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So I reread Greenwitch, The Grey King, and Silver on the Tree in December, for Reasons. (Why yes, this is how behind I am: getting caught up on reading for last December.) I did not reread Over Sea, Under Stone, because it's not as good, or The Dark Is Rising, because my sister had borrowed it. This is ironic because for many years, before I owned my own copy, I'd check out the last four books out of the library (occasionally OSUS as well, but I reread that less frequently in general because it's a less interesting book) and read them at Christmastime, but especially TDiR-the-book, because the culture and theme of Christmas wind around and within all of that book.

Rambling. Atheism and shippy headcanon. )
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4/5. So, um. I would not recommend this course of action to anyone else in the world, necessarily, but apparently being in the hospital with nothing to do -- except wait and think about chromosomes -- is the signal for my brain to crave dark fiction about twisted people manipulating one another and everyone else's chromosomes. (This is not to say I didn't appreciate the comfort-recs, which are much more relevant right now.) So, yeah. I ate up this book that I'd been trying for years to read with no success. And loved it, because it is brilliant.

It is totally brilliant. I kept wanting to make comparisons to Dune in my head, in terms of scope and sweep of future history-epic, the careful working-out of the history, the careful working-out of the SFian details (in Dune the ecology, in Cyteen the genetics), the tackling of Big Questions (in Dune the limits of prescience, in Cyteen what makes a person). Only Cyteen's Smart People are a a great deal less laughable than Dune's Smart People, and related to this, Ari Emory is about twenty million times a better and more effective villain than any of the Dune villains, even in the first third of Cyteen. Really, Cherryh just does people in general a lot better than Herbert.

It was like Cherryh took all the tropes of genetic-SF what-makes-a-person stories that I'd ever seen and then ran with it. Ran a marathon with it, that is. All four of the main characters — Ari, Justin, Grant, and Florian/Catlin (who count as one character) — explore a different facet of how our genetics and our environment interact, how our interior programming corresponds to who we are.

And (unlike Dune, which never does this) sometimes it gut-punches you. Sometimes it's clearly telegraphed, and sometimes it comes without warning, and sometimes you come up for air to realize that a punch has been sneaking up on you for hundreds of pages. For those of you who have read it, let me just say: Gehenna. My absolute favorite gut-punch is relatively early on, when we learn what happened to Florian/Catlin I. Pow. And then we switch POV to Ari II, and we learn why, and that's its own punch that comes out of nowhere. OW. (And this, of course, foreshadows the last half of the book. Brilliant.)

It is also Cherryh, which meant that I had much the same problems with it that I've had with all the other Cherryh novels I've ever (tried to) read. Sometimes there is a textbook history lesson. I have trouble with those. (In retrospect at least half my problems with my previous attempts at this book were because I got stalled in the prologue textbook lesson. Next time I read a Cherryh I'm totally skipping it.) Or POVs that are needed for a plot point but otherwise are really kind of not useful. (This time, I just skipped those. I should have figured out to do that years ago.) And Cherryh, unlike Bujold, doesn't do climaxes, or really endings in general. It eventually… ends, because she's done telling the story, but there's no single spear-point cathartic moment like there is in, oh, Curse of Chalion.

This is just one of those books where I want to buttonhole strangers in the streets and tell them about it. I don't necessarily want to tell them to read it; it's a pretty dense 700 pages with no clear ending, which is clearly not going to appeal to everyone. I just want to talk about it.
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...So I meant to have this done before Yuletide signups ended, but anyway! At least assignments are not out yet :)

5/5. Short stories, reread. I found earlier this year that there are OTHER PEOPLE IN THE WORLD who have read these stories (who are not people I have personally force-fed them to). So then I had to reread them all to make sure they were as good as I remembered them being, and I was so afraid they wouldn't be. But they were.

This is a subset of Cordwainer Smith (pen-name for Paul Linebarger)'s short stories on the Instrumentality of Man, and as far as I'm concerned it's most if not all of the best ones. Unfortunately (if you live in the US) this particular collection is only available in the UK (part of their excellent SF Masterworks series, which also introduced me to Babel-17, which I have to get around to rereading one of these days), and I bought it while I was there many years ago. (However, if you live in the US, the collection We the Underpeople has most of these stories. And you can also get the complete collected stories.)

