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Posts Tagged ‘other people’s books’

Books read, June 2015

Very, very belated. But at least I’m managing to get it posted before August?

High volume of reading this month, and 100% of it was for work. It was revision/copy-edits/whatever, or it was material for a blurb, or it was research, or it was Hugo reading. There was nothing I finished this month that I picked up just because I felt like it. This makes me slightly cranky, even though I enjoyed a lot of what I read. Especially since so far in July, the pattern has been much the same.

Anyway, the books. I’m leaving the Hugo stuff out because I discussed it already in a separate post.


Hugo Reading Report

I’ve accepted that I will probably not make it through all the Hugo reading before it’s time to vote. Uff da — what would I do in a normal year, when there aren’t chunks of the ballot that I’ve ruled out entirely? I have no idea. As it stands, I already kind of resent the amount of time I’ve spent reading things that aren’t what I would have chosen if left to my own devices. Possibly this means I am just not good Hugo voter material.

But anyway! I figure that before I make my (extremely belated) post about what I read in June, I should make a post about what I’ve read out of the Hugo packet. Not so much because I’m campaigning for people to vote in a particular way — rather, I want to work through my reactions to things, and my first attempt at thinking through “do I consider this to be Hugo-worthy material?”

If you need to refresh your memory on my personal Hugo reading rules, do so now. I did indeed end up reading some of the Puppy candidates, though I did not finish them all. I’m skipping over the Dramatic Presentations and the artists in this post.


Actual Quote from an Actual Thing I Actually Read

From Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes, by Maurice Isserman and Stewart Weaver, following a discussion of George Mallory’s social circle in Cambridge which features a number of quotes that make you think “my, that sounds more than a wee bit homoerotic”:

“But it was James Strachey, the future translator of Freud, and not his older brother Lytton who evidently initiated Mallory into the pleasures of ‘the higher sodomy,’ as [the Bloomsbury Group] called it. The precise nature of ‘l’affaire George’ is unclear and ultimately uninteresting. What is interesting and of some significance to the history of Himalayan mountaineering is” . . .

No. No, you do not get to drop a phrase like “the higher sodomy” into your book on the history of Himalayan mountaineering and then declare it uninteresting. You were interested enough in it to mention it; you bloody well ought to explain it. If the explanation does not fit into this book, then neither does the phrase. Stick with the fact that George Mallory slept with men; you don’t have to leave your reader wondering what precisely distinguishes “the higher sodomy” from “the lower sodomy” — a question which only invites the brain to come up with increasingly creative answers, all of which are an unnecessary distraction from the tale of how Mallory came to be chosen for the Everest expedition.

(One also cannot help but wonder if Isserman and Weaver were slightly uncomfortable with Mallory’s sexuality, given that they later say “the heterosexual side of his nature asserted itself permanently when he met and fell in love with Ruth Turner,” Mallory’s eventual wife. This book was written in 2008: bisexuality had been invented by then, guys. You don’t have to use a phrase that implies Mallory got over his attraction to men.)

EDIT: My brain being what it is, of course I had to go and google the phrase. As near as I can tell, “the higher sodomy” was the groundbreaking notion that instead of just buggering your fellow students in the good old public school fashion, you should also have romantic feelings for your partner. Shocking!

I have done a Very Silly Thing

So Mary Robinette Kowal and I were on tour back in May, which gave us abundant time to chat about various things. At one event, an audience member asked several questions that began with the disclaimer of “this probably isn’t a thing you’ve bothered to think about, but” — which had the effect of proving that no, really, Mary has thought about pretty much everything in the world of her Glamourist Histories. As we were changing back into civilian clothing at the end of the event, I said to her, “I’m willing to bet you’ve thought about the uses of glamour for porn.”

To which she laughed and told me about a glamural Vincent created in his student days.

Here is the tale of Vincent’s old glamural — and how Jane wound up seeing it.

All errors are my own (and there may be more than a few, since I wrote this on the plane flight from North Carolina to San Francisco and did basically no research whatsoever, apart from asking Mary a couple of glamour questions while we were retrieving our luggage). She is in no way responsible for any missteps of either history or canon. But I when I told her I was going to write this fic, she laughed so very evilly — and I hope you all will laugh, too!

(No spoilers for the series, apart from the inevitable and rather obvious one of “which characters got married at the end of the first book?”.)

