Earthsea

Jan. 2nd, 2017 02:55 pm
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Now that Yuletide reveals are over (I have a more conventional reveal post here) I can finally inflict on you guys all the feelings I have about Earthsea, which I read again for the first time in many years (at least ten, maybe fifteen) this fall.

...I have a lot of feelings.

The second trilogy, which I reread first. )

The first trilogy, which I read second. )

Le Guin and style. )
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Penric's Demon (Bujold) - I read this before and haven't read it since. Slight, cute story about a boy and his demon. I mean… even average Bujold (which this is) is pretty darn good writing. Maybe this will take my first vote.

Binti (Okorafor) - So — there's a lot here to like (interesting narrator and worldview and cultural connotations)… I kept running aground, though, on the math. Binti is supposed to be a really great mathematics student, thus winning her entry to the celebrated Starfleet Academy Oomza University as a math major (I guess this is THE university to be in the galaxy; the others don't really register at all??) — apparently this manifests by her and her fellow students understanding the concept of tessellating triangles. And possibly being able to perform simple geometry/coordinate-transform calculations. I… was not particularly impressed by their mathematical prowess. Also, she goes into a "mathematical trance" at one point that sure looks to me like a mostly regular sort of trance; I'm not very sure what is mathematical about it. Anyway, I kept being thrown out of the story every time the word "math" was used, which was really too bad. (Compare Jemisin's Fifth Season, where the science just all seems so much more grounded and real.)

Perfect State (Sanderson) - I mean, if you've read some Sanderson before, you know how it goes. Epic Epic fantasy - check. Complicated magic system - check. Lots of Annoying Capital Letters - check. Gary Stu Hero of Everything - check. And then Huh. ) Voting for this above No Award for sure.

The Builders (Polansky) - Grimdark Wind in the Willows. There, now you don't have to read it. You're welcome. Seriously, that was it, that was the entire content of that novella. I did appreciate the author's note in which he totally acknowledged it was a one-note joke. Voting under No Award.

Slow Bullets (Reynolds) - Okay — so, as SF this was actually pretty cool (military transports wake up in cryogenic pods and must unravel the mystery of what is going on in the ship and the universe) and the plot was probably the best of the five. Up until the end. The resolution of the plot made me super side-eye it. Spoilers! ) Not sure whether I will vote this above or below No Award; depends on how crotchety I'm feeling, I suppose.
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4/5. Wow, you guys. This was amazing. And I'm speaking from the point of view of someone who really didn't like Jemisin's Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and who suspects that in general Jemisin might not exactly be for me? But this book is amazing. Jemisin has really got a handle on her writing (which IMO she didn't have in 100K); this thing is super ambitious and it manages to pull it off.

So, first of all: all the trigger warnings in the world. I mean, this is a book that begins in the first chapter with a baby killed by its father. Also: apocalypse, all the time.

Relatedly, it's a very angry book, which turned me off at first. And in my opinion 100K Kingdoms got over-the-top with the anger without sufficient character justification — but here it is much better handled. (I did find it a little… something… that apparently mild and disturbing spoilers for both 100K and 5th ) It didn't make my eyes roll here in the same way, though, because here it wasn't "ooh, let's do this at a party because that's what we do for fun because We Are Evil," but rather arose much more naturally out of the power structures of the society.

One of the things I really loved about it is that it's…science fantasy? Like, it's got clear trappings of fantasy (although there are hints that there might be at least a pseudo-scientific basis for it, which by the way is super cool), but if it's fantasy, it's fantasy that's rooted in science, and she seems to have a good grasp on earth science (as I'm not an earth scientist I couldn't tell you for sure, but it's got that feel to it, if you know what I mean, of someone who's comfortable with the science). I was totally unsurprised to read at the end that Jemisin had been part of a consortium where writers and scientists communicated, because it's really got that feel.

There are some parts where I felt like the human reactions were a little off. Mild spoilers. )I feel like it was manipulation by the author to manufacture reader outrage and justify the book's anger. (Manipulation that worked, honestly, because Jemisin's writing is so powerful and raw in this book; it wasn't until after I finished the book that I started thinking about these things.) (And yes, I understand it's all metaphorical too, but it also has to make sense within the story.) This was probably my biggest problem with the book. There's enough to be angry about without piling things on.