It is an amazing set of short stories: the dense and imaginative and poetic use of language is equaled only by the vast sweep of its future history. The animal-derived underpeople who fight for their own place! The humans who are regimented and coddled into unhappiness! Planoformed ships that sail between the stars (and sometimes burn out the brain of the pilots)! The always-ethical-but-frequently-magnificently-amoral Lords and Ladies of the Instrumentality! (Or perhaps the other way around?) The Rediscovery of Man! The scintillating display of idea and prose pyrotechnics, not to mention the constant allusions (only about a fourth of which I think I get)! The investigation of questions of humanity and free will and equality! And I always, always cry when I read "The Dead Lady of Clown Town," bah. I have never read anything else like these stories. I don't think there is anything else like these stories. (Although I've read stories by other authors that were clearly influenced by these, hi early Orson Scott Card!)

I love these so very much I don't have much to say about them. Instead, here, have some quotes from various stories:

"The Burning of the Brain":

I tell you, it is sad, it is more than sad, it is fearful—for it is a dreadful thing to go into the up-and-out, to fly without flying, to move between the stars as a moth may drift among the leaves on a summer night.

"The Dead Lady of Clown Town":

You already know the end - the immense drama of Lord Jestocost, seventh of his line, and how the cat-girl C'mell initiated the vast conspiracy. But you do not know the beginning, how the first Lord Jestocost got his name, because of the terror and inspiration which his mother, Lady Goroke, obtained from the famous real-life drama of the dog-girl D'joan.

"Under Old Earth":

There were the Douglas-Oyang planets, which circled their sun in a single cluster, riding around and around the same orbit unlike any other planets known. There were the gentlemen-suicides back on Earth, who gambled their lives—even more horribly, gambled sometimes for things worse than their lives—against different kinds of geophysics which real men had never experienced. There were girls who fell in love with such men, however stark and dreadful their personal fates might be. There was the Instrumentality, with its unceasing labor to keep man man. And there were the citizens who walked in the boulevards before the Rediscovery of Man. The citizens were happy. They had to be happy. If they were found sad, they were calmed and drugged and changed until they were happy again.

"Alpha Ralpha Boulevard":

We were drunk with happiness in those early years. Everybody was, especially the young people. These were the first years of the Rediscovery of Man, when the Instrumentality dug deep in the treasury, reconstructing the old cultures, the old languages, and even the old troubles. The nightmare of perfection had taken our forefathers to the edge of suicide. Now under the leadership of the Lord Jestocost and the Lady Alice More, the ancient civilizations were rising like great land masses out of the sea of the past. I myself was the first man to put a postage stamp on a letter, after fourteen thousand years. I took Virginia to hear the first piano recital. We watched at the eye-machine when cholera was released in Tasmania, and saw the Tasmanians dancing in the streets, now that they did not have to be protected any more. Everywhere, things became exciting. Everywhere, men and women worked with a wild will to build a more imperfect world.

The only thing I do not love about these stories — and you can start to see it even in these short excerpts — is that it struck me on this latest reread that, particularly in the early stories, the treatment of gender/women in them is, um, very 1950's, full of romanticizing and protecting women because they're so frail and beautiful, y'know? And/or putting them on a pedestal. I mean, he tries, he really tries — Helen America is a heroine in her own right, as are Elaine and C'mell… but it's just all a bit off.

This actually usually doesn't bother me in Golden-Age-era SF (I mean, I can read books' worth of Asimov or A.E. Van Vogt or whoever without blinking an eye at the male-domination and the damsels in distress), but it does bother me here because in so many other ways — prose, the nuanced treatment of the underpeople and their rights, grappling with tricky questions about the meaning of life and free will and what it means to be human — in all these other ways he was leaps and bounds ahead of his time, and it's just a bit jarring to have this one piece where he's… not. (But even here, he wins a bit: the Ladies of the Instrumentality are awesome. We just don't get to see them that much.)
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3+/5 for the series. [personal profile] skygiants totally hooked me on these utterly charming books, beginning with A Bad Spell in Yurt, about Daimbert, a wizard who was not at the top of his class. Not even slightly. He gets a job as the royal wizard of a tiny kingdom, Yurt, and then proceeds to get embroiled in various plots.

These books are basically the antithesis of grimdark. I can think of maybe one human-ish character in all six books who isn't just plugging along trying to do his/her best (if sometimes misguidedly, and occasionally completely misguidedly), and that character isn't completely human. What often saves the day is Daimbert's tendency to bounce around making friends with everybody he meets, as well as a huge dollop of sacrifice and redemption running through the books and popping up at various points. …It will surprise no one that these books hit me straight in the id, and I found myself racing through all six of them at top speed.

