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I saw on some thread on FFA that there were sequels to Oryx and Crake, which I remember vaguely liking (Atwood in general is an author I vaguely like) and had had no idea there were sequels for. So I went looking for the entire trilogy.

Oryx and Crake (reread) - 3+/5 - I remembered nothing of my previous read of this book except that I read it on a plane flight (why do I remember this? no idea) and that there was a climactic scene that took place in an airlock. (I actually extrapolated from the airlock that they were in a spaceship, and it really confused me on reread that there were no spaceships to be seen.) On reread, it was entertaining. Atwood is a good writer and I enjoy reading her prose. On the other hand, I realized that I often don't really like her characters or her worldview very much (I mean, it's dystopia! But still), and it's not surprising to me that I didn't remember the book very well (or indeed any of her books). It also surprised me that Oryx herself was as small a part of the book as she was. Anyway, this one was good.

The Year of the Flood - 3+/5 - Retcon of Oryx and Crake. It was a good thing I read O&C right before, because otherwise there's no way I would have remembered details, like that Glenn was Crake's original name. More women, who are more interesting.

The thing about this book is that pretty much every character in it survived the plague, whereas pretty much no one else did -- and completely coincidentally. I kept waiting for a reveal that they were all being shot up with vaccine somehow, but no, it was all just a coincidence. Well, okay then.

MaddAddam - DNF. I read some of this and fairly early on went looking for spoilers to see if anything actually happened, as everything I was reading so far seemed to be on the order of adolescent boyfriend squabbling. Spoiler: in fact, as far as I can tell, nothing actually happens in this book except adolescent boyfriend squabbling. You'd expect that in the concluding volume of a trilogy there'd be some revelation, something that changes the way we think about everything that happened, some relationship between MaddAddam and the plague, some light shed on why Crake did what he did... nope. Which, okay, she's making a point about human nature and how even after the end of the world squabbling is pretty much what you can expect from humans, but really, if I wanted to read about that I'd read Sweet Valley High or something.

The other thing that bugged me about this book is that humans are trying to explain things / tell stories to the Crakers, and Atwood writes down their attempts, which usually involve a lot of frustration on the parts of the humans, trying to gloss over concepts that the Crakers don't have (usually involving negative human emotions). Ha ha. Okay, so, here's the thing: THIS IS MY LIFE. I spend a nontrivial amount of every day explaining things to a four-year-old. Some of them involve things I by necessity have to gloss over, or am uncomfortable with and punt. Some of them I explain in small words and then regret it. (See also: the discussion of burial techniques, including cremation, that we had the other day(*), which has led to E occasionally blurting out questions like "Mommy, do you know anyone who was burnt up?") The thing is, Atwood seems to think we should think this is special and specially hard to do. Nope. Well, yes, hard to do, but not special.

(*) You might well ask, why were we discussing burial techniques? Well, so, I had to teach this lesson at church on how we should all be doing family scripture study, and so I felt like I could not really teach this lesson without being a huge hypocrite if we weren't at least trying to do this. I won't read the Book of Mormon as our scripture time on general principle, and I figured the New Testament would be a little better than the Old Testament in terms of general R-rated-ness. Well. Perhaps it should have occurred to me that a brutal, torture-filled death is the centerpiece of the Gospels? In addition to having to explain why they covered Jesus' body with sweet spices (which is how we got into the burial techniques), I have also had to explain (for instance) why, in the parable of the vineyard, they "took [the vineyard owner's son], killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard" (Mark 12:8), which E was fascinated by. ("Because they were mean and they wanted things that weren't theirs. These are very, very not-nice things to do.")
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3/5. Third book of a trilogy of Assassin Nuns, Literal Daughters of the God of Death. The first third was rather boring. It mostly consisted of the main character, Annith, repeating several variations of "Abbess, I don't wanna be Seer for the assassin nuns! I wanna be an assassin! I really don't wanna be Seer!" Every chapter, we'd check in again and she would still be angry at the Abbess and still wouldn't want to be Seer. Finally, she ran away (...and this took her so much of the book why?) and met up with Love Interest Balthazaar. The fact that he is the Love Interest is not really a spoiler, given that as soon as he shows up it is clear: he is described as "breathtakingly handsome in a dark, almost broken way. He wears his hair long, and his jaw and nose are strong and sharp, as if chiseled of the finest marble by a master stonemason." Uh. Okay, guess we're in a Harlequin romance, who knew?