Slightly larger spoilers. )

I have another quibble — this one is extremely minor, much more minor than the others, but what is this journal for if not to vent about minor quibbles -- along these lines. Mild spoilers, again. ) I am giving her super kudos for correctly identifying the timescales, and I understand the scientific correctness sort of painted her into a corner here, but… heh.

Anyway! I keep waffling about what to put on the top of my Hugo ballot. I think on the whole Uprooted, because I thought Uprooted had deeper things to say and its flaws didn't bug me as much as in Fifth Season or Ancillary Mercy, but both of those are great as well. I'm pretty happy with this selection of (novel) nominees. (Next up: Novella!)
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4/5. I said a while back that I thought this would win at least one of the Nebula and Hugo, and, well, I was right (and in my opinion, now that I've started reading more of the nominees, I expect it'll win the Hugo as well, unless Seveneves fanboys take that). K asked why quite a while back, and I started thinking about it, and then I figured I'd just word vomit talk about it here. Some of the reasons are orthogonal to why I think it's a good book. First, Novik is a known and popular author, and a presence in fandom (holy cow, see the popularity data; I knew Uprooted would be popular, but wasn't expecting it to be that much more popular!). Second, some of its rivals have their own issues, Jemisin's Fifth Season ending on a cliffhanger, Ancillary Mercy being the third in a series, or Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown being Heyer-romance pastiche and probably not being taken as seriously by some as a result) (I wrote this bit before nominees came out, and Cho is, as you probably know, not a nominee).

Another mostly-orthogonal reason: Uprooted is pretty clearly (but not overwhelmingly so, as the Cho) homage/pastiche (here of Robin McKinley rather than Heyer); there are clear and deliberate echoes of McKinley stylistically (and of course the little Luthe Easter egg in case you didn't grok it). There is a certain generation and class of readers, of which I am one, that grew up with McKinley, for whom Hero and the Crown and/or The Blue Sword (Hero for me) were pivotal, deeply meaningful books, and you can bet that Uprooted pushes all those buttons and pushes them hard. (Only it's better than McKinley, because then plot starts happening a lot!)

One of the non-McKinley things I loved about Uprooted — let me digress for a bit and tell you a story. Over Christmas we saw my family at my sister C.'s house. My parents had just given their grand piano to C., as my parents have moved and she's the only one in our family now who has room for it. So one of the things C. and I put on the schedule was a Christmas concert — C. got out her violin and I got on the piano bench and we played "Gesu Bambino," which is our traditional Christmas song (we used to play this every year at church).

I can't even tell you how amazing this was, you guys. It's more so than it might have been otherwise, because lately I've been doing a lot of crap accompaniment work (because I never have time to learn the music) with a lot of super random people from church who are usually music beginners — but in any case, C. and I have played together for years and years, we know each other's playing like we know our own mind inside out; it's a seriously heady thing to play with someone else in that kind of partnership.

— And Novik captured that feeling so well, in her descriptions of magic, of magic collaboration. (Although I had to kind of smile indulgently in the way it turned into a romance. First because, well, I've done that with my sister, not my love interests; but also in the back of my head is the part from L'Engle's Severed Wasp where there's a conductor who has a super crush on Katherine and wants to run away with her, and she schools him by making the analogy of how they play really well together as conductor and pianist, and then they leave and play with other pianists/conductors and it all works just fine.)

The other thing I loved a lot about it — and this elevated it above the other stuff I've read this year — is the subtle but visible critique of what, for want of a better term, I shall call genderified conflict. (I don't like this term because it's not actually a breakdown by gender, as Uprooted in fact notes, not least by using the super awesome character of Alosha, but it's perceived to be.) Implicit and thematic spoilers. )

I should say that I don't think this is a perfect book, by any means. One of the ways in which I think it is weakest is the character of Kasia; she's a large part of the book, she's integral to plot and motivation, but I didn't feel like I got a good handle on her character as a real person with major things happening to her even though we see a bunch of her in the book. I would have liked for her character to be fleshed out a little more — she got, oh, two pages of really good character delineation, and then, what, that's it?