They were all (with the exception of the last book) written in the 90's, so, you know, The Fabled East is a Thing starting in book 3, and the books tend to follow a slightly formulaic bent (although the plots themselves are always charming and amusing, with the exception of book 5, whose plot fell apart a little to me). But they're all so good-natured I can't really bring myself to care. I just wanted more Daimbert!

One of the really interesting bits about it is that Brittain just lifts the Catholic Church wholesale into the world, complete with theology, some hierarchy structure (there doesn't appear to be structure past the Bishop level), saints, and so on. I was a little freaked out by this at first, but on second thought I guess it's really not that different from transplanting, say, medieval-era blacksmithing, or animal husbandry, which people do all the time. Why not?

And then there is Daimbert's friendship with Joachim, the palace chaplain in Spell. Wizards and priests, in this world, are traditionally enemies, or at least rather wary of each other. In another book, this would have been the impetus for much angst and suspicion. In Spell, there's a bit of suspicion in the first book, but mostly it's Daimbert bouncing up and down and not taking "Well, actually I suspect you of dastardly deeds" for an answer when he wants to be friends, and continuing to be Super Awesome Friends throughout all the books. Their friendship is by far my absolute favorite thing about these books.

The first one is available for free here. The first five are available in e-book for $5 each; the sixth is available only in paperback.
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Okay. I think Busy Month is over, yay. Of course, now I have to go back and do all the things I was supposed to be doing last month and was putting off, which by this time has stacked up to be, well, a lot of stuff. So, yes, I probably owe you a call or email or comment.

But instead of my actually doing any of that, here, have some nattering about books!

Eleanor and Park (Rowell)
3+/5. This was good. This was very good, and accurate as to what it was like to be an adolescent in love. (It is not at all the book's fault that it's sort of painful for me to think about (my) adolescent relationships, which this book very much reminded me of — not that my adolescent relationships were anything like this one, but the feel is right.) I was so afraid, as the book went on, that it wouldn't stick the landing — but it totally did.

Digger (Vernon)
4/5. This was awesome. It took me a while to get into it. I was in Chapter 3 (which, given that there are a total of 12 chapters, is fairly far into it) before I got utterly hooked. But yeah. [personal profile] nolly made me read these after I said I liked Gunnerkrigg Court, and although there's something about Gunnerkrigg Court that pings my unconditional love button, I do think Digger is better written and more tightly plotted.

(By the way, D read this long before I did, and kept pestering me to read it, which he never does.)

One of the really neat things about it is how most of the main powerful-knowledgeable-plot-important characters are casually female, in the same way that most main characters are casually male. The main character is a (female) wombat who grumbles about engineering a lot. Can I tell you how many main-character female engineers I have ever read about? *thinks* Zero, maybe? And the warrior hyenas. I kept thinking they were male and having to check my assumptions at the door. Very well done.

Interestingly, E has already internalized this: she found the book and kept calling Digger "he." *rolls eyes* So… good thing we have Digger to counteract that. (For some reason she finds the opening pages absolutely hilarious. "It is a digger." "We will eat it." "Yes." "Yes." sends her into paroxysms of delight. It may just be because she can read all those words, and she's not used to Mommy's books having things in it that she can actually read. But I think for some reason she also thinks eating it is some sort of joke.)

Zelda (Milford)
3+/5. Really interesting biography of Zelda Fitzgerald and, of necessity, F. Scott as well. I was always aware that they were in kind of a co-dependent dysfunctional relationship, but this book made it really clear. Also, it was rather hilarious to find out exactly how much of their lives made it into Scott's books. I mean, I knew it already about Tender is the Night, but I didn't know how much… and I confess I laughed when I found out Zelda dated a handsome Ivy-League football star of whom Scott was tremendously jealous. (Hi Gatsby and Tom!)

Sequels

Jul. 24th, 2013 01:49 pm
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So I was commanded to read some sequels, which were surprisingly not bad!

