Books read, March 2021

The Cloud Roads, Martha Wells. First of the Raksura books, and I was a little bit ambivalent about it. I love the worldbuilding and all the stuff built around the Raksura being a different species, but it’s challenging to write a book about a loner main character who spends much of the novel with one foot out the door, wanting to get away from the people around him. But the setting was interesting enough to keep me engaged, and the first volume ends on a note that probably means Moon won’t be acting quite so much like a cat that doesn’t want to be held.

Pre-Industrial Societies: Anatomy of the Pre-Modern World, Patricia Crone. Recommended on A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry, this is an overview of the commonalities found in pre-industrial states, just by dint of their technological constraints. It definitely has its shortcomings (it’s moderately good at looking at parts of Eurasia that aren’t Europe, but less good with Africa, much less the New World), and most of what it discusses is stuff I’ve picked up by osmosis through reading about the societies themselves, but it works well as an overview you could hand to someone who hasn’t spent decades osmosing that stuff. (Also, the shade Crone throws on Europe at the end is a truly astonishing thing to behold. Her thesis is that Europe industrialized because it so comprehensively failed at finding stable solutions to the problems of a pre-industrial society, and her summation of that failure gets vivid.)

Piranesi, Susanna Clarke. What a peculiar book! Five pages in, I wasn’t sure I was going to finish, partly because of the random Capitals the narrator scatters throughout his Text. Fifty pages in, I wanted to hoover the entire thing up, and I couldn’t even tell you why. I acquired it because I have an idea for a “weird house” story, and it turns out what I’ve got in mind is absolutely nothing like this, but I’m not sorry I read it. (Also, kudos to whoever designed the case for the hardcover: if you take off the slip jacket, the front and back covers and the spine have a marching series of columns of varying heights that spell out PIRANESI. It’s really pretty.)

Aru Shah and the Song of Death, Roshani Chokshi. Second in the Pandavas series from Rick Riordan Presents, this introduces a third Pandava sibling (along with, of course, new threats to deal with). I don’t find this series as congenial as some of the others from that imprint; the narrative voice just doesn’t work as well for me. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with it — but as I’m not the ideal reader, and I’ve established there are other series I like better, I may not continue on.

Never Have I Ever, Isabel Yap. A collection of short stories that range in tone all the way from a really sweet romance that’s the most San Franciscan thing I’ve read in a while (it’s about a queer guy who works in tech and also has a part-time job at an occult store on Valencia) to some outright horror. A few of the stories end on a bit more of an unresolved, literary-style note than is my preference, but I liked the collection overall. The author is Filipina, and several of the stories involve that setting and/or elements from that folklore; the latter sent me down some excellent new rabbit holes on Wikipedia. (If anybody has recs for English-language books on Filipino folklore, please share them! It’s not an area I know much about at all.)

Sins of Regret
Winter’s Embrace
Wheel of Judgment
Mask of the Oni Four short adventures written for Legend of the Five Rings. I’ve read very few adventure modules overall, and the ones I’ve looked at in the past were all for Pathfinder, so it’s interesting to see how a totally different game approaches the medium.

Daily Life in the Inca Empire, Michael A. Malpass. I have a vague idea for a short story set in Incan history, so this is the first of several books I’ve acquired on the culture, and also the oldest, being from 1996. (Which really doesn’t feel like it’s twenty-five years ago. O_O ) It’s from the same series as the Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia that I read back at the start of 2020, and while it isn’t quite as much of a slog as that one was, it’s still pretty dry going. I hope some of the others will be more flavorful? But I got useful information out of it regardless.

From Kuan Yin to Chairman Mao: The Essential Guide to Chinese Deities, Xueting Christine Ni. This got recommended during one of my Flights of Foundry panels. It goes through sixty some-odd deities in a little over two hundred pages, so none of them get more than a few pages apiece — but in that time, Ni manages to pack in details on the historical and/or mythological origins of each deity, how they’re worshipped now and/or in the past, where major temples can be found, what kinds of offerings you can make to them, which novels/TV shows/movies/video games they show up in, and sometimes even how to cosplay as them. And yes, Mao is genuinely included in the list of deities; he isn’t in the title just for rhetorical value.

2 Responses to “Books read, March 2021”

  1. Mike Reeves-McMillan

    You have an idea for a weird house story?

    I love weird house stories (not even sure why).

    • swantower

      I do! I have a title and a conceit and a complete lack of actual plot, so who knows how long it will take for it to go somewhere. 🙂

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