And I think it would have been better without any romance at all, but at least the romance we got wasn't treated as True Love or anything. I thought it was rather refreshing, actually, that it was treated as almost an afterthought.
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Okay — for the next little while it will be Hugos all the time. (Who are we kidding: this means, like, two posts. Maybe. If I am lucky.) Hugo-eligible novels I've looked at lately:

House of Shattered Wings (Aliette de Bodard) - 3+/5. I really like de Bodard's writing, and I was actually a little scared to read this for a while because I was worried I wouldn't like her writing for a novel's length. Which… is very weird, actually. Never mind. Anyhow, I really like this book and I think it's worth reading — it's gorgeous prose, the worldbuilding of a Paris with fallen angels is gorgeous and interesting… I, uh, realized that one of the reasons I love her prose is that she uses a lot of semicolons, which I am fully on board with, but might irritate others. Occasionally there's a weird word choice. ("Nuke"? Really?) The ending was a bit understated, but apparently there are more books to come.

The Affinities (Robert Charles Wilson) - 3/5. Well, I guess it's not Wilson's fault that I've gotten really picky about my near-future SF, or that he didn't write the book I wanted to read. But when you postulate a technology that sorts people into their "affinities," groups of people with whom they immediately "click" — well, first of all, it doesn't even make sense to me that there would only be twenty-two of them (which he does address later, to his credit), and second, I think I wanted to read about how this would actually work (oh my gosh, it sounds so interesting! Partially genetic, probably, and partially behavioral…), and third, just because you click with someone doesn't mean you can trust them! (I definitely know people who click with high-drama people, for instance.) Where is the tension between people being people (good, bad, nice, obnoxious) and in an affinity? And then at the end he starts with the book I was interested in all along— what if you can target it more precisely? What does that even mean? but then the book ends. Blah!

The Just City (Jo Walton) - 3+/5. OMG this was SUCH a cool book. Athena puts together (through time-traveling) a bunch of people who want to live Plato's Republic. It is a whole bunch of handwaving to get to the thought experiment (no, seriously, complete with Greek gods with time-travel powers and really smart robots) and then a lot of working out of the thought experiment through in-text debates and then Sokrates shows up and annoysdebates the heck out of everyone — and, like, it's not really about plot or characters (although there are some, they are not the focus) and there are seventy zillion people I would never recommend this to because they would hate it, but I got such a huge kick out of it because working out of thought experiments is so much fun for me — and this is exactly the sort of thought-provoking thinky book that I am excited about nominating for the Hugo. I also highly recommend this article about Plato's Republic and Just City if you, like me, are a philistine who hasn't read Plato.
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4/5. So I read Ancillary Mercy! And I really liked it, because it was awesome! I still think Ancillary Justice is the best, for a number of reasons, not least that AJ's set up in the best vintage SF-style to slowly reveal the worldbuilding, and by the time of AM we already know pretty much the important bits of worldbuilding.

I really, really loved how everything came together at the end. Like, two-thirds of the way through I started to think there was no way she could tie it all together. And then she did!

Very mildly spoilery. )
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Ugh, I think work is finally letting up. That's what I said last month, and the month before, but I think it's actually true this time. Anyway.

4/5. I... have all sorts of conflicting feelings about this book.

The first third is amazing, sort of like Goblin Emperor meets Dune with a side helping of colonialism and polyamory/queerness. Baru is an accountant! Who deals with political intrigue and solves Epic Fantasy Problems through the Power of Economics! I would totally happily read an entire novel of Baru dealing with political intrigue and smacking down factions with Economic Theory!

...that's only part of what this novel is.

The second two-thirds are really well-written and well-done, and -- well -- so, remember how when I read Goblin Emperor I really liked it but thought it was awfully light on political intrigue and kind of wanted more? I TAKE IT BACK. I TAKE IT ALL BACK. ACTUALLY I DON'T WANT POLITICAL INTRIGUE THANKS I CHANGED MY MIND MAIA CAN JUST BE SWEET AND PEOPLE CAN JUST BE NICE TO HIM OKAY.

So -- you know how Goblin Emperor is all warm and fuzzy? Traitor is the kind of book where the warm fuzziness turns out to actually be mold. So, yeah, if you're in the mood for grim, I do very much recommend this book (with one caveat under the cut).