Dark Triumph (LaFevers), 3+/5, is the Assassin!Nuns! sequel to Grave Mercy, and is much much better than Mercy. The pacing is better, the characterization is better, the narrator (Sybella) is better (hilariously, Ismae, the narrator of Mercy, seen through Sybella's eyes, is a very sweet nice kid, even though she wants to act all tough in Mercy), the ubiquitous romance doesn't drag out quite as much. It's still not the Assassin!Nuns! book I wanted, but perhaps that's my fault for wanting something else; this one is a solid Stephenie-Meyer-esque YA that reminds me more of The Host than Twilight, while the first book was the other way around. Unfortunately, you kind of have to read the first book to read the second, and I am not really sure it's good enough that it's worth slogging through the first book. Maybe if you skim it, or read a plot synopsis. It also bothers me unduly because the style and the characters are so twenty-first century, while they're supposed to be fifteenth-century. I'm not asking for perfect congruence or anything, but rubbing my face in twenty-first century mores and style kind of irks me. It didn't bother me as much in the first book because I could pretend they were in generic fantasyland instead of solidly situated in 15th-C Brittany, but in this book there are enough references to England, France, etc. that it was harder to get away with it.

A Million Suns and Shades of Earth (Revis), 3+/5: I have to give these books credit, as soon as I finished Suns I wanted to go on to Shades. It's probably the best YA dystopia I've read for quite a while; on the other hand, as you know, that's not a huge bar. They are very readable books. The worldbuilding is pretty good for YA dystopia but has various gaping holes, and some of the plot (including the big plot twist near the end) is frankly kind of unbelievable, with characters shuffling hither and yon solely in support of the plot and not because they would actually do that. Shades also has this totally awesome line, spoken by the chief scientist on the mission (!):

"I talked to Frank, the geologist. He says there are minerals in the soil he's never seen before. We're talking about whole new elements to the periodic table!"

(And no, highly unstable radioactive soil is not a plot twist. Though that really would have been awesome.) Oh authors, why not get a science beta? Just one person who has actually taken chemistry in her life? Would it be so very hard?
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3+/5. I really, really liked this book, and at the same time there were parts about it that really bugged me, and these things are actually somewhat closely related.

It's about a family that comes here (is forced to come here) from another reality (the city of Lemabantunk), a reality that doesn't work quite the way this reality does. And so it's about making a new life and letting go and reaching out and one's children growing away from the roots of one's traditions and growing closer to the roots of one's traditions and… And this is a story I feel a special affinity for, because it's what my parents did. And this story I really, really liked. I very much like Palwick's lyrical writing style, I love the strangeness of the culture she imagines.

Embedded in this story is a critique of the US, and a warning not-really-dystopia near-future where current trends become, well, just a little more pronounced than they are now. The near-future extrapolation I also liked, although it doesn't hit my buttons the same way the immigrant story did.

The parts where these stories intersected, I… had issues with, and I think this has to do with the worldbuilding not quite being strong enough to support the critique. Mild spoilers. )

I mostly liked the ending, but I also had a couple of big issues with it.Spoilers for the ending. )

But, you know, I really liked the book despite these issues, and thought it was well worth reading, and it obviously made me think.
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These, with Come a Stranger, make up my favorite Tillerman books:

Dicey's Song (4/5): A young person of my acquaintance pointed out to me a while back that if something won the Newberry medal, it was likely because something horribly tragic happened near the end. So, y'know. This one won the Newberry.

I wasn't expecting to like this one on reread as much as I did, or be as emotionally engaged, but the end breaks me down every time. It isn't the main tragedy (or at least not just that): it's the part where Dicey and Gram go into the wood store afterwards. Because — and I'm quite fortunate, I know, to have only the most shallow of understandings of this -- sometimes it's not the thing that happens that breaks you, it's when someone gives you kindness you weren't expecting, or an acquaintance or stranger you wouldn't give two thoughts to otherwise, or vice versa, gives you a deep understanding you hadn't thought anyone could.

It's about reaching out, and letting go.

(Also, wow, after reading Come a Stranger, yeah, Dicey's interactions with Mina, like the bit where Dicey totally shuts Mina down when she wants to visit, totally could be interpreted by an observer as extremely racist if you weren't privy to Dicey's internal monologue or didn't know about her Issues.)

A Solitary Blue (5/5): I was afraid I wouldn't love this book as much as I did when I first read it, but no worries. I cannot explain why I adore this book so much. I don't see why it speaks to me in a way that none of the other Tillerman books quite do, but it does. I think it's because the way Jeff thinks internally is sort of kind of like the way I think internally, even though his experiences are nothing like mine, and he has some qualities I do not have. (And it's kind of amazing that she wrote almost every book with a different protagonist, and they all have different modes of internal thought.)