In which I help to launch THE DRAGONS OF HEAVEN

You may recall that my good friend Alyc Helms just published her first novel, The Dragons of Heaven. Well, this Saturday at 3 p.m. she is doing a reading and signing at Borderlands. And if you come to that event, you will get to see something special . . .

. . . which is to say, a cast of thousands* performing a certain scene from Alyc’s novel. Including yours truly, in the role of a fox spirit, for which I will trot out my best “bored Cate Blanchett” voice (as Alyc tells me that’s what all of her fox characters sound like in her head). So come at 3 p.m. to see the extravaganza!

*by which I mean about half a dozen


Cover for The Dragons of Heaven, by Alyc Helms

Full disclosure: I’m not going to pretend I’m anything like objective here. Alyc Helms and I have been friends for fifteen years; we met at an archaeological field school in Wales, the same field school where I wrote a sizable chunk of Doppelganger. She’s one of about half a dozen people who read the original draft of the book that eventually became Lies and Prophecy, way back in the day. She crits most of my short stories; when I’m working on a novel and my plot runs headfirst into a wall, she’s the one I fling the manuscript wailing at her to hellllllllp meeeeeeeeeeee. I critiqued this book in an earlier draft — heck, I was a player in the game where Missy Masters first got created — and so when I tell you to go read it, I am very, very far from being an impartial judge.

You should still go read it anyway. ๐Ÿ™‚

Cover copy:

Missy Masters inherited more than the usual genetic cocktail from her estranged grandfather. She also got his preternatural control of shadows and his enduring legacy as the legendary vigilante superhero, Mr Mystic. After a little work the costume fits OK, but Missy is far from experienced at fighting crime, so she journeys to China to seek the aid of Lung Huang, the ancient master who once guided her grandfather. She becomes embroiled in the politics of Lung Huang and his siblings, the allegedly mythical nine dragon-guardians of all creation. When Lung Di โ€“ Lung Huangโ€™s brother and mortal enemy โ€“ raises a magical barrier that cuts off China from the rest of the world, it falls to the new Mr Mystic to prove herself by taking down the barrier. Itโ€™s a superhero novel, a pulp fantasy novel, with lashings of kung fu, immense kick-ass dragons and an unfailingly sympathetic heroine โ€“ yes, itโ€™s another wonderful Angry Robot title.

Alyc talked a while ago at Fantasy Faction about the trope of white protagonists going to the Far East for their training montage and coming home essentially unchanged. This is not that kind of book. Nor, for that matter, is it what I think of as the “Eat, Pray, Love” kind of book, where the exotic locale definitely changes the protagonist — because that’s its sole purpose in the story, to play catalyst for the outsider. Missy goes to China, yes, to learn from the dragon who trained her grandfather . . . but she gets caught up in his story, rather than the other way around. “It falls to the new Mr. Mystic to prove herself by taking down the barrier” not because the Dragons of Heaven need a white person to save them, but because somebody has decided that Missy makes a useful pawn in their game. She’s not so much rescuing anybody as trying to fix the mess she inadvertently helped create.

Style-wise, it’s like a mashup of The Shadow with Big Trouble in Little China, with a narrative structure that goes back and forth between “then” (when Missy, realizing she didn’t have the skills necessary to operate as Mr. Mystic, went to find her grandfather’s teacher) and “now” (when the repercussions of that decision are playing out). It is available in many lovely formats, from many lovely retailers. It is a very fun book (actually, I believe my description that wound up on the front cover is “a hell of a lot of fun”), and I highly encourage you all to go check it out!

Books read, May 2015

Read a good deal less than I expected to last month, mostly because my free time on tour was devoted much more heavily than usual to actual writing. I did get through a few things, though!

The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn, Usman Malik. Novella on I liked it well enough while reading it, but just a few weeks later I can’t remember much about it. I’ll note that I’m making an effort to read more short fiction this year, though (including short stories, which won’t get logged here), so I can have some idea of what to nominate when the Hugos roll around next year.

The House of Shattered Wings, Aliette de Bodard. Read for blurbing purposes; this will be out soon. The blurb I sent in was “If you think the image of Lucifer sitting on a throne in the ruins of Notre Dame sounds awesome, this is a book for you.” ๐Ÿ™‚ Post-apocalyptic angel war fantasy in Paris. First, I believe, of an intended series.

Writing Fight Scenes My own books don’t count. Skimmed back through this one as a refresher for my own brain.