The second third was fun -- lots of action and intrigue, and we got to see Ismae and Sybella, the heroines of the first two books, which was nice. Except I would constantly get slammed out of the story every time anyone mentioned "Rennes" or "Quimper" because all the characters acted like twenty-first-century Americans instead of medieval Bretons. Whyyyyy was this book not written in vague fantasy-world where I could be somewhat impressed at it vaguely following history instead of frustrated all the time? Ahem. Anyhow. This is a pet peeve of mine. Also, Annith continued to get sucked in to the Abbess' emotional manipulation and it was never really clear why she didn't just break off with her like Ismae and Sybella did.

And then I read the last third.

OH ROBIN LAFEVERS NO. Love interest spoilers and at least one fairly major plot spoiler. Five-year-old souls do not equal twenty-year-old souls, sorry! )
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3+/5: In which Breq becomes a Social Justice Warrior tackling such issues as abusive relationships, labor rights, and underprivileged groups.

Some (hopefully nonspecific) spoilers for Ancillary Justice; general discussion for Sword, no specific spoilers. )

So, I mean, I liked it! And you will probably really like it too! Because tropey goodness and the triumph of social justice (except when it is satisfyingly grim because it would be unrealistic for SJ to win it all) are very satisfying! But I feel like it doesn't attain the deeper level of thoughtfulness and engaging with tough questions that I wanted it to (for example, I thought Le Guin thought much more interestingly about the anarchy she depicts in The Dispossessed -- which is also rather lower on the satisfying smackdowns for the same reason), and it cleanly misses the jump from entertaining to classic that Justice was struggling with and that I hoped this book would help with. But it's definitely very enjoyable.
cahn: (Default)
4/5. Oh FINE. Everyone who told me what an awesome book this was -- you were right. I loved it very much. It reminds me a lot of old-school 60's-70's SF, you know, the LeGuin-Delany-Brunner-etc. era where half of the fun is being thrown into an alien (sometimes literally, sometimes not) environment and trying to figure out the rules of the culture and environment (in addition to the normal-book rules of trying to figure out the plot and/or the characters). Gosh, I love that kind of book. It's no wonder it won the Hugo. I would have voted for it too. (Especially given the alternatives... I think Stross can be an entertaining writer, but please. And Wheel of Time? Really??) It doesn't attain John M. Ford levels of obscurity through occasional helpful explanatory infodumps by the narrator, which I was rather grateful for, as I don't feel up to Ford-level puzzling at this point (but which I could imagine wishing for did I feel more up to it). I also did not find the writing especially pyrotechnic (as opposed to Le Guin, Delany, or Brunner, for example) -- this is a good, solid book, but I don't know that it'll come out as one of the field's classics. We'll have to see how the sequels turn out. But it did squarely hit a lot of my buttons of AI/sentience/identity/hard-SF.

The interesting thing was that I kept thinking about Fullmetal Alchemist while reading it, for rather obvious reasons -- AJ and FMA both deal with empire and genocide as major themes. I think I would have liked this book more had I read it before FMA, because FMA's treatment is so powerful. I was also about to say that AJ falls neatly into many of the holes that FMA avoids, but I think it's not quite as simple as that -- Breq is a murkier, less human (intentionally) character than Roy Mustang, and her motivations are not as clear, even to herself, which changes the calculus of reaction a lot. In fact, culturally -- given that Amestris has been a military dictatorship since forever -- should Mustang and the Elric brothers even be able to think about the kinds of ideas that they do? (I suppose the answer is that the Amestris dictatorship doesn't bother to culturally suppress the people in the way the Radch culture naturally limits them.) So... yeah. Very interesting to think about.

Another interesting reaction I had was to the famous gender-indiscrimination of the main character. I found that it bothered me that she thought of / referred to everyone as female, whereas I don't think I would have noticed or been bothered nearly as much if she'd referred to everyone as male. This... disturbs me. So for that alone it was worth reading!
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3+/5. Godwin is a very good writer, and this is a very good book which I didn't like all that much. It's about a friendship between a misunderstood teenage girl and a woman in her 40's. The friendship helps the teenager blossom and opens up her world, until it explodes into catastrophe.

...This is the exact plot of (the first two-thirds) Madeleine L'Engle's A House Like a Lotus, a book I have lots of good child-memories of and thus love very much (though as I've said before I usually skip the last third because of embarrassment squick), and I kept thinking about it while reading this one.