Also, man, totally setting up Jeff's particular Issues for Seventeen Against the Dealer.
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4/5. I seem to have fallen into a Tillerman series reread, in the sense that I picked up this book from the shelf a month ago while E was sick, was (as usual) stunned by how much I still loved it, and now I’m reading all the rest of them too, completely out of order (except possibly for Homecoming, which I find too painful to read and have never actually finished).

I like A Solitary Blue better than Come a Stranger, but let’s face it, I am hopelessly in love with the Tillerman series in general, and you’re just going to have to deal with my squeeing about all of them. So, you know, I have this huge bias going in. These books are the last set of books I’ve actually fallen in love with as an adult. (Bujold was the penultimate set. Sutcliff I know I would have fallen in love with had I read it as a kid, but now it’s just a strong like.)

Come a Stranger was the hardest one for me to find when I first read all of these around five (?) years ago (all the other ones were available from the library, and this one I had to request specially, although it has a respectable number of reviews on amazon, and has since been rereleased and my library now owns it, and I own it too). It is the one about a black girl, Mina Smiths, Dicey’s friend.

It is a wonderful book, like all the Tillerman books. Mina finds out that sometimes people are prejudiced against black people more than she thinks they are, but the book isn’t about that. She makes friends with Dicey, and in the process finds out that people aren’t always as prejudiced as she thinks they are, but the book isn’t about that. We see some of the events of Dicey’s Song from Mina’s point of view, but the book isn’t about that. Mina has a quasi-romantic entanglement (slightly more about that later) but the book is most emphatically not about that.

It’s about — it’s about life, and the relationships we make, and love, and growing up, and living in the world. It’s about being human and what makes us human.

One of the things it’s about, without making a big deal out of it, is — Mina’s family. It’s very background, no attention is paid to it at all. There’s no huge drama or conflict; the interfamily conflicts that do exist are the kinds of short-term ones that every family has, and in fact the biggest family drama in the book has nothing to do with Mina herself. And yet on this reread I found myself noticing very strongly how Mina’s family plays into who Mina herself is, and how that compares and contrasts with how Dicey’s family plays into who Dicey is, and Jeff’s family, and Dicey’s mother’s family, and how their strengths and weaknesses are supported or exacerbated by family… I think this whole series is a seven-book rumination on family. And I love that. And I love that it manages to do so in such a quiet way that I never really explicitly noticed until now. (Of course it’s hard not to realize it for the Tillermans themselves! But the themes are deeper than I realized. I even think that each book taken by itself is not necessarily about family, but the cycle as a whole is clearly about family.)

So one thing that is more in the foreground is that Mina falls in love with — well, someone where a working romantic relationship is not at all possible. And there are so many ways this could have gone terribly wrong, and in another author's hands it would have, and it — doesn’t. It’s exactly right, in my estimation.

(I probably won’t natter on quite so much about all the other books, but this one is special to me, if only because it was so hard for me to find.)
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4/5, with the huge caveat that there is a whole lot of nostalgia working in this book's favor, for me. It was one of the first Trek novels I ever read, and the first Ford I ever read, and the copy I have is the original old library copy I first read (which eventually turned up in the library book sale). Ford is, of course, an acquired taste, and one I can't necessarily recommend unless you're a huge fan of piecing together a complex, often-inadequately-signposted plot, lots of allusions (in this one there are at least three SFF book allusions, not to mention all the Trek allusions. Speaking of which, I assume he's talking about Forever War? Should I read that?), and having to reread to catch all the bits one missed the first time, and his insistence on breaking boundaries (his two Trek novels were a) a worldbuilding Klingon novel where the Enterprise crew show up in the prologue, the epilogue, and a cameo by kid!Spock and McCoy's diapers, and b) a musical). This is all, of course, complete catnip for me!

So, anyway. Here we go. As usual for a Ford book, the entire first two-thirds are character and worldbuilding setup for what happens in the last third; the last third is the plot-heavy bit but is heavily dependent on the character and worldbuilding of the first two thirds. Here is where I try to work out what's actually going on; this may be boring if you don't know the story, plus obviously massive spoilers. I think I actually understand most of the plot now, but there are fundamental bits I am still unsure of. )
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In case anyone else is interested. (This isn’t an exhaustive list, but these are the things I think would be most fun to read in the company of others.)

