased by it.
Act of Will, A.J. Hartley. Started off very well, with an engaging narrator, but it flagged as the story went on; I think it was trying to show something like a D&D adventuring-party story from a different angle, but when the momentum faltered it lost its feel of originality. Also, it never became clear (in this volume; it’s the start of a series) why the author chose to put the invented setting in an academic frame from our own world. (Possibly it suffered by comparison to Mary Gentle’s Book of Ash.)
The Immortals, Tamora Pierce.
Wolf-Speaker, Tamora Pierce.
Emperor Mage, Tamora Pierce.
The Realms of the Gods, Tamora Pierce. Re-reads, and probably for the last time. They are perfectly fine Tortall books, but not my favorites. I think I like the group dynamics that come packaged with the knight-oriented books (Alanna’s and Keladry’s), and I wanted more of the Daine/Numair romance. (Providing that latter, of course, would have required Daine to be older from the start, and I have a whole host of unformed thoughts about the technical and philosophical problems involved with a romance where the older, usually male, character has known the younger female character since she was a child. Daine isn’t that young when Numair meets her, of course, but it’s still a tricky path, and I find myself wondering how you would write its progression from his perspective.)
A friend’s novel in manuscript. About which I will not say anything, except that I enjoyed it and hope she gets it into shape for submission soon.
Translations, Brian Friel. A short play rather than novel, which I read on a friend’s recommendation (actually, the same friend as above) so as to better my command of Irish-English dialect before I did the copy-edits on With Fate Conspire. It takes place in Ireland during the 1830s, when the English government sent over surveyors to map and “standardize” (read: translate and/or Anglicize) all the place names. Deeply depressing in a lot of ways, especially with the way it keeps ostentatiously NOT looking straight at the violence and tragedy going on around its edges.
With Fate Conspire, Marie Brennan. Copy-edits don’t count.
Shards of Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold. On advice, I began here. I agree with those who said it’s weak; having read the afterword — Baen’s ebook dump of the series is all in omnibus form, though I’m counting the component novels individually — I think I see why. Not only was it early work, she talks about how the plot kept growing and complexifying, until she lopped off what became Barrayar to be its own book, and this one feels a bit like I can see her trying to get that later narrative in gear. Writers talk sometimes about how basic craft includes learning to get the entire story out of your head and onto the page; certain bits of this one seem to have stayed behind in Bujold’s head. I didn’t mind the story, but it was as if I was reading A, B, C, E — wait, what happened to D? oh well — F, I, etc.
Barrayar, Lois McMaster Bujold. Noticeably stronger than its predecessor, thanks to several years and novels of practice in between. (I’m reading by internal chronological order, which means I’ll be ricocheting around the compositional order.) The entire alphabet is here this time, and it welds the personal and political together quite well. I really enjoyed the byplay with Koudelka and Droushnakovi — Cordelia’s turns as the Baba are hilarious — and am sad that they haven’t appeared again in the later books I’ve read. Bothari . . . I’m not sure what I think about him. I don’t have as much sympathy for him as the narrative seems to want me to, and I think it’s because I don’t believe in his insanity; IANA psychiatrist, but he feels fictionally insane to me, rather than realistically. I could be wrong about that. But his psychotic turns don’t ring true to me, either in this book or the previous. (I did like his scene with Cordelia, though, about the bits he remembers. His comment about how her not being his victim doesn’t make him any less of an offender was very much appreciated, given how many authors would have used that moment to try and absolve him of responsibility.)
The Warrior’s Apprentice, Lois McMaster Bujold. Not as strong as Barrayar, but a lot better than Shards of Honor; I think it was written later, yes, though published in the same year? The chain of events by which Miles ends up ass-deep in alligators is decidedly silly, of course, but I’m okay with that. It isn’t quite as much my cup of tea as the more dramatic Barrayar; that, however, is personal taste, because this is fine for what it is. I only wish it had spent more time on Barrayar before haring off into the wild blue plot-yonder, because I like to see characters in their home environments, and it makes the foreign adventures more interesting to me. (Lack of Barrayar might be one of my chiefer complaints so far, in all the Miles books. Barrayar, of course, has plenty.)
The Mountains of Mourning, Lois McMaster Bujold. Yay, more actual Barrayar! <g> This one’s a novella, I think? The conflict is clearly meta-gamed by the author to be especially poignant to Miles, but I’ll spot her that bit of narrative manipulation, because the story is good enough to support it. The judgment at the end was very well-chosen, I must say.
The Vor Game, Lois McMaster Bujold. I wasn’t entirely a fan of how she arranged for the early, Kyril Island segment to be relevant to the space-based narrative that occupies the bulk of the book, and the process of prying Miles free of whats-his-face the ImpSec guy was more than a little on the contrived side; but once the Hegen Hub plot really got rolling, it was plenty of fun. (And seeing somebody refer to Gregor as “that skinny neurasthenic git” made me grin.)
Cetaganda, Lois McMaster Bujold. Yes, I’ve been mainlining these books. The omnibus format of the e-book dump encourages it, and they go quickly. Anyway, omg the worldbuilding in this one. My anthropological self loved watching Bujold cut loose on that front; Barrayar has interesting touches, but on the whole it feels moderately familiar — medievalish society with tech grafted on top — whereas Cetaganda is wildly speculative. The ghem vs. haut setup, the truly esoteric art, the etiquette and power games around the haut-women . . . I want more of this. And the plot was interestingly twisty, though ultimately its solution was less twisty than I’d been hoping for. I will admit, however, that reading in chronological order means I’m getting a whole lotta “Miles has no authority but he does something that get him into hot water so he contrives reasons for and methods of keeping things from his superiors until it all comes to a head and only he can solve it” — a perfectly fine plot structure, but one that stales a bit after repeated doses. Fortunately, the next book up is Ethan of Athos, which provides a nice break-point at which to read other things.
(Here, have an unnecessary parenthetical aside to end this section, since half the reviews have one tacked on the end.)
Books started and abandoned this month: six. Something of a high number, owing to the ongoing bout of using the twenty-page test to thin out my shelves. I’ll probably keep track of how many books I set aside, but I won’t go into detail on them; in many cases it’s just a matter of the book clearly being Not For Me, and in those cases where I put something down because of quality issues, I feel awkward about publicly critizing it based on such a small sample.
There may be spoilers for the Vorkosigan books in the comment, depending on how much people want to discuss my statements above.