The difference between the two books is the relationship between the teenager and the older woman. Even though they could both be described by the above description, they're very different. Poly and Max, in Lotus, have a relationship that is, overall, healthy. The boundaries are clear; Max is not her mother, she is not her sister, she is not her owner; she is Polly's mentor and friend.

Justin and Ursula, in School... have a relationship that squicks me out. Ursula seems to get a kick out of baiting Justin, out of manipulating her, out of setting her up to show that she's the superior one. Ursula then tops it off by professing that Justin is like her own child (which... I mean... one can say that without it beings squicky, I've heard adults say that and thought it was lovely instead of weird, but Justin and Ursula have known each other for ONE summer, have seen each other maybe a couple of times a week, and the context of wish-fulfillment and Justin's hero-worship of Ursula just does make it squicky, trust me) and even worse, asking Justin to judge Ursula's actions when she was about Justin's age, which JUST NO. If you feel like you are in a parental or mentor-like role to someone, you do not ask that person to pass judgment on your actions! I mean, she probably will anyway, but you don't put that weight of responsibility on her!

I am convinced Godwin did this completely on purpose -- it really is a nuanced and interesting portrayal of an unbalanced relationship between two finely-drawn characters -- although it is weird that grown-up Justin, from whose point of view the novel is written, doesn't call her on all of this. Because it's really quite... in-your-face. And also, I didn't like the book very much because of this dynamic. (What can I say, I generally like likeable characters and likeable relationships!)
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[personal profile] seekingferret posted about Beggars in Spain, which I hadn't reread for just about forever, and I went and found our copy the other day and narfed it up. The novel (which is what we own) is basically the novella with several other parts tacked on. Beggars in Spain is nominally about a bioengineered trait to go without sleep (the "Sleepless"), which creates a superclass of those people, who then have to deal with bigotry and fear from the rest of the populace (the "beggars"). One of the tacked-on parts deals with the further-bioengineered SuperSleepless, who are much more intelligent than the Sleepless, and how the Sleepless deal with that.

I had some interesting reactions to this reread, most of which weren't actually relevant to the philosophical questions being asked in the book.

'Howard Roark has a baby'; nerd camp; 1%; twenty years' hindsight; siblings and family community; ecology vs. trade )
cahn: (Default)
I reread Hall of the Mountain King and Lady of Han-Gilen here. The next two books:

A Fall of Princes - 3+/5. Oh man this book. Um, yeah, let's just say that this was the only book I read as a teenager/young-adult that at all tackled anything even vaguely related to trans issues, and as such it blew my tiny little mind. Of course, being written in the 90's, it didn't do it at all perfectly (for just one example, even with my complete lack of knowledge about these issues, I rather side-eye the way it magically resulted in magical gender-attraction-flip, but on the other hand... well, it was, literally, magic, so), but really, one has to admire that it was done at all, and certainly it was teenager!me's only exposure to this kind of thing at the time, which I think should be worth a lot of points.

Speaking of sexuality, the world in these books is also one of those worlds where people have sex with whatever gender they feel like (most people appear to be bisexual with a preference for one gender), and it's not particularly a big deal for anyone -- this was a good thing for me to be reading as a teenager. Now I will say that on reread, it does rather seem like everyone thinks about sex rather a lot -- and it did not escape me on this reread that the one asexual in this book turns out to be rather creepy. Birth control is also never discussed in this book, although we know from other books that some magical variant of the same exists. Eh, so it goes. It certainly held up better than other books I've reread from this same time period.

Book-destroying spoilers. )

Arrows of the Sun - 3+/5. I hated this book when I first read it in high school in the 90's. On this reread, I rather liked it -- and for the same reason. This was written about the time when gritty was starting to make its way into the fantasy scene, and the sense of betrayal I had in the 90's when I found that Sarevadin and Hirel hadn't, in fact, lived happily ever after, or at least not forever, and that their grandkids were really rather spoiled brats, and that one of the big conflicts for the protagonist was getting over his equality-based, monogamous love affair and entering into an arranged marriage with a harem -- well. Now that we're in the era of Game of Thrones and Joe Abercrombie, all these things are almost quaint as an exercise of grittiness. (Although I'm now even more whaaaa? about the harem thing. Tarr only barely gets a pass on that because she's a woman; if she were a man I would have rolled my eyes rather more.)
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3+/5. I think this is a very good book and worth reading, and I'm definitely going to pick up the rest of the series! I do think that it may have suffered from my reading it at maybe not quite the ideal time. For example, I kept mixing up a lot of the minor characters who don't get much screen time, which really isn't ideal when there's a mystery to be solved (or, well, really in general but particularly for a mystery). I also found the last third a lot more compelling than the rest of it.