In the next week: John M. Ford’s Klingon novel, The Final Reflection (reread), in the hopes [personal profile] sineala will also reread. If anyone else does read this, and even if you don’t, I shall ask all the dumb questions I still don’t understand about this book. (I seem to remember some confusion about Maxwell Grandisson III and Van Diemen and who was responsible for whose fate. We shall see!)

In the next month or so: Cynthia Voigt’s Tillerman cycle (reread), completely out of order, and probably not including Homecoming, which I find so painful I’ve never actually gotten all the way through it. I’ve got a post on Come a Stranger queued, and probably will read The Runner, Sons from Afar, and Seventeen Against the Dealer in that order. Then probably I’ll give Homecoming a stab, and then Dicey’s Song and A Solitary Blue. (I, um, don't recommend this order if you're reading it for the first time. Start with Dicey's Song or Solitary Blue and work more-or-less in order of publication.)

In the next three months: Moby-Dick. I say three months because what with various Summer Plans I suspect it will take me that long to get through it, although of course I hope it doesn’t take that long!

In the fall: Cordwainer Smith’s short stories with [personal profile] duckwhatduck! And possibly some Baudelaire. I've never read any Baudelaire, but apparently "Drunkboat" would make a lot more sense if I had.

(Fall reading will, of course, be ramping up to Yuletide, so if there's anything else I should read for Yuletide then feel free to lecture me about it ;) I think maybe I should read Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London novels? What else?)
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This post is for [personal profile] ollipop, who asked where to start with reading L'Engle.

...It depends!

For the remainder of this post, I'll use L'Engle's terms of kairos (the Murry/O'Keefe books) and chronos (the Austin books), and connection books (books that aren't focused on the O'Keefes or Austins, okay, I can't remember if this is exactly what she called them, whatever).

Cut for length. )

Note that L'Engle was a Christian, if a radical one, and all her stories are told from a perspective of faith in a loving God (she doesn't beat you over the head with it, but it's definitely a clear influence of her worldview), and this is particularly true of the nonfiction and the Murry-kairos books. (The protagonist of Small Rain/Severed Wasp is not religious, nor are the O'Keefe family to my knowledge, or at least not exactly, so those would be good places to start if you'd rather not read from that worldview.)

In conclusion: all the nonfiction, Ring of Endless Light (you may want to read Arm of the Starfish and The Moon By Night first, and you definitely want to read House Like a Lotus after), and Small Rain/Severed Wasp.

And read all of Sheila O'Malley's writing on L'Engle. (Scroll down about halfway down the page to get to her book discussions.)
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Note the first: I apparently always want to add an extra e to Sutcliff's name. Sigh.

Note the second: Oh, hey, by the way, rarewomen happened and ALSO DIDO FIC, including SF Dido!AU!(Here is where I squee about it — if you don't know the Aeneid, it's okay, you need only this post and this to read them — and here’s my reveal post and more nattering on about the Greek Myth SF AU (spoilers!).)

4/5. This book sat on my shelf for a month because I’ve only read Sutcliff’s Roman stuff (uh, two books) and I was kind of side-eyeing her taking on a Celtic subject. Um. Sometimes I’m kind of stupid. This was totally amazing: gorgeous prose and the research I expect from her and allllll my tropes as usual (loyalty, friendship, partnership, hard choices, etc.) and what the heck it’s a retelling of Y Goddodin. (I am thick. I did not realize this until Aneirin showed up.) WHAT. I think the last half of the book I kept on going !!!! Y Goddodin!!!!

I mean, I guess that if one looked at it rationally, one could come up with a lot of things that might be slightly obnoxious. There’s essentially no plot. The plot, such as it is, is, well, the plot of Y Goddodin, which is to say the plot of every Welsh poem ever. (Hint: The Welsh don’t make poetry about their awesome victories and how they totally crushed the other guy, dude. They just don’t. This is not a super-feel-good book.) The prose is sort of partially Welsh-reminiscent and partially Roman-Britain-reminiscent, which might bother someone who was a little more involved with the era than I.

But I don’t look at this book rationally :)
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4/5. This book was lovely. This book had some rather odd flaws. I adored this book. I wanted to slam this book against the wall (one advantage of e-books, I guess, is that I can’t ever give in to that temptation). I love this book madly. I don’t know that I recommend it to any of you. Then again, I don’t know that I don’t recommend it.