Hostage, Rachel Manjia Brown and Sherwood Smith. Sequel to Stranger, which I posted about here. This one moves somewhat away from the decentralized nature of the first one, which gave equal weight to something like half a dozen different pov characters; the structure of this one means there’s a stretch where the focus rests heavily on just two. Which entirely isn’t a bad thing; as I said about Stranger, having to shift between characters every chapter often risks losing my immersion in the story. It does give this one a different feel, though. I liked how Hostage was about the characters learning to live with the scars of what happened to them, and I also liked the ways in which Voske’s kingdom is dystopian without being wholly awful: the ruler is a terrible person, and terrible things happen there, but the residents also have things like electricity. I can look at that and see the possibility of major improvements in the future, if the cities start working together.

Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yokai, Michael Dylan Foster. Academic book on the supernatural creatures of Japan, and the changes in how they’re viewed between the Edo/Tokugawa period and the present day. Read for research purposes, and interesting, but way less about the details of actual yokai than I anticipated; he tends to pick out a couple of examples and explore them in depth, mostly through the lens of “here’s how this fits in with the zeitgeist.” Fortunately, I have other books headed my way that will take care of the other aspect.

Books read, April 2015

I bounced off a lot of books this past month. Nearly as many as I read. But every time I think to myself, “maybe you’re being too harsh; maybe you should have given them more of a chance before you stopped,” I think of The Summer Prince and Three Parts Dead, and how I didn’t have to give those books a chance. They hooked me from the start, and didn’t let go. I need an exceedingly good reason to spend my time on books that don’t do that, when I know there are books out there that are so much better.

Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter, Richard Parks. A collection of Parks’ “Lord Yamada” stories, about a demon hunter in Heian-era Japan. Because these are often structured as mysteries (the real challenge is for Yamada to figure out what’s going on with the supernatural problem, rather than finding a way to make it stop), they can be a bit repetitive; I recommend reading this in leisurely doses, rather than trying to mainline the whole thing in go. I especially liked the stories that diverged more from the formula — there’s one where Yamada doesn’t even really solve the problem, except insofar as he lectures the person who should be solving it until they come up with a clever solution. The weakest for me was probably the last tale; it read to me as setup for the novel I also have on my shelf, rather than a substantive conflict-and-resolution in its own right. But I picked these up because I wanted to read about yokai and ghosts in Heian Japan, and was pleased with what I got.

Captain Alatriste, Arturo Pรฉrez-Reverte. I retain enough trivia about seventeenth-century European history that the instant a certain nickname got used, I went “oh JESUS is that what’s going on,” long before the actual explanation arrived. Which was not a bug: I liked tumbling to it early, rather than feeling as if that spoiled the story. I’m not sure I’m going to continue with the series, though; I didn’t really warm to any of the characters, and am still in a mood where having the two most prominent female characters be a) not very prominent and b) a former hooker and a little girl described, with no irony I can discern, as having been born evil, did not sit very well with me. On the other hand, if you want more Dumas and have run out of Dumas to read, this may well scratch that itch for you.

Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman. Short story collection, read for review purposes. I’ll link to that when it goes live, and for now only say that I think it’s about on par with his previous collections: not every story worked for me, but enough did that I enjoyed reading it overall.

The Nine Tailors, Dorothy Sayers. Another Lord Peter Wimsey mystery. Ye gods the bell-ringing detail in this . . . but it avoids being as tediously dreary as Five Red Herrings, so that’s good. I figured out how the guy had died a bit before the characters did, and felt like they were a little slow in not thinking of it sooner — and nrgggggh, how awful — so while this one was enjoyable, it’s certainly not at the top of my Sayers list.

Lifelode, Jo Walton. Lovely domestic fantasy set in a world where moving between east and west changes not just how magical the world is, but how rapidly time passes. The main character can see through time, kind of, which is (I presume) why the book is told entirely in present tense, with little to no signaling when it’s about to slip from one point in the timeline to another; once you get the hang of that, though, the effect is lovely. And I adore the way religion operates here — Hanethe’s experience with Agdisdis and so forth.

In the House of the Seven Librarians, Ellen Klages. Not sure if this is a novelette or a novella or what, but I read it in a stand-alone printing, so it goes on the list. Seven exceedingly peculiar librarians keep running a library after it’s shut down, and then find themselves raising a little girl when someone drops her through the return slot along with a book of fairy tales several decades overdue and a note apologizing for the lateness and offering up a firstborn child in repayment.