However.

Augustus Mayerling is made of awesome. I have a total crush on Mayerling. (I also quite admire, after the fact, the part where Hambly keeps referring to Mayerling as "the Prussian." The fact that this helped to blindside me, I feel, is making Hambly's point for her.)

Also: Barbara Hambly was one of the authors (along with Diane Duane and John M. Ford) that I originally found, as a kid, through her Star Trek novel. Apropos of nothing, really, but it always makes me smile when I see a book by her, remembering that.
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3+/5 - Usual SRB disclaimer: will read anything by her, and love it!

That is the lead-in to say I loved this book a lot! I now have two data points that suggest I really go for second books of SRB's trilogies (this being the sequel to Unspoken, and I think there's a reason for that: we've gotten over the hump of introducing the characters, so the second book can actually concentrate on the relationships between the characters, especially the familial relationships and friendships. (Demon's Lexicon got over this to a degree by the most important relationship in Lexicon being a familial one.) SRB does familial relationships and friendships really well, and I really enjoy reading them -- we get more thumbnail sketches of not only Kami's family and the Lynburns, but also Holly's and Angela's families, and Kami-Holly-Angela-Rusty-Jared-Ash worked much better when I could take the relationships between them for granted and just enjoy watching them interact.

I really loved that we got to see real consequences between Kami's parents. Because, I mean, yeah, systematic lying... over years... affecting one's children... that's going to be a really hard thing to deal with, and I loved that we got to see that, in an understated way (since it's only through Kami's eyes). This is the kind of thoughtfulness I LOVE from SRB.

I loved that Angela's revelation in the first book was neither ignored, but neither was it a super huge deal (well, except to the one character whose reaction, it later becomes clear, is less about that than it is about her own personal issues). I could have done without Rusty's Friendly Diversity Lecture, but that was only a paragraph and the rest of it was great.

I totally laughed when Angela's like, yeah, I was just gonna find someone at university, because it's so my reaction to YA romances in general and SRB heroines in particular. I know that SRB most probably did not put that in there for my benefit, but I totally loved it as if she had. (Still jonesing for Angela/university-person! Even though I rather like the ship SRB seems to be setting up here. I also liked that Angela/Kami was not a thing, not because of Kami's predilections one way or another but because they would honestly make a really, really terrible couple, what with Angela's sloth and Kami's energy, speaking as a slothful person myself who absolutely knows where Angela is coming from!)

Speaking of shipping, I found Kami/Jared shockingly hot and I do not even know what to do with this because the way that he feels about her is incredibly unhealthy and anyone else I would tell to run away. Except that... maybe unhealthy isn't really relevant when their particular circumstances apply...

One vague objection: For someone who has been soulbonded to someone since birth, she seems to be rather bad at reading Jared. Jared seems much better at reading her!

I was really shocked by the ending (which I loved), that she (I meant SRB, but really Lillian) went there. Wow. How is that even going to work in the third book, with all the people in Sorry-in-the-Vale knowing what happened there?? I am super excited for it!

(Also, Turn of the Story has finished, but due to the aforementioned withdrawal from life I haven't actually read it yet... but I am really looking forward to it!)
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4/5. I really, really liked this book. It's about a biracial (elvin/goblin) boy, Maia, who becomes emperor of a somewhat complicated court and then has to deal with it.

I would never have read it if not for [personal profile] rymenhild's review (general, unspecific spoilers), because I hated Felix so much in Monette's other books.

D saw me snarfing it up and asked if he should read it. I told him I didn't know. He decided to read it and stayed up until 2am the next two nights... I can't remember the last time he did that reading a book.

So yeah. And it's the kind of thing I just want to talk about, because I have lots of thoughts about it!

I think one of the things I loved most about it is that it's such a hopeful book. Not a happy book -- lots of unhappy things happen -- but it's awfully hopeful, and I am a sucker for hopeful. I read an essay Monette wrote where she points out her Labyrinth books are much more noir, and... yeah. This one, while not light fluffiness for sure, is not noir.

Various other things I loved about the book: Very mild unspecific spoilers, if that )

Other things (I don't mean these to be negative, precisely; this is the kind of book where it's good enough that I want to talk about and dissect all the parts I didn't love, if that makes any sense?): Mild and general spoilers; nothing plot-destroying. )

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