…Right. So. This book is about Portia, an admissions officer at Princeton, which by itself pretty much guaranteed I would read the whole thing; my entire high school career was basically my parents (successfully) gaming the college admissions system. (That’s right. The craziness these days? You can blame, partially, my parents.) Every so often there are these little lectures about the admissions process, which I could see someone else being a little taken aback by but which I ate up like candy. All the people in the book (except maybe Portia’s friend) are mildly unlikeable, including the main character. Usually this turns me off, but about a third of the way through I had identified so strongly with Portia (character-wise and in our response to college; our upbringing and life events and current status were/are totally different) that instead of thinking “She’s mildly unlikeable,” I was thinking, “Huh. I identify with her so much that I wonder very much now if I’m mildly unlikeable.”

Dante is referenced in the book, which obviously made me fall in love. (Though I found the literary referencing, in general, to be a little off-kilter. Some of it was tossed off lightly and well, and some of it was extremely heavy-handed.) The writing is good; I suppose it’s probably no better than other writing in the mildly-literary-writing-about-the-upper-middle-class category, but after coming off of a spate of YA first-book writing it was very refreshing, let me tell you. Possibly the best thing about the book are the little excerpts from student admission essays gracing the top of each chapter; these are hilarious. They range from the sublime to the terrible and everything in between, with bonus snipes at a couple of common grammar mistakes.

There are some weird oddities in the book. One is the two-chapter (I think?) flashback that happens late in the book, which — I see why she did it, but I’m not sure it completely worked structurally for me. Another completely random thing is that Portia is (at least genetically) Jewish; whenever this came up (which it did, being a minor plot point) I would sort of do a double-take at her name being Portia. Her mother is such that it is totally believable that she gave Portia this name on purpose (neither Portia nor her mother is in the slightest culturally Jewish), but this is never addressed AT ALL, including the part where the meaning of her name is dissected.

So now let me talk about why I wanted to throw the book across the room. First, I need to tell you a story. Let me make clear that E, my lovely three-year-old, is the light of my life and quite obviously the best and cutest and most lovable kid that has ever existed. (Don’t worry, that’s not the story.) She was a very much planned and wanted and wished-for baby. When I was pregnant with her, everyone told me, “It’ll all be worth it when you hold her in your arms!” and “You’ll love her more than anything in the world as soon as you see her!”

She was born. Childbirth sucked. They put her in my arms.

And I didn’t feel like I loved her. I didn’t feel like it was worth it at all. (I did, for the record, feel a deep sense of responsibility for this helpless little thing, which might well have been love. But it didn’t feel like it.)

I felt like a complete failure as a parent, as a mother, as a human being. Because any real human being, any real mother, would be totally in love with her newborn baby, right? That’s what everyone had told me!

I will never forget that my cousin called me up to see how I was doing, and she told me that she’d had the same reaction. I will never forget that. I will also never forget a totally random friend at church, R., that I talked to a month later. Most of my church friends said things to the effect of, “Oh, aren’t you ecstatic to have such a darling little baby?” (She was a darling little baby, for the record. She was. But I wasn’t ecstatic about it.) R. asked me how I was doing, and I said something noncommittal, and R. said wryly, “Yeah, at this point I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep my son either.” That floored me. That it was okay. That it was okay to say, hey, you know what? I didn’t feel like I loved my baby when she was born, and that’s okay. It doesn’t make me a bad mom. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me. It doesn’t mean I can’t love her, or that our relationship isn’t going to be strong and awesome.

But it means that whenever I see that expectation that mothers will fall desperately in love with their babies as soon as they see them, I get really, really upset. (Not to say that they won’t! Many do! Oxytocin is a wonderful thing! But it’s not everyone.)

Spoilers; no more spoilers than in the preview of the movie based on the book, to be honest, but then again the movie previews pretty much spoil the book; on the other hand I read the book knowing the plot and it was fine, it’s not exactly a plot-heavy book )

I… kind of want fic for this book. From Helen’s POV, ideally. She gets so little to do in this book, and we never get more than the one-dimensional portrait from Portia’s standpoint, with only very vague hints from other characters that there’s more than that… But I suppose I’ll never get it.
cahn: (Default)
I feel like I need to add in a percentage: how far I need to get into a book before I’m utterly hooked, which I think is a function of the writing and of how idficcy it is for me. For example, Sutcliffe and Card and Bujold all clock in at under 5%. These books…

Grave Mercy (LaFevers): 3/5, 75%. I actually quite liked this book when I was able to block out what it wanted to be versus what it actually was. What it wants to be is a historical worldbuilding fantasy alternate history of Brittany, something on the order of Kushiel’s Dart or Curse of Chalion, with assassin nuns. What it actually is, is something a little more like Twilight, with assassin nuns, and a little more politics. Which, y’know, is quite entertaining as long as you’re not looking for anything more. But man, I wish that I could have had the book about assassin nuns with Curse of Chalion-style careful worldbuilding.