The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson. This, as I mentioned above, is the book that made me decide that I’m right to drop things that don’t hook me fast enough. It’s probably the best YA book I’ve read recently — but it’s hard to describe why, because part of what makes it good is its complexity. The setting is four hundred years post-apocalypse, and the characters live in the stratified Brazilian city of Palmeres Tres; you could call it a dystopia, but that implies the society is straight-up bad, which undersells the reality. Johnson got her Golden Bough on with the worldbuilding: the city is ruled by a queen, who is chosen by a summer king elected by the people. But the summer king reigns at her side for only one year, at the end of which the queen sacrifices him in a public ceremony. In the story, the current summer king is a guy named Enki who hails from the lowest stratum of society, and the narrator, June, becomes obsessed with him, in ways that are only partly romantic. She’s an artist who likes to play with the idea of transgression; through her interactions with Enki, her work becomes more genuinely revolutionary. So the story is about art and politics, and life and death, and the tensions between age and youth and technological progress or the lack thereof. The whole way through, there is the inescapable awareness that Enki will be dead before long, and what his death will or will not mean. It’s full of beautiful detail, and I devoured it in record time.

ITLoD, Marie Brennan. Revisions. My own books don’t count.

Three Parts Dead, Max Gladstone. This is one of those books that defies description. The tech level of the setting doesn’t pigeonhole neatly into any real historical period, and when it comes to describing the plot, I wind up kind of flailing my hands and saying something about necromantic lawyers trying to sort out claims on the essence of a recently deceased god. Except that if I describe it that way, it sounds like the type of thing I would put down very fast, and the opposite was true. Partly this is because the book is not infrequently funny: there are a lot of aspects that would make me call the book grimdark, if it weren’t for the fact that the narration keeps being hilarious. Plus the main characters are mostly good people, underneath their various character flaws — and the ones driving the largest percentage of the plot are women, too, so bonus points for that. Add in a wild assortment of interesting worldbuilding touches (yeah, it’s a theme with me), and I am looking forward to picking up the next one. In fact, if the series continues this good, I think I know what one of my Hugo novel nominations will be next year . . . .

Avatar: The Rift, vol. 3, Gene Luen Yang. Third and final volume of the trio I started in March. The conflict here is one that shows up again in The Legend of Korra, and I’m glad I read this, because I haven’t yet finished watching the show, and I’ll be curious to see how the two interlock.

Of Noble Family, Mary Robinette Kowal. Last of her Glamourist Histories. I devoured it in a single afternoon and evening, which will be more significant when I explain to you that this one is a brick — roughly twice the length of most of the other installments. Vincent and Jane go to Antigua to sort out issues with his father’s estate, and things get REALLY COMPLICATED when they arrive. But the story does not quite go in the expected directions, and is frequently more interesting for doing so. Also, the payoff of the repeated “I am not a china cup” line is possibly the best moment in the entire series. ๐Ÿ˜€

And on that note, I remind you that Mary and I will be touring together starting this week. I hope to see some of you there!

Books read, March 2015

Avatar: The Promise, vol. 1
Avatar: The Promise, vol. 2
Avatar: The Promise, vol. 3, Gene Luen Yang.

I read the first of these a while ago, but forgot until I went to shelve my new acquisitions that I hadn’t read the rest of the set. So I backed up to the start again.

In this trilogy of comic books, Yang takes on issues of postcolonialism and interracial marriage — no, really. It got me reflecting on the differences between what I’ll term a “simple” treatment of something and a “simplistic” one: here, those issues get resolved more easily than they would be in the real world, but they are present. I think of that as a simple treatment, but not a simplistic one. The city of Yu Dao is a Fire Nation colony, but it’s a century old; it has been built up from a tiny village by a mixed group of Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom citizens, some of whom have intermarried, others of whom are close friends. Making amends for Fire Nation imperialism by yanking all people of that ethnicity out of Yu Dao would not actually be justice . . . but just leaving them there isn’t quite a solution, either. And this all gets tangled up in a promise between Zuko and Aang, which provides your regularly scheduled dose of Zuko Angst. ๐Ÿ™‚ I quite enjoyed it.

Avatar: The Rift, vol. 1
Avatar: The Rift, vol. 2
, Gene Luen Yang.