No explicit spoilers. Meta-spoilers, but this is the kind of book where you might actually not even want meta-spoilers. If you're still interested in reading a book about figurative mold. )
In any case, I still really liked this book, to the extent that Seth Dickinson has gone on my short list of authors for whom I'll be checking out everything he writes. But... but!
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I read Three-Body Problem over maybe a week or two, and every evening I would have a different opinion. First I wasn't sure what to think, then I loved it, then I got suspicious of it, then I almost metaphorically threw it across the room, then I decided I liked it after all, and now... I'm not sure what to think.

Part of the issue is that as I was reading it, I had a really hard time slotting this into subgenre, which apparently my brain has a need to do. I don't know how much of that is because of cultural clashes. At the beginning, I thought it was retro Golden-Age science-heavy SF, with a big dash of historical grounding (yay!). I still think the beginning was the most powerful, with scientific thinking and the Cultural Revolution yoked together. (Not-really-a-spoiler: they don't mix very well, and indeed set up the tragedy of the rest of the book's primary character arc.)

Somewhere in the middle, I started thinking, oh, no, it's more like Girl with the Dragon Tattoo -- I mean, with a lot more physics and a lot less rape and women throwing themselves at middle-aged men (really no romance at all, in fact), but the feel of that kind of plot-twist-heavy thriller with interesting ideas (sometimes strangely executed) and a veneer of philosophy but not much in the way of characterization or Earth-worldbuilding. Or Michael Crichton, perhaps that's a better analogy. Science Thriller in feel, though with thrilling physics replacing thrilling adventure scenes, if that makes any sense.

Then we got to the proton computers, and I flipped to thinking of it as science fantasy (along the lines of Fringe's view of "science," say, but without Fringe's stellar characterization acting or terrible Entanglement of Love), because, what. I liked this quote by Chaos Horizon: which is spoilery: )

It's a science romance, not in the sense of a personal intimate relationship but rather in the older sense of a fantastic adventure, and even in the sense of seeing science itself as romantic. (Cixin Liu confirms, in the Afterword, that he has something of a romance with science going on, although here I am kind of using it in the courtly love sort of sense.)

Now that I've read the whole thing, I feel it's sort of a combination of Science Fantasy and Science Thriller, with the latter the dominant paradigm. (Again, where the science part is much more prominent than the thriller part -- there's actually very little in the way of action, unless you count the online game.) (The online game! It was so cute! It... made no sense whatsoever. I don't even play multiplayer online games and I could tell it was completely nonsensical as a multiplayer online game. In my head I had actually decided it was single-player and kept getting weirded out when characters referred to it as multiplayer.)

And I thought we had escaped this! I was waiting for it, waiting for it, and it didn't happen, and then right at the end when I thought I was home free it did happen: the book tried to use quantum entanglement to posit faster-than-light communication. This is what my actual degree is in and NOOOOO. (I have some sympathy for it being such a prevalent interpretation by non-physicists that it's hard to avoid -- but still, would it be so hard to get an actual physics beta?)

And the ending was just... umm... Spoilers. )

I really, really liked Ye Wenjie's arc -- the way that her history informed her choices and her point of view and the ways in which she deceived herself was heartbreaking.

There's been a lot of criticism of Wang Miao having zero characterization. I don't think he's supposed to have character, really? I mean, it would obviously be a better book if he did, but he's really just the eyes through which we see the events of the novel and Ye Wenjie's arc, and as such is supposed to be Everyman, or at least Everyscientist.

I think I'm going to rank this below No Award, but I'm not sure. I think what it's trying to do is more Hugo-worthy than Goblin Emperor (which I did think was the better book) or Ancillary Sword, but I'm not sure. (AS, of course, is a big wild card (in terms of my response to it) until the third book comes out.) In conclusion: I have no idea what I'm going to do about the novel section of the Hugos this year, except presumably leaving the Kevin J. Anderson off entirely. (I can't even say that for sure, having read all of three sentences of it, but signs point to yes.)
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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.
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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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[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 )
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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 - 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!)
cahn: (Default)
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. )
cahn: (Default)
...And visiting my sister means more exposure to wacky YA-dystopia hijinks!

Mind Games 3/5. Two sisters, a blind seer and an assassin, are forced to go to Evil!School to learn villainy. I am a sucker for assassin-school stories. And this one had some great ideas and it had an entertaining ending, and of course I always love sister stories. I liked a lot of things about it, but I could not get past the point where the blind sister was as dumb as rocks. Basically, her lack of learning from her mistakes, thinking things through at all, and steadfast lack of communication were the plot drivers for the entire book, and that annoyed me.