Cinder (Meyer): 3+/5, 50%. I thought this book was hugely entertaining: Cinderella as a cyborg! In future!China! I mean, come on, really, how could you go wrong with this? It took a while to seriously get into — the storytelling is competent, and so is the cyberpunk!worldbuilding (which by its nature doesn’t have to be as detailed or careful as historical worldbuilding, or at least not in the same ways), but nothing super-special on either front (I’ve started the second book in the series and so far the storytelling seems to have improved), and the love story was frankly kind of unbelievable, but the cheerful outrageousness of the worldbuilding kept me entertained even before I got hooked.

The Silver Branch (Sutcliffe): 3+/5, 5%. I really, really liked this one while I was reading it, and a couple months later I could not tell you what it was about. Still, Sutcliffe is all kinds of awesome. I’m really glad — I’d started worrying that I’d lived past the age where I could be swallowed up in a book (see also the above), but Sutcliffe is consistently proving me wrong.
cahn: (Default)
3+/5. Um. Yeah. My parents brought me a bunch of books from my bookshelf at their house last year, and this was one of them. It’s my favorite of Card’s early work, for what are probably obvious reasons. (Songs! Singing! A boarding school where they teach singing!)

This book made me really sad, but not (just) because of the elegiac nature of the book itself; it reminded me that Card used to be able to write, and write really well. It’s clearly work where he’s still struggling to find his feet as a novelist — this was first a novella that got expanded to novel form, and the seams are pretty clear. For example, there’s a whole huge plot thread that is introduced for shock value (it was the twist ending of the novella) and that then dangles helplessly in the wind, never actually going anywhere or (as far as I can tell) being referred to again. But much of the writing is really excellent, and it made me sad for the writer he used to be but isn’t anymore, a writer who could do subtlety and subtext and characters who weren’t just authorial voices and characters whom you loved even when they did terrible things. Oh Card, I miss you.

Now for the elephant in the room.

This is Card’s only book where the protagonist is queer (it’s not entirely clear whether he’s gay or bisexual, probably the latter), and also the only one where we see a mutually loving and respectful same-sex relationship on-screen. Interestingly, this was one of three authors I read as a kid (the others being L’Engle’s House Like a Lotus — and [personal profile] ollipop, I haven’t forgotten I owe you a post on L’Engle, and I am working on that — and Mercedes Lackey’s Arrows trilogy) that taught me that queer sexualities were perfectly normal and homophobia is wrong, which let me tell you, was not a message I was getting from real life (hello, small city in the South, conservative Korean parents, and church!)

Because of this book in particular, I’ve always given Card a lot of leeway when it comes to people ragging on him because of his stance on gay marriage. (The other reason I give him a lot of leeway is that, well, it’s really hard to explain to people who aren’t inside it what it’s like to be inside of Mormonism. I’m not really inside it in the way that Card is, either; it’s easy for me to be in favor of gay marriage, or whatever, because of that.) Because Card clearly has a lot of empathy and sympathy for Ansset, the protagonist.

However. One thing that doesn’t disturb me about Card’s portrayal of alternate sexuality in this book, one thing that very much does, and one thing that makes me think I could be wrong about the thing that disturbs me. Warnings for severe torture and death. Also warnings for both spoilers for Songmaster and vague spoilers for other Card oeuvre. )

tl;dr : I like this book very much, and Also Music Yay, and Big Severe Issues, and Confusing Issues, and I don’t even know what to think about it.
cahn: (Default)
The thrilling conclusion! (I did, actually, very much like these books, after being somewhat bored by the last installment.) I wrote each book up right after reading it, which may account for some repetition/slight discrepancies in what I thought was going to happen vs. what actually happened.

Book 10: Sons and fathers and the gods throwing a hissy fit. )

Book 11: Everyone gets tired of fighting. Camilla is super-cool. )

Book 12: A whole heap of stuff happens, as if Virgil is taking all the plot that Books 5 and 9 didn't have and shoving it in this one, and...that's the end? )

The end! (And I apologize again for the two-month disappearance in the middle...) Hm, what should I read next?

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