Haven’t acquired and read the third volume yet. Aang takes the Gaang to see an old sacred Air Nomad site, and finds a factory has been built on top of it. Things get complicated from there. I’m really enjoying these comic-book continuations; they provide nice explorations of the world and how it changed from Aang’s day to Korra’s. And I really like how the Air Nomad fankids are being handled.

Chains and Memory, Marie Brennan. My own books don’t count.

a friend’s novel in manuscript I won’t give the title or author here, because this book hasn’t even been submitted to editors yet, and it would be cruel of me to taunt you all with gushing about its awesomeness when you won’t be able to read it for who knows how long. ๐Ÿ™‚ But never fear! I will be back to talk about it more when the time comes.

Chains and Memory, Marie Brennan. Can you tell what I’ve been revising this month?

Taltos, Steven Brust. The structure of this one was interesting. Based on the cover copy, I was quickly able to make a general guess at what was going on in the brief/later bits opening the chapters, and it added a nice (if slightly vague) element of tension. The flashback stuff . . . I liked it, but I think I would have liked a smaller/less frequent dose of it, just because it kept pulling me out of the main story with Aliera/Morrolan/the Paths of the Dead/etc. The latter had some very cool moments in it, and I would have liked to stay in that mood, instead of jumping back and forth. But hey: I don’t fault Brust for experimenting. With a long series like this, it’s nice not to have every installment be like every other installment.

The Guns of Avalon, Roger Zelazny. I was a little unfair to this one: I started reading it some number of months ago, got interrupted, and when I came back I didn’t feel like re-reading the beginning. So it took me a while to get my footing and remember what Corwin was doing, apart from “trying to take over Amber.” I got into it pretty well by the end: there was a point where it seemed entirely possible that the message of the story was going to be “by the way, the protagonist is the villain,” and even though it didn’t go down that path, it went far enough to be interesting. And I want to see what’s up with Dara, though given the time period these were written, I recognize that the answer to that question may frustrate me more than it pleases.

Books read, February 2015

Was still mostly busy with revisions, but I did get some reading in.

Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson. I’ve bounced off several of his works before — something about them just hasn’t clicked with me — but this one was in my World Fantasy bag, and its opening pages drew me in enough that I kept going.

More than anything, Steelheart reminds me of Mike Underwood’s Shield and Crocus. They have a similar “superpowers in a weird dystopian city” vibe going on, though Underwood’s book partakes of the New Weird aesthetic, and Sanderson’s does not. In this case, Epics are the source of the dystopia: they all seem to be sociopaths, and since they started appearing, the world has gone to hell in a handbasket. Steelheart follows the efforts of the Reckoners (a resistance organization) to overthrow the title character, who rules the city of New Cago with <fails her Pun Resistance roll> a steel fist.

Sanderson is either not quite as mean as I am, or else he thought of the same thing and couldn’t find a way out of that particular corner, either. You see, in order to kill Steelheart, the Reckoners have to figure out his weakness. I had a theory for what that weakness might be, and the evidence wholly supported my idea . . . but Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, it would have made Steelheart almost 100% impossible to kill. The actual answer was still pretty tough, but not quite as bad. Anyway, the book moved at a good clip, and I may pick up the sequel, Firefight.

The Winner’s Crime, Marie Rutkoski. Reviewed here.

Avatar: The Search, vol. 1, Gene Luen Yang.
Avatar: The Search, vol. 2
Avatar: The Search, vol. 3

My husband and I wandered into the local comic book store on the way back from dinner one night, and I noticed there were more Avatar volumes out. Thinking I had finished the first series (I hadn’t, and you’ll be seeing reviews of those in next month’s post), I went ahead and bought the second one.

This series deals with Zuko, Azula, and their long-vanished mother. It’s been a while since I watched the TV series — ye gods, I had forgotten how unstable Azula became at the end. She’s, um. Not much more stable here. It also turns out that the story of their mother is a bit on the convoluted side . . . but I forgive that because the Mother of Faces is an excellent spirit character. Creepy and cool and very, very much not human. (And not secretly Zuko’s mother, which I just realized the juxtaposition there might imply.)

On the whole, I have to say the Avatar comics are a pretty solid example of continuing a story in comics form and doing it well. The plots here have substance, but aren’t the kind of thing that needs a whole TV series to work out. On the screen, they would feel like a letdown after the series finale. On the page, they’re reasonably substantial snacks, and do a nice job of addressing some of the dangling threads without feeling like unnecessary fanfic.

ItLoD, Marie Brennan. My own work doesn’t count. No matter how many hours I spent on it.