Vicious (Schwab): 3+/5. Okay, this one I liked. It's a dark take on superheroes (called EOs -- ExtraOrdinaries -- in the book). It suffers from the same problems I had with Soon I Will Be Invincible, which is that when your characters are a bit on the cartoonish side, even a grim cartoon, it's hard to be all that sympathetic. But the writing is good, the action ramps up well, and some of the sly tropes really amused me (such as how all the characters are centered around One Town even though they clearly had the whole world to play around in). One minor note: I found their university extraordinarily unconvincing. Everyone -- of different disciplines -- has to take a thesis prep class where each person announces the proposed thesis subject? Is this a thing in other universities that I don't know about? Or a superhero trope I don't know about?
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4/5. I... have curiously little to say about this book, except that I am glad I read it after Cyteen, because Cyteen drew me in with its genetic speculation and gave me a primer on how Cherryh works: the book goes on until she's finished writing it, with one major plot-line maybe resolved and a bunch of minor ones dangling; also, people will act like people and it will generally be grim and people will get grim comeuppances. So I was prepared! And actually I was unprepared for the awesomeness that is Elene Quen and the accompanying awesomeness that is Elene/Damon and Josh Talley. Although I was slightly more prepared for the grim sort of awesomeness that is Signy Mallory.

I don't like it as well as Cyteen; it doesn't have the interesting genetic Big Questions or the heartstopping moments when you realize you've just taken a dagger to the heart (except, okay, that last scene). But I liked it very much. Recommended if you like careful, methodical worldbuilding and history (apparently Cherryh herself said her books should read like that, and it does -- detailed and messy and without clean endings) and don't mind Cherryh's quirks, and very much not recommended if you want your plots wrapped up nicely or are not in the mood for grim...
cahn: (Default)
3+/5. [livejournal.com profile] sarahtales recently updated Turn of the Story, which reminded me that I hadn't read her Lynburn Legacy books. Now, I pretty much read and love anything that SRB writes, but it took me a while to get to these because they were described as Gothics, and I don't really like Gothics that much. I blame getting to Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre entirely too late in my life and thinking, "Why are all these people so dysfunctional??" And… yup, I think I still am not a major fan of Gothics. The brooding and the inbreeding and the spookiness and the dysfunctional relationships and the bad-boy angst and the cast of characters who all look the same so as to provide maximum difficulty in my telling them apart… it's not all taken seriously in Unspoken, obviously, but it's just not my thing.

However, SRB likes subverting tropes a lot, and this I am totally on board with. The biggest part of this is that the main character, Kami, has a soulbond mindlink with another person. This turns out to be… really kind of awful and creepy, actually! As it would actually be if you had someone peeping at your thoughts all the time! And the terrible thing is that you really can describe it with all the cliches that moony teenagers use to describe their love affairs! He is part of her! They are so much more than friends! She's never had a connection with anyone the way she does with him! And it is super creepy and I love it.

I also found the ending somewhat lacking in emotional heft, partially I think because the relationships between the Lynburns weren't laid out solidly for me. Or possibly because I don't find love triangles (even between grownups) particularly compelling? Contrast the climax of Demon's Lexicon, which gets its power partially from the solidness of the development of the relationship between Nick and Alan. (That lovely lying liar! But I digress.) Family relationships get me every time.

Speaking of love triangles, as usual with SRB heroines, I am firmly on the shipping side of Kami/NO ONE IN THESE BOOKS. I think Kami should move away from Sorry-in-the-Vale, have lots of relationships, and eventually partner with someone who has never heard of the Lynburns!

Anyway. I would not have read it had it been an author I didn't know. And I think I would have liked it better if it wasn't Gothic (which I think drives a lot of the things I didn't particularly think were that interesting). But that's just me. And I'll be picking up the next one.

(Also, Turn of the Story is Lynburn Legacy for high fantasy rather than Gothic. I find this kind of fantastic, and like it in a much more uncomplicated way. But I could see, if you didn't like high fantasy, it not being compelling in much the same way.)
cahn: (Default)
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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